Sunday, March 9th, 2014
An additional £140m is to go to councils in England to repair roads damaged by the bad weather, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin has said.
A fund for areas with the most severely damaged roads will get an extra £36.5m – taking the total available to £80m and a further £103.5m will be shared between English councils for repairs.
Mr McLoughlin said the money would make “a real difference”. The Local Government Association said the cost of storm repairs would be more than £140m.
Downing Street said the extra money brought the total government investment in road maintenance to more than £1bn in 2013/14. The investment comes after the wettest winter on record in parts of the UK caused widespread devastation to sections of the road and rail network.
The Department for Transport has said the additional money will be distributed to the majority of councils in England by the end of the week. Work should be completed before the summer holidays, it said.
Councils will be required to publish information on their websites by the end of August showing where this money has been spent.
Mr McLoughlin said, “This extra money will help make a real difference to the millions of road users and local residents who rely on local roads, giving them safer and smoother journeys.”
The Prime Minister said the government could afford to pay for the road repairs because of savings already made.
Mr Cameron said, “It’s because of the difficult decisions we have made on public spending that we can afford to repair roads damaged by the severe weather as part of our long-term economic plan to secure Britain’s future and help hardworking people.”
Thursday, March 6th, 2014
More Staffordshire people are to get treatment for alcohol and drug addiction under new contracts announced by Conservative controlled Staffordshire County Council.
Around 20% or 400 more people, up from 2,100 to 2,500, will be in treatment at any time and will benefit from better, more joined up services designed to treat the root causes of their addiction as well as their physical dependence.
The new approach was made possible by last year’s transfer of public health responsibilities to the County Council. It will also improve collective work with the police and health partners to prevent drug and alcohol abuse, which costs Staffordshire an estimated £110m every year – around £60m to the NHS and councils through ill health and social care; £20m to the criminal justice system; and £30m to employers in sick days and lost productivity.
Working within its new public health responsibilities, the county council along with police and health partners agreed a new long-term strategy to reduce the negative impact on public services and the economy. More importantly, the plan aims to reduce the human cost of alcohol and drug abuse on individuals, families and communities across Staffordshire.
Robbie Marshall, Cabinet Member for Health and Wellbeing on Staffordshire County Council, said, “If drug and alcohol abuse goes untreated, it can ruin lives, harm families and damage communities across Staffordshire. Alcohol and drugs are one of the main causes of crime, anti-social behaviour, ill health and domestic abuse including child protection issues.
“It is essential the county council and its partners do more to turn around people’s lives and reduce the burden on local taxpayers. Under these new arrangements we will work smarter and closer together, spending the same amount of money but making it go even further.
“More people will get treatment with services improved and targeted to tackle the root cause of the problem. So in addition to treating drug or alcohol addiction, people will get more targeted help to find work or housing, or to deal with breakdowns in relationships, issues that often lead to drinking or drug taking in the first place.
“Simplified contract arrangements with the new provider cut duplication and mean we can deliver more for the same amount, and deliver real value for money to the Staffordshire taxpayer.”
Staffordshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Ellis said, “Drug and alcohol treatment is not something that organisations can tackle working in silos but rather through a joined-up approach, as seen here, which also offers value for money for Staffordshire taxpayers.
“Breaking the cycle of addiction is a key part of working with offenders and families who often have chaotic and dysfunctional lives. By doing this, local communities will benefit as crime will reduce faster, wider and for the long term.”
A review last year revealed that partners currently ran 30 contracts for drug and alcohol treatment with 10 different providers. The new approach streamlines arrangements into just three contracts to reduce duplication, splitting the county into north, west and east.
Following a competitive tender exercise, the contracts have been awarded to Addiction Dependency Solutions (ADS), a charity with over 30 years of experience across Staffordshire, the Midlands and the North of England. The contracts, which are part funded by Staffordshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner and GP consortium the North Staffordshire Clinical Commissioning Group, are worth £6.7m a year.
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Wednesday, February 19th, 2014
Historians, researchers and people interested in exploring the county’s historic records collections can look forward to a new modern Archives centre as plans are given the go ahead.
