Looking ahead to 2019 and more major developments

Underpinning everything we all desire is the creation of more better quality jobs for people. Not only does this usually mean higher wages, allowing families to afford and enjoy a better quality of life but it also has a knock on effect on our overall economy, as people spend their money with local businesses.

More evidence of this is the continuing trend of almost full employment we’ve seen throughout 2018 which I have blogged about before. 2018 has been a busy year and the work the County Council does to create the right conditions to attract new business and help existing ones thrive continues.

This involves continuous investment in infrastructure, like major road improvements such as the A50 at Uttoxeter. Investment in key foundations like superfast broadband, housing, schools and more business parks. There’s lots more to be excited about too in 2019 with even more major projects scheduled.

We have the exciting expansion of i54 South Staffordshire which will create an additional 1,700 jobs while the Four Ashes business park is at full occupancy.

In Stafford, Redhill Business Park, also at full occupancy with expanding companies and firms such as Trebor building new premises, is helping to safeguard and create thousands of more jobs over the next decade.

This year will also see the start of construction of the Stafford Western Access Route and Lichfield Southern Bypass. Work on a major £15m highways improvement project in Cannock for a new £160m McArthurGlen Designer Outlet is already underway which I have blogged about before here.

As a county council we have a good story to tell. We’re opening doors for business to thrive and grow. We’re attracting new investment to the county and we are making Staffordshire right for business to improve the lives of everyone living here.

I’d like to wish everyone a Happy and healthy 2019.

This year brings to an end the culmination of a series of projects events and exhibitions to commemorate the anniversary of the end of the Great War

Corporal with ventriloquists dummy

A Corporal from South Staffordshire Regiment with ventriloquists dummy

One such project involved getting the Jake Whitehouse collection online which is now available for all to see at www.jakewhitehouse.org.uk. It’s a unique collection featuring over 1,600 postcards, photographs and objects relating to the county’s role in the Great War.

Much of the collection relates to the training camps on Cannock Chase where over 500,000 men were trained before joining troops on the Western Front. It details the stories of the thousands of British and New Zealand servicemen who trained there. Over 300 of these original postcards show soldiers and civilian workers working, training, and at leisure, while stories of German prisoners of war are also there to be explored.

The collection belonged to local and military historian and author of ‘A Town for Four Winters’, Jake Whitehouse, who sadly passed away last year. Thanks to his wife Gill who gave us permission to digitalise the collection, it’s now available for all to see. You can also watch a quick video here:

Over the four years our archives service have made several interesting discoveries relating to the Great War, none more so than the letter written by General Congreves about The 1916 Christmas Day Truce and football match between German and British soldiers.  The letter was discovered just in time for the 100th anniversary of the story and is still available to view in the archives service.

Some of my own personal memorabilia have also helped shine a light on what life was like on the home front during the war. Amongst these are Minutes of a meeting in January 2016 of the Rocester branch of the War Agriculture Committee.

What is fascinating is that until conscription in 1916 there was no Government intervention in the balance of recruitment, so counties like Staffordshire, where thousands signed up, suddenly had to adapt to manpower shortages.

The document I have details the gathering of local farmers who met in the Red Lion Hotel, and their concerns about this shortage of labour for farm work as men were sent off to fight. How children could be taught to milk cows and a preoccupation with food shortages was also highlighted in the documents.

You can read more about our Great War commemorations at http://www.staffordshiregreatwar.com

Good year for our economy as jobseeker figures remain below national average

For those of you who keep a close eye on our employment figures, I’m pleased to report that it’s more good news for Staffordshire this month.

End of year figures show that the county continues to have near full employment with  the latest statistics showing that just 1.3 per cent of the local population are claiming out of work benefits. Once again, this is lower than both regional (2.9 per cent) and national (2.3 per cent) averages. We’ve been outperforming our neighbours throughout most of the year which is encouraging news.

It’s been a pretty good year, and with even more developments scheduled for 2019, we have many fresh opportunities coming for better paid jobs to be excited about.  We have the extension of i54 South Staffordshire, beginning of construction of the Stafford Western Access Route and Lichfield Southern Bypass.

