The York Council will hold a “virtual” Council meeting on 29th October. It will be the first since the start of the pandemic.
Those hoping for glimpses of firm leadership and evidence of cross party cooperation will be disappointed.
The agenda is dominated by bureaucracy.
A replacement for the long departed Chief Executive will be announced. Ian Floyd will be announced as “Chief Operating Officer” although apparently the Labour leader decided to boycott the interview process. Instead Trades Union officials observed the proceedings (and pronounced that they were satisfied with the process).
The ill-timed reorganisation of local government boundaries will take a step forward, “minor amendments” to the constitution (reducing still further accountability) will be tabled, and polling stations will be changed (and no there aren’t actually any elections scheduled).
The rest is mostly a ritual look backwards although Andy D’agorne has raised his head above the parapet on controversial transport initiatives such as the double resurfacing of Tadcaster Road, the failed Bishopthorpe Road closure and the underused Monk Bar taxi service.
Will anyone be able to nail these mistakes? We doubt that those using “Zoom” will manage to do so.
A report from the Executive member with responsibility for housing, completely fails to identify the problems with re-letting services and the growing number of empty properties.
It is not just under-used Council houses that are at issue.
Homeless people have tried to get access to long term empty properties like Willow House for temporary use, only to be “cold shouldered” by Councillors.
No mention is made of the senior management level vacancies in the housing department which have contributed to the decline in standards.
Probably what takes the biscuit though, for posturing and time wasting, is a contribution, in the form of a motion, from Labour.
It claims that it wants to see Councillors “acting responsibly and collaboratively at all times”.
It then proposes unilateral changes to delegated budgets. £100,000 would be sequestered from wards and allocated centrally in some unnamed way to “voluntary groups working with the vulnerable”.
This is not a Marcus Rashford style attempt to ease the burdens of those hit by the pandemic.
Instead it would rob the least well-off wards like Westfield of the resources needed to identify and address local needs.
One of the successes, of the Councils approach, has been the local “hubs” which have provided neighbourhood level support over the last few months. They have been supplemented by other initiatives like surplus food giveaways some of which have had financial support from some ward budgets.
In addition, the Council allocated £1.25 million to a local hardship fund earlier in the year.
Perhaps if Labour Councillors want to build up another hardship fund then they might consider donating 20% of their pay?
That would put them on a par with many workers in the City who have suffered a similar – or higher – reduction in income. Councillors are, after all, attending fewer meetings these days and their costs are therefore much reduced. Indeed, for some, this will be the first meeting they have “attended” since February.
A 20% reduction in pay across the board would produce a fund of over £100,000.
The Council has issued a statment saying that York residents “are being invited to celebrate and commemorate key moments in the Autumn calendar safely, in order to protect the health of the people and places we love”.
Following the announcement that York has been added to the ‘medium’ level on the Government’s three-tiered public health restriction system, and with Covid-19 infection rates in the city rising above the national average, York could still be moved into the tier 2 of the restriction system by the Government. Therefore, this year’s city-wide celebrations will see York celebrate differently to follow public health guidelines and protect each other.
To give clarity about which events are safe to go ahead, new criteria has been developed to support the Public Health recommendations, with the Safety Advisory Group (SAG) making decisions on mitigation or restriction measures required for public events and activities to take place.
By working closely with partners to explore different options that would ensure the safety of residents, the Council, Public Health, businesses and the Safety Advisory Group are keen that as much of city life continues as possible, with safety measures in place.
Following the latest public health guidelines, events that draw significant numbers of people to a single location and at set times will unfortunately not be permitted to take place, in order to curb the spread of the virus and ultimately, protect local residents. However, events that are outdoors, spread across a larger area and encourage people to visit at different times, rather than for set performances, are more likely to be supported by the Safety Advisory Group.
What this means for city wide celebrations
Light and Dark – the Light and Dark experience and Indie York’s Magical Medieval Trails will go ahead as planned during October half term, as this experience has been designed to encourage family groups to move safely around the city.
Halloween – Trick or treating guidance will be available from the government and we will share it when published. For now, you should plan events within households or bubbles only.
