Auditors slam York Council over contractor probe

Auditors have issued a critical report following complaints about how consultants were recruited during the term of the last Labour administration, which left office in May 2015..

The report will be discussed at a meeting taking place next week next week.

Officials involved in the scandal – and most of the Councillors that they reported to – are no longer with the Authority.

The audit report concerns how a consultant, who was employed in the public relations/culture activity area, was engaged.

The report concludes that there was no evidence of fraud but it says,

“Internal Audit undertook an investigation into the awarding of contracts to an external consultant. The investigation found that there was no evidence to show that written quotations had been received. A number of other breaches of the council’s Financial Regulations and Contract Procedures Rules were also identified including the absence of a signed contract, the failure to include the contract on the council’s contracts register, a payment in advance of the work being completed and inadequate contract monitoring”..

Part of the report is being withheld as it identifies the individuals involved in, what appears to amount to a case of maladministration 

Unfortunately the last Labour administration in York was mired in secrecy. Officials were given too much power and they seem to have exploited this to allocate work to their chums.

A copy of the external Auditors report can be found by clicking here

More recently there has been criticism of the present Council for allocating contracts for work on social care projects with little openness and even less regard for the rights of taxpayers 

The Council will be asked to consider what more can be done to prevent corruption in the future

Residents asked to nominate exceptional York Council staff

City of York Council is asking residents to nominate members of the authority’s workforce who they think are ‘very important people’ for its annual staff recognition awards scheme.

excellence_awardsThe authority is seeking nominations for the ‘CYC VIP – Celebrating Your Contribution’ awards to help highlight the dedication, diligence and enterprise of staff serving the city across a huge range of roles.

With one of the largest workforces in the city, the council’s annual awards aim to celebrate the work of teams and individuals who have shown exceptional care, commitment or creativity – and made a positive difference to someone’s day or even their lives.
(more…)

Strange case of the missing £18,000 report

Occasionally Freedom of Information (FOI) requests throw up some interesting answers.

That’s one of the reasons why we believe that the increasing numbers of QUANGOS in York should voluntarily accept and respond to FOI requests. After all, most depend heavily – some exclusively – on funding from taxpayers. The Council’s Executive had an opportunity, when discussing governance of these bodies yesterday, to increase transparency. Unfortunately it failed to take the necessary action.

The York Council should itself set an example in providing information in a candid and comprehensive way.TOR for Council central services report 2

One resident asked recently for a copy of a report commissioned by the Councils Chief Executive from PWC (Consultants). The objective of the exercise was  to improve the Council’s efficiency.

The consultancy cost taxpayers £18,000.

The Council claims that it has not kept a copy of the report (received just 12 months ago!)  and goes on to say that,

This work was commissioned by the then Chief Executive of the Council, who left the authority in July 2015. The interim Chief Executive who was in post from July 2015 determined that this particular work would not be taken forward and therefore no further discussion or action has taken place on this matter.

The Council says that it doesn’t know whether any Councillors saw the report.

This seems, on the face of it, to be a very cavalier approach to the use of taxpayers money.  

The Council’s Leadership, and incoming Chief Executive, should make sure that the report – even if unsuitable for implementation – is made publicly available.

 

 

 

York Council has paid out £8.2 million in redundancy costs since 2011

546 staff made redundant – 41 sign “compromise agreements”

A Freedom of Information response has revealed the costs of cutting staffing levels at the York Council.

FOI response Redundancies table 2

The figures don’t include teaching staff.

In total 546 have left the Council with average pay-outs of around £15,000 each. Over 80% of the redundancies were voluntary.

The figures reveal that the largest number of redundancies occurred in 2011/12 when 212 left the Council. This has fallen gradually each year to a figure of 66 during the last financial year.

A total of £8.2 million has been paid out of which £4,554,000 was the cost of statutory payments, £3,339,000 early retirement costs and £352,000 pay in lieu of notice.

Only three former staff were subsequently re-employed directly by the Council.

The authority says, though, that they don’t record whether any of their agency or contract staff have previously been employed by the Council.

Individual redundancy proposals are reported to a small group of Councillors who meet each week in a “behind closed doors” decision session.

The Council has specifically said in its response that it “has made no enhanced redundancy or pension payments”.

Compromise agreements

The Council has also confirmed that 41 “compromise” agreements have been signed with staff. Usually these involve some sort of compensatory pay.

A compromise agreement is a legally binding agreement made either during or following the termination of employment. It is recognised by statute and is the only way an employee can validly “contract out” of their employment law rights. It usually provides for a severance payment, in return for which former employees agree not to pursue any claim or grievance to an Employment Tribunal.

A leading law firm says that the major reasons for using the compromise agreement (other than to settle an existing claim) are to “remove an employee on the grounds of poor performance or misconduct, to avoid legal challenge in redundancy situations and to make it easier to remove senior staff without embarrassment”.

The Council has so far failed to explain what the reasons were for the compromise agreements that it has been party too.

While such agreements usually involve a confidentiality clause, there is no reason why the main reasons for the high level of use of the system in York cannot be made public.

We’ll press the Council to provide taxpayers with more information about this policy.

Record number of disabled people in York get grants to adapt property

163 people qualified for disabled facilities grants in York last year.

This is the largest number ever recorded.

On average the cost of adaptations was £5,315.

People with disabilities can get a grant of up to £30,00 from the Council..

The types of work that can be undertaken include:

  • widen doors and install ramps
  • improve access to rooms and facilities – e.g. stair lifts or a downstairs bathroom
  • provide a heating system suitable for your needs
  • adapt heating or lighting controls to make them easier to use

Applications are means tested so some applicants are required to pay for part of the costs. Applicants are required to continue living in the adapted property for at least 5 years.

