Tory finance chief quits York Executive

Mystery surrounds consultants contract

The Conservative Councillor responsible for City finances has abruptly quit his post. The announcement came only days after the Council released details of a hitherto confidential consultancy contract.

In 2014 a small consultancy firm, run by a former City Council employee, had been awarded a contract to project manage the older person’s accommodation project. This is the programme which will see existing elderly person’s homes like the one at Oakhaven closed and replaced by larger privately run “mega homes”. Part of the programme would see elderly person’s accommodation built on the Lowfields school site.

The consultants contract was to have run from 1st January 2015 until 31st December 2015. The contract was extended to 31st March 2016 with a total value of £130,000.

In response to a Freedom of Information request the Council says it does not hold any information to indicate “which Directors and Councillors were involved in the letting of the contract, and any extensions thereof” nor can they ” provide copies of all appropriate decision meeting minutes or notes – including copies of any invitation to tender adverts”!

The contract had an “output” specification. This meant that payments were made to the consultancy only when agreed targets and milestones had been met.

The Council was also asked about its current policy in engaging employees, consultants and contractors who seek to be remunerated via a private company.

They replied;“There is currently no policy which specifically deals with this question.  Each assignment will be considered individually and advice is provided on the employment implications by human resources or the procurement team”.

In March 2016, the Council, now under coalition control, decided that further work was needed on the older person’s project. They decided to let a further consultancy project covering the period 31st March 2016 – 30th March 2018 using the services of NEPRO This is a local government “spin off” company run from Sunderland. It effectively procures and manages contracts let on behalf of local authorities.

behind closed doorsThe Council have admitted that “The decision to use NEPRO is an officer decision and was made by the Council Management Team on 7th May 2014.  As this is a legally compliant framework, the terms and conditions are pre-agreed.  Suppliers on the framework have already agreed to these terms and conditions, therefore no further steps were deemed necessary to ensure transparency of individual contracts agreed through the framework. 

The new contract was handed to the same consultant who had held the old contract since January 2015.

It appears that no Councillors were involved in the decision nor is there any evidence that the employment of NEPRO has been reviewed during that last 3 years. It is unclear what proportion of contract costs are retained by NEPRO or indeed what value they add, in a situation where an existing contractor is simply reappointed to a role.

The new contract had a potential value of £216,000.

£54,000 was paid out in 2016 during the first 9 months of the contract.

The contract is again based on “outputs” being achieved (see below).

While output contracts can have advantages, they are an opaque system and unsuitable for activities where taxpayers opposition to proposals must be overcome before payments are released. The temptation may be to prioritise financial gain over the views of residents.

This happened with the decision to build on the Lowfields playing fields, where lobbyists were urged to influence consultation results and a, misleading, report gave the impression that the NHS had agreed to fund a new health centre on the site (see here).

It hadn’t.

The lack of engagement by senior Councillors in the contract letting process at the York Council is a concern. So is the lack of, publicly accessible, records of decisions taken about contract letting.

With spin off companies not subject to FOI regulations, this means that large sums of public money can be committed to controversial projects with minimal accountability.

consultants

Taxpayers multi million-pound bill for York Central

It looks like the York Council will spend several million tomorrow buying the Unipart site on Leeman Road.

The site is described as an essential piece in the jigsaw of land ownership which must be rationalised before the ambitious York Central development can go ahead.

York Central is a 72-hectare (ha) area of land adjacent to the railway station and is one of the largest brownfield sites in northern England. It provides an opportunity for regeneration providing new homes and Grade A commercial office space. The site is identified in the Local Plan for residential development of up to 1,500 dwellings and 80,000 sqm floor space of high quality grade A office.

The Council is expected to pay over the market value for the Unipart site but is not releasing details of its bid.

The Council hopes that part of the funding will come from the Local Enterprise Partnership in the form of an interest free loan. This loan would be repaid over a 10 year period although it remains unclear how quickly the York Central site could start to produce revenue returns.

Land owned by York Council

Land owned by York Council

The Council originally allocated £10 million of taxpayers funds to support the project. £1/4 million of this has already been spent on salary costs while a further £1.56 million has gone on site preparation costs and other land purchases.

£7.4 million remains although the original expectation had been that this would be spent on infrastructure including an access bridge.

