Haxby Hall elderly persons home plan hits buffers

Haxby Hall

The Haxby Hall home currently has a total capacity of 49 care beds. Within those 49 beds there is provision for approximately 35 residential care beds, eight beds for people living with dementia and up to six step down/short stay beds which are used interchangeably.

Services at the home are delivered by 51 staff (31.58 full time equivalents). When last inspected by the Care Quality Commission it was given a “good” rating 

It’s a year since the Council decided to pull out of Haxby Hall. The expectation was that a third party would take over the running of an enlarged, modernised home.

A feasibility study conducted in 2016 showed that a care home of up to 70 beds could be delivered on the site. One key issue for development was access to the site, which is constricted by the adjacent ambulance station. The plan for Haxby Hall was agreed by the Council on 7th December 2016.

A well attended supplier engagement event was held on 6 September 2017 to promote the opportunity and receive feedback on the proposal. Residents and their families were also consulted.

12 months later the proposal has been withdrawn from the Councils forward decision making programme. Difficulties in negotiating the new access are blamed for the project being shelved.

In January 2018 the then Director Martin Farren outlined the position

“The future of Haxby Hall is a key part of our Older Persons’ Accommodation Programme which looks to address the needs of York’s fast-growing older population by expanding and modernising care provision across the city.

“This report looks at options to safeguard the future of Haxby Hall older persons’ home and procure a provider who will deliver and operate improved, modern care facilities”.

The bids for the takeover were due to be received in September 2018. It was likely that residents would be decanted to other homes while work took place, with the new home scheduled to open in 2020.

No update has been given to any public meeting since then.

The latest delays follow problems at Oakhaven Elderly Persons home which has been empty for two years.

A facility scheduled to be provided at Burnholme is also understood to be delayed.

No detailed planning application has been submitted by the Council for the development of elderly persons facilities at the Lowfields site (although a, much more controversial, commercial housing development did get planning permission there a few months ago)

The Council is also pressing ahead with closing Windsor House which has specialised in providing support for those with dementia

All in all, we think that there is a need for some public reassurances about the timescales which now apply to the Councils Elderly Persons Strategy!

Aspden cleared but everyone now counting the cost

Cllr Aspden (left) with Cllr Carr who was the Council Leader when the allegations were made. Cllr Carr summarily sacked Keith Aspden from his Executive role.

A York Council “standards board” committee has found that allegations against Cllr Keith Aspden have not been proven. The case centred around a claim that job application papers had been circulated prior to a discussion with third parties in a York pub in 2016.

The committee took over 10 hours to sift through evidence before throwing out the claims.

The committee did however, rightly, say that job applications should not be discussed with third parties and ordered that additional training be given to those involved in job interviews.

The decision ends a 2-year investigation which was instigated by a “whistle-blower” who had himself been sacked by the Council. The claims were first raised some 2 years after the alleged events had taken place.

The investigation is believed to have cost the Authority around £100,000.

The cost to Cllr Aspden, in legal fees and loss of earnings, is thought to be around £20,000.

Attention is now likely to turn to the possibility of compensation.

Two other related cases, involving different Councillors, now need to be resolved quickly.

The Council faces some difficult budget choices in a few weeks time. This case has been an unwelcome and costly distraction

Damp squib as York Councillor allegations are published.

After 2 years of agonising the York Council’s Chief Executive has finally published details of the claims of “misconduct”  faced by the former Deputy Leader of the Authority; Cllr Keith Aspden.

He was sacked as Deputy Leader in September 2017 by the then Tory Council Leader David Carr amidst dark allegations of “serious offences”.

David Carr was himself subsequently sacked by the Tory Group.

There had been claims in 2017 that Cllr Aspden had been responsible for leaking an audit report which looked into contract irregularities in 2014 when Labour were in control of the Council. It subsequently turned out that a paid official was responsible for that leak. That same official, when faced with the prospect of dismissal for his action, then muddied the water with a series of claims about Councillor and officer conduct at the Council.

Most of the allegations were quickly disproven but two – concerning the appointment of a junior officer in 2015 – have remained unresolved.

Cllr Aspden vigorously rejects the two remaining charges.

It is this allegation that will be subject to a Standards Committee hearing on 3rd January. The hearing is being held in public and all the background reports have been published “on line” at the request of Cllr Aspden. The names of those involved have been redacted.

