You wouldn’t expect to read on a Lib Dem website high praise for the way that Labour is running the York Council, but even their most committed supporters must be wondering what is going on, now that Cllr Fraser has joined those banished to the Council backbenches.
It means that the vital “Environmental Services” portfolio will have its 4th chief in less than 12 months. No amount of slick PR spin can easily explain that away.
The saga starts in the summer of 2011 when, in the wake of an election victory, Labour allocated responsibilities to a newly formed, and somewhat pretentiously named, “Cabinet”.
Experienced Councillor Janet Looker, who had gained a reputation for competence when supervising education services in the City, was handed responsibility for street services like cleansing and street lighting. It proved to be a case of square pegs in round holes for within weeks a decision had been made to fell hundreds of lampposts in the City without any provision being made for their replacement. It would be 12 months before many of the lampposts were replaced.
Another experienced Councillor (Ruth Potter) was prevailed upon to resign her post. This allowed Janet Looker to be shuffled into the Education post. Ruth Potter claimed that she wanted to spend more time with her family and job. Yet 6 months later she was announced as a candidate for the £70,000 a year North Yorkshire Police Commissioner post. That is a job infinitely more demanding in terms of time than any position at the York Council.
Into the Cabinet came spin doctor Cllr D Williams who promptly presided over the closure of the Beckfield Lane Recycling centre while stopping the issue of black plastic refuse sacks to those living in terraced properties.
In the background, the “Cabinet” had decided to halve the number of meetings that it held while moving to take other decisions behind closed doors.
Cllr Williams was quickly moved on into a Police liaison role while the poisoned chalice of street services went to Cllr Fraser in May 2012. He immediately ordered the removal of 350 litter bins from York’s’ streets and even had the cheek to seek to do so under cover of the arrival of the Olympic Flame in the City.
Residents did however notice that the bins had gone and that the amount of litter on the streets was increasing.
It was probably his performance at the last Council meeting though that sealed his fate. In answering questions from the Opposition, he revealed that he still intended to introduce different day grey bin and recycling collections with “consultation” starting with residents in August. The scope for chaos was obvious to everyone.
He further confirmed that he would bring forward proposals to reduce green bin emptying and/or to charge for the service. This would probably be the single least popular measure that anyone could suggest to many York residents.
The obvious reaction, to Cllr Frasers subsequent resignation, from a Council seeking to reduce expenditure would have been to scrap a “Cabinet” post saving around £15,000 a year. The Cabinet members now have greatly reduced workloads as they attend fewer meetings and seem to spend little time out on the streets checking service standards.
If the vacancy was to be filled, then there are Councillors on their back benches who have lived in York for decades and who have extensive work experience.
They were all overlooked in favour of a 23 year old former University student with only 12 months experience as a Councillor and who had spent only a handful of years living in the City.
While everyone will wish the new occupant well in his new role, it is a task that would be difficult – against a background of key staff also having left the Council – for an experienced Councillor to undertake successfully. For a novice it is Mission Impossible.