Contingency plans are being developed to protect key services, say council leaders

Council leaders are holding off from implementing unprecedented measures over coronavirus, but say contingency plans are being developed to protect key services.

Following a 50-minute conference call with the Secretary of State for local government, local authorities in North Yorkshire and Darlington said while councils elsewhere in the country had closed their buildings and asked staff to work from home they were still adopting a “business as usual” approach as far as possible.

Councillor Carl Les, leader of North Yorkshire County Council, said the authority would listen to government and expert advice on key services such as schools and social care and react accordingly and welcomed the government’s decision to hold a daily briefing session on the pandemic.

He said senior managers were working on detailed plans for the coming weeks and that the county’s large proportion of elderly residents was “a very big factor in our thinking”.

Cllr Les added: “We are working with the local enterprise partnership to see what we can do to help business prepare for this situation and help them through it. We’re also working with Welcome to Yorkshire to help tourism businesses which need to get ready for later this year.”

A Richmondshire District Council spokeswoman said its managers were considering team capabilities for working at home, flexible working staff affected by school closures and for staff the effect on services for a number of employees being unable to work.

The council said it was arranging a deep clean of sheltered housing schemes and cleaning staff would then focus on cleansing surfaces such as door handles and bannisters.

If there are waste team staff shortages the council will prioritise household collections before green waste and recycling The spokeswoman added: “We have guidance on collecting waste from households where the virus is suspected.”

Darlington Borough Council leader Councillor Heather Scott said the government had issued advice on a range of options and support that would be available for councils and businesses, including introducing emergency legislation over the local democratic process.

She said the authority could introduce measures such as holding meetings by conference call.

Cllr Scott, who has served as a Darlington councillor since 1976, said: “We have had incidents before but nothing like this. People are being as cautious as they can be and not taking any unnecessary risks. We are looking at what items are on agendas and how urgent they are.”

She said the authority would try to do everything it possibly could to help residents through the outbreak, and would focus on the elderly and vulnerable.