In a hole – continue digging

Secrecy culture alive and well at the York Council

“Decision” notice published by York Council yesterday

The latest, on the confidential report saga at the York Council, has been revealed.

Councillors are being asked to sign a “confidentiality agreement” before they will be allowed to see a report into last year’s, very public, fall out at the Audit and Governance Committee.

What happened at the meeting has been in the public arena from day one as a “webcast” allowed residents to view the meeting “on line”. The recording of the meeting is still available.

Relations between Council officials and some committee members broke down and subsequently an investigatory report was commissioned. A heavily redacted copy of that report was presented to an Audit meeting but not surprisingly Councillors said that they could not do their jobs without sight of the full report.  Subsequently Councillors agreed to discuss the report in private, but officials initially refused to release it in advance of their meeting.

Now it transpires that -with a shuffle in committee membership in the offing next week – those participating will only get “hard copy” and will have to sign a legally binding confidentiality agreement.

But how does this protect the interests of taxpayers? If the independent report – which cost several thousands of pounds to produce – is critical of processes or structures how can residents be confident that there will not be a repetition?

We look forward to hearing how Councillors intend to restore confidence in their stewardship?

In the meantime, several Freedom of Information requests have been lodged in an attempt to get the full report into the public domain.


But the York Council is not alone in seeking to cast a veil over accountability issues. Earlier last week, the Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire was expected to answer questions about the unexplained and hasty departure of the last Chief Constable from his post.

The overnight decision came without warning , leaving some doubt about whether the appropriate 3 months’ notice had been given (and if so when).

At a public “scrutiny” meeting , the PCC refused to answer questions on the topic before choosing to  eject the press and public and  go into a private session.

A similar “immediate retirement” occurred in 2011 when the then Deputy Chief Constable left the force. It was several years before the full picture behind the decision emerged.

Some officials don’t seem to realise that the reputation of an organisation is likely to be further damaged in the eyes of the public by secrecy – and the inevitable speculation that follows – rather than adopting a more open and frank approach from the outset.

Lendal Bridge – what Labour were going to say before their U turn

York Council plans for use of fine income click to enlarge

York Council plans for use of fine income click to enlarge

Details of a draft report on the future of the Lendal Bridge traffic restrictions, which was written before the scheme was abandoned, reveal that Labour had intended to continue with the restrictions.

The report was substantially rewritten when it became clear that the Council had been acting unlawfully in fining over 50,000 motorists who had travelled over the bridge during restricted hours. To make that decision, the Council used an arcane interpretation of its own constitution claiming that the Council Leader “could take any decision which would normally be taken by the Cabinet“.

It is clear from the report that key background information was still not available when the Leader took his decision on 8th April.

Although draft reports are often re-written to improve clarity before they are published, there are some glaring differences and omissions from the report being considered by the Cabinet later today (Tuesday).

Reinvigorate York

The original draft claimed that

“de-trafficking of Lendal Bridge and environs also allows buses to be removed from Exhibition Square and makes it easier to deliver the Reinvigorate York scheme there”. In arguing in favour of the restrictions being made permanent the draft report goes on to say,”

The Reinvigorate York schemes proposed for Exhibition Square and Duncombe Place would be limited in scope, reducing the ability to make significant enhancements to the public realm or attract additional footfall to the city centre. Other transport aspirations could also be curtailed, in particular options for, and the operation of, a public transport interchange at the station and the ability to provide journey time and reliability improvements for public transport”.

The final report fails to mention any dependence the “reinvigorate” programme might have on the Lendal Bridge scheme.


The final report plays down the effect that the closure has had on traffic congestion.

The original draft admitted, “During the Lendal Bridge trial additional delay and congestion has been experienced at the Water End junction. Analysis of the TrafficMaster data has identified that during the 4pm – 5pm period some journeys can experience significant extra delay”.

The draft implies criticism of the timing of the trial saying that the A59 road works had made congestion worse. The premature timing of the trail was a criticism made by many residents a year ago.

The draft report in admitting major congestion issues at Water End suggests changes to traffic signals at Salisbury Terrace. “Longer term measures are being investigated should the completion of the A59/A1237 road works not resolve the traffic issues in this location. (Cabinet Member briefing note is available and with alteration could be provided as an annex)”.

No annex was provided in the final report.

Visitor Numbers

The draft report said, “Since 2010 there has been a downward trend in footfall in the city centre, approximately 11% reduction in annual total 2010-2013 (as measured in Parliament St)”. The report was annotated to say “What is happening nationally? City centre/out of town?”

No such information is provided in the final report

Also omitted from the final report, but included in the draft, was the comment

For most of the trial the number of PCNs being issued has remained at a relatively constant level, rather than reduce and plateau as predicted”


One of the most telling sections of the draft report (and not included in the public version) was an analysis of the increased costs that the trial had accumulated during its 7 month period of operation.