Now York Council becomes a property speculator

The City of York Council is to invest nearly £15 million in purchasing a City centre retail and office development.

Swinegate Court

Although the business case remains confidential, the Council claims that the £813,000 in annual rent, that it expects to get from properties in “Swinegate Court”, will pay off the principal and interest charges on its extra borrowing.

The Council outbid several private investors to secure the deal.

It is likely that the Council, will seek a 50-year loan to buy the properties.

While it is true that, over the last few centuries, the City has always in the long term benefited from the increasing value of land that it has purchased, there is always a short-term risk in such ventures.

The properties in question are in a secondary shopping area and, with many City centre retailers under pressure partly because of the Councils projection of the area as a “playground” destination, rental growth is far from guaranteed.

This may well prove to be a prudent long term investment, but eyebrows may be raised when a Council, apparently struggling to fulfil its promise to improve basic public service standards, finds the resources to dabble in the property market.

Tories announce latest plan to develop Lowfields playing fields.

Tory Councillor Sam Lisle has praised controversial plans to build on the playing fields at Lowfields.

The revised plans see still more of the green field being built on with the nominal “village green” reduced in size to the equivalent of the grassed area on Dijon Avenue.

Lowfields plans 2016

Layout July 2017

He did so on the day that the Council confirmed its plans for an exhibition of the proposals which could see nearly 200 homes (including the rooms in the care home) crammed into the small site. It also revealed that any additional homes built on brownfield former Ministry of Defence land will not be used to offset the pressure to build on green fields like Lowfields.

The Lowfields plans also include relatively uncontroversial proposals for an elderly persons care home and bungalows on the east of the site (on the built footprint of the former school).

The school finally moved its activities from the Lowfield sports field in 2010 although usage by sports teams continues to this day.

The Council says the site, to be known as Lowfield Green, is at the pre-planning stage.

“Suggestions are now invited and comments can be submitted on plans for older people’s accommodation, housing, a health hub and public open space. The latest plans follow on from previous public engagement in October 2016.

The drop-in event this month will be held at the Gateway Centre, Front Street, Acomb YO24 3BZ on Tuesday 18 July from 4:30 – 7pm and is open to all. Invitations have been sent to the immediate neighbours of the site.

At the drop-in event people can see and discuss the plans with officers and learn more about changes to the plans since the last event. Once comments are reviewed and final plans drawn up, the council will submit a planning application this summer.

The proposals for the site include:

  • Over 55’s accommodation including flats and bungalows
  • Family housing
  • York’s first self-build housing plots to be offered by the council
  • Land for community-led housing group, YorSpace
  • A health hub
  • Public open space”.

The Council are coy about a plan to provide a police station on the site. This would have meant the closure of the police depot on York Road and is controversial (although currently located outside the playing field part of the site). Similar unanswered questions remain about the Council ‘s paln to estbalsih a “health centre” on the site with no funding having been allocated for such a function by the NHS.

The Council says that “anyone unable to go to that event can see the plans at a display at Explore Acomb Learning Library Centre, Front Street, Acomb YO24 3BZ from 18 to 28 July 2017, or they can be viewed and commented on at www.york.gov.uk/consultations. (NB. There are no plans on the Councils web site at present)
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York Council investment programme slips

A Council report shows an out-turn of £35.751m on the Council capital investment budget compared to an approved budget of £52.428, an overall variation of £16.677m.

Community stadium start slips

The biggest slippage (£3.5 million) was on the York Central project although there were also delays in other areas including school maintenance, housing construction, the Glen Lodge extension, waste disposal, IT development and upgrades to buses.

The report shows that expenditure on the Community Stadium has also slipped again with the bulk of the work now expected in 2018/19. In total, the Council will spend £36 million on this project although this figure does not include the substantial sums spent to date or the (privately funded) commercial elements of the project.

