Fresh light shed on York’s mysterious QUANGOs

Some of the affairs of York’s taxpayer funded but independently managed organisation are to be subject to public review next week. The Councils first comprehensive “Shareholder” committee meeting is to look at the results being obtained by several organisations.

These include

  • Make it York (The tourism and marketing body)
  • Veritau Ltd – An audit body
  • City of York Trading – A recruitment and temporary staff agency
  • Yorwaste/SJB Recycling (Process local waste and refuse)

In the past these bodies have been subject to intermittent “light” scrutiny with many background details contained in “confidential” annexes. Several private annexes are still being reported to next Tuesday’s meeting but fewer than in the past

The meeting is being chaired by Cllr Nigel Ayre who was also responsible for bringing into the public domain reports on the Councils major contracts letting processes.

Make it York (MIY) plans to appoint a new post of “Head of Commercial and Revenue Generation” at a basic salary of £60,000 a year. Performance bonuses could bring the remuneration up to £80.000 pa. MIY failed to recruit to the post at a lower salary earlier in the year. The post has the objective of increasing MIY’s revenues over time such that the company can, in the first instance, become self-funding (relieving the council of its ongoing financial contribution to the business) and, beyond that, increasing the sums available to reinvest in the city.

It is unclear how potential conflicts between commercial targets and York’s traditional values will be reconciled. There have been too many disputes between local traders, visitors and residents in the past few years.

Separately MIY reports an expected £248,063 loss in the year. This is 6304 above budget expectations. Increased overheads are blamed together with poor merchandise sales in the tourist centre.  The organisations new Chair Greg Dyke is due to take over the role in January.

The report touches on the Christmas Market and ongoing difficulties with access for traders (see below).

Veritau Ltd, a company jointly owned by North Yorkshire County Council and the City of York Council, wants to expand. It hopes in future to provide audit services for several additional Council and other public bodies.

City of York Trading Ltd (trading principally as WorkwithYork and WorkwithSchools) was formed in 2011 with the intention of supplying temporary staff to CYC, to schools (in and around the York area) and to other outside organisations. Through City of York Trading Ltd, the reductions in cost to CYC and the return of the profit achieved are designed to assist CYC’s financial position. If CYC had to source staff in the open market, the cost would be substantially higher than current rates paid to the Company.

Unfortunately the reports from this organisation continue to be largely opaque. The shareholder committee is being asked to approve a business plan which is enclosed in a confidential annex. Similarly, the committee is being asked to endorse the appointment of a n additional company director but without the name of the candidate being revealed.

The net cost/return to the Council of this body is not revealed.

Yorwaste/SJB Recycling. The York Council owns 23% of this company. Yorwaste operates Waste Transfer Stations (WTS), Materials Recycling Facilities (MRF), Green Waste Composting, and HWRCs for both NYCC and CYC. It also manages the closed landfill aftercare obligations at several sites including Harewood Landfill (which closed to general waste in March of this year). SJB currently operates three sites (based at Yorkshire Water waste plants) providing green waste composting services to local authorities.

The company is forecasting a loss of over £300,000 on the year. The company blames the impact of a facility closure (Seamer); external commodity prices; and two waste fires for the downturn in its fortunes.

SJB is forecasting a reduced level of profit (£159,000). With 2 of its three operational sites closing it is heavily dependent on achieving a new contract before the end of the year.

Greg Dyke to take over at “Make it York”

The “Make it York” (MIY) Quango is to get a new chair with former York University Chancellor Greg Dyke set to replace Jane Gibson.

Fossgate Festival Make It York

A council report says, “an open, objective and rigorous recruitment process was undertaken supported by specialist head-hunters, Perrett Laver. The role was advertised through the Guardian jobs. Over 100 individuals were involved and these were shortlisted down to a final four. Following an interview with a panel of city stakeholders Mr Dyke emerged as the preferred candidate”

Mr Dyke holds non-executive roles with the London Film School (Chair), Trafalgar Entertainment Group (Chair), BAFTA (Vice President) and was previously Chair of the Football Association, the Ambassador Theatre Group and the British Film Institute amongst others.

