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Philip Atkins

Review of 2016: A Golden Year for Staffordshire

Philip Atkins, Leader of Staffordshire County Council, said:

It’s been a fabulous 12 months, with so many achievements in so many different areas for the county and its residents.
“We all followed events in Rio with pride as Adam Peaty smashed the world record, Joe Clarke made the nation smile with his modesty and Lee Pearson carried the nation’s flag in front of the world.
“It’s only when you stop and take stock that you realise how much work has been done in the last 12 months to help residents with better education, training and job opportunities, and just how much there is to celebrate about the county’s past and present – which is why the first-ever Staffordshire Day was so worthwhile.
“The challenge now is to continue investing in our future so that we can carry on showing the world what we can do.”

January: The year got off to a flying start with the news that a national catering spares distributor had been granted permission to build its new headquarters at Kingswood Lakeside Business Park in Cannock. First Choice Group’s move to larger premises will allow it to grow and potentially double the number of employees from its current 130. The Kingswood site was one of several enabled in 2016 by Staffordshire County Council, including the installation of a new bridge across the West Coast Mainline to open up Liberty Park, Lichfield; preparation of Bericote Four Ashes, in South Staffordshire, which is to become home to Gestamp – safeguarding 800 local jobs; and the provision of infrastructure for the new business park at Meaford, near Stone. Those headline projects alone bring a combined promise of more than 4,000 jobs.

February: Successful completion of more work meant that 90 per cent of homes and businesses in Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent could connect to superfast fibre broadband, as a result of the county council’s work with BT and private investment. Villagers in Moreton, on the Shropshire border, saw their download speeds rocket from two megabits per second to more than 70, allowing rural businesses to work far faster and for residents to stream their favourite programmes without hassle.

March: Parents across the county discovered whether their children had been allocated a place at their preferred secondary school. Staffordshire proved to have one of the highest success rates in the country, with 98 per cent of 7,406 applicants allocated one of their top three selections – and 94 per cent their first choice. The high rate came despite a huge growth in demand for places: in the next five years it’s expected around 7,000 primary and 3,000 secondary school places will be needed – particularly in the Burton, Cannock, Lichfield, Rugeley, Stafford and Newcastle areas.

April: With 11 libraries already in the process of transferring to the community, bidding began to take over the day-to-day running and management of the remaining 12. Successful groups have access to the library service’s stock and IT network, while the authority remains responsible for agreed utility and maintenance costs. As 2016 draws to an end the process is nearing completion, with a church group, village association and a health trust among the bidders taking over.

May: The first ever Staffordshire Day on May 1st was a triumph for the county, with residents, tourist attractions and other businesses taking advantage of the Bank Holiday weekend to celebrate Staffordshire and all its achievements. Dozens of street parties and other events, including at Alton Towers and Rudyard Lake, formed the backbone of what is to become an annual event in praise of one of England’s historic counties and the achievements of its people.

June: Thousands of competitors showed their mettle by lining up at 7am for the second IRONMAN 70.3 event to be held in Staffordshire. Despite the wet weather hundreds of spectators watched from various vantage points as entrants swam 1.2 miles at Chasewater, cycled 56 miles through the Staffordshire countryside and then ran another 13.1 miles to the finish line at Shugborough. More than 2,000 local, national and international competitors took part, generating an estimated £2 million for the local economy, while many of the non-elite athletes used the opportunity to raise money for their preferred charity.

July: Just as pupils, parents and teachers were preparing for the summer holidays, new figures revealed that the number of primary and secondary schools in the county rated ‘good’ and ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted had risen to 85 per cent – an increase of 15 percentage points from the position in 2013. Education chiefs praised not only the sustained effort in the class rooms, but the work commissioned behind the scenes to improve standards. The figure would actually rise again in the autumn, reaching 86 per cent.

August: Staffordshire’s Olympians and Paralympians played their part in making it a golden summer in Rio de Janeiro for the GB squad. Uttoxeter swimmer Adam Peaty made smashing the world record commonplace on his way to an individual gold medal and a relay silver. The 21-year-old was joined on the roll of honour by Stone canoeist Joe Clarke, who seized gold with a breathtaking final run on the K1 slalom. Attending his fifth games, Paralympic doyen Lee Pearson carried the GB flag at the opening ceremony and the horseman added to his previous haul of 12 medals, including 10 golds, with a gold and a silver.

September: Parents benefited as Staffordshire was chosen as one of eight authorities in the country to pilot the introduction of 30 hours’ free childcare for three and four-year-olds. Parents in the county are already entitled to 15 hours’ free childcare for two, three and four-year-olds, but this meant more than 400 parents were able to enrol through some of the county’s largest employers –  either allowing them to take on more hours’ work, or keep some money in their pocket. Once the trial feedback has been processed, the scheme is scheduled to be rolled out across the entire county in September (2017).

October: Work began on a package of road and infrastructure developments, including a new bridge, to enable developers to get to work on the multi-million Branston Locks development near Burton. Eventually 400 acres of land immediately west of the A38 will be developed with 2,500 new homes, a range of community facilities and a 50-acre employment site, which will be known as Quintus. It will also include retail, health, leisure and recreational facilities, as well as provision for older people. Separate developments on land nearby will see new primary and high schools built by the county council. The total investment in the area could be more than £800 million.

November: Plans for the creation of 3,500 jobs and 660 start-up businesses in South Staffordshire over the next four years were agreed by the county and district councils. Included in the package was the provision of skills training so  young people could meet local employers’ needs, help for older people to get back into work and a healthier living programme. District deals are also in place in Newcastle, where more than £40 million is being invested in the town centre, Burntwood, the Moorlands and Stafford.

December: The year drew to a close with many projects well underway, such as the installation of a new junction on the A50; or coming to fruition, as with the opening of the new £1.5 million household waste recycling centre in Uttoxeter. Joblessness was the lowest in the West Midlands at 0.9 per cent and county council leader Philip Atkins had collected his OBE from Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace, but the best news was the announcement that pupils would be returning from their temporary accommodation nearby to Flash Ley school in Stafford in the New Year, after tests finally declared the building free of noxious fumes.