If you want to influence these decisions then you are too late!

The York Council has revealed a whole raft of decisions taken on Wednesday at “behind closed doors” meetings. Although the Council could have chosen to publish the agendas and supporting papers (such as they are) before the meeting took place, it chose not to.

Even those sympathetic to the current administration are now losing confidence in the leadership and its aversion to transparency.

This is likely to weigh against the status quo when the future of the unitary authority is considered during the next few months.

Wednesday’s seance apparently considered;

 COVID 19 – Business and Planning Act 2020 – Officer Delegation

The Business and Planning Act 2020 came into force w/c 20th July and has
immediate operational impacts associated to the Covid 19 emergency requiring officers to take actions on behalf of the Council in order to comply with new legal obligations. This therefore requires officers to have appropriate delegations to implement this new legislation.

NB. This legislation provides for

  1. A new “Pavement Licence” regime, to be administered by local authorities, designed to make it easier for premises in England serving food and drink such as bars, restaurants and pubs to seat and serve customers outdoors through temporary changes to planning procedures and alcohol licensing.
  2. Alcohol licensing changes that will allow operators with existing alcohol on-sales licences to also serve alcohol for consumption off the premises and to make deliveries. 

So with the Alcohol Restriction Zone/PSPOs  policy still up in the air, we seem likely to have nameless officials nodding though even more alcohol consumption on the streets of central York.

 COVID 19 – Economic Recovery – Blue Badge parking;

Additional blue badge parking spaces on Duncombe Place, Dundas Street, St Saviourgate and Carmelite Street

 COVID 19 – Economic Recovery – Revised Café pavement Licence fee;

The fee for an annual café licence has been set at £100/application, with the option to apply for a shorter, 3 month licence, for a £25 fee “to enable shorter term trials by business who have previously not operated licences and who need to accommodate Covid distancing measures to re open”

Cliffords Tower land ownership

COVID 19 – Granting English Heritage a licence for Land at Clifford’s tower to accommodate Covid 19 mitigation measures

License for English Heritage to expand the area that it occupies at Cliffords Tower for  9 months (see left).

 COVID 19 – Economic Recovery – Castlegate traffic management

To approve a Temporary TRO to change existing access restrictions on Castlegate, implementing the following:
a. No vehicular access between 10:30 and 20:00 seven days a week (no exemptions for cyclists or Blue Badge holders, extended hours in line with extended footstreet hours) – between number 12 and number 28 Castlegate;
b. Loading ban between 10:30 and 20:00 for the whole length of Castlegate; and
c. Enable two way traffic between number 28 Castlegate and the junction with Tower Street 24h/day.

 COVID 19 – Not to Extend the Closure of the Southbound Lane of Bishopthorpe Road Between Darnborough Street and Scarcroft Rd from 4 August 2020

This was the decision publicised on Wednesday. Turns out that the meeting did not receive any statistical analysis or impact assessment. The background is restricted to 13 lines of hand wringing.

Having reviewed the current impacts of the TTRO on Bishopthorpe Road, it is evident as the economy reopens there is increased traffic in the area, in particular there is a negative impact on queue lengths on the inner ring road and the level of traffic on adjacent residential streets e.g. St Benedict’s Road. There will also be additional traffic diversions operating in the area when the Micklegate Bar is closed on 10th August due to gasworks which have already commenced on 24 July. Having considered the latest public health advice and traffic impacts, I confirm the decision to not extend TTRO. This location will be kept under review in light of prevailing Covid 19 advice and further considerations of sustainable traffic interventions at this location will be considered as part of the Local Transport plan development. The feedback collected on the scheme will be reviewed and presented in a future decision session.

Major changes to pedestrian hours in York City centre

No consultation prior to “behind closed doors” decision

Pedestrian hours in York City centre will be extended from 10:30am to 8:00pm, 7 days a week. Currently they end at 4:00pm each day.

The scheme will extend to include Fossgate and Goodramgate.

Cyclists will be able to slalom through some of the affected streets.

The Council leadership claims the move is aimed at helping “traders” and says cafes and pubs will be able to “set up tables on the public highway more easily”. The change was agreed yesterday only hours after alcohol fuelled disorder returned to City centre streets.

Disabled people will be badly affected. They can no longer access the City centre streets and have so far snubbed the additional parking spaces – and free taxi service – set up at the Monk Bar car park

The Council have also failed to address the confusion over their “free parking” offer which applies to some car parks in July and August. It got off to a confused start at the weekend.

The Council says that the following public toilets are now offering a contactless payment option and will be open until 10pm

  • St George’s Field
  • Coppergate Shopping Centre –
  • Exhibition Square
  • Silver Street (contactless from next week)

There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that the Councils recent transport and other decisions reflect the wishes of either the majority of residents or of the business community. Not surprisingly out of town shopping centres seem to be recovering much more quickly from the lock-down recession, leaving the city centre vulnerable to fanciful and ill considered social engineering experiments.

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New pedestrian rules imposed by Junta

What is increasingly intolerable is the failure of the Councils democratic systems. There is no reason why notice of this proposal could not have been published in advance with a decision subsequently taken at a publicly accessible meeting.

