Agenda and minutes

Prosperous Overview and Scrutiny Committee - Wednesday 13th December 2023 2:00pm

Venue: Oak Room, County Buildings, Stafford. View directions

Contact: Jonathan Lindop  Email:


No. Item


Declarations of Interest

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There were no Declarations of Interest made.


Minutes of meeting held on 22 November 2023 pdf icon PDF 144 KB

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RESOLVED - That the minutes of the meeting held on 22 November 2023 be confirmed and signed by the Chairman.


Natural Environment Strategy pdf icon PDF 103 KB

Report of Cabinet Member for Environment Infrastructure and Climate Change

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The Committee considered a report of the Cabinet Member for Environment, Infrastructure and Climate Change regarding the production of a draft Natural Environment Strategy for the County (schedule 1 to the signed minutes). The Strategy was to be considered by Cabinet at their meeting on 17 January 2024 and therefore the Cabinet Member had requested pre-decision scrutiny by the Committee.


Members heard that Central Government had launched its 25-year Environment Plan in 2018 with the aim of helping the natural world regain and retain good health. A 5-year review of the plan was subsequently undertaken in 2023 which resulted in a refreshed Environmental Improvement Plan containing the following key Commitments:-


·       Halt the decline in species abundance by 2030;

·       Protect 30% of UK land for biodiversity by 2030;

·       Increase species abundance by at least 10% from 2030, surpassing 2022 levels by 2042;

·       Restore or create at least 500,000 ha of a range of wildlife rich habitats by 2042;

·       Reduce the risk of species extinction by 2042 and;

·       Restore 75% of our one million hectares of terrestrial and freshwater protected sites to favourable condition, securing their wildlife value for the long term by 2042.


In addition, The Environment Act 2021 had brought in new duties and requirements to support the ambitions of the 25-year plan including the following measures in relation to biodiversity:-


·       Developing Local Nature Recovery Strategies;

·       A strengthened biodiversity duty;

·       Mandatory minimum 10% biodiversity net gain through the planning system and;

·       A requirement for local authorities to produce a report on their action for biodiversity.


In response, the County Council had developed a draft Natural Environment Strategy which took account of the Authority’s statutory duties, guidance issued by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, national targets set by Government, and Nature

Recovery Declaration made in February 2022.


The strategy set out a mission statement and ten high level objectives to conserve and enhance biodiversity and the natural environment as follows:-


Mission Statement - “We will directly support nature recovery in Staffordshire, through targeted action across our land and functions, and as a champion for activity across the county”.


(i)                Develop and deliver a Local Nature Recovery Strategy Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent;

(ii)               Ensure coordinated delivery of biodiversity net gain;

(iii)              Ensure our policies, strategies and operations consider biodiversity;

(iv)             Ensure all designated sites in our ownership have management measures in place to achieve favourable condition by 2042;

(v)               Manage and protect 30% of our land (excluding highways) for biodiversity by 2030;

(vi)             Develop a wildlife-friendly management approach to roadside verges;

(vii)            Develop a suite of species recovery measures for our land;

(viii)           Use nature-based solutions for mitigating and adapting to climate change wherever possible, to maximise benefits to both wildlife and climate;

(ix)             Enhance and restore landscape character and quality and support landscape-scale nature recovery and;

(x)               Raise awareness and support the active involvement of communities in caring for our natural environment.


In the full and wide-ranging discussion which ensued Members gave detailed scrutiny to the draft Strategy, asking questions,  ...  view the full minutes text for item 41.


Staffordshire County Council’s Economic Strategy – Delivery Update pdf icon PDF 141 KB

Report of Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Economy and Skills

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The Committee considered a report of the Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Economy and Skills updating them on progress made in the delivery of Staffordshire’s Economic Strategy 2023-2030 (schedule 2 to the signed minutes).


The Primary focus of the Strategy was:- (i) Town centres; (ii) Higher skilled and higher paid workforce; (iii) ‘Start-up’ and ‘step-up’ businesses; (iv) The development of investment ready projects and; (v) Strategic corridors. In addition, various other priorities and themes were identified as being important for the future growth of the economy. These included:- (i) Innovation; (ii) Supporting businesses on their journey to net zero and; (iii) Maximising the use of investment to unlock external funding.


The Cabinet Member then updated them on the potential impact of recent national and global economic headlines on the County and the Authority’s ability to deliver the various priorities set out in the Strategy. In addition, he updated them on the activity undertaken since June 2023 towards achieving the Authority’s various ambitions, as follows:-


Priority (i): Town Centre/High Street Regeneration


Ambition: “By 2030, we will tackle the challenges faced by many of our town centres and strive to create places that we can be proud of”.


