Deadline day approaching for Spark container village

Rates, rent and profit share payments due in the next few days.

Spark April 2018

The valuation office has completed its assessment of the rateable value of the Spark container village on Piccadilly.

Figures published on their web site suggest a total valuation of £138,730.

In the normal course of events this would bring around £65,000 into the City’s coffers helping to offset the additional costs of street cleaning, refuse collection, policing etc. associated with developments of this sort.

Increases in rateable value these days bring an immediate boost for Council finances under rate retention schemes (The Council’s rate support grant has consequently been reduced to zero this year).

But will there be a boost in this case?

Valuations were apparently requested on a per container basis. This means that none of the 25 units has a rateable value of more than £12,000.

Rating list

Government regulations on rate relief for small businesses say “You will not pay business rates on a property with a rateable value of £12,000 or less”.

So, unless an occupier has a second business property elsewhere, then they may not pay any rates at all.

Empty properties are exempt from Business Rates for 3 months.

Some of the alcohol selling units on the site are said to be highly profitable. No doubt other traders operating nearby will question whether this is fair competition.

York Council officials are staying tight lipped about whether they anticipated this development.

The original Spark business pitch to the Council talked about a £71,000 profit each year. Part of this was to be used to repay the Council’s initial investment in new utility infrastructure. The first payment toward paying off this debt is due in a little over 6 weeks’ time, together with the Council’s share of what Spark claim is a “£1.5 million profit”

NB In August 2018 the Council refused a planning application from Spark to omit the wooden cladding for the containers which they had suggested as part of the original application.

Spark is currently closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. Spark list only 4 retailers who currently operate from the containers. There are also 7 food and drink outlets

York Council claims over 50% of complaints answered within 5 days

…we don’t think so!

The Council has published its latest financial and performance update. It reveals that it could overspend this year’s budget by as much as £1.5 million. The expectation is that the Council will outturn on target.

A major source of complaint is paradoxically complaint handing. The Council claims to have answered “50% of complaints within 5 working days”.

Maybe!

….but we have a current instance of a complaint registered on 27th December 2018 which hasn’t even been acknowledged yet. The Council needs to improve its exception reporting systems and inject some fresh drive into its customer relationship processes.

Another key concern is the impact that the Council is having on delayed discharges (bed blocking) at the hospital. “The total number of days that patients resident in York have been delayed, for all reasons, during the last twelve months for which statistics have been published (November 17 – October 18) was 10,655 which equates to, on average, 29 beds each day occupied because of DToC across the health and social care system. From August to October 2018, this figure was 2,967 days which equates to 32 beds each day”. The Council says that the closure of two large nursing homes in the city has impacted on the ability of Adult Social Care to place patients quickly, as well as considerable pressures in both the residential and homecare markets.

The future of the Greenworks section of Yorkcraft has also never been properly explained. The Council is reducing the budget by a further £160,000 for adult social care workers, in supported employment, during the next financial year. So the future looks bleak for some of the workers who are a familiar sight as they deliver newsletters to various parts of the City.

Following the decision by the Council to suspend its housing modernisation programme the number of Council homes not meeting the decency standard has soared to 546.

It was zero two years ago

Acomb Explore Library set to get £2 million boost

Acomb Explore Library

Papers released by the Council this week suggest that a major upgrade to the Acomb Explore Library will be completed by 2022. £4 million has been set aside for works at the Acomb and Clifton Libraries in the Councils budget.

The news will be welcomed in Acomb. It is 10 years since land was acquired to the rear of the library which was intended to accommodate an extension. The hope was then that the building would become a “one stop shop” for public services. It would have partly replaced the neighbourhood “Acomb Office”  which Labour closed in 2013. There was hope that policing and health activities might relocate to the site.

The Council says, that the priority is “for investment in Acomb, to build on the great success of that Explore Centre, and in Clifton to transform the quality of service in that area. Individual business cases will be brought forward during 19/20 demonstrating how the investment will contribute to delivering service transformation and driving the generation of additional income streams”

The announcement comes amid rising tensions over the future of the libraries contract. The Council invited tenders last year for continuation of the service – which is currently provided via a social enterprise organisation.

