A huge increase in borrowing is proposed in a Labour party amendment to the York Councils budget plans.
£2.5 million extra will be borrowed with more being taken from reserves currently earmarked to provide additional social housing.
They say, most of the extra money will be spent on reducing “damp” in Council housing. The Council had already let a contract for £2 million to address this issue on 11th May.
The Council has record debt levels with over 22% of what a resident pays in Council Tax set to be spent on interest charges by 2022.
Plans for a “Children’s Commissioner” on a fat cat £75k salary, appear to be equally misguided. The Council has a well-paid Executive Councillor with responsibilities in the same area.
Labour also plans to cut £1/4 million from the “safer communities” crime reduction budget. This is an extraordinary misjudgement of the problems that exist in parts of the City with anti-social behaviour, drug misuse, graffiti and vandalism on the increase.
Instead money would be spent on two additional talking shops; a “Human Rights Commission” and a “Carbon Neutral City Citizens Assembly” are proposed.
The only part of the Labour plan which might gain some support is a proposed investment of £40,000 in reducing, to one day, the target time taken to remove “fly tipping”. Some may, however, feel that the first step should be to improve bulky waste collection arrangements and reintroduce regular visits by “skips” to key estates.
The Council’s revised budget proposals will be debated tomorrow (Wednesday)
Council leadership set to prioritise road repairs, play
facilities, housing, energy efficiency and Social Care.
The new Council leadership has announced changes to the budget
that it inherited. As expected, extra investment in improvements to street
level public services are planned.
There will be extra investment in
Additional Litter bins
Street environment (cleaning and community
Electric vehicle charging point maintenance.
The biggest investment will be £1 million spent on road repairs
and a further £1 million on cycling/walking improvements
There will be a £250,000 boost for children’s play facilities.
The Council will invest £1 million in speeding up housing modernisation
and a further £1 million on energy efficiency improvements
£22,000 is being taken for the reserves to improve children’s and adult social care standards.
Several of the proposals are less than transparent. We are told, for example, that the Council will “Re-purpose funding from the Leeds City Region Business Rates Pilot to strengthen our approach to inclusive growth, including child poverty, greening the high street and promote lifelong learning”
Also, the Council will fund “connections with communities most impacted by EU exit to better understand their needs, and to take forward the community hubs work initiated”
Four schemes are intended to be self-funding. They relate to
foster care, Special Education Needs and Disability pupils, Public Health and mental
The proposals will be welcomed by many in the City. It will, however, take more than £1 million to get the City’s roads back into good order.
£4.25 million of the plan is capital investment, meaning higher debt charges in the future (and less to spend in the revenue budget).
The plans are likely to be criticised for failing to clearly identify the objectives of some of the changes with no detail given of how the success of the projects will be measured.
No KPIs are listed and there is no clear vision of how the City will look in 4 years’ time.
Residents may feel that prompt attention to reducing the costs of some inherited major projects is necessary, especially if demands on taxpayers in future years are to remain under control.
It really shouldn’t cost £35,000 to “ launch a public
Citizen’s Assembly on how the Council can best work in an open way”
The Council must become a “can do” rather than a “can talk” organisation.
Still it’s a start, and a better one than was managed by the
last two Council administrations.
The proposal will be discussed at a meeting taking place on 17th July
320,000 pieces of chewing gum removed from pavements.
York Councillors will be considering a reporton Wednesday that reviews the work of the York BID. The, mainly business funded organisation, was formed in April 2016 and aims to improve the attractiveness of the City centre.
The report includes an impressive list of achievements. The blight
of chewing gum on footpaths is produces a particularly eye catching headline.
In addition, 961 pieces of graffiti and fly posters have been removed.
The BID ranger service has also helped to reduce anti-social
behaviour and address other criminal activities.
There has been a 1.9% increase in footfall in the City.
Last month the government, the Architectural Heritage Fund
and the National Lottery Heritage Fund announced a £62 million package of
support to breathe new life into historic high streets across the country, to
restore historic buildings, create new work spaces and cultural venues. As part
of the overall funding, £55 million had been allocated from the Future High
Streets Fund. We still hope to see York benefit from this type of
The York BID has been successful initiative and has made a real
difference to the quality of the City centre. It has been criticised for
drawing Council resources away from sub-urban centres like Acomb but overall the
BID is viewed positively.
There are ongoing issues with more improvements needed to the
streetscape – too many weeds and too much graffiti – and of course empty properties.
The latter in areas like Coney Street now look to be intractable problems, which
is why the governments attitude to the City is so disappointing.