The proposals, approved today by Staffordshire County Council’s Cabinet will see the creation of a single, modern Archives Centre, with improved visitor facilities at the Staffordshire Record Office site on Eastgate Street in Stafford.
The state of the art extension would house the County’s records and William Salt Library collections and include a new exhibition space and search room on the ground floor; fully accessible for people with disabilities. An additional 15 to 20 years expansion room would also be made available in the new three-storey extension with improved storage facilities.
The Conservative controlled County Council will now submit an application to Heritage Lottery Fund for £4m to fund the project, contributing a further £469k.
Cllr Mike Lawrence, Cabinet Member for Children, Community and Localism with Staffordshire County Council said, “We have a fascinating archives collection in the county and I want even more people to be able to enjoy them.
“I am delighted that Cabinet have approved the proposals, which will now allow us to get on and develop more detailed plans for the new centre. This was our preferred option, allowing us to deliver a much better service to all our visitors, while helping to protect our records for many years to come.
“Before we move any of the collections we are working with Findmypast to digitise over six million records including parish registers, wills and marriage bonds. This means that visitors will get free access from Staffordshire Libraries as well as the Archive Service offices.”
The service currently has three sites, Staffordshire Record Office and the William Salt Library both in Eastgate Street Stafford and the Lichfield Record Office in Lichfield Library, The Friary.
As part of the proposals, a new service will be put in place at Lichfield, as a Lichfield Local and Family History Centre within the Library. This will offer access to digitised collections and microfiche sources alongside the local studies collection within the Library.
Over 240 people took part in a public consultation in January, with around 50 people taking part in workshops to view the plans and meet with Records Office staff.
Wednesday, February 19th, 2014
European migrants coming to the UK will have to show they are earning at least £149 a week for three months before they can access a range of benefits.
The minimum earnings threshold, first announced last year by David Cameron, will come into force on 1st March 2014.
It is the latest in a series of measures to restrict access to benefits for migrants from other EU countries. Welfare Minister, Esther McVey MP, said the measure would help “protect the integrity” of the benefits system.
Ministers argue that the longstanding principle that citizens of EU countries should be allowed to live and work in other member states does not amount to an automatic right to claim benefits abroad. They say it has become too easy for migrants from the other 27 EU member states to access public services in the UK, such as the welfare state and the health service.
The Prime Minister announced the plan for an earnings threshold at the end of last year, as he came under pressure from Conservative MPs to act before the lifting of work restrictions on Bulgarians and Romanians on 1 January.
At the moment, EU law defines a “worker” as someone whose employment is “genuine and effective”. Ministers think this definition is too loose, and they will apply a threshold of £149 a week – the level at which national insurance starts being paid – above which people will be eligible to get jobseeker’s allowance, child tax credits, child benefits and a number of other benefits.
Any European migrant who declares an income below the threshold, which will rise to £153 a week in 2014-15, will face further assessment of whether they are in the UK to undertake “genuine” work. If they do not pass this test, they will have to wait three months before becoming eligible for jobseeker’s allowance.
Esther McVey said that EU nationals were entitled to certain in-work benefits under existing laws but that the current arrangements were “vague” and needed to be clearly defined. She said, “These are not measures about saving money. This is about protecting the integrity of our benefits system and having clarity about the benefits system.”
Wednesday, February 19th, 2014
Flood victims will be exempt from council tax, Prime Minister David Cameron has said.
Anyone forced to leave their home because of the floods will not have to pay, Downing Street has confirmed. The government has set aside £4m to fund local authorities to cover the cost of unpaid council taxes.
About 6,500 homes have been flooded since December and the Prime Minister has said “money is no object” to support the clean-up operation.
Mr Cameron said those that helped people in this way would be compensated. He wrote on Twitter, “I can confirm we will fund councils that give council tax rebates to people whose homes have been flooded.”
The Prime Minister, who is visiting flood-hit communities, has said every resource will be made available to protect people and homes still at risk and support the relief effort.
Speaking on a visit to Pembrokeshire, he promised a “vast national effort helped and co-ordinated by the British government” to help those affected.
