Archive for March, 2016

Thoughts on the budget and what it means for Staffordshire

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2016

Moves to leave more cash in the pockets of workers, a freeze on fuel duty and measures to protect children’s health were amongst some of the highlights from the Chancellor’s Budget last week.  Proposals that all schools should become academies by 2022 was another idea also muted.

While we comb through the finer details over the next few weeks at what the budget means for the county, our economy and our communities, we certainly welcome measures to increase personal allowances and reduce the higher tax rate threshold which will see people take home more money in their pay to either spend in their local communities or to save and invest in their own and in their family’s futures.

Increased independence for schools mentioned in the budget has been on the agenda for several years now too and we have been preparing for it for some time now here in Staffordshire.  80% of maintained schools in the county are currently rated good or outstanding by Ofsted and we would expect them to set high standards when they become academies. The expectation is that good academy sponsors and strong head teachers will also create partnerships with other schools to share their expertise and improve performance across the board.

We have already done a great deal of work in this area, commissioning training and support packages for school head teachers, staff and governors through Entrust and providing parents with information, advice and guidance to enable them to get the very best education for their children.

 

Delivering strong public services by growing local economy

Friday, March 11th, 2016

I know I am in danger of repeating myself but growing Staffordshire’s economy is a vital part of our plan to deliver strong public services and care for the vulnerable as we look to the future.

We know that from 2020 local councils will have to pay their own way, without Government help and this means raising funds from the collection of things like business rates and council tax.

Our economy is second only to Birmingham’s in the Midlands, the number of people seeking work in the county has reached record lows and we continue to lay the foundations for future expansion through multi-million pound infrastructure projects.

Our overall economy has grown by 20 per cent, and the manufacturing sector by 50 per cent, both since 2009. We’ve created an extra 18,000 jobs in the area since 2011 and are continuing to focus our efforts on increasing skills levels so people are able to take on the better paid jobs of the future.

We are in a good place because of the hard work we have all put in to get here.  I will now be asking cabinet colleagues to consider our economic report at our next meeting on 16 March.

Good news for Newcastle too with proposals for the new £15.4 million civic hub in the centre of the town moving a step closer.   Plans got the go ahead from planners at the start of the month and the four storey building, which will stand to the south of Queens Gardens, is scheduled for opening in June 2017.

It’s exciting times for the town and will certainly be one of the biggest developments in Newcastle for a generation.  Bringing together staff from the Borough and County Council, along with the Police under one roof will not only make accessing services easier for the public but will save taxpayers millions of pounds over time.

The Hub, along with the new Ryecroft projects, new bigger retailers, several hundred students and workers will also help boost the local Newcastle economy which as I’ve have just mentioned previously has never been so important.

Staffordshire’s children better prepared for schooling

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2016

We all want every child to be in a position to take full advantage of their education and latest figures from the Department for Education show that 70 per cent of the county’s five-year-olds are now performing better in their first year of school with improvements in their ability to communicate, follow instructions, concentrate, and learn with other children – which are all vital skills to do well at school.

The 86 per cent take-up rate for our Think2 free child care scheme for two-year-olds which I have spoken about before remains amongst the highest in the country too and is one of our schemes helping better prepare children for school.  The recent news that Staffordshire is to trial the Government’s extension of 30 hours free childcare for three and four-year-olds from September 2016 will also help build on this success further.

Other successful council schemes such as targeted support in the community for young families under the ‘Best Start’ programme are also having a real positive impact.  Furthermore, the building ‘Resilient Families’ scheme, where the whole family is supported rather than individuals continues to improve thousands of lives.

For children now, we want to encourage them to get into books and read more.  Reading is such an important and enjoyable activity for young people and our library service is always keen to promote activities that get more children excited about reading. This Thursday 3 March is World Book Day and we are encouraging people to join in the celebrations.  To mark the day, youngsters will receive a £1 book token available from schools and libraries, which can be exchanged for 1 of 10 amazing books at participating bookshops.  So, mums, dads, carers and grandparents it’s a great opportunity to visit your library or bookshop and let them choose their own book.  You can find out more about the day and the ten books to choose from at http://www.worldbookday.com

Sticking with reading and libraries, there is a range of volunteering opportunities still available at all 43 Staffordshire libraries. The roles are designed to help people explore their own interests whilst making a difference in their local community.  There’s lots of different things you can get involved in, with roles including helping and advising customers, organising books and resources and helping out with reading groups, Bounce and Rhyme sessions for children, job search activities and much more.  We’re also going to be offering volunteers the chance to do a brand new qualification on how to deliver excellent customer service which will be great for their CV.  You can find out more, along with a list of drop in sessions for each library at www.staffordshire.gov.uk/volunteerinyourlibrary