Date for your diary – Wednesday 1 May 2019!

In my earlier blog post I spoke about our tourism economy, how well it’s doing and why it’s so important for Staffordshire and people living here.

One of the things we are doing to encourage even more visitors to the county and to show how proud we are of Staffordshire is by hosting ‘Staffordshire Day’.

May 1st is now the day we celebrate everything that’s great about our county and is a very special day for us. We celebrate the anniversary of our most famous son, Josiah Wedgwood, who set up his pottery company in 1759 and helped to transform Staffordshire into the centre of the world’s ceramics industry during the Industrial Revolution.

This will be our fourth celebration and our theme this time round is ‘Made in Staffordshire’. Not only will we be celebrating our industrial heritage, including Wedgwood’s 260th anniversary, we’ll also be celebrating our unique culture, history and amazing places to visit.

It’s also just ten years in July since The Staffordshire Hoard was discovered, the largest hoard of Anglo Saxon gold ever found, opening a window on the life of England in the 7th century and the world of the warrior elite.

Alongside a whole range of activities, events and special offers at many of our attractions, once again, Staffordshire Day gives us the chance to tell the world about what a wonderful place it really is.

Last year we were trending on Twitter too with #StaffordshireDay, which was great.

Let’s not keep it a secret. Tell your friends what a brilliant place Staffordshire is and make a point this year to visit some of our wonderful treasures and be sure to join in the Staffordshire Day celebrations.

Latest tourism figures show the sector is booming

The Roaches, Staffordshire

The start of the year is traditionally one of the busiest times for travel companies as the UK’s tourism sector continues to do very well with record numbers of visitors continuing to visit England.

But the tourism sector is also really important for us here in Staffordshire and our latest tourism figures published this week make good reading. Not only is the sector now worth £1.8bn, up from £1.7bn in the previous year but it supports almost 32,000 jobs for local people. It’s now our fourth largest employment sector.

We have also seen a steady increase in the number of staycations, where day-trippers and overnight visitors come to the county which is something we are working hard with our partners to promote.

This also helps keep local businesses busy which is good for our economy. Staffordshire has way too much to offer just for one day and that’s why we are promoting Staffordshire as a great short break destination.

So whether it’s our thrilling theme parks you love, captivating countryside or eye-opening history and heritage, we have it all. And, with the February half term holidays coming up soon, there’s a perfect opportunity to get out and explore it.

You can see what’s available on the Enjoy Staffordshire website.

More community managed libraries

Regular readers of my blog will be aware of our work to ensure that our libraries are fit for the future and are affordable. Part of this work has involved encouraging communities to become more involved with their local library or even managing them.

The approach has been a huge success and following our last round of applications, an additional five libraries will become community managed. These agreements will bring the number of community managed libraries in Staffordshire to 27.

It is an exciting time and we are seeing a broad range of organisations getting involved, including local bodies, community groups, a church, an NHS Trust and even a Rotary Club. We are also seeing all sorts of new services develop at Community Managed Libraries, such as medical drop-in centres, business start-up advice and baby massage classes.

One of the advantages of this approach is that decisions can be taken at a local level, making our libraries more responsive to community need. In the new way of working, community groups deliver the statutory library service and have access to the county’s stock and IT network, with support and guidance from officers, while the council remains responsible for agreed utility and maintenance costs.

The successful applicants are:

  • Cheadle Library: The Cheadle Community Information and Resource Group;
  • Cheslyn Hay Library: The Rotary Club of Bloxwich Phoenix;
  • Clayton Library: Business Enterprise Support Ltd;
  • Eccleshall Library: The Rotary Club of Eccleshall Mercia;
  • Penkridge Library: Penkridge Parish Council.

And remember, almost all our libraries have opportunities to volunteer in them and you can find out more in my last blog post here or at the Libraries Volunteer website.

The Libraries and Arts Service also have their own Blog which provides monthly updates of activities in Community Managed Libraries and also volunteering in County Council Managed libraries. The link is here http://scchost.org.uk/ccblog/

Welcoming the small business minister to Staffordshire

I was delighted with the opportunity to meet local business leaders and to welcome Small Business Minister Kelly Tolhurst MP at this year’s annual meeting of the Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent Local Enterprise Partnership.

As I explained to the audience, we should all be extremely proud of how far we’ve come as a county and a partnership, and that we should continue to look forward to the future.

Working together, we will build on our traditions of hard work, innovation, and high-quality products… and we continue to have big ambitions for Staffordshire.

