Halting the worst of Labours cuts programme

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Against a background of a difficult national economic situation, there were bound to be reduction in some Council budgets for the forthcoming year.

Labour’s decision to target front line services for cuts is a complete reversal of the promises that they made last year.

Instead they are putting millions into ill defined investment funds and are proposing to borrow £20 million over the next 5 years to prop up their ambitions.

The City simply can’t afford such a “gung ho” approach.

The City’s basic infrastructure has to be maintained.

The alternative budget (right) not only takes advantage of an additional £1.8 million in government funding for Councils that freeze tax levels, but it also follows a clear set of priorities.

These priorities are to sustain investment in:
1. Crime prevention
2. Personal Safety programmes
3. Services affecting vulnerable people
4. Unemployment reduction programmes
5. The quality of day to day services used by large numbers of people
6. York Pride type neighbourhood services

Capital investment would be concentrated on schemes that reduce running costs such as the new Salvage and Recycling centre at Harewood Whin, which is aimed at controlling the escalating burden on taxpayers for landfill penalties. Total expenditure would be limited to income from capital receipts (land sales), government grants like the transport fund and the “new homes bonus”. Apart from the unspecified “Economic Development Fund” activities, all other aspects of the capital programme would continue including the provision of 2 new park and ride sites.
Some schemes might be delayed while others, such as the provision of WiFi access in the City centre, we would expect to be funded by the private sector

York Council bus bid misses the point

York Council bus bid

The Council today is approving a bid to the Coalition Governments £50 million “Better Bus Area Fund”. It is right to do so because we do need to continue to make an investment in public transport, even in difficult economic times.

The bid is flawed because it fails to present an identifiable business case. The Council report is remarkable only is so far as it seeks to persuade government to release £2 million in funding for the City, yet it fails to identify how much is needed to fund each section of the bid.

The new Labour Council embarked on a radical new approach to providing bus services in the City when, last June, it set aside £100,000 to spend on consultants who would redesign the bus network. Another £100,000 is up for approval at the annual Council meeting on Thursday. The same meeting will consider increasing bus subsidies by £50,000. That £¼ million is likely to be small beer though when tenders to run the new network are received. All the indications are that subsidies of several millions of pounds will be required to provide the low fare, high frequency, service that some aspire to.

Separately the Council wants to introduce a paper based “through” ticket to benefit the 3% of passengers who undertake journeys in the City where they have to change bus operator.

The solution isn’t a scheme which invoices apportioning revenue manually to individual operators. That is ludicrously poor value for money with set up and running costs approaching £200,000.

The solution is to move over to smart card payment methods, a form of which has been available on Park and Ride services for some years.

The expectation was that the new generation of “touch in, touch out” charge cards would perform this function and York’s largest bus operator, First, themselves announced some months ago that they were taking that idea forward.

Next best, is a stored value or “oyster” type card. Either is worth pursuing, preferably in partnership with neighbouring Local Authorities.

It is the other aspects of the bid which will come under most scrutiny. There is talk that up to £2 million of matching funding could come from local taxpayers (apparently from the £20 million being borrowed to prop up an Economic Investment slush Fund). That is unrealistic in the present economic times.
Improving 5 bus interchange stops in the City centre are unlikely to be seen as a national priority.
The final aspect of the project will be the most controversial. It involves reserving two of the City centre bridges for public transport use. It has be talked about for a decade, so perhaps now is the time to undertake an off peak trial and monitor the consequences. Although a trial should not be expensive, a permanent restriction could well be.

It is surprising that the bid does not include the introduction of low emission buses into the City. That may be a big mistake.

Ultimately the absence of any financial figures from the Council report, means that the government’s requirements may not be met. They say, “the bid must be able to demonstrate that a sound implementation strategy is in place for each component of the proposed package of measures”. Clearly that isn’t the case in York at present.

Resident’s budget anger grows. “Keep Our Sacks” petition launched

Another petition has been launched by residents as Labours programme of public service cuts comes under greater scrutiny.

Residents in the South Bank neighbourhood – in common with those living in many other terraced areas – present their refuse in plastic sacks. Long back lanes and lack of storage space means that wheeled bins are impractical.

The plastic sacks are provide free of charge by the Council.

Now that is set to change, with residents being told by the Council to buy their own in future.

Resident’s spokesman Ashley Mason has pointed out that it would be discriminatory to provide free wheeled bins for most of the population while requiring those living in terraced properties to pay for their own.

Copies of the petition form are being circulated in the South Bank area. The petition collection may be extended to those affected in other areas such as parts of the Westfield and Holgate wards.

Meanwhile the petition to save the Beckfield Lane recycling centre has attracted 100 signatures in the first 48 hours since it was circulated.

In a separate development, parents in the Heworth area are considering restarting their campaign to save the future of Burnholme College following reports that it is set to close in the wake of Labours budget cuts.
The College was saved in 2009 when the then Liberal Democrat led Council provided essential financial support for the popular school.