There has been no official confirmation that the existing provider has been allocated the new contract which is due to start on 1st April 2019.

The Council also last year agreed a planning application which will see houses built on the adjacent bowling green site. Objectors at the time stressed the need for a holistic solution to the redevelopment of all the vacant plots in the area.

Guildhall repair costs escalate to £20 million

Growing concern about debt levels as Council pledges to borrow more money

In December 2011 the then Labour controlled York Council was urged to make a prompt decision on the future of the Listed parts of the Guildhall.

The building became empty when the Council moved to “West Offices”.

It was to be the start of 7 years of prevarication. The fabric of the building deteriorated and repair costs escalated

Business plan 2014

The Council had embarked on an expensive and ultimately pointless design contest for the site.

Eventually the Council opted to use the building as a “media centre” although it was some time before a cost of £9 million for the conversion work was published.

Keeping the building empty was costing taxpayers over £150,00 a year in maintenance costs. The fabric continued to deteriorate.

A new “coalition” administration took over in York in May 2015.

Business plan 2016

They had been critical of Labours plans and the expectation was that they would test the market to see what the private sector might do with at least part of the site. They failed to do so and instead hatched a behind close doors deal to turn the complex into a self funding” business centre.

They could not find any public or private sector partners who would be willing to share the risk on this patently uneconomic project.

The cost of the project was put at £12.7 million. Councillors claimed that it would still break even with rent income offsetting the costs of borrowing.

By 2018 the estimated cost of the project had soared to £17 million. Councillors ignored pleas that the site be put on the open market. There was interest in providing residential, hospitality or prestige office accommodation on the site. The Council decided to plough on regardless

Business plan 2017

 

6 months ago the neglect of the building had become apparent to passers-by.

Yesterday the Council published a report saying that the project costs had risen to over £20 million. They admitted that taxpayers will have to find nearly £600,000 per annum to pay interest charges on the additional borrowing

NB. This year 11% of taxes paid by York residents were used to pay interest charges on the Councils borrowing. This will have increased to 21% by 2022.

By the same date, the Council total debt will have increased to £479,000,000.

Business case Feb 2019

WiFi for York community stadium…..but at a high cost

Those who attend stadium events on a regular basis will know that getting a reliable phone signal can be difficult. Even 4G is often not always available particularly in steel framed buildings. A free WiFi signal can be a boon for those seeking the half time scores from elsewhere or seeking to email an update home on how well the concert is going.

 Next week the Council is being asked to fund the provision of free WiFi access at the new stadium as well as at Clifford’s Tower and Coppergate.

The cost will be over £308,000, with £250,000 of this down to the Community Stadium network.

WiFi is currently available at local Community Hubs, Children Centres, Explore (Library) Centres and Libraries, Residential Care homes, Mansion House, Park and Ride Terminuses, West offices, Hazel Court, Registry Office and Crematorium.

Some schools also have the service but it is not universal.

There will be some scepticism about the budget priority for this programme. No usage figures for the existing free network are provided in the officer report.

There are other IT related services in the City which are arguably more urgently needed including the extension of the Councils “on line” issue reporting system and the reintroduction of “on line” and “on street” car park space availability information.

The Council even claims that it doesn’t have the technology to do routine things like the provision of a real time list of vacant garages on its web site.

These may all seem rather more urgent than allowing a tourist to browse the web from the top of Clifford’s Tower.

There will also be an ongoing debate about whether the costs of installing this facility should be a charge on users rather than taxpayers more generally?

Where’s the money gone? Front Street poser

Recycling pont in Acomb Car park still needs a “makeover”

Last June, the Council announced a £100,000 boost for the Front Street area.

The mood in the shopping area had been more buoyant as several additional independent shops announced plans to open while more upper floors were to be brought back into use as residential accommodation.

Part of the Council budget  was to be spent on bolstering existing activities with the aim of increasing “footfall”. These include additional grants to the ADAM arts festival and an improved Acomb Alive Christmas lights display.

