Guildhall redevelopment deal collapses

Interserve (ICL) taken off contract as costs escalate

York Guildhall

The York Council’s, accident prone, plan to redevelop the Guildhall as a business centre has collapsed.

They have been unable to agree a final cost target with preferred contractor ICL.

ICL were awarded the contract last year, with the overall expenditure on the controversial plan then put at over £12 million.

The Council were criticised for putting so much taxpayers money at risk on what was a speculative venture.

A report published today says that

“In accordance with the contract ICL advised their tender submission would be delayed and made an initial stage 2 tender submission on 16 February 2018. Unfortunately this was significantly in excess of the current project budget and contained a number of outstanding cost items which did not provide sufficient proof that the submission evidenced value for money”

Guildhall project layout plans

The Guildhall has been largely unused since the Council moved its operation to West Offices in 2013. Initially it had been expected that a private sector partnership would lead the redevelopment of the site which is in a Conservation area and which includes two important Listed buildings (Guildhall and Council Chamber).

It is unclear what will now happen although there are growing concerns that the empty buildings will continue to deteriorate with taxpayers facing an increasing annual maintenance burden.

The Council has already spent over £1 million on the aborted project.

York Council fraud levels revealed

The Councils auditors are cracking down on Council Tax discounts with 11 cases currently under investigation following a “data matching exercise”.  These concern bogus “single person discount” claims.

A report reveals that the auditors had received 58 referrals for potential Council Tax/Non Domestic Rates fraud.

“There are currently 30 ongoing investigations into Council Tax and non domestic rates fraud.

The council has prosecuted two people for council tax fraud this year including the longest running single person discount fraud ever detected at the authority – 17 years.

In addition, 3 people have been cautioned for council tax fraud offences and 5 people have received warnings”.

The fraud team have completed 26 investigations into potential Council Tax Support fraud to date. The team has produced over £13k in savings thus far. There are currently 32 cases under investigation. To date one person has been cautioned and 10 people were issued formal warnings following investigations in this area.

Other areas of concern are

  • social care where there are 16 investigations in progress.
  • 14 cases of housing fraud – making false claims to secure accommodation – are underway.
  • The financial assistance scheme where 19 cases are being investigated
  • Parking and blue badge misuse. In 2017/18 the council prosecuted two people, cautioned 12 people and issued 30 warnings for disabled badge or parking permit misuse
  • Education – making false statements to gain entry to a school – 2 cases.

The report will be discussed at a meeting taking place on Wednesday

York “cold case” perpetrator finally named

Mr Redacted blamed for all Councils woes

Audit committee report April 2018

The long running saga, which started 4 years ago when the Council let consultancy contracts without going through a proper procurement process, is finally reaching its climax.

A report to a meeting next week gives an independent view of who did what and when at an audit committee meeting which discussed the issue a year ago.

Ironically that meeting descended into chaos when most members voted to discuss an internal audit report in public.  This caused a “walk out” by the Labour party committee chair.

The internal report was later leaked to the media causing more turmoil. The implicated “leakers” of the document (who denied the accusation) were later suspended from the Council’s Executive by the then Council Leader.  Hehimself was ejected from office a few weeks ago.

Apart from that, it has been a peaceful and harmonious 18 months at the York Council.

The report into the Audit meeting is heavily redacted. We can see no reason why the names of Councillors and officials should not be revealed WHERE THEY HAVE AGREED TO WAIVE ANY RIGHTS THAT THEY MAY HAVE TO ANONONIMITY.

After all, the meeting was web cast and is already in the public domain

It seems that the Council have not learned many lessons about transparency and accountability

York is one of the best places to live in the country

York is one of the best places to live in the country – a liveable city – according to a new national report.

The Happy City Thriving Places Index measures the ‘drivers of wellbeing’ in 150 areas in the country, including health, income, education, economy, place, recycling and emissions. These drivers are also reflected in the One Planet York framework, which is supported by partners across the city.

York’s scored particularly well for education and learning (fourth highest in the country); participation – based on volunteering levels and voter turnout – (third highest nationally); health and low levels of risky behaviours (second highest nationally) and high levels of employment.

Overall the city was rated in the top 16 per cent of most ‘liveable’ places in the UK.

The report comes as City of York Council publishes ‘A Year in York’, celebrating some of the work that the council, residents, businesses and partners have done over the past 12 months to help make the city one of the best places in the UK to live, work and visit.

