Opportunities at first York Council meeting for 8 months look set to be squandered.

4 Tips For Hosting a Successful Virtual Event - FindSpark

The York Council will hold a “virtual” Council meeting on 29th October. It will be the first since the start of the pandemic.

Those hoping for glimpses of firm leadership and evidence of cross party cooperation will be disappointed.

The agenda is dominated by bureaucracy.

ian-floyd-city-york-council | YorkMix
Ian Floyd

A replacement for the long departed Chief Executive will be announced. Ian Floyd will be announced as “Chief Operating Officer” although apparently the Labour leader decided to boycott the interview process. Instead Trades Union officials observed the proceedings (and pronounced that they were satisfied with the process).

The ill-timed reorganisation of local government boundaries will take a step forward, “minor amendments” to the constitution (reducing still further accountability) will be tabled, and polling stations will be changed (and no there aren’t actually any elections scheduled).

The rest is mostly a ritual look backwards although Andy D’agorne has raised his head above the parapet on controversial transport initiatives such as the double resurfacing of Tadcaster Road, the failed Bishopthorpe Road closure and the underused Monk Bar taxi service.

Will anyone be able to nail these mistakes? We doubt that those using “Zoom” will manage to do so.

A report from the Executive member with responsibility for housing, completely fails to identify the problems with re-letting services and the growing number of empty properties.

It is not just under-used Council houses that are at issue.

Homeless people have tried to get access to long term empty properties like Willow House for temporary use, only to be “cold shouldered” by Councillors.

Willow House

No mention is made of the senior management level vacancies in the housing department which have contributed to the decline in standards.

Probably what takes the biscuit though,  for posturing and time wasting, is a contribution, in the form of a motion, from Labour.

It claims that it wants to see  Councillors “acting responsibly and collaboratively at all times”.

 It then proposes unilateral changes to delegated budgets. £100,000 would be sequestered from wards and allocated centrally in some unnamed way to “voluntary groups working with the vulnerable”. 

This is not a Marcus Rashford style attempt to ease the burdens of those hit by the pandemic.

Instead it would rob the least well-off wards like Westfield of the resources needed to identify and address local needs.

One of the successes, of the Councils approach, has been the local “hubs” which have provided neighbourhood level support over the last few months. They have been supplemented by other initiatives like surplus food giveaways some of which have had financial support from some ward budgets.

In addition, the Council allocated £1.25 million to a local hardship fund earlier in the year.

Zoom Meeting GIFs | Tenor

Perhaps if Labour Councillors want to build up another hardship fund then they might consider donating 20% of their pay?

That would put them on a par with many workers in the City who have suffered a similar – or higher – reduction in income. Councillors are, after all, attending fewer meetings these days and their costs are therefore much reduced.  Indeed, for some, this will be the first meeting they have “attended” since February.

A 20% reduction in pay across the board would produce a fund of over £100,000.

Likely to happen?

In New Zealand maybe?

In the UK, less so we suspect!

Coronavirus York updates; 22nd October 2020

Deaths and test results

There have been no further Coronavirus deaths in the York hospital today.

There were 56 (FIFTY SIX) additional positive test results announced today. This is the smallest number for some days. The total number of COVID infections in the City has now reached 3072

The 7 day moving average, per 100k population, peaked at 307.2 on Sunday before showing a small fall.

We are currently seeing on average around 80 additional cases in the City each day

The neighbourhood profile has changed little over the last week with Heslington having around 3 times more cases than the next worst affected neighbourhood (Tang Hall).

The least affected neighbourhood is now Poppleton/Rufforth/the Askhams which, with 5 cases, is below the national average.

The government has also updated its stats on the number of Pillar 2 tests carried out in the City in the period up to 14th October. As expected, the additional capacity introduced at the Heslington testing site has increased the number of tests undertaken. As the graph below demonstrates, the percentage of positive rule continues to rise but is still below 1 in 5.

Other information not yet available

Employment and business grants improved

The government has announced changes to business and jobs support arrangements today.

Cash grants of up to £2,100 a month will be given to firms in Tier 2 areas – enough for all affected hospitality, accommodation and leisure premises.

They will be retrospective, so any region which has been under enhanced restrictions can backdate their claim to August

For self-employed people, the size of the grant they can access will also be doubled to £3,750 – with the amount of average profits they can claim for rising from 20% to 40%.

And there will be changes to the Job Support Scheme, which is for companies experiencing lower demand due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Employees will only need to work 20% of their normal hours – instead of the original 33% – to be eligible.

And the government will significantly reduce the amount employers have to contribute – from 33% to 5%.

Government grants

The government has announced it is allocating £1 billion of additional support to help local authorities get through the winter. City of York Council is to £941,155 of that money.

Good news for squirrels

19 trees were planted in Dickson Park this week by a team of volunteers from the Foxwood Residents Association and AVIVA. The trees were supplied by DEFRA. The project was so popular with neighbours and passers by that several offers of sponsorship were received.

