York Council election manifestos (Updated)

Postal voters in York will start to receive their ballot papers next week in preparation for the Council elections taking place on 2nd May

Some details of policies are emerging with the Labour, Green and Liberal Democrat parties now having published their manifestos “on line”. Click the links below to access them. Apparently the Conservatives haven’t published a 2019 manifesto. The link below is to their 2015 effort.

LibDem

Labour

Green

Conservative 2015

There are also 10 independents standing all with their own unique views. Those views vary from soft left to extreme right wing. Its anyone’s guess what policies they might pursue if elected. Most, however, lack active supporters, so just the task of getting an election address through everyone’s letterbox may be a challenge for some of them.

The Greens web site is a confused array of policy links with brevity and clarity a bit lacking.

NB. One presentational matter unites the parties. Most have opted to photograph their candidates “en masse”. The LibDems and Labour hold up placards or leaflets like a group of chauffeurs waiting outside the “Arrivals” gate at Manchester airport. The Greens – in the absence of placards – have hands to spare with most opting for a left handed version of a salute awkwardly reminiscent of that made famous by an Austrian some 80 years ago. The Tories don’t appear to have united their candidates yet to the point where individual or collective photos can actually be taken.

Poor research or something more sinister?

A few days ago, Labour issued a statement condemning the City of York Council for agreeing to sell off Bootham Park Hospital. Only problem was that the Council had never owned the hospital site. Decisions about its future rest with NHS property, a central government agency.

Labours 2014 plan to develop land on Moor Lane

Now Labour candidates in Dringhouses and Woodthorpe are trying to blame the local coalition for the proposal to build near to Askham Bog on Moor Lane.

It appears that the candidates – who in fairness appear to have little local experience – do not realise that it was a Labour controlled Council that first identified the site for development when they published their version of the Local Plan in 2014 (it is still available to be read “on line”).

The previous version of the Plan, agreed by the outgoing LibDem led council in 2011, had retained the site in the Green Belt.

An incoming Labour administration adopted a “Big City” approach to development and earmarked large areas of Green Belt for development. They wanted to grow the size of the City by 25%. This included building on the land at Moor Lane.

Later the plan was jettisoned when Labour lost control of the Council following a by election in the autumn of 2014.

Labour on social media Mar 2019

The latest version of the Local Plan – backed by the ruling LibDem/Tory coalition – protects the Moor Lane site from building.

Not withstanding this, developers are still trying to use the 2014 draft Local Plan as leverage to get planning permission for the site before the final revised  Plan is implemented  by central government.

It takes a particularly thick brass neck to accuse your opponents of responsibility for a mistake that your own side made.

NB. Labour have published their 2019 local election manifesto. In it they promise to build hundreds of new houses each year many of which will be in new “villages” on the outskirts of the City. The new “villages” will be located on what is now Green Belt land.

Noah concerned as two more leave Ark

News is coming in that two Labour Councillors have quit their party.

Six months ago two Tory Councillors, including a former Leader, quit the Conservatives.

This seems to be a trend of almost biblical proportions.

Three other Labour Councillors have quit since 2015 causing by elections in the Micklegate, Hull Road and Holgate wards.

The Labour Group Leader also quit his role only a few months into the life of the new Council

Labour have been ineffectual both locally and nationally for some time, so the move is not entirely unexpected.

It leaves the balance of the Council as

  • Labour – 13 seats
  • LibDem – 12 seats
  • Tory – 12 seats
  • Green – 4 seats
  • Independent Conservatives – 2 seaqts
  • Independent socialists – 2 seats
  • Independents – – 2 seats.

A LibDem/Tory coalition currently runs the Council, providing the only glimmer of stability in the political turmoil that has descended onto the York Council.. .

 

Some choice for York – “Wild Bunch” or “Trotsky’s chums”?

It looks like the coalition, that has run the Council for the last 3 years, will be coming to an end.

The faction that plunged daggers into the back of the last Tory Leader are now re-sharpening their blades. They hope to cut into core public service standards in the City. Four right wingers, emboldened by national changes in the Tory party, are demanding low (or zero) Council Tax increases funded by a widespread close down of public services like libraries. They are disparagingly referred to by other, more moderate, Tories as the “Wild Bunch”.

On the other side of the Council, new Labour Councillors lack experience and historical perspective. They embrace a high tax, high borrowing philosophy. They cite “austerity” as the cause of all evils without actually explaining how any alternative would be funded (or even allowed by central government). Despite adopting locally the Corbynite tactic of never quite explaining their policies (e.g. Europe, single market, tax etc), the Labour group is clearly now far to the left of anything seen in the City during the last 60 years. Many experienced, moderate Labour representatives have quit, or are likely to face the “Momentum” ice pick, before the May 2019 Council elections.

So should the LibDems seek to reach an administration agreement with either of these Groups?

The answer is probably “yes”.

The City faces a difficult year.   It is a time when Councillors, from all sides, should put York first. That inevitably means compromise and ideally seeking a broad consensus on dealing with issues.

