Emergency York Council budget sees focus on frontline services

No green bin emptying charges

York’s new Conservative-Liberal Democrat Executive has revealed plans to increase investment in frontline services by nearly £2million in its Emergency Budget.

 The emergency in-year budget scraps Labour’s plans to charge residents for all green bin collections and sees increased  investment in ward committees, recycling and support for small business. The budget puts an extra £250,000 annually into road improvements and sees funding to support local and rural bus services.

The Executive’s plans will be funded by reducing spending in areas such as trade union activity, use of consultants and social media. The budget sees money from contingency funds and underspends diverted into frontline services. In light of the financial challenges facing the council, a series of reviews will also be undertaken in housing, customer services as well as a bottom-up review of health and social care policy.

 

 

Incoming

Dringhouses Councillors have successfully opposed the introduction of green bin emptying charges

Dringhouses Councillors have successfully opposed the introduction of green bin emptying charges

Outgoing:

arts barge

Arts barge

 

Overall the proposals are step in the right direction.

Cllr Keith Aspden, Lib Dem Group Leader and Deputy Leader of the Council, commented:

 “This emergency budget is about reversing some of the worst of Labour’s cuts and putting extra money immediately into the frontline services that matter to residents. We are scrapping plans to charge residents for all green bin collections as well as re-introducing winter collections. Extra funding will be put into road repairs and gritting, community centres, and helping small businesses. The budget also supports our plans to introduce cross-party decision making and devolve more power to ward committees. I am delighted that it also sees extra investment to help boost the attainment of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.”

Full details of the budget changes can be found by clicking here

Community Stadium planning delay hits swimming pool management

With the official planning decision notice still predictably delayed, the Community Stadium development contract cannot yet be signed.

This means that potential contractor GLL cannot take over the running of leisure facilities like Energise in Acomb.

 GLL were the managers of the Huntington Stadium and the adjacent Waterworld facility, but both closed about 6 months ago.

We understand that staff at the successful Energise leisure centre have been told that a proposed 1st June handover date has now been shelved.

Uncertain future for popular Energise leisure centre

Uncertain future for popular Energise leisure centre

There never seemed any real possibility that the Secretary of State would decide whether or not to call in the Community Stadium plans before the General Election.

 June seemed the earliest likely decision date but even that could be optimistic if the election result is not – as appears likely to be the case – clear cut.

The July 2016 opening date for the stadium continues to look very optimistic.

The project is running over 2 years behind schedule mainly as a result of a decision by some Labour Councillors to privatise all the City’s leisure facilities into one contract.

This led to the closure of Waterworld and a threat to future of the Yearsley Pool.

It also added £8 million to the taxpayers bill for the project.

York Council’s poor financial performance under Labour

A freedom of Information response has confirmed what many residents suspected. They are paying higher taxes than they would in many other City’s, and less is being invested in public services than 5 years ago.

Despite claims to the contrary, government grants to the city – relative to other unitary authorities – have been stable for 5 years..,

The main change is in Council Tax levels. When Labour took office in 2011 York had the second lowest Council Tax level in the country.

The Council now only ranks 14th lowest.

click to enlarge

click to enlarge

No decision on Oliver House sale before June

…as York Council slides further into debt

According to The Press the York Council leadership has now said that the tenders received for the sale of Oliver House will not be considered until a new Council “Cabinet” has its first meeting in June.

Oliver House York

The former elderly person’s home has been empty for over 2 years.

We reported last week that an unexpectedly high £3.2 million bid, which would see 30 specialist older persons apartments provided on the site, had been deferred by the Council Leader.

Now it turns out that the sale will be delayed until the new Council, being elected on 7th May, has had time to sort out its new committees.

How long the offers will remain on the table remains to be seen.

Council debts spiralling

The full impact of the Councils financial management polices is becoming clearer. A freedom of information response has revealed a spiralling mountain of debt.

Capital debts - click to enlarge

Capital debts – click to enlarge

The response reveals that, since the Liberal Democrats lost control of the Council in May 2011, the Council has been borrowing heavily.  

The debt charges (interest payments) are partly responsible for the cuts that Labour are making to front line services.

Part of the debt increase was due to a transfer of historic housing debt to the City but this was coupled with a decision to allow all rents collected to be retained and used to service the interest payments.

The present Council also has several major projects in the pipeline which could add to the debt burden.

They include the conversion of the Guildhall into a media centre (£9 million) as well as funding a bridge into the York central site (£11 million).

The Council will also have to find several million to fund a replacement elderly care building programme following the abandonment of the care village project last month.

There is no excuse for any delay in selling Oliver House to the highest bidder.

Legally the Council has no other option

New figures paint different picture of York Council finances.

With the final budget of the present York Council now being implemented, it is possible to get an accurate picture of how its financial position has changed since 2011.

Finance stats

A response to a Freedom of Information request reveals that taken together government grant income and Business Rates income has fallen by an average of 2% a year.

 This is very different from the headline grapping 47% cut figure being peddled by the Labour Leadership.

After taking Council Tax income into account, the actual reduction in expenditure on public services in the City over the last 5 years has been 3.5%.

The expenditure per head of population (probably the best measure of a Councils efficiency) has fallen from £626.39 in 2011/12 (the last budget set by the outgoing LibDem administration) to £585.41 in the latest Labour budget.

This is a 6.5% fall over 5 years.

Of course the figure disguises where investment was prioritised. Hence the ongoing criticism of Labour’s vanity project obsession – such as digital media centres, arts barges –  not to mention huge amounts wasted on aborted projects like the Lendal bridge trial and the elderly care village)

Next week we’ll look at York’s relative performance when compared with other Local Authorities and the – much criticised – borrowing polices of the Council.

