Some York Councillors in line for pay bonanza

An independent pay review panel is recommending substantial pay increases for York Councillors.

Under the proposals, basic pay would rise from £9198 to £10,371 pa (13%). This element of pay has already seen rises in line with inflation each year since 2015.

In addition, major increases are lined up for those Councillors who are judged to have additional responsibilities. Their “SRAs” haven’t been increased since 2015 and have fallen behind inflation.

The Council Leader will receive £41,484 when his SRA is added to his basic pay.

The biggest (50%) increase in SRAs is reserved for the Chairs of the Scrutiny Management, Area Planning, Licensing and Audit Committees.

The proposed increases are revealed in a report to next weeks full Council meeting. The publication of the report was delayed until after voting in the General Election had concluded.

The plans would see taxpayers having to find £770,000 a year to fund the payments.

The proposals are bound to be controversial, not least because some of the evidence, submitted to the panel to justify the rises, doesn’t seem to stand up to scrutiny.

NB. Some Councillors may also receive other payments as a result of their membership of national, regional and sub regional bodies.

Democratic deficit at York Council as General Election takes its toll?

Council staff face a long day at the polling stations today. Its a 7:00am – 10:00pm shift for many. Later some will be helping to count votes. A declaration of a result may not come until 3:00am or even later.

So it is not surprising that the agenda for the Council meeting taking place on 19th December is, shall we say, a little thin.

There are virtually no reports attached to the agenda. Notices of motion are not published (other than the general topic heading) and executive member reports are missing.

Perhaps most difficult to explain may be a missing report for the remuneration panel. This independent body recommends how much Councillors should be paid. Its recommendations are often controversial. The report must already be available so someone must have taken a decision not to publish it.

There are two possible explanations for the missing papers.

The first is that staff and Councillors have been overwhelmed by the election workload. In which case someone may ask why the Council meeting was not postponed..

The second could be that the Council has decided that publishing the above reports could have been viewed as conflicting with the “Purdah” period. “Purdah” regulations prevent local authorities, and government departments, from publishing anything that might influence an election result.

If the explanation is the latter the the authority would be wise to ensure that the reports are published tomorrow.

It must give taxpayers a reasonable time to assess what is being proposed.

The reason for the absence of the background papers should have been n clearly stated on the agenda

& it really is time for that the Council got round to appointing a new Chief Executive!

York Council meeting agenda

Biggest risk to Council staff in York?

Aggression and verbal abuse!

A new Health and Safety report which is to be considered next week reveals that there have been 58 cases of verbal abuse or aggression towards York Council staff.

Health and Safety issues reported in York April – Sept 2019

They outnumber the total of all other risks combined which are listed in the report.

The results support other reports which suggest that aggression towards “blue light” services such as firefighters and ambulance workers has been on the increase recently.

A sad reflection on an increasingly divided and confrontational society.

More light shone by York Council on contracts

More details are being made available of a contract for the supply of furniture and “white goods” (e.g. fridges)  to Universal Credit claimants in York.  

It is part of the York Financial Assistance scheme, which is designed to help the poorest members of  our community cope with budgeting pressures.

The contract is expected to be worth over £250,000.

Once again the Executive member (Nigel Ayre) has agreed to consider this proposal at a public decision meeting which is being held on 16th December.  

Although the decision to seek tenders for this service isn’t particularly controversial, and any expenditure will be within budget allocations, the move to publish background papers will be welcomed by many taxpayers.

Hopefully other Executive Councillors will adopt a similar approach to transparency in the  future.

The cost of new contracts entered into by the York Council can be viewed on a national register via this link https://procontract.due-north.com/ContractsRegister/Index

York Community Furniture Store

The Community Furniture Store (CFS) is the current provider of household goods for the York Financial Assistance Scheme (YFAS). The scheme, which is funded by City of York Council, provides basic furnishing for people in need as a result of a urgent personal circumstances.

More details can be found by clicking here

The York CFS is located at the Raylor Centre in James Street. It also has branches in Selby and Scarborough.

