This is the first of what I hope will be a series of regular posts to update you about the work of the council.
It has been a really interesting few days. I don’t know about you, but with the reopening of non-essential retailers at the beginning of the week, it feels like we are closer to the ‘normal’ we all knew before March.
Normal – that is if you don’t mind queuing for things!
Of course, we can’t forget coronavirus has not gone away and there is a real danger it may return if we don’t follow the current social distancing rules.
We do need to begin to get the economy back on track though and we’ve been supporting businesses across the district to prepare themselves for reopening.
Thousands of information packs have been sent to businesses across the borough. These contain advice and guidance about the steps they need to take if they are to be able to trade safely.
The pack recommends practical measures required to ensure the business can be ‘Covid 19 secure’.
We know that some shoppers might be nervous about returning to the high street, which is why we’ve been keen to do as much as we can to make it as safe as possible.
For instance, a pedestrian one-way system has been set up in Whitby to make sure that social distancing rules can be maintained at all times.
Keeping everyone two metres apart in a place where streets and pavements are narrow is a challenge, but it's a compromise measure worth taking.
You will notice signage on the ground, posters in windows and banners on lampposts that we have provided across the borough.
Our retailers need our support more than ever before. Please ‘think local’ when you shop.
We await confirmation from the government that a further easing of the lockdown rules will come into force from early July.
This should be good news for our tourist attractions, which will be permitted to reopen.
It’s so important that our tourism industry can begin to recover as soon as possible and that we salvage what we can of this year’s holiday season.
I can tell you that we are also looking at ways that we can extend the season into the winter to try and replace some of the lost income from the early part of this year. We’re working with businesses to achieve that.
We welcome more than seven million people to borough each year and they spend £748 million when they are here. Our tourism economy supports 18,000 jobs.
The importance of the holidaymaker or visitor to our economy cannot be overstated.
That’s why we are doing everything we can to support tourism businesses in the same way we’ve been helping retailers.
This morning (19 June) Welcome to Yorkshire announced the launch of a major marketing campaign, called ‘Back to Yorkshire’, to encourage people to return to our county.
It’s hoped UK residents will be more interested in staycations this – and next – year rather than flying abroad for their holiday. Destinations like ours should benefit from this.
While tourism is a major component of our local economy, we recognise there are other sectors which are growing. One of those is the creative and digital industries.
I have been relying more than ever on technology during lockdown. I suspect you have been doing the same. There is a great deal of creative and digital talent across the borough and I am keen we do what we can to nurture and develop these two sectors.
We held a remote meeting of cabinet this week. When lockdown was introduced, we had to find new ways of conducting council business and making decisions.
Thanks to the hard work of our ICT staff, we’ve been able to harness the power of technology to allow meetings to go ahead in relative normality.
Among the items on the agenda this week were three major developments. The first is the Bay Side South site on the seafront in Scarborough. A cross-party group of politicians has been working on a future vision for what we do with this prime location.
You can read more about the work they’ve been doing on our website.
Bay Side South presents us with the opportunity to do something really exciting and innovative which not only acts as draw for tourists, but which benefits everyone across the borough.
I know there is a lot of interest in this work and I will keep you updated through my blog.
The other two developments are the former Argos store in Scarborough and adjacent St Helen's Square.
Our plan is to demolish the retail building and replace it with high-quality accommodation for NHS key workers and students attending CU Scarborough. This will help support public services and enable the university to expand the number of students it can attract.
St Helen’s Square would be redeveloped at the same time to improve the local area and provide much needed open space for public use and to host temporary events.
These developments will act as a catalyst for further regeneration of the town centre.
Crucially, there is the chance for us to accelerate projects such as these as the government is providing support, through our local enterprise partnership, for what it calls ‘shovel-ready’ schemes.
These are schemes which are ready to go and we have made bids to access some of that additional funding. I will keep you updated.
You may be aware that the coronavirus pandemic has cost local councils like ours many millions of pounds because of the cost of providing support to our local communities, maintaining front line services and where our income has been affected.
I don’t think it is fair that council tax payers in the borough should have to pay or be disadvantaged as a result, so we are lobbying government to make sure we are reimbursed.
We’ve had some additional money so far, but it does not cover the total shortfall.
Finally, I want to say a thank you to our staff who have been working so hard since lockdown began.
Whether its our crews out in all weathers collecting waste or recycling, on other frontline services, or staff who have been redeployed away from their usual duties, they’ve been amazing.
I know you’ve valued them too, given how many notes have been left out and messages we’ve received.
Until my next blog, stay safe.
Cllr Steve Siddons
Leader of the Council