The total bill for adaptations came to over £1 million last year. However, this is much less than the equivalent cost of institutional care. The modifications allow residents to remain in their own homes even after suffering a decline in health.

The York Council also improved the speed with which it dealt with applications and the time taken to make grants.

More details for applicants can be found by clicking here

Disabled Facilities Grants

Disabled Facilities Grants – Response to FOI request

New Chief Executive for York

Mary Weastell, who is currently the Chief Executive at Selby District Council and an Assistant Chief Executive at North Yorkshire County Council, has been appointed as the City of York Council’s new Chief Executive

coat of arms YorkWe hope that she will have more success than some other recent appointees. Being relatively local should help.

Rather worryingly she has tred a familiar career path, with the Bradford Council figuring high on her CV,

Her “linked in” profile reveals that she did work in the York Council for 4 months under the Alexander regime and claims some “credit” for organisational change (which saw a virtual collapse in electronic customer service interfaces not to mention performance measures which simply disappeared from view for 4 years!). Putting that right would be a good start.

Her most urgent task though will be to re-establish the authorities reputation as a transparent organisation committed to delivering good quality street level services

  • Strategic Director (secondment from Bradford) City of York Council July 2013 – October 2013 (4 months)  Leading a Business Review and Change Programme and building the design and delivery models for customer services, commissioning and procurement, business support and policy and performance

We wish her well in tackling what will be a major step up from the activities of the much smaller Selby Council.

Current York Council consultations

Licensing variations

DrunksA consultation on a proposed review of City of York Council’s Statement of Licensing Policy has opened.

At the Licensing Committee meeting on 25 April, it was agreed to pursue North Yorkshire Police’s request to amend the local authority’s current policy. Published in 2014, it includes a ‘Special Policy’ which relates to applications for the variation of a premises licence or club premises certificates.

The police believe these variations to licensed hours or style of operation can have as much impact locally as granting a new license. To give these variations greater weight and to reflect that they can significantly change the nature of the original license conditions, the force has requested that the policy’s ‘Effects of the Special Policy’ section is changed.

This section of the policy currently reads:
5. “Application for the variation of a premises licence or club premises certificate due to a change of style of operation:

Any application for the variation of style of operation which is subject to relevant representations will be considered on its own merits having regard to the promotion of the licensing objectives

6. Application for the variation of a premises licence or club premises certificate resulting in an extension of the premises and increased capacity:

There will be a presumption to refuse such applications, where relevant representation are received and where the increase in capacity would undermine the licensing objectives unless the applicant can rebut the presumption that the granting of such a variation would undermine the licensing objectives.

7. Application to vary the hours of operation attached to a premises licence or club premises certificate:

All applications that seek to extend the licensed hours will be considered on an individual basis. No different policy will apply in this area as opposed to the rest of the city.”

The a new form of words proposed is:

5.  “The following variations are considered to be material:

• change in style of operation

• physical extension of the premises that increases capacity

• extension of hour of operation

and therefore, there will be a presumption to refuse such applications, where relevant representations are received [deleted and] unless the applicant can rebut the presumption that the granting of such a variation would undermine the licensing objectives.”

Views can be sent by email to: licensing.unit@york.gov.uk or posted to Licensing Section, City of York Council, Eco Depot, Hazel Court, York YO10 3DS.

Other current Council consultations
(more…)

York Council behind barricades over Quango critics

More reports are being published as the fall out, from the irregular payments to York officials audit report, continues.censored

The matter is up for discussion again at the next Council Executive meeting.

The Council’s constitution is being amended to permit speakers at Council meetings to criticise officials (but not to mount personal attacks on them).

However, no explanation of the delays in uploading a full version of the video of the last Council meeting have been offered. Instead the Chief Executive – in consultation with a gang of four Group Leaders – will head a new censorship committee. 

Further refinements in governance arrangements are promised next month amidst ominous warnings that more arms length Council companies may be in the pipeline.

No improvements in transparency are offered.

The officials identified in the Audit report have agreed to repay in full the amounts they received as Directors of City of York Trading. The auditors have confirmed that no retrospective approval of the payments is therefore required.

York Council indecision on new Chief Executive?

IndecisionYork seems likely to be without a permanent replacement for its Chief Executive for at least another 6 months.

Papers published for a meeting taking place on 1st February reveal that a review of the Council’s management structure, commissioned last June, has apparently still not been concluded.

The report blames ongoing financial pressures for the delays, although the Chief Executives post  has been filled on a temporary basis (at full salary) for over 6 months.

It now appears that the report on a new structure may now be available in March. A £150,000 a year saving on salary costs is being achieved from 1st April by deleting a post dealing with “transformation and change”

Staff working in the Chief Executives Department are being transferred to other management groups suggesting that the Council may be thinking of abolishing the role of Chief Executive altogether.  

The Council will, however, now move to appoint a permanent Director of Public Health on a salary of around £100,000. 

The Council will also make a permanent appointment to the post of “City and Environmental Services”. Essentially this is the role formerly held by Bill Woolley who retired over three years ago. It is responsible for planning and transport policy.  The post will also attract a pay level of around £100,000 pa. The Council says that to minimise recruitment costs this post will be “advertised externally on City of York Council Jobs Website and promoted through the Council social media channels”.  Minimal advertising of vacancies is usually a tactic that a Council adopts when it has “someone in mind” for the post.

Recent events – including the Councils response to the flooding crisis – suggest that there is a lack of effective leadership in the authority.  Taking over 12 months to find a permanent appointment for the post which is responsible for driving the administrative side of the Council is, at best, complacent and at worst negligent.

The York Council is now desperately short of experienced management capacity.

Councillors need to act quickly and decisively to fill the void.