His executive career included spells as Chief Executive of London Weekend Television and Director General of the BBC. He knows the city well having been Chancellor of the University of York for 11 years, and has very senior-level experience of working across a number of sectors.

The new Chair will join the organisation at a difficult time. Other tourism bodies (MIY supervises the work of “Visit York”) like “Welcome to Yorkshire” have been criticised for having a cavalier approach to the use of public funds.

MIY itself has been involved in wrangles with local traders and is often accused of a lack of transparency in its processes.

It is 100% owned by the City of York Council.

A review of governance arrangement is overdue.

Fall-out from Balloon Fiesta noise complaints

The Council has admitted that it received a lot of complaints about noise levels experienced during the Balloon Fiesta which took place on the Knavesmire at the end of September.

The noise complaints didn’t relate to the balloons themselves (which mostly failed to get off the ground because of weather conditions).

The event was organised by Events and Attractions Limited, a York based company.

Officials of the Council firmly put the blame for lack of control on the premises license holder for the Knavesmire. This they identify as “Make it York”.

 Make it York is the secretive QUANGO set up by the Council several years ago to run tourism and promotional events in the City.  

Make it York were apparently told that a statutory noise nuisance was witnessed by Council officials over weekend of the 27th and 28th September.

According to an email seen by a local Councillor,

Make it York were asked to provide details of how they were going to prevent any further recurrences of noise nuisance from events at the Knavesmire and they have, as a result, submitted an application for a minor variation to the existing  premises licence. This application requests that an additional condition is added to the existing premises licence and will require Make it York to submit a noise management plan for approval by City of York Council within two months of the licence being varied. Once approved the noise management plan would be implemented immediately for any events held on the Knavesmire and operated under the premises licence”.

“It is anticipated that any submitted noise management plan will identify all potential noise sources associated with events taking place on the and provide details on strategies which will be implemented to minimise the disturbance caused to residents from those sources, especially those activities where amplified music is involved. It is also anticipated that any submitted noise management plan will also detail methods for monitoring and controlling the noise and how Make it York will respond to any noise complaint received in the future.

 As a result of the above it is the view of officers in Public Protection that such a condition should, if implemented correctly and adhered to, result in any noise from events taking place on the Knavesmire, and operated under the premises licence, being reduced to a satisfactory level such that it shouldn’t cause any further noise nuisance”.

The issue comes to a head at a difficult time for tourism support organisations in the region. “Welcome to Yorkshire” had to sack their Chief Executive following allegations of extravagance. The organisation subsequently had to be bailed out by taxpayers with a new Chairman promising more transparency in the future.

Make it York” is likely to be subject to similar calls.

It receives a substantial taxpayer subsidy, but its meetings are held behind closed doors.

The only sliver of accountability comes through brief and infrequent updates to a Council committee. The Council nominates two representatives to the Make it York 12 person Board (currently Cllrs Mason and Taylor)

According to the organisation’s web site, “The current turnover of Make It York is around £4.8 million per annum, generated commercially from a range of revenue sources. Other than any dividends payable to the Shareholder, any surplus is invested back into the city.

With respect to its corporate structure, Make It York is a private limited company limited by shares and has an independent Board of Directors.

 Its sole Shareholder is City of York Council”

York Business Improvement District performance review

320,000 pieces of chewing gum removed from pavements.

York Councillors will be considering  a report on Wednesday that reviews the work of the York BID.  The, mainly business funded organisation, was formed in April 2016 and aims to improve the attractiveness of the City centre.

The report includes an impressive list of achievements. The blight of chewing gum on footpaths is produces a particularly eye catching headline. In addition, 961 pieces of graffiti and fly posters have been removed.

The BID ranger service has also helped to reduce anti-social behaviour and address other criminal activities.

There has been a 1.9% increase in footfall in the City.

The report comes at a time when the government has announced that it will not be funding an initiative to regenerate the York  “Future High Street” The shortlisted cities include places like Wakefield and Sheffield, but North Yorkshire has been snubbed.

