York Council plans more devolution to residents

The York Council says that it will give more powers to local residents to influence how resources are used in 4 key public service areas.

They are:

  • Increased ward budgets.
  • A “Safer Communities” fund to meet residents’ priorities.  
  • More ward control of spending on highways to meet residents’ priorities
  • Timely delivery of Housing Environmental Improvement Schemes (HEIP). NB.These are tenant funded.

The plans are broadly to be welcomed.

Over the last 8 years the number of locally determined improvement schemes has declined while those that have been approved have faced unacceptable delays in implementation.

One set of new parking laybys in the Westfield area took over 4 years to plan and construct.

Askham Lane lay by took 4 years to complete

A report to the Councils executive meeting this week, paints a confused picture of what is wrong with the current “ward committee” process and what might replace it.

Councillor dominated “Ward teams” will stand in for residents associations where the latter do not exist.

£250,000 has been allocated to wards for them to spend making local communities “safer”. Although joint working with the police is proposed, the major issue – an institutional reluctance to expand the use of technology solutions such as CCTV – remains. So, the most that residents will likely see will be “target hardening” style initiatives.

Two additional staff members are to be employed helping to administer ward committee improvements. Last year £157,000 of ward budget was not spent. This is put down to process delays.

£500,000 is being allocated for local highways improvements (road and footpaths). A further £500,000 is allocated for “walking and cycling” improvements. The irony, that better highways maintenance is the best way of encouraging safe walking and cycling, appears to be lost on the report authors. 

Perhaps School Street will now be resurfaced?

The £1 million simply should be added to the road and footpath resurfacing budget.

The budget is classified as “capital” meaning that it must be spent on an asset with a long lifespan. That would seem to rule out a crash programme aimed at removing the trees, hedges and weeds which obstruct many existing foot and cycle paths.

 The idea of recognising and responding to local concerns is the right one though.

Poor highway maintenance is invariably the most criticised local public service in residents satisfaction polls.

The Council plans to introduce a “6 stage” process in allocating the estate improvement budget.  As the main criticisms of the existing process is that it is cumbersome and slow, the introduction of additional bureaucratic stages is unlikely to be welcomed.

The report talks of the provision of parking lay-by taking up to 24 months to complete. In the past, the use of contractors had cut this target time down to less than 4 months. Councils should return to the old procedure where Residents Associations/Parish Councils took responsibility for drawing up improvement lists.

Walton Place footpaths need repairs

Finally, the report talks of using a mechanistic formulae for assessing the “social value” of each project. As a way of spending scarce public resources this is a discredited approach. The value of projects can best be determined by door to door surveys thus giving residents a chance to directly influence their neighbourhood.

The report does not propose any PFIs to monitor progress on any of these programmes.

It does, however, require decisions to be made in public and with a public record. Regular “on line” updates are proposed (although these have been  promised in the past but have never been produced in a timely or accessible way)

There are no proposals which would provide better support for Residents Associations. The Council recently refused to even publicise RA activities on its web site.

How much locally?

The Council has published a list indicating the amounts that will be available to spend in each ward. In Westfield (one of the largest wards) during the present financial year that totals £55,878  

With highways (£63,830) and safer communities fund (£17,181). That figure increases to nearly £120,000 over 4 years.

 To put that into context a 4 space parking bay costs around £10,000, while the resurfacing of Stonegate is costing £1/2 million this year.

West Yorkshire Combined Authority – York’s share of costs benefits revealed

A Freedom of Information response has revealed the amount that York has paid into the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, as well as the claimed benefits.

Last year, York paid £21,645 as its share of the cost of the “Your next Bus” project which we commented on a few weeks ago.  The City is due to pay another £21,645 this year towards the project.

smart ticketing

smart ticketing

 It is unclear when this new bus tracking system will be operational.

The WYCA also claims to have spent £318,149 on “smart bus ticketing” in the York area.  This was funded by central government grant and should lead to the extended use of cashless payment options for bus travel.  Again it is unclear when this option will be widely available in the City.

York is also due to pay £48,486 to the WYCA this year as its share of the Leeds Region Local Enterprise Partnership costs.

Benefits are expected to include participation in an “Apprentice Hub” programme and an employer ownership pilot.

The WYCA had a (largely inherited) pension liability of over £68 million at the end of the last financial year. It currently admits a total deficit on its reserves of £33 million but has a working balance of £7.9 million. It is not known whether, under devolution proposals, York will remain a participant in the WYCA.

NB. Over £150,000 a year in “special responsibility payments” are being claimed by Councillors serving on WYCA committees although these area not highlighted in the annual figures published by the York Council. All WYCA members receive a basic allowance of £4500 a year

York Council backs all horses in devolution race – loss feared on wager

Back wrong horse

This follows detailed dialogue between the council’s Executive and its officers alongside peers from neighbouring local authorities, central government and key organisations such as Local Enterprise Partnerships.

York has expressed an interest in potential bids for the Leeds City Region; a City of York, North Yorkshire and East Riding proposal and for further dialogue about a broader Greater Yorkshire geography”.

The bids can be read here

The Council has not released details of residents responses to its much hyped “consultation” on the issue.

