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”.

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.

Need for clarity from Council Executive members

The Council’s scrutiny committees will begin to receive reports this month from the new Executive councillors.

The expectation will be that a line will be drawn in the sand and a new suite of measurable outcomes will be published.

Street sweeping poor

At the moment residents must rely on Open Data pages to try to check on progress.  They represent a confusing array of stats with some key service areas barely covered.

The public will want to know what the trends are in volumes? Are the demands on the Council’s resources increasing or are they stable?

 Whether it be numbers of schoolchildren or elderly people requiring support, these are key figures. 

Blocked gullies

The volume of waste being presented is an example of  important information, as are jobless and job vacancy numbers.  Complaint and issue numbers provide a clue to residents’ concerns.

“How many?” “how often?” “where?” are all legitimate questions

Going beyond these how is the Council responding?

  • What are the customer satisfaction numbers?
  • How quickly does the Council respond?
  • How effective is the response?
  • What are the root causes of repeat problems and how has the Council responded?
No weed control

Two reports to a scrutiny meeting next week offer little insight. They include no numbers.

The Executive member scorecards for the first quarter (April – June) haven’t even been published yet.

An outturn report to a full executive meeting on 29th August prompted no debate.

Paths obstructed

Taken with the obvious decline in street public service standards that have been evident during the summer months, this simply isn’t good enough.

It doesn’t matter which party is in control of the Council a “can do” attitude coupled with good, honest communications is essential.

Residents expect better.

More trees and wild flowers

How not to do it

The new York Council has rightly decided to plant more trees and expand the areas devoted to wildflowers with good propagation features.

More trees will help , in a modest way, to offset the losses both locally and internationally which have occurred over recent years.

The plight of bees robbed of propagating flowers in urban environments, because of increased hard surfacing and use of herbicides, is well documented.

The Council does however need to understand that such a policy is not a cheap alternative . The authority will need to plant the right species of trees to match the needs of specific locations. Too many well intended “plant a tree in 83” type schemes resulted in the wrong type of tree being planted in the wrong location.

This is particularly true in the case of highway trees (those in verges) where lack of regular maintenance has meant that many have grown the point that they interfere with passing vehicles, overhead plant or neighbouring properties. The only pruning that they get is from high sided vehicles which sooner or later impact on branches often sending them crashing down onto the highway.

High winds can have a similar effect.

The problem can be traced to an inadequate maintenance budget. This was given a modest boost in the Council most recent review.

Before planting more trees – there are plenty of spaces where new mini forests could be created in and around the City – the Council should first sort out its existing stock

On Balfour Street a (self seeded?) tree has been allowed to spread to the point where it is absorbing the adjacent railings and destroying the public footpath. It has been reported on several occasions with out a response from the Council. An obvious case for the local ward committee to use its delegated budget to tidy up the area.

For some people wildflowers are synonymous with pervasive weed growth. We have seen the neglect of highways over the summer although some lobbyists have argued that the weed growth will at least be “good for nature”.

We doubt that, with damage to paths and drains likely to pose an expensive hazard.

But there are locations where the Council could proactively plant low maintenance flowers which would greatly increase propagation opportunities.

The authority will need a proactive programme which will need to include a commitment to the long term maintenance of any planted areas.

This area next to the Leeman Road cycle track is actually paved. Neglect means that is has gradually become overgrown. If it serves no landscaping purpose, then the paving could be removed and a good propagating, low maintenance, plant such as lavender, could be substituted.

Timetable to address York public service woes needed

Anyone expecting the York Council’s Executive to take decisive action, to address declining public service standards at their meeting yesterday, will have been disappointed.

Despite a plea from Independent Councillor Mark Warters that a team be set up to deal with outstanding complaints, the Councils leadership remained tight lipped.

Cllr Warters was echoing a similar call from a growing number of Liberal Democrat supporters in the City

Many residents may conclude that there is something seriously wrong at West Offices.

Not only is there no timetable for addressing outstanding issues, but communications with residents are poor while many local Councillors (not all) fail to roll their sleeves up and tackle issues directly in their wards.

The York Council is no longer a “can do” organisation. It’s become a “maybe things will get better next year” type authority.

That won’t do. Its the kind of complacent attitude that has prompted a rise in more extreme political ideologies elsewhere in the country and abroad. It needs to be reversed, and quickly.

Not everything is bad, of course. Some individual Council officials are making limited progress in improving our streets as we show here.

The drainage channel on Foxwood Lane has been cleared
The Field Lane cycle track has been cleared of obstructions
But for every success there is a failure. The footpath on Hull Road remains obstructed despite pedestrians being forced onto the busy highway
and weeds still haven’t been treated even on streets where Councillors actually live!
New issues are emerging each day. This footpath on Field Lane, near the Hull Road junction, is now obstructed.
Not the Councils responsibility, but there has been a build up of litter on the Teal Drive “pocket park”. Reopened 6 weeks ago, it is being well used but it does need routine cleansing (or a litter bin). Reported to JRHT.