Last month the government, the Architectural Heritage Fund and the National Lottery Heritage Fund announced a £62 million package of support to breathe new life into historic high streets across the country, to restore historic buildings, create new work spaces and cultural venues. As part of the overall funding, £55 million had been allocated from the Future High Streets Fund. We still hope to see York benefit from this type of government support.

The York BID has been successful initiative and has made a real difference to the quality of the City centre. It has been criticised for drawing Council resources away from sub-urban centres like Acomb but overall the BID is viewed positively.

There are ongoing issues with more improvements needed to the streetscape – too many weeds and too much graffiti – and of course empty properties. The latter in areas like Coney Street now look to be intractable problems, which is why the governments attitude to the City is so disappointing.

Some underused sites and buildings – including those owned by the Council – need to be redeveloped quickly now. The meeting on Wednesday will hear from the Executive member with responsibility for “Economy and Strategic Planning”. Members will no doubt be hoping to hear some positive news about the use of empty property economic development activities in the whole of the City.

We hope that corporate interests will similarly ensure that prominent, but derelict, sites like that next to the Barbican will also now be developed (or at least tidied up).

Overall the BID has had a successful 3 years and can look with confidence to an extension of its mandate.

NB. “Make it York” is reporting separately on its activities click here to read their report

“Make it York” reports financial progress

The Make it York organisation, which is partly funded by York taxpayers, is reporting that it has made a £140,714 profit so far this year.  That is £71,900 above budget expectations

They currently have a balance sheet surplus of £330,000

The organisation reports that it had a successful Christmas and claims “continuing strong performance from Shambles Market, City Centre Activities and Visit York Membership”

No detail is provided on the Shambles market performance.

The brief report to a “shareholder “ meeting also says that the “York Pass” initiative has been less successful than hoped.

Looking to the future the report says, “MIY currently runs or facilitates a range of events which animate the public realm and make the city vibrant and interesting for visitors and residents. There is scope though to use the “stage” provided to do, and to facilitate, a great deal more, the ultimate objective being to ensure a daily “wow” factor

York Council agonises over targets for “Make it York”

Coney Street decline

The Make it York organisation – which is owned by the York Council – will once again have only soft targets set for it this year.

A meeting will take place on 23rd July at which a Service Level Agreement will be agreed between the organisation and the Council. Once again though few numerical targets are included in the documentation.

There is still no mention of customer satisfaction measures.

Volume information is largely missing as are speed stats.

Narrative reports are promised  but without objective measures these are largely opinion based.

The Council currently contributes £299,000 a year to the organisation. It is responsible for economic strategy, business support, tourism and the Shambles market. It is the lead agency for cultural promotion. It claims credit for the success of the recent “Bloom” festival.

It has been criticised in the past for being very City centre orientated despite which it has failed to arrest the decline in shopping areas like Coney Street.

Its management processes remain largely opaque.

 

 

More York shops closing

Coney Street decline

“Make it York” reports to Council

The “Make it York” (MIY) Quango has produced its latest 6-month report justifying the Councils substantial investment. The report can be read by clicking here

There is the usual litany of meetings and globetrotting trips to conventions of one sort or another.

However, those hoping to see some gloom lifted from the City’s retail sector will be disappointed. With still more household names choosing to flee the City (the latest is Homebase) MIY would be expected to lead the revival.

Unfortunately, =- except for part of the Shambles Market – there is little evidence of recovery.

Sooner or later landlords will have to reduce rent levels in areas like Coney Street. The City’s smaller retailers need to gear up to exploit the opportunities that arise. MIY should be providing them with longer-term support.

York Bid Improvement District (BID)

More successful is the trade funded BID. They have also provided a report (click) They report good progress in dealing with anti-social behaviour, Christmas lights  and litter in the City Centre.

The report says,

“So far the BID has invested in dressing 13 vacant shops across the city to improve the appearance of York’s high streets.

The most notable is the BHS frontage on Coney Street. Coupled with the anti-loitering scheme enforced by the BID Rangers, this has gone a long way to improving the aesthetic of an area which has been the target of littering, rough sleeping, anti-social behaviour and drug abuse”.

Less convincing is their claim that spending £36,000 on new direction signage will “encourage people to walk and thus improve health”

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.