Archive for December, 2016

2016: A Golden Year for Staffordshire

Wednesday, December 28th, 2016
Adam Peaty swimming

Superstar Uttoxeter swimmer Adam Peaty is heading to the Rio Olympics

2016 has been a fabulous year for Staffordshire and it’s only when we stop and take stock that you realise how much work has been done in the last 12 months to help residents and just how much there is to celebrate about the county’s past and present.

January: The year got off to a flying start with the news that a national catering spares distributor had been granted permission to build its new headquarters at Kingswood Lakeside Business Park in Cannock. First Choice Group’s move to larger premises will allow it to grow and potentially double the number of employees from its current 130. Other major projects include the installation of a new bridge across the West Coast Mainline to open up Liberty Park, Lichfield; preparation of Bericote Four Ashes, in South Staffordshire, which is to become home to Gestamp – safeguarding 800 local jobs; and the provision of infrastructure for the new business park at Meaford, near Stone.

February: Successful completion of more work meant that 90 per cent of homes and businesses in Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent could connect to superfast fibre broadband, as a result of the county council’s work with BT and private investment.

March: Parents across the county discovered whether their children had been allocated a place at their preferred secondary school. And again, Staffordshire proved to have one of the highest success rates in the country, with 98 per cent of 7,406 applicants allocated one of their top three selections – and 94 per cent their first choice.

April: With 11 libraries already in the process of transferring to the community, bidding began to take over the day-to-day running and management of the remaining 12.  As 2016 draws to an end the process is nearing completion, with a church group, village association and a health trust among the bidders taking over.

wedgwoodstatue1May: The first ever Staffordshire Day on May 1st was a huge success for the county, with residents, tourist attractions and other businesses taking advantage of the Bank Holiday weekend to celebrate Staffordshire and all its achievements. Dozens of street parties and other events, including at Rudyard Lake, were held across the county

June: Thousands of competitors showed their mettle by lining up for the second IRONMAN 70.3 event to be held in Staffordshire.  More than 2,000 local, national and international competitors took part, generating an estimated £2 million for the local economy, while many of the non-elite athletes used the opportunity to raise money for their preferred charity.

July: Just as pupils, parents and teachers were preparing for the summer holidays, new figures revealed that the number of primary and secondary schools in the county rated ‘good’ and ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted had risen to 85 per cent – an increase of 15 percentage points from the position in 2013. Education chiefs praised not only the sustained effort in the class rooms, but the work commissioned behind the scenes to improve standards.

August: Staffordshire’s Olympians and Paralympians played their part in making it a golden summer in Rio for the GB squad. Uttoxeter swimmer Adam Peaty smashed the world record on his way to an individual gold medal and a relay silver. Stone canoeist Joe Clarke, seized gold too with Paralympian Lee Pearson winning gold and silver.

September: Parents benefited as Staffordshire was chosen as one of eight authorities in the country to pilot the introduction of 30 hours’ free childcare for three and four-year-olds. This meant more than 400 parents were able to enrol through some of the county’s largest employers – either allowing them to take on more hours’ work, or keep some money in their pocket.

October: Work began on a package of road and infrastructure developments, including a new bridge, to enable developers to get to work on the multi-million Branston Locks development near Burton. Eventually 400 acres of land immediately west of the A38 will be developed with 2,500 new homes, a range of community facilities and a 50-acre employment site, which will be known as Quintus. It will also include retail, health, leisure and recreational facilities, as well as provision for older people. Separate developments on land nearby will see new primary and high schools built by the county council. The total investment in the area could be more than £800 million.

November: Plans for the creation of 3,500 jobs and 660 start-up businesses in South Staffordshire over the next four years were agreed by the county and district councils. Included in the package was the provision of skills training so  young people could meet local employers’ needs, help for older people to get back into work and a healthier living programme. District deals are also in place in Newcastle, where more than £40 million is being invested in the town centre, Burntwood, the Moorlands and Stafford.Philip Atkins with flag 1

December: The year drew to a close with many projects well underway, such as the installation of a new junction on the A50; or coming to fruition, as with the opening of the new £1.5 million household waste recycling centre in Uttoxeter. Finally joblessness also remained the lowest in the West Midlands at 0.9 per cent proving the county’s efforts to boost the economy, attract new investment and jobs are paying off.

Budget sets out record spending on elderly care

Friday, December 23rd, 2016

Over the last few months we’ve been working hard on our budget at the county council which sets out our spending plans for the next five years. And, in my seven years as Leader of the County Council, I have to say without doubt, this has been the toughest challenge yet.

