The government has told councils to start meeting again from May.
Interim regulations permitted local authorities to hold remote meetings using facilities such as “zoom”. Now they will have to get together in a room with efforts being made to accommodate members of the public.
Unfortunately work on York’s Guildhall is far from complete so meetings may reconvene at the Citadel building in Gillygate.
The York Council was one of the pioneers a decade ago in live streaming meetings so the recent introduction of on line access was less of an innovation than it was for some authorities.
The on-line format has been criticised for producing a sterile atmosphere with the cut and trust of debate missing from the decision making process.
Emergency powers delegated some decisions to officials. Unfortunately there was no requirement to publish details of up coming officers decisions. The first that residents heard of some plans was when a decision notice was issued some days later.
That is something that needs to change.
The government is consulting on how the option of “on line” decision making can be made available in the future.
Certainly many Executive member decision sessions – which last for a few minutes and produce little or no engagement from residents – might usefully be held without the need for unnecessary travel (subject to the usual requirement to allow public representations to be made).
The first meeting in public may be the Council’s AGM at which a new Lord Mayor will be elected.
The meeting is scheduled to take place on 27th May.
Usually the arrival of the annual auditors report at a York Council meeting produces little excitement (or even mild interest).
Things may be a little different at a governance meeting which is scheduled to take place on 31st March.
While the Councils auditors Mazers give a generally positive view of the Council’s financial arrangements, they do take a pop at the process used to compensate the Councils last Chief Executive when she left the authority, quite suddenly, in 2019.
The Council has issued the following comments;
City of York Council has published its 2019/20 final accounts, which will be considered by the Council’s Audit and Governance Committee later this month.
The council’s accounts are subject to external audit by Mazars LLP, who previously highlighted four outstanding areas at the Audit and Governance Committee meeting in November 2020 that required final approval:
The heritage assets valuation where information has now been provided by York Museums Trust but was delayed due to the impact of Covid-19. Mazars have made a control recommendation in respect of the arrangements to review, challenge and document the output of valuation experts.
The council’s pension fund administrators, North Yorkshire Pension Fund, are unable to confirm pension figures in the accounts. This issue is not specific to City of York Council and affects all local authority members of the pension fund. Mazars have discussed future arrangements with the council to put arrangements in place for a full valuation in 2020/21.
Additional information regarding remuneration packages from the council is currently being worked through by Mazars. Mazars concluded that the sums involved do not present a risk of material misstatement. Additional information regarding remuneration packages is ongoing and will be published when completed.
The audit of the ‘Whole of Government Accounts (WGA)’ return has yet to be completed due to a delays in receiving guidance from the National Audit Office.
Mazars LLP have now completed the majority of this work and provided the council with an updated Audit Completion report, together with a final version of the Accounts published in advance of the next meeting of Audit and Governance for information.
Mazars identified there are no matters arising on the management override of controls or from work on revenue recognition. Mazars have not identified any material errors or uncertainties in the financial statements or highlighted any indication of material estimation error in respect of defined benefit liability valuation.
Responding the publication of final accounts, Debbie Mitchell, Chief Finance Officer, said:
Despite the impact of the pandemic, the Council was still able to complete and deliver draft accounts to the external auditor by the end of June 2020, a full month ahead of the statutory deadline.
“Following detailed assessment of four areas identified by the auditors as requiring further work, Mazars have not identified any material errors in the financial statements and have indicated that the accounts give a true and fair view of the financial position of the council and that they have been properly prepared.
“Further work is taking place to provide additional information regarding remuneration packages and when this work is completed, it will be published and shared with the Audit and Governance Committee. This does mean that the final audit certificate cannot yet be issued. However, the auditor has made clear that this objection does not have a material impact on the financial statements.
“We welcome the feedback from the external auditor and fully recognise that there are areas for improvement. We look forward working with Mazars to develop an appropriate action plan once this outstanding matter is published.”
The City of York Council says that it is taking action to make York more pollinator friendly.
