Lots of volunteers, not much organisation?

The York Council has been criticised in the wake of its claim that 1400 people had volunteered to be local corona virus helpers. Critics say there are inadequate processes are in place to channel volunteers’ efforts into providing the right help for the right people in a timely way.

Many had expected that an “online” system would be available by now which minimised human contact while allowing the vulnerable to order and pay for food and medicines remotely.

With many supermarkets closing their “click and collect” services, and home delivery slots booked up for many weeks in advance, an alternative approach using local taxis and courier cyclists is needed.

The latter groups have seen their income eroded by the crisis. Some local businesses, including taxi drivers, have said that they would be happy to cooperate with such a system.

Any online system must allow customers to

  1. Choose their shopping remotely
  2. Have it bagged
  3. Pay for it – inclusive of delivery – “online”
  4. Have it delivered to their doorstep?

At the moment only a few small independent shops seem to be addressing this demand.

NB. The Council has not yet responded to a request that it publish a regular monitor of the food supply chain from “field to doorstep”. Such information as has been published, for example regarding stock availability at local stores, has been researched by sections of the media.

Job availability on farms (and even for key worker vacancies like refuse collectors with the Council) is also difficult to find online.

Corona virus update – 21st March 2020

….and here’s a list of some more small independent shops and takeaways offering delivery  in York

Robinsons, Bishopthorpe Road – Takeaway and local delivery  https://www.facebook.com/robinsonscafe/ Call 01904 674447

Trinacria, Bishopthorpe Road –  Home delivery 07421058429 https://www.facebook.com/TrinacriaYork/

Star Seed Catering – offering deliveries to your door https://www.facebook.com/StarSeed-Catering-106111740957137/?hc_location=ufi

Dough Eyed Pizza – Delivery. Order online http://dougheyed.uk/order-pizza

The Crooked Tap, Acomb – Delivering beer locally https://thecrookedtap.com/shop/

Tea on the Green, Acomb  – Takeaway tapas. Call 01904 789380 https://www.facebook.com/TeaOnTheGreenYork/

Le Cochon Aveugle, Walmgate – About to start up a 3 course meal delivery. Check out their social media https://twitter.com/LeCochonAveugle

Cakes D’licious, Clifton –  Open and delivering cakes. Call 01904 541100 https://cakesdlicious.com

The Hairy Fig, Fossgate – Open and delivering 01904 677074 or email info@thehairyfig.co.uk or text 07884493309

Frutique, Bishopthorpe Road – Open and delivering  fruit and veg. Call 01904 653821 https://www.facebook.com/Fruitique-404072462980566/

Miller Food Service, Dunnington – Open on Sunday as a Cash and Carry and now delivering to the public. Call on 01904 655368

Alligator, Fishergate – Open for all things veggie/vegan and cheese  https://www.facebook.com/alligatoryork/

Good Food Shop, Bishopthorpe Road – Their delivery service for those isolated and in need of food is ready to go. Call 01904 637445 and they will get food to people via their amazing volunteers. Please call 9am – 2pm and keep trying if they don’t answer straight away.

Bluebird Bakery, Little Shambles- Home deliveries of bread. Email hello@bluebirdbakery.co.uk with your name, address, tel and order and we’ll tell you what day we can get it to you and how to pay https://twitter.com/Bluebird_bakery/status/1241030658639695872

Pairings Wine Bar, Castlegate – Offering free toilet roll with every bottle of takeaway wine! https://twitter.com/PairingsWineBar

Richardson Woodthorpe Butchers will deliver

“We have had a lot of concerned customers (elderly especially )regarding getting out and about
From next Tuesday we are delivering to the over 70s or members of public who can’t manage to get out with our big man on a bike (woodthorpe only) no order to big or too small.

To other areas we will delivering in our van”.
You can order online (shopping baskets and PayPal all in place)
Or 01904 707876 pay over the phone

Marks & Spencer reserves time for vulnerable and NHS workers

“We are reserving the first hour of trade every Monday and Thursday, as a special shopping hour for our more vulnerable and elderly customers to help them get the food and products they need. For our NHS and emergency service workers, who we will all be relying on in the coming weeks and months, we will reserve the first hour of trade on a Tuesday and Friday for them to shop.

