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.

‘Take control of your money’ urges new York partnership

York residents can take control of their money for free ahead of changes to benefit payments in the summer, thanks to City of York Council teaming up with South Yorkshire Credit Union Ltd.

Council tenants, private tenants or mortgage holders are welcome to take advantage of the scheme which aims to help people budget, pay essential bills and manage any type of debt or multiple debts.

No-one using the services needs to be an existing customer of the credit union, but is encouraged to open a savings account with a minimum £1 balance to help manage their income and outgoings and so avoid any unnecessary debt.

Anyone wanting help to repay debt will be given tailored advice which could include consolidating any repayments into a single, more manageable account at a lower, fixed interest rate, rather than having to resort to unregulated lenders or loan sharks.

With changes to Universal Credit payments due from July 2017, new applicants could face a delay in payments for six to eight weeks. This new service will help prepare for any predicted shortfalls in income and ensure every day necessities like fuel, mortgage or rent payments are paid for regularly.

The scheme is already tried and trusted by a number of social landlords in the region and some City of York Council tenants are using it too.

The credit union operates on co-operative principles and offers savings and loan products authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and Prudential Regulation Authority.

Cllr Carol Runciman, executive member with responsibility for financial inclusion at City of York Council, said: “This is a really worthwhile service to residents to help them regain or maintain control of their finances and give access to safer and regulated loans – a much better alternative to doorstep lenders.”
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Parking problems escalate but Council finally getting empty garages back into use

Residents have complained about the slow progress being made in providing parking lay-bys on some estates in west York. As reported yesterday, the Westfield Ward improvement programme is running nearly 12 months behind scheduled.

One problem area is Dijon Avenue where – because of the estate layout – only carriageway parking is possible for some properties. That space has now run out.

Dijon Avenue is one of the roads due to get an additional parking bay this year (near the amenity area)

Better news, though, on bringing empty garages back into use .

As we reported in February large numbers of Council owned garages in west York were empty.

Some had been unused for over 5 years.

Following work by LibDem Councillor Keith Aspden, the Council agreed to implement repairs where these had been the cause of the voids.

Work was ordered for garages in Bachelor Hill, Marston Ave., TheWandel/Chapelfields Rd., Wains Rd., Sowerby Rd. & Woodlea Ave., Most of these repairs – mainly to doors and brickwork – have now been completed and the garages have either been let or are under offer.

A large number of garages are, however, due to be demolished. This will exacerbate problems particularly in the Windsor Garth area.

Residents will expect the Council to invest in alternative off street parking before any demolition takes place. 

The Council has promised to provide up to date details of vacancies on its web site, to advertise voids on local noticeboards and to engage ward Councillors in re-letting campaigns.

That represents progress, but it remains a concern that it took so long to re-let garages.
One consequence was a loss a loss of around £22,000 a year in rent income.

The current position on vacancies is shown below

 

 

Westfield Ward Committee budget plea

Residents have only until the end of April to suggest uses for this years Westfield Ward Committee delegated budget.

Meanwhile progress on schemes agreed for 2016/17 has been disappointing with the Council web site recording only 14% of the budget having been spent by the end of the year. We understand that the funding – which was heavily oversubscribed – will be carried forward into the current financial year.

Damaged verges could be matrix protected

Among the schemes authorised but not yet implemented are:

  • Painting and refurbishment of street furniture, signs, railings, cycle barriers etc
  • Improved parking arrangements including matrix protection of verges
  • Selective road and path resurfacing
  • Additional flower tubs
  • Trimming overgrown bushes, vegetation and trees
  • Deep cleaning of shopping areas
  • Provision of goalposts on Foxwood park
  • Organised children’s activities in the summer at the Hob Moor all weather play area

During this year estate improvement funds – paid for by Council tenants – are being merged with the Ward Committee budget to allow for additional work to be commissioned.

This change appears to have contributed to the popular monthly skip visits being suspended. We hope that they will be reinstated quickly before fly tipping becomes even more of a problem in the area.

Residents will expect to see progress made quickly to catch up with the backlog of work.

“Venturefest” set to be ditched by Make it York?

The Venturefest event, which as recently as last November attracted over 1000 participants to York Racecourse,  is set to be ditched by “Make it York”

The decision is revealed in papers submitted to the York Council by the quasi-independent “destination management” company “Make it York”.

