Big investment in York Public Services

Council leadership set to prioritise road repairs, play facilities, housing, energy efficiency and Social Care.

The new Council leadership has announced changes to the budget that it inherited. As expected, extra investment in improvements to street level public services are planned.

There will be extra investment in

More to be spent on road repairs
  • Removing graffiti
  • Additional Litter bins
  • Tree management
  • Crime reduction
  • Waste collection
  • Street environment (cleaning and community projects)
  • Buses
  • Electric vehicle charging point maintenance.

The biggest investment will be £1 million spent on road repairs and a further £1 million on cycling/walking improvements

There will be a £250,000 boost for children’s play facilities.

The Council will invest £1 million in speeding up housing modernisation and a further £1 million on energy efficiency improvements

£22,000 is being taken for the reserves to improve children’s and adult social care standards.

Several of the proposals are less than transparent. We are told, for example, that the Council will “Re-purpose funding from the Leeds City Region Business Rates Pilot to strengthen our approach to inclusive growth, including child poverty, greening the high street and promote lifelong learning

We think that there is unlikely to be rioting in the streets as a result of the Councils decision to discontinue the “digital immersive model” marketing project. There may be public unrest if the Council doesn’t publish its reports in plain English in future.

Also, the Council will fund “connections with communities most impacted by EU exit to better understand their needs, and to take forward the community hubs work initiated”

Four schemes are intended to be self-funding. They relate to foster care, Special Education Needs and Disability pupils, Public Health and mental health.

The proposals will be welcomed by many in the City. It will, however, take more than £1 million to get the City’s roads back into good order. 

£4.25 million of the plan is capital investment, meaning higher debt charges in the future (and less to spend in the revenue budget).

The plans are likely to be criticised for failing to clearly identify the objectives of some of the changes with no detail given of how the success of the projects will be measured.

No KPIs are listed and there is no clear vision of how the City will look in 4 years’ time.

Residents may feel that prompt attention to reducing the costs of some inherited major projects is necessary, especially if demands on taxpayers in future years are to remain under control.

It really shouldn’t cost £35,000 to “ launch a public Citizen’s Assembly on how the Council can best work in an open way

The Council must become a “can do” rather than a “can talk” organisation.

Still it’s a start, and a better one than was managed by the last two Council administrations.

The proposal will be discussed at a meeting taking place on 17th July

A full list of budget proposals can be read by clicking here

Full list of budget changes
Budget changes list continued

York Business Improvement District performance review

320,000 pieces of chewing gum removed from pavements.

York Councillors will be considering  a report on Wednesday that reviews the work of the York BID.  The, mainly business funded organisation, was formed in April 2016 and aims to improve the attractiveness of the City centre.

The report includes an impressive list of achievements. The blight of chewing gum on footpaths is produces a particularly eye catching headline. In addition, 961 pieces of graffiti and fly posters have been removed.

The BID ranger service has also helped to reduce anti-social behaviour and address other criminal activities.

There has been a 1.9% increase in footfall in the City.

The report comes at a time when the government has announced that it will not be funding an initiative to regenerate the York  “Future High Street” The shortlisted cities include places like Wakefield and Sheffield, but North Yorkshire has been snubbed.

Last month the government, the Architectural Heritage Fund and the National Lottery Heritage Fund announced a £62 million package of support to breathe new life into historic high streets across the country, to restore historic buildings, create new work spaces and cultural venues. As part of the overall funding, £55 million had been allocated from the Future High Streets Fund. We still hope to see York benefit from this type of government support.

The York BID has been successful initiative and has made a real difference to the quality of the City centre. It has been criticised for drawing Council resources away from sub-urban centres like Acomb but overall the BID is viewed positively.

There are ongoing issues with more improvements needed to the streetscape – too many weeds and too much graffiti – and of course empty properties. The latter in areas like Coney Street now look to be intractable problems, which is why the governments attitude to the City is so disappointing.

Some underused sites and buildings – including those owned by the Council – need to be redeveloped quickly now. The meeting on Wednesday will hear from the Executive member with responsibility for “Economy and Strategic Planning”. Members will no doubt be hoping to hear some positive news about the use of empty property economic development activities in the whole of the City.

