York residents face 5% Council Tax increase

Papers published today by the York Council confirm that a 4.99% increase in Council Tax levels will be implemented on 1st April.

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Most of the increase is being ringfenced and will be spent on social care.

  • £4.4m will be spent on the costs supporting adult social care staff and enabling residents to remain in their homes for longer.
  • £1.4m will go to support children and young people across the city, including further funding for social care staff.
Eclectic mix of ideas for spending on “Covid recovery”

£2.5m will go on creating a “Covid-19 Recovery Fund” (see above) while £1/2 million will bolster waste and street environment services (to include additional staffing on waste rounds, improved city centre cleaning and effective weed control).

There are no proposals to increase the amount invested in improving key public services like road and footpath maintenance.

£200,000 however be spent developing a new transport plan for the City.

Residents have until the end of January to return budget consultation forms. Early results may raise some eyebrows!

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Council navel gazing

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The Executive takes decisions

It seems that the York Council intends to change the order that it considers items at its next meeting which is scheduled to take place on 17th December.

The Lord Mayor wants to reorder the agenda to allow four motions to be debated. There will be one from the each of the different political groups represented on the authority.

It seems though that this approach does not have the support of all the Group Leaders nor some Independents.

The truth of the matter is that such motions rarely lead to any real change to what happens on the streets of the City. Too often the topics for motions appear to reflect personal interests or offer an under-researched flash of kitchen table vision. Central government policies are often the butt of vitriol, but rarely do the policies that are criticised change as a result of what is said in the York Council chamber.

Too often the debates decline into to a series of grandstanding statements. There is little opportunity to find consensus.

 Currently the Councils, increasingly opaque and defensive, Executive takes the key policy decisions. A full Council meeting is a rare opportunity for back benchers to question and hold to account portfolio holders.

The option of submitting written questions, with written answers circulated if they were not reached in the time available, was jettisoned by the last administration. Now all observers hear are a series of garbled questions and opaque answers.

Now is seems that the time available to do even this will be squeezed.

Part of the solution is to agree an equitable division of time for each agenda item.

As long ago as the 1970s, Group Leaders used to meet with the Lord Mayor to agree how a meeting could be run efficiently and equitably.  

Perhaps it is time to reinstate that tradition?

NB. The York Council has published details of how its departments will be organised in future. The proposals come in the wake of the appointment of a new Chief Operating Officer.

Residents will hope that any new structure focusses on street level delivery and that the decline in some service standards can be reversed.

The real key though is to make the right appointments to key jobs.

If new personalities are appointed, then the Council can hope to get back to being a “can do” authority and would be well placed to make the most of any devolution deal which may become available

click for detail

Council taxpayers told £1 in every £5 will go on repaying debt

Busting Myths on Debts and Bankruptcy | CHAI

Every November the York Councils Executive Councillors are asked to review its investment and borrowing strategy. A series of, what are termed, “prudential indicators” are published. They offer a guide for taxpayers on how their money is being managed.

Usually the item attracts little interest or comment.

This year may be different with todays national spending review likely to offer a guide on how the billions, currently being borrowed by the government to counter the pandemic, will be repaid.

The York figures do not include provision for the local impact of COVID.

The revenue budget does look set to take a £10 million hit next year with widespread cuts in services inevitable unless the government authorises an above average tax rise. Another option might be to allow Councils to borrow money to prop up day to day spending for a couple of years. This (unlikely) option would have an impact the Councils investment (capital) budget

But without that – and isolating the housing revenue account (which is funded from rents) – what is the current liability of York taxpayers?

The figures reveal that, from a starting position in 2016 when the authority needed to service £238,7 million of borrowing, by 2023 that liability will have increased to £338.7 million.

That is a 40% increase.

Should we worry?

The short answer is yes. The Council is required to make what is known as a Minimum Revenue Provision (MRP) in its revenue budget to cover principal repayments and interest charges on its borrowing. The proportion has varied over the years but usually around 12% of current account expenditure has gone on servicing debt.

That is set to escalate to 21% by 2024.

That could mean less money being available for core services such as road repairs, caring for the elderly and disabled and keeping the City clean. Many non statutory services such as leisure could be hit hardest.

You can read what the Council says by clicking here

Are you being served?

Annual list of York Councillor enquiries published

The number of issues raised through official York Council recording systems has been published in response to a Freedom of Information request.

The list gives an indication of the amount of “on the streets” work being undertaken by individual Councillors. The total number of issues raised was slightly up on the previous year.

The Councillors toward the bottom of the list will no doubt be quick to point out that there are other channels available for remedying problems.

That maybe so.

We think that Councillors should make a particular effort to provide an annual report to their constituents. Some already do via social media. Members of the public can view their representatives web sites, Facebook pages and twitter streams to find out more.

At least one Councillor provides an update each week to parish Councils in his area and there are other examples of best practice around.

Generally we would expect that a Councillor would make a weekly inspection of public service standards in their area and then ensure that any issues are resolved quickly.

NB. Councillors also attend meetings (fewer during lock-down). Attendances are recorded and can be viewed on the Council website.

Coronavirus York updates; 3rd June 2020

Deaths and cases

There were no additional hospital coronavirus deaths reported today (Wednesday). That is the third successive day without any additional deaths.

Two more cases of coronavirus were confirmed in York yesterday (Tuesday). The total now stands at 459 – an infection rate of 218.7 cases per 100,000 people.

York Council to “evolve beyond Coronavirus response”

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The York Council has issued the following (largely impenetrable) statement

“Following the challenges posed by the Coronavirus pandemic, City of York Council has developed plans to set out how the organisation will adapt and evolve moving forward.