Yearsley Pool public meeting

A public meeting will take place on Monday (16th March) to discuss the future of Yearsley Swimming Pool. 

Yearsley Pool campaigners

Yearsley Pool campaigners

The meeting will be at the 68 Youth & Community Centre on Monkton Road at 5:15pm. It has been arranged as part of a council scrutiny review into the future of the pool.

The review was setup following a request by Liberal Democrat councillors to re-consider Labour’s decision to cut the £250,000 annual subsidy given to Yearsley from 2016/17.

Monday’s meeting will ask residents and users for their views on the pool and will listen to ideas about how its future can be secured.

Before the public meeting, members of the cross-party review will go on a tour of the Yearsley facility.
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Oliver House bonansa for taxpayers

A bid by McCarthy & Stone for a 30 apartment retirement home scheme is the clear tender winner  at £3.324m for the Oliver House site according to Council papers published this evening.

 Oliver House

Oliver House

The bid is much higher than the initial £400,00 valuation put on the site by Council officials who had obviously under-estimated the buoyancy of the recovering property market in York.

The next highest bid was a 29 bed retirement scheme from Churchill Retirement at £2.850m.

The lowest value bid came from Yorspace at £750,000. This bid had received a lot of publicity in The Press but is so far below the market value that the Council could not legally accept it (without Secretary of State authority).

Officials are recommending that negotiations with the highest bidder proceed.

Oliver House has been empty for 2 years. Slow progress on its sale has been heavily criticised by Council taxpayers

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Council Tax bills on their way

Following approval by City of York Council’s Full Council to set its Budget for 2015/16, the authority is now issuing council tax information to over 86,000 households in the city with details of their new payments for the year from April.

Council tax payers can also sign up to receive their council tax bills by email. The fast, free, environmentally-friendly and secure service is available online at www.york.gov.uk in the Do it Online area. The service gives them instant and 24/7 access to their bill and they will be sent an email notification when their new bill is ready.

The Council has for the first time in 4 years accepted a government subsidy which means that Council Tax bills have been frozen

To sign up for e-billing, all residents have to do is have their last council tax bill to hand and go to the council’s website:

  • Scroll to Do it Online
  • Select Apply for it
  • Scroll to Council Tax
  • Select Council Tax e-billing – then follow the instructions from there.

As soon as their bill is available they will be sent an email notification and will be able to view their account securely online at any time and download and print the bill if needed. Each person named on the bill can arrange to receive their own e-copy.

City of York Council has a net revenue budget of £119.6million, funded by Council tax income of £72.8million, government grant of £21.0million, Retained Business Rates of £24.1million. A one off income of £1.8million has also been identified from a surplus Collection fund of Council Tax and council reserves.

The budget – voted through by Labour with Green party support – includes highly controversial proposals such as the introduction a £35 pa charge for emptying (all) green bins, a reduction in grey bin emptying frequency to once every 3 or 4 weeks and an end to support for local Community Centres.

The price that Green Councillors  secured in return for their votes was a 10p per hour increase in car parking charges.

The budget is likely to be reviewed in June following the Council collections when Labour are expected to lose many of their existing Councillors.

York has the 14th lowest band D council tax, the 3rd lowest spend per head of population of any unitary council in England and the 8th lowest government funding per head in the country.

Labour/Greens implementing £35 a year bin emptying tax

Liberal Democrats have criticised Green Councillors for backing proposals which will see residents charged £35 a year for all garden waste collections.

Cllr Ann Reid and local LibDem candidate Stephen Fenton with green waste

Cllr Ann Reid and local LibDem candidate Stephen Fenton with green waste

As previously reported, Green Party councillors last week supported the ruling Labour Group’s Budget along with former Conservative Cllr Joe Watt. The plans will see a charge introduced for all green bin collections alongside increased car parking rates and cuts to community centres, road repairs and street cleaning.

In 2013, Labour was forced to abandon plans to charge for all green bin collections after 1,700 residents signed a Lib Dem petition and concerns were raised that a blanket charge would see recycling rates tumble.

However, Labour did force through a cut to winter collections and introduced a £35 charge for residents with more than one green bin.

This new charge is the equivalent of a 4% increase in Council Tax for most residents 

The new plans, part of the council’s ‘Re-wiring’ project, will now see a charge for all garden waste collections in 2015/16 with officers recommending a flat £35 fee per bin.

Plans to reduce the frequency of grey bin collections will also be considered as part of the proposals.

Cllr Ann Reid, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Environmental Services, commented:

“It is hugely disappointing that Green councillors supported Labour’s Budget. This decision means further cuts to frontline services, increased fees for car parking and a new charge for all green bin collections.

“Under Labour recycling rates have already fallen and Landfill Tax bills increased to £3.7 million. Making residents pay £35 to recycle their garden waste will do further damage.

“Liberal Democrats worked with residents to defeat these plans in 2013, but Green councillors have now paved the way for a new Green Bin Tax in York as well as the option to reduce grey bin collections.

“The Lib Dem budget proposal was the only one which scrapped these plans. It would also have returned winter green bin collections and increased investment to boost recycling rates.

“The Labour-Green union, which last year blocked a review into the Lendal Bridge trial, has now passed a budget which will see cuts to services and reckless borrowing continue on projects such as the £9million Guildhall Media Hub.

“While I am pleased that Castlegate has been given a short-term reprieve and there is some hope for Yearsley Pool, the Labour-Green budget includes damaging cuts to community centres, road repairs and street cleaning as well as this new Green Bin charge.”

Details of the Green Bin proposals are included in the council’s plans for ‘Place Based Services’ – click here to access a copy