2009 demonstration of support for Burnholme College

Planning applications in Westfield area

Recent planning applications - click to enlarge

Few new planning applications have been submitted in the Westfield area over the last few weeks.

The determination date for several long outstanding applications has passed. The Council may now be liable for non determination. This means that the applicant can appeal and a decision would be taken by the (independent) planning inspectorate

Those outstanding include the significant development on The Green.

The length of time it is taking to decide the application for new car parking space at the St Stephen’s Road/ Stephen’s Square junction is bordering on the ridiculous.

Proposed site for parking area in St Stephens Square

Petition to save the Beckfield Lane recycling centre launched

Reuban Mayne outside the Beckfield Lane recycling centre

A petition is circulating in Acomb calling on the Council to reprieve the Beckfield Lane recycling centre. The Centre is due to close after Easter as part of the Labour Council’s cuts programme.

An alternative Salvage and Re-use centre, which was to have been provided at Harewood Whin, has also been axed.

Funding to continue the Beckfield Lane facility would be found by halting the “free” roll out of WiFi access in the City centre.

The petition has been organised by local Acomb resident Reuban Mayne who can be contacted on York 781589

The petition should be available to sign “on line” shortly.

LIB DEMS WOULD REVERSE VOLUNTARY SECTOR CUTS

Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Social Inclusion Cllr Nigel Ayre has revealed that the Liberal Democrats will submit plans to reverse the cuts to voluntary sector organisations planned by the City of York Council’s Labour Cabinet to the Budget Council meeting on Thursday 23rd February.

Organisations which would see their funding restored under the Liberal Democrat plans include YREN, York Citizens Advice Bureau, York CVS, Older Citizens Advocacy, Relate, SNAPPY (a charity that provides social and recreational opportunities for children and young people with special needs) and the Salvation Army.

Cllr Ayre believes Labour’s voluntary sector cuts, which the cabinet openly admit could lead to an increase in inequality in York, should not be targeted at those organisations which work with the least well-off.

Councillor Ayre said “Many of these organisations work with the most vulnerable people in York. These voluntary sector groups have been targeted for cuts larger than those in, for example, the Arts sector. Labour’s cuts in the voluntary sector will hurt the very people they claim their budget will protect. Labour’s ‘fair’ budget is a sham, but we are pledging to restore funding to many of the voluntary sector groups in order to make sure the worst off really don’t lose out.”

“The Council has a responsibility to promote fairness and inclusion. Local Liberal Democrats will not avoid that responsibility. We are committing to funding these projects that Labour are planning to cut because we think that these voluntary sector organisations need help with their admirable work. Labour’s choices suggest they don’t care about this important work.”

Cllr Ayre slammed Labour’s hypocrisy over this year’s budget, saying “Labour have kept the extra money they put into the budget last year for additional taxpayer-funded union officials, but can’t find enough funding to support, for example, the Salvation Army’s work with the homeless. Labour might talk about fairness, but their actions tell a different story.”

New city centre sheltered cycle parking

Cyclists now have more choice where to park their bikes in the city centre.

The new cycle parking area is based in Newgate Market, which was created by converting a row of empty trader stalls at the back of the market.

The row of cycle racks has room to park up to 20 bikes, which will be sheltered from the rain (or snow) as they are under the old trader stall’s canopy, which has been retained.

This new area of cycle parking is best accessed via the archway from the Shambles and is monitored by nearby CCTV.

Labour spent £1 million on consultants while planning £19 million in public service cuts in York

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Figures released by the Council reveal that over £1 million was spent on consultant’s fees in the final 6 months of last year.

The expenditure came at a time when Labour were preparing to announce an unprecedented £19 million cut in pubic service budgets with over 100 jobs losses in the pipeline.

In opposition, Labour had criticised the use of outside consultants by the Council despite being assured that it was often cheaper to do so than recruit permanent additional employees. Now they seem to have got that message, but the scale of the conversion will have surprised many.

With hundreds of thousands of pounds also being spent on new furniture, it is likely that some scrutiny of the cost assumptions for the furnishing of the new Council offices will be demanded.

The Council should re-use existing furniture wherever possible and resist any temptation to buy new items.

Where Labour’s budget cuts will bite in York: 5. Schools and Children

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Although schools now receive their own funding direct from the government, the Council is trying to pass on additional costs to the joint schools fund.

One example is a £195,000 bill for Broadband that schools will have to pick up in future.
This means that the will be less money to support small schools like the Burnholme College which nearly closed 2 years ago before the, then LibDem controlled, Council provided a financial lifeline.

Children travelling to faith schools will lose their right to free transport next year.

The Youth Service – the people who provide activities for teenagers – is also set to get another cut as are Children’s Centres while York’s remaining Children’s Home will be privatised.

Children’s Social Workers will receive less training while there will be lower grants to voluntary organisations working in the education and children’s services areas.