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. 

Quandary for programme organisers at York Rose Theatre

Yesterdays York Council meeting has piled pressure on the Artistic Director, of York’s soon to be unveiled Rose Theatre, to change the published cycle of Shakespearean plays.

A virtuoso audition at last nights York Council meeting, by former Tory Council Leader David Carr, could see Julius Caesar added to the theatre bill.

Caesar famously abolished the democratic traditions of Rome’s senate before declaring himself  “Dictator”. Many of Caesars opponents mysteriously disappeared in the process.

It was left to Brutus and other conspirators to end the regime when they stabbed Caesar in the back (and front, and pretty much everywhere else).

Carr is likely to be at a loose end this summer as he has quit the Tory party so may be persuaded to take on the lead role. Who would take the role of Brutus is still to be revealed. Conservative members will be forming an orderly queue.

In the meantime it is to be hoped that York Councillors will quickly get together to agree a new management arrangement. There have been 5 Council Leaders during the last 4 years with another getting within 2 minutes of appointment last night before the daggers were drawn again.

LibDem Councillor Andrew Waller, who was also the York Council Leader between 2008 and 2011, will be the acting Leader for the next week or so.

By now Councillors should have worked out that a more inclusive way of doing business is required in a balanced  authority were no party holds more than 28% of the seats.

It is probably too late to reintroduce the “committee system” before next years all out elections.

However, an agreement to form an all party Executive, to guide the City through what is likely to be a difficult year, could be the best way forward.

But that would require all Groups to behave in a constructive way and for the “gladius” to be sheathed for a while at least


Police confirm “nothing to investigate” decision on suspended Councillors

Cllrs Aspden and Carr

It will come as no surprise to most residents that the Police have decided that there is no case to answer following an allegation made by Council Leader Carr regarding the conduct of two Executive councillors (Aspden and Ayre).

He arbitrarily suspended them from their offices in September. The power he used was designed to give elected Leaders an opportunity to change Cabinet placements but – when a coalition existed – needed to be exercised with caution, tact and agreement.

His action was none of these.

His public claim that the allegations against the two Councillors were “serious” was highly prejudicial (and likely in most residents eyes to be viewed as untrue)

The Police decision will hopefully bring Cllr Carr’s resignation forward by a few weeks. A fresh start could then be made in time for the important budget Council meeting on 22nd February.

The Councils Standards Committee could now decide to extend the period of uncertainty which has descended on West Offices.

They already have had had the opportunity to consider a report produced by, what officials at the time claimed to be, an independent third party, into allegations linked to the leaking of “confidential”  information to residents. This, in turn, arose from a further confidential report into “contract” issues.

But the Standards Committee failed to use the autumn profitably to test the issues raised. Several members of that committee themselves have also issued public statements which could be regarded as prejudicial to the fair and impartial assessment of any allegations.

The water is further muddied by another report which the Council Leader has been pressurised to make public. It also referred to the actions of Councillors and officials at a stormy Audit committee meeting earlier in the year.

The Councils Chief Executive has been indecisive and  ineffectual in dealing with the issue. There is no obvious way forward.

However, what is clear is that there needs to be more transparency in the Council with all reports routinely published unless there are real, pressing and justifiable reasons not to do so.  





York Council to let new £1.3 million broadband network contract

 The Council has issued a media release which is relevant to the cable laying operations currently taking place in the west of the City.

It  claims“Plans to help York stay the most digitally connected city in the UK will be considered by senior councillors at next Thursday’s (7 December) Executive meeting.

The council is proposing to renew the ICT service contract which over the last decade has put York ahead of the rest of the country.

Through installing a future-proof fibre network, the contract has driven improvements to council services, including online reporting, CCTV and traffic management, and connecting the city’s schools, universities and community buildings to high-speed internet access”.

In reality, of course, “on line” reporting systems for the general public are far behind those of comparable Councils while the advanced parking availability sign data stopped being displayed several years ago.

The new contract is expected to be worth in excess of £1.3 million per annum.

The statement goes on to say, “The council’s bold steps and commitment to digital infrastructure has created the platform for multi-millions pound private sector investment which has:

  • provided free wi-fi in the city-centre and park and ride service
  • provided ultra-fast broadband, with speeds between 250 Megabites and 1 Gigabit per second, to over 20,000 York homes and businesses – with over 70% of the city to be covered by 2019
  • attracted businesses to York and given local businesses a competitive advantage
  • helped secure funding to trial the technology of the future, including digital pothole scanning and a traffic system which ‘talks’ to cars across our road network

The existing contract runs out in August 2018. If the Executive approves the proposals, the council will seek a technology provider for the contract that includes design, management and support of the council’s data network services, internet, office and mobile telephone services, as well as the council’s e-security protection services”.


