Elderly in York to be hit as Tories plan to cut garden assistance scheme

Over a year ago, the York Council notified elderly and disabled people that it planned to scrap its garden assistance scheme. The scheme employs contractors to cut the hedges and lawns of elderly and disabled residents.

The plans produced a barrage of complaints and the threat was withdrawn

Now a report has revealed that a Tory Councillor is again planning to slash entitlement to the service. About 50% of current users will be told to make other arrangements.

It appears that some people aged over 70 with severe disabilities may continue to get the service from an estate “handymen”, but many others will miss out.

Story last year

The cuts are expected to save the Council around £40,000 a year.

The Tories claim that this cut is essential to balance the books. They forget that last week a review of the Housing Revenue Account revealed that it will have an average credit balance of over £30 million in each of the next 30 years.

This partly arises from the expected 1% per annum real terms increases in rents.

As well as kicking existing users off the programme, the report talks of establishing a “waiting list” for people who need the service.

The Councillor responsible for the proposal is Sam Lyle a youth who recently graduated from University. Quite what he knows about the challenges faced by many older residents will no doubt become clear over the next few days.

Fortunately, as we have reported before (left), there are a lot of caring students at the York and St Johns Universities who hopefully will prove to be part of the solution to this shabby proposal

In the meantime, the Council’s website is down. Anyone trying to Email Councillors is referred to a web page apparently containing a list of contact telephone numbers. http://democracy.york.gov.uk/mgCommitteeMailingList.aspx?ID=0

That web page is also currently unavailable!

 

£33+ million estimate for new York central access route

Compromise access route

The preferred option for an access bridge into the York Central site will cost between £33 & £43 million. The route will pass next the Millennium Green, but efforts are being made to minimise its impact.

The new route will effectively provide a by-pass for the Salisbury Terrace/Leeman Road housing area.

The compromise is described in a Council report published today following a period of consultation.

The report is good news for campaigners in the Holgate Road/ Wilton Rise community. They were set to be hit hardest by an access route using Chancery Rise. The Labour council bought the land that this route would have used in 2013 but offered little consultation with nearby residents. Quite how much this blunder has cost taxpayers is unclear at this stage.

So, fare around £3.7 million has been spent on planning work for York central plus site purchase of this £2.3 has come from York taxpayers. Now taxpayers are to be asked for a further £1.9 million to take the project forward.

In addition, the Council is being asked to find 3200,000 towards the costs of an expansion of the Railway Museum. The Museum hopes to invest around £50 million in their project

Following a “Master Planning” exercise for the site, a planning application is expected to be determined in Oct 2018

Consultation on access routes for York Central started in the last decade (see below)

Residents preferred access option location (Water End) remains the same!

Public consultation –
York central access options 2007

 

 

“Stay away” Tory leads to defeat on Willow House development

Willow House

The local Council Tory Leadership suffered a defeat this evening when their plan ot sell off land at Willow House was referred back for further consideration.

It is understood that one Conservative councillor absented himself from the meeting without appointing a substitute. (He was apparently elsewhere in West Offices when the meeting was taking place)

The result was that a vote on a “call in” was tied and the Labour chair used his casting vote to stall the development.

There are likely to be repercussions for the Council as the sale of the former elderly persons home site for development was needed to fund new elderly care homes.

The main concern apparently centred around an area of open space next to the home which would have been developed for the first time. Locals say that it is used for informal recreational activity.

There are several other controversial plans in the pipeline which would see similar open spaces developed. In the Acomb ward the development of the old Manor school playing field has been criticised while there is also a major campaign to save threatened open space at Lowfields.

The called in decision will now be referred back to the Executive who will have to decide whether to re-advertise the site for sale and, if so,  with what conditions. Further delays to the care programme seem inevitable.

The disagreement within the Tories is the latest in signs of unrest with Council Leader David Carr heavily criticised  since unilaterally sacking two executive members and later resisting publication of a report into contractor appointments.

Other projects such as the, Tory backed, shipping container village on Piccadilly and arrangements to sign the final Community Stadium contract are also mired in controversy.

Sparks container village opening delay confirmed

The operators of the proposed shipping container village on Piccadilly have now confirmed that there will be a delay in completing the project.

As we reported earlier in the week,  there is still a substantial amount of work to be finished on the site.

The developers say it will now be “early Spring” before the units are occupied. The economics of the project rely heavily on booze and street food outlets.

It is unclear when the Council – which is funding some of the upfront costs – will begin to recover their investment.

The Council is spending £40,000 connecting utility services to the site.

When approving the use of the site 12 months ago, the Council said it expected to recover its investment from rent payments.  Whether they will now be able to achieve that before the initial lease runs out in 2019 remains to be seen.