To help make sure all of our customers can get what they need, we have introduced temporary purchasing restrictions on some lines

York Council tenants told to report urgent/emergency repairs only

We’re focussing our work on our most vulnerable tenants so please only report urgent or emergency repairs. Please find out more about Building services during coronavirus here: york.gov.uk/COVIDOurServic


York Explore Libraries closed

A lot of free reads on Kindle. See one offer below.

“If you are going to be stuck inside, here’s the Kindle version of ‘Slouching Towards Blubberhouses’, my (hopefully amusing) book about Yorkshireness, available for nowt* until Wednesday. Please RT *free of charge”


On line” home delivery web site being set up (national)

Still in its infancy, but this is the kind of resource that is needed in York. Takeways – including cafes and pubs which have recently been ordered to close – should take note.  https://www.orderfrom.co.uk/

Home deliveries

West of York villages: Ainsty Farm Shop- ” We are offering a home delivery service to the local area on our way home after work, please ring us on 01423 331897. Priority will be given to more vulnerable groups

Free bike loans

Free 3 month bike loans for key workers! Would a bike loan make your life easier? We currently have 8 bikes, including electric bikes and child carrying equipment, languishing at Cycle Heaven. Just email yorkbikebelles@gmail.com

York Council reassures local businesses

City of York Council has moved to reassure businesses following the government’s announcement that pubs, cafés, clubs, bars, theatres, restaurants, leisure centres and gyms will close tonight.

The council has sought to reassure those who own business in the retail, hospitality or leisure with this message: If you pay your business rates by Direct Debit, we will stop your Direct Debit before the 1 April.If you pay by cash, don’t pay. If you pay by standing order – please cancel it. If we take a payment from you and you think you are an exempt business – contact us and we’ll pay you back straight away if we have made a mistake.

Today’s statement comes after yesterday, the Leader of the Council, Councillor Keith Aspden provided an update on the council’s coronavirus response and announced that it will create its own emergency fund to support local residents, business and communities in response to the outbreak of Coronavirus, whilst acting swiftly to make sure residents and businesses can access the Government’s support packages as swiftly as possible.

Ian Floyd, Interim Head of Paid Services City of York Council, said:

This is truly an unprecedented time for our city and country, which is having a huge impact on everyone.

“In York our leisure and hospitality sector is a key part of what makes the city such a special place to live, visit and work.

It is important that we all stick together to beat COVID-19 before it’s too late and we are keen everyone follows all the government measures around social isolation, including avoiding social contact wherever possible.

We welcome today’s Chancellor’s announcement that will protect 80% wages across the city. We hope that this goes some way to alleviate the anxiety of residents about their employment. We are now working to make sure all our businesses can access support from both the council and the Government and will be announcing more information about our emergency fund for residents, businesses and communities early next week so people can get the help they need as quickly as possible.”

For more details about coronavirus visit www.york.gov.uk/coronavirus.

The latest information on support for businesses is available at www.york.gov.uk/businesssupport.

Council summarises community help availability

Since COBRA’s initial meeting on Covid-19, increasingly strict measures have been introduced by the government in an attempt to slow the infection rate of the Coronavirus, Covid-19. 

Five days in, the Council has initiated a wide-range of actions to support the city and its communities to respond and support local residents, organisations and businesses.

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

It’s now five days since the Covid-19 COBRA meeting was called, and we have been overwhelmed by the kindness and offers of support from York’s residents and businesses.

“The disruption to our daily lives cannot be underestimated, with many people now isolated from their friends or concerned that their livelihoods are at threat.  People are working long hours to respond to the outbreak or care for the sick. Yet every day, I am encouraged by residents freely giving their time to support people they’ve never met, or businesses offering hotel rooms for key workers or food for older people, who can no longer get out.

Reflecting on the week and listening to our residents, there are five important things to highlight:

The strength of our communities is incredible. Within hours, facebook groups were coordinating requests for help or recruiting people keen to be there for their neighbours. We’re working with these groups and established voluntary groups to recruit, train and deploy volunteers in a safe and coordinated manner, in order to focus resources on supporting the most vulnerable in the city. We have also committed to administering our Safer Communities fund more swiftly, in order to enable local community groups to access new funding quickly in response to the outbreak.