Some underused sites and buildings – including those owned by
the Council – need to be redeveloped quickly now. The meeting on Wednesday will
hear from the Executive member with responsibility for “Economy and
Strategic Planning”. Members will no doubt be hoping to hear some positive news
about the use of empty property economic development activities in the whole of
We hope that corporate interests will similarly ensure that
prominent, but derelict, sites like that next to the Barbican will also now be
developed (or at least tidied up).
Overall the BID has had a successful 3 years and can look with
confidence to an extension of its mandate.
NB. “Make it York” is reporting separately on its activities click here to readtheir report
The new Executive is expected to review the affordability of a £20 million scheme at the Guildhall which would see the creation of a “business club” there. If the project goes ahead, work will start in the autumn with reoccupation expected in 2021.
The estimated total value of the assets is put at between £30/40 million.
Little attempt has been made to secure short term lets for the properties which include prime sites like 29 Castlegate, the former youth advisory HQ.
Most of the properties have been exempt from paying business rates. Had they been occupied then Council taxpayers would have benefited from an additional £200,000 a year in income.
To this would be added rental income of around £400,000 a year or a substantial capital receipt.
The Castlegate property was to have been purchased by the York Conservation Trust with the York Civic Trust hoping to subsequently lease the building as part of its expansion plans for the adjacent Fairfax House.
The agreed purchase price of £430,000 was criticised at the time as being “too low” for a building in such a prime site.
Now the Council says that it was notified on 21st May that the Conservation Trust would not be purchasing the building. However, the York Civic Trust had been told the same at their AGM last year. The Council say that they are now “reviewing” the position.
No public reports have been made on asset utilisation issues at the York Council this year.
The Council is spending around £80,000 a year on maintaining
and securing the properties.
Only one of the properties has a temporary occupant (20 Piccadilly)
The table does not include underused assets like 19/21 Piccadilly (Spark)or land with a development potential. The latter includes land purchased in 2008 to accommodate an extension to Acomb Explore Library and which has been unused ever since.
The Council says that it has only one Council house, at Glen
Lodge, which has been empty for longer than 6 months.
The revelations have led to calls for a more proactive approach by the Council in the use of its assets. The new Council leadership has been advised to reintroduce a 6 monthly public report on empty property issues.
It may be that the time has come for the York Council to seek outside help in managing its huge commercial building portfolio
The Community Stadium saga has taken a new turn, with the Council admitting that it may not get the full £3.8 million which the developer has promised to pay for land allocated for three restaurants.
The units are unlet and if they remain so on the opening date, then the Council could receive £1.4 million less for its interest.
The Council says that discussions are ongoing with several potential
A report the Councils Executive confirms that building work
on the stadium should be completed in September. The buildings would then be
handed over to the operators who will be responsible for obtaining a safety
certificate. The Council claims that it still opens the stadium will be operational
in October but that seems optimistic to many observers.
In the meantime, the Knights Rugby team continue to play their matches at Bootham Crescent. The Council plans to increase their subsidy to the club from £30,000 to £45,000 to compensate for the delays in moving to Monks Cross.
The stadium project cost £22.6 million during the 2018/19 financial year
Counter fraud work by the York Council saved taxpayers over
£300,000 in York during the last year.
The figure is revealed in a report
which will be considered by a Council committee next week.
The report reveals that it received 345 reports of possible fraudulent
42% of the cases related to fraud in social care. 22% in Council
tax/Rates, 18% related to housing fraud and 11 concerned benefit claims.
Officials also investigated the misuse of blue badges for parking.
Officials claim that 84% of investigations were successful with two people
prosecuted and a further 10 cautioned.
Three false applications for school placements were also
In 2018/19 the team identified over £201,000 of losses to
the council, for social care fraud. This was a 19% increase from the previous
financial year. Over £137,000 of savings were produced which represents a
substantial rise compared to 2017/18 (£38k).
Two people were prosecuted for fraudulently claiming monies,
from the York Financial Assistance Scheme, that they did not require.
Council blames the “complexity” of the selected design for the
A Council report published today reveals that the cost of the Centre of Excellence for Disabled Children will increase from the originally budgeted figure of £4.3 million (January 2018) to an estimated £5.9 million.
This comes after the Council, In April 2018, had agreed to increase
the proportion of the costs which would be funded by borrowing
£1.1 million of the increased costs will come from a Health service
grant with the rest being transferred from the education budget.
It appears that some features of the building are being “value engineered” out of the design.
The centre is being built on the site of the Windsor House elderly
persons home. The neighbouring Lincoln Court independent living building is
also being modernised and extended at the same time.
While both projects have been welcomed, concerns have been expressed about traffic congestion and parking issues in the area.
The impact of the developments on open space and sports facilities in the neighbourhood have also been criticised.
