Council promises more transparency in Quango monitor as….

….Council officials trouser £9000 in Directors fees from “City of York Trading”

secret-meeting-safe-picThe York Council has said that its “Shareholder Group”, set up to monitor the performance of the new “Make it York” (MIY) Quango, will in future meet in public. The decision follows criticism of the Council for failing to establish, and publish, performance measures covering the whole of the new organisations remit.

Noticeably absent are any measures for City centre management and markets activities.

The Shareholder Group met in private on 6th July. No minutes of the meeting have yet been published. Following a Freedom of Information request, background information has been published but it is unlikely that any taxpayer would easily find it on the Councils web site (Click here)

There is no evidence that the five Councillors involved in the shareholders group have challenged MIYs controversial plans to demolish the fountain in Parliament Street or to re-site the popular children’s Christmas Carousel ride.

The next meeting of the group will apparently take place on 5th October. However the group does not yet even appear in the list of committees published by the Council.

All in all, it is time for senior Councillors to get a grip of the processes being used to ensure that the £918,000 of taxpayer’s money – handed to MIY – is being spent wisely and following proper consultation with residents.

City of York Trading (CYT)

Following the decision of the Councils Executive to ask for more information about City of York Trading it has emerged that two Council officials have been paid £9000 in connection with their Directorships of the Company. The Company is wholly owned by the York Council and mainly matches surplus resources to vacancies in the public sector.

The information emerged in response to a Freedom of Information request.

Directors at the York Council have a salary of around £100,000 a year while Assistant Directors receive about £75,000.

It is unclear who authorised the additional payments, when and for what reason?

One of the more controversial aspects of the revised constitution for CYT (and MIY) were proposals to remunerate Directors. It had been assumed that this would not apply to Council officials or Councillors, but this may not be the intention.

No declarations of interest were made in the papers prepared for the Executive meeting on 27th August.

Recently, Councillors in York have been more open in declaring their financial interests and the hospitality they have accepted. Current listings confirm that none have received remuneration from local Quangos like those that now run our libraries, theatre and museums..

Proper declarations have also been made for outside bodies such as the LGA and Yorwaste on which the Council has a shareholder interest, although there is currently no requirement to reveal the level of any remuneration received.

Christmas children’s carousel petition tops 2000 signatures

York Christmas Carousel

York Christmas Carousel

A petition, asking for York’s traditional Christmas Carousel ride to be retained in St Sampsons Square, has gained the support of over 2000 people.

It will be formally handed over to the York Council on Friday at 2:00pm (West Offices).

The new “Make it York” (MIT) organisation has been criticised for trying to force the ride to move onto an alternative – less accessible – site at the Eye of York.

 It emerged today that senior managers at MIY have not been prepared to enter into discussions with the ride operator Warringtons over the alternative location.

 It is understood that a “take it or leave” option was put forward in August but that there has been no subsequent negotiation

An electronic version of the petition can still be signed. Click here to access it.

NB A response to a Freedom Of Information probe into the objectives set for the – wholly Council owned – “Make it York” organisation is expected to be published later this week.

Carousel petition gathers 500 signatures in one week

Members of the public ride a carousel adjacent to the 'St Nicholas Fair' Christmas market in the city centre of York, Northern England on December 3, 2014. AFP PHOTO / OLI SCARFF        (Photo credit should read OLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images)

A petition, in support of retaining children’s rides in St Sampson’s Square at Christmas, has attracted 500 signatures. 

This petition will be available to sign for another week.

The paper based petition, which can be signed at the Carousel, supplements the Epetition which can be found on the Councils web site, and which will be available for another 3 weeks.

It is hoped it will persuade the Council and “Make It York” to change their plans to allocate the children’s site to another – alcohol based – “festive attraction”.

Make it York – the unanswered questions

The confused relationship between York’s newest QUANGO “Make it York” (MIY) and the Council will be up for discussion at a meeting taking place later in the week.

Parliament Street fountainA scrutiny committee will consider how the new organisation will be held to account.

In April MIY took over management responsibilities for tourism, “Science City” and activities in the “City Centre” including the market.

The Council has agreed to pay Make it York £918,000 in 2015/16 and £898,000 in both 2016/17 and 2017/18.

In return, Make it York is required to reimburse the Council £374,000 representing the net income that the council historically collected from City centre Markets and events.

click to enlarge

click to enlarge

The funding is not ring fenced or stipulated against any particular category of spend.

An unseemly row developed a couple of weeks ago when MIY announced that the fountain in Parliament Street would be demolished to make way for more specialist market stalls. There had been no prior consultation before the event.

The Council has so far refused to publish a table indicating the performance indicators that the new organisation will be judged on. What has emerged into the public arena this week is a copy of the Service Level Agreement apparently signed off by all parties in March. Click here to download

It includes a very limited number of PIs. (See table right)

There are also a number of “self reported” performance measures (which will be difficult to verify)

Examples include

  • “creating 700 jobs  through interventions, with at least 500 estimated to be paid above national median wage (currently £11.62 per hour)”
  • “2,000,000 unique visitors accessing promotional or informative material about York for visiting, culture and events through channels in the ownership and influence of the company, e.g. VisitYork.org (total from web / twitter / youtube / visitor information centre / face to face etc) each year”

Noticeably lacking are numeric targets for City centre management activities.

Lack of transparency has always been one of the key issues with QUANGOS. Bodies like MIY, which are receiving large amounts of Council taxpayer’s money, need to be tied down on measurable – and independently verifiable – numeric targets.

It seems that part of the process hasn’t yet been completed.

It is therefore hardly surprising that there is a lack of baseline data which should have been published in April.

Time for the Council to get roles and responsibilities sorted out we think.

Parliament Street fountain demolition to be reviewed

Parliament Street fountainYork’s Liberal Democrat Executive Member for Leisure, Culture & Tourism has called for a review of the plan to demolish the fountain on Parliament Street.

 Make It York, the city’s new destination management organisation, said earlier this month that the fountain should go in order to create a more attractive open space which could be used by festivals. It is understood that the previous Labour Cabinet Member had given the green-light to demolition, but since last week residents have said that they want the fountain to stay and an online petition has been launched. This petition runs until August.

The fountain was originally installed 25 years ago, but the power supply was switched off in 2012 when the Parliament Street toilets were demolished.

Cllr Nigel Ayre, Liberal Democrat Executive Member for Leisure, Culture & Tourism, has now said that there should be a cross-party look at the options. He commented:

“The previous Labour administration wasted millions on vanity schemes in the city-centre that had no cross-party or public support such as the controversial King’s Square redevelopment. We are taking a different approach and therefore, when the petition closes, I will ask the council’s cross-party Learning & Culture policy committee to undertake a review.

“This review will allow councillors and residents to have their say and decide how they want the space in Parliament Street to be used within the budget constraints which currently exist. It should be a short review which will also involve proper consultation with market traders and with Make it York.”

 

NB Cllr Ayre aims to initiate the short review at September’s cross-party Learning & Culture Policy and Scrutiny Committee and no formal decision on the fountain will be taken before

10 Council staff to be transferred to “Make it York”

Behind closed doors logoIn a behind closed doors decision, York Council officials have agreed to transfer 10 staff to the new “Make it York” company.

The transfers will be made on 1st July. They employees come from the economic development department, events and City centre management

46 staff have already been transferred to the company from “Visit York” and “Science City”

The last Council was heavily criticised for taking decision like this without firs publishing papers giving the reason for the proposals.

There are also outstanding issues with new organisation on governance and the need to establish and report on measurable performance goals for the company.

Make it York has been criticised for failing to involve sub-urban commercial areas like Front Street in its development plans.