RIGHT from the start of the pandemic I was acutely aware that our young people faced some of the greatest difficulties because of the economic crisis.

That’s why I announced the Kickstart scheme – a £2bn programme to create hundreds of thousands of fully-funded job placements for those aged 16-24, spreading opportunities for the group of people most at risk of being left behind.

In the first few months of Kickstart more than 120,000 jobs have been created across the UK and I was pleased to hear this week that the scheme is taking off in North Yorkshire with employers large and small.

Employers can apply to take on Kickstarters direct or through a gateway organisation like North Yorkshire County Council which handles the paperwork for the application and provides support for the placement.

The council has just had more than 200 placements approved and the new jobs will shortly be available in a wide range of career fields – from working in one of our famous racing stables, to a community pharmacy and a digital marketing agency.

Some very well-known local employers are involved – like Sam Turner’s.

Some local charities too are using the scheme to kickstart the careers of young people facing the threat of long-term unemployment – like the Friends of the Friarage Hospital and Chopsticks in Northallerton.

I am grateful to all the employers for coming forward to give young people a chance and to the county council and also Richmondshire District Council for helping employers with the scheme.

If other employers wish to join them – with the wage, pension, set-up and training support costs covered by the Government – more information about Kickstart can be found at gov.uk/kickstart or on the North Yorkshire County Council website.

If you are a young person looking for an opportunity to launch a career these Kickstart vacancies will be made available shortly through the Jobcentres at Northallerton and Richmond.

I’D like to thank everyone for working so hard to bring the coronavirus infection rate down so far and so swiftly in North Yorkshire over the last month.

Early in January the number of cases per 100,000 people – an important measure of the extent of the virus – was almost 600 in Richmondshire and heading towards 500 in Hambleton.

As I write this column five weeks later the respective rates are 151 and 123 – a very significant and welcome drop.

We are also seeing the start of a fall in the numbers of the people in hospital with the virus – bringing the prospect of some much-needed breathing space for our hard-pressed doctors and nurses.

This is down to every one of us observing the rules which have been in place since the New Year – which has meant the police in our area having to issue barely a handful of fixed penalty notices for breaches of those rules.

We must of course keep it up while we wait for the full benefits of the successful vaccination programme to be felt – with fewer people falling victim to the virus and the load easing further on our NHS.