These, alongside full occupancy at sites like Four Ashes and Redhill are all projects that will support even more better paid, higher skilled jobs for people in Staffordshire.

Christmas in Care

For most children their Christmas lists will consist of the latest gadgets, games and toys. But for many children in care, all they’ll be asking for this year is a loving family.

This is where foster families can help by providing a stable and supportive family environment which is something that many of our vulnerable young people in care have never had. It’s also why we have  launched two new campaigns in the run up to Christmas to help recruit more foster carers.

We know that in most cases, foster families can give children in care the best chance of a happy life.  And, with record numbers of children being placed in care, it’s vital that we have a strong network of foster families to give them the love they need.

The first campaign, ’12 Myths of Fostering’ is all about busting some of the most commonly reported myths about fostering. We know from talking to potential foster carers that there are a lot of misconceptions about who can and cannot foster, and this campaign is all about exploring those myths and debunking them. People who have considered fostering, but ruled themselves out for one reason or another should definitely watch the 12 Myths of Fostering videos here.  We’re releasing one each day in the run up to Christmas.

Our second campaign is all about recruiting Resilience Foster Carers. This is a specialist type of fostering, and is for people with experience in dealing with teenagers with emotional and behavioural difficulties. It could include people who have worked in residential care, ex-police officers, prison officers or people who work in similar professions. There is a real shortage of these types of foster carers, so it’s vital that we reach out to try and find them.  If you think it’s something you could do or know someone who might be suitable, you can read more about it here: https://bit.ly/2ByMaP2

Don’t be afraid to take a big step if one is indicated, you can’t cross a chasm with two small leaps. You could bring joy to a vulnerable young child by giving them a loving family, and  a feeling of fulfilment to yourself.

 

Celebrating the best of the best in our annual tourism awards

Each year we recognise the contributions of our tourism businesses with the Enjoy Staffordshire Tourism Awards and this year was no different.

This year’s ceremony took place on Thursday at the brand new £8m Aspects Conference Centre at the National Memorial Arboretum and was hosted by Joanne Malin, who you may know from BBC Midlands Today.

More than 40 attractions, activities, and accommodation businesses entered, and I would like to say a huge well done to everyone, including a special congratulations to the winners.  Amongst them were Drayton Manor Park, who picked up 2 awards, Middleport Pottery, The Dorothy Clive Garden, Swinfen Hall Hotel and the NMA themselves.  Also, and on my patch, well done to Heywood Hall and Lower Micklin Touring Park both in Denstone who also picked up awards.

Tourism is a really important sector for the county and our local tourism businesses continue to do us proud and a great job, bringing in almost £2bn each year and sustaining tens of thousands of jobs.  So once again, thank you and well done.

People holding up trophies

Winners of the 2018 Enjoy Staffordshire Tourism Awards with their trophies

New approach to support young people with mental health issues

We had a busy cabinet meeting this week and one of the important decisions we made was to agree a new approach to helping children and young people with mental health issues.

This is not only about promoting good mental health, but also tackling the stigma around mental illness and improving attitudes towards it. A lot of young people may feel ashamed or embarrassed about their mental health, but we want them to know that they shouldn’t feel that shame, and that there’s people who understand what they are going through and can help them.

It’s a subject that’s incredibly important to us all and it’s vital that children get the help when they need it. That’s why we have joined forces with our local Clinical Commissioning Groups to ensure we can support them through any tough times they go through.

Around 40% of all young people experience at least one mental health issue by the age of 16. With 225,000 children and young people living in Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent, this means around 90,000 will experience an issue with their emotional health and wellbeing at some stage.

These are figures that cannot be ignored, which is why we are so committed to ensuring that young people get the help that they need.

I will keep you posted on the progress of the new approach.

Highways improvements to support new Designer Outlet for Staffordshire

Retail development in Cannock

MacArthurGlen Designer Outlet Cannock

This month we saw the start of a major highways project that will provide access to a new £160 million retail development at Mill Green in Cannock.

On-site construction of the McArthurGlen Designer Outlet started this summer and when it opens in 2020 it will be a huge draw for the county and create around 1,000 jobs for the local area. It’s a really exciting project, and great news not only for people in Cannock but the county as a whole.