Bonfire Night – SAG have confirmed the event planned for Elvington Air Field will go ahead, as it is a drive through event only. Residents are advised to keep to the rule of six and maintain a safe distance if outside.
Hanukkah – central government will be providing advice, for now you should plan events within the rule of six, or with households or bubbles only. Consider outdoor celebrations where you can.
Diwali – central government will be providing advice, for now you should plan events within the rule of six, or with households or bubbles only. Consider outdoor celebrations where you can.
Remembrance Day – to avoid people gathering for prolonged periods of time, the parades, including in the city centre, will not take place. Partners, including civic leaders, are working closely together to deliver an appropriate remembrance service, in partnership with York Minster. This will include an online service and reflection with everyone invited to take part. More information will follow soon.
Christmas Market / St Nicholas Fair – following other cities (such as Lincoln, Bath and Leeds) and new public health guidance, the Christmas Market will not go ahead. As we look after each other and continue to keep the people we love safe, this Christmas, all York residents will be invited to a special Christmas experience, with more information to follow. This will include new pop up spaces, York’s Christmas lights (which are currently being installed) and opportunities to support a range of local businesses, including small and independent traders.
Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, businesses across York have innovated and adapted to remain safe and welcoming for residents and visitors, but the threat of Coronavirus remains, so we all need to continue to work together to protect our health, our economy and our city. We will continue to work with partners to shine a light on our incredible independent retailers, hospitality businesses and attractions who have played their role in keeping our city safe.
It looks like more of the road restrictions introduced in the summer, as part of the Councils reaction to the COVID crisis, will be dropped.
The most criticised restriction – closure of Bishopthorpe Road – was scrapped a couple of months ago, although officials are now threatening to revive the idea as part of “a review of the Local Transport Plan”.
A reportto a meeting taking place next week provides an insight into how travel habits have changed in the City since COVID struck.
The most recent monitoring data, for September, shows that AM peak traffic volumes are around 80% of pre-lockdown, with the PM peak around 85% of pre-lockdown levels. Between the peaks, and at weekends, vehicle trips are down by around 5-10%. Bus use is 50-60% of pre-lockdown levels.
There is some bad news for the cycling lobby.
“Cycling levels appear to have fallen by around 30% in the peaks, whilst interpeak levels are not changed in comparison to the same period last year. It is likely that fewer people are commuting to and from work by bike or cycling to the railway station for onward travel by train, offset by higher levels of exercise/ leisure cycling”.
The report pointedly fails to comment on pollution and air quality levels in the City. These continue to be at record low levels (so probably don’t suit a doom and gloom narrative).
Several of the “emergency” schemes involved little more than putting out more traffic cones. Those in the Marygate and Monk Bar car park were largely unnecessary. The £10,000 a month taxi shuttle service for disabled people from the latter continues to run although it is little used. Most of the 40 parking spaces lost at Marygate are set to be restored as part of a new scheme to install a permanent cycle path link to Bootham.
Of the others, the report recommends
The temporary one way restriction on Coppergate is extended
The temporary cycle lane at Castle Mills Bridge on Tower Street is removed (only 3% of users are cyclists and there is an alternative, off road, route along the riverside)
The proposed scheme for improvements to York’s North – South cycle route is taken forward to implementation, with a proposed restriction on Navigation Road
The proposed scheme for improvements to cycle lanes on Bootham is taken forward to implementation, with a consultation commenced on the rest of the Shipton Road cycle lane scheme, including the element which would require changes to residents’ parking on parts of Bootham.
The Council has not heard whether its plea for funding a further tranche of works will be approved. These include the very expensive, but desirable, cycle bridge over the river and railway on the A1237 as well as some more eccentric ideas (a cycle path for Dunnington to the City centre).
Despite the lack of obvious government enthusiasm for the Councils plans, the authority intends to spend £40,000 on further development of the ideas.
As we have said many times, one of the main criticisms of the Councils transport polices over the last 12 months has been its total insensitivity to the state of repair of the existing infrastructure.
That is particularly true of cycle paths many of which are obstructed by potholes, weeds, and hedges. White lines have worn away, signage has faded and, in some cases, disappeared altogether.
