Guildhall redevelopment deal collapses

Interserve (ICL) taken off contract as costs escalate

York Guildhall

The York Council’s, accident prone, plan to redevelop the Guildhall as a business centre has collapsed.

They have been unable to agree a final cost target with preferred contractor ICL.

ICL were awarded the contract last year, with the overall expenditure on the controversial plan then put at over £12 million.

The Council were criticised for putting so much taxpayers money at risk on what was a speculative venture.

A report published today says that

“In accordance with the contract ICL advised their tender submission would be delayed and made an initial stage 2 tender submission on 16 February 2018. Unfortunately this was significantly in excess of the current project budget and contained a number of outstanding cost items which did not provide sufficient proof that the submission evidenced value for money”

Guildhall project layout plans

The Guildhall has been largely unused since the Council moved its operation to West Offices in 2013. Initially it had been expected that a private sector partnership would lead the redevelopment of the site which is in a Conservation area and which includes two important Listed buildings (Guildhall and Council Chamber).

It is unclear what will now happen although there are growing concerns that the empty buildings will continue to deteriorate with taxpayers facing an increasing annual maintenance burden.

The Council has already spent over £1 million on the aborted project.

Audit report lifts the veil on bus pass use in York

Huge use by tourists

An audit report into the use of elderly and disabled persons bus passes in York has been published. It can be found by clicking here

The report says that, “pass usage data for 2016-17 was analysed for trends, possible misuse and data quality.

Of around 160,000 passes used in York, around 70% were used 10 times or less.

By comparison, only 74 were used to make more than 1000 trips during the year.

As CYC has around 40,000 active passes, it is assumed that the other 120,000 passes were issued by other TCAs.

The low average usage likely reflects York’s popularity as a tourist destination. In other words, visitors are using their passes to make a small number of trips while visiting the city.

The most significant finding of the analysis was that disabled pass holders, who make up 10% of all pass holders, were disproportionately represented in the top 20 most heavily-used passes (11/20), suggesting they make more frequent use of their passes than people eligible due to age.

Two disabled pass holders in the top 20 were using passes that were hot-listed (marked as no longer valid) in 2013 and 2014 respectively, suggesting there may be more in use.

Currently, hot-listing (which could result in the pass being refused) is not in effect, so the holders were able to continue using the passes, but there are plans to implement it in the near future.

If this is done without any warning to pass holders, it may temporarily prevent disabled or vulnerable people from travelling freely on York buses”.

The report gives a “substantial assurance” that the system is not subject to abuse.

York “cold case” perpetrator finally named

Mr Redacted blamed for all Councils woes

Audit committee report April 2018

The long running saga, which started 4 years ago when the Council let consultancy contracts without going through a proper procurement process, is finally reaching its climax.

A report to a meeting next week gives an independent view of who did what and when at an audit committee meeting which discussed the issue a year ago.

Ironically that meeting descended into chaos when most members voted to discuss an internal audit report in public.  This caused a “walk out” by the Labour party committee chair.

The internal report was later leaked to the media causing more turmoil. The implicated “leakers” of the document (who denied the accusation) were later suspended from the Council’s Executive by the then Council Leader.  Hehimself was ejected from office a few weeks ago.

Apart from that, it has been a peaceful and harmonious 18 months at the York Council.

The report into the Audit meeting is heavily redacted. We can see no reason why the names of Councillors and officials should not be revealed WHERE THEY HAVE AGREED TO WAIVE ANY RIGHTS THAT THEY MAY HAVE TO ANONONIMITY.

After all, the meeting was web cast and is already in the public domain

It seems that the Council have not learned many lessons about transparency and accountability

York Council sets budget …just

The York Council has tonight passed the budget recommended by the Councils Executive. Essentially this was a joint proposal by the LibDem/Tory coalition. It means a 3.5% Council Tax increase.

The final proposal was passed by 25 votes to 18.

