Decision on “Make it York” future

The Council must decide whether to renew a three year contract with Make it York (MIY) at a meeting taking place later this week.

The organisation is a curious hybrid with responsibility for a disparate range of functions including business development, tourism, culture and the Shambles market.

For residents, its City centre activities are likely to have the highest profile.  Many initiatives there, including the Christmas lights and anti-litter patrols, are the brainchild of the, trade funded, “York BID”

MIY has been criticised for its opaque decision-making processes.  As a “wholly owned Council company” it should be subject to regular review by a “stakeholder” committee and at least two of the Council’s scrutiny committees (which are themselves famously obtuse).

In realty the “stakeholder committee” rarely meets, while the Council’s two representatives on the MIY board have a largely subterranean profile.

Success has been limited, with a confusing array of bodies (LEP North Yorkshire, LEP City Region, York BID etc.) rubbing shoulders in the same field.

Coney Street decline

MIY can take some credit in helping to sustain the number of tourists coming to the City. This is an important part of the economy and visitor numbers have increased, partly on the back of a weak pound.

Employment levels in the City also remain high

The biggest criticism of the Council’s approach is a lack of smart PIs on which to judge the organisations success.

Very noticeably, there are no customer satisfaction measures in the current set, other than those for participating businesses.

MIY receives an annual £300,000 subsidy from taxpayers.

York economy performing well but….

St Nicholas market popular this year

The start of “Business Week” in the City coincides with the publication of a progress report by “Make it York” (MIY). This is the QUANGO charged with developing the York economy and particularly the visitor sector and markets.

Reading the report, one might think that all was rosy in the garden.

There has been a steady stream of tourists visiting the City this year. They have partly been attracted by a series of festivals while other initiatives like the food court on the market have attracted favourable publicity.

The complementary York BID scheme has produced tangible improvements to the streetscape coupled with imaginative lighting schemes.

However, part of the success in attracting foreign visitors is down to the low value of the pound.

The MIY report is singularly short of figures.

One look around the City centre, at this the busiest shopping period of the year, reveals that key shop units are still empty several years after they become vacant. The pile of empty shipping containers on Parliament Street doesn’t help while the surface of the City’s most popular car park (Castle) is in an appalling condition. Advanced car parking space availability signs – and their “on line” counterparts – haven’t worked for over 4 years.

This all adds to a depressed feel in the “high street”.

The report – to be considered by a Council scrutiny committee on 28th November – considers progress against a limited number of targets. Some issues, like the shortage of labour and key skills, aren’t mentioned.

Nor is any attempt made to assess the impact that BREXIT will have on the City economy over the next five years or more.

We hope that Councillors, faced with a bland report, will ask questions which root out any complacency.

“Venturefest” set to be ditched by Make it York?

The Venturefest event, which as recently as last November attracted over 1000 participants to York Racecourse,  is set to be ditched by “Make it York”

The decision is revealed in papers submitted to the York Council by the quasi-independent “destination management” company “Make it York”.

In November local media said “Venturefest Yorkshire attracted nearly 1,000 people to York Racecourse for a “gathering of innovators, entrepreneurs and investors”, which featured more than 100 exhibitors, as well as keynote speakers, workshops, seminars, networking opportunities and investment competitions. The event was regionally based for the first time, and was run by Make It York, the city’s destination organisation”.

At the time, Steve Brown, managing director of Make It York, told people attending the launch of York Business Week that “a few weeks previously only 100 people had booked for Venturefest, but that had risen to more than 700 as bookings came in “very late and very fast”. That figure later reached a little under 1,000, to the delight of organisers”.

One exhibitor explained what being at Venturefest meant to him, he said: “As a region we need to shout more about the things we do. We have lots of companies in York and Yorkshire that are innovating constantly, then moving on to other things and not shouting about what they’ve done”.

No explanation has been given regarding the future of the 13 year old festival which was handed over to Science City York (SCY) to organise.

The report says, SCY took over the management of Venturefest with a brief to reinvigorate a 10 year old event. Over 800 delegates, 127 exhibitors, 60 speakers and more than £1 million of business generated on the day combined to make it a successful event”.

Make it York say that their decision not to participate will cost them around £129,000 in lost income.

The company has also revealed that income from the  Shambles market will fall by a further  8% this year.

Proof, if it were needed, that the £1 million refurbishment implemented a couple of years ago has yet to arrest the decline in market usage.

York City centre traders desperate for good Christmas


Visitor numbers were down in September

It’s nearly a year since flooding brought chaos to parts of the York City centre.

Recovery has been slow with visitor numbers down as recently as September (right).

……but there are some encouraging signs.

City centre car parks have been well used this month and particularly over the last few days.

The Castle car park was full again today.

However there is little sign that the York Council has got the message and improved its “on street” and “on line” parking availability information.


St Nicholas Fair has been popular this year

St Nicholas Fair has been popular this year

Those who do find a space will find that the St Nicholas Fair is busy.

After a poor start, the “Make it York” organisation, working with the “Business Improvement District” (BID) team, have done a better job this year.

