Democracy at the York Council

THURAISINGHAM PBK(244x172)The Council’s Executive is due to considered how to encourage more pre-decision policy debate when it meets on Thursday.

The report can be read by clicking here.

The proposed system seems to be more complicated than we might have hoped for!!

Although the new process is a step away from “behind closed doors” decision making, it pointedly fails to reinforce the rights of residents to have a timely opportunity to make representations to elected members. One welcome change is that the Councils “Forward Plan” will be updated each week although in the past there have been occasions when agenda items have been mis-recorded on this plan.  

At present there remains no requirement for advanced notice to be given of decisions which are likely taken by officers using delegated powers.

Meanwhile a five Councillor “E-Democracy” task group is due to meet tomorrow. They have courageously decided to fully exploit the outer limits of technological  innovation  – by catching a bus for a face to face meeting at West Offices!

Free evening car parking on 19th November

There will be no parking charges on the evening of Thursday 19th November when the City launches its Christmas activities programme.BehindClosedDoors 2015

The concession represents a step back from the situation which applied prior to 2011 when free parking was allowed on each late night shopping day in the run up to Christmas. As such it is likely to be of limited value to those retailers who are being urged to stay open until at least 8:00pm.

The decision is expected to cost the York Council around £2000 in lost income.

Unfortunately once again the decision was taken behind closed doors with the agenda and background papers for the meeting only being published after the decsion had been taken

Now York Council misplaces horse and cart

Second worst in region for data breaches

Data breach report Aug 2015

Data breach report Aug 2015

A report published today reveals that in Yorkshire only Doncaster (106 cases)  had more breaches of data protection rules than the York Council.

A report by “Big Brother Watch  says York had the second highest number of incidents in the region with 73.

72 of these did not result in any disciplinary action.

The Council declined to provide details of the individual incidents. 

Nationally many cases resulted from the loss or theft of laptop computers

There were also 33 breaches in Kirklees, 26 in the East Riding and 12 in Wakefield.

The North Yorkshire County Council declined to respond to the FOI request.

Meanwhile more “cart before horse” secret decisions are taken

cart before horse

Before the horse slipped out of the York Council stable, there was  time for more decisions to be taken without any prior notice. 

These have included, so far, this week:

York Council set to move forward on open decision making

open-door-in-white-brick-wall-Stock-Photo-doors

It could be early autumn before new all party committees get the chance to debate the York Council’s upcoming policy plans.

A report being considered on 13th July proposes a return to a form of Executive Member advisory panel (EMAP) which was in use in York during the early part of the last decade. These meetings involve Councillors from all parties and are held in public.  To aid planning, meetings occupied a scheduled day each month and were cancelled if there was no business to consider.

Introduced by the Liberal Democrats when they took power, EMAPs sought to widen discussion on policies which affected the City. The sessions were abandoned in 2008 when Labour – who were the main opposition in a balanced Council at the time – refused to participate saying that they preferred the (confrontational) option of “calling in” some proposals for review.

Under the new arrangements, so called “Officer in Consultation” decision meetings are also to be scrapped. These were the meetings which prompted the “behind closed doors” criticisms of the old Council.

Instead these decisions will be taken at an open Executive member meeting.

Of course, how the system works in practice remains to be seen. It’s success rests heavily on future decisions being correctly identified  on the Councils “Forward Plan” although this will – rightly – become a “rolling“ programme in future

The new system doesn’t address the issue of Council officials taking decisions exploiting their delegated powers. This has been a particular problem in the Housing department where some wide reaching decisions – including one which saw visits by skips abandoned on some estates – have been taken without even, apparently, the knowledge of Councillors.

Similar issues arise with the growth of third party agencies such as the trusts and companies which now run our museums, libraries and economic development activities.

Thought also now needs to be given as to how residents can feel more involved in the decision process. Extended use of social media channels seems to be an obvious further refinement

Still the report is a step in the right direction.

Hopefully the new arrangements will start in September after the Council’s August recess.

York Council “Behind closed doors” decisions – summary

The new Council seems to be struggling to introduce more open procedures as quickly as many had hoped.

BehindClosedDoors 2015

Understandably procedural change has to find its way through the formal processes of the Council – and might even involve amendments to the Constitution – but the lack of an early statement of intent is likely to become an increasing irritant to some residents.

Several relatively minor decisions have been taken over the last week. In each case the agenda and background  papers were published after the decision had been taken.

It takes very little effort to ensure that agendas appear on the Council web site in advance of meetings taking place. Whether those decisions – which involve only Council officials – need for some reason  to be insulated from the comments of taxpayers may be a matter of opinion.

