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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cllr Ashley Mason said: (more…)

Council meeting moves to Citadel as spending plans consultation starts

Council debates may be inspired by Citadel moto

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

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

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

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

Have your say on York’s spending plans

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

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

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

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

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

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

People can put forward their views:

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

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Council Leader under pressure to publish secret report

Councillors from all parties have written to the York Council Leader (David Carr) asking him to reveal the contents of a secret report compiled by the Local Government Association (LGA).

The report looked into the behaviour of some York Councillors and officials at a stormy meeting of the Audit and Governance Committee which took place on 22nd February.

The report is thought to criticise the way that Council officials handled the meeting when it was considering a report on the appointment of consultants by the previous Labour administration.

An internal report had revealed that around £174,000 had been spent when appointing consultants outside the Councils procurement regulations i.e competitive tenders for the work had not been obtained.

Councillors voted to discuss the issue in public, prompting the then chair of the committee to walk out followed by another Labour Councillor.

Subsequently an investigation into the meeting was conducted by the LGA. The expectation was that the further report would have been presented to the last meeting of the Audit committee but the Council Leader intervened to prevent its publication.

Cllr Carr has so far refused to publish the report, despite promising members at a full council meeting in July that he would.

In the letter the councillors say:

“As members of City of York Council and its Audit and Governance Committee, we are writing openly to you to express our concerns over the lack of openness and transparency with the above report.

We would like you to confirm that:

  1. The report will be published for the Audit and Governance Committee as soon as possible, if necessary with the full version seen in private session and a redacted copy being public.
  2. You re-affirm your commitment to working in an open and transparent manner, whilst protecting the rights of members and officers by not prejudicing the outcome of any report.

We hope that you as Leader and City of York Council will learn from past events at Audit and Governance and push forward towards greater openness instead of just trying to fulfil minimum expectations with Members and the public. When writing public reports, we should carefully balance the legitimate public interest in disclosure against data protection concerns, working with redacted or summarised reports with private annexes rather than excluding whole reports as confidential.”

It is highly unusual for members of all the political  Groups represented on the Council to jointly produce such a letter.

It places further pressure on a Council Leader who has been increasingly isolated since he took unilateral action to sack two leading LibDem Councillors from the coalition Executive at the beginning of September.

The Council’s Standards Board has since made little progress in dealing with the allegations – also understood to be related to the procurement report – against the two Councillors.

Some sources within the Council are now saying that – unless progress on the reports is made quickly – an ultimatum is likely to be issued.

Either Cllr Carr goes or the coalition collapses.

 

Each York Council meeting webcast costs £1620

Details of the cost of webcasting York’s full Council and Executive committee meetings have been revealed.

During the last 4 years a total of £99,000 has been paid to contractors “Pilot Theatre”.

The details were revealed in a response to an FOI request. The request was made by the Conservative candidate in the June local by election in the Hull Road Ward.

One commentator has said “a permanent webcasting solution could be put in place at a fraction of that price

The main concern seems to be the absence of an open tendering process for the service, although the Council says that this has been complicated by its planned short term move to the Citadel Hall in Gillygate (while building works at the Guildhall take place)

The exchange doesn’t ask how much the in house broadcasting of small committee meetings costs, nor is information provided about the number of people who actually view the web casts.

In most cases, viewer numbers are thought to be measured in dozens rather than hundreds (including a chunk from outside the UK who are practising their language skills!).

The Tories may have a point. One of the promises of the new York TV station was that it would provide free access to material of this sort, so perhaps there are cheaper ways of doing things?

 

 

York Council’s secrecy culture rapped by Ombudsman

The Local Government Ombudsman has criticised the York Council for failing to publish background documents.

In the watchdogs annual performance letter it says,

“Last year we stressed that serving such notices should only be done exceptionally to avoid giving the appearance of a lack of transparency by the Council. It is, therefore, very disappointing to see this practice has continued this year.

Your Council has issued two section 32(3) confidentiality notices that we considered were not appropriate but the Council, when asked, did not comment on why they had done so. I would urge your Council to address this issue as a matter of urgency as it affects our ability to properly investigate complaints against it.