The Council can now choose to revert to the committee system which was used to run the City until 1995. Councillors from all parties (and none) would be more directly involved in the decision making processes

Council officials – some of whom must bear some of the blame for the current crisis – will need to burn the midnight oil if an alternative constitutional model is to be made available in time for the Council’s annual meeting, which is scheduled to take place on 24th May.

They will not start with a blank sheet of paper.

There are many other Local Authorities who now operate using the committee model. These include the Nottinghamshire County Council (Tory/Ind majority), Kingston (Conservative), Sutton (LibDem), South Gloucestershire (Conservative), Brighton and Hove (Green when Committee system adopted, now NOC), Newark and Sherwood (Conservative), Barnet (Conservative), Norfolk (Conservative, NOC when Committee system adopted) & Reading (Labour)

Numerous smaller authorities never changed to the “Cabinet/Leader” governance model.

Some councils have chosen to create versions of the Leader/Cabinet system (which means that they do not require a formal change under the Act) that include aspects of the committee system.

The most common arrangement is to set up non-decision making group of councillors, usually corresponding to cabinet portfolios, which examine papers and make recommendations about how decisions should be made. This system worked in a balanced Council in York between 2007 and 2010 (Labour then decided that they would not participate) The decisions are subsequently made at meetings of the cabinet or by individual cabinet members, and may well follow the recommendations of the ‘committees’ although they are not legally required to do so.

Either way, it is time to put personal and party ambitions to one side and do what is best for the City. 

York Labour housing building plans questioned

A Labour leaflet advocating large scale housing building plans on greenfield sites has been criticised by the Liberal Democrats.

The Labour plans would see many playing fields and green belt sites developed. They are similar to those promoted by the party in its 2014 Local Plan which failed to secure government approval

Now the Liberal Democrats have hit back with some home truths

 

Labour Councillor told to remove propaganda from Council noticeboard

A Labour Councillor in York has been told to remove party political literature from a Council owned noticeboard in Front Street.

The Acomb Councillor had posted a leaflet, on the publicly funded board, attacking LibDem and Conservative Councillors over the siting of a new park in the Boroughbridge Road area.

The leaflet says, “The Tory and Liberal Democrat coalition in charge of the Council has completely ignored the petition (collected by Cllr Barnes asking for a public park at the old Manor school site) riding roughshod over the views of local people and trying to shoehorn ever more housing into an area that they know already has a shortage of open space” etc.

The leaflet goes on to advertise a public meeting at which the local Labour MP will be present.

A Code of Conduct governs how local Councillors are expected to behave. The Code specifically states ” When you use or authorise the use by others of the resources of the Council you must ensure that such resources are not used improperly for political purposes (including party political purposes)”

Now Cllr Barnes has been ordered to remove the leaflet by lunchtime today (Friday).

The issue of where the new park, planned for the Sugar Works development on Boroughbridge Road, should be located has engaged residents for  over 5 years.  Ironically the preference for a central location emerged following consultations by the then Labour controlled Council in 2012.

In 2013, the Council sold the old Manor School site to developers. No conditions were placed on the sale but the expectation was – and remains – that an access road would bisect the field.

The history of the site seems to have largely escaped the notice of several current Council members.

The first opportunity to consider Cllr Barnes petition will come next Wednesday when the Planning Committee will decide on its reaction to plans tabled by the developers.

In the meantime, Councillors are being urged to make sure that public noticeboards contain only factual information. Some are also being encouraged to use a little soap and water to keep the boards clean!

 

 

Now another Labour Council Leader quits in York

Bearded men

“and I anoint…”

Less than 12 months after taking over as the Leader of the Labour Group on the City of York Council Dafydd Williams has resigned.

He quotes personal reasons for the decision although it comes in the wake of an extraordinary few months of turmoil in the Labour party nationally.

Dafydd Williams, although far from being a favourite on the west of the City, was more moderate and inclined to be discursive than his predecessor  (James Alexander)  – qualities that a party needs after suffering a crushing electoral reverse.

It leaves the 14 strong Labour Group with a very thin field of potential replacement candidates. Many have only been members of the Council for a few weeks and lack the experience necessary to lead one of the larger political groupings.Len in

Others are in an age range which means they are coming towards the end of their political careers.

Several experienced Labour Councillors, of course, resigned from the Labour Group in the run up to the last Council elections. Others were thrown out by the electorate

The upcoming internal election raises the intriguing prospect that the so called “£3 members” may, having elected the extreme left wing Corbyn to office nationally, try to do the same locally. 

Step up any Councillors with a UNITE connection?

Councillor’s declarations of Trades Union and other membership can be found on the Councils web site.

So perhaps, in future, we can expect a few more questions to the Executive from “Malcolm of Tang Hall”

NB One Tory Councillor, upon being told the news, announced that a £3 investment in associate Labour membership looked to be a bargain if it meant that he could vote Cllr Crisp into the vacancy.

 

 

So who is pulling the Councils strings in York?

The national media has revealed that half the candidates fighting winnable parliamentary seats for Labour are UNITE sponsored militants.

PuppetMaster

They include the York Central candidate Rachel Maskell.

