Fresh light shed on York’s mysterious QUANGOs

Some of the affairs of York’s taxpayer funded but independently managed organisation are to be subject to public review next week. The Councils first comprehensive “Shareholder” committee meeting is to look at the results being obtained by several organisations.

These include

  • Make it York (The tourism and marketing body)
  • Veritau Ltd – An audit body
  • City of York Trading – A recruitment and temporary staff agency
  • Yorwaste/SJB Recycling (Process local waste and refuse)

In the past these bodies have been subject to intermittent “light” scrutiny with many background details contained in “confidential” annexes. Several private annexes are still being reported to next Tuesday’s meeting but fewer than in the past

The meeting is being chaired by Cllr Nigel Ayre who was also responsible for bringing into the public domain reports on the Councils major contracts letting processes.

Make it York (MIY) plans to appoint a new post of “Head of Commercial and Revenue Generation” at a basic salary of £60,000 a year. Performance bonuses could bring the remuneration up to £80.000 pa. MIY failed to recruit to the post at a lower salary earlier in the year. The post has the objective of increasing MIY’s revenues over time such that the company can, in the first instance, become self-funding (relieving the council of its ongoing financial contribution to the business) and, beyond that, increasing the sums available to reinvest in the city.

It is unclear how potential conflicts between commercial targets and York’s traditional values will be reconciled. There have been too many disputes between local traders, visitors and residents in the past few years.

Separately MIY reports an expected £248,063 loss in the year. This is 6304 above budget expectations. Increased overheads are blamed together with poor merchandise sales in the tourist centre.  The organisations new Chair Greg Dyke is due to take over the role in January.

The report touches on the Christmas Market and ongoing difficulties with access for traders (see below).

Veritau Ltd, a company jointly owned by North Yorkshire County Council and the City of York Council, wants to expand. It hopes in future to provide audit services for several additional Council and other public bodies.

City of York Trading Ltd (trading principally as WorkwithYork and WorkwithSchools) was formed in 2011 with the intention of supplying temporary staff to CYC, to schools (in and around the York area) and to other outside organisations. Through City of York Trading Ltd, the reductions in cost to CYC and the return of the profit achieved are designed to assist CYC’s financial position. If CYC had to source staff in the open market, the cost would be substantially higher than current rates paid to the Company.

Unfortunately the reports from this organisation continue to be largely opaque. The shareholder committee is being asked to approve a business plan which is enclosed in a confidential annex. Similarly, the committee is being asked to endorse the appointment of a n additional company director but without the name of the candidate being revealed.

The net cost/return to the Council of this body is not revealed.

Yorwaste/SJB Recycling. The York Council owns 23% of this company. Yorwaste operates Waste Transfer Stations (WTS), Materials Recycling Facilities (MRF), Green Waste Composting, and HWRCs for both NYCC and CYC. It also manages the closed landfill aftercare obligations at several sites including Harewood Landfill (which closed to general waste in March of this year). SJB currently operates three sites (based at Yorkshire Water waste plants) providing green waste composting services to local authorities.

The company is forecasting a loss of over £300,000 on the year. The company blames the impact of a facility closure (Seamer); external commodity prices; and two waste fires for the downturn in its fortunes.

SJB is forecasting a reduced level of profit (£159,000). With 2 of its three operational sites closing it is heavily dependent on achieving a new contract before the end of the year.

York Trading Ltd

City of York Trading Ltd is a trading company owned by the City of York Council. It was established in 2011 to provide “a vehicle for the trading of a range of services to both the public and the private sector”

In effect it used surplus labour at the council to fill temporary vacancies.

The company has a Conservative Councillor as its Chair. There is also a Labour Councillor on its board.

The accounts filed at Company House reveal that the Company made a profit of £269,918 in the year ending March 2017.  A dividend of £75,000 was paid.

Following criticism about lack of transparency, the company published its board meeting minutes – without providing much financial information – regularly until March 2017. No meeting minutes have been published since then

In 2016 the Council’s Executive approved new governance arrangements for Council owned companies.

A “Shareholders Committee” would meet to look after taxpayer’s interests.

In March 2017 the Shareholders committee agreed to adopt “a pattern of meetings allowing a presentation from each company to be considered twice a year”.

According to the Councils web site it has held no further meetings since then.

So how well is City of York Trading doing?

In September 2017, York Trading received £166,816 from the York Council. They had supplied admin workers, care workers, child support workers, community workers & life guards.

By far the largest sum though was paid to them for the supply of social workers and senior social workers.

According to the Councils open data web site York Trading services haven’t been paid by the Council since then.