You will have heard me say many times before that local councils are in unprecedented times and continue to face not only the most difficult financial conditions in modern days but huge demands on our social care system as more of our population grows older.

Because of this and to ensure we can support our ageing population we will be allocating a record £300m of funding into caring for the elderly, along with additional support for disabled and vulnerable children.

We recognised the sheer size of the challenge a number of years ago and as a consequence have already made efficiency savings across council services of almost £200m over the last five years. But still more needs to be done to balance the books,  and we may still need to make savings of around £2m every month for the next five years.

Like any household budget, we can’t spend more than we have coming in. But this is not just about spending less. It is about us doing things differently and asking people to do more for themselves, their neighbours and their communities and, yes, pay a little more too to protect those who can’t help themselves who the county council provides care for.

We know that nobody really likes to pay more tax, and reluctantly  we are going to have to increase council tax, most of which will be spent on social care.  Despite any increase, we will still have one of the lowest county council taxes in the country.  And as we will all have someone close to us who needs care in their old age, this will make sure we can provide that care.

We still have a great story to tell here in Staffordshire. We continue to attract major investment creating more better paid jobs and with the lowest records of unemployment in the region, I have no doubt that Staffordshire will continue to thrive and grow and be a great place to live and work.

More superfast broadband coming to Staffordshire

Thursday, December 15th, 2016

broadband boxMore good news about our Superfast Staffordshire project that will see thousands more Staffordshire households and businesses set to get fibre broadband over the next two years. And, all thanks to a £5million expansion.

I’m sure people will agree that superfast broadband is pretty essential these days for everyone, whether it’s for business, schools, or leisure. When we don’t have good access we miss it especially at this time of year when many are Christmas shopping online, communicating with families and downloading festive movies or streaming catch up TV.

Well, 6,200 more rural households will benefit from the boost as the upgrade work takes place over 2017 and early 2018. Some of the county’s smallest communities will even have access to the internet for the first time thanks to the expansion, which is good news.

When the whole project is completed, 96 per cent of the county will have access to fibre optic broadband. Having this kind of speed on this kind of scale is cutting edge technology that will have a huge impact on our county. This will be some of the fastest internet tech available to nearly every house and business in Staffordshire, making us one of the best connected counties in the country.

And for the final four per cent we want to see connected too, we have launched a funding support programme to compliment the BT Community Fibre Partnership scheme. This allows Superfast Staffordshire to co-invest along with communities that are seeking to undertake a co-funded project. We want to hear from communities who are interested in following in the footsteps of Cotwalton – the first to pilot this approach with us. Get ready for Staffordshire to become one of the fastest online counties in the country.

And something we’re looking forward to on Friday this week is Local Charities Day. Small, local charities and community organisations will have their day in the limelight and show the great work their do in their areas. The voluntary, community and charity sector play a vital role in helping make Staffordshire a great place to live and it’s great that we have a day to recognise their massive contributions.

Local organisations better understand the issues affecting their own communities and are often visible and well trusted.  And, without volunteers, small charities wouldn’t be able to do all the good work they do too, so big thanks to them as well.

We will continue to work closely with our partners in the voluntary sector to support and develop small charities and promote volunteering to help us build stronger communities here in Staffordshire.

A50 improvements will benefit the whole county

Wednesday, December 7th, 2016

a50-resizedNext week will see work start on another important phase on the major project to improve the A50 which will benefit businesses and commuters across the county. This junction with Uttoxeter is probably the most important link between the East and West Midlands, and the improvements we’re making, on behalf of Highways England will make a huge difference in the area.

This next stage will see a new bridge built over the A50 to carry the A522, and when complete, will create a safer, more accessible network and keep traffic moving while bolstering the local economy.  The junction will be closed for five days starting on 12 December while we carry out the work, and I’d like to thank anyone affected for their patience ahead of time.

I obviously know the area very well and know the project will not only relieve congestion and benefit businesses and their employees, making journeys quicker, easier and safer for everyone, but will also support Staffordshire’s ongoing economic growth and the creation of new jobs and homes which is something we all want to see.

And staying with my local area, it’s good news that the new recycling centre in Uttoxeter is set to open next week. The new £1.5 million household waste recycling centre has been built on brownfield land off Dove Way, to replace the town’s previous permanent site at Pennycroft Lane. Please bear with the contractors as they move to a real modern facility that offers everything people need to recycle and it will be easily accessible for residents from the town and the surrounding area. Like all our centres, the site will accept the usual wide range of recyclable household waste, including cardboard, cooking oil, garden waste and electrical appliances. It will be open five days a week, closing Wednesdays and Thursdays.