It turns out that the issue is less “James Bond”, more “Coronation Street”.

Why the Council should have spent nearly 2 years ponderously investigating the bogus claims, and in the process spent nearly £100,00 of taxpayers money on solicitors and investigators, may remain a mystery, whatever the outcome of the hearing.

The substance of the complaint relates to the appointment of an assistant, for each of the 3 main party leaders, following a decision taken after the last Council elections in 2015.

The authority also decided to centralised complaint handling and continued the employment of 3 “political researchers” who had been in post for over two decades.

All in all, the decisions meant that Councillors enjoyed an unprecedented level of support.

It was never clear precisely what the “Executive Assistants” would do. It was said that they would be non-political appointments.

It is claimed that Keith Aspden sought to influence who might be appointed to the post that would work for him. He was understandably concerned that someone should be appointed who was discrete and sensitive to the political environment (the LibDems were working in a coalition with the Tories). The Labour and Tory Leaders made similar appointments.

The claim being investigated is that copies of job application forms were made available when the merits of the candidates for the post were discussed between four people in a York pub in the summer of 2015. Keith Aspden apparently favoured the appointment of someone that he knew.  The recollections of the 4 involved differ on what was said but an independent investigator has chosen to believe the word of the “whistle-blower” Hence a charge of bringing the Council into disrepute,.

 

Hints of political patronage do leave a bad taste. When the York Unitary Council was formed in 1996 it fell under Labour control. Two of the new Directors, appointed to senior positions, were card carrying members of the Labour party. One was a former Labour Councillor.

That made relationships awkward.

But those were senior roles and the Executive assistants have a much more mundane and low profile work remit.

What happens next depends on the outcome of the hearing. If the case is found not to be proven, then those who have relentlessly – and at great expense to the taxpayer – harassed a hardworking Councillor, may themselves find that they are next into the public dock.

NB. Cllr Ayre has had a complaint, about leaking information to the media, outstanding for over 18 months. Cllr Carr may also face the prospect of censure for actions when he was the Leader of the Council.

Report on public service reports in York

click to view

A report has been published which analyses the  reports made by members of the public using the “Fix My Street” app.  The University of Sterling research report relates issue volumes to “areas of deprivation”.

The York Council decided some 5 years ago to develop its own “app” for public service issue reporting (“Report it”). However the system has never worked properly lacking the flexibility and features available in commercial systems. Only litter and street lighting reports produce an instance reference number and “job completed” notifications.

Despite promises of an early upgrade to meet modern standards none has been forthcoming.

Clearly many residents still opt for “Fix My Street” and other systems to report issues. This means that someone at the Council has to manually re-key the reports into its ageing IT system.

This is the kind of inefficiency that the Council needs to tackle if it is to invest more in actually dealing with issues *on the street”

The Stirling research – not surprisingly – reveals that road and footpath reports are by far the greatest concern of York residents. 

Are you being served?

The Council has updated its record of the number of issues raised by Councillors. The figures were supplied promptly this year in response to a Freedom of Information request.

Councillors interpretation of their role – and residents expectations – tend to vary. Those Councillors who regularly conduct door to door surveys and who routinely  “walk their wards” reporting public service issues tend to record the highest number of complaints.

Councillors have other responsibilities such as attending meetings. Details of attendance rates – which generally tend to be high  in York – can be found on the Councils web site (click)

Council elections are scheduled to take place in May 2019

Future of York Libraries

The York Council is taking the next steps in a review of the role, function and management of its Library service. The Libraries have been run by an independent social interest company since 2012.  The company’s contract is coming up for renewal.

The Council report looks at what more residents might expect to get from the Library service over the next decade.

The comprehensive report makes it clear that the York Library service is one of the most successful – judged against a range of criteria – in the country.

A “needs assessment” seeks to establish what changes need to be made.  It ranks highly the need to further establish libraries as the “hub” of resilient communities. They would be a focal point for the coordination of local public services and could address issues with inclusion. Learning and skills would be a key objective as would access to health and other advice. They have a role to play in promoting culture.

The 16 existing libraries are generally viewed highly by users. York has more libraries per head of population than most comparable local authorities.

Despite the national trend of library visits declining slightly over time, Explore Libraries footfall has been holding up well, thanks in large part to the reading cafés which have been opened. Compared to other English unitary authorities, Explores performance is upper quartile.

Explore’s footfall in 17/18 across all branches was 1,014,173.