(i) Establishment of a task force comprising local, regional and national Partners to co-ordinate support following the closure of Wilko shops in the County; (ii) continued delivery of central Government initiatives including Future High Streets and levelling-up Funds and Town Deals; (iii) establishment of a steering group to work with key Partners on delivery of the County Council’s Rural Economic Strategy including regeneration of Rural Hub Towns and; (iv) progress in the procurement of a Development Partner to assist in the design and delivery of the Eastgate Regeneration Scheme.


Priority (ii): Higher Skilled, Higher Paid Workforce


Ambition: “By 2030, we will address the low levels of skills across some parts of the County and support more of our residents to gain the high-level skills needed to take advantage of many better paid job opportunities”.


(i) Significant progress towards completion of major local capital projects eg Newcastle and Stafford Colleges Group Skills and Innovation Centre and Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Institute of technology; (ii) support given to local communities to access employment opportunities arising from the construction of the West Midlands Interchange development including recruitment of two dedicated Employment Brokers; (iii) growth in referrals to the Staffordshire Jobs and Careers Service via their on-line offer and attendance at various events throughout the County; (iv) continued delivery of courses by the Staffordshire Community Learning Service (SCLS) aimed at helping people into work or to up-skill; (v) receipt of £4.2m grant aid for the delivery of the national Multiply Programme aimed at boosting residents’ numeracy skills both at home and at work.


Priority (iii): Supporting Start-Up and Step-Up Businesses


Ambition: “By 2030, we will create the conditions to allow more people to start and grow their business within Staffordshire, thereby addressing our relatively low levels of business  ...  view the full minutes text for item 42.


Review of Schools Performance pdf icon PDF 148 KB

Report of Cabinet Member for Education (and SEND)

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The Committee considered a report of the Cabinet Member for Education (and SEND) giving details of Educational Achievement in Staffordshire schools for the period September 2022 – July 2023 (Schedule 3 to the signed minutes).


Members noted the following key highlights from the available data:-


·       As at November 2023, the percentage of Staffordshire’s Schools designated Academies had increased to 69.6% ie 282 with 123 continuing to be maintained by the County Education Authority;


·       The majority of all schools, both academies and maintained had been judged to be ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’ by the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills OFSTED) (ie 89%) a figure which was in line with the national average;


·       Pupils in Staffordshire started well with high levels of attainment recorded in early years Foundation Stage (EYFS) and Key Stage 1 (KS1) compared to national averages. However, outcomes were below those seen prior to the Covid-19 pandemic;


·       Staffordshire was showing improvement in the percentage of pupils achieving a Good Level of Development (GLD) in EYFS and at a higher rate than recorded nationally;


·       69% of pupils at the end of EYFS achieved a GLD compared to 67% nationally;


·       At the end of Year 1, 81% of pupils achieved the expected level of phonics decoding compared to 79% nationally;


·       Staffordshire performed above the national average in reading, writing and mathematics at KS1. However, whilst outcomes had increased when compared to the figures for 2022, all three areas were below those recorded in 2019;


·       Staffordshire was ranked 21st and in quartile A for reading; 33rd and in quartile B for writing and; 24th and in quartile B for mathematics at the expected standard when compared to all local authorities nationally;


·       2023 Key Stage 2 (KS2) results indicated that Staffordshire pupils remain above the national averages for reading, writing, mathematics and combined reading, writing and mathematics at the expected standard;


·       The expected standard in reading was in line with 2019 outcomes. However, writing and mathematics remained below pre-pandemic levels;


·       KS1 to KS2 pupils in Staffordshire made less progress than that seen nationally.


·       Staffordshire’s outcomes at the end of Key Stage 4 (KS4) GCSE remained inconsistent. The proportion of students achieving grade 9 – 4 in English and Mathematics was approximately the England All Schools average but below the state-funded average. Staffordshire’s results in both English Baccalaureate and English and Mathematics GCSE (Grade 5 or above passes) were below the national average and;


·       KS4 outcomes in 2023 were in line or above those in 2019.


During the full and wide-ranging discussion which ensued, Members gave detailed scrutiny to the statistics, asking questions, seeking clarification and raising issues of concern as necessary, including:- (i) performance having not recovered to pre-pandemic levels in certain key areas and the remedial measures available to the County Council to ensure improvements in future years; (ii) the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (OFSTED) ratings of individual schools in Members’ Divisions and the progress being made to improve areas of  ...  view the full minutes text for item 43.


Work Programme pdf icon PDF 257 KB

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The Chairman reported that she had received a request from the Cabinet Member for Highways and Transport for the item entitled:- “North Staffordshire Air Quality Action Plan – Ministerial Direction – Update”, listed for the meeting on 2 February 2024, to be withdrawn owing to “extended timescales in the Joint Air Quality Unit”.   


RESOLVED – That, subject to the above-mentioned item being withdrawn, the Work Programme (schedule 4 to the signed minutes) be approved.


Date of Next Meeting - Thursday 11 January 2024 at 2.00 pm, County Buildings, Stafford

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RESOLVED – That the date, time and venue of the next meeting be noted.