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.

MP candidate line up completed

As we predicted 6 weeks ago, Labour have parachuted a London based Trades Union official into the York Central constituency to be their MP candidate in place of Hugh Bayley.

Their decision completes the candidate line up with both Tories and Labour now offering only London based candidates to electors.

Of the major parties, only the Liberal Democrat Nick Love has genuine local credentials, having lived in York since 1985 when he came to study at University of St John. 

2010 General Election result

Labour Councillor misled residents on Local Plan housing demand

Call to end Cabinet system “dictatorship”

Stories in the media today confirm what many have suspected for some time.

Big City Our City logot

 Labour’s “Big City” Local Plan exaggerated the demand for new housing in York.

In publishing a consultation document last year, they claimed that 850 additional home per year were justified by central government population growth estimates.

It turns out that the figure was known to be 750, with the prospect that it will be scaled down further as more recent trends are confirmed.

The lower figures make a major difference to the amount of land required for development, and taken with the surge in brownfield planning applications over the last 2 years (on sites that were not identified for housing in the draft Local Plan),  it means that there is even less justification for building on Green Belt sites.

The only realistic plan which preserves the character, scale and setting of the City was that published in February 2011. Liberal Democrats had previously identified brownfield sites on which over 12,000 new homes could be built in York

Mystery over commercial web site deepens

With a web address only registered in January ( http://www.loveyorkletsplan.co.uk/ ), the new site slavishly promotes out of date figures (and thinking). It claims to be independent but the funding for the organisation is unclear. Some commentators have suggested that it is simply a front for commercial developers – particularly those with an interest in the 4000 home development planned for Rawcliffe/Skelton.

Debate is healthy but any site which promotes a particular political view should be transparent. The names of the sponsors would be clear, particularly in the run up to elections when partisan comments are subject to legal controls.

The web site makes the mistake of implying that “at least 850” additional homes need to be built each year. It also claims incorrectly that only 5000 brownfield housing sites are available in York. Neither is true (see above)

End cabinet member dictatorship

The latest revelation, that figures were misrepresented by a Cabinet member, has renewed calls for the present decision taking system to be scrapped.  Labour enjoyed the support of only 40% of those voting in the 2011 Council elections, yet were able to form a Cabinet which exercised widespread delegated powers. Inexperience and the elixir of power quickly turned the Council into a dictatorship with many local residents views being publicly reviled. 

We have seen how absolute power corrupts with examples in both Rotherham and Redcar this week.  Labour in York may be on the same slippery slope. Only defections and a by elections defeat have recently forced them to show some humility.

There can be no way back for the Executive/Cabinet system, irrespective of whom wins the Council elections in May.

The tried and trusted committee system – jettisoned by the York Council in 1997 – needs to be brought back albeit with some refinements.

The traditional system involves all members of the Council – irrespective of party – in decision taking. It promotes debate before decisions are taken. Modern technology can be used to inject some timely public participation into York’s decision taking process.

Hopefully a new national government will allow Councils to use a system of proportional presentation in local elections, where residents want it. Such a system guarantees that all parties (and viewpoints) are represented on a local Council……  and that would be healthy for democracy and may prompt a higher turnout in local elections.

Labour members rile against MP selection process

One Labour member has lifted the veil on how the UNITE trades union is trying to parachute its preferred candidate into the York Central constituency candidate vacancy. As we have said before, this is a matter for the dwindling number of Labour supporters to sort out. Electors will, however, be expecting to select from a list where serious candidates can demonstrate a real interest in the City over an extended period of time.

Broken rose

The controversy does, however, reinforce how institutions like trades unions do seek to impose their sectional views on political parties and, through them, local residents.

Many Labour Councillors in York admit trades union sponsorship in their declarations of interests?

According to a response to a recent Freedom of Information request, of the 6255 staff employed by the York Council, 1780 are members of trades unions.

 There are 5 staff who spend at least half their time of trade’s union activities.

 The total cost to York Council Taxpayer of trades union activates is £138, 401 pa.

£33,000 is spent on office costs