Opposition Councillors move to reduce travel costs as taxpayers complain
The concerns expressed by many York residents, about the amount being spent on foreign visits and travel by both Councillors and officials, are to come under the microscope.
The move comes after Labour lost overall control of the Council.
In the main the initiative is aimed at the payment of travel expenses incurred directly by the York Council but it has been suggested that this will be extended to cover other organisations that the Council has representation on and, in particular, those that receive significant Council grant funding.
Any new process will not put an outright ban on travel.
Rather a case for foreign travel will have to be considered by a public session of the all party Urgency committee (which meets each week). The expectation is that the aims of any travel will have to be identified and, later, that a note will be published indicating what was achieved by the trip.
The move is part of a raft of changes being proposed by opposition Councillors which could transform the way that the York Council does its business.
They aim is to make the Council more open and more sensitive to local residents views.
A key feature would be an end to “behind closed doors” decision making meetings.
The costs of foreign – and indeed UK – travel, have been a cause of criticism ever since Labour took control of the Council in 2011.
Previous stories – Click link to access
Cabinet approves £25,000 jaunt to Cannes
Labour Councillor’s Strasbourg trips
Shamed Labour Councillors publish expenses claims
York MPs travel expenses
York Councillors travel expenses exposeds
Foreign travel fails to broaden Social Services report
Labour Cabinet runs up £4000 travel bill.
More about foreign trips
York Council spent £5747 on trip to Cannes
Day out in Scotland
Day out in London
Strong Police objections overruled in “behind closed doors” decision
Papers published today confirm that a Council official has nodded through the introduction of 20 mph speed limits on 3 more roads in the York area. The decision meeting took place on 21st October but no notice of the meeting was given to opposition Councillors.
The roads concerned are:
- Heslington Road (part of)
- Hospital Fields Road (full extent)
- Broad Highway, Wheldrake (part of)
The Police objected to the proposals saying, in a strongly worded letter, that they would not be able to enforce the 20 mph limit.
Their objection – which can be read by clicking here – points out that average speeds are below 30 mph anyway and that at least one of the roads is not “residential” in character.
In another, the Police question whether the change proposed might actually increase speeds near a school increasing, rather than reducing, accident potential
It is possible that the changes do have the support of local Ward Councillors.
But the expectation was that the new Council would immediately stop the practice of holding private “decision” meetings before subsequently publishing – sometimes days later – agendas and supporting papers.
Residents have a right to make additional representations on proposals if they chose. They can’t do so if a decision has already been taken.
The opposition group Leaders seem to have been out manoeuvred on this issue – and a similar one concerning TransPennine Express and Northern Rail franchises where there is no sign of any opposition influence.
Opposition Councillors will need to raise their game quickly on the newly balanced Council.
York will expect open decision making and genuine consultation from now on.
It seems likely that one of the consequences of Labour losing their grip on the Council – and its PR staff – will be more openness about what is happening.
Secrecy has shrouded the costs – and objectives – of foreign trips made by both Councillors and Officials since 2011.
Nationally the consequences of events such as MIPIM are increasingly under the microscope.
It is almost beyond belief that Labour Councillors are trying to get the respected head of a local mental health charity sacked because they disagree with his political views.
They have accused him of using a pseudonym to make critical comments about Labour polices and personalities.
It is a glimpse of a totalitarian state mentality to which many of the current York Council Leadership subscribe
“Agree with my views or we will target you” seems to be their mantra.
No wonder that so many former Labour Councillors have chosen to jump ship to escape from this suffocating authoritarianism.
It would not be so bad if Labour Councillors themselves did not use false names to promote their views – and belittle their political opponents – on the local Press web site.
Residents would be amazed to find out just who is responsible for such vindictive, and often untrue, vitriol.
The Press can address this issue by insisting that – just as it does on its letters page – people use their real names when posting on line.
It might mean that some public servants are discouraged from criticising Labour politicians but there are other independent channels – including this web site – where whistle blowing is an option for the faint hearted.
In the meantime Labour should withdraw their attack dogs from their voluntary sector targets and reflect that it is their commitment to secret decision making that has led to the frustration felt by many York residents.
It is no wonder though that many residents choose not to reveal their true identities and views to the City’s Stalinist rulers.
Traffic and parking decisions nodded through at behind closed doors session.
The man responsible for the secrecy was Labour Councillor David Levene.
Over 50 proposals for changes to parking restrictions and other local traffic management measures were decided last week.
Residents had no opportunity to influence the decisions with papers only being published on the Councils web site AFTER the meeting had concluded.
Labour Councillors representing areas like Westfield failed to make any representations on the plans which potentially affect dozens of local residents and hundreds of drivers.
This is the kind of secrecy and indifference that should disappear when Labour lose the Westfield by election and with it their Council majority.
The background reports can be read by clicking these links
Dringhouses and Woodthorpe
Skelton Rawcliffe Clifton Without
Sparse crowd for Grand Departy
Three months after a party took place at the Huntington Stadium, the Council still claims that it does know how much income it received from ticket sales.
The budget costs of the 5 hour event were revealed as £228,000 in a response to a Freedom of Information request in August.
It beggars belief that the Council does not yet know how much the event cost and what bill Council Taxpayers will have to pick up.
In an internal review, of responses to an FOI request from former Council Leader Steve Galloway, the Council has admitted irregularities with officials apparently having incorrectly quoted national legislation to justify a cover up.
They have also apologized for delays in dealing with correspondence.
But they now say that a report will only be made to the Council’s Cabinet on the details of the flop in November; 2 months after it was originally scheduled.
A question on ticket sales has been put on the agenda for the Council meeting taking place on 9th October by Cllr Nigel Ayre.
This is the kind of obstructive secrecy that will be swept away if Labour lose their majority after the by election poll which takes place on 16th October.
The Council’s email to Steve Galloway says;
Copies of Emails between Councillors and officials in York – exchanged in the run up to the launch of the wide area 20 mph speed limits in west York last year – have been published by the Council.
The exchange of Emails can be viewed by clicking here and here
The project cost £600,000 to implement
The correspondence includes a request from Cllr Anna Semlyen for the use of a police radar speed gun (!)
This was the same Labour Councillor who argued that 20 mph speed limits should be introduced without consultation with residents.
Subsequently, as we now know, the new limits have had no effect on traffic speeds.
Only 49% now satisfied with tenants choice modernisation work
The annual report into satisfaction with York Council services has shown some growing concerns amongst York Council tenants.
The report was considered at yet another behind closed doors meeting last week
While on most activities performance has been consistent over the years there are areas of growing concern.
- Tenant’s choice satisfaction with modernisation work was down from 76% to only 49%.
- Only 44% of tenants who complained said that they were satisfied with the final outcome
- Satisfaction with the Council “listening to tenant’s views and acting on them” fell from 67% in 2012 to 62% last year
Garage areas neglected
The biggest concern remains the condition of local estates with tenants increasingly critical of the appearance and state of repair of local neighbourhood and communal areas.
Garage areas are poorly maintained, many verges are damaged and gutters are overgrown with weeds.
The Council is apparently going to appoint a private contractor to clean the communal areas of flats leaving the estate workers to concentrate on litter removal and general maintenance. Tenant satisfaction with garden care (also contracted to the private sector) has attracted many complaints this year.
However, overall, there was some good news for the Council with 87% saying they were satisfied with the service provide down only 1% from the previous year,