Council navel gazing

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The Executive takes decisions

It seems that the York Council intends to change the order that it considers items at its next meeting which is scheduled to take place on 17th December.

The Lord Mayor wants to reorder the agenda to allow four motions to be debated. There will be one from the each of the different political groups represented on the authority.

It seems though that this approach does not have the support of all the Group Leaders nor some Independents.

The truth of the matter is that such motions rarely lead to any real change to what happens on the streets of the City. Too often the topics for motions appear to reflect personal interests or offer an under-researched flash of kitchen table vision. Central government policies are often the butt of vitriol, but rarely do the policies that are criticised change as a result of what is said in the York Council chamber.

Too often the debates decline into to a series of grandstanding statements. There is little opportunity to find consensus.

 Currently the Councils, increasingly opaque and defensive, Executive takes the key policy decisions. A full Council meeting is a rare opportunity for back benchers to question and hold to account portfolio holders.

The option of submitting written questions, with written answers circulated if they were not reached in the time available, was jettisoned by the last administration. Now all observers hear are a series of garbled questions and opaque answers.

Now is seems that the time available to do even this will be squeezed.

Part of the solution is to agree an equitable division of time for each agenda item.

As long ago as the 1970s, Group Leaders used to meet with the Lord Mayor to agree how a meeting could be run efficiently and equitably.  

Perhaps it is time to reinstate that tradition?

NB. The York Council has published details of how its departments will be organised in future. The proposals come in the wake of the appointment of a new Chief Operating Officer.

Residents will hope that any new structure focusses on street level delivery and that the decline in some service standards can be reversed.

The real key though is to make the right appointments to key jobs.

If new personalities are appointed, then the Council can hope to get back to being a “can do” authority and would be well placed to make the most of any devolution deal which may become available

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York council meetings seek Salvation Army help

 Meetings of the city’s councillors will be held in the Citadel while the Guildhall receives a £12 million refit.

For the next two years the Council will meet at the former premises of the Salvation Army on Gillygate.

The Council says,”The Guildhall officially closes on 30 September to prepare for the construction works.

The Citadel, the former home of York’s Salvation Army now owned by York City Church, is a fully accessible city-centre venue and will continue to be open to the public for full council meetings.

The next full council meeting takes place on 26 October”.

Hopes are high in the City that the Salvation Army influence will improve quality of decision making by the Council. 


York Council to water down petitions action – “smile you’re on……”

The Council is being asked to abandon the right citizens currently have to hold highly paid officials to account.

A proposal to the “Audit Committee” says that senior officials should not in future have to attend a meeting to answers questions raised about their management responsibilities.

York residents petition

York residents petition

The existing petitions scheme (agreed in 2010) contains the following clause:

If your petition contains at least 500 signatures, you may ask for a senior council officer to give evidence at a public meeting about something for which the officer is responsible as part of their job. For example, your petition may ask a senior council officer to explain progress on an issue, or to explain the advice given to elected members to enable them to make a particular decision. The following senior staff can be called to account:
• Chief Executive
• Chief Finance Officer
• Monitoring Officer
• Directors of Service

A report, drafted by the Council’s monitoring officer, suggests abandoning this right.

Cabinet members also escape any requirement to explain their actions to taxpayers.

There are currently 5 live petitions running on the Councils web site.

The last Council meeting discussed a record number of petitions (7) submitted by residents and which had passed the 1000 signature threshold which guaranteed a discussion at a full Council meeting.. Most concerned the controversial aspects of Labour draft Local Plan.


The same meeting – which is taking place next Wednesday -is set to approve a “protocol” for web casting of Cabinet and Council meetings.

Sadly the report makes no reference to the costs of such a proposal nor does it indicate how many “viewers” the trial broadcasts have attracted (understood to be derisory)

Cabinet agenda WebCam

The key issue is whether a casual viewer would be able to follow what was actually taking place at a Council meeting. Even those sitting in the public gallery, with an agenda in front of them, some times struggle to work out what is going on.

The Council need to further develop the information that can be provided possibly using a split screen format. It is just possible that, if residents could see the relevant agenda item papers, together with the way that individual Councillors vote on each issue, more interest might be generated.

The trial web casting of “Cabinet” meetings has attracted very little interest. The meeting consist only of a dull procession of uninspired speeches from Labour Councillors. (It is a one party meeting).

A Council meeting offers more opportunity for debate on important issues but it will require much better organisation than has been evident on York Council governance issues over recent months.