However the level of manipulation and control at Council election level is much less clear. The Electoral Commission statistics are currently only quoting quarter 4 donations (£800 from the GMB to York Labour Party)

Trades Unions don’t sponsor candidates without expecting something in return.

 In 2011, UNISON’s £5000 gift to the York Labour party bought them job security for their members – or so they thought. In the end, the new Labour administration cut deeper and privatised more jobs than had its LibDem led predecessor.

Relationships between a bullish and inexperienced Labour Council leadership and many employees were strained to say the least.

Electors though can get only a glimpse of who the puppet-masters are at this stage.

The sponsorship of existing Councillors is declared on the register of interests. Over 50% of Labour Councillors admit Trades Union links.

The amount of financial sponsorship has to be declared on election expenses returns. But these will only be published later in the summer – long after votes have been cast.

A more sinister development is that some candidates have removed any mention of trades union affiliations from their biographies and twitter accounts.

All parties should publish a list of their major local sponsors before the elections take place.  Voters will have to draw their own conclusions about what any sponsorship is intended to buy.

The drift into “behind closed doors” decision making may be one consequence of the influence that sectional interest groups now have on Labour in York

NB. The Council’s interests register entries should be treated with some caution. Cllr Helen Douglas who is standing for election as a Conservative candidate in Strensall declares her membership of “The Labour Party” in her entry in the register!!

Labour drop Guildhall candidate

Labour has dropped one of its Council candidates only a few weeks before nominations close for the polls on May 7th.

Aggarwal candidate announcement on Labour Web site

Aggarwal candidate announcement on Labour Web site

No reason has been given by Labour for dropping Rakesh Aggarwal as a candidate for the Guildhall Ward.  A massage therapist who had worked in York for 17 years, it was possible that he could have become Labour’s first Councillor from an ethnic minority background.

He has been replaced by a former York University student James Flinders who does not live in the Guildhall ward. He is believed to have been an associate of the disgraced former Council Leader, James Alexander, who standing down from the Council in May.

The Liberal Democrats have already announced their candidates for the Guildhall seat.

They are Mike Green, Nick Love and Derek Waudby

York Council mismanagement revelations – trend emerges

Even the most enthusiastic Labour supporter cannot fail to be dismayed by today’s revelation that the York Council considered issuing “fudged” figures to potential care village bidders.

But it is simply the latest in a string of mistakes that has eroded the trust that residents have in their local authority.

click to enlarge

click to enlarge

The Lowfields Care Village project fell foul of a system which has encouraged a series of over ambitious “mega projects”.

 At a time when the Council’s management structures were being cut back, leading Councillors failed to recognise that the system had broken under the strain.  

They failed to get answers to key questions in a timely way

Not only is York’s social care system now breaking down, but another project – to turn the Guildhall into a Digital Media centre – has produced fresh calls for a public inquiry.

 Local experts have poured scorn on rental income assumptions for the serviced workstations proposed for the site.

When the item was “called in” earlier in the month for review, business plan assumptions were only displayed via a projector, giving Councillors no chance to evaluate them.

Westfield Councillors launch "save our care services" campaign

Westfield LibDem candidates launch “save our care services” campaign

If the business case is flawed, then nearly £500,000 of taxpayers money (out of a potential £9.2 million total cost) is already  at risk as the project moves to its next stage.

So there is growing evidence that this business case has also been “fudged”.

So what next?

There are Council elections on May 7th and a record number of candidates (over 200) are likely to be seeking votes. Most have now declared themselves and are beginning to actively canvass for  support.

The prosperity of our City depends on having a team of  able Councillors with a mix of life and work experiences.

Most of the failed Cabinet decisions can be put down to a system which prevents debate and which encourages secrecy.

That needs to be changed, with the traditional “committee system” being the obvious alternative.

Failing that, Cabinet membership should be restricted to Councillors with at least 5 years experience.

On May 7th, electors will need to look beyond the headline policies and seek out the hidden – potentially unpopular – promises which may be hidden in the manifesto small print.

 Hardly anyone noticed in 2011 that Labour intended to introduce wide area 20 mph speed limits – but the policy was there, on the Labour web site, albeit in the small print.

Most of all voters will, on May 7th, need to look beyond party labels and ask who would be the best representative for the ward and for the City?

Who has the best blend of skills, experience and a track record in the local neighbourhood?

Then there is the culture issue that the York Council faces.

Some changes have been made in the months since the Council became “balanced”.  But more needs to be done.

The writing was on the wall from the day when the new Labour Cabinet took office in 2011. Cllr Alexander apparently told the Chief Executive that her job targets were to implement the Labour manifesto.

That attempt to politicise officials may be partly responsible for the attempts that are still being made to suppress information and use the Councils press office to “spin” bad news stories.

That has to stop when the new Council takes over in May.

It is difficult also not to conclude that, to convince residents that a new start is being made, a refresh of the Councils management team should be undertaken.

Council officials are normally proud of their political impartiality.

This is now more in question in York than at any time since the late Rod Hills appointed two former Labour Councillors to Chief Officer posts when he had control of the Council.

Many residents may feel that  the May 7th poll can’t come soon enough.