There are over 4,000 species of insects in the UK that carry out pollination of our native wild plants and food crops, but they are under threat and in decline due to habitat loss and excessive pesticide use.
The council wants to introduce a new Pollinator Strategy so that it can ensure local residents, businesses and landowners are provided with information to help protect and increase pollinators.
Insects like bumblebees, butterflies and beetles all provide a vital part in pollination of our native wild plants and our food crops, ensuring the protection of our city’s biodiversity.
The new strategy aims to protect, increase and enhance the amount of pollinator habitats on council owned or managed land, and help to improve the status of any locally threatened species.
The most significant factors leading to these declines in pollinator numbers includes habitat loss (food, shelter and nesting), pesticides which have harmful effects on honeybees, wild bees and butterflies and climate change, which has long term effects.
The Council’s initiative is welcomed. In particular, the the commitment to neighbourhood input into initiatives.
What is lacking in the the document is a recognition that much of the solution to the lack of pollinator attractive plants can only be addressed by the more thoughtful use of privately owned land.
In particular, more can be done in peoples gardens.
A ready source of advice, and a proactive approach to publicity, is needed from the York Council.
If approved, the council will adopt the new Pollinator Strategy and ensure the needs of pollinators are represented in local plans, policy and guidance – to help us all protect and increase pollinators.
The strategy will be taken to an Executive meeting for approval on Thursday 18 March from 5.30pm and will be available to watch online afterwards.
*The Brain in Hand tool is a new way of monitoring and managing feelings of stress and anxiety and is designed to help keep the day on track. It has been designed specifically for people with Autism Spectrum Conditions. It is an application for use on a smart phone or other device that is designed to help monitor feelings and help manage stress and anxiety.
This design replaces all signalling equipment at the junction whilst also making slight improvements for pedestrians crossing the junction. Transport modelling of these revisions indicate that the impact to all vehicular traffic moving through the junction is negligible however the improvements to infrastructure at the site make future upgrades and revisions to operation easier.
* A full replacement of all on site traffic signalling technology
* Pedestrian Crossing width increased to 4 metres on the Bootham arm of the junction
* Pedestrian Crossing width increased to 6 metres on the Gillygate arm of the junction
* Tactile paving on the St Leonards Place arm of the crossing to be realigned meet current design standards.
This design looks to reallocate space at the junction from road traffic to pedestrians whilst also replacing the required signalling equipment.
Transport modelling of the redesign indicates that the changes would reduce the capacity of the junction by approximately 30%. This would see significant increases in general traffic delay at the junction and a large increase in queues which would impact on adjacent junctions across the network.
* A full replacement of all on site traffic signalling technology.
* Pedestrian Crossing widths increased to 4 metres across both the Gillygate and Bootham arms of the junction.
* Additional pedestrian crossing point introduced from the eastern corner of Gillygate to the western footway of St Leonards Place.
* Removal of the left turn lane from St Leonards Place reducing the highway into a single lane in both directions.
* Highway realigned to the East of Gillygate/St Leonards place to create a more straight ahead route for vehicles travelling from Gillygate into St Leonards Place and additional footway and pedestrian realm adjacent to Bootham Bar.
* Existing Pedestrian Island removed from St Leonards place and crossing realigned as a single stage crossing.
The consultation runs until 31st March.
The Council is also consulting on a revised policy for approving dropped kerb – verge cross over plans.
Lack of on street parking space means that more residents will be likely to seek to make this change in the future. Installation of vehicle charging facilities as the internal combustion engine is phased out, may stimulate demand.
The new regulations are very proscriptive. They don’t permit the relocation of tree or street furniture which may obstruct access to a driveway.
A programme of providing dropped kerbs for Council owned premises has stalled over recent years meaning that verges in several streets are now badly damaged.
