City of York Council; When things go wrong

There have been some strange goings on at the Council over the last few days.

First up we reported yesterday that there was something seriously amiss with the “planning on line” web site..

Some residents routinely use the site to check what planning applications have been made for the area in which they live. We do so routinely for the west of York  and report applications on this site.

There was something unusual about the list of applications which the Council claimed to have validated for the Westfield ward during the week commencing 7th May. Closer examination revealed that the list include applications that had not only been validated months – and in one case 3 years – ago, but all had actually already been approved.

In most cases the planning permission had been implemented.

So a computer glitch?

Yet 24 hours later the incorrect information is still on line.

York Council planning web site 13th May 2018

Equally worrying is the way in which decisions, delegated to officials, are reported in an opaque manner on the Council web site.

Today we are told of a “Decision for provision of the Ways to Wellbeing service is already approved through the Better Care Fund decision making process which is on an Executive Member level”

What? We have no idea what the Council is trying to tell us?

On some occasions the Council seems to be trying to be more open.

It reports today that it has decided what grants to make from an “improving lives” financial advice campaign. Over £166,000  is being handed out to local organisations with Citizens Advice getting the lions share.

But in listing the awards, the Council inevitably prompts  more questions; not least “What are taxpayers actually buying for this money?”

At the very least  the expected outcomes for the expenditure should be listed, together with a summary of the monitoring process that the Council will use to determine whether it has received value for its investment.

 

Cart overtakes horse

cart before horse

The York Council is still publishing agendas for meetings at the same time as the decisions  taken at those meetings are  published.

There have been two instances recorded this week on the Council’s web site

It had been anticipated that the new Council, would put an end to this practice. In effect anyone who wanted to make representations on an issue is still unable to do so.

It really can’t be that difficult to publish a council agenda a week in advance of any decision being taken.

The decisions this week (appointment of an older person’s project officer and the boundaries of the Rufforth and Knapton Neighbourhood Plan) were not particularly controversial.

Nevertheless the Councils democratic and consultation systems do need to be refined

York Council set to move forward on open decision making

open-door-in-white-brick-wall-Stock-Photo-doors

It could be early autumn before new all party committees get the chance to debate the York Council’s upcoming policy plans.

A report being considered on 13th July proposes a return to a form of Executive Member advisory panel (EMAP) which was in use in York during the early part of the last decade. These meetings involve Councillors from all parties and are held in public.  To aid planning, meetings occupied a scheduled day each month and were cancelled if there was no business to consider.

Introduced by the Liberal Democrats when they took power, EMAPs sought to widen discussion on policies which affected the City. The sessions were abandoned in 2008 when Labour – who were the main opposition in a balanced Council at the time – refused to participate saying that they preferred the (confrontational) option of “calling in” some proposals for review.

Under the new arrangements, so called “Officer in Consultation” decision meetings are also to be scrapped. These were the meetings which prompted the “behind closed doors” criticisms of the old Council.

Instead these decisions will be taken at an open Executive member meeting.

Of course, how the system works in practice remains to be seen. It’s success rests heavily on future decisions being correctly identified  on the Councils “Forward Plan” although this will – rightly – become a “rolling“ programme in future

The new system doesn’t address the issue of Council officials taking decisions exploiting their delegated powers. This has been a particular problem in the Housing department where some wide reaching decisions – including one which saw visits by skips abandoned on some estates – have been taken without even, apparently, the knowledge of Councillors.

Similar issues arise with the growth of third party agencies such as the trusts and companies which now run our museums, libraries and economic development activities.

Thought also now needs to be given as to how residents can feel more involved in the decision process. Extended use of social media channels seems to be an obvious further refinement

Still the report is a step in the right direction.

Hopefully the new arrangements will start in September after the Council’s August recess.