We hope that corporate interests will similarly ensure that prominent, but derelict, sites like that next to the Barbican will also now be developed (or at least tidied up).

Overall the BID has had a successful 3 years and can look with confidence to an extension of its mandate.

NB. “Make it York” is reporting separately on its activities click here to read their report

Council hurriedly publishes who does what list

The Council has now published several updates to its constitution.

The changes haven’t been through any democratic process so fail the transparency test.

Amongst the documents now on the Council web site “library”” are sections covering


Executive Member responsibilities (click)

Council Committees and Other Bodies

 Scrutiny Review Procedure Rules

Overview and Scrutiny

Some of the Executive member responsibilities will raise eyebrows.

Splitting responsibility for “parks and open spaces” from “sport and leisure” does’t look like joined up thinking. Both are areas where the last Council had major policy failures, so some sort of refresh is needed.

Extract from new York Executive responsibilities as at June 2019

Call for clarity on public service standards from York Council

Perhaps not surprisingly, the change in political control of the York Councils affairs has produced an hiatus in decision making. The published forward programme of decisions which need to be made is very thin (click to link)

They new Council Leadership is perhaps wise to be cautious and to avoid the impulsive decision making, in the wake of election euphoria, which has been the undoing of some previous administrations

However, over a month after the polls, residents are little wiser on who now has responsibility for overseeing the different aspects of Council policy and performance. All we have are vague – and seemingly controversial in some quarters – job titles.

The result is a lack of clarity with crucial street level public service standards under pressure. Surprisingly few of the new intake of Councillors have so far communicated direct with the people who elected them. A “thank you for your support” leaflet was de rigueur until recently.

As we reported yesterday, some haven’t even included a contact telephone number on their Council web page yet (click link) NB. Councillors are recompensed for telephone costs through the “basic allowance” that they receive.

Meanwhile there are issues across the whole City which should be resolved quickly. The Councils PR team should be tasked with informing residents what will happen, when and to what quality.

Paths obstructed by overgrown hedges
Grass not cut (Bishopgate Street)
Weeds blighting streets
Verges need cutting

York Council publishes contact arrangements for new Councillors

All now have Email addresses but several have not yet published contact phone numbers

York Councillor contact arrangements

Download from this link

We hope that Councillors will soon publish their contact telephone numbers. These will be required by residents when problems arise outside office hours.

NB.Councillors receive payments as part of their allowances which refund the cost of telephone and broadband facilities at their homes. They are also supplied with equipment such as tablet computers.

Most Councillors now have a presence on social media although some are markedly more enthusiastic in using it to provide news updates than others.

We will update and republish the contact details when all the spaces have been filled in.

Local policing: North Yorkshire’s Community Messaging reaches 30,000 members as new and improved smartphone app is launched

North Yorkshire Police’s innovative community messaging system has reached 30,000 members as it re-launches with a new smartphone app.

North Yorkshire Community Messaging is a free system that lets people register to receive the latest crime notifications and community news in their neighbourhoods.

The new and improved app, available to download for iOS and Android devices, takes advantage of geolocation technology, allowing users to receive important alerts that are relevant to them – wherever they are in North Yorkshire.

The app also allows member of the public to share relevant alerts that they have received to their friends and family by email, WhatsApp, instant messaging sand social media.

More than 30,000 people across the county are now signed up to receive alerts and in the last year, 4,296 alerts were sent out by North Yorkshire Police to the public, businesses, and Rural and Neighbourhood Watch groups across the across the county.

This equates to a staggering 3,342,235 messages reaching the public across all channels including email, the previous app, SMS, social media and the website.

Members of the public who sign up to the system can tailor preferences for the type of the message they receive, their preferred channel (phone, text, or email) and the locations that matter to them. Topics include:

•         Crime and other police incidents, including missing people and witness appeals;

•         Rural policing, including crimes against farms and rural businesses;

•         Anti-social behaviour;

•         Road safety, including road closures and traffic updates; and

•         Neighbourhood news and events, such as invitations to public meetings.

They can also opt to receive push notifications straight to their smartphones and tablets from the app if they wish.

Assistant Chief Constable Ciaron Irvine, lead in force for Local Policing at North Yorkshire Police, said:

“Local policing is at the very heart of everything we do at North Yorkshire Police and our Community Messaging system is just one of the many ways we’re trying to provide the right support, at the right time to our communities.