The Council is also consulting on the future of its Homeshare services
“Currently Homeshare matches a homeowner aged 55+ who has a spare room and could benefit from some support and/or companionship (the ‘Householder’) with a younger person who will provide 10 hours of support a week in exchange for accommodation (the ‘Homesharer’). Homeshare is free to the Householder and the Homesharer pays £160 towards the running of the match as well as any contributions towards council tax increases. Homesharer’s are fully vetted including two references and a DBS check. Matches are made based on both parties’ personalities and interests and support is offered throughout the match. Matches are expected to last for a minimum of 6 months but can be ended early if a match is not working out. For more information you can visit ourHomeshare webpage.“
In a bizarre twist, the Leaders of 6 District Councils in North Yorkshire have written to York Councillors seeking their support for a reorganisation of Council boundaries.
The Leaders (4 Conservative, 1 Labour and 1 independent) favour a west/east split with York merging with Selby, Ryedale and Scarborough.
The government is expected to publish proposals for consultation next week.
The York Council favours a two way split with the North Yorkshire County Council becoming a unitary authority and York remaining as it is.
The letter from the District Leaders seems to be ill judged.
It pointedly fails to address the underlying threat to democracy – the imposition of a regional mayor – who would have wide ranging spending and regulatory powers. Far from bringing influence closer to local communities, the government plans would impose a remote, and probably insensitive, decision making model on our City.
There is no mention of the future of the long-standing York institutions such as the 800 year old role of Lord Mayor.
But critically, the inexperience of the District Leaders (their councils are not responsible for services such as education, social care and transport) is apparent when they criticise housing and children’s services in the City.
York is unique in the county in retaining a stock of 8000 council houses. The Districts have no experience of managing such numbers while children’s (care) services, outside York, are currently administered by the County Council.
The City Council has responded to the letter, fortunately resisting, for once, the temptation to point out the high Council Tax levels in North Yorkshire.
The latest re-organisation debate is an unwelcome diversion from more important matters.
York and North Yorkshire need all their resources to be focused on recovering from the pandemic over the next few years.
Exchanges of correspondence between politicians, all of whom have vested interests one way or another, simply adds to the confusion.
UPDATE – New representations have now been made by the York Council to the Planning Inspector. They can be viewed by clicking here
The latest exchange of correspondence, between planning inspectors appointed by the government and the City of York Council, on the proposed “Local Plan” simply serves to highlight how difficult it is to produce a robust proposal which can stand the test of time.
The latest exchange concerns apparent lack of justification for the Green Belt boundaries. These heavily influence the size of the area allocated for new housing in the City.
It is not a new argument.
It is nearly 20 years since York embarked on an attempt to update its strategic plan. It came close to success in 2011 when aproposal was ready to be sent off to the planning inspectorate.
Of the five drafts that have seen the light of day, this was perhaps the one which achieved the broadest consensus. It envisaged building an additional 575 homes in the City each year for 30 years
In the main it was some developers and the political fringe who objected to it.
A change of political control saw an inexperienced Labour administration adopt a newproposalwhich would have seen the City increase in size by 25%. The stance contributed to them being booted out of office 4 years later.
Anotherattempt was made but was again jeopardised by the unexpected(in this case the decision to close barracks in the City).
It would be 2019 before the revised plan was ready to be submitted.
It still included a higher growth rate for housing than was necessary to sustain the existing City. It anticipated large amounts of “inward migration” to fill the extra jobs and homes that were envisaged. But again, changing government policies, unstable population growth forecasts and then coronavirus combined to halt the final “examination in public” part of the process.
Now the inspector wants the Council to withdraw its proposals and start again. That would mean more delay, plus expenditure of another £x million for taxpayers with no guarantee that a plan would be approved at the end of the process.
Planning inspectors are paid a fee of around £1000 a day! Some may feel that they have a vested interest in prevarication
The Council has opted to try to provide more information to move things forward.
There are vested interests at work for whom delays are an advantage.
Lack of a strategic blueprint means that developers can chance their arm by submitting planning applications on wholly unsuitable sites in the Green Belt. Schemes at Moor Lane and Boroughbridge Road are recent examples.
