Hawaii, Australia, Barcelona and once again Staffordshire

IRONMAN 70.3 returns to Staffordshire

Here’s another date for your diary! Staffordshire’s biggest triathlon competition IRONMAN 70.3 returns for 2019 on Sunday 9 June.

This will be our fifth IRONMAN event in Staffordshire and the second time the race will finish in Stafford town centre. Once again, the race will see around 2,000 competitors take on the gruelling challenge of completing a 1.2 mile swim at Chasewater, 56 mile bike ride through the Staffordshire countryside and 13.1 mile half marathon in Stafford.

It’s always a popular event with thousands turning out to watch the action first-hand and I’m sure this year will be just as exciting.  IRONMAN run events all over the world including Hawaii, Australia, and Barcelona, so it’s great for Staffordshire appearing right up there next to these world famous locations.

Previous events have not only provided a welcome boost to our local economy and tourism businesses but have also helped to raise hundreds of thousands of pounds for charity.

And remember, as like in previous years, organisers are looking for volunteers to help make the day run smoothly. There’s a variety of roles on offer, all of which give you a great chance to gain experience of working behind the scenes of a world-renowned event. You can find out more about volunteering at IRONMAN here.

Finally, there will be some road closures on the day to ensure the event runs safely, so to help you make plans for any journeys you may have to make on the day it’s best to plan your route accordingly. You can find out details about road closures here.

Extra cash for potholes for the third year running

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 economy and supporting better access to jobs, education and housing.

That’s why, for the third year running we are investing an additional £5m into tackling potholes and improving our roads and the journeys we make.

This additional funding is part of a package of £30m and includes an extra allocation of £20,000 for each local county councillor to help them deal with more localised highways issues.

Maintaining such a huge road network, (more than 6,000km)  is a constant challenge for us.  That’s  why we need to make the best use of every pound we invest and focus where we can on schemes which deliver the best value and longer-term benefits.

The full 2019/20 Highways and Transport Capital programme will be presented at our meeting of the Cabinet for approval next week. 

Preparing for Brexit

Like me, I am sure that you have been following the ongoing developments about Brexit with interest and wondering what is going to happen.

Clearly this still remains in the hands of the Government and our MPs in Westminster, but there is no doubt that whatever happens, the whole issue will affect all of us

I want to reassure people that as part of our normal contingency planning, we continue to work closely with all our partners including district and borough councils, police, fire and the NHS, to put together plans for various outcomes.  

For some time now too, we have also been working with various Government departments and organisations that represent councils to help shape the national direction and raise Staffordshire’s profile in preparing for the future.

Our priority, and mine as leader of the county council regardless of the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, is to make sure that Staffordshire remains a place where everyone has the opportunity to be prosperous, to be healthy, and to be happy. 

I have blogged about this many times before, but a major part of this work is to encourage investment in Staffordshire and means Staffordshire continuing to be an attractive place for people to live and work.

By doing so, we can help people to access more and better jobs, the schools and training that they need, and the infrastructure – homes, roads, health services, schools, and transport links to be able to maintain the excellent quality of life that we enjoy.

This work would be happening whether Brexit was an issue or not. What Brexit has shown is that Staffordshire is a place that people still want to invest in and that our county is an area where people want to live, despite the uncertainty of the past few years.

I do know that there is still some uncertainty in both the business community and within the communities of Staffordshire about Brexit, but rest assured, we are keeping a close eye on whatever happens so that Staffordshire remains prepared and ready for whatever the future may bring.

Less than a month to Staffordshire Day

This year’s Staffordshire Day (1 May) is now less than a month away and there’s plenty to be excited about.

As I have blogged about before, the theme for this years’ event is ‘Made in Staffordshire’, which as the name suggests is a celebration of all the great things to come out of Staffordshire, from its brewing and ceramic heritage, as well as food and drink, to the music and some of the most famous people from the county.

Tying in with this years’ theme is the Made in Staffordshire Playlist. The playlist can be found on Spotify and showcases some of the best music to come from the county, from big named musical legends to rising stars. You can even add your own tracks to the playlist and recommend songs by tweeting @enjoystaffs.

Returning once again are the Staffordshire Day mug shots. It was a huge success last year when hundreds of people got involved and perfectly fits the Made in Staffordshire theme. All people need to do again is take a quick selfie holding a Staffordshire mug and share it on social media with #StaffordshireDay and we’ll do the rest.

As in previous years, there’s plenty of other events and activities happening all around the county, such as the Staffordshire Day Plate Raceday at Uttoxeter Racecourse, the Staffordshire Day Vintage Fair at the National Memorial Arboretum, the Made in Staffordshire art exhibition at the Guildhall Gallery in Stafford and many more.

Many libraries across Staffordshire are getting involved in the celebrations too. See a full list of Staffordshire Day library events here.

Make sure the date is in your diary and keep up to date with events and activities at www.enjoystaffordshire.com/staffsday

New homes development near Stone

We are all aware of the importance of growing our economy and attracting high quality jobs to the area and how everyone will benefit from this. But, just as important as this, is the need to have more homes and in particular a good mix of different types of homes that people want to live in.

Earlier this week we got exciting news that plans for a 10,000-home development near Stone would be receiving £750k from the Government to support the project.

It’s the garden village development at Coldmeece near Stone and would be sited on former Ministry of Defence land. Not only would it bring much needed homes to the area, but it would also attract further investment in the future along with many community improvements.