York Council still in a muddle over local QUANGOs

The York Council’s Executive is to consider its relationship with agent bodies and companies tomorrow.Quango list

The move comes in the wake of criticism of several bodies not least York City Trading where audits revealed that inappropriate payments had been made.  Other problems arose in relations with the York Museums Trust over charging arrangements and Make it York where apparently unilateral decisions angered residents

The organisations concerned depend on Council taxpayers for a lot of their income

One common criticism was a lack of transparency shown by the organisations (they are not subject to Freedom of Information legislation).

Concerns were also expressed that performance indicators – where published – were inappropriate or “soft”.

Campaign against secrecy started 5 years ago

Campaign against secrecy started 5 years ago

The expectation was the new Council would shake up the bodies and inject more democratic accountability.

Instead a disappointing report concentrates only on governance issues. Steps are being taken to separate executive and customer functions but little else. We will still have a bureaucratic muddle with little consistency and no new commitment to openness.

If approved without change, the Council will stand accused of ignoring many of the concerns expressed by taxpayers over the last five of years.

Important decisions affecting the City will continue to be taken “Behind Closed Doors”

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.

Auditors lifting veil on City of York Council

Problems revealed with project management and registering interests

Although the now notorious audit report on irregular staff payments is not on the agenda for the York Councils next Audit committee meeting, several other issues are.

click to view

click to view

The Councils auditors (Mazers) annual report does conclude that group accounts for “City of York Trading” and “Make it York” are not required.  The publication of separate accounts would make it easier for taxpayers to understand the level of any cross subsidy enjoyed by these organisations.

The Auditors do say, “In all entities, management at various levels is in a unique position to perpetrate fraud because of the ability to manipulate accounting records and prepare fraudulent financial statements by overriding controls that otherwise appear to be operating effectively. Due to the unpredictable way in which such override could occur, we consider there to be a risk of material misstatement due to fraud and thus a significant risk on all audits”.

They go on to conclude, “There have been some high profile examples of problems with project delivery, such as the housing for older people procurement and more recently with the community stadium project. This has been the first year of operation of the Better Care Fund, which requires the Council to work with the local CCG and the wider health economy to reduce demand for acute healthcare. Any failures in these areas could compound the Council’s financial and operational difficulties and impact adversely on services provided”.

The Auditors are understood to be looking carefully at failings in the management of the Community Stadium project and the collapse of the older persons accommodation strategy (both of which date from the time of the Labour administration in the City)

The background papers published yesterday list some individual areas which are being audited.Audit report April 2016

These include Project Management, Register of Interests and s117 of the Mental Health Act.  Draft reports on these issues reveal only “limited assurance” – meaning there are significant issues to be addressed. The reports are in draft form only and are being review internally at this stage. All are potential matters of public interest (S117 of the Mental Health Act requires authorities to provide community support for people leaving hospital).

Reports already issued reveal that several departments have not agreed performance standards with the Councils reception (business support) unit.  Two years seems a long time to wait for the Council to publish target times (and performance) for dealing with issues raises electronically. Recently reports of fly tipping took nearly two weeks to be passed on to the team responsible for actually tidying up some dumping.

Similarly, the auditors did find some sensitive information in offices when they did a security sweep.

Most of the Audit reports – and particularly those of schools – have however found procedures to be generally satisfactory

Mazars are charging the Council £138,000 for their work.

NB. The Councils Executive has so far failed to clarify what issues will be discussed at its 24th April meeting when the Public Interest Report on irregular staff payments is on the agenda.

Lendal Bridge scandal tails off. Officials repay irregular payments. Gloom on Stadium risks

Lendal Bridge and Coppergate repayment process to end

Lendal bridge noticeThe deadline for applying for a refund in relation to receiving a Penalty Charge Notice (PCN) during the Lendal Bridge trial traffic regulation and the Coppergate traffic regulation enforcement by automatic number plate recognition will come to an end on midnight 31 March 2016.

City of York Council wrote to all 27,000 people in February last year, who at the time had not currently claimed their PCN repayment, to notify them direct of the process. In addition a press release giving notice of the ending of the process was issued on 12 February 2016.

The decision to extend the repayment deadline to 31 March 2016 was agreed by the previous Cabinet, at a meeting held on 30 July 2015.

The council will publish the total cost of the Lendal Bridge and Coppergate settlement process after March 2016.

However it is expected that, when all expenditure is included, the reckless Lendal Bridge/Coppergate trial will have cost over £3 million in abortive payments.

To apply for a refund, or to find out more information about the repayment process, search ‘Lendal Bridge’ or ‘Coppergate’ at: Please note that the application process will not be available after 31 March.

The council will assist anyone in person in the council’s West Offices or over the phone (01904 551550) to help them through the process if they have no access to the internet and apply before 31 March.

Meanwhile the future of camera enforcement, of access restrictions on Coppergate, remains unclear

Officials to repay £9000

City of York trading hompageThe Council was told yesterday that officials had agreed to replay salary bonuses that were subject to an unfavourable Audit report.

