York Council spends £2.5 million buying unidentified property

The Council has completed the purchase of an unnamed property to add to its commercial portfolio. No details of the transaction have been released although assurances were given that the property would be identified when the sale had been completed.

The Council has invested heavily in property purchases recently. Mostly these are commercial premises in the City Centre. The Council is able to borrow money at preferential rates and claims to be making a 6.75% return on a portfolio valued at £333.48 million .

The Council has recently responded to a FOI request and provided a listing of 398 properties that it owns. Many were purchased in the last century.

The Council has declined to provide individual updated property valuations or reveal the details of the rate of return it gets on each.

The full list can be viewed by clicking here.  

Swinegate Court owned by York Council

York Councillors pay hike approved

A huge pay rise for Councillors was agreed at a meeting last night.

On average it is worth an extra 18% although some will get more. It will also be backdated. The cost to taxpayers will be around £770,000 a year.

The increases were justified by a series of, largely bogus, claims that work volumes had increased since the previous review. In reality the time commitment for Councillors is broadly in line with levels experienced since local government reorganisation in the late 1990’s. Councillors also now benefit from new technology and casework support facilities.

While Independent Councillor Mark Warters has consistently criticised the increases, two Tory Councillors – who had both attended “behind close doors” consultation meetings with the review panel during the Autumn – got cold feet at the last minute and opposed the hike.

The notes from the autumn meetings, at which Councillors made their case for an inflation busting increase, are being circulated on social media. They are quite a revelation.

Councillors don’t of course have to accept the increase. They can choose to draw down less that the maximum allowed.

We will publish the actual amounts claimed by each individual next year

Other York Council news

  • Cllr Chris Culwick from Huntington will be next year’s Lord Mayor. His Sheriff will be Cllr Ashley Mason from Dringhouses & Woodthorpe
  • The Autism motion was supported by the Council yesterday as were pleas for more trees to be planted in the City.
  • The Council will look again at the Labour plan to ban cars from within the City Walls. 

 

York Council seeks help in balancing budget

Without apparently any sense of irony, in the wake of a decision yesterday to hike Councillors pay levels by an average of 18%, the City of York Council is now asking residents, partners and businesses for their help in balancing the council’s budget for 2020/2021.

The consultation is now open and asks which areas the council should invest in and prioritise and where people feel savings could be made.

This year, there are a number of different ways to get involved with the council consulting sooner and holding special budget decision sessions which the public can attend or watch online. People can have their say by:

  • Taking an online survey at https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/York_20-21_Budget_Consultation by Tuesday 31 December
  • Completing the straw poll in Our City (the council newsletter for residents), distributed to York houses throughout December or available at West Offices or libraries and return it freepost by Sunday 12 January
  • Coming along to one of the following decision sessions in the new year at West Offices to tell us your thoughts:
  • Housing and safer neighbourhoods 13 January 2020 at 2pm
  • Economy and strategic planning, Environment and climate change and transport 13 January 2020 at 5.30pm
  • Children and young people and Culture, leisure and communities 14 January 2020 at 4pm
  • Health and Adult Social Care 15 January 2020 at 12noon
  • Leader and finance and performance 15 January 2020 at 5.30pm

Papers for these sessions will be published from Friday 3 January. The decision sessions will ensure that residents can view the budget proposals significantly in advance of previous years to ensure higher quality consultation.

The online consultation closes on 31 December 2019 and all printed questionnaire responses from Our City will need to be received by Sunday 12 January.

Councillor Keith Aspden, Leader of City of York Council said:

“We have recently agreed an ambitious council plan that promises to support and invest in our communities despite the financial challenges we face. 

“Demand for our services is increasing and in the last decade our funding from government grants reduced by £52m, equating to a 44% real terms reduction. Next year we need to save a further £4m with further savings needed in the coming years.

“We are committed to continuing vital services and making sure the right support is there for those who need it most.  Whilst we have set out an ambitious strategy for our city over the next four years; we want to ensure that York continues to make history and build communities. It is really important that we hear from residents, businesses and communities to make sure we invest in the right areas.”

Councillor Andy D’Agorne, Deputy Leader of City of York Council: “York is in a sound financial position which allows us some flexibility to invest in all our futures.  However, growing demand for adult social care as our population grows older is a continued challenge and as more and more savings are needed the decisions get tougher.

“We want to make sure our spending reflects our priorities to protect the most vulnerable and respond to the climate emergency.

“Your feedback in the council plan consultation helped us shape our priorities and we are looking forward to hearing where residents think we should focus our spending against each priority.”

For more information, please visit www.york.gov.uk/budget

Autism-Friendly City

The York Council will be discussing Autism at its meeting tonight. It is surprising, and disappointing, that the motion has attracted no public comment in the media as it seeks to address a valid issue and one that all residents in the City should be aware of.