We continue to work hard with our partners to prepare the foundations for business growth and job creation across Staffordshire and new housing will certainly support this.

We are still in the very early stages of the project but look forward to developing the plans with the Borough Council along with the necessary infrastructure.

I’ll keep you posted on progress.

Showcasing county’s investment potential at global event

Midlands UK pavilion

Last week our investment team Make It Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire were flying the flag for the region on the global stage at the MIPIM conference and exhibition in Cannes in France.

This is Europe’s largest exhibition and conference for property professionals and international investors. It’s an important event for us and provides a marketplace for UK and international investors to meet, discuss projects and opportunities, and do business.

Being supported and sponsored by leading Staffordshire firms who also attended, the team have been busy promoting Staffordshire as the ideal place for jobs, growth and investment opportunities. Developments such as the Keele Growth Corridor, the Stafford Station Gateway project, Rugeley Power Station redevelopment, and the i54 South Staffordshire western extension are some of the projects being showcased.

Our central location in the heart of the country still means we’re ideally placed to invest, do business, live, work, and we have a very impressive case to make to international investors.

It is vital we continue to attract new investment to the area and promote growth opportunities so we can create more better paid jobs for local people.

A ‘Good’ Ofsted rating for our children’s social services

This week our Children’s Social Services received some great news with Ofsted confirming a rating of good following their inspection of the service in February. 

This is an incredibly important area of work for the County Council and being rated as ‘Good’ is testament to the hard work of the teams involved. It means that vulnerable children in the county continue to be well looked after. We are also one of only three local authorities in the West Midlands to achieve this rating which is another reason to be very proud of the work our children social workers do.

The report highlights many areas of good practice, including a reduction in caseloads for social workers, mature partnership working and the quality of an experienced workforce. You can never be too good in this area of work and there are of course some areas for improvement which we continue to work on too, including developing better systems for helping those who go missing repeatedly, and improving support for older care leavers.

Overall we are pleased with the rating and the progress made to keep children safe but we continue to lobby Government for a national, sustainable solution to how we continue to fund children’s care.

You can read the full story here on our newsroom.

Ten weeks to go

A few weeks ago I asked readers to put the date of Wednesday 1 May in their diary.

Some people will already be aware of this annual celebration but for those that aren’t, it’s Staffordshire Day and it’s our day to tell the world what a great place Staffordshire is.

This is our forth Staffordshire Day and it’s all about being proud of where we live while promoting our great county and attracting more visitors.

Our theme this year is ‘Made in Staffordshire’ and we’ll be celebrating all the great stuff made here including our world famous pottery heritage.

We’re also having the Great Staffordshire Day Quiz, Staffordshire Mug Shots and the World’s Biggest Oatcake morning back again this year.

Lots of our tourist attractions will also be offering special offers on the day and our libraries will be joining in the fun with a range of arts and crafts activities.

In a previous celebration over 60,000 people took part in activities and it generated over £1m for the local economy. We were also trending on Twitter last time too which was great.

Today is exactly 10 weeks to the day itself so it’s a good time to start thinking about what you’ll be doing. You can keep up to date with events and activities at www.enjoystaffordshire.com/staffsday

Approving a balanced budget

Thursday saw our first Full Council meeting of 2019, and it was quite an important one as we approved our budget for the next financial year.

As I’ve written about many times before, we face real challenges as a county council with the rising costs in adult social care and children’s services. But, after taking early, decisive action to close a £35m forecasted shortfall over the next year we’ve managed to deliver a balanced budget.

Right from the start we have been honest with residents about the scale of the challenge and the difficult decisions we have faced and will continue to face. 

We have also listened to people’s concerns and responded where possible including: Continuing to fund the school crossing patrol service, keeping all-day concessionary travel for disabled people and providing funding transition for the community and voluntary sector.

As well as lobbying Government and getting some additional money for highways and social care, we also managed to secure additional funding by successfully bidding to be part of a national business rates pilot scheme.

While we can no longer do or fund everything we would like to, we remain focused on supporting the most vulnerable in our communities and supporting people to find their own local alternative and affordable options.

Council tax will rise by 2.95 per cent this year, less than 10p per day more for a Band D property and still the third lowest county council tax in the country.

We continue to have a good story to tell here in Staffordshire. With near full employment at 1.3% seeking work, the average full time weekly gross wage increasing to £551 per week, more job creation and 96 per cent broadband coverage, Staffordshire remains a fantastic and affordable place to live.

Launch of our Dignity in Care Awards

Here’s last years Dignity in Care award winners

I think everyone would agree that having the highest levels of dignity and respect in care is something that we would all want to see.

To help us achieve this, we’re very proud to be launching our 2019 Dignity in Care awards and we are inviting people to nominate carers, work colleagues, friends and family members.

It’s our fifth awards and they continue to be a great celebration of the thousands of wonderful carers across the county who make a real difference every day. You will probably know someone who always goes that extra mile for those they care for.

This year there are seven award categories and we have simplified the nomination process which is easy and quick to do. Awards include; Dignity Champion, Leadership Award, Young Dignity Champion and Informal Carer.

So, it’s for those working in care, care companies, those providing informal care to a relative or family member and those who work in a voluntary capacity across Staffordshire.

You can nominate online here and nominating is easy. The closing date for nominations is 30 April 2019 and shortlisted nominees will be invited to a special ceremony on 10 July at Newcastle under Lyme College.

The awards are also running alongside a major recruitment campaign to encourage more people to join the adult social care sector. People can find out more at http://www.everydayisdifferent.com