Sadly, the site is now even more of an eyesore than it used to be.

 

Council meeting moves to Citadel as spending plans consultation starts

Council debates may be inspired by Citadel moto

York’s next full Council meeting will be held at the Citadel later this month (26 October) rather than in its usual home of York’s Guildhall.

The temporary venue – formerly the home of York’s Salvation Army and now owned by York City Church – will be used for full meetings of the Council for up to two years while the Guildhall is closed for construction work.

The Guildhall has been used for meetings since the 15th Century and the current council chamber dates back to 1891.

Members of the public are welcome to attend the full council meeting at the Citadel at 6.30pm on Thursday 26 October.

Have your say on York’s spending plans

The results of the 2018 citywide budget consultation will help set the council’s financial priorities for the forthcoming year.

Despite already achieving savings of over £100m in the last decade through a combination of efficiency savings and reviewing the services it provides, the authority needs to make further savings of £6.1m in 2018/19 and £4.2m in 2019/20 to meet its budget.

Against this tough financial backdrop, demand for services continues to rise; mainly due to demographic changes and more people living longer. At the same time the financial support received from central government has been reduced.

The central government grant accounted for 40 per cent of the council’s income in 2012/13 but fell to just seven per cent last year.  By 2020, York will receive no government grant. That means the services the council provides will have to be funded from a share of business rates, from the council tax and through any fees and costs it charges.

Council leaders hope that the responses to the questionnaire will help guide future spending decisions, particularly whether the authority should ‘balance its books’ by:

  • Reducing the number of services it provides, or stop providing them altogether.
  • Finding ways of providing services more efficiently by working differently.
  • Charging more for services.
  • Increasing the amount of council tax.

People can put forward their views:

  • Online at www.york.gov.uk/consultations
  • By completing the survey in the council’s publication Our City [which is being distributed over the course of the next two weeks].
  • By popping along to one of four drop-in sessions, at Huntington Library on Wednesday 1 November; Archbishop Holgate’s School on Thursday 2 November; Acomb Explore Library on Tuesday 7 November or West Offices on Wednesday 8 November, all between 4.30pm and 6.30pm.

(more…)

Council Leader under pressure to publish secret report

Councillors from all parties have written to the York Council Leader (David Carr) asking him to reveal the contents of a secret report compiled by the Local Government Association (LGA).

The report looked into the behaviour of some York Councillors and officials at a stormy meeting of the Audit and Governance Committee which took place on 22nd February.

The report is thought to criticise the way that Council officials handled the meeting when it was considering a report on the appointment of consultants by the previous Labour administration.

An internal report had revealed that around £174,000 had been spent when appointing consultants outside the Councils procurement regulations i.e competitive tenders for the work had not been obtained.

Councillors voted to discuss the issue in public, prompting the then chair of the committee to walk out followed by another Labour Councillor.

Subsequently an investigation into the meeting was conducted by the LGA. The expectation was that the further report would have been presented to the last meeting of the Audit committee but the Council Leader intervened to prevent its publication.

Cllr Carr has so far refused to publish the report, despite promising members at a full council meeting in July that he would.

In the letter the councillors say:

“As members of City of York Council and its Audit and Governance Committee, we are writing openly to you to express our concerns over the lack of openness and transparency with the above report.

We would like you to confirm that:

  1. The report will be published for the Audit and Governance Committee as soon as possible, if necessary with the full version seen in private session and a redacted copy being public.
  2. You re-affirm your commitment to working in an open and transparent manner, whilst protecting the rights of members and officers by not prejudicing the outcome of any report.

We hope that you as Leader and City of York Council will learn from past events at Audit and Governance and push forward towards greater openness instead of just trying to fulfil minimum expectations with Members and the public. When writing public reports, we should carefully balance the legitimate public interest in disclosure against data protection concerns, working with redacted or summarised reports with private annexes rather than excluding whole reports as confidential.”

It is highly unusual for members of all the political  Groups represented on the Council to jointly produce such a letter.

It places further pressure on a Council Leader who has been increasingly isolated since he took unilateral action to sack two leading LibDem Councillors from the coalition Executive at the beginning of September.

The Council’s Standards Board has since made little progress in dealing with the allegations – also understood to be related to the procurement report – against the two Councillors.

Some sources within the Council are now saying that – unless progress on the reports is made quickly – an ultimatum is likely to be issued.

Either Cllr Carr goes or the coalition collapses.

 

Each York Council meeting webcast costs £1620

Details of the cost of webcasting York’s full Council and Executive committee meetings have been revealed.

During the last 4 years a total of £99,000 has been paid to contractors “Pilot Theatre”.