We are now led to understand that the York Council’s new “forest” will be planted on land boarded by Wetherby Road, Knapton, the cycle path and Harewood Whin. The precise boundaries have not yet been revealed.

New “forest” in west York

There are some mixed feelings about the plan which, unless government funding can be obtained, could cost local taxpayers over £1 million.

The site is currently in agricultural use and self sufficiency in food production could become more important over the next few years. No economic or environment analysis of options has been published

The land is currently planted ready for a spring harvest

While there is a precedent for the Council managing local farms (they did so in the last century in an attempt to sustain a supply of land for new tenant farmers) the scale of the forest venture is new.

It has the advantage of potentially helping to reduce pollution levels.

One advantage of the location (if the speculation in the media is correct) is that it is close to the popular Rufforth – Knapton cycle track.

NB. The Council, while saying it has obtained 10 acres of land for tree planting “on the inner ring road”, has still not confirmed where this is located.

UPDATE. According to Cllr Nigel Ayre posting on twitter this is a map of the site. If correct, then part of it straddles Wetherby Road

£6.8 million extra for highway repairs in York

The York Council has an additional £1.8 million to spend repairing roads in the city. It comes for a central government “potholes and challenge” fund.

In addition, an additional £5 million is available to spend on Tadcaster Road although the carriageway itself there has already been resurfaced earlier in the summer.

Apparently, this additional funding will be allocated to improving drainage systems in the area.

Many roads and footpaths in the City are in poor condition so the extra investment will be welcomed by residents.

However, we are approaching the winter period so the Council needs to move quickly to get the work scheduled.

Community Stadium costs

The York Council says that taxpayers may be liable for additional costs at the Community Stadium. Work to complete roads outside the stadium has yet to be finished.

A report to a Council meeting next week says,

The construction of the York Stadium Leisure Complex is practically complete but with some fairly significant works remaining to the estate highway. The core building fabric works are now complete, with only a small number of trades still working on site to progress the final stages of minor works, known in the industry as ‘snagging’”.

“For the York Stadium Leisure Complex to open to both the public, and all tenants, the Stadium must, amongst other things, gain all required safety and licence certification.

The systems test has now been held and work is now ongoing from that in order to finalise the safety certificate and safety documentation.

There are likely to be a number of financial issues and settlement of claims to resolve after the stadium is completed, that will take a number of months to resolve and these may result in some financial impact to the Council.

There are also a number of other COVID related matters to finalise however opening is still expected across the stadium and leisure site in autumn 2020”.

These comments help to explain the media comment last week which said that a York City match scheduled for next week (v Chorley on 6th October) could not take place at the stadium.

Leaving COVID restrictions aside, there is some speculation about whether Bootham Crescent can be brought back into use as it also needs to have a up to date safety certificate.

After a successful final friendly match yesterday (a 0-3 success at Notts County), City face a trip to Warrington on 3rd October.  Spectators are not allowed at matches in Warrington at present (click)

Such restrictions are also likely to apply in York at the scheduled beginning of the National League North (NLN) season, with some clubs planning to “stream” matches to supporters. Such a facility requires the agreement of the broadcast license holder and of the football authorities.

We understand that Clubs have not as yet received confirmation from the government that the lost income, from playing behind closed doors matches, would be refunded.  In the NLN, clubs with part time players are only liable for wages after the first game of the season has been played. So clarification is now urgently required (York City have a full time playing squad).

As for the potential additional liability on the Council, it remains unclear whether this relates solely to the floorspace which the Council agreed to underwrite, and which currently remains unlet.

If it is anything more than that, then taxpayers should be told how much the scale of the additional risk is now.

The Council has budgeted to invest £14.4 million in the project. A Section 106 (developer) contribution of £15.3 million has also been allocated.

York City FC will pay £2 million towards the £42 million total cost of the development when they sell Bootham Crescent.

29 Castlegate remains empty

29 Castlegate – £1/4 million repair bill

One of the properties owned by the Council which has remained empty and unused for a long period of time – 29 Castlegate – looks like it will remain so indefinitely. Budget provision to upgrade the property – which occupies a key position next to Fairfax House – is being taken out of this year’s programme.

Apparently a decision, on the future of the building, will be taken at a meeting next month.

The property, which most recently accommodated a youth support centre, was to have been sold, with the York Civic Trust the most likely occupant. That deal fell through amidst claims that the Council were not getting “best value” for the property.

 The Council now says that the refurbishment work cannot start until the next financial year. £270,000 has been allocated for repairs to the building

It remains unclear why the Council did not try to sell the property on the open market and why no attempt has been made to find at least a temporary use for what is a prime site.

Giving neighbourhood decision making a bad name?

We are very much in favour of giving local communities the opportunity to influence how resources are used in their area.

Delegated ward budgets, therefore, were a step in the right direction.

The Council allocated £1 million to be spent at ward level. Typically the Westfield ward (which is larger than most wards) has nearly £40,000 a year to spend.

The expectation was that there would be an opportunity for residents to put forward schemes for consideration and – as has happened in the past – for a public vote on priorities to take place.

