Council could face £2.7 million COVID overspend

The York Council has revised down the impact that the pandemic may have on its budget this year.

It had previously talked of a £20 million deficit.

This is now much less following some government funding including additional support for the loss of income from fees and charges. The Government will fund 75% of any loss

Nevertheless, the Council believes that it may have to eat into its £7 million reserves to balance the books this year. Next year may be even more challenging with Council Tax and Rates income set to fall.

A list of the pressures on the Councils budget can be read by clicking here

The Council has not tabulated the “mitigation” measures that it is taking to reduce expenditure.

There has been increased expenditure on helping the elderly and disabled. The work of volunteers has been praised by the Council.

A report being considered next week says, “The Council has remained committed to our Home First approach to managing people’s recovery, avoiding placements in residential and nursing care whenever possible. However the impact of COVID-19 and the associated lockdown has meant that more people than we had planned for have needed social care funded through the council. This together with increasing mental health referrals, the increased cost of care and the 4 more complex needs of those the council is supporting has resulted in increased pressure on the adult social care budget”.

Council slow to repair empty Council homes.

One of the largest drops in performance is in re-letting empty Council homes. This has increased from 37 days at the end of March 2020 to 59 days at the end of June 2020. Delays to repairs are still a major problems with this service and so far the Council are choosing not offer work to local tradesmen many of whom would the opportunity.

The published performance results (click) don’t provide information on key COVID measures (e.g. traffic and cycling levels).

“We won’t close Castle car park” pledge by Council

…..but they might!

A report on the Castle Gateway regeneration project published today says that the scheme should go ahead but it says, “there are no plans to close Castle Car Park until suitable replacement parking is available”.  

Castle car park has been very busy in rent months

However, the construction of a multi-story alternative on the St George site will be shelved.

The Council’s Executive are being recommended to agree to the  “recommencement of the paused procurement of a construction contractor to undertake the design and subsequent construction of the proposed apartments, pedestrian/cycle bridge and riverside park at Castle Mills

They’re also being asked to approve the design and submission of planning applications for a “high quality public realm scheme on Castle Car Park and Eye of York” while a decision on the future of the site at 17-21 Piccadilly – currently the home of the Spark container village – will be delayed until next summer.

“Spark York who have resolved their outstanding planning issues and have a lease until early 2022″.

York Council report 24th Sept 2020

The immediate additional financial commitment for the Council will be £1.5 million.  In total the project cost – which was to be funded by borrowing – was £46 million. This would generate additional interest payments of around £1 million per year which would have to come out of what is now an overcommitted revenue budget.

In effect, there will be further cuts in public service standards across the City.

 It was hoped that the borrowing would be paid off through the sale of flats which would be built on the former Castle Mills car park site. However, there was still a funding deficit of £4.7 million and no resources were allocated for turning the Castle car park into “a world class open space”.

The Castle car park provides over £1 million a year in income for the Council.

The Council has already spent £2.2 million on consultation and design activities for the project.

In a separate report the Council has been warned about the risks to local public services

The report fails to put the scheme costs into the context of the overall Council capital and revenue budget position.

An oddly detached from reality section of the report claims that the “Castle Gateway masterplan is a “significant opportunity to drive the city’s response to Covid-19 due to the:

  • Focus on sustainable transport to create new key pedestrian and cycle routes
  • Reduction of vehicle journeys inside the inner ring road through the closure of Castle car park
  • Creation of significant new public realm
  • Enhanced cultural and heritage offer and the creation of a new major event space – building on the city’s unique selling points and expanding the capacity to attract responsible tourism to support the city’s economy
  • Regeneration and investment in rundown parts of the city  Development of new city centre homes, including new affordable and council housing
  • Capacity to reinvigorate the economy by supporting jobs in the construction sector”

So we have the Benito Mussolini solution to unemployment emerging. Borrowing to fund massive public works contracts which – in the case of the bridge and park – will have no short-term economic benefits (other than perhaps for a handful of the green socialist, city centre dwelling, elite).

Businesses dependent on those who choose to use, because of the health crisis, personal transport when they visit the City, will lose out.

We need to be careful with our commentary.

“El Duce” gained a reputation for having errant stationmasters shot if trains didn’t run on time.

The lowest risk part of the scheme maybe the construction of the blocks of flats. Maybe that could continue, even though rising unemployment, and reducing business rate income, could compromise the Council’s ability to service the planned borrowing.

On balance, the Council really should decide to pause the project for 18 months and review it when the health crisis is over.

To do anything else could be very risky.  

Coronavirus York updates; 24th Sept 2020

Deaths and test results

TWENTYFOUR additional positive test results announced today bringing the cumulative total number of cases in the City to 1185. This is the largest number of cases reported in one day since May.

There have been no additional hospital deaths

The worst affected neighbourhoods over the last 7 days have been Holgate East and Rawcliffe/Clifton South.

Council report on recovery

The Councils executive will discuss an update report on the local response to the pandemic when they meet on 1st October. The report contains little that is new and – as always – is in danger of being overtaken by events before it is even read. A copy can be found by clicking here.

The Council does however seem to realise that the defects in the testing programme are a matter of growing concern.

NHS COVID App now working

The new test and trace app has now been switched on. If successful it should make tracking the COVID virus easier. There are also other features which will make life a little easier.

Screen shot of NHS app 24th Sept 2020

The NHS COVID-19 app has been built in collaboration with some of the most innovative organisations in the world.

We’ve worked with medical experts, privacy groups and at-risk communities. And we’ve shared knowledge with the teams working on similar apps in many countries.

The app runs on proven software developed by Apple and Google, designed so that nobody will know who or where you are. And you can delete your data, or the app, at any time.

It has a number of features:

  • Trace: find out when you’ve been near other app users who have tested positive for coronavirus.
  • Alert: lets you know the level of coronavirus risk in your postcode district.
  • Check-in: get alerted if you’ve visited a venue where you may have come into contact with coronavirus, using a simple QR code scanner. No more form filling.
  • Symptoms: check if you have coronavirus symptoms and see if you need to order a test.
  • Test: helps you order a test if you need to.
  • Isolate: keep track of your self-isolation countdown and access relevant advice.

The app is available in the several languages:

How do I access it?

The NHS COVID-19 app is free to download from the App Store and Google Play.

Download on the App Store
Get it on Google Play

Information deficit

While the new COVID app should make life a little easier, there remains a concern that information – that is readily available to the Council and NHS managers on a daily basis – is not shared at local level with residents.

It is now possible to use an App to order fish and chips to be ready at your local takeaway for a particular time slot. Yet testing numbers are only available on a weekly basis

It is amazing that real time stats are not provide for the number of COVID tests conducted each day and the backlog (waiting list) in demand in each local authority area.

Similarly the number of COVID hospital admissions, the number of beds occupied, ICU numbers and discharge figures remains a closely guarded secret. (We understand local reporters have asked for the information without a response).

Residents are also interested in transmission routes.

National figures (see below) point to intra family contacts as the main means of transmission but people visiting others persons homes and leisure activities also figure. Again, no local figures have been published.

Mortality map. York is low


NB. The Councils Health and Adult Social Care Policy and Scrutiny Committee hasn’t met since February.

The City’s Health and Wellbeing Board last met on 30th July 2020