Council tax frozen in York

…..as Green Councillors and Tory turncoat vote for massive cuts in public services

The Labour budget was tonight passed as once again the 2 Green Councillors sided with Labour. 

On this occasion they were joined by Cllr Watt who was elected in 2011 as a Conservative for the Skelton area. He supported a budget which will cripple public services in the City while continuing to prioritise “vanity” projects paid for by a large increase in borrowing. It was a truly astonishing policy somersault.

The only significant “concession” that the Greens won in return for their votes was a promise to provide a “free” bus service between the station and the hospital. The £150,000 cost will be paid for by another big increase in car parking charges in central York (by 10p per hour).

NB. Bus passengers can currently use the number 1 or 6 to get from the station to the hospital, although the passengers numbers using this link are modest

The Greens rapidly diminishing credibility took another battering as they voted for a cuts package which includes so called “rewiring savings”. These will see basic public services like grass cutting, street sweeping and community centres hit hard.

Labour plan to charge for emptying all green bins and  have supported reducing grey bin emptying frequencies to once very 3 or 4 weeks.

The Greens also voted to spend even less than Labour proposed on dealing with icy roads in winter.

The only really original proposal put to the meeting – the plan aimed at regenerating York’s deteriorating housing estates – failed to get majority support.

However there is every chance that after the local elections on May 7th, the new Labour/Green coalition will be thrown out.

This will allow the new Council to rejig the budget if it chooses to do so.

 

 

 

Lib Dems call for an extra £500,000 to be spent on York’s estate regeneration

Liberal Democrats are calling for an extra £500,000 to be spent improving the condition of housing estates in York.

Fly tipping little Green Lane garage area

Restoring pride in Council estate environment

The extra funding will be focused on tidying-up communal areas, repairs, improvements to car parking facilities, and a re-launched programme to replace draughty windows.

The move follows concerns from council tenants, falling satisfaction levels with many estate services, and missed performance targets by Labour run City of York Council.

The proposals are part of the Liberal Democrat budget amendment, which will be debated at today’s full Council meeting.

The Lib Dems are calling for an extra £3 million to be put into frontline services such as road repairs, community centres and green bin collections.

The Lib Dem housing move is funded from the council’s Housing Revenue Account (HRA) – a ring-fenced housing account which currently has a surplus of £15 million and is split from the main council budget. Rents are being increased by 2% from April.

Cllr Ann Reid, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Housing, commented:

Verge damage Bramham Road

Dealing with parking issues

“Residents have contacted us concerned about issues such as overgrown weeds, damaged fencing, broken streetlights, littering and dog fouling. Basic services have suffered since 2011 and show Labour’s continued neglect and under-investment in the city’s estates.
“We want to put an extra £500,000 in from the Housing Revenue Account to tackle these issues. This budget is raised from council rent and charges and is there to be used for tenants. There is a substantial surplus and instead of storing money away in reserves the council should be spending more on estate improvements.”

—————–

The Lib Dems would spend £250,000 ‘capital’ from the HRA on improvements to:

a) draughty windows and

b) improved car parking facilities (dropped kerbs/verge crossovers/matrix verge protection outside tenants homes and better car parking facilities in communal areas) and the resurfacing of some car parks.

plus £250,000 ‘revenue’ from the HRA on council house and estate regeneration including the following schemes: 

  • removal of weeds,
  • cutting back overgrown trees and hedges,
  • repairs to communal areas and signs (e.g. dog fouling, no ball games),
  • audit and repair of fencing.

The full Lib Dem amendment will be tabled and debated at Thursday’s Budget Council.

Last July, it was revealed that tenants were less satisfied with where they live and the estate services they receive from the council while key performance targets were missed: www.yorklibdems.org.uk/en/article/2014/0879798/york-tenants-less-satisfied-with-where-they-live-says-new-report

“It’s almost as if they didn’t want us to know”

Council delivers notification leaflet after meeting has taken place

Following on from our story yesterday, the Council has started to issue a survey form to residents asking for their views on cutting public services (aka “rewiring”).

Most residents have yet to receive the leaflet which advertises a “drop in” taking pace at the Acomb Library on …err yesterday. (There are other “drop in” dates next week)

Labour rewiring proposals

No attempt was made by the Council to publicise yesterday’s event. No media release was issued. The Consultation is not listed on the Council web site and cannot be downloaded from there. (Although we have provided a link HERE to a copy on “dropbox”)

The Council has for some reason set up a separate, impenetrable, web site containing what it describes as background information http://rewiringyork.com/ . Most residents won’t, of course,  know it even exists.  There is no link shown from the Council web site.