For those who are interested and able to help volunteer, please get involved via the contact details are:

Many of our neighbours need our help. Whether collecting food or prescriptions or keeping isolated people connected and involved, we are working to match volunteers to where they are needed most. However, if you are on your own and you need help during this time please contact us:

Our economy is resilient but needs our help. Many of our businesses have adapted to the current climate, sharing new ideas with each other and inventing new models of delivery. Cafes now offer delivery and takeaway services, allowing them to continue to trade whilst supporting keyworkers. More information is at: visityork.org/eat-and-drink/takeaway-delivery-york. Yet we must do more. The council is committed to helping our local economy and we have announced a local emergency fund to focus support to residents and businesses on top of the ones announced by the Government. Further detail of this fund will be shared next week and we will share regular communications direct with businesses. Next week we will be inviting businesses to share their contact details so we can get in touch.For now, please visit www.york.gov.uk/BusinessSupport.

We must do more. Public health colleagues are clear. To reduce the threat to our NHS, to slow down the infection and to keep make sure we don’t lose loved ones before their time, we must do more. Social distancing isn’t easy. It means doing things differently. At the council, as many people as possible are now working from home. We have stopped the majority of meetings and are vigorous in cleaning and hand washing. All of us have to limit the time we spend with other people. For more information: nhs.uk/coronavirus.

This is a fast moving situation, to keep up to date with the latest information, either visit www.york.gov.uk/coronavirus or follow our social media channels.

I’d like to take a moment to thank residents for their response to this crisis. If we continue to show this community spirit, work together, support each other and find new ways to stay connected, we will get through this. Our frontline workers both in the council and our partners have demonstrated the importance of key workers and public sector workers in health and social care, emergency services, local government and education are keeping the city and country safe. Together we can slow the infection down and help these vital services manage the response to this pandemic.”

Neighbourhood information needed to help combat Corona

The Council’s step to encourage volunteering is welcome.

But better coordination of the resources available is needed at neighbourhood level.

Those “self isolating” want to know which local shops are offering home delivery.

Residents need confirmation of which pharmacies are offering home delivery and with what capacity (any gaps could be filled by volunteers).

The Foxwood Residents Association is offering free social media and noticeboard publicity to local shops that

a) will deliver to doorsteps

b) accept remote payment – inclusive of delivery – by PayPal, card or bank transfer

c) Will take orders by email, phone or “on line” web site.

Any stores accepting contactless payments, and collection of food from a prearranged “in store” location (by volunteers), will also be acknowledged.

The Council needs to check and publicise regularly the availability of “on line” delivery slot availability at local branches of major supermarkets.

The Council could also coordinate the provision lists of stock shortages, of essential items, at local supermarkets. This would prevent unnecessary journeys

The curtain of secrecy falls again at York Council

Those hoping for more transparency at the York Council under its new LibDem/Green leadership have been desperately disappointed this week.

First a failure to reform the system for granting early release resulted in a “behind closed doors” decision which could be costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Now the Council has closed down direct access to the responses that it has made to Freedom of Information requests.

For over 10 years residents were able to browse “on line” what the Council had said in response to requests.

No more.

The responses have been removed from the Council web site and users must now search a disclosure log before requesting copies of the responses.

There are hundreds of FOI and  Environmental Information Regulations (EIR) requests made each year.

York Council block direct access to information

In most cases the issue titles used on the log – which is 6 months out of date – give little clue as to what has been asked. Much less could users second guess the answers.

Instead they must make an application for access to the source document.

In most cases we would expect that researchers would simply submit a new request.

At present the “What do they know” web site is unaffected https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/select_authority

The performance of the Council in responding to FOIs is poor. There is one current example – a request for  copies of Service Level Agreements – which has been outstanding for over 4 months; well outside the performance target set by the Information Commissioner.

Ostensibly the Council has made the change to ensure that those with disabilities have the same opportunity to get information as the able bodied.