Now a report to the Council’s Executive tomorrow says that the bridge should be part funded by the West Yorkshire Transport Fund (£1.2 million) while the balance of the cost may fall on York taxpayers.

Joining the West Yorkshire Transport Fund is expected to cost York Council taxpayers over £1 million a year. As well as the York Central budget, York expects to get £34 million from the Fund to help pay for 7 new roundabout on the  A1237 northrn by pass

A Council report says, “It current year prices the total York Central Access Scheme was projected to cost £45m predicated upon CYC using £33m of WYTF funding and £12m of local funds. The project was split into 2 main elements: An access route from the local road network (including bridge over the rail lines), the main crescent road and an access to the rear of the railway station (£27.5m) and the demolition of the Queen St Bridge and the creation of an improved transport interchange at the front of the station (£17.5m)”.

Area is run down

Area is run down

The Council remains officially undecided about the access route although three years ago it purchased land near Chancery Rise for the route.  It is now promising that Alliance House (opposite the end of Cleveland Street) will not be demolished in the near future.

Sadly the area is already looking neglected.

Opponents of the Chancery Rise access option [the Friends of Holgate Community garden)  have produced a report on the issue Click here to read

Nowhere in the papers being considered by the Council tomorrow has any attempt being made to provide a clear statement of both capital and revenue liabilities for York taxpayers.  Many different aspects of the programme seem to rely on the Council being a financial underwriter. An uncomfortable position with the project already vulnerable to changing political and economic conditions.

So far a preferred partnership management and business model has still not been agreed

More concern over Community Stadium project

The proposed operator of the Council’s indoor sports facilities is under fire in some parts of the Country over safety standards.
PE extract 2nd Sept 2016

Private Eye magazine 2nd Sept 2016

According to Private Eye magazine (right) Greenwich Leisure has been slow to respond to complaints of tainted water in one of its pools in Swindon.

Greenwich Leisure is a not for profit “community interest company” which ran the Waterworld leisure centre on behalf of the council before it was demolished as part of a larger project to build a new community stadium.

Use of Waterworld declined rapidly and the, then Labour led, authority made additional subsidy payments to the operator between April and November 2014 to keep the pool open.

The payments were later subject to an auditor’s report.

Greenwich Leisure were appointed as the preferred contractor not only for the Stadium and associated swimming pool and sports centre but also the Yearsley pool and Energise sports centre on the other side of the City.

We reported in August 2014 that increasing costs were threatening the future of the Community Stadium complex. Things have deteriorated further since then with planning permission for additional commercial development now subject to a Judicial Review.

It has been clear for several years that the increasing size and complexity of the project has jeopardised not only the interests of taxpayers but has even brought into question whether some sports facilities in the City may also now face closure.

Recently the Council agreed to subsidise the use of Bootham Crescent by the Rugby Club until the new stadium has been completed. It is unclear how much this will cost taxpayers.

The York Council has yet to comment on the reports about swimming pool safety.

York Council still in a muddle over local QUANGOs

The York Council’s Executive is to consider its relationship with agent bodies and companies tomorrow.Quango list

The move comes in the wake of criticism of several bodies not least York City Trading where audits revealed that inappropriate payments had been made.  Other problems arose in relations with the York Museums Trust over charging arrangements and Make it York where apparently unilateral decisions angered residents

The organisations concerned depend on Council taxpayers for a lot of their income

One common criticism was a lack of transparency shown by the organisations (they are not subject to Freedom of Information legislation).

Concerns were also expressed that performance indicators – where published – were inappropriate or “soft”.

Campaign against secrecy started 5 years ago

Campaign against secrecy started 5 years ago

The expectation was the new Council would shake up the bodies and inject more democratic accountability.

Instead a disappointing report concentrates only on governance issues. Steps are being taken to separate executive and customer functions but little else. We will still have a bureaucratic muddle with little consistency and no new commitment to openness.

If approved without change, the Council will stand accused of ignoring many of the concerns expressed by taxpayers over the last five of years.

Important decisions affecting the City will continue to be taken “Behind Closed Doors”

York Council plans 3% Council Tax increase

Details are emerging this evening of the Council’s budget plans for  2016/17.