Mr Cameron said, “That’s why we bring together all the local authorities, the emergency services, the volunteers. That’s why funding has been made available in terms of supporting local authorities.”
Ministers have already pledged extra funding for councils for flood repairs under the terms of the Bellwin scheme, which provides emergency financial assistance to local authorities.
Wednesday, February 19th, 2014
Last Friday Tamworth’s MP, Christopher Pincher, joined by teacher Ian Hollinshead and three students, Chloe White, James Leeson and Sonia Wright, for a “Question Time” panel at Tamworth 6th Form.
The format mirrored the popular BBC politics show where panellists were quizzed by students and teachers on a variety of political issues. Mark Harrison of the Politics Department chaired the event.
Mr Pincher said, “Events like these are really important in engaging young people with politics whilst motivating pupils to research and discuss affairs and the political issues which affect them. It also allows me to find out the issues that really matter to young people and the issues affecting them.
“It gives me the chance to better represent all my constituents. In 2010 on 44% of 18-24 year olds voted and we must get young people more involved, more interested and out to the ballot box.”
The topics discussed were the recent smoking ban in cars, decriminalising of Marijuana, our relationship with the European Union, flood defences and Scotland as part of the Union.
Wednesday, February 19th, 2014
Record-breaking numbers of women are now in work in the UK, the employment rate of 67.2% is the highest since records began and over 14 million women are in employment, according to figures published by the Office for National Statistics this morning.
The growth in overall employment also continued with the number of people in work rising 193,000 on the quarter. Creating jobs and getting people into employment are central to the government’s long-term economic plan to build a stronger, more competitive economy, so hardworking people can secure their future.
1.3 million more people are now in jobs compared with 2010, over a million of these jobs are full-time and this month’s figures show that UK nationals made up nearly nine-tenths of the rise in employment in the last year.
Employment Minister Esther McVey said:, “With employment continuing to increase, it’s clear that the government’s long-term plan to build a stronger, more secure economy is helping businesses create jobs and get people into work. Record numbers of women are in work and youth unemployment continues to fall, which means more people have the security of a regular wage and can plan for their future.”
The number of unemployed people fell 125,000 in the last 3 months, with the number of people who were long-term unemployed also falling by 45,000. The number of people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance has fallen for the 15th consecutive month.
The number of young people who are in work increased by 49,000 in the last 3 months, with the number claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance falling for the last 20 months.
The latest figures show the number of job vacancies increased in the last 3 months by 28,000 and are up by over 100,000 since 2010, to 580,000.
This month’s Labour Force Survey covers October to December 2013. The claimant count is for January 2014 and the vacancy count for November 2013 to January 2014.
The number of people in work rose this quarter • 30.15 million people were in work in October to December 2013 • the employment level rose 193,000 on the previous quarter and 396,000 on the year • the employment rate is 72.1%, up 0.3 points on the quarter and up 0.6 points on the year
Wednesday, February 19th, 2014
Tamworth has suffered its own flooding problems and Christopher Pincher, MP for Tamworth, has been working with local farmers to mitigate the current effects and prevent future flooding where possible.
Mr Pincher said, “The floods across the country are devastating and Tamworth has also suffered its own bout of flooding, most recently in 2007 when Fazeley was flooded. But farmland is especially vulnerable. I have been working with local farmers to see how the current situation can be mitigated but also how to prevent further flooding.
“A number of charities are assisting the relief efforts as part of a wider organised response both for Tamworth and victims further south. Local people have also been very generous in offering help and support to those afflicted by flooding. This has become a disaster for thousands of people across the country and the Prime Minister has pledge millions to help those affected.”
The 4×4 charity allows people to volunteer their time (and vehicles) to assist access in hard to reach places. They assisted locally delivering medicine during localised flooding and snow last year. The British Red Cross has been on scene since the start of the flooding and the delivering food and supplied using specialist amphibian vehicles.
If you want to donate to the flood appeal for Somerset victims specifically you can contact Somerset Community Foundation or telephone 01749 344949.
To keep up with the latest news and the flood relieve effort please click here.