It is that neglect that is limiting the expansion of walking and cycling numbers in the City.
Capital expenditure (funded by borrowing) is limited to providing or improving assets with an extended lifespan. Resurfacing existing paths could fall within that definition.
The suspicion is that the executive Councillors favour high profile vanity projects simply because they provide an opportunity for a good “Photo Op”.
The reduction in the numbers cycling is one symptom of poor prioritisation
Another death reported today at York hospital. This is the second in a week.
At the end of September there were 18 COVID patients being looked after by the Hospital Trust. The NHS do not published daily bulletins giving bed occupancy and discharge numbers at local authority level. We think that – – given the huge surge in local case numbers – they should now do so.
73 (SEVENTY THREE) additional positive test results have been announced today. This brings the total to 1838.
The cumulative 7 day average number of cases, per 100,000 population, peaked at 203.69 on Tuesday. This is significantly higher than the national average.
The worst affected neighbourhoods are currently Heslington, the City centre, the Groves and Tang Hall. All have large numbers of student occupied properties.
According to media reports, 135 people from the University of York have tested positive for Covid-19.
The number of students self-isolating has hit 1,000.
Volunteers are being recruited to help deliver food to the students stuck in uni accommodation. City of York Council has sent out an email to its team of volunteers asking for their help. It says: “The quantity of Covid-19 positive tests at the University of York has doubled. There are 1,000 students on campus socially isolating and the University of York needs support to ensure they can deliver food to them.”
Stricter rules for businesses
We know of, and are incredibly grateful for, the amount of work businesses are undertaking to ensure their premises are COVID secure for staff and customers.
The new measures from the government brought in this week also brought in increased punishment for businesses who aren’t COVID secure.
Businesses and organisations will face stricter rules to make their premises COVID Secure (from 28 September):
A wider range of leisure and entertainment venues, services provided in community centres, and close contact services will be subject to the COVID-19 Secure requirements in law and fines of up to £10,000 for repeated breaches.Employers must not knowingly require or encourage someone who is being required to self-isolate to come to work.Businesses must remind people to wear face coverings where mandated.
New guidance on £9 billion Job Retention Bonus
Further information has been published on how businesses can claim the government’s Job Retention Bonus, with millions set to benefit from the £9 billion package.
the Job Retention Bonus, worth up to £9 billion is set to support millions of employers who have kept on furloughed workersthe bonus will work alongside newly announced Job Support Scheme and could be worth more than 60% of average wages of workers who have been furloughed – and are kept on until the start of February 2021businesses can claim for the Bonus from 15 February until the end of March.
Eligible employees who are required to self-isolate by the Government’s Test and Track scheme, will be eligible for one-off payments to support them through the 14-day quarantine period.
The new Test and Trace Support Payment scheme from the Government is for people on low incomes who are unable to work from home while they are self-isolating. Where earnings are affected by self-isolating, applicants may be entitled to some financial support; a one-off ‘Test and Trace Support Payment’ of £500. Anyone told to self-isolate by the NHS’s scheme must do so or face fines of up to £10,000, and the £500 payment must be returned.
The scheme will also apply to eligible self-employed people who can prove they are unable to work while self-isolating.
Applications for free peer-to-peer support programme are now open
Peer Networks is a free national peer-to-peer programme for SME leaders that want to grow and develop their organisation for future success.
The York & North Yorkshire Growth Hub are working in partnership with the University of York to create diverse groups of individuals who can collaboratively work through common business issues. Through interactive action learning, participants will be able to discuss their challenges, gain and reflect on valuable feedback, and implement practical solutions to overcome them.
To be eligible, businesses need to have operated for over a year, have five or more employees and an annual turnover of at least £100,000. The scheme will close to applications on 26 October 2020 and places are limited.
Prime Minister’s Announcement: Skills and Training
The Prime Minister has set out plans to transform the training and skills system to help the country recover from coronavirus. The plans include a Lifetime Skills Guarantee to give adults the chance to take free college courses valued by employers and new entitlement to flexible loans to allow courses to be taken in segments, boosting opportunities to retrain.