Getting a Local Plan adopted is pretty much impossible given the current high level of central government interference.
The City needs to be able to get on and determine its own future. The ballot box provides a safety net against the adoption of extreme policies.
What will happen, before the detached hand of a North Yorkshire Mayor tries to seize the reins of power, remains to be seen.
Hopefully the Council and the planning inspector will now find a way to move forward more quickly.
City of York Council is asking residents and businesses to share their views on the council’s next budget, following the launch of the budget consultation this month.
Early in the New Year, councillors will have to set a budget for the next financial year (2021/22). The impact of the pandemic has been unprecedented and despite the Government’s promise to give councils everything they need, York faces a significant budget gap of over £15 million, an issue that has been compounded by successive years of Government funding cuts.
Whilst the council has continued to provide support for those who need it since the start of the pandemic, the full economic effects of coronavirus on our communities have not yet been fully felt. Therefore, the council’s initial focus for the 2021/22 budget is to stabilise the authority’s financial position, allowing the council to continue to deliver the services which have been so relied upon during this difficult year.
The council will also continue its £600m capital investment programme to accelerate economic recovery, whilst continuing to support local residents, businesses and communities.
This year, there are a number of different ways to get involved and have your say on the council’s next budget:
Complete the paper survey in Your Local Link, which is being distributed to all York households from 15 December. Please send this back to the FREEPOST address provided by Sunday 31 January.
Complete the online survey which closes on Sunday 31 January on our website
Join us for a live Facebook Q&A on 6 January at 5pm on Facebook
Attend our virtual decision making sessions: 12 January 2021 – 10am, 2pm and 5.30pm 13 January 2021 – 10am and 2pm
Senior councillors will receive an update on City of York Council’s preparations for the end of the Transition period scheduled to take place on 1 January 2021.
The end of the transition follows UK’s exit from the European Union on 31 January 2020. The Council continues to support businesses and residents to prepare as much as possible for the upcoming changes by ensuring they have access to information, advice and support and by linking up with relevant authorities at a local, regional and national level.
Work is ongoing to support residents with their EU settlement scheme applications and the council continues to encourage those yet to apply to do so.
The most recent figures by the Government suggest that there have been 6,650 applications to the Settlement Scheme by people living in York with 6,470 concluded applications. This is out of an estimated EU population of 7,000.
Of the concluded applications:
3,680 achieved settled status – those who had been in the UK for 5 years or more
2,690 achieved pre-settled status – for those who have lived in the UK for less than 5 years
At the meeting members will be asked to note the update on what the city is doing to prepare and request officers continue to monitor and prepare for the end of the transition period, working locally, regionally and nationally so the city continues to be as prepared as it possibly can be.
It means that the Directors of the, wholly Council owned, tourist business could be forced to wind up the organisation within the next few weeks.
The Council is being asked to step in and provide a substantial financial subsidy. The proposals include plans to;
Waive the requirement for MIY to make a revenue return to the council in 20/21 in respect of trading activity across the city centre
Defer the first two quarters rent due from MIY in 20/21 for use of premises on Museum Street and Silver Street offices
A loan facility from the council of £300k to be accessed by MIY only if necessary
provide a letter of guarantee to MIY with access to a maximum of £1m over the next 2 years should it be required.
MIY normally produces a net income to the Council of around £35,000. The company is responsible for tourist information services in the City, runs the Shambles market, organises special events like the Christmas Fair (cancelled this year) and promotes the City as a business destination.
Private sector membership of the organisation has collapsed in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic with the hospitality industry being one of the hardest hit. Redundancies at MIY are expected.
The immediate hit on the Councils budget will be the loss of income from the Shambles market. This will be in the order of £474,000. That figure may grow substantially if the organisations recovery plan is not successful during the next few years.
MIY is the second tourist organisation to seek taxpayers help. The Council agreed to provide a further £55,000 subsidy for Welcome to Yorkshire at its last meeting.