Celebrating our community managed Libraries

This month’s transfer of the day-to-day management and delivery of Penkridge library to Penkridge Parish Council is our 27th successful completion. It also marks the end of the fourth phase of this very successful four-year programme.

This has been an important process for us and has meant that we have been able to develop many of our smaller libraries by handing over day to day running of them to other organisations and voluntary groups.

I’ve blogged about the approach many times before and you can track the progress below:

Your help is needed in making sure our library service is ready for the future

Opportunity for groups to run the remaining four community libraries

More community managed libraries

This latest transferring of Penkridge library is a real landmark for the service, and it has not only helped to make our libraries more relevant to their communities but in many cases we have also seen the introduction of a whole range of new ideas alongside the core library service.

This has only really been possible because of Staffordshire people’s passion for their local libraries and their enthusiasm to make a difference in their communities.

The library service now has more than 950 volunteers contributing at its 27 community run libraries and the 16 that remain under direct council management. We’re incredibly grateful for their support and the positive impact they are having on local communities.

Sticking with libraries, this week we’re also celebrating the great news that over 10,000 children in Staffordshire have taken part in this years’ Summer Reading Challenge. It has been incredibly successful and encouraging to see so many children visiting libraries over the summer holidays. It’s a great scheme that helps keep children reading over the six-week holiday, so well done to everyone who took part and again to the many volunteers who supported the scheme.

Work on major road scheme for county town underway

Graphic of how part of the Stafford Western Access Route will look

This week work got under way on a really important multi-million-pound road project in Stafford which will help boost growth and ease congestion in the town.

The Stafford Western Access Route essentially is a new outer ring road that will link the A34 Foregate Street at Madford Retail Park to the A518 Newport Road Castlefields junction. It’s something I’ve blogged about before, and how it will help to relieve traffic and also open up new development areas for housing and employment sites.

This is another important flagship project for us and is expected to take around two years to complete. Not only will it help to ease traffic, improve conditions for bus services, pedestrians and cyclists, attract additional investment but there will be environmental benefits too. This will be mainly through the redevelopment of areas of derelict land and landscaping along the route.

The road is being funded by developers and with £15.5million secured by the Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Enterprise Partnership through the Government’s Local Growth Fund.

With a project of this size there will inevitably be some disruption but as most of the construction will be taking place off the existing road network we are confident that any disruption will be minimal.

I will keep you up to date with progress.

Smoother journeys in Burton ahead with £1m investment

Highways improvements underway in Burton

We are all well aware of how important good roads are for everyone. Not only are they vital for local communities and for businesses but they are essential to growing our local towns and supporting better access to jobs, education and housing.

That’s why we’ve invested £1m into two highways improvements schemes in Burton. Work is now being carried out on Borough Road, near the railway station, as well as Shobnall Road and Forest Road.

At Shobnall Road and Forrest Road crews are working seven days a week and overnight to resurface the entire road. Signed diversion routes, including a designated one for HGVs are in place to ensure the work can be carried out safely. Work is progressing well and crews hope to have the job completed by the end of the month as originally scheduled.

The additional £350,000 scheme at Borough Road is part of a wider Network Rail project to improve access in and around the railway station. Work will see the widening of the road to create bus lay-bys, new bus shelters, the relocation of the existing zebra crossing and the resurfacing of the road and pavements. Two weeks in and the work is still on schedule to be completed in late September.

Both these schemes are vital for the town and once complete will not only benefit motorists who work or live near the area but also local businesses.  You can Watch this video to find out more about the schemes

365 Great Things About Staffordshire

I’ve often talked about what a great place Staffordshire really is, so you won’t be surprised with our latest campaign.….

Our 365 Great Things About Staffordshire is a year-long celebration of everything that makes our county a great place to live, work & visit.

We launched on July 1st and over the next year, we’ll be focusing on one good thing for each day. From our unique historical figures to some of the things we are famous for, like the Staffordshire oatcake.

But we also want to shine a light on the excellent work of individuals and organisations, and the incredible initiatives going on across the county that are positively impacting the lives of people.

This campaign isn’t just about what WE think is great about Staffordshire, but also what YOU think is great about the county too. We want your suggestions and ideas and you can get them to us via http://bit.ly/staffs365

It’s easy to do and no idea is too big or too small. If you feel that it’s a ‘Great Thing About Staffordshire’, then it counts!

There’s also many ways to keep up to date with the campaign:

Please share and comment on our posts using the hashtag #Staffs365 and help us tell the world what a great place Staffordshire really is.

Declaring a climate emergency

At our Full Council meeting on Thursday, which also happened to be one of the hottest days of the year, the council took the decision to declare a ‘climate emergency’.

The declaration, which has cross-party support, comes a month after we launched our Air Aware initiative, which aims to improve air quality in the county.

This is an important first step for the council and we’ve pledged to refresh our climate change strategy and continue our support to local district and borough councils in tackling the issue. We also remain committed to providing a strong, unified voice on behalf of councils when lobbying the Government.

We have made good progress to reduce carbon emissions as a council to 80% by 2050 in recent years with our ambitions set out in Hard Rain, Hard Rain 2 and Green Shoots, and have already managed to reduce our carbon footprint significantly but we recognise that after ten years and many technological changes much more must be done.

What we are doing now is setting ambitious but achievable targets to protect our environment and reduce carbon emissions even further. As well as working with our partners and lobbying the Government to address the problem, we will also consider the implementation of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

Many councillors wanted to take part in the debate which I am sure will continue, and it will mean subtle changes in the way we all lead our lives, locally, nationally and globally. By working together on this issue I’m confident we can make a difference. I will keep you up to date with our progress.