The report goes on to say;

Mansion House cost up by £150,000

  • that the Mansion House restoration scheme has an outturn position of £1.031m in 2016/17, requiring re-profiling of £515k of funds from 2017/18 into 2016/17. The work is now expected to be completed in August 2017.  The report goes on to say that “as the works contract has progressed a number of areas of additional work have been identified as necessary to safeguard the future of the Mansion House, these essential restoration works will cost an additional £150”.
  • the Tenants Choice programme saw 120 properties have their kitchens, bathrooms and wiring updated through the year. This is significantly lower than the 220 properties that were planned. This is due to problems with tenants refusing works, delays due to damp problems and delays with kitchen deliveries. The scheme under spent by £416k in 2016/17
  • the proposed developments at Newbury Avenue and Chaloners Road have also been delayed. The development now proposed is for 5-6 bungalows and “will be submitted for planning approval in July”. The development of homes at Chaloners Road was postponed when the developer withdrew from the contract. A revised scheme will be submitted for planning approval in late summer 2017
A summary of the Councils £1/4 billion investment plans can be found below

York Council easing out of budget crisis?

Good progress in improving some services

The York Council showed a small budget surplus during the last financial year. As a result, its reserves will increase from £6.8m to £7.3m. In addition, prudent use of its contingency fund will see its 2017/18 provision increase to £1,049k.

This represents a marked improvement on the performance of the Council when it was under Labour control between 2011 and 2015.

The Council has also published selective performance stats.

These claim to show good progress with only delayed discharges from hospital sounding a negative note.

But is everything as rosy as may seem?

The Council’s Executive does not receive exception reports. Such reports would highlight failing performance at street level (which the Council claims is its primary focus)

Selective performance stats published by Council

A survey being undertaken in the Westfield ward by local Councillors presents a slightly different picture.

Westfield Councillors survey results at June 2017

Although respondents say that they are satisfied with most local public services there are exceptions.

The biggest failings (in sub-urban areas) are;

  • Poor road and footpath maintenance
  • Parking provision and
  • Litter/poop scoop bin provision

The Council provides more detailed information on line (see www.yorkopendata.org under the “performance scorecards” section)

But several of the scorecards have still  not been updated for the 2016/17 year.

Other elements of performance are not publicly monitored.

These include the progress made with locally budgeted Ward Committee schemes some of which – although funded – have been in a lengthening waiting list for over 2 years.

Better progress on genuine local concerns would enhance the Councils claim that its priority is indeed the provision of good quality basic services.

On Line performance stats need updating

“Red Alert” as York Council confirms customer management system in trouble

Just a few days after we revealed that the Councils IT systems were at best “flaky”, there has been official confirmation of the scale of the problems

A report to the Council’s Audit Committee includes a “Red Warning” about the new digital system (CRM) on its risk register.

The project ran into serious trouble earlier in the year when a “contractual issue” ruled out “going live” on many customer management features.

Now the position has worsened with no progress on resolving the issue being reported. The Council is pinning its hopes on an “independent review” of the outstanding issues but no timescales have been agreed,

The IT change is hugely expensive for taxpayers. It is a project first mooted in 2011 but since then progress has been agonisingly slow. As a result the Council has been criticised for not buying proven “off the shelf” solutions; instead they preferred to “go it alone”.

The Executive member with responsibility for the project (Chris Steward) quit in January, leaving Council Leader David Carr to pick up the pieces.

It seems that he has had little more success in moving the project forward.

York Council takes action to ease debt risk for poorer families

The York Council has agreed to pay some of the fees involved in setting up and running a budget bank account at the Credit Union shop at 8 Acomb Court off York Road (tel.03030 300010) .

Details of budget and other accounts available at the branch can be found on the SYCC web site

The Council is taking the action to encourage those reliant on the Universal Credits benefit package to budget to avoid debts. Univeral Credit is paid in arrears and can be difficult to manage.

report to a recent meeting says,

“A recent article on the Association of Retained Council Housing site indicated that:

  • 86% of universal credit (UC) claimants living in council owned homes are in rent arrears (compared to 79% at March 2016).
  • 59% of universal credit claimants living in council owned homes have arrears that equate to more than one month’s rent.
  • Although 63% of UC tenants in arrears had pre-existing arrears before their UC claim only 44% of them are on APAs (alternative payment arrangements with direct payment from DWP)
  • The average value of arrears tenants owed across UC households has almost doubled to £615 since 31 March 2016 when average amount was £321.

A research article expressed concern about rent arrears.

“Not only are numbers of households increasing as UC is rolled out, but the percentage of households falling into rent arrears and experiencing financial difficulty is critically high.

If this trend is not reversed it will have significant impact on local authorities’ rental income streams and the long term ability for housing departments to provide essential services to their communities.

