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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.


York Council set to close Willow House elderly persons home

Willow HouseMembers of City of York Council’s Executive will consider plans for the next phase of the Older People’s Accommodation Programme on Thursday 24 November, when they receive the results of the consultation at Willow House older persons home and decide if the home should close.

Between Monday 26 September and Friday 4 November residents, relatives, carers and staff at Willow House were invited to take part in a six week consultation on the option to close the home in Spring 2017, as part of plans to modernise accommodation for older people in the city.

If the proposals go ahead, Executive will also be asked to approve that the Willow House site be put up for sale to generate a capital receipt to support the wider Older People’s Accommodation Programme.

The programme seeks to address the needs of York’s fast-growing older population, by providing modern facilities which deliver high quality care and support an improved quality of life. It also aims to make the best use of the city’s existing Extra Care housing, making it more accessible for people with higher care needs by increasing the support available at each location and by replacing the council’s out-dated Older People’s provision, with more modern accommodation.

The consultation on proposals to close Willow House engaged residents, relatives and staff. A number of issues, concerns and queries were raised during the consultation, which have been considered and factored into the Older People’s Accommodation Programme. Everyone affected by the consultation was offered the opportunity to talk on a one-to-one basis about the proposals.

Residents were also able to discuss the options open to them, based on their individual needs, including housing extra care housing or moving to an alternative care home.

The Moving Homes Safely Protocol has also been shared with residents. The protocol was used to support residents and their families through the closure of Oakhaven and Grove House and seeks to minimise any stress for individuals by focusing on the needs of each resident. If Executive approve plans to close Willow House it is advised the protocol is used again so that residents’ moves are carefully planned and managed.

Martin Farran, Director of Adult Social Care, City of York Council, said: “We recognise that this consultation process can be an unsettling and upsetting. Throughout this process we have been working closely with residents, staff and their families, to make sure they have the support and advice they need.

“The focus of the Older People’s Accommodation Programme remains clear: to support independent living at home and equip York with the accommodation and care that it needs for the future. Our residents are of paramount importance and the actions we take now will ensure that they – and future generations – will have the best possible quality of life and ensure that we can meet the needs of York’s ageing population.

“Whatever decision is taken by the Executive, we will continue to support residents, relatives and staff throughout the process.”

Executive will take place on Thursday 24 November at West Offices from 5.30pm and is open to members of the public or is available to watch live online from:

To find out more about the report, or to attend, click

Residents and staff at Willow House to be consulted on closure plans

“High value” elderly persons home site to be sold

Willow HouseResidents, their relatives and staff at one of City of York Council’s Older People’s Homes – Willow House – are being consulted on the option to close the home in early 2017, as part of plans to modernise accommodation for older people in the city.

The Council says that, “the plans seek to address the needs of York’s fast-growing older population, by providing modern facilities which allow high quality care and quality of life. It also aims to make the best use of the city’s existing Extra Care housing, making it more accessible for people with higher care needs by increasing the support available at each venue and by replacing the council’s five out-dated Older People’s Homes, with more modern accommodation”.

Two city centre homes (Oliver House & Grove House) have already been sold by the Council. Willow House, located within a stones throw of the City Walls is likely to command a substantial price when marketed.

There will, however, be concerns that specialist properties specifically designed for older people – and with good access to a full range of amenities – are being lost.

In Acomb, the Council faces a major backlash over its plans to build on the Lowfields school sports fields. Residents had expected that site to be allocated for older people as it is also located very close to the amenities which exist on Front Street

A Council media release goes on to say,

“Each of the council’s Older People’s Homes was assessed against a number of criteria to determine which homes should be consulted on for closure first. Two Older People’s Homes – Grove House and Oakhaven – closed earlier this year as part of the programme and this week, Executive is being asked to approve plans for the sale of Grove House to generate additional capital to support the programme.

The criteria covered:

  • Whether there were any serious physical problems with the building which could impact on the quality of care provided to residents
  • Whether the site had potential alternative uses which will support the wider Older People’s Accommodation Programme
  • Whether there were any residents living at the home who had already been moved from another CYC older person’s home which had been closed
  • The size of the home, with smaller homes struggling to provide a cost-efficient service to residents.

