Call for clarity on public service standards from York Council

Perhaps not surprisingly, the change in political control of the York Councils affairs has produced an hiatus in decision making. The published forward programme of decisions which need to be made is very thin (click to link)

They new Council Leadership is perhaps wise to be cautious and to avoid the impulsive decision making, in the wake of election euphoria, which has been the undoing of some previous administrations

However, over a month after the polls, residents are little wiser on who now has responsibility for overseeing the different aspects of Council policy and performance. All we have are vague – and seemingly controversial in some quarters – job titles.

The result is a lack of clarity with crucial street level public service standards under pressure. Surprisingly few of the new intake of Councillors have so far communicated direct with the people who elected them. A “thank you for your support” leaflet was de rigueur until recently.

As we reported yesterday, some haven’t even included a contact telephone number on their Council web page yet (click link) NB. Councillors are recompensed for telephone costs through the “basic allowance” that they receive.

Meanwhile there are issues across the whole City which should be resolved quickly. The Councils PR team should be tasked with informing residents what will happen, when and to what quality.

Paths obstructed by overgrown hedges
Grass not cut (Bishopgate Street)
Weeds blighting streets
Verges need cutting

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

Holgate by election – So there’s more to representing people than delivering leaflets?

Yes, making oneself accessible is important.

So how well do the present Holgate Labour councillors present themselves?

Many residents, wanting to contact their local Councillor, will turn to the Councils web pages.

Looking for the three Holgate Councillors, they may become confused. They all give their addresses as the Councils “West Offices”. So, if you want to drop a note through their letterbox, about a local issue, you will be disappointed.

Labour claim their new candidate – student leader Kallum Taylor – “lives in the Holgate Ward”. They pointedly fail to say where, or for how long he has been there. No doubt time will reveal all.

There has been no publicity about any Councillors surgeries or advice centres in Holgate, so we must assume that they are things of the past.

But perhaps representatives are so active, they anticipate issues and report them before they become problems for residents.

Well a good Councillor will indeed “walk the ward” each week and report issues to the Council.

We know how many issues each Councillor reported, in each of the first two years of the current York Council, following a response to a “Freedom of Information” request.

All the present Holgate Councillors appear to be less active than their counterparts elsewhere.

It seems that the number of issues raised by Councillors generally is reducing compared to 10 years ago when Councillors were, on average, highlighting over 200 issues per Councillor per year. This may be because standards are higher and therefore issues fewer? We doubt that.

So, what about attendance at Council Committees?

The Council publishes its own stats on meeting attendance records

Better news here, for one of the existing Holgate Councillors. Mary Cannon has a 100% attendance record at meetings. Unfortunately, she is let down by the other two Councillors who are well below the York Councillor average

So, its looks like the present Councillor team in Holgate are not as effective as they should be.

We’ll look later this week at how the by election candidates shape up. Hopefully there will be at least one local resident among them with an established  track record in working for the Holgate community.

We will see next week.  

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!

So this is what they didn’t want you to know before you voted in the election

http://CouncillorA couple of months ago we asked – under Freedom of Information rules – for an update on the activities of City of York Councillors.

The previous year the Council had published a  list indicating the number of issues registered for action by each Councillor.

As we reported in May, we were amazed when the Council refused to provide the update “because the information might influence the result of the election”.

At the time we said that the work-rate of elected representatives was one thing that electors might reasonably expect to know before casting their ballots although in this case no of the Councillros involved were seeking election.

Our request was turned done so we referred the issue to the Information Commissioners Office (IOC).

Now the updated list has been provided (in response to a  separate FOI request lodged after 8th June).

As an aid to transparency, we publish the information here (left).

It is for individual Councillors to explain to their electors how they do their jobs, so we will not comment on individuals.

However, there remains an important issue of transparency so we will seek a ruling from the ICO on whether the York Council was right to refuse the information request in the way that it did.

Legislation on, so called, “purdah” periods has hitherto been regarded as restricting local authorities from publishing biased information which might influence voting patterns.

In the past it has not applied to individual items of correspondence where only factual information was sought.

We will let you know when we have a response.

NB. The Council also publishes a list indicating the attendance record of Councillors at meetings. Click here. Some representatives are only managing to a 60% attendance record

Westfield Councillors taking action on weeds, drains and more

The Council has started its second application of weed killer. They seem to be fighting a losing battle in some areas. Many residents are now clearing areas near their homes

In the Front Street area local Councillor Sue Hunter has been helping tidy up the paved areas

Cllr Sue Hunter helps to clean up paving on the Front Street link road

Cllr Sue Hunter helps to clean up paving on the Front Street link road

Front Street link road clean up completed

Front Street link road clean up completed

Meanwhile, in Foxwood, Cllr Sheena Jackson has reported several gulleys where weeds are taking root.

Weeds growing quickly in may areas now

Weeds growing quickly in many areas now

Cllr Sheena Jackson supporting the Police security marking initiative at Foxwood shops earlier in the week

Cllr Sheena Jackson supporting the Police security marking initiative at Foxwood shops earlier in the week

Damaged and dumped recycling containers have been reported.

Dumped recyling boxes in Foxwood

Dumped recyling boxes in Foxwood

….and the bollard on Huntmans Walk has been damaged for the umpteenth time

Damaged bollard on Huntsman's Walk

Damaged bollard on Huntsman’s Walk

Cllr Andrew Waller is following up issues with the Council’s garden care scheme. The scheme is open to elderly and disabled people who are not able to care for their gardens themselves. It is running behind schedule this year.

Overgrown hedges in Lowfields. The Council's garden care scheme is behind schedule

Overgrown hedges in Lowfields. The Council’s garden care scheme is behind schedule

Andrew is also on the lookout for blocked drains. In the event of heavy rain these could be a source of flooding.

Gulley 3 Tudor Road

Blocked gulley in Tudor Road

Council parade tomorrow (Friday) – Congestion on Lendal Bridge expected.

click to enlarge

click to enlarge

Some Councillors are apparently “processing” from the Guildhall to the “new” Council offices at Toft Green on Friday (11:00am). Details of the road closures can be seen by clicking here.

Quite why it has taken 6 months for the Councillors to find their way to the new building is a mystery.

A simple ribbon cutting event by the Lord Mayor in March would have cost little and allowed people to get on with their work.

There have been repeated assurances by the Labour leadership that the Guildhall will remain at the democratic heart of the City. Those assurances appear to lack conviction now that Councillors have sampled the hi tech luxury of West Offices.

We will see.

Residents can, themselves, experience the delights of West Offices on Saturday.

Those arriving with their full wheelie bin will be given an escorted tour of the *hear no evil” call centre.

The Council web site says, “Saturday 21 September from 10am to 4pm West Offices will be opening up for free public tours of the building, with the aid of colourful characters from York’s past to illustrate its historic connections, demonstrations of the City of York Hologram tour app plus some musical entertainment from CANsing, the council employees choir”.