“Our Neighbourhood Policing Teams already use community messaging to raise awareness of recent crime trends, highlight the availability of property marking sessions, and inform the public about upcoming crime prevention operations with over 4,000 alerts sent in the last year.

“In addition, the geolocation function on the new app is a particularly useful tool in rural areas, where alerts can be shared to an audience across a wide area very quickly.

“We’re extremely proud to reach 30,000 members on Community Messaging and would like to take this opportunity to thank every single person who takes the time to provide information and intelligence in relation to crime and anti-social behaviour in their area.

“Day in and day out you help us to make a difference in North Yorkshire – we couldn’t do it without you.”

If you are already a member

If you are already a member and would like to download the new app, just search “Everbridge” via the App Store for iPhone and iPad, and Google Play for Android devices and then search for “North Yorkshire”. The App will then link you to North Yorkshire Community Messaging specific notifications.

Alternatively, please visit nycm.co.uk.

If you are not a member but would like to sign up

Signing up to North Yorkshire Community Messaging is free, easy, and takes less than five minutes. Just visit nycm.co.uk on a smartphone or PC to get started.

Alternatively, to download the app and sign up please visit the App Store for iPhone and iPad, and Googl

Abandoned bus shelters – future uncertain

The future of the bus shelters on Tudor Road, which have not had a service for over 2 years, remains uncertain.

Not surprisingly the shelters are in good condition.

There is a site, at the Gale Lane end, which could accommodate a shelter, and which does lie on the now clockwise route taken by the number 4 service.

There are no notices in the shelters (or on the bus stop signs) indicating that the bus service only serves the opposite side of the road.

Even then the alternative bus stops are a testing sprint away.

Anyone texting the bus stop identification code to the information service gets a text back saying that no service is expected within the next 4 hours.

4 years more likely.

If you text for information it will cost you 12p

The stop reference (e.g.  32900872) produces no useful information when keyed into the “Bus York” mobile phone app. See  https://www.itravelyork.info/journey-planning/free-bus-apps/

Many people living in the Tudor Road area would prefer to see a 2-way service reintroduced.

If such a change is not imminent, the Council and bus service providers need to initiate a review of the quality of bus stop information, and shelter arrangements, that they provide in the area.

Abandoned bus shelters can be a magnet for anti-social behaviour, so some prompt action is required.

So where next for the York Council

The LibDems emerged from Thursday’s elections with the most seats. …..but they are short of an overall majority.
The York Council HQ at West Offices

The onus will be on their Leader Keith Aspden to negotiate a programme which will guide the City through, what are likely to be, 4 challenging years.

He would be wise to pause for thought. The immediate aftermath of a successful election – and the hyperbole that surrounds it – doesn’t always provide the best environment for considered decision making.

There is, however, an element of urgency. Towards the end of the last coalition administration growing tensions were evident. They weren’t restricted to the, rapidly disintegrating, Tory group members. Decisions were put on the back burner while some long held LibDem polices were jettisoned.

That needs to change quickly.

If a coalition arrangement is to continue, then the only two groups which could together commend a majority in the Council chamber are the LibDems and the Green Party.

 The latter are not famous for their tight discipline and consistency. But it could work if a policy programme could be agreed. If they are to negotiate, then the Greens must not overplay their hand. They remain a small party with limited electoral appeal. They need to identify a small number of policy areas where tangible change – and improvement – is deliverable. It will mean some realism about what is possible given the financial constraints placed on the Council.

There are two areas where there may be common ground between the two parties.

The first relates to the way in which the Council does its business.  The “Strong Leader” executive model may work efficiently where there is a party with an overall majority. It is markedly less successful where the Council is “balanced”. It reached its nadir when, two years ago, the then Tory Council Leader summarily sacked two (LibDem) members of the Executive. It later turned out that the justification for doing so was entirely bogus.

A return to the committee system may be a potential area of agreement. The system allows for all members of the Council to participate directly in the decision-making process. No party, after all,  has a monopoly on wisdom

The Committee system might also help to address the second major failing of the Council – a lack of transparency. The Greens said in their manifesto that there should be a presumption in favour of disclosure (of information).

They were right.