We have recently launched a campaign which sums this up, “Staffordshire Means Jobs and Growth” …. And a major strand of this campaign is that “Staffordshire Means Ambition”… an ambition to raise the living standards of the people of Staffordshire.

To achieve these higher living standards, we need to see even greater investment in the economy and this is encapsulated by our mantra of more and better jobs – something that is becoming a reality for Staffordshire’s residents.

We firmly believe that Staffordshire can be one of the strongest performing economies in the UK, driven by high-tech industries, innovative local firms, and small businesses all supported by the UK’s best connectivity.

I’ve also spoken about our ten-year Economic Growth programme before, which will help us achieve this. With the LEP and our partners, we’ve created thousands of new and better-paid jobs and are well ahead of our target to create 27,000 jobs by 2024.

We’re also at the forefront of delivering £360m of investment across the county – creating the infrastructure to unlock economic growth and bring forward much needed development sites. But we are investing in more than just roads and Superfast Broadband.

Next generation digital communications is high on the agenda, and we will build on our superb rail, road and air connections, which all complement our extensive broadband coverage.

Our mantra of new and better jobs really is becoming a realisation, and by working together we can make it happen.

Green light for i54 South Staffordshire expansion

i54 South Staffordshire planned expansion

Yesterday we had some great news about our proposed extension at the i54 South Staffordshire Business Park which could create another 1,700 jobs and lever in up to £300 million of investment.

The plans which would see an expansion of the site by around a third of its current size were given the green light by South Staffordshire District Council, meaning we can get on with the job of securing funding and getting started with site development.

It’s another important flagship project for us. It will not only benefit the county through the creation of potentially 2,700 more jobs when fully built, but it will also be providing up to £3 million a year in business rates to cover the cost, with the rest being reinvested into funding public services.

It’s good news all round and you can read the full story on the Staffordshire Newsroom here.

Colder weather on the way

You may have read that we are due to face some colder weather this weekend, with temperatures expected to drop into the minus figures and maybe some snow flurries on higher ground.

We can’t complain too much, as it’s been fairly mild up to now, but if it does turn colder it usually increases the health risks to vulnerable people. That’s why it’s important to keep an eye out for your older neighbours, friends and relatives. Make sure they are safe, warm and have enough healthy food in.

And, don’t put off getting the flu vaccination, there’s still time and it’s important you have it. If you have not yet had your flu jab, you still have your chance. The sooner you have it, the better chance you have of avoiding it. Be sure to encourage those who are more susceptible to flu to get their jab.

And while it is very important to look after those who struggle during these winter months, it’s also important to look after yourself. Here are some useful tips from the NHS to keep warm and healthy during the cold weather:

• Keep warm and healthy by keeping rooms heated to at least 18C.

• Have regular hot meals and drinks throughout the day. Try and keep active to help you stay warm.

• Wear a few layers of thin clothing rather than one thick layer. When you need to go outside: wear shoes with soles that have good grip and are slip resistant.

• Stay tuned to the weather forecast and plan ahead with supplies.

• If you are eligible make sure you are registered for priority services with your energy and water suppliers.

• Get financial support to improve your home insulation, improve your heating or get help with bills.

For those concerned about travel, our gritting crews remain on stand-by and will be out when needed. You can find out more about our winter operations.

You can also find out when gritters are out by following us on Twitter at @StaffordshireCC.

And finally, spare a thought for the animals who are still outside.

Make a difference in 2019 by volunteering at your local library

The New Year is often a time when we reflect on what we have been doing, need to do in the future and a time to think about doing something different. It could be that this year you want to try something new, or perhaps give back to the community.

With this in mind, you might want to consider volunteering in your local library. Not only is it a great way of helping your local community, it’s also a chance to explore your interests and put your experience to good use, meet new people, learn new skills, and all while giving you that sense of giving back.

We all take for granted how libraries are a vital part of every community. Besides being a treasure trove of great literature and resources, they are a safe space for everyone to enjoy. Everyone can benefit from the services our libraries provide.

We already have over 800 volunteers helping out in our libraries, all playing an important role and doing lots of different things. We’re always grateful for their time and support and when I meet them they tell me they enjoy the opportunity and the work they do is incredibly rewarding.

So if you fancy delivering books to some of Staffordshire Libraries housebound customers, volunteering in one of Staffordshire’s 20 Community Managed Libraries, helping to organise community events and activities, or supporting staff in Staffordshire’s County Managed Libraries then there will be an opportunity waiting for you.

All necessary training will be given! Please get in touch or ask about opportunities in your local library.

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.