Instead it exploited an emergency delegation scheme which was intended to take the City through the worst phase of the lock-down.

The Council own “scrutiny” system has also once again been found wanting with meetings, which took place yesterday, failing to effectively challenge the decisions of the secretive “junta” which now dictates to York residents.

Changes to pedestrian hours may well be something that York people would want to trial. This option could have been included on a list as part of the Councils so called “big conversation” survey.

Are You a Confident or Overconfident Boss? Here's How to Tell - WSJ

It wasn’t, so we don’t know peoples views.

However, given the failures of the last few weeks, they will not forgive quickly those who chose to impose their views in such a discourteous and arbitrary way.

Transparency returns to York Council decision making process?

Two decisions on the award of large IT contracts are to be taken in public next week as the York Council takes its first tentative steps towards a more open approach.  It is not the decisions themselves which have attracted attention but rather it is the justification offered for placing them before a public meeting.

The report states “that councillors consider routine procurement decisions over £250k in value in line with procurement regulations and the public have the opportunity to see transparent decision-making in operation relating to major procurements.”

That is always supposed to have happened but some officials have sought to exploit loopholes in the budget process to justify making implementation decisions behind closed doors.  Such “routine” decisions must be reported to the responsible executive member in a “register” This has not been done routinely in a transparent way.

It appears that the Executive are now insisting that proposals are tabled individually. That is a step in the right direction.

The two decisions being made on 18th November relate to

  1. Expenditure of £323,800 on an “on line” customer payments system
  2. A £710,000 investment in a new document management system.  

The meeting will also hear that the Council is scrapping a proposed joint procurement with Harrogate to appoint a technology provider.

Instead the current provider in York will continue until summer 2020 with a new supplier, for managed network services, taking over then. The Council current spends around £2 million per annum on this service.

Full marks to Cllr Nigel Ayre who is taking the first tentative steps towards making the Council more open and accountable

In a hole – continue digging

Secrecy culture alive and well at the York Council

“Decision” notice published by York Council yesterday

The latest, on the confidential report saga at the York Council, has been revealed.

Councillors are being asked to sign a “confidentiality agreement” before they will be allowed to see a report into last year’s, very public, fall out at the Audit and Governance Committee.

What happened at the meeting has been in the public arena from day one as a “webcast” allowed residents to view the meeting “on line”. The recording of the meeting is still available.

Relations between Council officials and some committee members broke down and subsequently an investigatory report was commissioned. A heavily redacted copy of that report was presented to an Audit meeting but not surprisingly Councillors said that they could not do their jobs without sight of the full report.  Subsequently Councillors agreed to discuss the report in private, but officials initially refused to release it in advance of their meeting.

Now it transpires that -with a shuffle in committee membership in the offing next week – those participating will only get “hard copy” and will have to sign a legally binding confidentiality agreement.

But how does this protect the interests of taxpayers? If the independent report – which cost several thousands of pounds to produce – is critical of processes or structures how can residents be confident that there will not be a repetition?

We look forward to hearing how Councillors intend to restore confidence in their stewardship?

In the meantime, several Freedom of Information requests have been lodged in an attempt to get the full report into the public domain.


But the York Council is not alone in seeking to cast a veil over accountability issues. Earlier last week, the Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire was expected to answer questions about the unexplained and hasty departure of the last Chief Constable from his post.

The overnight decision came without warning , leaving some doubt about whether the appropriate 3 months’ notice had been given (and if so when).

At a public “scrutiny” meeting , the PCC refused to answer questions on the topic before choosing to  eject the press and public and  go into a private session.

A similar “immediate retirement” occurred in 2011 when the then Deputy Chief Constable left the force. It was several years before the full picture behind the decision emerged.

Some officials don’t seem to realise that the reputation of an organisation is likely to be further damaged in the eyes of the public by secrecy – and the inevitable speculation that follows – rather than adopting a more open and frank approach from the outset.

Council publish secret contracts report

The York Council has finally published the controversial report into payments to contractors over the last few years.

The publication was ordered by Councillors last week although Labour representatives made a last ditch attempt to keep the document secret.

Campaign against secrecy started 6 years ago

The Council have now issued the following statement

 “We’ve published the report from last week’s audit and governance committee meeting.

“It can be read and downloaded  by clicking here 

“A copy continues to be available for inspection at our West Offices.

“We’re sorry there has been a delay in making the report available.  

“We had to seek legal guidance from the office of the Information Commissioner because the report contains personal information.

“We take our duties under the Data Protection Act seriously, but, at the same time, we wish to be an open, honest and transparent council

Some of the report has been redacted but it does provide a greater insight into how broken management systems at the authority were in 2014.

York Council scrambles to make £100,000+ staff exit sweeteners

Bid to beat government cap deadline

Behind clsoed doors 2016

The York Council will hold a private meeting in a few days time to consider what exit payments to make to senior staff leaving the Authority. The move follows a decision last month to reduce the size of its management team.

One Director will lose her job. It appears that one “Chief Officer” is seeking to retire early.

Council regulations require that any pay off deals, costing over £100,000, are authorised by Councillors.

