An iron curtain descends?

It seems that the York Council will stop publishing responses to Freedom of information requests on its web site.

In 2009 the York Council became one of the first in the country to allow on line public scrutiny of the responses to information requests.

We have been critical in the past about the speed of the Councils information responses.

This came to a head in 2014 when the Information Commissioner became involved. The then Labour controlled Council introduced a new web page which offered links to all FOI responses.  The web page was immediately criticised as responses were not listed in chronological order and were grouped under, seemingly, random headings. There was no search facility.

Improvements were promised but never materialised.

Other independent web sites grew up which aimed to make getting and viewing information easier.  The best known is probably

Now a report to a meeting taking place on Wednesday suggests that some officials want to make access to information even more difficult.

They intend to replace the current listings with what they term a “disclosure log”. No example of what such a log might look like are provided.

The report quotes an EU decision taken in 2016. The equivalent UK legislation became effective on 20th September 2019. It was aimed at improving accessibility for people with disabilities.

This is being interpreted by officials as preventing the publication of information on the Council web site in PDF* or Word format.

*NB.  There are many papers published on the Councils web site in PDF format including, ironically, the report being considered at Wednesday’s meeting!

Of concern, will be the implication that the FOI archive of decisions (going back 6 years) may no longer be easily accessible. This provides vital information for researchers. It also helps to avoid duplicate requests.

That, and loss of transparency on future responses, would be a major step backwards.

The report is for the “information” of the Council’s Audit and Governance” committee. They rightly should take a view on the issue but any decisions on obstructing public access to information must properly be made by the Councils Executive, following proper consultation

There is an provision in the legislation which allows an exemption for (historic) information translations where this would be an unreasonable burden on taxpayers.

The legislation does not cover third party web sites so information on should be unaffected.

Proper provision for disabled access can, and should, be made using, for example, a mirror site.

But this must not be at the expense of the amount of information released into the public domain.

So how good is the York Council at communicating?

The York Council is trumpeting today that, in an independent test, it scored a maximum 4 stars score for its web site. In a media release it claims that this ranks it in the 37 best (out of 414 checked) in the country according to an assessment published by SOCITM

A closer look at the figures reveals that only Social Care services, road works and refuse collection were checked. It is more than ironic that green bin emptying in parts of the City collapsed last week with little or no information on recovery being provided on the Councils web site.

On line access to parking space availability has been unavailable now for over 4 years.

Even its confusing array of secondary web sites, Facebook pages and Twitter accounts provided little reliable information about recovery plans while it would be Friday evening before the Council tweeted that it needed to recruit more HGV drivers.

But the main concern remains that, despite assurances over the last 5 years or more, the “report it” pages, which should allow any public service issue to be reported 24/7, remains inadequate. Many services, such as Council housing, are simply not listed while it is impossible to corelate complaint reference numbers with the original issue.

The best way to test the Council web site is to use the search engine visible on the first page.  Listings are less than intuitive.

Perhaps coincidentally, officials will be updating Councillors next week on “progress” made with their digital services programme.

They say that only street lighting and street cleansing issues can by reported and resolved digitally. Both however need a more refined system and are scheduled for a “makeover”..

On the other hand officials claim some success in automating the collection of Council Tax, in electoral registration (although the numbers registered to vote appears to be falling) and in dealing with benefit claims.

They are still unable to produce stats which indicate how long digital or email reports take to resolve.

No customer satisfaction surveys have been undertaken on electronic services.

Many reports like these have been produced over the years but with subsequent progress being glacial.

Planning applications – Gremlins on Council planning portal

It looks like last weekends update of the Council “planning portal” has gone badly wrong. The site should list all planning applications received (validated) by the Council during the preceding week.

Since the weekend (when the site was down for “maintenance”) the applications for the weeks commencing 13th and 20th November have disappeared. Some have reappeared on the current weeks list (27th Nov).

Taking the Westfield Ward as an example the site suggests that no applications have been “validated” since 7th November.

The issue is important because residents wishing to object (or support) particular planning applications have only a limited time to record their views. That time is being eroded.

The matter has been raised with senior Councillors and officials at the Council but the Authority has yet to make a statement about what has gone wrong and what is being done to remedy the failure.


2.6 million visits to York Council web site

The Councils web site had over 2.6 million visits during the last year.

The bounce rate (the proportion of visitors who read only one page before leaving) was around 50%.

Perhaps surprisingly the majority of visitors were using desktop PCs.

By way of comparison, a website like this one receives around 40,000 visits each year with a bounce rate of around 70%.  Not surprisingly over 40% of our visitors are located in York. Most of our visitors are aged under 35 and are split almost equally between male and female.

Web site hits 2014 15

York Council‘s new web site labeled as “impenetrable”

Angry mob score web site

The York Council has launched a new web site design.

Heralded as an attempt to make contact with the Council easier, many users have struggled to find the services or information that they are seeking.

The Council claims that the site design was inspired by conversations with local residents.

We have yet to find anyone who says they were consulted and the ordering of information looks to be more what an official has impulsively decided residents should want to know.

Reporting issues on line is still not possible under the new arrangements. As long ago as 2008 the Council had a working internet based system which allowed residents to report a wide range of issues and include – if they wished – photographic evidence.

This was trashed by the Labour Council when it introduced a “Smartphone” App which is so limited in application that most users rapidly abandoned it in favour of, more flexible, commercial options (My Council)

The new Councils commitment to openness has already been challenged. Its reputation is unlikely to be enhanced by the new web site which makes monitoring the responses to Freedom of Information requests more difficult. Responses – which are far from up to date – are now assembled in someone’s idea of a community of Interest; making research into the latest information released a tedious and time consuming occupation

Initially launched without any access to performance information, the site does now contain links to rapidly aging KPIs outturns. The most recent are these for the period ending December 2014. Nearly 6 months later and there has been no update.

Some of the information is incomplete and some out of date. 

The assembly of information under the “open data” link – which is supposed to improve transparency – is largely impenetrable. Other pages (i-Travel, Libraries, “Rewiring”, Make it York, Smarter York etc) have been hived off onto independent web sites resulting in a confused web of options for the uninitiated.

The site is claimed to be easier to access from mobile devices and, perhaps not surprisingly, Councillor are now being issued with tablet computers at so they will be able to take advantage of some of the new “functionality”. 

The site also has a “where’s my nearest” search facility and text to talk features both of which may be of use to some users.

But, all in all, this looks like a web site that was launched too soon and with too little research into the York communities information and communication needs.

York Council web site crashes again

Not for the first time, the Council’s web site has been unavailable to residents this weekend.


The Council was heavily criticised a few weeks ago when it failed to use social media effectively to keep residents up to date on progress being made following a similar loss of service.

Now no one has even bothered to put a note on their Facebook page or to use Twitter

It is an important issue as many residents seek to use the online functions – for example to pay bills – at the weekend when they have spare time available.

It is also the cheapest way for the Council to process contact with its customers.

Sadly the failure  is all to typical of the Councils muddled priorities

Yor-Zone teenagers web site 1 year old

Yor-zone- the website for young people (aged 11-18) in York – celebrates its first birthday this week.

To visit the site go to, follow us on twitter @yorzone or like our facebook page/YorZone.

City of York Council launched last year, providing for the first time a single site where young people in York could access information about local services and opportunities. Whether it’s about things to do in York or information on a variety of issues such as volunteering opportunities and careers, the site provides a one-stop-shop for local young people.