York Council social enterprise company crashes

We warned in 2013 (click) that the Council plan, to hive off some social care services to a new company, were “highly risky”.

The plan was to start a “Be Independent” social enterprise to run warden call and disabled equipment loan services.

Most of the income for the new organisation would still come from the Council. It was claimed though that it could complete for other business thereby reducing the demands on taxpayers.

5 years later and it is clear that the company has failed. This is not entirely surprising as the draft  “business plan” (still available to view here “on line”) published in 2013 actually forecast that the operation would be loss making

A report the Council’s Executive next week suggests that the service be brought back under the Councils direct control.

The number of customers using the service has fallen from 2878 to 2448, about half of which are subsidised by the Council.

“Be Independent” have failed to win any new contracts during the last 5 years and lost an existing contract with the NHS to provide equipment services in the Vale of York.

The company is now loss making.

In the last financial year, it recorded a working deficit of £167,000.

If the work transfers back to the Council it will cost taxpayers an additional £95,000 a year.

One of the negative aspects of hiving off activities is that some jobs get a pay hike. The Council says that staff at “Be Independent” in the main enjoy the same conditions of service as Council employees. TUPE would therefore apply to any transferees.

The Council report fails to identify the salaries being paid to all staff although £273,000 pa is listed as “Directors remuneration”. (The latest accounts registered with Company House for 2017 list Directors remuneration as £106.443).

There was until last year one CYC appointed Director (Cllr Funnell) but this appointment was terminated on 31st March 2017. It is unclear who has been charged with safeguarding the Councils interests on the “Be Independent” board since then.

There is no comparison in the papers between the 2013 business plan and outturns.

External legal advice is apparently  being taken by the Council.

York Council acts to tackle street level problems – potholes, school parking, weeds/litter, footpath repairs etc

Saturdays story, Now action promised on cleaning up streets

Potential boost for York’s frontline services
York’s frontline services could be set to receive a further financial boost, thanks to the efforts of Liberal Democrat Councillors.
In a report published today, it is proposed that:
  • £1.031 million is used to increase capacity in some of York’s crucial frontline services by utilising £620k that has been unspent and a further £411k of unused contingency fund.
  • It is also proposed that an extra £1 million is brought forward from the 2019/20 budget to resurface some of the worst roads in the City, as a result of the recent extreme winter weather. 
If approved by the Executive, it is proposed that this newly released funding be used to support existing frontline services and launch new initiatives, including:
  • Creating a new work programme for footpath repairs across the city.
  • Establishing an additional team to carry out pothole maintenance.
  • Providing new resources for enforcement teams to control dangerous parking, with a special focus on improving safety around schools.
  • Allowing residents who have had recycling boxes damaged or stolen to claim two free boxes per year.
  • Using the Economic Infrastructure Fund to support high street shopping in Haxby and Acomb.
  • Creating a fund to support voluntary and community groups who wish to develop innovative ideas on how to make the best use of our green spaces.
Cllr Andrew Waller, Liberal Democrat Deputy Leader of the Council, said:
“Frontline services have always remained our number one priority for the Liberal Democrats and if approved by the Executive in June, this additional investment goes a long way top reaffirm that commitment.”
“Subject to Executive approval, this additional funding can be put to good use in order to carry out extensive highways repairs and considerably improve our public spaces.”
“Just as this investment shows, the Liberal Democrats will continue to uphold our commitment to York’s frontline services and work hard to ensure residents receive the highest standards of service from all Council services.”

July decision day for Front Street investment

Front Street

According to the Councils latest forward programme, proposals to improve the Front Street area will be considered at a meeting taking place on 3rd July.

The report follows on from earlier decisions on how the Councils available investment budget would be allocated.

One of the decisions was to allocate £100,000 to be spent on regenerating the Front Street and Haxby shopping areas.

At the time, the allocation was criticised as being too small to make much difference.

Last year, residents were consulted about how they would like to see the shopping area upgraded.

The most popular improvement was a proposal to provide a “level” surface across the whole of the pedestrian area.

This would potentially include the (privately owned) shops forecourts. We said at the time that this would need the involvement of a dedicated project manager who would have to negotiate agreements with several landlords. Whether improvements of this scale will be included in the July package remains to be seen.

Front Street back lane

The second most supported change, by residents, was improved management of litter and rubbish. There have been ongoing problems with litter and dumpingt in the back lane behind Front Street.

Many residents also wanted to see street furniture refurbished. Some progress has been made on this with cycle racks now added to the painting programme.

As we reported earlier in the week, there are some signs that Front Street is becoming more popular with traders. The number of empty properties has reduced, The Acomb Alive traders group now produces a 6 monthly magazine which has a wide distribution, while the Saturday markets continue to attract shoppers.

