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Community police numbers drop by more than half in York

Front line PCSO numbers have dropped by more than half in York since 2016.

PCSO’s passing out in 2014

Liberal Democrat Councillor Ashley Mason, who is currently serving as the Vice Chair to the Police & Crime Panel, recently submitted a Freedom of Information request to North Yorkshire Police Force. He wanted to kow the number of community police officers patrolling the streets of the City

In response, Cllr Mason was told that there are currently 25 front line PCSO’s in York.

This compares to 64 in 2016.

Cllr Mason had also requested the figures for the last 10 years, but unfortunately, was told that this information was not recorded.

This revelation comes amidst growing concerns that the fall in police numbers, due to Government cuts, has lead to increases in crimes throughout England. Although this has been denied by Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, a leaked report from her own department, has suggested reductions in police numbers were “likely” to have led to the increase.

Earlier this year, PCC Julia Mulligan promised to look into the neighbourhood policing system in York, after many local councillors expressed concerns about the lack of local officers in their communities.

Councillor Ashley Mason, Liberal Democrat and Vice Chair of the Police & Crime Panel:

“PCSOs are a vital link between the police and the communities they serve.  To loose so many over two years is shocking.”

“It is interesting to see that the Police and Crime Commissioner say that numbers high, which suggests that some PCSO’s are being taken away from the City of York.”

“I will be writing to the Police and Crime Commissioner to express my concerns and insist that her review of the force begin as soon as possible”

Last few places available for latest Nordic Walking course in York

Limited places are available for City of York Council’s latest Learn to Nordic Walk course and residents are being urged to book in advance so they don’t miss out.

Nordic Walking is one of the fastest growing activities in the UK and at the end of the course participants will receive a Nordic Walking UK Freedom Card, which will enable them to attend Nordic Walking groups anywhere in the UK, including several in the York area.

The course starts on Friday 20 April and sessions will take place every Friday for four weeks from 10am until 11am, meeting at the Rowntree Park Reading Café.

The cost of the course is £25, and booking is essential as places are limited. Nordic Walking poles will be provided to all participants.

Residents can book their place by calling 01904 553377 or emailing yorwellbeing@york.gov.uk.
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York groups and organisations invited to bid from ‘Improving Finances, Improving Lives’ fund

We have invited applications from a range of organisations and community groups for grants from our ‘Improving Finances, Improving Lives’ fund for 2018/19. The closing date for applications is 4 May.

We have set aside up to £170,000 as part of our financial inclusion work for this year. We are working alongside Citizen’s Advice York, Advice York and South Yorkshire Credit Union to help ensure residents have the knowledge to manage their finances effectively.

All four organisations are also committed to better coordination of advice services across the city. They plan to ensure that advice-givers and those offering help better understand the welfare benefits system and opportunities are explored to reduce general living expenses.

Last year, we awarded grants of over £180,000 to nine projects that help improve financial inclusion for residents in the city. These were for a range of schemes including the provision of specialist debt advice, improving the employability of people aged over 50,  work at GP surgeries to offer welfare advice support to patients (freeing up doctors to focus on clinical issues), providing advice in community based locations to support residents’ financial capability and providing support on Universal Credit. Organisations who need further information about applying should contact the council by email at financial.inclusion@york.gov.uk.

Councillor Carol Runciman,  executive member for Adult Social Care and Health, who has responsibility for financial inclusion, said: “Our commitment to supporting vulnerable residents and promoting financial inclusion reflects one of the council’s key priorities to ensure we have a prosperous city for all.

“Past grants to support projects has helped to make a positive difference to the lives of many people across the city.

I am very happy that we have been able to continue to invest money in this important area of work and I hope that we get the same level of interest that we had last year”

“Resurface our roads” say York residents

£8.4 million budget allocated but disappointment for sub-urban areas

The York Council has announced which roads and footpaths will be resurfaced during 2018/19.

There is good news for Askham Lane, Middlethorpe Grove, Skelton, Marygate and the national cycle route 66 (which will get a £1/4 million resurface).

Much of the rest of the budget is taken up by the continuing street light upgrade programme, with £100,000 to be spent on remedying fibre excavation reinstatements  and £400,000 on City Walls repairs (up by 25%)

School Street – City’s worst carriageway?

The Council says that the priorities were determined following surveys.

“In order to produce the programme of highway works for each year, information is drawn from a number of sources:

· Visual safety survey of all our roads and footways.

 · Digital condition survey of all our roads and footways

· Detailed condition survey of all our roads and footways.

 · United Kingdom Pavement Management System (UKPMS) visual and machine surveys

The survey records five condition categories, being grade 1 (very good), grade 2 (good), grade 3 (fair), grade 4 (poor) and grade 5 (very poor).

The City of York Council commission the service of Gaist Solutions Limited who carried out a detailed video survey of the whole of the council adopted highway network. The survey was utilised to assess the condition of all parts of the network.

Poor roads and footpaths that didn’t make the resurfacing list

 Each road and footway is assessed and given a ranking (score) based on a range of criteria, all metrics of the network were collated and a treatment solution was determined.

