York Mansion House work “almost finished” claim Council

As we revealed last week, the restoration of York’s Mansion House is running several months behind schedule. Now the Council has issued a statement saying that it will reopen soon.

We doubt if this will be much before the end of the year.

There has been no explanation for the additional delay (the original timetable – which would have  seen the building finished last year – had to be abandoned when the building contractor went into administration).

The Council statement says, “Moving trucks have arrived, large mahogany tables and priceless silver are being steadily hoisted in and dusted off and George Hudson is looking out from his rightful place in the stairwell.

York Mansion House’s restoration is coming to the final stages as the facade and freshly gilded crest is teasingly revealed with each piece of scaffolding removed and the state room is returned to its former glory.

The kitchen has come together to create something wholly new and old as it recreates a classic Georgian kitchen, with peeking windows into the original flooring and a fantastic interactive display.  (more…)

York Council tackles nettle threat

The Council has acted promoted to remove nettles which were impeding Foxwood Lane. Reported on 2nd October the nettles were removed today.

Nettles removed from Foxwood Lane Not so good is the entrance to Hob Moor from Holly Bank Grove. It’s only October and the path is nearly impassible for pedestrians because of boggy ground. The Holgate Ward committee should take a leaf out of their counterparts in Westfield who arranged for improvements to a similar footpath access, to Acomb Wood from Hawkshead Close, over the summer.

We hope that the contractors, currently working on putting in new Toucan crossing signals at the junction of Kingsway West and Thanet Road, will take the time to resurface the carriageway hammerhead while plant is is the area. The surface is dangerous for cyclists

The same contractors may also be responsible for vehicle damage to the Thanet Road sports area. Bulbs were planted in the grassed area by residents groups over recent years.

Now York Council becomes a property speculator

The City of York Council is to invest nearly £15 million in purchasing a City centre retail and office development.

Swinegate Court

Although the business case remains confidential, the Council claims that the £813,000 in annual rent, that it expects to get from properties in “Swinegate Court”, will pay off the principal and interest charges on its extra borrowing.

The Council outbid several private investors to secure the deal.

It is likely that the Council, will seek a 50-year loan to buy the properties.

While it is true that, over the last few centuries, the City has always in the long term benefited from the increasing value of land that it has purchased, there is always a short-term risk in such ventures.

The properties in question are in a secondary shopping area and, with many City centre retailers under pressure partly because of the Councils projection of the area as a “playground” destination, rental growth is far from guaranteed.

This may well prove to be a prudent long term investment, but eyebrows may be raised when a Council, apparently struggling to fulfil its promise to improve basic public service standards, finds the resources to dabble in the property market.

Residents invited to talk rubbish as York council reviews recycling sites

City of York Council wants to know more about how residents use recycling banks across the city, and how they want to use them in the future.

The council is reviewing around 50 sites which contain banks for recycling between one and 12 different materials.  These are mainly situated in car parks, streets and other public areas of the city.

Residents are asked to fill in a short online survey to influence the review, which will look at the number of the sites, where they are located, the range of materials which can be recycled, and their general appearance.

Residents have until Wednesday 9 August to fill in the survey, which they can access from consultation page of council’s website https://www.york.gov.uk/consultations

Councillor Andrew Waller, executive member for the environment, said:

Recycling bins in Acomb car park

“We want to improve our recycling rates further in York, and want to modernise the ‘bring banks’ network as it is looking tired in places, and some gaps have appeared in parts of the city where landowners have asked for them to be removed.

“We are receiving requests all the time for new materials such as cartons to be included and so want to respond to support residents.

We are encouraging residents to engage with the council to fill in the survey so that we can provide the right recycling banks in the right places.”

In 2016/17, the recycling sites collected an estimated 800 tonnes of materials, and cost the council around £75,000.

The city’s two Household Waste Recycling Centres are not part of this review.

Help with Universal Credit for York residents offered by York Council

 

Ahead of Universal Credit rolling out for even more residents in York from 12 July, the council says it will support residents who need digital assistance and budgeting support with Universal Credit.

Universal Credit is a new benefit, handled by the Department for Work and Pensions, which helps people on a low income or not in work, meet their living costs. It combines six benefits, including housing benefit and working tax credit, into a single monthly payment.

