Monday, 31 October 2016

Stay informed about life in West Sussex

Today saw the launch of the latest edition of West Sussex Life 2017-2019. I have to admit to being a great fan of the West Sussex Life document as it provides a wealth of important data which gives us a greater understanding of our communities and helps to shape our plans and policies.

We live in an age where there is greater access to more information and data than we have ever had before. What is important for me is how we use this information to gain a greater insight into life for our communities in West Sussex and what it will be like for our county in the future based on current trends and predictions.

Our West Sussex County Council Insight and Intelligence Team have been working hard to create this snapshot of West Sussex. It covers everything from the health of our population to the economic growth of our county, educational attainment among our young residents, how our use of technology has changed and also looks at issues like the levels of deprivation and poverty faced by some of our towns and villages.

We officially launched the publication on Monday - you can view it on the website now and there will be copies in our libraries by the end of November for you to see.

As I mentioned at the start of the blog, we use West Sussex Life to help shape the council services that we deliver for our residents. It ensures we are focussing our efforts, staff and investments on the understanding of the areas where we can help our residents and have the biggest impact.

I’m pleased to say it’s also a vital resource for our businesses, communities and Town and Parish Councils who are all also working hard to improve the areas where they live and work. We know it is particularly appreciated by these groups as we regularly receive really good feedback about useful they found it.

So could I encourage you to take a look and explore what West Sussex has to offer? I do hope you will find this edition of West Sussex Life 2017-19 really helpful and informative.

Please let us know what you think. Did you find it useful and how did you use the information? We value your feedback as well as ideas and suggestions for improvements in future editions.

Don’t forget you can contact the Insight and Intelligence Team at the County Council by emailing to provide feedback and suggestions.

Best wishes,

Friday, 28 October 2016

Response to the Government’s airport expansion decision

This week the Government finally announced that its preferred location for a new runway was Heathrow and not Gatwick.

There hasn’t been a new runway built in the South East since World War Two. Over that time there has been much debate about airport expansion, particularly over the last two years when both Heathrow and Gatwick submitted their proposals.

As a County Council, we took a decision in January 2015 not to support expansion at Gatwick. However, we also took the approach that whatever option the Government chose, we would work hard to ensure we did the best for our county to minimise the impact.

We know that many of our residents are deeply concerned about Gatwick expansion and they will feel relieved at the announcement made on Tuesday.

There has been a 30-year-agreement, which expires in 2019, between Gatwick Airport, Surrey and West Sussex County Council that there would be no second runway built in that time.

So what does Tuesday’s announcement mean for the county?

The County Council is committed to ensuring there is a strong vibrant economy in our county – it is one of our core priorities.

In West Sussex we are fortunate to have a strong diverse economy with world-class companies as well as medium to small businesses.

We need to ensure that businesses are able to grow and thrive here, that’s not just only about having the country’s second largest airport in our backyard, although that is useful to many businesses.

It is about ensuring we have a well-skilled work force, excellent well-funded schools giving children the best start of life and investing in our infrastructure.

It is why we are asking the Government for transition funding for our cash-starved schools.

It is why we are committed to 3SC – West Sussex, East Sussex and Surrey – and working on an exciting devolution bid to ensure we can directly influence the skills agenda, the infrastructure in the area whilst protecting and enhancing our lovely green spaces valued by everyone.

We, along with our district and borough council partners, the 3SC and Local Enterprise Partnership, are working closely together to make sure our uniquely strong and vibrant business economy continues to grow.

This a great area that offers so much to employers, businesses and communities we will reinforce our efforts by engaging and listening to our many businesses, working with our partners such as the LEP, Districts and Boroughs to maintain the economic vibrancy here in West Sussex. We are certainly open for business.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Providing support to young people arriving from Calais refugee camps

At Full Council on Friday I took the opportunity to make a statement about the County Council’s role in supporting young people arriving from the Calais refugee camps.

You can read the statement here.

Two weeks ago the Home Office contacted us about its plans to respond to the closure of the Calais camps.