No details of the individual payments have been published – to preserve individual privacy – but the payments are expected to be amongst the highest ever authorised by the York Council.

The Council report includes the following statement on national policy,

The Government is currently consulting upon options to introduce a cap on the total cost of exit payments for staff working in the public sector. The total figure which has been proposed is £95k. The specific details of the scheme are still subject to consultation and have not been published but there is likely to be some form of ‘capping’ of exit payments introduced at some point in the coming months. On the 24th February, the Minister of State responsible for the introduction of these provisions confirmed that the earliest implementation date would be 1st October 2016″.

The Council has not yet fully responded to a FOI request for information on why it has imposed confidentiality (compromise) agreements in  respect of 41 redundancy decisions made over the last 5 years.

While individuals do have a right to privacy, taxpayers also need to be convinced that their money is being spent wisely.

No justification is offered for the proposal to offer enhanced terms on “early retirement” to one officer and it appears that one of the posts will subsequently be filled by recruitment.

Sadly some will see this as another case of lack of transparency at the City of York Council made worse by an indecent haste to evade central government restrictions?

York Council moves to legitimise Local Plan decision date

Big City smallThe latest Forward Plan -which indicates when key decisions are scheduled to be taken by the York Council – has been amended to include consideration of a new Draft Local Plan.

The Council has said that it will consider which sites will be allocated for new housing when its Executive meets on 30th June.

Residents were mystified when, last week, Councillors said discussion of the changes was imminent. No item had been placed on the Forward Plan and the Executive’s own agenda – which outlines the issues that will be considered at its subsequent two meetings – was also silent on the issue.

The Council has still not said when its Local Plan Working Group will meet. The all party group has not met since 30th November 2015.  It would normally meet to discuss any draft proposals before forwarding them to the Executive for approval.

We understand that Council officials are briefing the owners of major sites in the City this month. They are being told what to expect when the Draft Plan is released next month.secret decisions

Eyes will be on major sites like Clifton Gate (between Clifton Moor and Skelton) and Whinthorpe (Between Elvington and the A64) both of which have traditionally formed part of York’s Green Belt. If either (or both) were to be slated for development then huge amounts would need to be spend on infrastructure improvements. The former would require a dualled A1237, while the later would require a new access corridor because of  existing transport congestion in the area. The source and scale of the funding required must be made clear in any Council decision.

It is little short of outrageous that vested interests will find out the fate of projects worth tens of millions of pounds before ordinary residents and taxpayers are even told when they will be able to first see the proposals.



£100,000 travel contract let by York Council in behind closed doors decision

Air travel included.

secret-meeting-safe-picThe York Council has appointed a new travel agent. They have gained a contract expected to be worth around £100,000 a year. They will deal with the Councils rail, hotel and “air” travel requirements.

Last year the Council spent £124,194 on this type of travel.

The decision was taken earlier in the week by a Council official at a behind closed doors meeting. No prior notice of the meeting was provided and the decision is not subject to “call in”.

Curiously the decision notice is listed as being taken on “4th May 2016” which isn’t until next Wednesday.

Travel procurement

City of York Trading

secret-meeting-safe-picWe revealed last September that secret payments had been made to various Directors at the City of York Trading company.

This is the Council owned company which “sells” surplus resources mainly to Council Departments and schools.  It was an invention of the last Labour administration and replaced an internal system where, potentially redundant, surplus staff were used to back-fill vacancies.

The Council tonight will consider tonight an auditor’s report into discrepancies with the payments.

Effectively the report simply confirms what most residents had worked out. That, by 2014, the governance systems of the York Council had broken down.

No officer or Councillor has accepted responsibility for the irregularities which seem to have arisen over a misjudged attempt by the Council Leadership to buy the loyalty of senior officials.

The new regime – elected last May – was very slow to recognise the inadequacies of its relationships with its QUANGO partners. It even made the mistake of endorsing a new one (Made in York) without setting up adequate performance monitoring arrangements.

Now the agenda for a York City Trading shareholders meeting has been published.

Unfortunately all the information reports are marked as “confidential” and are not available to taxpayers

So it seems little has changed!

Behind closed doors decision confirms York role in “Rail North Ltd”

Devolution of rail franchising on agenda

Papers published today reveal that York decided to join Rail North Ltd (RNL) and the Association of Rail North Partner Authorities on 30th November.

Rail North is the name of an interim organisation that was established with the aim of promoting the devolution of rail franchising from Whitehall to the North of England. It is grouping of all 30 local transport authorities in the North of England.

Details of the terms that would apply to York’s continuing participation in the project have been revealed in a comprehensive report.

The decision was made by the Councils Chief Executive.

click to enlarge

click to enlarge

The voting power that the City would have in the conglomerate (54 votes out of 1003) are revealed (see left).

The City would pick up the same proportion of the costs. No indications are given in the papers of the scale of any such liability.

In the short term they are described as “nominal”.

The new franchises for the Northern and TransPennine services were announced a couple of weeks ago.

The new Council seems to be doing little better than its predecessor on transparency issues.

There is really no reason why the relevant reports like these could not be published before meetings actually took place.

Other recent behind closed doors decisions include:

A full list of York Council decisions can be found by clicking here