A public consultation exercise revealed that user’s top priorities for the different types of library, the top answers were the same for all libraries: Borrowing books, reading and studying space, local information, events, computers. There was just one exception which was that archives and local history was also a priority for York Explore.

Non-users indicated that the top three things that would encourage them to come to a library in the future was: a reading café on site, better information about services, and more events and activities.

The report talks obliquely about shared buildings. It stops short of proposing he closure of any libraries although some Councillors privately say this is inevitable (and has happened elsewhere).  Unless and until a properly costed and resourced business plan ins produced then the “vision” will not have a future. The devil will be in the detail of any tender document that may be issued.

But the plan could deliver the much needed, and long outstanding, expansion of the Acomb Library. In turn, that could deliver a “one stop shop” public service office – incorporating Housing, Police and health teams.

A useful benefit for the Acomb side of the City.

Pen pictures of each library can be accessed via these links

City of York Council; When things go wrong

There have been some strange goings on at the Council over the last few days.

First up we reported yesterday that there was something seriously amiss with the “planning on line” web site..

Some residents routinely use the site to check what planning applications have been made for the area in which they live. We do so routinely for the west of York  and report applications on this site.

There was something unusual about the list of applications which the Council claimed to have validated for the Westfield ward during the week commencing 7th May. Closer examination revealed that the list include applications that had not only been validated months – and in one case 3 years – ago, but all had actually already been approved.

In most cases the planning permission had been implemented.

So a computer glitch?

Yet 24 hours later the incorrect information is still on line.

York Council planning web site 13th May 2018

Equally worrying is the way in which decisions, delegated to officials, are reported in an opaque manner on the Council web site.

Today we are told of a “Decision for provision of the Ways to Wellbeing service is already approved through the Better Care Fund decision making process which is on an Executive Member level”

What? We have no idea what the Council is trying to tell us?

On some occasions the Council seems to be trying to be more open.

It reports today that it has decided what grants to make from an “improving lives” financial advice campaign. Over £166,000  is being handed out to local organisations with Citizens Advice getting the lions share.

But in listing the awards, the Council inevitably prompts  more questions; not least “What are taxpayers actually buying for this money?”

At the very least  the expected outcomes for the expenditure should be listed, together with a summary of the monitoring process that the Council will use to determine whether it has received value for its investment.

 

York to lead the way in animal welfare policy

 

Senior councillors are being asked to formally adopt an animal welfare licensing policy.

This has been drawn up using guidance from the Institute of Environmental Health Officers, ahead of the new Regulations being issued by DEFRA relating to animal welfare licensing.

The policy relates to licenses being issued for activities relating to animal welfare. These are issued for establishments which board animals, breed dogs and offer horse riding. They are also issued for keeping dangerous wild animals, for pet shops and zoos. Animals to be trained and used for exhibition must also be registered with the council.

Besides licensing 34 animal boarding premises, York licenses eight pet shops, four riding schools and one dog breeder. The sole licensed zoo is for Askham Bryan College’s educational purposes and the council has registration for eight animals which can be exhibited.
The council inspects premises along with vets, to ensure standards are met.

Freedom of Information and the City of York Council

A year or so ago, the then new York Council Chief Executive promised a fresh approach to the amount of information on Public Services made available to York residents. Questions would be answered without the need to submit formal Freedom of Information requests to the Council. It would be unnecessary to refer many issues for determination by the Information Commissioners Office (ICO)

So how have things turned out.

The Council legally must respond to FOI requests within 20 working days

Many – but by no means all – requests for information are submitted via the “  What do they know” website https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/body/city_of_york_council

There is a mixed picture on response times

Responses to FOIs are (eventually) published on the Councils web site. https://www.york.gov.uk/info/20219/freedom_of_information/1535/freedom_of_information_responses But it can be a laborious business trailing through the list to find information.

Several recent responses do give reason for concern.

  • As long ago as last May 2017, a request for information about the number of public service reports registered by Councillors, was turned down. The Council claimed that this might influence voting intentions in last year’s General Election. The information was provided after the election had taken place (i.e. outside the so called “purdah” period). However, the grounds for rejecting the request were spurious and were referred to the Information Commissioners Office. The ICO said they were then powerless to intervene and declined to issue guidance to Local Authorities about how FOI requests could be reconciled with the Local Government Act 1986.  That failure is now being investigated by the Parliamentary Commissioner.
  • Vacant garage problem

    In January 2018 a request was submitted asking how many vacant Council owned garages there were in the City. It would take two months to get a partial response. Failure to advertise vacant garages for rent has lost the Council a significant amount of revenue in recent years.