Amendments from the Labour and Green groups, which would  seen significantly higher tax increases, were heavily defeated.

The meeting had earlier seen the resignations of two Tory Councillors (Carr and Mercer) meaning that the Council is now comprised of 15 Labour, 12 LibDem, 12 Tory, 4 Green and 4 Independent members.

The Council failed to elect a new Leader following Cllr Carr’s departure.

The Council will meet again in a weeks time to try to resolve the crisis.

NB. The largest group (Labour) failed to make a nomination for the post of Leader.

York Council budget battle lines drawn

A meeting tomorrow (Thursday) will set the York Councils budget for 2018/19.

The ruling coalition – still wobbling from its leadership woes – has already announced its plans. Now two opposition groups have said that they want to increase Council Tax by a larger percentage. The choices are:

Tory/LibDem = +3.49%

Labour = +4.49%

Green = +5.99%

Central government no longer provides York with a grant to underpin local services. Instead the City must depend on income received from service charges, Business Rates and Council Tax. The government caps the maximum that can be raised from the latter two income streams.

The coalition budget would see an additional £3 million invested in York’s Adult Social Services. The expectation is that this investment will ease the pressure on local hospitals and ensure that no beds there are “blocked” Recently it was found that, over 7 days, 123 patients in hospital beds (the equivalent to 4 wards) were medically ready for discharge.

In addition, several other investments are promised

  • A £150,000 investment in improving the City’s drains over the next three years. This will ease surface water flooding issues.
  • A £175,000 investment in Education Psychology to support specialist staff working with children with Special Education Needs
  • A £3.3 million investment in a new Electric Bus Scheme, which will include new vehicles, charging points and the UK’s first Clean Air Zone
  • An investment of £250,000 for Energy Efficiency projects, such as the inclusion of solar panels on major projects, so residents can save on energy bills.
  • £500,000, over two years, to repair and modernise cycle routes
  • Deletion of the planned cut to the older and disabled persons garden care scheme

The other parties support most of the published plans.

As well as the higher tax increase, Labour say they will spend more on a projects to reduce falls, address dementia, on mental health issues in schools, on the Citizens’ Advice Service and youth provision.

They’d cut the Council’s scrutiny processes and the number of Executive Councillors. More would be spent on subsiding home to school transport and in reducing the bulky waste collection charge from £44 to £22.

Slightly bizarrely they want to spend £100,000 on a feasibility study for an energy provision company

The Greens have a shopping list which would do justice to a school boy locked in a sweet shop.

They agree with Labour (and we suspect most residents) that the bulky waste collection charge is too high.  Lower charges might reduce the amount of fly tipping in the City

The Greens also want to borrow an extra £2 million to buy empty property.

The Council has already made provision to purchase empty homes on the open market, so the proposed use of Compulsory Purchase Orders must be aimed at empty commercial property. That would be a very risky venture.

Elsewhere, the Greens go for a mixed of enlightened self-interest – reduced ResPark fees and parking enforcement using ANPR cameras (!), the eccentric (£3000 on installing poster boards around the Parliament Street fountain), the divisive (locking the gates and providing gardeners at some but not all public parks) and the unpopular (increasing car parking charges by an additional 10p per hour – making the increase 20p in total)

The meeting tomorrow will also elect a new Council Leader.

If the Green amendment is carried he would no doubt resign before the meeting had concluded!

York Council – “We can’t tell you the facts because they might influence an election result”

Readers may recall an incident last year when the York Council refused Freedom of Information (FOI) requests in the run up to the General Election in June.They said the information might “influence how electors cast their ballots”.

They claimed, for example, that residents should not be told how many issues individual Councillors had raised with the Council on behalf of their constituents.

We pointed out that, as none of the Councillors were election candidates, this information couldn’t have influenced their chances.

It could be argued, in any event, that – as FOI requests can only be made for factual information – the more facts that are known, the more likely electors are to make an informed choice!