The details were revealed in a response to an FOI request. The request was made by the Conservative candidate in the June local by election in the Hull Road Ward.

One commentator has said “a permanent webcasting solution could be put in place at a fraction of that price

The main concern seems to be the absence of an open tendering process for the service, although the Council says that this has been complicated by its planned short term move to the Citadel Hall in Gillygate (while building works at the Guildhall take place)

The exchange doesn’t ask how much the in house broadcasting of small committee meetings costs, nor is information provided about the number of people who actually view the web casts.

In most cases, viewer numbers are thought to be measured in dozens rather than hundreds (including a chunk from outside the UK who are practising their language skills!).

The Tories may have a point. One of the promises of the new York TV station was that it would provide free access to material of this sort, so perhaps there are cheaper ways of doing things?

 

 

York Council to sell Bootham Row car parking spaces

New threat to sell off Council housing land

Land at Bootham Row to be sold

The York Council’s Executive is being recommended to sell off 5 car parking spaces at Bootham Row car park. The land (see map) also accommodates motorcycle parking.

The Council is hoping to raise £155,000 from a local developer who hopes to remodel 27 Bootham.

The car parking spaces generate over £7000 a year for taxpayers

Coming at a time when pressure on City centre car parks is being blamed for the accelerating decline in the City centre retail economy, the plan is bound to raise eyebrows. It is reminiscent of the plan, hatched in 2011 by the then Labour led Council administration, which proposed to sell off the nearby Union Terrace car park. That idea collapsed after being heavily criticised by both residents and traders.

Housing land sale

More alarming is the publication of a lofty document which seeks to justify a new “Asset Management Strategy”. It is due to be discussed by the Council’s Executive on 28th September.

The report claims that the last strategy, launched in 2011, has been a success.

Amongst the credulous statements that Councillors are being asked to believe, are claims that that the York Central and Castle Gateway sites “have been made more economically active” (In fact very little progress has been made on either project over the last 6 years).

The report goes on to claim that older people’s accommodation has been improved. Again, the reality is that the project is running 4 years behind schedule.

Sanderson House community centre

Most bizarre is a claim that leasing community centres to local organisations  “have allowed voluntary groups to flourish, increase activity, improve outcomes and attract external funding”. The reality, at least at the two community centres in the Westfield area, is that volunteers have been given a crushing burden to handle with minimal Council support.  Most ad hoc leisure events at the centres have stopped with most bookings now being from third parties (which the management committees have to accept simply to pay for running costs)

The Council has similarly jettisoned its commitment to many local sports facilities.

The report talks vaguely of joint use arrangement with other public-sector providers such as GPs.

It seems likely that the Council intends to target staff who work in neighbourhood buildings potentially repeating the disastrous policy – from a customer service perspective – of closing facilities like the Acomb Housing office and the Beckfield Lane recycling centre.

Derelict site behind Acomb Explore Library

The report says that 5 (unidentified) Housing department owned sites will either be sold or freed up for redevelopment.

The report pointedly fails to identify the location of these sites.

There are of course pieces of Council owned land which are crying out for development.

These include the land to the rear of the Acomb Library, which was schedule as an extension providing “one stop shop” facilities – with residential accommodation above – over 8 years ago.

We are still waiting to see some progress.

Citizens Advice to get £12,000 boost for York residents financial advice and support services

 City of York Council is to consider funding an extra £12,000 for Citizens’ Advice York (CAY) so it can run additional drop-in help and advice sessions relating to universal credit.

The offer of the money – which is expected to be ratified at a decision session for the executive member for health and adult social care next week (14 September) – will enable the charity to reinstate two, half-day, advice ‘surgeries’ each week for six months.

The sessions had been threatened because of a shortfall in Citizens’ Advice income.

Demand for help is likely to increase with the further roll-out of universal credit across York.

Universal credit is a monthly payment for people who are on low incomes or out of work and is being introduced in stages nationwide.

An accelerated roll-out started in York in July and will affect most new claimants from this month onwards.

City of York Council has long-supported the work of Citizens’ Advice York and provides an annual grant of £122,500 so it can offer financial advice and support to residents.

The council’s cash contribution has been maintained at the same level for several years, despite budget pressures.

It has also pledged an extra £100,000 over two years from its ‘improving finances, improving lives’ fund to pay for additional services including a Citizens’ Advice debt support worker and GP surgery-based advice sessions.

Councillor Carol Runciman, who has responsibility for financial inclusion, said:

The introduction of universal credit is a significant issue for many people in York.

“I’m very keen to make sure our residents have access to the information and advice they require when major changes are being made to benefits.

“I am delighted we are able to support the charity’s work with a potential funding boost to secure the future of the additional drop-in advice sessions.”