 

The council is calling on residents and partners to showcase some of the great partnership working that’s going on across the city by sharing images on social media with the title #togetheryork.

A year in York is available by clicking here

Quandary for programme organisers at York Rose Theatre

Yesterdays York Council meeting has piled pressure on the Artistic Director, of York’s soon to be unveiled Rose Theatre, to change the published cycle of Shakespearean plays.

A virtuoso audition at last nights York Council meeting, by former Tory Council Leader David Carr, could see Julius Caesar added to the theatre bill.

Caesar famously abolished the democratic traditions of Rome’s senate before declaring himself  “Dictator”. Many of Caesars opponents mysteriously disappeared in the process.

It was left to Brutus and other conspirators to end the regime when they stabbed Caesar in the back (and front, and pretty much everywhere else).

Carr is likely to be at a loose end this summer as he has quit the Tory party so may be persuaded to take on the lead role. Who would take the role of Brutus is still to be revealed. Conservative members will be forming an orderly queue.

In the meantime it is to be hoped that York Councillors will quickly get together to agree a new management arrangement. There have been 5 Council Leaders during the last 4 years with another getting within 2 minutes of appointment last night before the daggers were drawn again.

LibDem Councillor Andrew Waller, who was also the York Council Leader between 2008 and 2011, will be the acting Leader for the next week or so.

By now Councillors should have worked out that a more inclusive way of doing business is required in a balanced  authority were no party holds more than 28% of the seats.

It is probably too late to reintroduce the “committee system” before next years all out elections.

However, an agreement to form an all party Executive, to guide the City through what is likely to be a difficult year, could be the best way forward.

But that would require all Groups to behave in a constructive way and for the “gladius” to be sheathed for a while at least

 

A week’s a long time in …York

The decision by York Tory Councillors to ditch the Council Leader last week wasn’t entirely unexpected. Cllr Carr blundered in the summer when he unilaterally sacked two LibDem members of the Executive. At the time the local standards board had not had the opportunity to investigate the allegations that had been made against them.

The arbitrary action set a precedent, so when a Tory Executive Councillor was accused of failing to declare a pecuniary interest in the Local Plan, the Council Leader had little option to sack him as well.

Whether any of the three have committed any offence has yet to be determined, although the Police have said there is nothing to investigate in the case of the two LibDems.

So where does that leave the York Council?

Cllr Ian Gillies is expected to be installed as the new Council Leader on 22nd February.

He will be the fifth Council Leader that York has had in just over 4 years (Alexander, Williams, Steward, Carr, Gillies).

That is frankly a ridiculous rate of attrition and is damaging not only to relationship within the City but also to York’s reputation at regional and national level.

It takes a new Leader – no matter how experienced – at least 18 months to establish good working relationship both within and outside the Council. Only then can the real work begin.

Cllr Gillies starts with the advantage of being well known in the City. He has a recent successful year as Lord Mayor behind him. He was a major influence in the years between 2007 – 2011 when the Council was also balanced. His view then was that the City should come above politics. He tried the same approach when Labour had an overall majority, facing some criticism from his own side in 2013 when it was becoming clear that the Alexander regime was doomed.

But with scarcely 15 months to go before the next “all out” Council elections, Cllr Gillies effectively faces a damage limitation challenge. Whether he will even be able to repair relations with the LibDems remains to be seen.

So why have things gone so badly wrong over the last few years?

It is mainly a system problem. All out four yearly elections tend to promote a rapid turn over of Councillors.  Fewer these days seem to survive for the 10 years or necessary to build the experience necessary for high office.

Recently few have been able to muster more than 4 years’ experience when they became Leader. Cllr Carr set a record, for inexperience, though, taking the most demanding job at West Offices scarcely 18 months after he was first elected.

Annual elections – where a third of the Council is up for re-election each year – would avoid the extreme shifts in support which usually reflect short term disillusion with whichever party is in power nationally.

The other system failure is the Leader model itself.

The model gives substantial powers – including on the spot “hire and fire” arrangements of the executive committee – to one individual. Effectively if Executive councillors don’t follow his or her instructions then an excuse is found to sack them.

The system simply doesn’t work on a balanced Council. Here the subtleties of discourse and compromise are needed to move forward. Unilateral action by an individual simply promotes mistrust.

There is a warning here for those seeking a Yorkshire Mayor. If she or he chooses to, then they could spend 4 or 5 years completely ignoring the wishes of residents, while pursuing policies based on a fundamentalist ideology or sectional interest.