Residents are urged to donate any unused items of furniture, which are in good condition, to the scheme. The CFS arranges to pick up the items.

Background information published by Council

Complaints about York Council up by 20%

1622 complaints were made against the York Council in the 12 months to April 2019. The figures are revealed in a  report published today. They represent an increase from the 1353 recorded in the previous year.  

The vast majority of the complaints related to lack of action with other relating to “inappropriate action” 45% of the complaints were either fully or partially upheld.  397 cases reach a second complaint stage. 58% of these were at least partially upheld.

156 complaints were escalated to the final local stage with 6 at least partially upheld.

60 cases were sent on to the Ombudsman who upheld 11 of them. A summary of the Ombudsman’s finding in each case is included at the end of the report In some case modest financial compensation has been paid.

The figures show an increase in complaints about social care.

236 “compliments” were also recorded about the Council and its staff

Fake news or wishful thinking?

Council publishes new “Our City” newspaper

No doubt the York Council would be criticised if it failed to keep residents informed about what goes on in the City and how the Council spends taxpayers money. Whether spending £10,000 on putting a magazine through everyone’s letterbox represents a prudent use of resources may divide opinion.

The current edition of “Our City” is tidier and therefore more accessible than previous editions. But it fails an important test.

It isn’t objective.

Telling people that things are going well when patently many street level public services in the City are far from that, transforms an information source into a propaganda channel.

There are major problems with keeping the streets tidy and free of weeds. The refuse collection service is now chronically unreliable. Many roads and paths are potholed. Some are dangerously obstructed by trees and hedges. These issues don’t merit a mention in “Our City”.

The Council does praise the hugely expensive community stadium project without telling people precisely when the stadium will come into use. Apparently the IMAX cinema (a plus for the City) will open in December but there is no explanation for the delays that have dogged the future home of York City FC and the York Knights Rugby team.

But the main concern will be the failure to be frank about the risks involved in some of its projects.

The Council is acting as its own housing developer and hopes to build 600 homes in the City over the next few years. It has recruited a significant number of additional staff to do so. It could have used local companies to undertake the work but chose not to. It is a high risk venture but, at the end of the day, in York any new homes will be occupied one way or another.

The same can’t be said about the £20 million Guildhall redevelopment. There is little evidence to suggest that a “business club” is needed in the City and even less that the York Council would be the best organisation to manage one.

The “Our City” article disingenuously talks of the project generating £848,000 a year in rents. It fails to point out that would involve renting out all the available space and that, even then, the income would be barely sufficient to pay the interest payments on the money that the Council intends to borrow to fund the scheme!

Sadly similar mistakes have been made in the past. £12 million was spent on the Barbican concert hall. The Council chose to manage that facility itself despite a complete lack of experience in the field. It later turned out that the hall manager had failed to apply for an entertainments licence for the building and had operated it unlawfully for several months. The Barbican ran at a loss of £800,000 a year and eventually had to be sold on to the private sector.

Whether anyone will come forward to rescue the Guildhall project remains to be seen.

Continuing concerns over Chief Executives health in York

It is nearly 6 months since the Chief Executive of the City of York Council went on sick leave. The problem arose shortly after the May local elections and left the largely inexperienced new Council with inadequate senior management capacity.

The result was that there was a lack of direction during the summer period with the standard of several public services noticeably falling.

The Council drifted into several decisions, including a £20 million Guildhall redevelopment contract, without the rigorous reappraisal that a new administration, acting with the advantage of experienced advisors, might have chosen to approach differently.

The Council must now consider whether to continue with a temporary Chief Executive – a senior officer “acting up” – or whether to move to something more permanent.

Long service Chief officers in local government are entitled to 6 months sick leave on full pay followed by 6 months on half pay. So potentially if the Chief Executive continues to be absent there will be funding available in the budget to cover any backfill.

Not an easy decision and the health of employees must always be a paramount consideration.