Currently Universal Credit is only available to single jobseekers in York but from 12th July parents and couples, including people who can’t work because of their health, living in the city and making a new claim will also receive it.

Universal Credit is one of the biggest ever changes to the benefit system and this may cause people to be worried about what will happen to their benefits. People who need assisted digital support or personal budget support should contact the council’s benefits service on 551556 or to visit www.york.gov.uk.”

There are several changes to previous benefits with Universal Credit, including:

  • ·        payments are made in arrears once at the end of the month, rather than being paid every week.
  • ·        payments will go straight into a claimant’s bank account. This means people may need to set up their own direct debits for expenses like rent if it was paid directly to their landlord under the old Housing Benefit system.

Residents who want to claim Universal Credit who are unable to use the internet or don’t understand how to make the claim can contact the council on 01904 551556 to ask for help through Assisted Digital Support (ADS).

People who would like to claim Universal Credit but are having trouble opening a bank account or managing their money can contact the council on 01904 552044 to ask for help through Personal Budgeting and Support (PBS). PBS can help with budgeting and advice on finding a bank account as Universal Credit cannot be paid into a Post Office card account.

The council has also teamed up with South Yorkshire Credit Union Ltd to give tailored advice which could include consolidating any repayments into a single, more manageable account at a lower, fixed interest rate, rather than resort to unregulated lenders or loan sharks.

Private or council tenants or mortgage holders are welcome to take advantage of the scheme which aims to help people budget and manage any debts.

For more information about the rollout of Universal Credit in York visit www.york.gov.uk

Improving access to council services for York’s Deaf community

City of York Council will make it easier for members of the city’s Deaf community to access services from today (5 July 2017).

A new video interpreting service – called ‘InterpretersLive!’ – is being launched.

It means Deaf customers, who communicate using British Sign Language (BSL), will be able to contact the council through a BSL Sign Language interpreter.

Visitors to York’s customer services centre at West Offices will have immediate access to an interpreter with no prior appointment required.

People who do not wish, or are unable to, travel will be able to use the service face-to-face from the comfort of their own home, using a video relay system.

The new interpretation service means Deaf customers will have the same access to customer services as a hearing person would.

The council says it hopes the addition of a BSL interpreter will make life easier for people who traditionally may have struggled to get help and support.

Anyone who isn’t a BSL user will be offered alternative communication support.

Members of the Deaf community are invited to attend an event at West Offices on 20 July between 11.00 am and 1.00 pm.  Attendees will have the opportunity to see how this service will work and, to celebrate the launch of the service.  There will also be the opportunity for users to help inform future improvements to the way the service is delivered.The quickest and easiest way to register for the event is by signing up using this Eventbrite link https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/british-sign-language-video-relay-interpretation-service-tickets-35533901857 .  If this is not possible, users should visit West Offices to register their interest.We advise booking early to avoid disappointment as spaces are limited.
(more…)

York Council investment programme slips

A Council report shows an out-turn of £35.751m on the Council capital investment budget compared to an approved budget of £52.428, an overall variation of £16.677m.

Community stadium start slips

The biggest slippage (£3.5 million) was on the York Central project although there were also delays in other areas including school maintenance, housing construction, the Glen Lodge extension, waste disposal, IT development and upgrades to buses.

The report shows that expenditure on the Community Stadium has also slipped again with the bulk of the work now expected in 2018/19. In total, the Council will spend £36 million on this project although this figure does not include the substantial sums spent to date or the (privately funded) commercial elements of the project.

The report goes on to say;

Mansion House cost up by £150,000

  • that the Mansion House restoration scheme has an outturn position of £1.031m in 2016/17, requiring re-profiling of £515k of funds from 2017/18 into 2016/17. The work is now expected to be completed in August 2017.  The report goes on to say that “as the works contract has progressed a number of areas of additional work have been identified as necessary to safeguard the future of the Mansion House, these essential restoration works will cost an additional £150”.
  • the Tenants Choice programme saw 120 properties have their kitchens, bathrooms and wiring updated through the year. This is significantly lower than the 220 properties that were planned. This is due to problems with tenants refusing works, delays due to damp problems and delays with kitchen deliveries. The scheme under spent by £416k in 2016/17
  • the proposed developments at Newbury Avenue and Chaloners Road have also been delayed. The development now proposed is for 5-6 bungalows and “will be submitted for planning approval in July”. The development of homes at Chaloners Road was postponed when the developer withdrew from the contract. A revised scheme will be submitted for planning approval in late summer 2017
A summary of the Councils £1/4 billion investment plans can be found below

York Council easing out of budget crisis?