This week the following decisions have been recorded (click to access what background information the Council has chosen to publish)

  1.  Award of 4 Year Term Contract to Redhill Analysts Ltd to undertake Asbestos Surveys, Air Monitoring to the social housing portfolio; Director of Communities & Neighbourhoods
  2.  Award of 4 Year Term Contract to Gentoo Construction Ltd to undertake Asbestos Removals to the social housing portfolio; Director of Communities & Neighbourhoods
  3.  Heslington Lane, Broadway – Hull Road Ward and Fulford and Heslington Ward; Director of City & Environmental Services This decision concerned a plan to advertise parking restrictions on Heslington Lane
  4. Burdyke Avenue Improvement Scheme – Follow Up; Director of City & Environmental Services This decision concerned the length of a parking lay-by which is being constructed on Burdyke Avenue

 

 

 

10 Council staff to be transferred to “Make it York”

Behind closed doors logoIn a behind closed doors decision, York Council officials have agreed to transfer 10 staff to the new “Make it York” company.

The transfers will be made on 1st July. They employees come from the economic development department, events and City centre management

46 staff have already been transferred to the company from “Visit York” and “Science City”

The last Council was heavily criticised for taking decision like this without firs publishing papers giving the reason for the proposals.

There are also outstanding issues with new organisation on governance and the need to establish and report on measurable performance goals for the company.

Make it York has been criticised for failing to involve sub-urban commercial areas like Front Street in its development plans.

 

Busking guidelines agreed at behind closed doors decision session

The quality of buskers in the City centre may – or may not – change after the York Council announced that it had changed its guidelines for them.

Buskers guidelines

The decision was taken yesterday by a Council official using delegated powers.

What effect the changes will have no one knows as the background report has not been made available to the public!

——

A restructure of the public health team was also agreed at the same time. There is a similar lack of information in the published background papers.

Latest “behind closed doors” decisions by York Council

Behind closed doors logoHolgate Road cycle lane

Parking is to be removed and cycle lanes installed on the uphills section of Holgate Road between Poppleton Road and Watson Street.

Some currently unrestricted carriageway will become Respark spaces.

Click here for diagram showing the proposals

Osbaldwick Lane – extension of 20 mph zone with traffic calming

Click here for map of (revised at annex B) plans

Millthorpe Secondary School – School Keep Clear

Making an Order will allow enforcement of the existing School Keep Clear zig-zag markings, to prevent dangerous parking by the entrance at school times and therefore improve safety for pupils.

Click here for a copy of the plan

Archbishop Holgate’s School – Proposed School Keep Clear and No Waiting At Any Time Traffic Regulation Orders

Click here for copy of plan (annex B)

Pinch Point Scheme, A19 South Transport Corridor – Phase 1 (Designer Outlet/Fulford area)

Click  here for proposed revised layout

 

York Council secret meetings still taking place

It seems that the newly “balanced” York Council still has a lot to do to lift the curtain of secrecy that descended in 2011.

Two meetings took place last week for which no notice had been given. Supporting papers and the decision taken were published on the Councils web site within minutes of each other.

Behind closed doors logo

Although not of concern to large numbers of residents, those who are affected did deserve the opportunity to make representations

We can see no reason why the agenda for any formal delegated decision cannot be published on the Council’s web site 7 days before the matter is considered. We would expect that written representations would be welcomed with the formal decision then being published with a link to any written comments.

The Councils governance committee will consider the issue of transparency at its meeting on Wednesday.

It includes a list of demands, by opposition Councillors who now hold a Council majority, on transparency issues together with a response by the Labour Leader

The first item on the list covers decisions delegated to Councillors

An end to Cabinet Member behind-closed-doors decision sessions – all reports to be published in advance, a date set for meetings (not a one month window) and residents should be able to feed into the decision process.

Although the Council Leader has apparently supported this proposal, it seems that delegation to officers is now being substituted. No notice of pending decisions of this type is being given.

The two decisions taken in private this week were:

  • Closure of an alley between Stanley Street and Warwick Street because of complaints about anti social behaviour
  • Allocation of “free” days for the use of the Barbican. Here the report fails even to mention the criteria used to determine that the days should be allocated to the “York Irish Association” and the “Prima Vocal” ensemble. It is also unclear how, or even if, the Council advertised the availability of these days.

Mansion nightclub to open until 6:00am

NB. The decision of the licensing committee to allow the Mansion club on Micklegate to stay open until 6:00am will raise eyebrows. Given the increasing problems with public order in the city centre, and an objection by the Police to the proposal, most would have expected the application to fail. The owner of the club is the Tory candidate for Heworth Without in the forthcoming Council elections. The three members who sat in judgement were all Labour Councillors (surprisingly no LibDem, Green or Independents were asked to take a view). The proposal was apparently aimed at accommodating the needs of “racegoers” although, so far, only a local student magazine has welcomed the decision. Strangely the Council chose not the “web cast” this controversial meeting.

Irony of secret decision on “information governance” officer appointment lost on Council?

Council officials decided a week ago to appoint an additional officer who will  “lead on the Council’s transparency and information governance arrangements”.

Behind closed doors logo

The decision to appoint the officer was taken behind closed doors.

No previous information about the proposal was published.

Such information as there is on the duties of the new appointment can be read here.

It appears that providing “customer feedback” will be a part of their role.