This included an expansion of the Department for Education’s online learning platform, The Skills Toolkit. There are now more than 70 courses in digital, numeracy and employability or work-readiness available online and free of charge.
We are encouraging more learners to sign up to The Skills Toolkit, in order to help them build up their skills, progress in work and boost their job prospects.
As cases of Coronavirus continue to increase, City of York Council are encouraging residents and businesses to play their part to protect those we love and keep the places we enjoy open.
Stay up to date with York’s response to coronavirus through our upcoming Live Q&As, daily social media and latest government guidance updates.
As many volunteers have returned to work or education, we’re looking for 300 more to support York. We get a wide range of requests for volunteers to help with across the city.Sign up to volunteer so we can match you with suitable requests or needs.
Having friends or family to visit?
We’re asking residents to share their top tips for stopping the spread of Coronavirus when visitors come round. Whether it’s buying or making a fire pit so you can socialise outdoors, or putting kitchen roll in the bathroom so no one shares a hand towel – let us know how you keep people safe.
Current data shows us that social and household contacts and lack of social distancing is the main cause of spreading Coronavirus in York. It’s vital we don’t forget these stay-safe steps when visitors come to your home. Let’s protect those we love and remember ‘Hands, Face, Space’ whether you’re out and about or have visitors to your home.
Following Government guidance, hospitality businesses are now required to:
Close at 10pm (not last orders)
Keep tables a safe distance apart or divided with protective screens
Refuse entry to groups of more than six
Require customer and staff to wear face covering, unless sat at their table
Either ask customers to scan the NHS QR code in their premises or record their contact details for the Track and Trace programme
Businesses in York have innovated and adapted to remain safe and welcoming for residents and visitors, but the threat of Coronavirus has not gone away and so we all need to continue to work together to protect our health, our economy and our city.
This is now much less following some government funding including additional support for the loss of income from fees and charges. The Government will fund 75% of any loss
Nevertheless, the Council believes that it may have to eat into its £7 million reserves to balance the books this year. Next year may be even more challenging with Council Tax and Rates income set to fall.
A list of the pressures on the Councils budget can be read by clicking here
The Council has not tabulated the “mitigation” measures that it is taking to reduce expenditure.
There has been increased expenditure on helping the elderly and disabled. The work of volunteers has been praised by the Council.
A report being considered next week says, “The Council has remained committed to our Home First approach to managing people’s recovery, avoiding placements in residential and nursing care whenever possible. However the impact of COVID-19 and the associated lockdown has meant that more people than we had planned for have needed social care funded through the council. This together with increasing mental health referrals, the increased cost of care and the 4 more complex needs of those the council is supporting has resulted in increased pressure on the adult social care budget”.
One of the largest drops in performance is in re-letting empty Council homes. This has increased from 37 days at the end of March 2020 to 59 days at the end of June 2020. Delays to repairs are still a major problems with this service and so far the Council are choosing not offer work to local tradesmen many of whom would the opportunity.
The published performance results (click) don’t provide information on key COVID measures (e.g. traffic and cycling levels).
New housing chief also backs out of taking up York job
The Director of Health, Housing and Adult Social Care at the York Council has quit.
Now Councillors are scrambling around trying to make interim appointments to fill key vacancies just as the “second wave” of Covid 19 gains strength in the City.
They will discuss the issue at a meeting taking place next week
It seems likely responsibilities in the department will be carved up as interim Directors are appointed from within the existing office ranks.
The situation has been exacerbated by the actions of a Hull based official who had been offered the job of Assistant Director Housing and Community Safety.
The previous post holder left the Authority in February 2020.
The appointee had been due to join the York Council on 7th September but has backed out.
Now an interim appointment is to be made from within the Councils existing staff pool. The post will report to a new (delightfully opaquely styled) Director of “Place”.
The role is principally concerned with Council house management.
The department has been criticised for its ponderous reaction to several issues including the increasing length of time taken to let empty homes.
Several housing reports – due to be presented for decision over the last 6 months – have been mysteriously shelved. There has been no explanation and the original decision dates (long passed) have not been updated on the Councils forward plan. .