None of the Older People’s Homes were found to have serious physical problems with the buildings, so the decision was based on the other three criteria. Willow House was chosen as the next home to be consulted on re closure because:

  • Willow House is one of the smaller homes with 23 permanent residents
  • Only a very small number of residents have moved home previously as part of the programme
  • Should Willow House close, the location of the site means that it would be likely to generate a significant capital receipt if sold, helping to fund the wider Older People’s Accommodation Programme and so benefit more older people in the city.

Michael Melvin, Assistant Director, Adult Social Care, City of York Council, said: “We recognise that this consultation process can be an unsettling and upsetting one and we will be working closely with the residents, staff and their families, to make sure they have the support and advice they need. Residents and staff at Willow House are rightly proud of their home, however, it is vital that we keep the aims of the wider Older People’s Accommodation Programme in sight.

“The programme looks to ensure that we are able to help older people to remain independent in their own home as long as possible, providing them with a wide choice of accommodation to meet their needs. Our residents are of paramount importance and the actions we take now will ensure that they – and future generations – will have the best possible quality of life and ensure that we can meet the needs of York’s ageing population. This consultation is another step closer to achieving the goal of modernising accommodation for older people in York.”

Residents, their relatives and staff have already been informed of the proposals and will be consulted on their views and any preferences they have about where they would like to move to should the home be closed, over the next six weeks.

The results of the consultations will be presented to the Executive on Thursday 24 November.  Willow House also hosts day drop-in services for people with leaning disabilities in a self contained space. These service users will be consulted separately on proposed changes at Willow House”.

Temporary accomodation plan for Acomb elderly persons home site

Acomb residents invited to Oakhaven redevelopment event



Residents and businesses in the Acomb Road area of the city are being invited to find out more about the short and long term plans for the redevelopment of the former Oakhaven Older People’s Home next week (Tuesday 28 June).

The Councils plans for the Lowfields school site are expected to be published tomorrow

The council’s longer term plans for the site will see the creation of a new Extra Care facility for older people in the Acomb area: part of the authority’s Older People’s Accommodation Project which aims to secure high quality accommodation to meet the needs of York’s ageing population.

If approved, the flexible accommodation will enable residents, including those with complex care needs such as dementia, to live independently in their own homes on the site, with on-site personal care available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, should they need it.

The authority will shortly begin the process to find a partner to develop the facility at Oakhaven and in 2017 will seek planning consent for the new building.

In the immediate short term, the council is proposing to use the building as accommodation for up to 15 local families and individuals who need temporary accommodation. The facility will be managed by on-site staff seven days a week and the proposals will be subject to planning consent.

Local residents are being invited to attend the drop-in event next Tuesday (21 June) at Oakhaven between 4-7pm to find out more about the short and long term plans for the site.

Visit for more information.

Grove House on the market next month

May be demolished later in the year

Grove House

Grove House

Following our story yesterday, it has emerged that the former elderly persons home at Grove House could be placed on the open market for sale as soon as next month.

The property is currently empty.

Council officials are saying though, because planning permission will be needed if, as  expected, houses are to be built on the site, it could be the middle of 2017 before redevelopment work starts.

The Council may decide to demolish the buildings in the interim.

Round the clock care available at York council Extra Care Scheme

 Tenants at City of York Council’s Sheltered Housing with Extra Care Scheme, Glen Lodge, will be able to access round-the-clock care and support from this month.


The new scheme will see Glen Lodge’s current extra care provision extended from 7am-11pm, to 24 hours, seven days a week.

With the number of people in York  aged 75 and older expected to rise by 50 per cent by 2030, and with the popularity and quality of its current provision at Glen Lodge and extra care services at Auden House, these new plans are part of a city-wide scheme to modernise accommodation for older people.

The programme seeks to address the needs of York’s ageing population by making the best use of existing sheltered housing, by offering people with higher care needs the services and accommodation they need now and in the future.

A planning application has also been submitted to build a further 25 flats and two bungalows on the Glen Lodge site, whose tenants can use the extra care services as their needs change. The application will be considered by the Area Planning Sub Committee on 4 February.

A number of staff from Grove House and Oakhaven – the two council residential care homes which are due to close this spring as part of plans to modernise care and support for older people as part of r the Older People’s Accommodation Programme – will help to deliver the extended care and support at Glen Lodge.