The report also proposes including Harrogate Borough Council within the same contract.


Gremlins breeding in Council IT department?

It is not only the Council planning portal that is suffering problems.

The much vaunted – but never quite delivering – “do it online” reporting system has broken down again.

As we reported earlier in the year, anyone trying to report issues such as full litter bins will find it difficult to upload a photo of the problem. The Council actually encourages residents to provide an image of the issue being reported (to provide clarity on location and timing).

The Council site currently rejects most images offered. In turn this prevents the issue being uploaded to the Council’s Customer Relationship Management system. It is a repetition of a problem which existed when the system was first launched (and which seemed to have been fixed about a year ago)

Officials at the Council promised a fix several weeks ago but the system is still not working. Litter bin locations are, however, now shown on the site but the image upload problem persists.

Quite why the  Council simply didn’t purchase “off the shelf” the well tried Fix my Street system when they had the chance five years ago remains a mystery.

“On line” reporting is by far the cheapest channel of communication with the Council. It is quicker and avoids unnecessary manual intervention. It should be the preferred method of contact for routine problems. 

The Council pointedly refuses to publish performance statistics on the time taken to deal with issues reported via Email to the Customer Centre (the obvious 24/7 alternative to “on line” reporting) . These are thought to be in excess of 3 days. That is simply not good enough if the alternative “on line” systems are faulty.

Rumours persist that the Councils reporting system, which was developed “in house”, has been subject to an ongoing intellectual property rights wrangle.This continues to hinder its development and roll out.


Planning applications – Gremlins on Council planning portal

It looks like last weekends update of the Council “planning portal” has gone badly wrong. The site should list all planning applications received (validated) by the Council during the preceding week.

Since the weekend (when the site was down for “maintenance”) the applications for the weeks commencing 13th and 20th November have disappeared. Some have reappeared on the current weeks list (27th Nov).

Taking the Westfield Ward as an example the site suggests that no applications have been “validated” since 7th November.

The issue is important because residents wishing to object (or support) particular planning applications have only a limited time to record their views. That time is being eroded.

The matter has been raised with senior Councillors and officials at the Council but the Authority has yet to make a statement about what has gone wrong and what is being done to remedy the failure.


More to be banned from becoming Councillors in York?

York’s Standards Committee, which monitors Councillors behaviour, is being asked to support government moves to extend the range of offences which preclude people from standing for election.

There are already a wide range of exclusions including anyone having been convicted of a criminal offence, with at least a 3-month prison penalty, during the previous 5 years. Other disqualifications prevent some Council officials, teachers and bankrupts from seeking election.

The Government now considers that anyone who is subject to sex offender notification requirements, commonly referred to as ‘being on the sex offenders register’, should be barred from standing for election. Residents may have some sympathy with that view.

The government goes further and proposes to exclude anyone who is subject to some anti-social behaviour orders i.e. Civil Injunction or a Criminal Behaviour Order.

However, anyone subject to a dispersal, community protection, public spaces protect, or closure order will be able to seek election. We think there is a case for requiring anyone in this category to reveal the fact in any literature they may distribute when seeking election.

We do not, however, expect to see a mass exodus of “Yoof” in the general direction of the local polling booth.

More serious, though, is the way that in which the Standards Committee is failing its own Council members. Two have been under suspicion of wrongdoing now for three months. They have been (very publicly) sacked from paid jobs on the Executive and have been given no indication when they will have the opportunity to hear any evidence which may be available against them, much less have they had any opportunity to respond.

That simply isn’t good enough.

If the police had any evidence of wrongdoing they would have acted by now.

It is for the Councils own committees to bring the matter to a swift conclusion.

The committee may also wish to look at whether the individual circumstances of other Councillors may have changed since they qualified to stand at the last election.

Essentially Councillors need to have their principal place of residence or work in the Council area and/or own property in the area.

Judging by the councils web site, no fewer than 12 of the 47 Councillors give only “West Offices” as their contact address. All will have had to declare their home address on their nomination forms before being elected, so why the rush for secrecy now?

Gone it seems are the days when a taxpayer could pop a note about an issue through the letterbox of their local representative.

In fairness all the Conservative, Green and Independent Councillors publish their home addresses. All but one of the LibDems also do the same.

Quite why 2/3 of Labour Councillors seem to have gone into hiding is unclear

NB One Conservative Councillor has been offering their home for sale for some months now. Whether this is to allow them to move closer to the ward that they represent hasn’t been revealed. Alternatively they may have moved away from the City.

One Labour Councillor gives neither his home address or a contact Email address on the Council web site!

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.