Recent events are likely to lead to a call for the reintroduction of the “committee system” at Council level. Here all issues are debated openly by committees which reflect the overall political balance of the Council.

It promotes openness and consensus decision making.

It won’t come quickly but perhaps by 2019 electors will be ready to accept that the present system simply isn’t working in York.

 

City of York Council – “I’d like to complain about not being able to complain”

One of the mistakes that some organisations make is believing that ignoring complaints will make issues go away.

That rarely works. Instead the organisations image is dented and the credibility of the management structure is brought into question.

That seems to be happening wit the City of York Council at present.

They have three tier process for handling complaints. If a resident is not satisfied with a response to a first complaint then a second stage can be invoked. This  escalates the issue for consideration by a senior manager.

If this doesn’t work then, in theory at least, you can then escalate the matter to the Chief Executive.

Well you could, if the Council reads your complaint in the first place and acknowledges that they have received it.

For the last few months that doesn’t seem to have been happening.

Those emailing the complaints team at haveyoursay@york.gov.uk will have been lucky not to have been ignored. Requests for a “delivered” or “read” electronic receipt produce nothing.

The Councils IT department confirms that the Emails are being delivered. The only explanation can be that the complaints section has “downed tools”?

Oh and try the complaints telephone number quoted on the Council’s web site and you will get – you guessed – and answering machine!

There is a similar lack of response on the, recently announced, consultation address for the Low Poppleton Lane bus lane  lowpoppletonlane.trial@york.gov.uk

So the Council risks an adverse Ombudsman enquiry – with all that implies in terms of handling costs – simply because it took the metaphorical “phone off the hook”!

Liberal Democrats seek funding commitments for Children & Young People in York

In a motion put to full Council on the 14th December, Liberal Democrats are calling on the Council to stand up to the Government and insist the Secretary of State reconsider York’s abysmal school funding position.

Under the new Schools National Funding Formula, the Government is imposing real term cuts on schools by freezing per-pupil funding, while inflation and school costs, such as staff salary costs, employer pension and national insurance contributions, increase; affecting all schools and academies in the process.

York has historically been the lowest funded local authority area, in terms of school funding, in the Country and with the Government’s new proposals, is set to remain the lowest funded.

Furthermore, York Liberal Democrats are also seeking assurances that the Council will maintain funding levels to the City’s Youth Council, which has worked tirelessly to campaign for young people in York.

Cllr Ashley Mason said: (more…)

Council meeting moves to Citadel as spending plans consultation starts

Council debates may be inspired by Citadel moto

York’s next full Council meeting will be held at the Citadel later this month (26 October) rather than in its usual home of York’s Guildhall.

The temporary venue – formerly the home of York’s Salvation Army and now owned by York City Church – will be used for full meetings of the Council for up to two years while the Guildhall is closed for construction work.

The Guildhall has been used for meetings since the 15th Century and the current council chamber dates back to 1891.

Members of the public are welcome to attend the full council meeting at the Citadel at 6.30pm on Thursday 26 October.

Have your say on York’s spending plans

The results of the 2018 citywide budget consultation will help set the council’s financial priorities for the forthcoming year.

Despite already achieving savings of over £100m in the last decade through a combination of efficiency savings and reviewing the services it provides, the authority needs to make further savings of £6.1m in 2018/19 and £4.2m in 2019/20 to meet its budget.

Against this tough financial backdrop, demand for services continues to rise; mainly due to demographic changes and more people living longer. At the same time the financial support received from central government has been reduced.

The central government grant accounted for 40 per cent of the council’s income in 2012/13 but fell to just seven per cent last year.  By 2020, York will receive no government grant. That means the services the council provides will have to be funded from a share of business rates, from the council tax and through any fees and costs it charges.

Council leaders hope that the responses to the questionnaire will help guide future spending decisions, particularly whether the authority should ‘balance its books’ by:

  • Reducing the number of services it provides, or stop providing them altogether.
  • Finding ways of providing services more efficiently by working differently.
  • Charging more for services.
  • Increasing the amount of council tax.

People can put forward their views:

  • Online at www.york.gov.uk/consultations
  • By completing the survey in the council’s publication Our City [which is being distributed over the course of the next two weeks].
  • By popping along to one of four drop-in sessions, at Huntington Library on Wednesday 1 November; Archbishop Holgate’s School on Thursday 2 November; Acomb Explore Library on Tuesday 7 November or West Offices on Wednesday 8 November, all between 4.30pm and 6.30pm.

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