What is now needed is a bold and decisive approach to investment in the public realm

Additional investment in adult social care in York

Councillors will be asked to release funds of £1.25m for adult social care when they meet on 8 May 2018.

At the meeting the Executive will hear about the approach adult social care is taking with partners to support people with care and support needs, maximising their independence and capacity to remain at home, avoid hospital admission and return home as soon as possible from hospital.

As well as hearing about progress on the work we are doing to increase independence, councillors will be asked to agree to maintain current additional activity and release £800,000 recurring budget set aside in the 2018/19 budget, as well as the non recurring £457,000 adult social care support grant budget to fund further support.

In the past year the council has implemented a number of successful initiatives which have made a significant and positive impact on people’s lives.

They include the YorWellbeing falls prevention service, which has had a positive impact in reducing injuries and hospital admission. The service offers free home safety visits to all residents in Clifton and Guildhall Wards who want practical help and advice to reduce the risk of falls in their home. The release of funds would see further investment in the service expand into other areas in the city  increased capacity to support more residents.

Another example is the council’s local area coordinators in Westfield, Tang Hall and Huntington and New Earswick. The team people access community support, delaying and or preventing the need for statutory services.  Further funding will see the scheme expanded.

As well as continue this work,  a review of these initiatives has informed the following recommendations including increasing the level of reablement provision, maintain seven days a week social work to ensure capacity is available at weekends and promote and maintain the capacity and sustainability of home care.  Investment is also suggested for step down beds to increase the number available.

(more…)

Guildhall project cost set to leap to £17 million

When you are in a hole stop digging  – or at least dig where the foundations need to be repaired

York Guildhall

It appears, from a report being considered by the Councils Executive on 8th May, that the cost overrun on the Guildhall development project could have been as much as £6 million. That was what caused officials to pull the plug on a contract with Interserve to redevelop the Guildhall complex.

Taxpayers had already been asked to underwrite an estimated cost of over £12 million for the Council’s plan to establish a “business centre” in the building.

There was no way even the most optimistic estimates of income would have covered the extra £300,000 pa interest costs on the borrowing.

Incredibly Councillors are now being asked to tender the work again with minor changes. Amongst these are a plan to move all building materials through St Helens Square during the 18 months construction period (rather than via the river frontage).

Roof terraces and extensions would be abandoned

Despite these changes, the estimated total cost of the project is now estimated to be an additional “£4-5 million”

“Business case” March 2017

That will be a direct charge on taxpayers as there is no scope for additional income from rents in what will be a smaller than originally planned building.

Significantly, officials provide no update on the business case for the “business centre” which is now clearly nonviable.

It was highly marginal under the old plans (see right) and was therefore labelled as “highly risky” with no private sector partner prepared to become involved

The Councillors are not even being offered the obvious option which would be to put the site on the open market and allow experienced entrepreneurs to suggest viable uses..

The Council has admitted that it has already spent £1.5 million on the project.

If the Council does seek new tenders for the business centre project, they face a major delay – probably until after the next local elections (due in May 2019).

If Labour were to be successful in that poll, they would be left picking up the pieces of a project which started to go wrong during their last tenure in office. They had from 2011 to decide what to do with the Guildhall complex but dithered for four years before passing the buck on to the incoming administration in 2015.

The listed buildings continue to deteriorate.The report say,s “work has identified additional repair and maintenance work particularly relating to the structural weaknesses in the tower and the estimates have risen from £2.5m in the 2017 report to between £3-5 million

With the annual maintenance bill continuing to grow, taxpayers will wonder just how they can now extract themselves from what has developed into a major financial black hole

If the market had been properly tested four years ago this crisis might have been averted.

Lendal works to be completed before the end of the week

Station Rise resurfacing contract cost revealed

The delayed contract to resurface part of Rougier Street, Station Rise and Station View will cost £153,666.

Work on the contract was suspended a fortnight ago. https://www.york.gov.uk/LendalArch Work is now expected to be completed by Wednesday

Colas Ltd won the contract on 15th March 2018

NB. The value of the new Park and Ride contract in York  is revealed in newly published contract documents.  Won by First, it is expected to be worth £40 million over the next 8 years.

York Council to contribute £18,000 to new City Centre tourist signpost trial

In a behind closed doors decision, the York Council has agreed to spend £18,000 on new “Totem” signposting in the City centre.

A project, backed by the York BID and apparently with the approval of the York Civic Trust, will cost £36,000 for the trial in total The sum is mainly being spent on consultant’s fees but will result in some trial “Totems” being deployed.

