York Council unsure about way ahead. Call for moratorium on new expenditure

Post coronavirus strategy confirms major financial issues.

The Council has published a review of its response to the Coronavirus crisis. It will be discussed at a “virtual” Executive meeting next week.

 The review mostly looks backwards and therefore contains little that is new.

The report does, however, say, “Further work is needed to accurately assess the impact, then to identify and plan the city’s response. It should be noted that, based on the financial information in this report, and the expected increase in demand for services as we start to move out of lockdown, this work will involve reprioritising council budgets, focussing resource on where there are greatest challenges and providing a new strategic plan for the council to work to over the coming months. It is quite possible that there will be some previous priorities that can’t be delivered in the same way in the light of our new operating context.

 A Recovery Plan is being developed (aligning with regional recovery activity through the LRF) which will outline the risks and challenges of the emerging situation, with actions in response and opportunities based on lessons learned during the emergency response. Clearly, this plan will take into consideration and align with Government advice and national plans for recovery. It will be used to inform a review of the existing Council Plan in order to produce an Operational Recovery Plan to guide the council over the next 6 – 9 months”.

That is the right approach.

There needs to be an immediate moratorium on taking on new expenditure. An “approvals committee” should be set up which can publicly test any new expenditure proposals.

York Council budget position 30th April 2020

The Councils initial assessment of its financial position may produce accusations that it is very much a “worst case” scenario. The government has today confirmed that in total it will grant £10.5 million to help the Council offset its estimated £35 million exposure.  Much of the defict assumes a high level of non payment of Council Tax and business rent.

There is a stark warning of cash flow problems later in the year “the Council would have to concentrate on providing statutory services only”. That would be bad news for services like leisure, with some facilities likely to close.

On its capital programme the Council promises a project by project review. “this will include considering the overall purpose of the scheme and whether they are still financially viable given the risk to the overall economy. This is particularly crucial for those schemes that assumed the generation of capital receipts to fund expenditure”.

The report is silent on the consequences of some schemes that area now past the point of no return.

Recent increases in the Council’s commercial portfolio are not analysed but there are fears of a forced “fire sale”.

Empty offices at the community stadium site (underwritten by the Council) could remain empty for years, while the pipeline sales of empty former social care buildings could also fall through. Options for cutting back on the £20 million Guildhall refurbishment project will need to be considered.

The Community Stadium itself, although outsourced, is dependent on other activities on the site to cover its running costs.

It seems certain that there will be delays on the York Central regeneration project while the £14 million new multi storey car park on St Georges Field will no doubt be shelved together with the rest of the Castle Gateway project.

Other cherished capital investment projects, which involved increased debt, and therefore increase the day to day running costs of the Council, will have to go “on hold”.

No new contracts should be let unless they direct address the adverse consequences of the health crisis.

Much more on this and the implications for other public services in the City will become apparent over the next few weeks.

Westfield bus services face axe

Foxwood Lane (12 & 14), Gale Lane (20) and Hamilton Drive (16A)  links could be lost

bus-stop1The Council is organising “drop in” sessions at which the scale of the cuts that they plan to local bus services will be revealed.

The Council has decided to cut £350,000 from its public transport support budget so dramatic changes can be anticipated.

The Council says that members of the public will have the opportunity to give their views on the services proposed for withdrawal or alteration between Monday 11 April and Friday 6 May, either by emailing buses@york.gov.uk or through drop-in sessions (“details to be announced nearer the time”).

The Council claims that public feedback will be considered as part of a report which will be taken to an Executive Member Transport and Planning public meeting on Thursday 19 May.

A final decision on the services to be withdrawn or altered will be taken at this meeting and it is anticipated that the changes will take effect from Sunday 28 August.

The services which the council currently subsidises and which may be altered, reduced or withdrawn are:
• Monday to Saturday daytime services: 12, 19, 20, 27, 36, 627, 637 and 647
• Evening services: 10, 11, 14, 18
• Sunday services: 11, 12, 13, 14,16a and 19

For existing timetables click here

So far the Council has not released details of alternative provision. As a minimum, residents who depend on the bus service to get around will expect Dial and Ride services to be expanded. There is also likely to be a call for the option, for pensioners to be able to choose transport tokens (instead of a bus pass), to be reintroduced. The tokens can be used to pay taxi fares.

ftr bus in York

ftr bus in York

Eighty per cent of bus services are commercial in York and are not subsidised by the council. Local authorities across the country have the discretion to provide financial support for local bus services where the commercial bus market does not provide such services, but it is not a statutory duty.

Bus usage in York has increased during recent years following a slump when the last Labour Council pulled out of public transport modernisation plans like the ftr “superbus” project.

The Council has consistently refused to publish weekly reliability stats for bus services in the city

To find out more about the bus travel in York visit www.itravelyork.info 

York Council plans 3% Council Tax increase

Details are emerging this evening of the Council’s budget plans for  2016/17.

D4NT09 Council Tax bill 2013/2014 for property dwelling band F with 25% discount for sole adult resident

Council Tax will increase by 3%, of which 2% will be ring-fenced to help with social care costs.