There is something for everyone – including traditional children’s rides in Kings Square – although not everyone will be impressed by the reliance on alcohol sales in Parliament Street.


Some parts of the City Centre are looking neglected

Some parts of the city centre are looking run down.

Coney Street – once the most popular shopping street in the City – has more than its fair share of empty properties since BHS closed its doors.

The Council is also guilty of neglecting some of its street furniture and signs.

Here hopefully the Civic Trusts “York Enhancement Fundwill help to redress the balance. We hope that more people will buy Ron Cooke’s thought provoking book “Changing the Face of the City” . The proceeds go to improving the City

city-centre-christmas-lights….and the lighting on the Bar walls has been acclaimed by many visitors this year.

2016 may yet go down as the year when things turned for the better in the York  retail economy


York Council still in a muddle over local QUANGOs

The York Council’s Executive is to consider its relationship with agent bodies and companies tomorrow.Quango list

The move comes in the wake of criticism of several bodies not least York City Trading where audits revealed that inappropriate payments had been made.  Other problems arose in relations with the York Museums Trust over charging arrangements and Make it York where apparently unilateral decisions angered residents

The organisations concerned depend on Council taxpayers for a lot of their income

One common criticism was a lack of transparency shown by the organisations (they are not subject to Freedom of Information legislation).

Concerns were also expressed that performance indicators – where published – were inappropriate or “soft”.

Campaign against secrecy started 5 years ago

Campaign against secrecy started 5 years ago

The expectation was the new Council would shake up the bodies and inject more democratic accountability.

Instead a disappointing report concentrates only on governance issues. Steps are being taken to separate executive and customer functions but little else. We will still have a bureaucratic muddle with little consistency and no new commitment to openness.

If approved without change, the Council will stand accused of ignoring many of the concerns expressed by taxpayers over the last five of years.

Important decisions affecting the City will continue to be taken “Behind Closed Doors”

York Council QUANGO set new targets

A watchdog committee will be told next week what the targets for the Councils wholly owned “Make it York” (MIY) organisation will be.

York's image to be improved  as alcohol dominates City centre economy

York’s image to be improved as alcohol dominates City centre economy

MIY has been the centre of controversy since it took over the management of City centre activities 12 months ago. 

It has just reported a £29,000 “profit” for last year …..but only after receiving nearly £1 million from local taxpayers.

Now the Council is saying that the subsidy for 2016/17 must be used to meet a range of targets which include;

  • Sustaining/creating “high value jobs” (Taxpayer contribution £179k) – This includes inward investment, account management with “500 jobs created above the national median wage”. In 2015/16 MIY claimed to have created 233 new jobs (against a target of 700) of which only 167 (target 500) where “high value”
  • Cultural/visual identity (£120k) – improving the City’s image (!), a year round creative lighting setup for the city centre, digital signposting and what’s on, city centre public realm enhancement and “the” Eye of York development.
  • Bring people and businesses together (£39k) – to “enable serendipity to happen” (!)
  • Community based economic initiatives (£30k) – includes rolling out Bishopthorpe Road “model” to other suburban shopping areas.

In addition, the MIY will promote the Shambles market and stimulate tourism albeit no numeric targets for these activities are included in the proposed “service level agreement”

What would success look like?

Most of these objectives are notoriously difficult to monitor. In particular, most economic growth is organic and would probably happen anyway without third party stimulation.

MIY has already fallen into the trap of measuring inputs (e.g. number of meetings held) rather than outputs. It is reminiscent of the last Councils flirtation with the exotic attractions of Cannes

If the organisation can make a “profit” then they appear to care little that local traders are squeezed out by high rents or that children lose their traditional pastimes.morris-world-missing-target

Performance numbers for 2015/16 will be considered at a “shareholders” meeting next week. They show that MIY missed all of their economic development targets during the last year

However, the number of potential tourists accessing Visit York information did achieve the 2 million target. The organisation also did better on business inquiries and conferences.

There are no customer satisfaction measures for city centre activities or the “markets” experience.

Total tourist numbers and entry numbers at attractions are not reported. Nor are hotel room occupancy figures.

In the wake of the City of York Trading scandal, the Council has promised a root and branch review of how its arm’s length companies and partner organisations are governed.

 The sooner that happens the better.

Auditors lifting veil on City of York Council

Problems revealed with project management and registering interests

Although the now notorious audit report on irregular staff payments is not on the agenda for the York Councils next Audit committee meeting, several other issues are.

click to view

click to view

The Councils auditors (Mazers) annual report does conclude that group accounts for “City of York Trading” and “Make it York” are not required.  The publication of separate accounts would make it easier for taxpayers to understand the level of any cross subsidy enjoyed by these organisations.

The Auditors do say, “In all entities, management at various levels is in a unique position to perpetrate fraud because of the ability to manipulate accounting records and prepare fraudulent financial statements by overriding controls that otherwise appear to be operating effectively. Due to the unpredictable way in which such override could occur, we consider there to be a risk of material misstatement due to fraud and thus a significant risk on all audits”.