The York Council is asking residentsto support them by making representations to the government about a possible local government reorganisation.
They have point about unnecessary change being debilitating at a time when all resources should be focused on the recovery from the health crisis and the possible downside from BREXIT.
Most attention is focused on Council boundaries. The biggest threat to accountability is however posed by the introduction of a Mayoral position covering the whole of York and North Yorkshire.
Local government reorganisations in 1973 and again in 1997 were debilitating with new structures and personalities taking many years to come to terms with roles, geographies and priorities. The post reorganisation periods were not ones that will be recorded in history for dynamic and decisive decision making. Rather they were periods where individuals and political parties jockeyed for position and advantage.
We now enjoy a settled structure with which everyone is familiar if not universally comfortable.
Some will say that there is no right time for system reform. That may be true.
But there is certainly a wrong time and we are clearly in the middle of it.
There has been little debate about the powers and responsibilities of an elected Mayor. While the achievements of the, hitherto largely urban, mayors attract mixed reviews, few argue that the system gives the average person any greater say over decisions affecting their local community.
The system is untested in a predominantly rural area of the size of North Yorkshire. The nearest parallel we have is the directly elected Police, Fire & Crime Commissioner. Turnout in the elections for that post was only 23%. There was no mandate for the creation of the position and therefore people have not engaged with it. The underlying concern – absolute power corrupts absolutely – although an exaggeration in this case clearly has some relevance with many PFCC and Mayors displaying, after a few years, a tendency towards directional rather than consensus government. For this reason, the NYPFCC was eventually discarded by her own party and clings to power only because of the pandemic which caused elections to be suspended.
For that reason we hope that any move towards creating a Mayoral post will be subject to a referendum of those living in the area.
They should be given a chance to choose between the change and the status quo.
That would be in line with the government’s stated intention to apply the principle of subsidiarity to local decision making and not to impose change on an unwilling community.
NB. In the period up to October 2016, there had been 53 referendums on the question of changing executive arrangements to a model with a directly elected mayor. Of these, 16 resulted in the establishment of a new mayoralty and 37 were rejected by voters
Each week the York Council updates a list of upcoming “decisions”that it intends to make. It is known as the forward programme and covers a four month period. It lists issue areas and gives the date that a decision meeting will take place on.
The intention is to give back bench councillors and members of the public advance notice that changes may be proposed.
The system has always been slightly opaque with some quite obscure descriptions covering potentially radical change. Nevertheless, the system works after a fashion and was sustained during the peak of the COVID crisis.
During that time decisions were delegated to officials on the basis that they needed to act promptly to address health concerns.
The York Council has been slow to get back to a fully transparent and democratic decision-making process, with meetings still taking place “online”.
Many may think that this is not a bad thing as far as what are termed “executive member decision meetings” are concerned. Essentially this involves one person siting in a room solemnly declaring agreement with often mundane officer recommendations. Provided that written representations are allowed and recorded, remote meetings of this sort have the advantage of avoiding unnecessary travel (and can be viewed live on video by interested parties).
The Councils planning and scrutiny processes are rather different.
There some real debate and probing is necessary to ensure that all options are fully understood and considered. Other Councils have returned to “live” meetings. York should follow suit.
It could start by scheduling its first full Council meeting for 6 months.
The latest “forward plan” suggests that a backlog of work is building up. No fewer than 7 items which have been included on the plan – in some cases for over 6 months – are now shelved.
There is no indication when, or even if, decisions will be made.
They include a review of Homelessness, the agenda for which was published last week and then hastily withdrawn without explanation.
Another report was intended to provide an update on the commercial arrangements at the new Community Stadium complex. There is no clue given as to when a report will be ready despite the start of the new football season being imminent.
Several of the deferred items relate to housing issues. A new Head of Housing has recently been appointed. He will need to get to grips quickly with the backlog.