Council house rents will be reduced by 1% (in line with central government instructions). This will mean cuts in repairs budgets, although the housing account is showing a £20 million accumulated surplus.

The Council is to spend £234,000 more to fund “additional Community Safety Hub officers” to cover additional enforcement around dog fouling, street drinking, licensing infringement and noise enforcement plus ” a reactive service for street services to deal with fly-tipping, graffiti, litter and weedswhich would be a welcome step forward.

Another welcome improvement will be an investment of an additional £100,000 to help tackle mental health issues, while the completion of the Local Plan will cost another £350,000 and an update of the strategic flood risk assessment will cost £60,000.

An extra £74,000 will be used to increase Councillors pay.

Some of the more eye-catching cuts include:

  • £350,000 cut in bus subsidies. Number 20 service to be scrapped.
  • £1.1 million cut in adult social care provision
  • £1.3 million cut in education support (schools are funded directly by the government)
  • Reductions in public garden and tree maintenance
  • Handing over allotment management to  users
  • Theatre Royal (revenue) grants scrapped.
  • Less on Public Health (drugs, alcohol, smoking, dentistry and sexual health)
  • Fewer health checks

Many residents will be looking at the Council capital investment plans to see whether the excesses of the last administration – which doubled the debt per head of population figure in the City – have been reversed.

£284,000 savings in York education team as 3 face redundancy

The Council has revealed details of a new staff structure in its “learning” team. The restructure is aimed at saving £284,000 a year in staffing costs and has been influenced by the conclusion of some Europe funded projects.

Some voluntary redundancies have already taken place. Three existing staff face compulsory redundancy

The background report says,

“Many of these savings are coming from reduction in management posts, but there will also be some savings in direct service delivery, including reductions in some teaching staff, reductions in employability programmes and provision to support mental health issues.

These reductions are going to have a serious affect on the service’s ability to support individuals seeking work and those who require help with recovering from mental health issues”.BehindClosedDoors 2015

The decision was taken at a “behind closed doors” meeting held on 21st December.

Reports were not made public until after the decision had been published

Have your say on York Council budget

 The Council has issued a media release saying, 

“City of York Council’s Executive is facing some tough decisions in 2016-17. Below outlines why these difficult choices need to be made and why residents’ views are so important.

To help shape the 2016-17 Budget proposals, the council is inviting residents to have their say through a consultation by Wednesday 20 January:

·         Online at www.york.gov.uk/consultations/

·         By post to FREEPOST RTEG-TYYU-KLTZ, Budget consultation, City of York Council, West Offices, Station Rise, York, YO1 6GA

·         By hand at West Offices or libraries/Explore Centres”.

Council consultation

On line consultation questionaire https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/YorkBudget

The Council of course omits to mention many options that many residents might like to take.

  • You noticeably won’t be able to vote for a pay freeze for Councillors or to reduce their support costs,
  • There’s no option to stop the “Our City” newspaper.
  • Quangos like “Make it York” are off the options list.

Not can you vote to save money through the lower debt (interest) charges which would come if the subsidy was reduced for big investment schemes like the:

  • New swimming pool at Monks Cross
  • Access bridge to the York Central development or
  • Development of the Guildhall site.

There isn’t even a “write in” option for those feeling inventive!

You can say whether you prefer a tax rise to service cuts but you aren’t offered a choice on how much any increase might be!

NB It is likely that the cap in increases will be around 3.9% most of which will be ring-fenced for elderly care.

The Council justifies its stance by saying, “This year’s budget proposals will seek to ensure the council’s priorities continue to be delivered, whilst also ensuring the council’s financial position is managed effectively.

Say no to police cuts in York – Petition launched

The Conservative Government is planning to cut the Home Office budget in November’s Comprehensive Spending Review and change the ‘Police Funding Formula’.

Teresa May police cuts

The North Yorkshire Police Federation has warned that these comibined cuts could see a reduction in police numbers and leave North Yorkshire Police (who cover York) with fewer police officers than when the force was founded in 1974. The Federation has called for North Yorkshire to be given a “fair deal” by the Government.

To show our support for North Yorkshire Police we have started the folloiwng petition which we urge you to sign:

I/We the undersigned oppose plans by the Conservative Government to cut the funding for the North Yorkshire Police.

Click here

Commissioner cuts £172,000 from police dogs budget

North Yorkshire Police, Cleveland Police and Durham Constabulary are to merge their police dog sections to create a single integrated service from summer 2016.

it is claimed that the move “will increase police coverage in rural areas, reduce overall costs by more than three million pounds over the next five years, and enable a substantial 24-hour dog unit to be to retained across the three Forces”.

Police dog

Police dogs carry out a wide range of duties to support police operations, including tracking people, chasing down criminals, finding explosives, cash, weapons or drugs, “passive” drug identification, keeping public order and supporting firearms officers.  Many of these tasks require highly specialised training, which means that, at the moment, each Force only has a limited number of police dogs with these skills.