Unfortunately the Councils interpretation means that both sectors of the community will now share a common level of ignorance and inconvenience.

As a minimum the Council should put a link on its “register” to the actual documents. Web services such as “dropbox” make this very easy to do.

A parallel service for disabled uses should also be made available.

Old York, Old York so good they named it twice

The Council are preparing to have one of their periodic chats about their “image” over the next few days. The style and use of logos will be on Councillors minds as they seek to redefine the authorities corporate brand.

There are apparently 40 different logos in use by the Councils various departments. According to officials “They are often used to create an artificial distance from the council creating the impression the council doesn’t do anything”.

The Council say that it is opposed to the creation of more “logos” although it failed to stop the seminally obscure “Live Well York” campaign which is an impenetrable “What’s on” listing service.

Many residents would hope that the Councils image is defined by the quality of the public services that it provides.

Anyone driving towards York on the A64 will wonder why they are welcomed to the City with two separate signs in the space of 100 metres. The parallel York Road entry to Askham Bryan neither welcome nor seeks to repel visitors

The Council has sought to raise revenue from roadside advertising for several years. Several roundabouts are sponsored.

One of the boundary signs on the A64 is sponsored by LNER and has a neat railway logo on the reverse which few probably see.(right)

Some, like the reverse of that on the A59 approach from Green Hammerton, are more obscure

York Council budget set to be agreed tomorrow (Thursday)

The Council will confirm its budget for the forthcoming year at a meeting tomorrow. A tax increase of nearly 4 % is likely with only the two Tory Councillors favouring a slightly lower hike (3.5%).

Most of the tax increase will be spent on the care of the elderly.

Budget Council meetings are an opportunity for the ruling party (ies) to explain more about their plans. This year, these include, generally welcomed, extra investment in street level services including road repairs, extra litter /poop scoop bins, better tree maintenance, a review of waste collection (including plastics/food waste), additional staffing on waste collection rounds, improved city centre cleaning, more effective weed control plus more for  crime prevention.

More controversially there is a big increase in the “capital” programme which will involve borrowing more money.

Most attention at the meeting will focus on the alternative proposed by the Labour opposition. They support the planned tax increase.

As always, opposition parties enjoy the luxury of proposing polices that they won’t have to implement. So, Labour roll out again the ban on “non-essential car journeys” within the City Walls.

Packaged within their plan is £40,000 for “early evening family friendly activities in the city centre”, £30,000 for a good employer charter (including “union recognition”),  £70,000 “for substance misuse” (they probably mean reducing the problem), £75,000 for the one year funding of a  “Children’s Commissioner” and £50,000 for anti-fly tipping CCTV cameras.

Cuts would be made by reducing the (recently established) graffiti removal service, crime prevention (safer communities) work An apprenticeship post would be deleted and £100,000 spent on developing a “voluntary” tourist tax.

They want to scrap the £270,000 scheme to modernise 29 Castlegate (but don’t say what they would do with the empty property or indeed with the other half dozen or so unused properties that the Council owns in the City).

Their “big idea” is the reversal of the inflation linked 2.5% increase in crematorium charges, although they routinely increased the charges when they were last in power.

The Tory amendment is doomed as they only two of the 47 members.

But they gamely try the populist route with promises to collect dead Christmas trees, improve bus services and freeze car parking charges. Members pay would be reduced as would the number of scrutiny committees. £100,000 would be lopped from the Climate Change programme while York businesses would get the “free use” of an electric vehicle for 2 months, at a cost to taxpayers of £50,000.

5 staff would be sacked as would one executive member.

In both cases the amendments are engineered to provide an opportunity to issue leaflets saying XXX party voted against such and such a policy.

If the opposition parties had been serious about their proposals, then they could have been fed into the process before public scrutiny of the options took place.

So farewell another York Chief Executive?

It seems, at the York Council, that the head of the paid service is changed almost as often as the Council Leader. On average they seem to last for less than 3 years. The current post holder was appointed in late 2016 and lasted only until the May 2019 elections.

She was taken ill shortly afterwards and not seen again at West Offices.