Use of the SYCU budget account and related services by customers could be one way of helping them manage their money effectively, prevent debt and help manage debt where this is accrued”.

Council officials will now help to promote the budget account to qualifying residents.

 

York parking account reveals £4.8 million surplus

Draft accounts published by the City of York Council for 2016/17 reveal that the Authority made a substantial surplus on its car parking activities.

Out of a total income of £7.3 million, nearly £5.5 million came from charges levied at off street car parks.

Residents parking schemes brought in £806,000 and penalty charges £600,000 while on-street machines took £466,000. The balance came from coach parks.

The Council spent over £1.3 million on its off street car parks with £1.2 million apportioned to enforcement and administration.

This meant that a surplus of over £4.7 million accrued.

Legally the Council must reinvest any parking profits in transport.

Most of the surplus was spent on highway maintenance (£4 million) and subsidised bus services (£670,000)  The rest went on community transport and shopmobility.

Some drivers may wonder why more has not been invested in resurfacing Council car parks, several of which are now in very poor condition.

The inaccurate “on line” parking space availability map has also been a source of criticism.

£1.5m investment to preserve York’s 1,900 year old walls

City of York Council is investing £1.5 million to preserve and protect York’s medieval city walls, which are renowned as being the finest and most complete walls in England.

Stretching over 3.4 kilometres, they are also the longest historic walls in the country too. With five main ‘bars’ (big gateways’), one postern (a small gateway), one Victorian gateway and 45 towers, it takes around two hours to walk the entire length of the walls.

The council already invests around £100,000 a year on routine monitoring and inspection, but more funding is urgently needed to ensure the 1,900 year old walls can be preserved for years to come.

Approval was given back in February to invest council capital funding into a five-year programme of works.

These works are now set to get underway this spring to make further and much needed improvements to:

  • Monk Bar steps: which have become sunk and twisted
  • Replacing Micklegate roof: in addition to the new roof, two new walkways gates will be installed. This will allow the museum to remain open when we close the walls for operational reasons. Road closures will be in place for traffic. Pedestrians will continue to have access. More details to follow.

Repair and restoration works at:

  • Tower 39, tower 32, tower 2, Bootham Bar to Robin Hood Tower, Anglian Tower and Red Tower utilities.

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Big contracts awarded by York Council

£77,000 for Coppergate camera enforcement

The York Council has let some substantial contracts recently. One of the most controversial is likely to be to  Bramble.cc Ltd for “Parking Services back-office system monitoring of cameras and issuing of notices” for the Coppergate bus lane The companies had office is on the Embankment in London. The size of the contract – which is for one year only – suggests that fine income would have  to rise considerably if taxpayers are to avoid an unexpected bill.

Less controversial may be the award of a contract for the collection of recycling materials in the City centre. The 5 year contract is valued at £1/2 million, runs for 5 years and has been awarded to the Friends of St Nicholas Field.

£60,671 will be spent on caring for unaccompanied asylum seeking children and £362,263 refurbishing Sycamore House mental health centre,

Other recent contract awards have included:

Ranger Hut, Hull Road Vine House Construction Ltd £24,057.41
Haxby Library Demolition MGL Demolition Ltd £48,000.00
Provision of supported care for UASC Sash £60,671.00
Sycamore House Refurbishment F Parkinson Ltd £362,263.00
School Crossing Patrol Signals Tender Dynniq UK Ltd £77,394.80
Structural and visual assessments of City of York Councils Street lighting assets MPH Inspection Services Ltd £150,000.00
Support for Street lighting fault repairs (MEWP) Bouygues UK Limited £30,000.00
ReSurfacing Schemes February 2017 CEMEX UK Operations Ltd £266,011.01
Analysis Software and Licence for Non-Domestic Rates Inform CPI Ltd £45,000.00
Provision of on-line lessons from a virtual school to provide teaching for young people out of school Nisai Virtual Academy Ltd. £10,000.00
ReSurfacing Schemes March 2017 – Tender2 Cemex UK Materials Ltd £78,464.20
Carr Junior School Reroof Works – Phase 2 S Voase Builders Limited £103,376.88
Community Protection APP Support, Maintenance and Licence Multiple award (2) £35,204.00
Westfield Primary School Roofing Watershed (Roofing) Ltd £14,058.00
Lift Repairs Maintenance Contract Northern Elevator Ltd £94,788.00
Support and Subscription for VMWare Phoenix Software Ltd £8,865.00
ICT NetApp Support Softcat plc £8,620.00
Google Maps API for Business Multiple award (2) £15,500.00
WYTF Outer Ring Road upgrade – Land Surveyor Services for the North York Outer Ring Road Junction Upgrade Project Valuation Office Agency – District Valuer £83,280.00
Citrix XenApp Software and Licences Insight Direct (UK) Ltd £53,975.00
Marjorie Waite Court Extra Care Extension – Designer Shuttleworth Picknett and Associates LLP £70,860.00
Contract to supply manpower + vehicle & including tools and equipment to carry out basic maintenance operations (minor civils works) 1st April 2017 – 31st July 2017 Multiple award (3) £50,000.00
Pre Purchase Agreement CYCProcurement £4,178,975.32
York City Centre Recycling Collection Service Friends of St Nicholas Fields £500,000.00
Fujitsu M10-1 Server Esteem Systems Plc £21,674.00
Point of Care Testing (POCT) Alere Limited £90,000.00
Trading Standards Interlink  City of York Council  £3,909.25
Coppergate: Bus Lane Enforcement parking services system Bramble.cc Limited £77,000.00
HGV Driver Certificate of Professional Competence Training Multiple award (2) £16,660.00

Most of the recent contract awards are dwarfed by those let in earlier years. The most valuable awards on the contracts register are:

Childcare Voucher Salary Sacrifice Scheme Fideliti Limited 01/04/2014 £2,400,000.00
Short Breaks Service For Adults with a Learning Disability Lifeways Community Care £2,001,990.34
York Central Financial and Commercial Consultancy KPMG LLP 01/07/2016 £2,000,000.00
Older People’s Community Support Service Age Uk York 20/12/2016 £1,765,000.00
Provision of Marketing, tourism and Business Development services Make it York Ltd 02/04/2015 £1,700,000.00
ENProcure Re-Allies Materials Framework – Distribution and supply of plumbing and heating materials Lot 2 PTS Plumbing Trade Supplies 01/04/2016 £1,614,282.00
Management & Maintenance of Public Toilets Healthmatic Ltd 01/05/2014 £1,600,000.00
An Advocacy Hub York Mind 14/10/2016 £1,500,000.00
Building Services Subcontractors – Package 1 Multiple award (5) 01/11/2016 £1,400,000.00
Provision of Local Registered Bus Services Yorkshire Coastliner Ltd 06/01/2013 £1,400,000.00

The Contracts register (most Councils) can be viewed by clicking here

 

York Council tries to clear up £6 million contract confusion

We reported in February that the York Council had let social care contracts worth over £1.3 million pa. We questioned then whether the contracts had been properly advertised, whether they represented value for money and how their success would be monitored.

In a Freedom of Information response, the Council has sought to justify its actions

The number of tenders – advertised through Yortender & OJEU – received for each contract was low.

The details are:

  1. Supported Lodgings – 1 tender. Awarded to Safe and Sound Homes (SASH).
  2. Family Support – 4 tenders. Awarded to The Cyrenians (Community Links) This contract is worth £480,000 over 3 years
  3. Older People and People with Physical Disabilities – 3 tenders. Awarded to Yorkshire Housing Ltd.

In total the tenders are worth £6.6 million over a period of 5 years.

The Council has declined to indicate the value of the individual tenders it received.

All contracts were awarded on 15th September 2016 according to the contracts register. However, the decisions were only published in February 2017 (after the contracts had started). The Council itself says that the contracts were awarded, under delegated authority, by Council officials. The was no member involvement after the Executive meeting on 28th April 2016. The Council claims the awards were decided on the following dates

a) 28th Aug 2016

b) 6th January 2017

c) 15th September 2016

It declines to say why the decisions were not recorded in the decisions register until as long as 4 months later.

It has also declined to make available the minutes of any bodies which considered the contracts nor will it say to which publicly accountable body the outputs against target will be reported.

The required outcomes, for two of the contracts, are expressed only in very general terms. They are more specific for the family support contract (see below)

Contrary to the impression given at the Council’s Executive meeting, the potential service providers were apparently not required to provide their “vision” for the service and its customers.