Cleveland Police and Durham Constabulary embarked on a shared dog unit earlier this year and hope to build on this success through the further collaboration with North Yorkshire. Police dogs and their handlers from the three forces will all be trained in the same way and will adopt the same tactical approaches.  This will give each force access to more police dogs per shift, as well as greater access to specialist police dogs to cover particular types of operations.

In North Yorkshire, dogs live with their handlers in different locations across the whole county.

To support them better, operational bases will be set up in Harrogate, York Fulford Road, Northallerton/Thirsk and East Coast/Ryedale.

These, together with bases in Durham and Cleveland, will mean that more dogs are deployable to the north of the county, improving the service to some of North Yorkshire’s most remote rural areas, as well as covering urban “hot spots” more effectively.

As part of the move, dog handlers in North Yorkshire will fall in line with their counterparts by working 12-hour shifts, a change from their current variable pattern with shorter shifts.

Mike Stubbs of North Yorkshire’s Police Federation, which represents rank and file officers, said it had “serious concerns about the move to 12 hour shifts”.

He said: “North Yorkshire is a very different environment to Cleveland or Durham – our dog handlers have to cover a massive area.

“Is it right they should be expected to do a blue light emergency run on demanding roads towards the end of a 12 hour shift, having already driven many miles across the county in the course of their shift?

“There are laws and limits for commercial drivers to protect against the effects of driver fatigue which the police enforce. It defies common sense that those principles are being ignored for drivers of police vehicles.”


Labour propose cuts to local bus services

Westfield, Foxwood, Woodthorpe and Dringhouses areas affected

The evening and Sunday number 14 service from Foxwood Lane via Woodthorpe will be discontinued. The 13A service serving Hamilton Drive is retained subject to retendering. The Middlethorpe loop off Tadcaster Road is in jeopardy

The full changes – proposed due to “low passenger levels” – can be found here.  (click for route map)

Proposed bus service cuts

Proposed bus service cuts

Services withdrawn fully: Routes

Partial reductions: Routes

Subject to further discussions with neighbouring authorities: Route

The proposals to change bus services, which are currently subsidised by City of York Council will go to a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday 6 January.

The Council is aiming to reduce bus subsidies by around £200,000. This compares to the £700,000 abortive expenditure that it incurred during  the Lendal Bridge closure. The aim of the latter had been to increase bus usage.

There has been no consultation with passengers over the plan and the report makes no attempt to offer alternatives for those who do not have private transport.

In the past the Council has promoted dial a ride and similar services to provide a basic link on low use bus routes.

Unfortunately use of taxis may also prove to be expensive for older people since Labour withdrew of the tokens/taxi card alternative to having a bus pass

If approved, the service changes could be implemented from April 2015.

Bus use in York stable but fears for subsidised services grow

Some park and ride sites to operate free service on Boxing Day

Labour Councillors have announced that they will be considering reducing subsidised bus services in the City at a meeting which will be held on 11th December.

Labour were criticised during the recent Westfield by election for keeping secret their plans to reduce services like the number 13A which serves the Hamilton Drive area.

There has so far been no consultation on the proposals which will seek to reduce the annual £800,000 spend by the Council on sustaining off peak bus services and those to remoter parts of the City.

The latest crisis reflects problems which started to develop when Labour took control of the Council in 2011.

Bus service usage figures at Nov 2014 2


They concentrated their efforts on scrapping the popular (with passengers) ftr service but failed to put anything in its place. Routes were chopped and changed with stability only achieved during the last 12 months.

Now even that seems to be under threat.

Bus service usage peaked at 12 million passenger journeys with the introduction of the ftr in 2006 before declining last year to 10.4 million.

Overall bus usage has held up with a gradual increase in the numbers using Park and Ride services which themselves peaked last year at 4.4 million.

 Further increases are expected this year with the opening of the larger Askham Bar site and the new service from Poppleton Bar.

NB. The Council has announced it’s Christmas Park and Ride services.

A late night shopping service on all six Park&Ride routes will operate every Thursday, with the last bus leaving the city centre on all routes at around 9.30pm (for exact timings visit http://www.itravelyork.info/).

The first extended service will run from the 20 November ahead of the biggest Christmas market in York’s calendar – St Nicholas Fair starting on 27 November.

In addition to this, passengers will also be able to take advantage again of the, now traditional,  FREE travel on Boxing Day on the three key P&R routes which will be operating.

Three Park & Ride services will operate on Boxing Day:

  • Askham Bar (white line – route 3) – First bus at 7am from the site, last bus back from Tower Street at 6.42pm
  • Designer Outlet (red line – route 7) – First bus at 7am from the site, last bus back from Rougier Street at 6.40pm
  • Monks Cross (silver line – route 9) – First bus at 7am from the site, last bus back from Rougier Street at 6.43pm

All three services will operate at a 15 minute frequency throughout the day and will be FREE for all passengers (and will stop at all usual stops along the route).

To find out more about the offer or to find the best bus route through York, try out the council’s new i-Travel York online Journey Planner at http://www.itravelyork.info/