At the moment the Council hides behind an opaque wall of silence. Freedom of Information requests flourish. The costs of answering them are greater than would have been the expense of voluntarily publishing information routinely.

With openness people would come to trust the Council more.

There are other more specific policies which would signal that change had taken place.  

Public service standards in the poorer wards continue to decline. Life expectancy is lower there and obesity levels – and lack of attractive active leisure facilities – are higher.

The LibDems could address their growing “Middle England” image by prioritising a programme focusing on improving public services in the poorer neighbourhoods

The voting patterns on Thursday revealed that the electoral turnout was as much as 15 points down in neglected wards when compared to the leafy suburbs and villages.

That can’t be good for democracy and may explain why some extreme politicians have seen success over recent years. Extremism feeds on disillusion and neglect.

Action now may be the best way for the politicians of the centre to consolidate their influence on the reins of power in the future.

Of course, it takes two to tango and there may not be a majority for discursive decision making on the new Council.

If so, the LibDems may try to establish a minority administration.

If they do, they would be wise to spread power around the Council chamber as far as they are able. Scrutiny committees should be chaired by opposition Councillors, as should the influential Audit committee.

There are experienced independent Councillors who could contribute by taking senior roles in the planning process.

Whatever happens an early statement of intent will be expected by the residents of York.

So who will win the York Council elections on 2nd May

Rural West and Strensall wards reviewed

Strensall Ward

The Strensall ward is home to 8,334 residents. Average incomes are higher than the City average. 80% of residents own their home.  13% rent privately and 6% are social tenants. There are no Council homes in the area. 1.4% are out of work. Crime levels are below average.  84.2% of residents are satisfied with their local area as a place to live (York average 88.6%). 21.1% believe that they can influence decisions in their local area (City average 26.2).  Source

Elections

Rural West  was held by the Liberal Democrats in the last decade. The Tories have gradually increased their share of the vote since then and in 2015 secured both seats.

Retiring Councillor Helen Douglas is standing down, Helen Douglas has had a short but colourful career in local government having started off representing Clifton for Labour before making the long walk across the Council chamber to join the Tories. She is replaced as a candidate by an equally controversial choice in Sian Wiseman who represented the ward following the 2011 elections.  However, she was another who left the Conservative Group preferring to sit as an Independent following a controversy involving her, family owned, development land which might have been affected by an emerging Local Plan. After sitting out the last 4 years she returns to the the Tory fold.. Sian Wiseman is well known locally but whether local electors have forgotten and forgiven her dalliance remains to be seen. The other retiring Tory Councillor Paul Doughty is seeking re-election. He also lives in the ward.

The main challenge will come from well know local LibDem candidate Tony Fisher. He is a former Councillor for the area and polled strongly when contesting the ward in 2015. He is a trenchant supporter of the Green Belt and is likely to garner a few extra votes this time round.

Prediction

1 LibDem 1 Tory

Rural West Ward

The Rural West ward is home to 7,963 residents. Average incomes are higher than the City average. 86% of residents own their home.  7% rent privately and 5% are social tenants. There are 154 Council homes in the area. 1.4% are out of work. Crime levels are below average.  86.3% of residents are satisfied with their local area as a place to live (York average 88.6%). 16.7% believe that they can influence decisions in their local area (City average 26.2).  Source

Elections

Ward boundary changes mean that voting trends need to be viewed with caution.

Rural West was held by the Liberal Democrats in the last decade. The Tories have gradually increased their share of the vote since then and in 2015 secured both seats. One is held by the retiring Council Leader Ian Gillies, who is standing down after 12 years. He is replaced by an even older candidate in Robin Garland who was a feature of the local, political scene until about 30 years ago.  The other seat is held by arch Brexiteer Chris Steward who lives some distance away in the Micklegate ward.

An Independent did win one seat in the ward briefly over 12 years ago. There are no Independent candidates standing this year.

The challengers will be the LibDems. Their main hope will rest with  Ann Hook who lives locally.  The second LibDem candidates (James Barker) holds the unfortunate distinction of being the only one of the party’s candidates who declined to say on his nomination form whether he lived in the ward..

If the predicted meltdown in Tory support actually happens, then  the beneficiary is likely to be a LibDem candidate,

Prediction

1 LibDem 1 Tory