But York taxpayers will now expect to see a roadmap published which shows a way back to having a full management team in place in the City.

There are simply too many decisions coming along (including the completion of the Community Stadium, the Guildhall, York Central, York Bypass improvements etc.) to allow a continued policy drift.

The York Council will consider the future of its Chief Executive post next week

York climate change action plan update

City of York Council’s full council declared a climate emergency in March 2019, and agreed to set a target to become net carbon neutral by 2030.

A report is now being taken to the council’s Executive to provide an update on the next steps to progress the climate change action plan.

Following the climate emergency declaration, a new cross-party climate change policy and scrutiny committee was created to help develop the climate change action plan. Its first meeting will take place in September (and every other month after that).

The council is in the process of recruiting officers to two new posts to address sustainability and climate change to support on this work.

A report detailing the next steps will be taken to a public Executive meeting on Thursday 29 August.

York has a strong history of taking the lead on reducing carbon useage, including:

  • £2m programme of LED street lighting;
  • Solar PV installed on 541 council houses;
  • Air source heat pumps installed in 57 council houses;
  • A programme of cavity wall and loft insulation across the council’s housing stock;
  • Work with private tenants and homeowners to draw on funding from Government and regional programmes for improved energy efficiency and delivered through Better Homes Yorkshire;
  • Plans to use an innovative water-source heat pump for heating the redeveloped Guildhall complex;
  • Council support for the Treemendous initiative to plant 50,000 trees in York;
  • Investment in improvements to cycling infrastructure including the recent opening of the Scarborough Bridge cycle route and promotion of cycling – including achieving Cycling City status;
  • The i-Travel programme which includes active promotion of walking, cycling and sustainable travel options to groups and individuals.

Help us shape our council plan

Residents, businesses and community groups are being asked to comment on how City of York Council can help them achieve the best quality of life in the city.

Highways England have confirmed that the Council is responsible for removing weed growth on former trunk roads like the A59. Hopefully “cleaner” will come before “greener” in the York Councils list of priorities when addressing highway obstructions

Through the council plan consultation, City of York Council is wanting to hear from residents, businesses and community groups and ask them to comment on eight suggested outcomes for the council over the next four years. They are:

  • Good health and wellbeing
  • Well paid jobs and an inclusive economy
  • Getting around sustainably
  • A better start for children and young people
  • A greener and cleaner city
  • Creating homes and world-class infrastructure
  • Safe communities and culture for all
  • An open and effective council.

As well as comment on these themes and what they mean to them, residents, businesses and community groups will also be asked what they think the council could do to achieve the outcomes and what they could do in support.  

The consultation is available to complete now at https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/YorkCouncilPlanConsultation2019 and closes on Sunday 15 September. 

Residents without online access will also have the chance to contribute their views at venues around the city or add their thoughts to pop-up boards in public spaces or other activities taking place across the city.

Councillor Keith Aspden, Leader of City of York Council said: “Residents, businesses and community groups make York such a fantastic place to live and work. We want to hear from them what we can do to deliver against the suggested outcomes and how they may be able to support this journey to being a cleaner, healthier city with an inclusive economy.”

 “Once complete, this plan will set our ambitious vision for the future of the city and set clear expectations on how we propose to deliver improvements for residents, against which we will monitor delivery and measure performance.

“We look forward to hearing suggestions from people about what our priorities should be.”

Councillor Andy D’Agorne, Deputy Leader of City of York Council said: “The council plan is important so we can clearly set out what we hope to achieve over the course of the next four years. These proposals acknowledge the need for us to address the climate emergency declared by full council and listen to residents’ ideas about what the council should do to address this. We would like to hear what actions individuals, businesses and organisations might take to support this work.

 “As well as climate change, the proposed outcomes also consider a range of social, economic and environmental factors we are keen to prioritise and ensures the city supports a good quality of life for residents.

“We look forward to hearing from residents, businesses and local community groups. We think it is really important they have a chance to discuss and play a part in the work we will be doing over the next four years and want to hear their views and suggestions.”