They go on to conclude, “There have been some high profile examples of problems with project delivery, such as the housing for older people procurement and more recently with the community stadium project. This has been the first year of operation of the Better Care Fund, which requires the Council to work with the local CCG and the wider health economy to reduce demand for acute healthcare. Any failures in these areas could compound the Council’s financial and operational difficulties and impact adversely on services provided”.

The Auditors are understood to be looking carefully at failings in the management of the Community Stadium project and the collapse of the older persons accommodation strategy (both of which date from the time of the Labour administration in the City)

The background papers published yesterday list some individual areas which are being audited.Audit report April 2016

These include Project Management, Register of Interests and s117 of the Mental Health Act.  Draft reports on these issues reveal only “limited assurance” – meaning there are significant issues to be addressed. The reports are in draft form only and are being review internally at this stage. All are potential matters of public interest (S117 of the Mental Health Act requires authorities to provide community support for people leaving hospital).

Reports already issued reveal that several departments have not agreed performance standards with the Councils reception (business support) unit.  Two years seems a long time to wait for the Council to publish target times (and performance) for dealing with issues raises electronically. Recently reports of fly tipping took nearly two weeks to be passed on to the team responsible for actually tidying up some dumping.

Similarly, the auditors did find some sensitive information in offices when they did a security sweep.

Most of the Audit reports – and particularly those of schools – have however found procedures to be generally satisfactory

Mazars are charging the Council £138,000 for their work.

NB. The Councils Executive has so far failed to clarify what issues will be discussed at its 24th April meeting when the Public Interest Report on irregular staff payments is on the agenda.

Business Improvement District for York city centre – taxpayers asked for £50,000 loan

…..but still no sign of help for sub-urban commercial centres like Front Street
Front Street snubbed by Council

Front Street snubbed again by York Council

The York Council’s Executive will be asked to support the successful implementation of the Business Improvement District (BID) in York at a meeting on Thursday 28 January.

The meeting comes after a ballot in November 2015 saw businesses across the city centre vote in favour of a new Business Improvement District, which will deliver over £800,000 in new investment for the city centre each year.

Executive will be asked to note a draft memorandum of understanding and baseline operating agreement for the Business Improvement District ahead of final terms being reached.

The Executive will also be asked to approve a cash flow loan of up to £50,000 to help support the creation of the Business Improvement District. It’s proposed this loan will be reimbursed in full by Summer 2016.

The business-led BID will take decisions on how to invest in the city centre and will focus on areas such as improving the cleanliness of the city centre, tackling anti-social behaviour and supporting businesses.

However the Council continues to ignore calls for regeneration initiatives in sub-urban retail areas like Front Street. Its Quango partner organisation “Make it York” is also entirely focused on the City centre area.

The Council report also outlines City of York Council’s annual contribution, via levy, of around £28,000 beginning in the 2016/17 financial year. The BID will however reimburse the administrative cost of levy collection up to £25,000.

“Make it York” publish financial performance figures

Make it York“, the wholly Council owned QUANGO responsible for economic development activities in the City, has finally published its financial performance figures for the period up to and including November.

The figures include income from the St Nicholas Fair and Illuminating York but the cost of staging the two events are not revealed.

While the figures suggest that the company is on course to make a small surplus during the current financial year, the covering notes include a warning that the recent floods may impact on the final out-turns.

The figures are being discussed at a meeting which is taking place tomorrow (Monday) at West Offices (5:30pm). The meeting is open to members of the public.

It is expected that managers from Make it York will update the stakeholder committee on the actions that they took to help businesses that were being flooded on the evening of 26th December.

Residents will also want to know why plans to provide children’s rides at the St Nicholas Fair were abandoned?

click to access
click to access

“Make it York” in the dock

Make it York web site

Make it York web site

Rather awkwardly for York’s least favourite QUANGO, “Make it York” will have to face a meeting of its Shareholder’s Committee on 18th January.

The Shareholders Committee has so far failed to get to grips with the fact that the, wholly Council owned, organisation was launched without any meaningful performance indicators being agreed.

 Those that there are, rely heavily on – largely opaque – economic development stats and “Visit York” tourist numbers.

Many of the statistics, due to be reported to the meeting, are missing anyway.

It remains to be seen what the, so far largely sycophantic, Councillors on the committee make of the organisations failure to support business on the 26th and 27th of December when severe floods hit parts of the retail area.

Those looking to the Make it York website for information would have been disappointed.

It was to be a week before the organisation began to raise its head above the flood waters.

It is also the first meeting since the organisation broke its promise to provide a replacement attraction for the traditional Christmas carousel that they evicted from Parliament Street during the St. Nicholas Fair.

The alternative ride never materialised leaving many parents and children disappointed.

 It was, however, good news for drinkers, of course, as a bar in a tent appeared on Parliament Street.

The organisations “narrative report” makes no mention of the problems caused by the floods much less detailing the organisations response.

“Make it York” also continues to ignore sub-urban shopping areas like Acomb.

With the Councils budget meetings coming up shortly and money tight, the Make it York grant seems to offer a risk free economy.  As a minimum the governance and management arrangements for the organisation need a major rethink.