Developing local talent through apprenticeships

Apprentices celebrating their achievement

I’ve blogged about the importance of apprenticeships to the UK economy and to our own here in Staffordshire many times before.

Around 7,000 people across the county have completed an apprenticeship over the past 18 months which is great news and they remain a key part of our plan to grow the local economy and create more better paid jobs for people.

It’s important to remember that Apprenticeships are now available at a range of levels leading to the equivalent of a foundation degree, a bachelor’s degree and even master’s degree level in some sectors. And, more of these specialised and highly-skilled Apprenticeships are being offered each year, giving individuals the chance to continue their professional development and fully realise their potential.

On Wednesday, 150 apprentices gathered at the County Showground in Stafford with their families, employers, and training providers for our fifth apprenticeship graduation ceremony. This is a really important event for us and not only highlights the importance of apprenticeships to our economy but it’s also a brilliant way to mark the achievements of those completing their training.

For year’s university graduates have enjoyed their day on the stage but this now gives apprentices that same recognition and experience. I would like to say a huge Congratulations to everyone who graduated on the day and I wish them every success in their future careers.

Recognising the county’s top carers and care companies

Some of the attendees of this years’ Staffordshire Dignity in Care Awards

Every year we have a very special awards ceremony to recognise and thank the care services and individuals who ensure people in care are treated with dignity and respect.

This year was no different and over 120 guests gathered with family members and work colleagues for the Staffordshire Dignity in Care Awards at Newcastle College.

It’s always a wonderful celebration that recognises the best of the care sector in Staffordshire and once again it was great to see such a wide range of carers and organisations being recognised. And the one thing they all have in common is that they always put their clients or the people they look after first and put dignity at the heart of everything they do.

Here’s some photos of the award winners and I would like to say a huge well done to the winners and runners up and everyone who was nominated.

You can read more about all the winners on the Staffordshire Newsroom by clicking ‘County’s top carers recognised in Dignity Awards’.

Ten years on from the discovery of the Staffordshire Hoard

I went back to the field where it all started to meet with Fred Johnson, the owner of the farm and Steve Dean, former Archaeologist for Staffordshire County Council who led the excavation work.

It’s hard to believe that this time ten years ago the Staffordshire Hoard was discovered.

I still remember how exciting it was, not just for all of us involved, but for everyone in Staffordshire and even across the globe. Even to this day, it still has people talking.

On the actual day of the find I was discussing ideas for a new logo for the county council with Cabinet Members and senior managers. Funny enough, one idea being using the Staffordshire Knot. I even suggested that it should be 24-caret gold which didn’t go down to well.

It was shortly after that meeting, that I was told there had been one of the greatest finds since Tutankhamun. Seeing photos shortly after verified just how significant this find was and seeing the story unfold is something I won’t forget.

During the early period, only a select few of us actually knew about it. I’ve never forgotten the day I told the senior leadership team and cabinet members and their reactions. The big challenge for the team was keeping the news a secret until the items could be safely taken out of the ground.

As the days went on, it quickly became clear just how significant the discovery was. Finding items like swords, the serpents and the millefiori and seeing them being pieced together was like seeing a puzzle coming together.

It’s interesting to look back at what the hoard has meant for the county. During the time of its discovery all eyes were on Staffordshire, even garnering interest from as far as China. Not to mention a phone call from the Vatican. 

It remains a truly remarkable collection and there is nothing comparable in terms of content and quality in the UK or mainland Europe. And, with designs of the objects now being linked to many regions across Europe, it’s now part of our fascinating history and giving people another great reason to visit Staffordshire.

Make sure you’re ‘Air Aware’!

Pupils from Heath Hayes Primary Academy monitoring air pollution outside their school

On Thursday we launched our brand new Air Aware Staffordshire campaign on Clean Air Day to help raise everyone’s awareness of air pollution.

The good news is that many people are already doing their bit to tackle air pollution in the county, which is great. So far, 15 schools, 6,500 pupils and 1,000 parents in priority areas are already working with us to reduce car journeys to school, as well as persuading drivers not to leave their engines running while parked.

This is a big problem for all of us but by making small changes to the way we travel such as walking or cycling to work and school, we can improve our health through exercise, limit air pollution and lower greenhouse gases.

I would particularly like to thank pupils and staff at Heath Hayes Primary Academy in Cannock who helped launch the campaign and are already very active and making a real difference. Their hard work was rewarded with a nice feature on Central News. You can view it here.

It’s also great to see local businesses like Holland and Barrett joining in and encouraging employees to consider more active travel options or even sharing a lift with colleagues to reduce the number of journeys made.

But there is more we all can do together – if we all make one small change, together we can make a big difference.

The new People helping people fund

People Power Celebrated in Staffordshire with Launch of New Fund

Regular readers of my blog will already be aware that the way councils are funded is changing with less money coming from government to local councils.

Essentially, we can no longer deliver everything we once did, so while we concentrate on prioritising our legal responsibilities for the most vulnerable in our communities, the way we work with local people needs to change.

To help with this, we’ve recently launched our People Helping People fund, where each county councillor has £2,500 to invest in community and voluntary projects and groups that support people’s health and wellbeing, or on children and families who need a little extra support.

By working differently with our local communities, we can ensure we keep doing the essential things like social care, while people do their bit in their local community to make sure Staffordshire continues to be a great place to live. Our message is that small things really do make a difference, so something as small as talking to an elderly neighbour who may be lonely, or encouraging your family to eat more fruits and vegetables, can add up to a bigger whole.

There are some great ideas on the kind of things you could do on the county council website, just search for “doing our bit” to get access to a wealth of ideas.

By working together and doing our bit, we can all help make Staffordshire an even greater place to live.