As part of the Council’s short-term recovery plan, the ‘corporate’ recovery of the council will see the continued reinstatement of services that have been affected by the pandemic. Some reinstated services are likely to include some changes, in order to allow for social distancing and ensure the safety of residents and council staff.

In addition to the reinstatement of services, the corporate recovery plan will detail how the council will continue to work with partners to lobby the Government for additional funding, respond to the challenges posed by the pandemic, and facilitate further investment in the city.  

The council’s staff are its best asset in making this wide scale change happen, and to ensure staff are supported during this time, there will be an organisational development plan to support staff in new or amended operating models.  This includes utilising more agile and flexible working arrangements, with the right technology to enable staff to do so.

Leader of City of York Council, Cllr Keith Aspden, said:

“The coronavirus pandemic has significantly affected how the council delivers services to residents and businesses.  However, we are now in a position to look forward and consider how we can best evolve to continue providing crucial services to our communities, whilst ensuring the safety of residents and staff.”

“Of course, council staff will be key in making these changes happen and that is why we are working to deliver an organisational development plan to support them in these new, agile ways of working.”

“With the considerable funding challenges posed by the crisis, we will also look to maximise our influence to secure future investment in our city.  The last few months have demonstrated how crucial local services have been to support residents during these difficult times, and the Government must recognise more funding is needed for Councils to continue providing this support.”

“Moving forward, our recovery plan will continue to prioritise resident involvement in our democratic process and we are currently developing our methods for further remote meetings.”

To help residents and businesses stay in touch with the latest developments, the council has developed regular newsletters. You can sign up at https://www.york.gov.uk/form/EmailUpdates

We have a plan. Lets call it a “Transport and Place Strategy”?

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We know they’ve got a plan. Must have by by now. Surely
Further details on how City of York Council is supporting businesses through a new Economic Recovery – Transport and Place Strategy –  which will help accelerate rebuilding a healthy and inclusive economy, launches next month.

However the Council won’t meet to debate the plan until the end of June by which time many workers will have returned to their jobs.

As the government relaxes the restrictions for retailers from 15 June, the council is developing a strategy to build visitor, resident and stakeholder confidence that York is a safe, healthy and attractive place for everyone.

This new strategy forms part of the council’s Recovery and Renewal Strategy.  The Economic Recovery – Transport and Place Strategy is in five interdependent strands that will be delivered over the next few months.

The strategy will focus on:

  • prioritising active travel (including cycling and walking) by investing in and improving park and cycle sites, increased cycle parking and new cycle routes
bintykins — I recently bought a cute bike and I am so happy...

The Big Idea? Park and cycle has been tried before with limited success. This is partly because of security/parking issues, partly because many people do not own or can’t ride an appropriate type of bike, or they may have physical capacity limitations and/or have concerns about cycling in poor weather.

  • providing a short term approach to car travel including “incentivised short stay parking” in some of the city centre car parks
  • maintaining confidence in and responding to the short term reduction in capacity on public transport – by working with bus and rail operators to ensure people can continue to use public transport with confidence
  • creating a people focussed city centre including increasing the city centre foot streets and public spaces to create an attractive environment that people can visit with confidence with space to social distance

The council says it “will deliver these measures at pace to best accelerate the recovery of the economy, allowing doors to open safely in June whilst protecting residents’ safety”.

The media release pointedly fails to recognise the barriers to walking and cycling in sub-urban and village areas where unsafe highway  surfaces and obstructions are major concerns. 

The Council says that residents will be able to give feedback about the plan once measures are in place by participating in the city-wide consultation “Our Big Conversation” helping to set a long-term vision for the city. This will be launched in the next couple of weeks

“Many of the transport and place measures will run for the duration of the one year period and potentially beyond. Although all measures will need to be flexible and remain under review based on government guidance, public health advice, local resident and business feedback, and ongoing assessments of the outcomes of the interventions”


York Council management restructuring plans revealed

Hard on the heels of the retirement of the Chief Executive, the York Council has revealed how it hopes to recoup the costs of the early retirement exercise.

The post of Director of Finance and Investment will be deleted. This was the post traditionally styled as the City Treasurer. More junior staff will absorb this work.

The present Director has been acting as Chief Executive for over 9 months now and he will continue in that role.

More consultation with stakeholders is promised before any new structure is implemented.

The restructuring will save about £86,000 a year in salary costs

Details of the plans can be found by clicking here

York Council Chief Executive’s retirement confirmed

Cost of pension contributions will be just over £400,000

Following the early retirement of Ms Mary Weastell, Cllr Keith Aspden, Leader of the Council commented:

Council statement

“Ms Weastell’s early retirement has given the City of York Council the opportunity to consider a restructure of the Council’s corporate management team. As part of this, we have been able to identify ways to save money through efficiencies and these proposals will ensure that costs can be met through existing budgets with no additional impact for the taxpayer.

“This will also ensure our senior team focus on the areas that are important to the city and that a consultation is able to be brought forward swiftly. Our ambitious council plan requires significant investment, and to achieve this it is right that we review the best way of delivering for the city to make the most of our available resources.”

Debbie Mitchell, Head of Finance, confirmed:

“As an open and transparent council, we want to share how much Ms Weastell has received as part of her early retirement.  There are strict rules in place that govern payments due to individuals and, in line with these statutory requirements; the council has incurred costs of c £404k.  The majority of this sum around £330k is statutory payments and pension strain costs to the authority that have to be paid. 

“The Council will commence consultation to make at least £81k of savings per annum with a paper published today to the Staffing Matters and Urgency Committee to begin that process.  Full details will be presented in the annual accounts as usual.”

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