The Council goes on to say that further assessments will be undertaken to identify the impacts that have arisen from the long spells of freezing conditions during winter 2017/18. Where necessary works programmes may be amended to address any change in risk arising from reductions in highway asset condition because of this

Nevertheless some residents may be bewildered when they find that their local footpath has not been included in the programme. Path surfaces in streets like St Stephens Square and Ridgeway are now very uneven.

Probably the worst carriageway in the City is School Street in Acomb which doesn’t get a mention.

There will be pressure for the council to publish the “score” that each road received when surveyed.  

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.

York Council fraud levels revealed

The Councils auditors are cracking down on Council Tax discounts with 11 cases currently under investigation following a “data matching exercise”.  These concern bogus “single person discount” claims.

A report reveals that the auditors had received 58 referrals for potential Council Tax/Non Domestic Rates fraud.

“There are currently 30 ongoing investigations into Council Tax and non domestic rates fraud.

The council has prosecuted two people for council tax fraud this year including the longest running single person discount fraud ever detected at the authority – 17 years.

In addition, 3 people have been cautioned for council tax fraud offences and 5 people have received warnings”.

The fraud team have completed 26 investigations into potential Council Tax Support fraud to date. The team has produced over £13k in savings thus far. There are currently 32 cases under investigation. To date one person has been cautioned and 10 people were issued formal warnings following investigations in this area.

Other areas of concern are

  • social care where there are 16 investigations in progress.
  • 14 cases of housing fraud – making false claims to secure accommodation – are underway.
  • The financial assistance scheme where 19 cases are being investigated
  • Parking and blue badge misuse. In 2017/18 the council prosecuted two people, cautioned 12 people and issued 30 warnings for disabled badge or parking permit misuse
  • Education – making false statements to gain entry to a school – 2 cases.

The report will be discussed at a meeting taking place on Wednesday

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.

Latest planning application for the Westfield Ward

Below is the latest planning application received by the York Council for the Westfield ward.

Full details can be found by clicking the application reference

—-

Footpath (snicket)  from Grange Lane To Parker Avenue And Walton Place York

Erection of 2m fence

Ref. No: 18/00609/GRG3

New chain link fence proposed to rear of Council houses

——–

Representations can be made in favour of, or in objection to, any application via the Planning on line web site.  http://planningaccess.york.gov.uk/online-applications/

The Council now no longer routinely consults neighbours by letter when an application is received

Freedom of Information and the City of York Council

A year or so ago, the then new York Council Chief Executive promised a fresh approach to the amount of information on Public Services made available to York residents. Questions would be answered without the need to submit formal Freedom of Information requests to the Council. It would be unnecessary to refer many issues for determination by the Information Commissioners Office (ICO)

So how have things turned out.

The Council legally must respond to FOI requests within 20 working days

Many – but by no means all – requests for information are submitted via the “  What do they know” website https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/body/city_of_york_council

There is a mixed picture on response times

Responses to FOIs are (eventually) published on the Councils web site. https://www.york.gov.uk/info/20219/freedom_of_information/1535/freedom_of_information_responses But it can be a laborious business trailing through the list to find information.

Several recent responses do give reason for concern.

  • As long ago as last May 2017, a request for information about the number of public service reports registered by Councillors, was turned down. The Council claimed that this might influence voting intentions in last year’s General Election. The information was provided after the election had taken place (i.e. outside the so called “purdah” period). However, the grounds for rejecting the request were spurious and were referred to the Information Commissioners Office. The ICO said they were then powerless to intervene and declined to issue guidance to Local Authorities about how FOI requests could be reconciled with the Local Government Act 1986.  That failure is now being investigated by the Parliamentary Commissioner.
  • Vacant garage problem

    In January 2018 a request was submitted asking how many vacant Council owned garages there were in the City. It would take two months to get a partial response. Failure to advertise vacant garages for rent has lost the Council a significant amount of revenue in recent years.

  • On 11th February the Council were asked to provide a list of Business Rate debtors in the City. This information has previously been published routinely in committee reports. The Council promptly turned down the request quoting “purdah” grounds (because a council by election was taking place in the Holgate ward four days later). The grounds for refusing that request have been referred to the ICO as it is unclear why the publication of, what could only have been a factual list, could possibly have favoured the chances of an election candidate (even if the Council had managed to respond in three days to the request).
  • The Council do publish some information about Coppergate fine levels. Numbers are much higher than was expected

    More worrying is the failure to respond to a request made on 5th January 2018 regarding the profile of those fined for flouting the access restrictions on Coppergate. The Council does publish the actual number of offenders but has, in addition, been asked to indicate whether the drivers concerned are local or visitors (from the postcodes of the fine notifications). This type of information was provided – albeit reluctantly – by the Council in 2014 when the original ANPR traffic camera scandal first peaked. Responses from the FOI staff suggest that the complainant should refer the issue to the ICO!

  • On 9th March 2018 a request was made for information about the number of reports received by the Council about “damp” houses. No response has been received.

So, far from things getting better, the York Council has failed to even answer relatively simple enquiries on time.

Added to the highly selective nature of the stats quoted in many committee reports, it is difficult not to conclude that the Authority has something to hide and that it will do its utmost to frustrate those who seek transparency.