Now the media are speculating about a £400,000 payoff to facilitate her  “early retirement”.

Mary Weastell was the former Chief Executive of the much smaller Selby Council. Her promotion represented a risk by the York Council.  She maintained a relatively low key image up the point in September 2017 when she recommended that the Leader of the opposition and another experienced Councillor be sacked as Executive members.

The allegations against both were subsequently found to be bogus.

Confidence was undermined.

Ironically, those falsely accused were to be returned in May 2019 as the new leaders of the Council.

The LibDem led Council has had an awkward few months.

Street public service standards fell in the summer as inexperienced new executive members struggled with their portfolio responsibilities. There was an expectation that some of the suspect decisions of the previous years would be jettisoned but financially risky decisions were confirmed on the future of the Guildhall, and more recently, on how the Castle Piccadilly development would proceed.

Other projects seemed to stall. The Community Stadium has had more opening dates announced than goals scored by York City while large numbers of empty properties remained on the Councils books. The older persons accommodation project similarly ground to a halt. Many residents were antagonised by the decision to raise Councillor pay by 18% and the extension of the  lease for the controversial Spark container village strained the credibility of many.

But, in many ways more seriously, on the professional officer side of the Council, errors started to creep into published reports. Earlier in the week it transpired that vulnerable tenants had been told that their garden care scheme was being abandoned, apparently without any senior manager oversight.

There has been some  good new of course . Generally, the City has coped well with recent period of poor weather. The Councils budget papers were put into the public domain earlier and one Executive Councillor broke the habits of a generation by determining contract awards at a public decision session.

The LibDems had promised more openness prior to the local elections. They were urged in June to publish the (anonymised) information on which they based a decision on whether to fund the cost of early retirements and other severance packages.

They have not done so.

As a result, information has been leaked by opposition politicians determined to gain an advantage through the inevitable innuendo that accompanies large expenditure revelations.

The Council has backed itself into a corner.

Irrespective of any non-disclosure agreements that may have been signed, it cannot now even explain publicly the scale of any pay-out and how it has been calculated. Most of the expenditure may simply reflect pension costs over an extended period. We may never know.

There is a potential conflict between an employees right to personal privacy – even more important when someone is trying to address a health issue – and the legitimate interests of taxpayers in ensuring that any deals are fair and reasonable.

There is no convincing scrutiny of decisions taken behind closed doors.

So the Council should in future agree to make public information about the scale of any payments being authorised and the justification for them.

There is no need to identify individuals. We have seen recently, at national level, how the abrasive and intrusive attention of the media can have tragic consequences.

But a more balanced and understanding approach to the public interest is needed from the York Council.

“Don’t know” response to York Council contracts probe

The York Council has said that it doesn’t hold records of how its public service contracts are being let. A Freedom of information request was submitted asking for the publication of the register which indicates when a Council executive member had – as regulations require – authorised contracts valued between at £250,000 and £500,000.

            Extract from City of York Financial regulations

The issue had arisen following the (correct) decision taken by Cllr Nigel Ayre to formally approve contract letting at a public decision session in November. There was no suggestion at that stage of any impropriety, but the decision was welcomed as a move towards greater transparency.

The report to the meeting made it clear that, what were termed, “routine” decisions had previously been agreed by circulating a copy of a register to executive members.

A copy of the register has now been produced (below)which shows only 10 entries during the last two years.

                               “Routine” contracts register (FOI response)

Officials can’t say when items were approved by Councillors. There appears to be no documentation which would confirm that Councillors had even seen the register.

The register is also difficult to reconcile with the “on line” contracts list (for all local authorities) which can be found here

Any contracts valued at over £500,000 require formal member approval and should appear in the Councils forward programme of decisions. Some, but not all, have been listed.

Of course, the main question is whether the Council is getting good value for money?

There is still a lack of communication on contract specifications with sometimes on line descriptions being impenetrable (e.g. £880,000 being spent on “hard facilities management services”). There is also a lack of information on a contractors subsequent performance against targets.  Mostly monitoring is done behind closed doors, if it is done at all.

We have asked the responsible Councillors to review contract letting and management arrangements.

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.