Details of the new budget allocations are being kept secret by the Council. It is unclear whatpromised features in the building may now be omitted.
The meeting to consider the budget increase is taking place on 18th June.
The LibDems emerged from Thursday’s elections with the most seats. …..but they are short of an overall majority.
The onus will be on their Leader Keith Aspden to negotiate a programme which will guide the City through, what are likely to be, 4 challenging years.
He would be wise to pause for thought. The immediate aftermath
of a successful election – and the hyperbole that surrounds it – doesn’t always
provide the best environment for considered decision making.
There is, however, an element of urgency. Towards the end of
the last coalition administration growing tensions were evident. They weren’t restricted
to the, rapidly disintegrating, Tory group members. Decisions were put on the back
burner while some long held LibDem polices were jettisoned.
That needs to change quickly.
If a coalition arrangement is to continue, then the only two
groups which could together commend a majority in the Council chamber are the LibDems
and the Green Party.
The latter are not
famous for their tight discipline and consistency. But it could work if a policy
programme could be agreed. If they are to negotiate, then the Greens must not
overplay their hand. They remain a small party with limited electoral appeal. They
need to identify a small number of policy areas where tangible change – and improvement
– is deliverable. It will mean some realism about what is possible given the financial
constraints placed on the Council.
There are two areas where there may be common ground between
the two parties.
The first relates to the way in which the Council does its business.
The “Strong Leader” executive model may
work efficiently where there is a party with an overall majority. It is markedly
less successful where the Council is “balanced”. It reached its nadir when, two
years ago, the then Tory Council Leader summarily sacked two (LibDem) members of
the Executive. It later turned out that the justification for doing so was
A return to the committee system may be a potential area of
agreement. The system allows for all members of the Council to participate
directly in the decision-making process. No party, after all, has a monopoly on wisdom
The Committee system might also help to address the second
major failing of the Council – a lack of transparency. The Greens said in their
manifesto that there should be a presumption in favour of disclosure (of
They were right.
At the moment the Council hides behind an opaque wall of silence.
Freedom of Information requests flourish. The costs of answering them are
greater than would have been the expense of voluntarily publishing information routinely.
With openness people would come to trust the Council more.
There are other more specific policies which would signal that
change had taken place.
Public service standards in the poorer wards continue to decline. Life expectancy is lower there and obesity levels – and lack of attractive active leisure facilities – are higher.
The LibDems could
address their growing “Middle England” image by prioritising a programme
focusing on improving public services in the poorer neighbourhoods
The voting patterns on Thursday revealed that the electoral turnout was as much as 15 points down in neglected wards when compared to the leafy suburbs and villages.
That can’t be good for democracy and may explain why some extreme politicians have seen success over recent years. Extremism feeds on disillusion and neglect.
Action now may be the best way for the politicians of the centre
to consolidate their influence on the reins of power in the future.
Of course, it takes two to tango and there may not be a majority for discursive decision making on the new Council.
If so, the LibDems may try to establish a minority administration.
If they do, they would be wise to spread power around the Council chamber as far as they are able. Scrutiny committees should be chaired by opposition Councillors, as should the influential Audit committee.
There are experienced independent Councillors who could contribute by taking senior roles in the planning process.
Whatever happens an early statement of intent will be expected
by the residents of York.
29 Castlegate, which is located next to Fairfax House, and is owned by the City of York Council continues to be left empty.
Hopes that the property might be purchased by the York Conservation
Trust have disappeared following a change of Chief Executive. They had been expected
to purchase the iconic building for around £431,000. The discounted sale price was
justified in 2017 by claims that significant repair works were needed.
At the same time, the York Civic Trust said that they were
set to lease the building with an investment of £2.8 million to be made, as part
of an expansion of activities at Fairfax House.
It became clear 6 months ago that the York Civic Trust had suspended their plans.
The building – which also benefits from a valuable showroom
frontage onto the Coppergate Shopping Centre – was used for many years as a photographic
gallery. When the gallery moved to Bradford, the Council allocated the space to
be used as a youth advice centre.
The building has remained empty for over 3 years. Potentially
this has cost the Council tens of thousands of pounds in rent and rates income.
Addressing the problems with empty Council owned properties should be a top priority for the new administration when it is elected this week. Too many expensive, high profile, properties like 29 Castlegate and the Guildhall have been left to rot. In future York Councillors must insist on receiving an “unused asset” report on a regular basis. It needs to be transparent.
If the Civic Trust deal on Castlegate has fallen through, then the property should either be leased or sold on the open market.
Because of its prestigious location there is likely to be a lot of interest.
This might include bringing part of the building back into residential use. With apartments at the nearby fire station site selling for over £700,000 each, the opportunities at this address will be obvious to many developers.