Risks, delays & cost increases as York Council struggles to manage its commercial portfolio

York Guildhall

Yesterday’s announcement that more than £15 million of infrastructure schemes had been secured in North Yorkshire over the next 18 months – with £300,000 of funding going towards the York Guildhall offices project – will have been welcomed by many.

The money comes from the Government’s “Getting Building Fund” which “aims to boost economic recovery from Covid-19”.

According to a Council spokesman, the funding will now be used “for internal fit-out works” on the business club which will occupy much of the building.

That will come as a surprise to those who thought that the agreed £20.18 million budget included all costs.  Indeed, the option approved by the Council in February 2019, specifically identified £300,000 for “fixtures, fittings and furniture”.

Council report 2019. Option 1 was agreed

It seems that the only change is that this expenditure will now be funded from general taxation.

Even with this subsidy, and assuming that all offices and the on site restaurant, are all occupied, York Council taxpayers still face an annual bill of over £500,000.

An Executive meeting which took place last week was told in an update on the Guildhall project that “additional delays have meant that it is presently considered that these additional costs cannot be contained within the agreed contingency”.

The scale of the over expenditure was not revealed.

The Guildhall is not the only commercial portfolio project to come under scrutiny.

Some independent commentators are sceptical about the timing of the Councils £2.8 million acquisition of 25/27 Coney Street. Rent levels are now dropping and with them property valuations in some high streets. Coney Street is struggling more than most.

Meanwhile large numbers of Council owned properties remain empty and unused.

These include Ashbank (empty for 8 years), 29 Castlegate (3 years), Oakhaven (4 years) and Willow House (4 years 6 months).

Willow House stands abandoned with no sign of redevelopment work starting.

We now understand that Willow House – which was advertised for sale with Sanderson Weatherall – has been withdrawn from the market. The Council turned down a £3 million offer for the prime site shortly after it became available.

None of these properties are accommodating anyone.

All are incurring maintenance and security costs for taxpayers, while at the same time attracting no Business Rates or rent income.

At a time when local authorities are on their knees financially, poor resource management is  a matter of concern.

Vulnerable children and young people in York to receive laptops

3,000 Newcastle families to get free laptops and internet access ...

Over 450 children and young people across the city will have access to their own laptops this summer, as part of a national scheme to help vulnerable young people during the Coronavirus pandemic.

The laptops will be distributed by children’s social workers to children and young people they’re working with who don’t currently have internet access, as well as recent care leavers.

Several Councils been given laptops to distribute under a government programme covering children with a social worker, those who are leaving the care system, and Year 10 students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

It is understood that the move is aimed a ensuring that no child falls behind with their home work as a result of COVID restrictions.

The Council has yet to confirm that the equipment will remain the property of the local authority or what maintenance and insurance arrangements have been put in place.

Corona (COVID-19) update – effect on west York

The government has relaxed delivery restrictions on supermarkets. Click link. It means that deliveries can be made at any time of the day or night. Most local stores have their own delivery yards but neighbours of, for example, Morrisons on Green Lane may see lorries serving the store later at night.

Local residents associations have suggested that lists of local shops and takeaways who can deliver to these self isolating should be drawn up. They want to see a local neighbourhood coordinator appointed by the Council.

In the meantime they’re offering to publicise any local business that will accept remote orders (phone/email/online), pay electronically, and deliver to a doorstep. (Email Foxwoodra@btinternet.com)

Elsewhere community networks are getting established to deal with any escalation in the numbers confined to their own homes. The Leeds Council are, for example, taking steps to provide community support to safe and professional standards.  click

Volunteer groups like #ViralKindness are also springing up.

New Covid-19 (coronavirus) case in York

It is understood that this case came about as a result of travel to northern Italy.

The individual “followed all necessary health advice and has been in self-isolation at home” and the authorities say “here is a very low risk of the virus having been transferred to anyone in York”.

The Council expects that more confirmed cases in York over the next weeks and months as the virus spreads across the country.

“The council and our partners have well established plans in place and are working closely together to ensure that we are best placed to respond to local issues as they arise”.

No details of which neighbourhood the victim lives in have been released.