Residents are still awaiting the results of the independent inquiry into the alleged “rat biting” incident at Glen Lodge  (more…)

Lowfields – Labour refuse to consult local residents on future of site

Behind closed doors logoLabour Councillors continued to obstruct attempts to get at the truth behind the Lowfields Care village fiasco when the Council held a review meeting last night.

Despite revelations yesterday that senior Councillors have known for at least a year that the planned scheme was “unaffordable”, the Labour Council leadership continues to be in a  state of denial.

Meeting minutes revealed that official had blamed “gold plated” building standards for the failure of the project. They had been reluctant to admit the failures because it “could have affected the credibility of the Councils flagship rewiring project”.

The plan had been to keep the mistakes under wraps until after the Council election in May.  But sustained questioning by Opposition Councillors, coupled with the need to respond to Freedom of Information requests, finally forced the public admission last month.

They now hope to sell the site (a valuation of £2 million has been put on it) but appear to have already decided that 100 homes will be built there.

Other than the normal planning application consultation, residents will have no opportunity to influence this decision.

The present Council now only has about 6 weeks to run. Hopefully a more enlightened regime will take over after May 7th.

Only then is the real truth about the fiasco – which is set to cost taxpayers around £1 million – likely to emerge.


All existing York Council Elderly Persons Homes set to close before 2019

£2 million price tag put on Lowfields site – Future of playing fields unclear.

Labours plans to abandon the super care home project mean that 7 existing elderly persons homes will close:

  • Grove House,
  • Haxby Hall,
  • Morrell House,
  • Oakhaven,
  • Windsor House,
  • Willow House and
  • Woolnough House.

All will close by March 2019.  The first will close its doors next year.

The Council expects many of the occupants to move into homes provided by the “independent sector”

Houses will be built on most of the vacated sites.

It is proposed that the Lowfields site be used for the provision of “over 100 new homes” including “downsizing” homes to rent and buy for older people as well as “starter homes to rent and buy so that younger families can get on to the housing ladder”.  

The Council says that a capital receipt of “at least £2m” for the land will also be realised, confirming that any redevelopment will be by the private sector.

Whether the playing fields are included in this purchase price is unclear



It is proposed that the “facilities for older people originally envisaged as part of the Community Village on the Lowfields site be, instead, provided at a newly built Extra Care and Health Hub which is expected to replace the Oakhaven OPH on “Front Street” (sic)”.

The Council says it

will be on making best use of the existing stock of Extra Care Housing in the city.  There are five dedicated sheltered housing with ‘extra care’ services in York containing 205 units of accommodation.

Four of these are Council managed schemes – Marjorie Waite Court, Gale Farm Court, Barstow House and Glen Lodge, whilst the fifth (Auden House) is managed by York Housing Association. All homes in these schemes are to rent”.

The Council claims that many of those occupying places in these homes don’t need “extra care” facilities and hints that they may be moved out to make way for those judged to have higher needs!

They say, “We will work with exiting residents to keep disruption to a minimum

The report concludes,

York is also under-supplied with Extra Care Housing given the city’s demographics and the anticipated growth in the numbers of over 75s expected over the next decade.

Analysis suggests that there will be need for 490 units of Extra Care accommodation by 2020, rising to 645 in 2030, based upon nation benchmarks. There is a need for both Extra Care to rent and Extra Care to buy; currently just one third of the provision in York is to buy despite 81% of York’s older residents owning their own home.

The independent sector is beginning to address this need. For example, McCarthy & Stone are currently building 28 new sheltered homes to buy at Smithson Court on Top Lane in Copmanthorpe. Elsewhere in Yorkshire they are beginning to build and provide their Extra Care offer – called Assisted Living – and we would expect that they will continue to provide new accommodation as the market demands”.

With the overcrowding in York NHS hospitals reaching crisis point over the last few months, partly as a result of a lack of availability of the right kind of care places for the elderly in the City, the prospect of another 4 years elapsing before the issues are resolved is deeply worrying.

After 5 years of talk, muddle, delay and confusion, Labour abandon plan for Lowfields Elderly Care Village

£1 million wasted on aborted project?