These instances lead me to have serious concerns about the Council’s commitment to positively address complaints made against it in an open and transparent manner”.

 In total the Ombudsman received 56 complaints about the York Council

Eight cases of maladministration, by the Council, were found last year.

So how good are customer services at the York Council?

A report to a council committee meeting next week praises the progress made in improving customer reception facilities. 94% of users says they are satisfied with the contact centre, an improvement on previous years.

The time taken to answer telephone calls (they had 244,277 last year) has improved while the number of residents visiting the West Offices offices has fallen from 141,556 to 112,893. Visitors wait on average for 7.2 minutes.

Business visitor numbers have also reduced.

The Council say this change is due to more people using “on line” and “auto payment” systems. These systems are cheaper for the authority to operate and should be available 24/7.

But the experience of those using “on line” services is very mixed.

The report says, “From October 2016 residents have been encouraged to complete certain transactions online. As an example – since November – 2,454 street light and street cleansing issues were reported with 1,315 (55%) of these now being logged by residents online”.

However, these are pretty much the only issues that you can report “on line” with an expectation that you will actually get a response.

The roll out of issue reporting on other services has stalled.

For the third year in a row the Council has been unable to say how long it takes to deal with electronic communications nor does the report say what customer satisfaction levels are with this contact channel.

Sooner or later the Council will have to come clean on why some of its web based customer contact systems are such a shambles.

“Red Alert” as York Council confirms customer management system in trouble

Just a few days after we revealed that the Councils IT systems were at best “flaky”, there has been official confirmation of the scale of the problems

A report to the Council’s Audit Committee includes a “Red Warning” about the new digital system (CRM) on its risk register.

The project ran into serious trouble earlier in the year when a “contractual issue” ruled out “going live” on many customer management features.

Now the position has worsened with no progress on resolving the issue being reported. The Council is pinning its hopes on an “independent review” of the outstanding issues but no timescales have been agreed,

The IT change is hugely expensive for taxpayers. It is a project first mooted in 2011 but since then progress has been agonisingly slow. As a result the Council has been criticised for not buying proven “off the shelf” solutions; instead they preferred to “go it alone”.

The Executive member with responsibility for the project (Chris Steward) quit in January, leaving Council Leader David Carr to pick up the pieces.

It seems that he has had little more success in moving the project forward.

Budget consultation

budget-consultation

York Council  (click to access)

The York Council is asking residents whether they would like to see Council Tax increased by 1.99%, charges increased or fewer services provided

In its “on line” survey, the Council then asks whether an additional  1%, 2% or 3% increase in tax – to fund social care (elderly and disabled services) – would be acceptable?

There is then a list of services which residents are asked to prioritise. Usually residents say that they want all the services to be sustained. However, there may be a move to invest more in street cleaning, crime prevention and road maintenance this year.

There is room for a comments section but no mention of the high levels of debt charges (interest payments) being born by taxpayers nor any option to cut back on capital programmes like the Guildhall development or the new Monks Cross swimming pool..

The Council’s final budget will be set in February, so leading Councillors will already have decided what the budget strategy is.

Launching a “consultation” a couple of days before Christmas will seem to be an afterthought to many residents.

Police – click to access

The Police and Crime Commissioners survey takes a similar line. A short explanatory leaflet is available but it says little about crime levels (which are increasing in parts of York)

Residents are offered the choice of a tax freeze, a 1.99% increase and – subject to a formal referendum – an increase above 2%.

No spending options are offered and there is no opportunity to highlight areas of concern on policing.

So pretty much going through the motions of public consultation it seems

NB. The results of the last PCC survey – on policing plans – which was undertaken in the autumn, have yet to be published

York homelessness services win gold standard award

 City of York Council’s services for preventing and managing homelessness are in the country’s top three and have been given the gold service standard.

funny_homeless_signs_32

The award was confirmed by the national governing body this week and York is the third local authority in England to ever win it.

The National Practitioner Support Service (NPSS) – funded by the Department of Communities and Local Government – has confirmed that the council has achieved the standard required. The Gold Standard can only be achieved by demonstrating that the service has a focus on early intervention and prevention of homelessness at its core.
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