In the meantime the Council should either schedule the shelved meetings or withdraw them for the list
The deferred items include
25. Homeless Review 2019-20 Decision maker: Executive Member for Housing & Safer Neighbourhoods Decision due: ; The original meeting this item was scheduled to be considered at has been cancelled, therefore this item has been postponed until a new meeting date has been identified. Originally due: 25/08/20 Notice of proposed decision first published: 28/07/2020
26. Make it York Service Level Agreement Decision maker: Executive Member for Culture, Leisure and Communities Decision due: ; In consultation with the Executive Member for Economy and Strategic Planning Originally due: 14/04/20 Notice of proposed decision first published: 24/02/2020
27. Project Executive Fee Level Decision maker: Executive Member for Children, Young People and Education Originally due: 21/04/20 Notice of proposed decision first published: 02/03/2020
28. NSLC Commercial proposals (Community Stadium) Decision maker: Executive Decision due: ; This item has been deferred to enable a more detailed report to be prepared. Originally due: 13/02/20 Notice of proposed decision first published: 13/01/2020
29. Organisational Development (OD) Plan Decision maker: Executive Originally due: 23/04/20 Notice of proposed decision first published: 16/03/2020
30. Garden Assistance for CYC Tenants Decision maker: Executive Member for Housing & Safer Neighbourhoods Originally due: 30/04/20 Notice of proposed decision first published: 03/02/2020
31. Communal Areas Policy (Housing Owned Land) Decision maker: Executive Member for Housing & Safer Neighbourhoods Originally due: 14/05/20 Notice of proposed decision first published: 03/02/2020
A meeting later today will consider the next steps in replacing the York Councils Chief Executive. The last post holder was made redundant earlier in the year, following an extended period of sick leave.
Interim arrangements have applied in the interim.
The Council will feel that the arrangements worked reasonably well during the COVID crisis although the authority was criticised for poor communications as well as secrecy on several matters of public interest.
There is never a good time for major structural change although the current post pandemic period – with the threat of further major change being driven by the “devolution” debate – means that stability is the most urgent requirement. An independent Local Government Association analysis of he plans comes to the same conclusions
It seems that the Council will opt to appoint a “Chief Operating Officer” (COO) who would have a less strategic and ambassadorial role that the last post holder. Officials concentrating on service delivery would be a welcome step forward although the implication that the strategic role would fall on senior Councillors might be less welcome in the light of recent controversial investment decisions.
One thing we are clear about is that the suggestion that the COO should have NINE direct reports is ridiculous .
Yesterday’s announcement that more than £15 million of infrastructure schemes had been secured in North Yorkshire over the next 18 months – with £300,000 of funding going towards the York Guildhall offices project – will have been welcomed by many.
The money comes from the Government’s “Getting Building Fund” which “aims to boost economic recovery from Covid-19”.
According to a Council spokesman, the funding will now be used “for internal fit-out works” on the business club which will occupy much of the building.
That will come as a surprise to those who thought that the agreed £20.18 million budgetincluded all costs. Indeed, the option approved by the Council in February 2019, specifically identified £300,000 for “fixtures, fittings and furniture”.
Council report 2019. Option 1 was agreed
It seems that the only change is that this expenditure will now be funded from general taxation.
Even with this subsidy, and assuming that all offices and the on site restaurant, are all occupied, York Council taxpayers still face an annual bill of over £500,000.
An Executive meeting which took place last week was told in an update on the Guildhall project that “additional delays have meant that it is presently considered that these additional costs cannot be contained within the agreed contingency”.
The scale of the over expenditure was not revealed.
The Guildhall is not the only commercial portfolio project to come under scrutiny.
Some independent commentators are sceptical about the timing of the Councils £2.8 million acquisition of 25/27 Coney Street. Rent levels are now dropping and with them property valuations in some high streets. Coney Street is struggling more than most.
These include Ashbank (empty for 8 years), 29 Castlegate (3 years), Oakhaven (4 years) and Willow House (4 years 6 months).
Willow House stands abandoned with no sign of redevelopment work starting.
We now understand that Willow House – which was advertised for sale with Sanderson Weatherall – has been withdrawn from the market. The Council turned down a £3 million offer for the prime site shortly after it became available.
None of these properties are accommodating anyone.
All are incurring maintenance and security costs for taxpayers, while at the same time attracting no Business Rates or rent income.
At a time when local authorities are on their knees financially, poor resource management is a matter of concern.