Acomb care village site - project abandoned

Acomb care village site – project abandoned

Labour have today admitted that they have failed to deliver a new modern facility – aimed at older people – on the site of the former Lowfields school.

The Council report can be read by clicking here

Talks with potential contractors have been abandoned and the future of the site has been thrown into the air again.

The site had been “marketed” jointly with the Burnholme school site on the other side of the City (which may still go ahead)

Residents in the west of the City were hoping to see the equivalent of the Hartrigg Oaks facility, which Rowntree Housing manage on the other side to the City, built in Acomb. The Lowfields site was considered to be ideal because it is within walking distance of all major services and facilities. It is close to a frequent buss service.

Although the retirement village was agreed in 2010 by the last LibDem administration, the project was derailed when Labour took office in 2011. They tried unsuccessfully to develop the scheme as a Council run home…. believed to be a condition which a local government union imposed when funding Labours last election campaign.

“In house” provision proved to be unaffordable with build figures of over £20 million leaked to the media in 2012.

The project then went the same way as the Community Stadium plan, with additional requirements being heaped onto potential developers making the whole scheme unviable.

Instead of admitting failure 2 years ago, Labour continued with a doomed “procurement process” until today’s’ announcement brought the sorry saga to an end

The project was 5 years behind schedule and is probably a bigger example of mismanagement than even the Lendal Bridge fiasco.

 Clearly one big question is how much has been spent (staff time, “soft marketing”, plans, procurement etc.) so far on the Lowfields project?

Some sources put the figure at over £1 million.

The U turn will cause consternation in elderly care facilities across the City. Some were destined to close when occupiers moved to the brand new state of the art village.

Now it seems that some may be modernised with suggestions that there could be a new facility and health hub at Oakhaven.

The Council has promised to work with current providers to provide improved facilities especially for dementia sufferers.   A  £2.5m extension to Glen Lodge may be built for dementia care. 

The level of care at Auden House is to be “improved”.

Labour have said that they want to build houses and flats on the Lowfields school site.

Our view is that local residents should be consulted and that the Council should remember that, while the care village had widespread support, alternative building plans were viewed with suspicion by the local community.

Obviously all this will be overtaken by the elections in May when most people expect Labour to be ousted from the leadership of the York Council.

Liberal Democrats still believe in the principle of establishing a quiet, caring, environment for older people in Acomb.

We would look to make the Lowfields site available to providers with the experience and drive to move the project forward again.

The tragedy unfolds – year by year guide to failure (click for details)

  1. 2011 May – Developers offer to build care village at Lowfields
  2. 2011 Aug – “Future of care homes homes” consultation starts
  3. 2012 Jan – Council plans to build on Lowfields playing fields, according to leaked documents
  4. 2012 April – Council announce 2014 opening date for Lowfields care village
  5. 2012 May – “Private sector to run Lowfields care village” Council announces
  6. 2012 Dec – Council announce delays to Lowfields Care Village. 2014 opening date abandoned
  7. 2013 May – Lowfields care village opening slips to 2016; huge cost increase
  8. 2013 Nov – “Dementia Support” promised for Lowfields Care Village.
  9. 2014 July – Secrecy descends on school site plans
  10. 2014 Dec – Labour Cabinet member accused of “dithering” on Lowfield project
  11. 2015 Jan – “In light of continuing care crisis in NHS”, Scrutiny Committee chair forced to submit Freedom of Information request
  12. 2015 Feb 23rd – Council announces it is abandoning the Lowfields care village project

York Stars perform for exclusively for care home residents

A young people’s theatre group has devised, written, produced and performed a short play for residents of the city’s care homes.

The York Stars, a small, local theatre company specialising in community-based productions, was one of four organisations to receive a grant through the Community Play fund. The £90,000 fund was set up to provide fun, stimulating play opportunities, activities and events for children and young people, as well as their parents and carers, within the local community. The programme was managed by Your Consortium on behalf of the council.

Around 20 young people were involved in the project, which got under way at Easter. They put together their own performance, entitled The volcano in Ashraino, writing and directing the play themselves, before embarking on a tour of four residential care homes during the autumn of 2014. They performed at Oakhaven, Willow House, Red Lodge and Dower Court, for almost 60 residents in all.

To view a review of the scheme click

To find out more about the projects being funded through City of York Council’s Community Play fund click here