The Council goes on to say, “These conversations with government will continue ahead of decisions on which, if any, deal York will be part of and the full economic, political and governance workings of it. The Executive has been clear on its commitment to consult and has undertaken face-to-face engagement with residents and businesses through a series of devolution conversations. Any decision on being part of a new authority will have to be ratified by Full Council”.
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Mayors new clothes

2682C7DE00000578-2988585-Nothing_to_hide_Mayoral_candidate_Yolanda_Morin_stripped_off_in_-a-6_1426016467288The York Council is embarking on a, largely nominal, consultation exercise on the desirability of handing powers to an elected Mayor in Yorkshire.

Unfortunately what powers and resources such an official might have is largely opaque. Hence it is impossible to predict with any accuracy what impact such a post might have on everyday life.

Up and down the country there have been some able Mayor elected. They are balanced by some pretty poor ones in places like Tower Hamlets and, much more close to home, Doncaster who have presided over poor services and questionable practices.

In London, the Mayor spends most of his time on public relations duties. London is, in any case, very much different from Yorkshire.

The latest push for devolution coincides with a plan to give Scotland more powers. Yorkshire has broadly the same population as Scotland so why shouldn’t it be able to determine its own priorities goes the argument?

But would a Mayor under siege in a Doncaster bunker be more sensitive to local needs than someone in an office a further 180 miles away.

We doubt they would.

The Council is right to give people a chance to air their views. Given the lack lustre information pack issued by the Council they would be wise not to expect a big response.

The pack contains some strange claims, not least  that the new system might help to “preserve the green belt”. The contrary might more likely be the case.  A regional baron exercising powers from Bradford might find it much easier to ride roughshod over the views and aspirations of a small City like York

The new Council has inherited a mish mash of regional and sub regional bodies. It is in two enterprise partnership areas and seeks to maintain a foot in both the the Labour dominated West Yorkshire Combined Authority and in Tory dominated North Yorkshire. Added to mix, are four  Police and Crime Commissioners (whose role could be taken over by an elected Mayor). Their demise would, at least, be a welcome relief for taxpayers.

So some rationalisation is needed.where-boris-bikes-go-video-animation-21471977

But change should start with the principle of subsidiarity – that decisions should be taken at the level nearest the people that the decision affects.

Unless that principle is agreed, and electoral systems are used which ensure that all views can be articulated,  then further consideration of elected Mayors, or extending the powers of the currently opaque “combined authority”, is simply not worth spending any time on.

The Council says, “a series of drop-in engagement events will be held across the city from next week to offer residents and businesses more information about what devolution means for York”.

The drop-in events will be held at the following locations where officers, members of the Executive and the Chief Executive will be on-hand to answer any questions on devolution:

York Explore, Marriott Room
• Thursday 13 August 12.30 – 2pm 
• Thursday 20 August 5.30 – 7pm

West Offices, Hudson Board Room
• Monday 10 August, 5.30 – 7pm 
• Tuesday 18 August, 11.30am – 1pm

Alternately, email feedback to: devolution@york.gov.uk or write to: Devolution, Business Intelligence Team, City of York Council, West Offices, York, YO1 6GA.

Residents will note that the Council’s new found interest in devolution doesn’t extend to holding events in the suburbs!

Council failing to communicate on major public service changes

Jargon used to hide York Councils real intentions

Residents attending today’s “drop in” at the Acomb Library (1:00pm – 5:00pm) should beware.

They will be talking to the “rewiring” team about changes to “place based” services.

Use of jargon and euphemisms is a well tested way of disguising the true motivations and intentions of corrupt organisations

In reality the proposals in York include plans to charge for waste collection while making local residents responsible for managing and maintaining local parks and open spaces.

Council to charge for refuse collection

The PR campaign is part of an emerging trend with the Council encouraging other propaganda initiatives aimed at influencing public opinion…..while being economical with the facts

These may include the ostensibly independent (business led) @YorkLocalPlan twitter account.

This group advocates building “at least” 850 additional homes in the City each year and erroneously claims that there is only room for 5000 to be built on brownfield land. In fact, over 2000 additional brownfield planning permissions have been granted during the last 2 years…. all on brownfield sites which were not identified on the draft Local Plan for housing. More are in the pipeline.

 Still at least that organisation is unashamedly driven by vested commercial interests.

More worrying is the impenetrable “rewiring” project. It aims to save over £4.5 million a year for the Council.

Of this £800,000 will be cut from street level public services.

Mowing

It is dressed up as a devolution project in a report to the Councils Cabinet next week

The reality is given away in a paragraph in another report which says,

” Community Open Space Management – As part of the review of Place Based Services the Council are looking to transfer the management of open space to local communities. Such a transfer would reduce both day to day and long term costs and enable the Council to achieve savings”.

The Council report – rightly – does criticise some local Councillors for not providing “leadership”.

 In truth many – particularly on the Labour side – do not live in the wards that they represent and rarely even visit the people that they are supposed to represent. They don’t produce newsletters, don’t survey public service quality standards and only follow up issues when there is an election in the offing. They are the people who are least likely to drive community action.

It is also fanciful to suggest that all communities have the capacity to take on public service management . 

While the devolution of powers to local communities is welcome

Seeking a way of blaming local volunteers for a deterioration in public service standards is a deplorable tactic