Staffordshire is a county that epitomises that irksome phrase ‘Middle England’. But it’s not the alleged Middle England of prejudiced anti-Europeans that some London-centric newspaper columnists claim make up the bulk of our population.
No, Staffordshire is that Middle England that just gets on with doing things and doesn’t feel the need to make a song and dance about it.
In the last 12 months alone the county has won major business investment from both Amazon and Jaguar Land Rover as it proves to big businesses that it has the resources and people with the right attitude to help them develop.
That resourceful ‘can do’ attitude comes across from the CIO of Staffordshire County Council Sander Kristel who doesn’t herald from the midlands but who, with the support of the senior team at the authority, has demonstrated that Staffordshire zeal for just getting things done.
In Staffordshire the multiple layers of local authority and health provision work as one and Kristel is delivering a public sector network for cooperation and major budget savings.
“The council has already saved £100m and needs to save a further £100m over the next five years,” he explains.
The authority is spending about £1.3bn per annum, he says, pointing out that the recent national focus on cuts was nothing new for Staffordshire Council, which has been on a savings agenda for some time.
“For us the economic climate was not a surprise. It is not an unusual situation, so that is why we have been making savings and why you haven’t heard of sudden library closures or job cuts, as there was no knee-jerk reaction.”
The county has been slowly transforming itself from its old heritage in heavy industry and potteries to a county that hosts high-technology engineering such as new residents Jaguar Land Rover and heavy plant giant JCB.
“Rather than close a library, our view is to see what other things a library can do. You can do a lot of service provision through libraries like the supply of blue badges.”
Kristel explains that residents of any county have little understanding of the two-tier model comprising a county council and district authorities.
County provides social services, schools and roads, while district councils pay benefits, collect the council tax and look after street scene issues like street lights.
“People don’t understand how it works, so the service provision from both tiers must be seamless and end-to-end,” he says.