That issue is currently with the Parliamentary Ombudsman to investigate. That referral is on the basis that the Information Commissioner should have issued guidance to Local Authorities on what may, and what may not, be published.

Most Councils continue to respond to FOI requests during election (“purdah”) periods.

York is in a small minority that don’t.

Now a similar situation has arisen just 4 days before a Council by election takes place in the Holgate ward,.

The Council has refused to publish a list of businesses who have not paid their Rates bills during the last 3 years. This is information that used to be routinely reported to a public Council committee meeting. That committee might, on occasions, authorise some debts to be written off.

Quite why a list of businesses, with outstanding debts, could influence the way that the electors of Holgate will cast their ballot is open to conjecture.

It may make some people wonder if there something to hide? 

Time will tell.

Littering fines to rise to £100 in York

Car parking charges up

Councillors are expected to day to confirm increased charges for many York Council services.

There is an eyewatering 33% increase in the fine level for anyone found littering the streets They will pay £100 a time (early payment discount £75-00) Unfortunately very few fines have been issued in recent years and litter remains a problem in parts of the City

The Council is also hiking the rent for garages. This despite many having been left empty. The Council could bring in more income by actively marketing the vacancies. Filling the garages would also reduce on street parking problems in some suburban estates. Council tenants will pay £7-43 for a garage while private individuals may rent one for £8-92. There are higher charges for high demand are while areas with a low demand attract discount rates

Car parking charges are increasing by 10p per hour. 5 hours parking at a short stay car park will cost £11-50

No elasticity of demand analysis is included in the Council budget papers. In recent years the Council has rarely achieved its budgeted income from parking charges

A list of the new charges can be found by clicking here

York Trading Ltd

City of York Trading Ltd is a trading company owned by the City of York Council. It was established in 2011 to provide “a vehicle for the trading of a range of services to both the public and the private sector”

In effect it used surplus labour at the council to fill temporary vacancies.

The company has a Conservative Councillor as its Chair. There is also a Labour Councillor on its board.

The accounts filed at Company House reveal that the Company made a profit of £269,918 in the year ending March 2017.  A dividend of £75,000 was paid.

Following criticism about lack of transparency, the company published its board meeting minutes – without providing much financial information – regularly until March 2017. No meeting minutes have been published since then

In 2016 the Council’s Executive approved new governance arrangements for Council owned companies.

A “Shareholders Committee” would meet to look after taxpayer’s interests.

In March 2017 the Shareholders committee agreed to adopt “a pattern of meetings allowing a presentation from each company to be considered twice a year”.

According to the Councils web site it has held no further meetings since then.

So how well is City of York Trading doing?

In September 2017, York Trading received £166,816 from the York Council. They had supplied admin workers, care workers, child support workers, community workers & life guards.

By far the largest sum though was paid to them for the supply of social workers and senior social workers.

According to the Councils open data web site York Trading services haven’t been paid by the Council since then.

Contract for building works at Guildhall to cost £10.8 million

The Council has confirmed that the contract for building works at the Guildhall complex will cost £10.8 million.This varies from the amount indicated in November but is in line with the budget agreed last spring.    

The contract was been awarded to Interserve

The work is expected to be completed by November 2019

The Council’s approach to redevelopment of the Guildhall area has been the subject of controversy since it became clear that no private sector firm was prepared to share the risk on the contract. The approved total capital cost for the project is £12.8 million.

To this should be added any shortfall on running costs

 

Ironically, 4 years ago, the then Leader of the Council, quoted the Guildhall contract when explaining how attendance at the Cannes estate agents jamboree Le Marché International des Professionnels de l’immobilier (MIPIM)” would generate investment in the Guildhall project.

The next MIPIM event takes place in March in a modest little venue in Cannes (see below). The West Yorkshire Combined Authority (formerly Leeds City Region) – part of the budget for which income from York taxpayers – will be represented there, as they have for each of the last 5 years.