In November local media said “Venturefest Yorkshire attracted nearly 1,000 people to York Racecourse for a “gathering of innovators, entrepreneurs and investors”, which featured more than 100 exhibitors, as well as keynote speakers, workshops, seminars, networking opportunities and investment competitions. The event was regionally based for the first time, and was run by Make It York, the city’s destination organisation”.

At the time, Steve Brown, managing director of Make It York, told people attending the launch of York Business Week that “a few weeks previously only 100 people had booked for Venturefest, but that had risen to more than 700 as bookings came in “very late and very fast”. That figure later reached a little under 1,000, to the delight of organisers”.

One exhibitor explained what being at Venturefest meant to him, he said: “As a region we need to shout more about the things we do. We have lots of companies in York and Yorkshire that are innovating constantly, then moving on to other things and not shouting about what they’ve done”.

No explanation has been given regarding the future of the 13 year old festival which was handed over to Science City York (SCY) to organise.

The report says, SCY took over the management of Venturefest with a brief to reinvigorate a 10 year old event. Over 800 delegates, 127 exhibitors, 60 speakers and more than £1 million of business generated on the day combined to make it a successful event”.

Make it York say that their decision not to participate will cost them around £129,000 in lost income.

The company has also revealed that income from the  Shambles market will fall by a further  8% this year.

Proof, if it were needed, that the £1 million refurbishment implemented a couple of years ago has yet to arrest the decline in market usage.

Guildhall plan – York Council goes it alone.

York Guildhall

The York Council has failed to find a commercial partner to sustain the planned small business club which will occupy a refurbished Guildhall.

It means that Council officials will attempt to directly manage the taxpayer funded facility with £12.4 million at risk.

At best, the business plan being considered by the Council’s Executive next week would see a minimal forecast surplus of  £1000 a year on the investment.  This would be after covering interest charges on the planned £8.7 million of extra  borrowing needed to fund the project.

However, this does not include the need to fund a direct grant of £1.759 million from the Council’s capital programme (part of which is also funded through borrowing) or the need to repay loans to the Councils internal “Venture Fund” which is set to bear revenue losses on the project of over £568,000 during the next 5 years.

Taxpayers will also indirectly fund a £2.5 million contribution from the Leeds City Region “Local Enterprise Partnership” which may also have to be repaid from any surplus.

As recently as July, the Council was saying that it could only recoup around £500,000 from the rent of office space. Now it says that £785,000 a year is possible, at “88%” occupancy levels, plus £25,000 for the rent of café/bar space.

The project is also dependent on leasing a large section of the building for use as a restaurant. This element is expected bring in £180.000 a year in rent income.

The viability of a (separate) bar/café is dependent on securing a licence on what is a site – under the Councils own rules – located within a “cumulative impact zone” where alcohol abuse has become a significant problem for the City.

The project has had a very chequered history.

The Guildhall was effectively abandoned in 2013 by the then Labour controlled Council when they upped desks and moved to West Offices. They opted in 2013 for a £1.4 million conversion into a “Digital and Media Centre” (DMC).

The listed buildings were left empty and their condition rapidly declined to the point where a £2.5 million backlog in maintenance work developed.

The Council went through a time consuming and expensive design competition, but it was late 2014 before they confirmed their intention to use  the buildings for a DMC.

By then costs had escalated to £9.2 million.

2016 options

An incoming coalition Council in May 2015 seemed to be transfixed by the problem, but after 12 months they scrapped the media centre plan instead opting for a seemly safer business centre scheme.

They rejected a less risky, and financially more prudent, option which would have seen some residential units provided on the site.

A Heritage Lottery bid was turned down leaving the Council to seek commercial partners.

These have also now failed to materialise.

At no time has the sale of the site been tested on the open market.

The Council has an indifferent track record when trying to directly manage specialist facilities. The Barbican concert hall and pool – which cost taxpayers nearly £1 million a year in subsidies, in addition to a capital construction cost of £12 million – remains fresh in many memories.

The Barbican eventually had to be leased to a professional leisure operator.

The refurbishment of the Mansion House, which is adjacent to the Guildhall, is also running 12 months behind schedule.

& then there is the Community Stadium saga!

So we doubt whether we have heard the last of the Guildhall project.