As part of the overall development, McArthurGlen has committed £15 million towards the improvements which will be key to the success of the outlet. The highways works are absolutely essential. When the outlet opens we will see a significant increase in traffic around the area and this scheme will provide suitable access to the site and improve traffic flow on the surrounding roads.

It’s a major project, and as you can imagine, a huge amount of planning has gone into the works. Part of the improvements will be the construction of a temporary road to ensure there is no closure of the A460 while a new underpass for the outlet is built.

The works are expected to take around 72 weeks to complete and you can keep up to date with the project by signing up for regular email updates. You can do this here.

Positive feedback on our vision and Aspirations For Communities

Strong leadership, aspirational goals, partnership working and a clear grasp of financial challenges are some of the things highlighted in an independent review of the county council.

This was the feedback from a Local Government Association Peer Challenge in September which concluded that the county council was “ambitious” and had a “good understanding of the communities that it is working for. The review team also found that although the council faced difficult decisions it was prepared for this.

This is really encouraging news and the review was a great opportunity to get real constructive feedback about what is working well at the council and what could be done better. I am pleased the review highlighted much of the good work already underway and, at the very heart of this, the positive attitude and enthusiasm of our staff.

As I have blogged about many times before, local councils are in unprecedented financial times and it is an absolute testament to employees that this review recognised the council has a clear grasp on the financial situation and still has a drive to deliver our aspirations for Staffordshire people.

Over the next few weeks we’ll be sitting down and looking through the recommendations to see where further improvements can be made. You can read the full peer challenge here.

Looking ahead to commemorating the 100th anniversary of Armistice

NMA Armed Forces Memorial

The National Memorial Arboretum Armed Forces Memorial

With names on war memorials in all of our towns and villages, many with relatives living today, Staffordshire continues its long history of involvement, reconciliation and a national focus for remembrance.

This Sunday we will be commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Armistice, when the nation will unite to remember the guns falling silent following the end of the First World War.

I’ve blogged about Staffordshire’s many connections with the Great War many times before and the role the county played both in training troops and how the home front contributed to winning the war.

Alongside the WWI training camps on Cannock Chase where over 500,000 men were trained and our many countywide war memorials and gardens, we are also incredibly proud to be the home of the National Memorial Arboretum.

Since the first trees were planted 21 years ago, the site which now provides a focal point for the nation’s commemorations has now become a world-class centre of remembrance.  It really is an inspirational and moving place to visit and both the candlelight vigil and Remembrance service over the Armistice weekend will be a fitting way to remember those brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice giving up their lives for our freedom.

On Sunday I will be attending my local village service at the War Memorial in St Michael’s Lychgate, Rocester, which I have done so now for the last 37 years.  As like every year, the names of the 25 villagers who lost their lives during the two World Wars, inscribed on the church’s lychgate, are read out followed by a two minute silence.

A whole country falling silent together in respect of others is truly a powerful concept, and I hope people are able to take some time to attend a local service over the weekend to remember those who gave up so much.

 

The 2018 budget and what it means for Staffordshire

On Monday we had the Chancellor’s Budget with pledges for some short-term funding for adult social care, extra money to tackle potholes and £1.6bn to deliver the industrial strategy.

On top of this were details of the £20bn for the NHS – and the extra £650m for councils to help manage the growing adult social care bill next year.

While the measures are welcome news for the taxpayer and High Street business, we are now looking at the details to see exactly what it means for Staffordshire.

I’ve blogged before about the county council seeing the cost of funding adult social care and supporting children in its care increase by more than £100m in the past ten years. This is all at a time when national funding has continued to fall. And, the reason we face a shortfall of £35m in our budget for next year.

But in this budget it was good to see the Chancellor recognise the huge financial pressures councils face in funding care with additional funding for 2019/20. The additional money for roads, science and innovation and measures to leave families with a little more money in their pockets are equally welcome.

Later in December, we’ll also get the Government’s Financial Settlement which will tell us exactly how much we have to spend.

Our work to supporting a strong economy by creating the best conditions for business and housing development to thrive continues. Creating not only more jobs, but more well-paid, better skilled jobs will be better for everyone and the county as a whole.