Unfortunately the Council did nothing which might restore public confidence in its processes and governance structures.

Accountability meetings continue to be held in private.

Community Stadium

The Council has agreed a £14 million taxpayers subsidy for the Community Stadium Project. The money will be borrowed. In effect, the taxpayer will have to find £1 million a year in debt charges to prop up a project which in 2011 would have cost the public purse nothing. The Council will have to find the interest payments by cutting further into basic public services standards.

Community Stadium Nov 2014The project remains very risky.

Despite professional advice that the City has sufficient public swimming pools, a new one is being incorporated into the scheme. The sports centre operators – having lost their core customer base – face an uphill struggle to establish a new facility in a crowded market place.  It they fail to do so, then the whole project would collapse.

The Council is also underwriting the lease on part of the commercial development. Another risk for taxpayers.

There are some good features. The – unsubsidised – provision of an IMAX cinema will be a first for the City and a welcome addition to the leisure options available to residents.

But it remains unclear how the football and rugby clubs will exploit their new home to maximise non match-day revenue. The only figures released suggest that they will pay relatively low rent levels, but the clubs will need more opportunities than that to be successful.

So, all in all, a deeply flawed business plan – dumped  on an unsuspecting population in 2012 – lurches forward to an expected 2019 completion.

The opportunity – available last May – to stand back and adopt a more cautious approach was lost.

Most taxpayers will be watching progress from now on with deep concern.

Strong project management will be needed if there is to be an end product the City can afford.



City of York Trading

secret-meeting-safe-picWe revealed last September that secret payments had been made to various Directors at the City of York Trading company.

This is the Council owned company which “sells” surplus resources mainly to Council Departments and schools.  It was an invention of the last Labour administration and replaced an internal system where, potentially redundant, surplus staff were used to back-fill vacancies.

The Council tonight will consider tonight an auditor’s report into discrepancies with the payments.

Effectively the report simply confirms what most residents had worked out. That, by 2014, the governance systems of the York Council had broken down.

No officer or Councillor has accepted responsibility for the irregularities which seem to have arisen over a misjudged attempt by the Council Leadership to buy the loyalty of senior officials.

The new regime – elected last May – was very slow to recognise the inadequacies of its relationships with its QUANGO partners. It even made the mistake of endorsing a new one (Made in York) without setting up adequate performance monitoring arrangements.

Now the agenda for a York City Trading shareholders meeting has been published.

Unfortunately all the information reports are marked as “confidential” and are not available to taxpayers

So it seems little has changed!

Council promises more transparency in Quango monitor as….

….Council officials trouser £9000 in Directors fees from “City of York Trading”

secret-meeting-safe-picThe York Council has said that its “Shareholder Group”, set up to monitor the performance of the new “Make it York” (MIY) Quango, will in future meet in public. The decision follows criticism of the Council for failing to establish, and publish, performance measures covering the whole of the new organisations remit.

Noticeably absent are any measures for City centre management and markets activities.

The Shareholder Group met in private on 6th July. No minutes of the meeting have yet been published. Following a Freedom of Information request, background information has been published but it is unlikely that any taxpayer would easily find it on the Councils web site (Click here)

There is no evidence that the five Councillors involved in the shareholders group have challenged MIYs controversial plans to demolish the fountain in Parliament Street or to re-site the popular children’s Christmas Carousel ride.

The next meeting of the group will apparently take place on 5th October. However the group does not yet even appear in the list of committees published by the Council.

All in all, it is time for senior Councillors to get a grip of the processes being used to ensure that the £918,000 of taxpayer’s money – handed to MIY – is being spent wisely and following proper consultation with residents.

City of York Trading (CYT)

Following the decision of the Councils Executive to ask for more information about City of York Trading it has emerged that two Council officials have been paid £9000 in connection with their Directorships of the Company. The Company is wholly owned by the York Council and mainly matches surplus resources to vacancies in the public sector.

The information emerged in response to a Freedom of Information request.

Directors at the York Council have a salary of around £100,000 a year while Assistant Directors receive about £75,000.

It is unclear who authorised the additional payments, when and for what reason?

One of the more controversial aspects of the revised constitution for CYT (and MIY) were proposals to remunerate Directors. It had been assumed that this would not apply to Council officials or Councillors, but this may not be the intention.

No declarations of interest were made in the papers prepared for the Executive meeting on 27th August.

Recently, Councillors in York have been more open in declaring their financial interests and the hospitality they have accepted. Current listings confirm that none have received remuneration from local Quangos like those that now run our libraries, theatre and museums..

Proper declarations have also been made for outside bodies such as the LGA and Yorwaste on which the Council has a shareholder interest, although there is currently no requirement to reveal the level of any remuneration received.