Additional planters were planned for Front Street as were better signposts (wayfinding)

The “Friends of Acomb Green” were allocated £5000 for “recycling area improvements” in the car park although it was unclear precisely what this would involve.

Nothing more was heard about this project with the bins still badly needing at least a coat of paint.

More worrying is the lack of progress in getting the whole of the precinct levelled and paved. This was the top priority identified by residents following a door to door survey.

Consultants were to have been appointed to produce an economic masterplan for the area.

They were expected to report in December 2018.

There is no sign of any report nor is its publication included in the Councils forward programme of decisions.

York Libraries – call for more transparency over future

York Explore Library

Staff working in York’s libraries are understandably concerned about the lack of any announcement about the future of the service.

The libraries are currently run by “Explore Libraries and Archives Mutual Limited” company.

Their contract comes to an end in March 2019.

In June 2018 the Council decided to tender for the continuation of the service.

A report raised several worrying options including the introduction of “volunteer” run branches. Others were concerned that a large leisure management company based outside the City would take over the service.

The contract on offer is believed to be worth £32 million and covers a 15 year period.

Acomb Explore Library

The present management arrangements are essentially a development of the team that led the library organisation when it was run by the Council. They have had a generally successful 5 years with, against the national trend,  user numbers stable and some useful innovations like the reading café in Rowntree Park introduced.

An updated report on the Libraries recent activities was published yesterday (it says that they can now handle visa applications – a role that the Post Office revealed, during consultations about the relocation of the Lendal office to W H Smiths, they were losing)

The Councils Forward Plan which lists all major upcoming decisions runs until 28th April 2019.

It does not include a decision item on the future of the library service.

Castlegate sale – Now Council and Civic Trust have more questions to answer


Castlegate

As long ago as 2012 The Council started negotiations to move its youth facilities centre from premises in Castlegate. Various other locations were considered for the centre before the Castlegate building was declared surplus to requirements about 3 years ago.

The youth facilities were subsequently relocated to Sycamore House.

A series of email exchanges revealed the extent of the “behind closed doors” dealings that the then Labour controlled council had been involved in during 2012.

By April 2017 a Council report revealed that the empty building was worth around £575,000 on the open market.

The report then  went on to justify a sale to the York Conservation Trust for a reduced £431,000 claiming that major repairs were required.

The York Civic Trust promised a £2.8 million upgrade to the building and the adjacent Fairfax House (already owned by the Trust).

This would stimulate tourism for the general benefit of the City centre economy.

So, getting on for 2 years later, what progress has been made?

Very little it seems, with two peak shopping seasons having passed without what is a key location being exploited.

Taxpayers will want to be reassured that the deal, agreed nearly two years ago, is still on course to provide the benefits claimed by officials.

Move to address declining refuse collection reliability in York

Council invests additional £125,000 in waste & recycling services

click to access CYC waste Facebook site

 

Following recent challenges to the Council’s Waste & Recycling Service, Councillors have agreed to spend £125K on improving the resilience of the service.

At a meeting of the Council Executive on Thursday (29th November 2018), it was agreed to use £125k from the waste reserve to recruit and train more staff ahead of the winter season.

Earlier this year a national shortage of HGV drivers, sickness and poor weather caused a number of issues for the Waste & Recycling Service.

In response, improving the service was made a priority; including rectifying missed collections and holding a successful recruitment day for staff in September.

A further report will be taken to an Executive Member decision session next month, recommending a new driver apprentice programme, in order to support the service in the long-term.  If approved, the Council will develop a driver apprentice programme within the waste team to train drivers as early as next year.

Councillor Andrew Waller, Liberal Democrat Executive Member for Environment, said:

“This year has been a challenging one for our Waste & Recycling Service, because, like many other areas in the country, we have felt the effects of a national shortage in HGV drivers.”

“Residents have, quite rightly, felt frustrated by missed collections and that is why we have been working hard to identify the best approach to supporting the service amidst these challenges.”

“Therefore, I am pleased that the Council Executive has agreed to invest a further £125K in the service, as this will allow us to immediately take steps in improving the resilience of the service, particularly before the busy Winter period.  This is a short-term measure and one of many we are looking at to support the service.” (more…)