D4NT09 Council Tax bill 2013/2014 for property dwelling band F with 25% discount for sole adult resident

Council Tax will increase by 3%, of which 2% will be ring-fenced to help with social care costs.

Council house rents will be reduced by 1% (in line with central government instructions). This will mean cuts in repairs budgets, although the housing account is showing a £20 million accumulated surplus.

The Council is to spend £234,000 more to fund “additional Community Safety Hub officers” to cover additional enforcement around dog fouling, street drinking, licensing infringement and noise enforcement plus ” a reactive service for street services to deal with fly-tipping, graffiti, litter and weedswhich would be a welcome step forward.

Another welcome improvement will be an investment of an additional £100,000 to help tackle mental health issues, while the completion of the Local Plan will cost another £350,000 and an update of the strategic flood risk assessment will cost £60,000.

An extra £74,000 will be used to increase Councillors pay.

Some of the more eye-catching cuts include:

  • £350,000 cut in bus subsidies. Number 20 service to be scrapped.
  • £1.1 million cut in adult social care provision
  • £1.3 million cut in education support (schools are funded directly by the government)
  • Reductions in public garden and tree maintenance
  • Handing over allotment management to  users
  • Theatre Royal (revenue) grants scrapped.
  • Less on Public Health (drugs, alcohol, smoking, dentistry and sexual health)
  • Fewer health checks

Many residents will be looking at the Council capital investment plans to see whether the excesses of the last administration – which doubled the debt per head of population figure in the City – have been reversed.

“On Line” survey asks what York Police tax should be

With crime levels increasing in parts of York, a consultation survey has begun.

It asks whether the police tax should be increased by 1.99% next year.

Recently the government announced that there would be no reduction in the grant that it gives to Police forces.

The survey can be completed by clicking here

The Crime Commissioners Office only hints at how any extra money raise could be spent although residents have an opportunity to “write in” comments.

There are elections for a new Police and Crime Commissioner on 5th May 2016  

More information is available here. The last PCC elections produced the lowest elector turnout ever recorded (15%). 

York Council budget and newspaper

The York Council is also conducting a survey of residents views on its new budget. It can be completed here “on line

The Council is delivering another “Our City” newspaper with a survey form enclosed.

However, they are not giving residents an opportunity to give a verdict on the likely local increase in Council Tax (expected to be 3.99%)

The Council newspaper – which costs residents around £40,000 a year – also has a section devoted to “local news” which appears to be aimed at encouraging participation in how Ward Committee funds are spent.

Our City west Jan 2016

click to access

Our City budget consultation Jan 2016

Click to access

York Council consultations near closure date

“Improving public engagement” survey available but still not publicised
Improving Public Engagement
Engagement survey

Engagement survey

Our Corporate and Scrutiny Management Committee is reviewing the potential for improving public engagement, the take up of services through digital means and our ability to respond.  We welcome your views and experiences of engaging with us via our Improving Public Engagement survey.

Consultation closes 31 December 2015

Public Protection review

Our Public Protection service is under review.  We would welcome views and comments from businesses about our proposals and how we can make best use of resources including a variety of environmental health, trading standards, licensing and regulatory functions.  Have your say in our Public Protection survey.

Consultation closes 31 December 2015

Designer Outlet Park and Ride Bus Service

The Designer Outlet Park and Ride bus service currently calls at all stops along Fulford Main Street, Fulford Road and Fishergate. It is proposed that, from the start date of the new Park & Ride contract in 2017, the number of intermediate stops is reduced.

We would like to hear from Fulford and Fishergate residents and other users of the Designer Outlet P&R service to understand their views on the proposed changes.

Consultation closes 6 January 2016

Minerals and Waste Joint Plan

City of York Council is working with North Yorkshire County Council and the North York Moors National Park Authority to produce a Minerals and Waste Joint Plan covering all three planning authority areas.  When finalised the new plan will help us take decisions on planning applications for minerals and waste developments over the next 15 years.  Find out more about the latest draft and have your say in the preferred options consultation on North Yorkshire’s consultation website.

