Don Mackenzie: Continuing to deliver during virus crisis

I reported last month that NYCC had transferred an additional £1 million to the North Yorkshire Local Assistance Fund to give further help to those persons in greatest need.

Saturday, 25th April 2020, 8:00 am
Work continues laying gigabit fibre (above) and a notice posted at an installation site

I can now confirm that the county council’s Locality Budget programme for 2020/21 has been opened early. All county councillors now have £10,000 each to allocate to local community groups and projects throughout the county.

New Government regulations changed recently to allow virtual meetings to take place during which councillors may make legally binding decisions. A technical solution which will allow members of the public to view and take part in virtual meetings is currently being progressed.

All meetings of elected members with officers at North Yorkshire County Council are now held by video-conferencing; this arrangement is likely to last for several more weeks yet and is working well.

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I pay tribute to all officers at the county council for the way in which they are taking a lead in guiding our residents through these very difficult times. I hardly need add that we also owe a great debt to all county council employees, to those of the districts including Harrogate Borough Council, and to the many community volunteer organisations and individuals, who are currently doing so much for the more vulnerable residents, who need additional support in these challenging times.

Now to developments in my own portfolio – NYCC and its highways contractors are continuing to deliver roads maintenance during the Covid-19 outbreak to ensure that other key workers and those who deliver crucial services and deliver food supplies can travel in safety.

The Chancellor recently announced further funding for highways authorities from the Pothole Action Fund. NYCC is expected to receive £15.16m as its allocation, bringing the total budget this year for road repairs to almost £50m. Hundreds of streets in the Harrogate area are due for treatment over the next few months, including resurfacing, patching and surface-dressing.

The county council’s Local Full Fibre Network project, valued at £15.1m, continues to be progressed. The scheme is installing 180km of gigabit-capable fibre throughout the county, and work is currently focused on Harrogate and Knaresborough.

NYCC’s broadband company, NYnet, continues to receive orders from clients to upgrade services as huge demands are made on digital infrastructure. At the same time, the company has offered its NHS customers a free upgrade to a 24/7 support package until the end of the pandemic.

Bus operators and the Confederation of Passenger Transport have welcomed the support measures the county council has taken, which I listed in my last article – namely, removal of time limit on bus pass validity, maintaining average levels of concessionary fares reimbursement before Covid-19, and continuing payments of existing contracts for bus services and home-to-school transport. In return, operators are helping to provide alternative services like hospital discharge journeys.

Supported Community Transport providers are adapting operations to help with medication and food deliveries to the most needy in our communities. I thank the bus operators for the excellent way in which they continue to provide essential services to key workers in the Harrogate area.

Companies like Transdev really have stepped up to play their part.

Similarly, rail companies continue to ensure that key workers can go about their vital business. Harrogate Line service performance has been stable since the reduction in journeys to reflect the downturn in passenger numbers.

The frequency of journeys between Harrogate and Leeds was, however, increased to a half-hourly pattern last week in response to the construction of the Nightingale Hospital.

Don Mackenzie, North Yorkshire County Council Executive Member for Highways