Work on exciting plans gets underway at the National Memorial Arboretum

As I have said many times before we are all incredibly proud to have the National Memorial Arboretum here in Staffordshire and it’s great to see work get underway on their exciting plans.  It really is a beautiful and lasting tribute to those who serve their country, die in conflict or have a special reason for being remembered.

The existing visitor centre was designed for just 60,000 visitors per annum and the Arboretum now welcomes around 300,000 which is testament to the original vision. As a result, a fundraising campaign was launched with the aim of transforming the facilities to be able to welcome even more visitors.

The County Council has already pledged £3m towards the project and will continue to support it to help it achieve its aim of becoming a world class centre of remembrance.  The whole project, costing nearly £16 million, will provide more fitting, higher quality buildings and infrastructure, improvements to reception, shop and café, and dedicated education facilities for up to 25,000 children each year.  The work is expected to be finished at the end of 2016 but the memorial will remain open during the work.

Most people will be aware that we are developing a new structure for our library service and finding different ways of running some of our libraries.  This is all part of our long-term plan to re-energise our library service after years of declining use.

Twenty of our 43 libraries will be managed and staffed by the library service, with 23 being supported in the community and we have named the organisations set to take over the management and delivery of 11 of them.  These include South Staffordshire and Shropshire NHS Foundation Trust who will take over eight, Rising Brook Baptist Church in Stafford, and voluntary groups in Werrington and Blythe Bridge.

We were very impressed with the quality of the applications, all demonstrating the skills needed to manage a library, plus the ideas and enthusiasm to develop them so they remain relevant to their local communities.  The first transfers will take place in the next few months and I’m sure as other groups see the process in action and what support is on offer, we will see more groups coming forward.

And more great news this month with the county’s job seekers allowance claimant count falling to its lowest number at 0.8%.  This is due to our work in growing the number of jobs in the county’s key sectors and focusing on increasing people’s skills.

One of the things we are doing to support growth and expansion is to support small companies through our Business loans Fund which we will be extending for an additional three years.  It provides loans ranging from £10,000 to £50,000 for viable businesses based in Staffordshire.  The fund has led to over 1,000 jobs being created or safeguarded since it was set up in 2009.  Businesses can find out more by calling 0300 111 8002.

At our last Cabinet meeting we also approved the creation of a new £15.4 million public sector hub for Newcastle which will help boost the town’s economy and free up land for a major retail development.  As well as saving taxpayers’ money, the hub would also improve access for residents by bringing together several services under one roof.

The hub would be built on the site of the former St Giles’ and St George’s school adjoining Barracks Road and fronting Queens Gardens.  This would then free up the space for the £27.1 million retail development and student accommodation on the site of the former Sainsbury’s supermarket and current Newcastle Borough Council civic offices.

The projects are part of the recently-signed joint working agreement between the county and borough authorities, known as District Deal 2 which will focus on boosting Newcastle and Kidsgrove town centres, providing backing for rural areas and support for Keele University’s development.

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