Around 2,000 people in York have Autism.

There is a local Autism Strategy click to download

The York Council has its own Autism team.  Their contact details are Telephone: 01904 555143 Email: SENdept@york.gov.uk 

There are a number of local support groups Click.

here are also several useful web sites Click

 

The York Council runs an ageing and polluting vehicle fleet

A couple of months ago the York Council was forced to reveal the age of the equipment in its 471 strong “fleet”.

The “fleet” contains a wide variety of machinery including chain saws, blowers and hedge cutters.

The actual number of vehicles is 267.

This includes schools (not academies), Dial & Ride who are owned by York Wheels and Travel Management vehicles.

Some were first registered as long ago as 2008. In effect this means that they predate the introduction of more stringent emission standards.

Of the vehicles listed the oldest was a 1996 John Deere tractor. There is also a 2003 Ford panel van still in service.

The fleet also includes some 12-year-old Citroen passenger cars.

One low emission car – a 2018 Toyota hybrid – was sold off recently.

Some refuse collection vehicles are 10 years old. This probably helps to explain the unreliability of some bin emptying services during the summer months.

Some of the vehicle fleet is leased. Much of it has, however, been directly purchased by the Council.

The Council was challenged earlier in the summer about their plans to more to a low or ultra-low emissions fleet.  At that time, the Council had no low emission vehicles. 242 of its fleet were diesel with 194 predating the latest Euro 6 emissions standards.

The Council says that new vehicles should be arriving shortly for the Building Services vans and highways fleet. There has been no public committee review of the Councils fleet management policy.

The Council also says,

 “Currently there are no manufacturers in the HGV sector leading on alternative fuels but with government backing hopefully this will change. In the next 2 years we will hopefully have all HGV’s to euro 6 standard as a minimum. The next time we replace these vehicles hopefully there will be an alternative to diesel for HGV’s”.

The Council is hoping to borrow and assess electric vans, 70 of which have recently been procured by the Leeds Council.

The Council hasn’t yet signed on to the “clean van commitment”.  https://www.globalactionplan.org.uk/clean-air/clean-van-commitment

It is however promoting a clean bus commitment.

“We are taking forward a comprehensive programme to reduce emission levels from buses in York. City of York Council is introducing a non-statutory Clean Air Zone in January 2020. This requires all buses using or crossing York’s Inner ring road more than 5 times per day to achieve Euro 6 emissions compliance. We are also introducing a local Traffic Regulation Condition to impose a 2-minute maximum on idling at bus stops”.

The Council has yet to consider the introduction of a School streets exclusion zone anywhere in York. The zones ban motor vehicle use near schools.

We think that, having established a “climate committee”, that body should have addressed the issue of the Councils own outdated commercial vehicle fleet by now.

The York Narrative

It’s nearly a year since the York Council agreed to produce a strategy or “Narrative” 

It’s aim was to   “Attract new Inward Investment through the Promotion of our Historic Assets and development of shared vision for York”. Some of the background information on which the decision was based was redacted before being presented to the meeting.

It was unclear how much the project would cost and how the costs would be divided between the City and a local business rates pool which is supervised by the Leeds City Region (LCR) organisation.

The Council successfully bid for a £660,000 share of the pool.

The lack of transparency attracted a lot of criticism with many believing that the City’s attractions were already evident and that what was needed was a selective promotional push.

A meeting in January heard that the LCR contribution had been agreed.

It became clear that the local promoters of the initiative were “York Mediale

 The report said “The bids specifically fund the Mediale Team to deliver these programmes in order to ensure that Mediale becomes not just a biennial festival but plays a wider role in maximising York’s designation as a UNESCO City of Media Arts”.

The meeting was told, it was reported that a full evaluation of the first Mediale event held last year would be available shortly”.

The new administration elected in May 2019 changed the Councils financial commitments. The Council was told in May that “The new prioritisation means we will no longer deliver the digital immersive model or the range of marketing materials”

The Council subsequently, in September, agreed an alternative  £300,000 package of investment priorities for “inclusive growth”.  

 The Council did however also agree to fund a new project called “mycitycentre”.

The output from the “York Narrative” has been published this week. It includes several conclusions

“Regardless of age, location or relationship with York, the overwhelming dominate perception of York is that of a beautiful historic city”.

“Instead of launching externally orientated campaigns, we recommend telling a different underlying narrative about a city. A story about how York reinvents itself – that throughout 2,000 years of change, York residents have prevailed and flourished”.

“It is recommended there is no big bang launch”.

The document highlights several controversial recent initiatives the (failing) Yorspace housing development and the UNESCO City of Media Arts. These share equal ranking with the work of Joseph Rowntree and the emerging York Central development.

For a strategy document it is remarkably anecdotal.