The report goes on to say, “If the trial is successful and the programme is rolled out, this would need a significant contribution from both parties (for) which the BID has made provision and the authority would need to determine its position as a Council later in the Year”.

It is unclear how much this project may end up costing taxpayers and whether the funding would come from the “Make it York” organisation which now handles the city’s tourism budget.

The decision – taken by a Council official – is likely to widen the gap between the expectations of residents living in sub-urban areas and City centre focussed institutions.

Existing signs

Recently a commitment was made to fund a replacement for the Parliament Street fountain while additional expenditure may also result from the decision to make the revised Fossgate one-way system permanent.

There is a big question mark over the costs of maintaining the Guildhall now that the Council’s “business centre” project has collapsed. There are similar financial question marks about the Castle/Piccadilly redevelopment and York Central.

In residential areas, people are increasingly concerned about the quality of local highways. Many street nameplates are also  in need of repair. Public service standards are under unprecedented pressure.

Residents may feel that – unless paid for by business – the existing city centre direction signs will be adequate to meet needs.

After all, increasing number of people use “on line” maps and smart phones to find their way around.

Additional street furniture may actually represent a backwards step.

Guildhall redevelopment deal collapses

Interserve (ICL) taken off contract as costs escalate

York Guildhall

The York Council’s, accident prone, plan to redevelop the Guildhall as a business centre has collapsed.

They have been unable to agree a final cost target with preferred contractor ICL.

ICL were awarded the contract last year, with the overall expenditure on the controversial plan then put at over £12 million.

The Council were criticised for putting so much taxpayers money at risk on what was a speculative venture.

A report published today says that

“In accordance with the contract ICL advised their tender submission would be delayed and made an initial stage 2 tender submission on 16 February 2018. Unfortunately this was significantly in excess of the current project budget and contained a number of outstanding cost items which did not provide sufficient proof that the submission evidenced value for money”

Guildhall project layout plans

The Guildhall has been largely unused since the Council moved its operation to West Offices in 2013. Initially it had been expected that a private sector partnership would lead the redevelopment of the site which is in a Conservation area and which includes two important Listed buildings (Guildhall and Council Chamber).

It is unclear what will now happen although there are growing concerns that the empty buildings will continue to deteriorate with taxpayers facing an increasing annual maintenance burden.

The Council has already spent over £1 million on the aborted project.

Audit report lifts the veil on bus pass use in York

Huge use by tourists

An audit report into the use of elderly and disabled persons bus passes in York has been published. It can be found by clicking here

The report says that, “pass usage data for 2016-17 was analysed for trends, possible misuse and data quality.

Of around 160,000 passes used in York, around 70% were used 10 times or less.

By comparison, only 74 were used to make more than 1000 trips during the year.

As CYC has around 40,000 active passes, it is assumed that the other 120,000 passes were issued by other TCAs.

The low average usage likely reflects York’s popularity as a tourist destination. In other words, visitors are using their passes to make a small number of trips while visiting the city.

The most significant finding of the analysis was that disabled pass holders, who make up 10% of all pass holders, were disproportionately represented in the top 20 most heavily-used passes (11/20), suggesting they make more frequent use of their passes than people eligible due to age.

Two disabled pass holders in the top 20 were using passes that were hot-listed (marked as no longer valid) in 2013 and 2014 respectively, suggesting there may be more in use.

Currently, hot-listing (which could result in the pass being refused) is not in effect, so the holders were able to continue using the passes, but there are plans to implement it in the near future.

If this is done without any warning to pass holders, it may temporarily prevent disabled or vulnerable people from travelling freely on York buses”.

The report gives a “substantial assurance” that the system is not subject to abuse.

York “cold case” perpetrator finally named

Mr Redacted blamed for all Councils woes

Audit committee report April 2018

The long running saga, which started 4 years ago when the Council let consultancy contracts without going through a proper procurement process, is finally reaching its climax.

A report to a meeting next week gives an independent view of who did what and when at an audit committee meeting which discussed the issue a year ago.

Ironically that meeting descended into chaos when most members voted to discuss an internal audit report in public.  This caused a “walk out” by the Labour party committee chair.

The internal report was later leaked to the media causing more turmoil. The implicated “leakers” of the document (who denied the accusation) were later suspended from the Council’s Executive by the then Council Leader.  Hehimself was ejected from office a few weeks ago.

Apart from that, it has been a peaceful and harmonious 18 months at the York Council.

The report into the Audit meeting is heavily redacted. We can see no reason why the names of Councillors and officials should not be revealed WHERE THEY HAVE AGREED TO WAIVE ANY RIGHTS THAT THEY MAY HAVE TO ANONONIMITY.

After all, the meeting was web cast and is already in the public domain

It seems that the Council have not learned many lessons about transparency and accountability