Report of Matt O’Neill (NYCC’s Assistant Director, Growth Planning and Trading Standards).
The report of Matt O’Neill (Assistant Director – Growth Planning and Trading Standards) providing an update on the initial approach to economic recovery following the pandemic.
Matt O’Neill introduced his report and gave a slide presentation to provide:- a brief recap on some of the economic issues and analysis which had been undertaken; an overview of the actions being taken to assist economic recovery from the pandemic by the LEP, the County Council, Harrogate Borough Council and Public Health; and information which looked forwards into the future in terms of business growth and new opportunities as the country came out of the pandemic.
Key issues from the presentation were as follows:-
• In Harrogate and Knaresborough, the business sector which was most at risk due to the pandemic was the accommodation and food sector, which consequently was particularly susceptible to downward contraction.
• Harrogate district had 23,500 people on furlough in July 2020, which reflected the nature of the district’s economy. That number had decreased to just over 11,000 at the start of March 2021.
• For those in employment in Harrogate district, there was a differential in terms of gross weekly pay between those employed in retail, leisure and hospitality and other low paid jobs, verses those who lived in Harrogate and Knaresborough and typically worked outside the district either in part or in full.
• To support businesses through the pandemic, work had included:- working with businesses to stop outbreaks; giving advice to help businesses understand new measures to ensure they could operate in a Covid compliant way; promoting access to finance and fiscal measures; and influencing Government and lobbying where appropriate.
• Strategic infrastructure work was being undertaken to benefit the economy eg:- improving digital connectivity by rolling out Superfast Broadband through NYnet; taking part in a national Test Bedded Trail programme looking at 5G superfast connectivity across North Yorkshire; investing in strategic infrastructure such as the rail network and the strategic road network; encouraging private investment and working with private sector partners; and a programme of improvements across market towns to provide free WiFi for residents and businesses.
• During the pandemic, businesses across a broad sector in the economy had been tremendously resilient in terms of how they had adapted, accessed funding and maintained continuation to generate profit for themselves and maintain delivery. Of the companies who had adapted during the pandemic, examples were cited of various businesses located in the Harrogate and Knaresborough area.
• In terms of the future:- the focus was on enabling a Green future; there were massive pent-up savings which could be spent within the local economy; there was huge up-take in staycations; there was major private sector confidence and investment in the A1 corridor; the outsourcing of Government departments, such as the Bank of England campus in Leeds, would provide financial jobs and opportunities tied into the Harrogate district; there were ambitious levelling-up opportunities for town centres, eg the County Council was submitting a bid, including over £430k worth of projects earmarked for the Harrogate district, to the Government’s Community Renewal Fund; and local government reorganisation offered the opportunity to get a Devolution Deal to accelerate plans and progress investment into key employment areas across North Yorkshire.
Matt O’Neill responded to Members’ questions, during which the following information was provided:-
• Matt O’Neill advised that, for him, internet and mobile connectivity was the number one priority to increasing economic growth and helping the economy. He cited the example of people from London and the South East, who were enquiring about locating to North Yorkshire, and asked firstly about the speed of Broadband connectivity. He advised that connectivity provided a different landscape in terms of labour markets, with people being able to live in Grassington and work, for example, for Google, travelling into London and beyond a couple of days a week. He highlighted that the a contract had just been let for Superfast North Yorkshire for a further £20M of investment which would lead to an increase in coverage, across the county, to 97%. However, the aim has for 100% coverage and was included in the Devolution Deal. Similarly for mobile connectivity, there should be 95% coverage of 4G across the county by 2025.
• Matt O’Neill confirmed that free WiFi would be available in Knaresborough town centre by the target date of 31 December 2021, subject to contractual vagaries and any delivery issues relating to attaching infrastructure onto lampposts and street furniture. He added that the delivery programme was currently on-track in terms of scheduled dates and therefore he felt the end of 2021 was eminently achievable and realisable. County Councillor David Goode asked that local Members be updated if there were any change of dates.
• Matt O’Neill provided more detail about blue and green infrastructure, which related to flood alleviation land management measures such as forestry planting in the Dales to benefit other locations downstream. He added that, as part of the 5G project, sensor monitoring would be provided to give real-time information for when floods occurred, allowing a quicker response in dealing with flooding.
• Matt O’Neill confirmed that the free WiFi for town centres focussed on core centres and would also link into business parks where appropriate.
• County Councillor Paul Haslam suggested that the new 5G facility might incorporate sensors for monitoring air quality outside schools and in town centres. Matt O’Neill undertook to send information to County Councillor Paul Haslam following this meeting, regarding the current 5G Test Bed and Trials programme, although that programme related to areas that had no connectivity whatsoever in North Yorkshire. Matt O’Neill added that this was a trial and, as such, learning would come back for feeding back to DCMS who might then look to expanding the uses of real time monitoring to include such issues as air quality.
(a) That Matt O’Neill be thanked for a very detailed and informative presentation.
(b) That it be noted that Matt O’Neill will provide, to County Councillor Paul Haslam following this meeting, further information in respect of the current 5G Test Bed and Trials programme.