Provision has been identified where youngsters having been through an assessment centre in Croydon are able to rest before moving on to their relatives and families across the UK.

All this work – along with the costs – is being co-ordinated nationally through the Home Office, and as a County Council we are playing our part in responding to a humanitarian crisis.

Due to the nature of the work with the Home Office and other agencies, and due to the need to respect the privacy of the families involved, I am not able to name the locations involved in these arrangements.

When these unaccompanied young people come into our county, even for a short time, we have statutory duties and responsibilities for them – wherever they come from.

These youngsters have been in camps in Calais for up to two years. It is hard to imagine what their lives have been like in these camps – certainly there have been some very worrying and disturbing stories and I think this is no way for any child to live for a sustained period of time.

Many young people have been sent by their parents through traffickers. As a mother it is hard to imagine giving up one’s child but in war torn countries offering little future any parent would in desperation want to secure a safer future for their child.

As of Friday afternoon a small number of young people had come to West Sussex and were waiting to begin the next part of their journey to join family members across the UK.

None of these young people have relatives in West Sussex. These children are here under ‘Dublin III’ regulations, an agreement that children with family connections will have a place in the UK.

There are also young people who are entitled to come to the UK under the ‘Lord Dub’s amendment’ in the House of Commons. These are younger children but with no family connections.

To me, supporting a humanitarian crisis where young people are involved is the right thing to do and something that the country has a long history of doing. As a County Council we are playing a very minor role.

Having spoken to some young people who have come in unaccompanied from Gatwick I have been struck by their gratitude and desire as one person told me “to payback” all that they have been given.

Those who are working directly with these youngsters report they are exhausted and overwhelmed but very much looking forward to being reunited with their families.

Friday, 14 October 2016

Solar energy in West Sussex

It was a year ago when our solar farm project at Tangmere was completed. At the time there was a lot of press interest as West Sussex was one of the first councils to embark on such a project in the country. Some may ask why a council would get involved in such a project, and it is a fair question.

For quite a long time we had been looking at various ways of providing alternative energy. Right back in 2005 we installed a biomass burner at Buchan Country Park to provide heat and hot water to our visitor centre and staff accommodation. This continues to be a great success and, once again, we were the first authority in the South East to use such technology. As the second most wooded county, it made perfect sense to harness natural resources to provide energy.

Since then we have continued to power ahead with our sustainable energy improvements and have put policies in place to ensure there is continual investment in new ways to save energy. We have combined this with our passion to develop low carbon energy using our natural resources across the county. One way we have achieved this is through our partnership project launched in 2014 called Your Energy Sussex. This has brought together local councils and construction company Carillion to work with residents and businesses to save energy, reduce their bills and generate renewable energy. This partnership has gone from strength-to-strength and shows what we can achieve by working together.

Solar power is a sensible option for West Sussex as we are the sunniest county in the country. We have had a range of small solar projects over the years, such as solar panels on the roofs of our office buildings, but the biggest commitment for us so far is the solar farm at Tangmere. These 18,000 solar panels sitting on 29 acres of County Council land have already generated almost 5,000 MWh of clean electricity - enough clean electricity to power 1,500 homes for an entire year. As part of our agreement with Carillion, we used local contractors who did an excellent job completing the work on time and in budget as Council Tax payers would expect.

I don’t mind admitting that this project is important to me as it will help you to understand why I visited one year on to see if it has delivered all that was promised. The solar panels have been busy but still look in pristine condition. The benefits of planting a range of wild flowers to improve biodiversity on the site is working. Interestingly sheep regularly graze on the land so it still has agricultural usage and I am reliably told sheep use the panels to shelter from the rain and sun. Over its 25 years life span Tangmere will generate £13.8 million and pay back the cost of the project in less than ten years.

We are now looking to invest in more solar panels farms and are exploring areas which might be suitable. We are also looking at whether we can store the energy which will have even bigger benefits for our residents. These projects are a powerful step to protect our environment and provide much needed additional energy to our residents. It is something we believe should be happening across the country and we look forward to seeing what the future holds.