Highlights of 2014

With a population of 850,000, more than 28,000 businesses large and small, outstanding natural beauty and the good fortune of a central position in the UK, the great county of Staffordshire has many assets to capitalise on, but for me the greatest one is its people.

It’s the council’s duty to foster the conditions necessary to create and sustain good, better paid jobs, so residents can be healthy and lead their own lives in their community, in the knowledge that the council is willing and able to help where needed.

We can never rest on our laurels, but I believe 2014 shows the county is firmly heading in the right direction, while its people remain inspirational.  Here are some of the highlights from the last twelve months.

JANUARY: The year got off to a good start, with the news that the number of Staffordshire students getting good GCSE results had risen for the sixth consecutive year, with 59.9 per cent of young people in Staffordshire gained five or more A* to C grades including English and maths, which was an increase of 1.2 per cent on the previous year.

FEBRUARY: The first communities in the county to benefit from the £27.9m Superfast Staffordshire fibre broadband partnership were unveiled. Residents and businesses in Ash Bank, Clifton Campville, Kings Bromley, Marchington, Yarnfield and Yoxall could expect faster download and upload speeds, along with premises in Rugeley and Colton, and in parts of Burntwood, Heath Hayes, and Penkridge. The Superfast Staffordshire partnership between Staffordshire County Council, BT and the Government’s Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) programme is providing access to high-speed broadband to more than 88,000 homes and businesses in mainly rural area.

MARCH: Government ministers approved the historic City Deal, releasing £30.9m, which when combined with private sector investment and other programmes could see £113m invested in Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent over the next decade and the creation of up to 20,000 jobs. The deal, called Powerhouse Central, focuses on providing a stable supply of affordable energy. Other key measures include bringing schools, colleges and universities together with employers to make sure people have the right skills and training, as well as creating thousands of apprenticeships and traineeships; developing sites for new business or existing business to expand into; and supporting business to innovate and develop the next generation of products or materials.

APRIL: Parents wanting the best education for their children received welcome news when Staffordshire County Council revealed that nine out of 10 children would be going to their parents’ first choice primary school, and 97 per cent had been allocated a place at one of their top three preferences. The news followed March’s announcement that 96 per cent of parents have been allocated their first choice secondary school, with 99 per cent allocated one of their top three preferred schools.

MAY: Mourners travelled from near and far to pay their respects to inspirational Burntwood teenage cancer fundraiser Stephen Sutton, whose body lay in ‘a place of honour’ at Lichfield Cathedral. Stephen, who died of cancer aged 19, had captured the nation’s hearts with his determination to live life to the full and raise money for the Teenage Cancer Trust. The Facebook post announcing his death was shared more than 120,000 times in an hour, as donations in his memory soared, passing the £4 million with days of his passing.

JUNE: Demand for the first ever IRONMAN® triathlon event in Staffordshire saw places sell out within minutes of them being released. Attracted by the prospect of a flat, fast picturesque course in the heart of the UK, places were taken within 14 minutes after more than 8,000 people asked to be notified when the entry list went live. Organised jointly with the county council, the IRONMAN® 70.3 Staffordshire triathlon will take place on 14th June 2015, and include a 1.2-mile swim in Chasewater reservoir; a 56-mile bike course through the stunning countryside outside Lichfield, Burton-upon-Trent and across Cannock Chase; before concluding with a 13.1 mile run starting and finishing at the historic Shugborough country estate.

JULY:  Uttoxeter swimmer Adam Peaty announced himself to the world by winning two gold medals and one silver at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games. The 19-year-old’s glorious year also included four European titles at the Berlin championships and two world records. The teenager’s year ended on a high, shortlisted for BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year Awards, screened live to the nation.

AUGUST: It was time for the traditional great holiday getaway, but despite the millions of journeys made, the roads in Staffordshire were among the safest in the country. The latest figures showed a year-on-year reduction of 25.3 per cent in the number of people killed or seriously injured on the county’s roads – making them the second safest in the country. Reasons cited for the success included safety campaigns on rural roads and 20mph limits outside schools.

SEPTEMBER: The shutters flew up on school kitchens across the county to reveal more than £2m of work had been completed to ensure every child in reception and Years One and Two could have a free school meal. Work was done at more than 150 schools in readiness for the surge in demand, which saw the number of daily meals made by the county’s schools services provider Entrust rise from around 24,000 in July to more than 33,000 in September.

OCTOBER: 2014 was the year that the Jobseeker’s Allowance Statistics showed Staffordshire’s economic policies were paying dividends. The 1.2 per cent figure announced in October prompted celebration as, at the time, it was the lowest for seven years. Figures released in December would show that the JSA claimant rate kept falling to the end of the year, finishing at 1.0 per cent; compared to the West Midlands regional rate of 2.5 per cent.

NOVEMBER: Staffordshire warmly welcomed Her Majesty the Queen and HRH the Duke of Edinburgh to the county to officially open two businesses at its latest landmark development. Her Majesty, accompanied by The Duke of Edinburgh, gave her approval to Jaguar Land Rover’s new engine manufacturing centre at i54 South Staffordshire and to a new facility for hi-tech printing firm International Security Printers.  The landmark site is a partnership between Staffordshire County Council, Wolverhampton City Council and South Staffordshire Council.

DECEMBER: People around the world were entranced by the letter unearthed in Staffordshire’s County archives, written on Christmas Day 1914 by an Army General to his wife. Audiences in Australia and the United States were among those who were fascinated by the contemporary account of Sir Walter Congreve VC, which told of men mingling in No Man’s Land in northern France, smoking cigars and exchanging pleasantries, plus an account of how one of the legendary football matches was already the talk of the trenches.

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