  • On 11th February the Council were asked to provide a list of Business Rate debtors in the City. This information has previously been published routinely in committee reports. The Council promptly turned down the request quoting “purdah” grounds (because a council by election was taking place in the Holgate ward four days later). The grounds for refusing that request have been referred to the ICO as it is unclear why the publication of, what could only have been a factual list, could possibly have favoured the chances of an election candidate (even if the Council had managed to respond in three days to the request).
  • The Council do publish some information about Coppergate fine levels. Numbers are much higher than was expected

    More worrying is the failure to respond to a request made on 5th January 2018 regarding the profile of those fined for flouting the access restrictions on Coppergate. The Council does publish the actual number of offenders but has, in addition, been asked to indicate whether the drivers concerned are local or visitors (from the postcodes of the fine notifications). This type of information was provided – albeit reluctantly – by the Council in 2014 when the original ANPR traffic camera scandal first peaked. Responses from the FOI staff suggest that the complainant should refer the issue to the ICO!

  • On 9th March 2018 a request was made for information about the number of reports received by the Council about “damp” houses. No response has been received.

So, far from things getting better, the York Council has failed to even answer relatively simple enquiries on time.

Added to the highly selective nature of the stats quoted in many committee reports, it is difficult not to conclude that the Authority has something to hide and that it will do its utmost to frustrate those who seek transparency.

Some choice for York – “Wild Bunch” or “Trotsky’s chums”?

It looks like the coalition, that has run the Council for the last 3 years, will be coming to an end.

The faction that plunged daggers into the back of the last Tory Leader are now re-sharpening their blades. They hope to cut into core public service standards in the City. Four right wingers, emboldened by national changes in the Tory party, are demanding low (or zero) Council Tax increases funded by a widespread close down of public services like libraries. They are disparagingly referred to by other, more moderate, Tories as the “Wild Bunch”.

On the other side of the Council, new Labour Councillors lack experience and historical perspective. They embrace a high tax, high borrowing philosophy. They cite “austerity” as the cause of all evils without actually explaining how any alternative would be funded (or even allowed by central government). Despite adopting locally the Corbynite tactic of never quite explaining their policies (e.g. Europe, single market, tax etc), the Labour group is clearly now far to the left of anything seen in the City during the last 60 years. Many experienced, moderate Labour representatives have quit, or are likely to face the “Momentum” ice pick, before the May 2019 Council elections.

So should the LibDems seek to reach an administration agreement with either of these Groups?

The answer is probably “yes”.

The City faces a difficult year.   It is a time when Councillors, from all sides, should put York first. That inevitably means compromise and ideally seeking a broad consensus on dealing with issues.

The Council can now choose to revert to the committee system which was used to run the City until 1995. Councillors from all parties (and none) would be more directly involved in the decision making processes

Council officials – some of whom must bear some of the blame for the current crisis – will need to burn the midnight oil if an alternative constitutional model is to be made available in time for the Council’s annual meeting, which is scheduled to take place on 24th May.

They will not start with a blank sheet of paper.

There are many other Local Authorities who now operate using the committee model. These include the Nottinghamshire County Council (Tory/Ind majority), Kingston (Conservative), Sutton (LibDem), South Gloucestershire (Conservative), Brighton and Hove (Green when Committee system adopted, now NOC), Newark and Sherwood (Conservative), Barnet (Conservative), Norfolk (Conservative, NOC when Committee system adopted) & Reading (Labour)

Numerous smaller authorities never changed to the “Cabinet/Leader” governance model.

Some councils have chosen to create versions of the Leader/Cabinet system (which means that they do not require a formal change under the Act) that include aspects of the committee system.

The most common arrangement is to set up non-decision making group of councillors, usually corresponding to cabinet portfolios, which examine papers and make recommendations about how decisions should be made. This system worked in a balanced Council in York between 2007 and 2010 (Labour then decided that they would not participate) The decisions are subsequently made at meetings of the cabinet or by individual cabinet members, and may well follow the recommendations of the ‘committees’ although they are not legally required to do so.

Either way, it is time to put personal and party ambitions to one side and do what is best for the City.