Obviously the health pandemic may have affected the ability of some ward Councillors to fully consult on a door to door basis. We would, however, expect much more use to be made, by the Council and ward councillors in particular, of social media and noticeboards to stay in touch with local communities.

A whole raft of new schemes using this budget have been authorised today click

A list of schemes approved for 2019/20 can be found by clicking here Several schemes, including action to prevent fly tipping, didn’t happen.

Planned expenditure for 2020/21 can be access here

While many of the schemes are uncontroversial, there will be some that may cause raised eyebrows. Mentoring services for young people seems to be the new catch all phrase used to access public funding.

That may be necessary, but taxpayers will legitimately want to know what are the objectives of each scheme and how success is being measured?

They will expect to be able to find out this information without fruitless searches of dozens of pages on the internet.

There was disappointment in west York earlier in the year when it emerged that they would not be getting a share of the delegated cycling and walking budget.

Promised road repairs have also not materialised.

The York Council needs to re-engage quickly

Spark lease still outstanding

Contrary to the claims made in a Council report published yesterday, it appears that the owners of the SPARK Container village on Piccadilly HAVE NOT signed a new lease.

The revelation comes in a response to a Freedom of Information published today.

SPARK were controversially offered a new lease at a meeting which took place on 14th February. They had been due to vacate the site in June.

Following complaints from neighbours and against a background of non compliance with planning conditions, the Council sought to place new restrictions on how SPARK could operate the business. (see below).

It has now emerged that SPARK has settled outstanding 2020 Council debts to the value of £23,333

The development was granted a 2 year extension to its planning permission earlier in the summer.

Spark has been operating on a “tenancy at will” basis since June.

The Council says, “The Council are in discussions with Spark over the provision of the new lease following the grant of a Tenancy at Will earlier in the year, which is still in force”.

The long term future of the 17/21 Piccadilly remains unclear as the health crisis and economic recession makes early redevelopment unlikely.

It has been suggested that the site could be used as a terminus for a disabled friendly zero emission transport system which would ferry less ambulant visitors around the City centre.

This use – which might also offer residential or workshop opportunities at first floor level – could help to ease pressure on the nearby Castle car park.

Council could face £2.7 million COVID overspend

The York Council has revised down the impact that the pandemic may have on its budget this year.

It had previously talked of a £20 million deficit.

This is now much less following some government funding including additional support for the loss of income from fees and charges. The Government will fund 75% of any loss

Nevertheless, the Council believes that it may have to eat into its £7 million reserves to balance the books this year. Next year may be even more challenging with Council Tax and Rates income set to fall.

A list of the pressures on the Councils budget can be read by clicking here

The Council has not tabulated the “mitigation” measures that it is taking to reduce expenditure.

There has been increased expenditure on helping the elderly and disabled. The work of volunteers has been praised by the Council.

A report being considered next week says, “The Council has remained committed to our Home First approach to managing people’s recovery, avoiding placements in residential and nursing care whenever possible. However the impact of COVID-19 and the associated lockdown has meant that more people than we had planned for have needed social care funded through the council. This together with increasing mental health referrals, the increased cost of care and the 4 more complex needs of those the council is supporting has resulted in increased pressure on the adult social care budget”.

Council slow to repair empty Council homes.

One of the largest drops in performance is in re-letting empty Council homes. This has increased from 37 days at the end of March 2020 to 59 days at the end of June 2020. Delays to repairs are still a major problems with this service and so far the Council are choosing not offer work to local tradesmen many of whom would the opportunity.

The published performance results (click) don’t provide information on key COVID measures (e.g. traffic and cycling levels).

COVID Grants – York fares poorly in handout to voluntary groups

Coronavirus Small Business Grant Fund - does your council have the correct  details?

The York Council has emailed residents telling them;

22 local charities will be receiving grants of up to £15,000, each from Two Ridings Community Foundation. This is to support their essential running costs over the next six months as they respond to the continuing double whammy of increased demand, and decreased fundraising caused by the Coronavirus crisis and lockdown. This funding is part of the £750 million pot announced by the Chancellor for frontline charities across the UK during the coronavirus outbreak.

These 22 awards, totalling £328,307 brings the amount distributed by Two Ridings in the last six months to £1,541,399!”

A full list can be read by clicking here

Unfortunately, only one York organisation is benefiting from a grant in this round.

 Move the Masses will get £14,950 in funding to “improve communication/marketing re: services/projects via website & social media updates. A new part of time member of staff is required for this”.

Move the Masses have promised to start a series of “Acomb Ambles” this month.

This would be welcomed by some. The York Council sponsored “York Health Walks” were suspended 6 months ago and show no signs of restarting. That is a shame as exercise and conversation can be an important antidote to feelings of isolation and depression.

Obviously the background to the health crisis has prompted new government restrictions as part of their reaction to  the “second wave”.  These come into force on Monday so there will be limits on what voluntary groups will actually be permitted to do..

Nevertheless, there are other organisations which need support not least those managing community centres which are a key part of life in parts of the City.