York Council election manifestos (Updated)

Postal voters in York will start to receive their ballot papers next week in preparation for the Council elections taking place on 2nd May

Some details of policies are emerging with the Labour, Green and Liberal Democrat parties now having published their manifestos “on line”. Click the links below to access them. Apparently the Conservatives haven’t published a 2019 manifesto. The link below is to their 2015 effort.




Conservative 2015

There are also 10 independents standing all with their own unique views. Those views vary from soft left to extreme right wing. Its anyone’s guess what policies they might pursue if elected. Most, however, lack active supporters, so just the task of getting an election address through everyone’s letterbox may be a challenge for some of them.

The Greens web site is a confused array of policy links with brevity and clarity a bit lacking.

NB. One presentational matter unites the parties. Most have opted to photograph their candidates “en masse”. The LibDems and Labour hold up placards or leaflets like a group of chauffeurs waiting outside the “Arrivals” gate at Manchester airport. The Greens – in the absence of placards – have hands to spare with most opting for a left handed version of a salute awkwardly reminiscent of that made famous by an Austrian some 80 years ago. The Tories don’t appear to have united their candidates yet to the point where individual or collective photos can actually be taken.

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 Tory Leader must stand down

The decision of the Tory Council Leader, to try to sack his opposite number in the LibDem Group this week, is without precedent.

Cllrs Aspden and Carr

In doing so, Cllr Carr broke an agreement which had seen a stable administration take control of a Council which in 2015 had been badly bruised by a series of unpopular and impulsive decisions by its predecessor. That (Labour led) administration rightly paid a heavy penalty at the polls, the results of which also left the Council balanced with “no overall control”.

Many hoped for a return to the “committee system” where decisions were taken at meetings where the attendance reflected the political makeup of the Council. Sadly, that was not to be, but a more inclusive form of governance emerged with all parties now represented at Executive meetings.

It provided a platform for 4 years of stable government although few would have expected an entirely peaceful relationship given the differences between the Tory and LibDem parties at national level, not least on policies such as Europe.

Ironically, it appears that it was an officer decision to investigate the source of a leak to The Press newspaper that prompted last week’s meltdown. There hasn’t been a similar crisis in local government in the City since the then Council Leader Rod Hills was investigated by the Police in the early part of the last decade.

It is only recently that Council Leaders were given the powers to “hire and fire” Executive/Cabinet members at will.

It is a responsibility which needs to be exercised with caution and consideration. In a coalition arrangement, it also needs to be exercised through consent.

That clearly hasn’t happened.

The situation has been inflamed by Cllr Carr’s description of the allegations against two LibDem Executive members as “serious”.  Whether something is “serious” is a subjective judgement and one that may prejudice any consideration by the Councils Standards Board.

In the meantime, the coalition protocols are effectively suspended.  It will require good will on all sides if essential decision-making processes are to be exercised in the best interests of the people of York.

A more experienced Council Leader (Cllr Carr was first elected in 2015) would have found ways of mitigating any issues.  A good start would have been to consider the outcomes of any reference to the local Standards Board before taking unilateral action. Significantly, several Councillors – from all parties – have had their actions referred for investigation in the past but have continued to work as normal pending an judgement.

There is no happy outcome in prospect.

If the coalition is to continue for a while longer, then the Tories will have to replace their Leader with someone with more experience and flair.

That would allow a fresh start to be made with the interests of the City put above political posturing.