Consultation closes 15 January 2016

Budget Consultation 2016-17

City of York Council’s Executive is facing some tough decisions in 2016-17. To help shape the 2016-17 Budget proposals, the council is inviting residents to have their say:

Via our online Budget Consultation survey

By post to:  FREEPOST RTEG-TYYU-KLTZ Budget consultation City of York Council West Offices Station Rise York YO1 6GA
By hand at West Offices or libraries/Explore Centres

Consultation closes 20 January 2016

Have your say on York Council budget

 The Council has issued a media release saying, 

“City of York Council’s Executive is facing some tough decisions in 2016-17. Below outlines why these difficult choices need to be made and why residents’ views are so important.

To help shape the 2016-17 Budget proposals, the council is inviting residents to have their say through a consultation by Wednesday 20 January:

·         Online at www.york.gov.uk/consultations/

·         By post to FREEPOST RTEG-TYYU-KLTZ, Budget consultation, City of York Council, West Offices, Station Rise, York, YO1 6GA

·         By hand at West Offices or libraries/Explore Centres”.

Council consultation

On line consultation questionaire https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/YorkBudget

The Council of course omits to mention many options that many residents might like to take.

  • You noticeably won’t be able to vote for a pay freeze for Councillors or to reduce their support costs,
  • There’s no option to stop the “Our City” newspaper.
  • Quangos like “Make it York” are off the options list.

Not can you vote to save money through the lower debt (interest) charges which would come if the subsidy was reduced for big investment schemes like the:

  • New swimming pool at Monks Cross
  • Access bridge to the York Central development or
  • Development of the Guildhall site.

There isn’t even a “write in” option for those feeling inventive!

You can say whether you prefer a tax rise to service cuts but you aren’t offered a choice on how much any increase might be!

NB It is likely that the cap in increases will be around 3.9% most of which will be ring-fenced for elderly care.

The Council justifies its stance by saying, “This year’s budget proposals will seek to ensure the council’s priorities continue to be delivered, whilst also ensuring the council’s financial position is managed effectively.
(more…)

Spare us the spin

Aspden Steward press headlinesThe York Council is set to reduce to 22.5% the proportion of a Council Tax bill that those who depend on benefits will have to pay. The change  will be worth around £55 a year to the average claimant

This represents an improvement on the 30% that Labour extorted when they were in office.

But it does mean that out of the amounts received by claimants to cover food, heating and lighting, they will still have to find between £162 (band A) and £440 (Band G) a year in Council Tax payments.

More if the Council, in February, opts for a 3.9% increase in tax levels.

 Contrary to some popular beliefs most benefits are far from generous.

Many disabled people struggle to manage on an income which was calculated to provide a basic standard of living but which did not – when conceived – envisage many claimants paying Council Tax (100% relief was allowed in many cases until the recent “reforms”)

Councillors pay set for 21% hike

Against all expectations, it appears that Councillors may vote on Thursday to accept the generous pay raise offered by an independent panel.

It has emerged that the Council’s Group Leaders – having opted to re-appoint the same panel that had recommended a generous hike when it met in 2012 – had written to them to indicate that they would endorse whatever recommendations emerged.

It was pretty much a nailed on certainty the that the panel would dust off its previously rejected recommendations and given them some new life.

Given that the Leaders effectively surrendered control of a £546,000 budget, it is surprising that they did not also specify an “affordability” ceiling for any increase.

It is also a  shame that the panel did not invite some independent witnesses to help them with their deliberations.

Nor does it appear that the panel were fully appraised of the many outside bodies which Councillors serve on and which also pay responsibility allowances.

These include County bodies, various regional bodies and national organisations like the Local Government Association.  

Some Councillors declare this income on their declarations of interest

In assessing the number of hours that each type of Councillor might work each week, it also seems that they were not advised that some Executive post holders also hold down full time jobs (a recent trend).

It reminds us of the story about a lawyer who died and went to heaven.

On entering the Pearly Gates, he was welcomed by St Peter.

St Peter sympathised with the lawyer who was looking miserable and said “well least you had a good innings”

The Lawyer responded “I don’t know about that. I was only 48 when I died”

Surely not” said St Peter.

“We added up all the timesheets that you had sent your clients and calculated that you were at least 108”

So “cheers” to those looking forward to a more comfortable Christmas!
Council Leader – Pay up £3955 pa29-CYD171tn
Deputy Leader – Up £2770
Labour Leader – Up £2674
Green Leader – Up £4574