Good progress in improving some services

The York Council showed a small budget surplus during the last financial year. As a result, its reserves will increase from £6.8m to £7.3m. In addition, prudent use of its contingency fund will see its 2017/18 provision increase to £1,049k.

This represents a marked improvement on the performance of the Council when it was under Labour control between 2011 and 2015.

The Council has also published selective performance stats.

These claim to show good progress with only delayed discharges from hospital sounding a negative note.

But is everything as rosy as may seem?

The Council’s Executive does not receive exception reports. Such reports would highlight failing performance at street level (which the Council claims is its primary focus)

Selective performance stats published by Council

A survey being undertaken in the Westfield ward by local Councillors presents a slightly different picture.

Westfield Councillors survey results at June 2017

Although respondents say that they are satisfied with most local public services there are exceptions.

The biggest failings (in sub-urban areas) are;

  • Poor road and footpath maintenance
  • Parking provision and
  • Litter/poop scoop bin provision

The Council provides more detailed information on line (see www.yorkopendata.org under the “performance scorecards” section)

But several of the scorecards have still  not been updated for the 2016/17 year.

Other elements of performance are not publicly monitored.

These include the progress made with locally budgeted Ward Committee schemes some of which – although funded – have been in a lengthening waiting list for over 2 years.

Better progress on genuine local concerns would enhance the Councils claim that its priority is indeed the provision of good quality basic services.

On Line performance stats need updating

So how good is the York Councils customer management system?

Hopefully Councillors will raise the veil of secrecy on 12th June when they receive another report on “Digital Services”. It is the latest episode in a drama which has offered much but has, so far, delivered very little to customers.

Put simply, the Council fails to manage its electronic interface with customers to an acceptable standard. Much faith was placed in the IT project which is now running 18 months behind schedule. So far, the only “on line” reports, using the “My Account” system, that can be made, concern litter.

These are usually dealt with quickly but are not without hiccups. An automatically generated “issue closed” Email message recently proved to be incorrect. The reported broken bottle was still there several hours after the issue had been closed (it was reopened).

But the main concern is that the vast majority of issues simply can’t be reported via the Councils web site with any confidence that action will be taken. They simply disappear into the ether with apparently random reference numbers generated which citizens find impossible to match to individual reports.

As we have said before, the system still lacks the flexibility of proprietary solutions like “fix my street”.  The Council could have bought a system off the shelf – as most other authorities have done – and by now would have been off and running.

All the Council can promise is that 7 more street service issues will be added to the system by the end of the summer.

It does claim that around 1000 digital transactions are completed each week but this includes high volume financial transactions.

The Council has seen a significant drop in the number of telephone calls that it receives. Fewer people visited the Customer Centre last year.

Significantly though, the Council still does not provide speed stats on key interfaces like Email. It is three years since the Council promised to improve its performance on this access channel.

It does look to customers like Emails still take 48 hours to be passed from the customer centre to the responsible department.

Some departments do later respond to reports lodged in this way.

Many do not.  

Performance “open data” on web site not updated. No figures provided for volumes. Email numbers completely missing

6 months since responsible Executive member publicly reviewed performance of customer contact centre

Message signs working in York City centre again

..but still no car park space availability info

The York Council has repaired most of the Variable Message Signs which guide drivers around the City centre. Those on Blossom Street, Bootham, Clarence Street, Lawrence Street and Heworth Green are working.

The sign on Fishergate is still faulty

All the signs have been displaying warnings about the upcoming temporary closure of Gillygate.

Unfortunately, there has been no tangible progress on reviving the car parking space availability signs or web site.

None of the parking availability signs are working.

The Council’s web site continues to list car parks that have closed and the space availability data is inaccurate.

The Council expected this issue to have been addressed before the end of March, so it is disappointing that the update was not implemented before the busy Easter holiday period began.