The report pointedly doesn’t say how much the exercise has cost so far although most of the balance of the LCR £660.000 budget (after deducting the £300k for “inclusive growth”) is still unaccounted for.

York Council debts set to increase by 31% over next 5 years.

19% of Council Tax income will go on servicing interest and repayment charges.

Under current plans, the debts of the York Council are set to increase from £293 million to £384 million by 2023.

The high repayment requirement means that less will be available to spend on basic public services in the City.

That represents a burden of £539 for every York resident.

Although the figures are within the legal limit placed on Council borrowing, several of the projects being funded have risks which could increase net expenditure.

The figures are included in a report to a meeting taking place next week.

Separately, the Council is being recommended to find £2.85 million to fund the purchase of an unnamed City Centre property. This is being described as a “Strategic Commercial Property Acquisition”.

While it is true to say that, in the long term, investments in City Centre land and buildings by the Council has in the past proved to be of positive value for taxpayers, the Councils recent record on asset management has left much to be desired.

The Willow House former elderly persons home building has been empty for several years while the high profile property at 29 Castlegate is in a similar position.

The Councils executive Councillors stubbornly refuse to consider, in public, asset management issues of this sort.

Transparency returns to York Council decision making process?

Two decisions on the award of large IT contracts are to be taken in public next week as the York Council takes its first tentative steps towards a more open approach.  It is not the decisions themselves which have attracted attention but rather it is the justification offered for placing them before a public meeting.

The report states “that councillors consider routine procurement decisions over £250k in value in line with procurement regulations and the public have the opportunity to see transparent decision-making in operation relating to major procurements.”

That is always supposed to have happened but some officials have sought to exploit loopholes in the budget process to justify making implementation decisions behind closed doors.  Such “routine” decisions must be reported to the responsible executive member in a “register” This has not been done routinely in a transparent way.

It appears that the Executive are now insisting that proposals are tabled individually. That is a step in the right direction.

The two decisions being made on 18th November relate to

  1. Expenditure of £323,800 on an “on line” customer payments system
  2. A £710,000 investment in a new document management system.  

The meeting will also hear that the Council is scrapping a proposed joint procurement with Harrogate to appoint a technology provider.

Instead the current provider in York will continue until summer 2020 with a new supplier, for managed network services, taking over then. The Council current spends around £2 million per annum on this service.

Full marks to Cllr Nigel Ayre who is taking the first tentative steps towards making the Council more open and accountable

Distinctly rebellious

Something of a furore has been caused on social media by a proposal to co-opt members of “Extinction Rebellion” onto the York Councils climate change scrutiny committee.

Although “Extinction Rebellion” is an unincorporated organisation, with little in the way of governance structure, it is easy to see why they would have an interest in a Climate Change committee.

What is irking some people is the way that the co option proposal has come forward.

Co opted members of Council Committees do not have a vote. They are free to make their points on a level playing field with elected representatives. Policy decisions rest with either Executive members or the Councils Executive itself.

A committee can however provide a powerful platform on which to express views.

Usually a committee thinking of co opting “experts” will consider a job description.  They will identify gaps in the committees knowledge. They may want to correct an obvious psephological or geographical imbalance. They will certainly list the skill and qualification areas expected of any co optee.

The committee in this case doesn’t seem to have done any of that.

Instead a paternalistic approach has been adopted by the chair of the committee, who rather arrogantly, has listed the names of 4 people potential co-optees that most will not have heard of, and who have not been subjected to the test of an election (even by their peers)

That is paternalism.

There are other well established environmental organisations in the City with a claim to representation (Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace etc.) They don’t even merit a mention in the report.

The Climate Change committee has struggled so far to find an identity.

6 months after its inception it has yet to define a base line statistical position on carbon emissions. It seems unclear whether it is trying to make the City, or just the Council, carbon neutral by 2030.

It has the levers to do the latter but not the former without major central government intervention.

It should stop posturing and come up with some practical proposals for behaviour change, or investment priorities, that everyone in the City can relate to.

Progress on unearthing traffic islands

We reported earlier in the summer that several traffic island had become overgrown. This was partly due to an accumulation of silt. It appears that the islands were not being hand-swept.

The Council is now beginning to catch up with a programme aimed at clearing the islands of detritus. Those on Foxwood Lane, for example, are now looking tidy.

A more structured approach to street cleansing is needed though as some islands, including those on the A1237, are not being routinely cleansed

Street cleansing standards on the Chapelfields estate do vary a lot.

Elsewhere the Foxwood Residents Association is set to discuss street cleansing standards in their neighbourhood at their monthly meeting which is being held tomorrow. Residents have questioned whether the sweeping frequencies, promised by the Council on its web site, are actually being undertaken.

Maps showing how often individual streets should be manually or mechanically cleansed are published on the Councils web site.