Waste collection "survey"

Waste collection “survey”

The rewiring blog makes much of the Council’s new (under development) web site – but fails to acknowledge the leap backwards on communications that has taken place over the last 12 months (the facility to report issues like broken street lights and potholes using the internet was withdrawn by the present administration – increasing pressure on an already overburdened “contact centre”)

The content of the leaflet is risible.

It says that residents can see a copy of the “business case” for change on the blog site. No such business case is visible.

The leaflet says “the proposed changes will have an effect on the frequency, accessibility and cost of services such as waste collection and STREET CLEANSING”. It talks of changes to “roads

The leaflet fails to say how much green bin emptying will cost a resident under Labour’s plans and doesn’t’ even mention “street cleansing” or “roads” again.

 The leaflet makes the bold statement that the Council “needs” to save £2.5 million from “this service area” They mean street level public services but don’t define them or mention current standards.

The statement is in any event untrue.

The Council can make savings in other areas. Many capital investment plans (new access bridge into the station land, new Scarborough footbridge, turning the Guildhall into a media centre etc) could be shelved with annual savings on borrowing costs equivalent to the amount being cut from essential street services.

£9.32 million on Guildhall media centre

£9.32 million on Guildhall media centre

It’s not all bad. Investment in LED lights may well save energy and running costs, and MAY prove to be more reliable and durable that the exiting street lighting systems. But there is no information provided which allows residents to make an informed judgement on that claim.

Included is a very limited prioritisation list. It muddles service improvement (collecting kitchen waste) with service reductions (charging for all green bin emptying & reducing the frequency of grey bin emptying to monthly).

The costs and implications of the latter two “options” are not explained.

So what does it really mean?

Labour are seeking endorsement for their plans to:

  1. Reduce the investment in road and footpath repairs
  2. Reduce the number of sub-urban litter bins
  3. Sweep streets less frequently
  4. Reduce grey bin emptying to once a month
  5. Make an annual charge to everyone who has a green bin
  6. Get local “volunteers” to “manage” parks and open spaces.

Should I respond to the survey?

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t

Silence may be pronounced as contentment with the changes planned by “rewiring” supporters.

On the other hand, prioritising a very limited number of options could be used as a justification for an unpopular change to waste collection arrangements (just about the only Council service that every resident uses).

The survey can’t be answered “on line” so freepost returns will cost taxpayers over 40p each, putting more pressure on public service standards.

What we’d do

Send an Email with your views to rewiringyork@york.gov.uk.

Say that the Council should abandon other, less essential, projects to make savings.

Say that core street level public service standards should be sustained.

Tell the Council to make future consultations timely, fairer giving full information on costs, provide a wider range of options and offer an “on line” response option.

York Council plans huge increase in borrowing

£1 million a year in interest charges to be added to Council Tax burden

Labour Council leaders say that they want to spend an additional £44 million on capital schemes in the City.

Potentially controversial projects include:

Scarborough footbridge £3 million bill

  •  £3 million on a replacement Scarborough (foot/cycle) bridge (the adjacent rail bridge is currently being renewed in a completed separate project)
  • £12.1 million on new IT systems (£1.8 million of which will be charged to Council tenants)
  • £1.8 million on further “reinvigorating” York work
  • £11.0 million on a bridge into the York Central site
  • £800,000 on LED street lamps (despite the Council poor performance in getting existing lights repaired)

No provision has been made for the new Elderly Care facilities at Lowfields or Burnholme – effectively confirming that the Council intends either to abandon these projects or hand them over to the private sector.

Instead a further £300,000 is to be spent repairing existing homes.

Summary of new growth proposals click to enlarge

Summary of new growth proposals click to enlarge

Also missing is any reference to investment in the Guildhall although the last Labour Cabinet meeting authorised a £9.2 million scheme to convert it into a Digital and Arts Media centre.

The Council is making cuts to road resurfacing (structural maintenance) with its contribution falling from £1.0 million next year to £3/4 million in future years.

Labour intend to impose wheeled bins on terraced houses – sparking fears that wars, about the impact that collection points may have on neighbouring properties, will be reignited.

There is a lot missing from the published programme – or hidden from public view.

Despite promises that the “Combined Authority” link with West Yorkshire would provide capital investment funding for transport improvements such as the dualling of the northern by pass, no such contribution is shown during the next 5 years.

Congestion on northern by pass set to continue?

Congestion on northern by pass set to continue?

Similarly no new economic development funding is shown – leaving hopes, for a regeneration initiative in Acomb, floating in the air.

The housing programme once again fails to recognise the need for a face-lift, on many sub-urban estates, despite the surplus on the housing account now approaching £15 million.

It is likely that Liberal Democrat Councillors will seek to use some of this surplus to tackle parking issues on some of the older estates where road widths are relatively narrow.

 Should we be worried about the Councils increasing debt burden?

Planned Council borrowing levels click to enlarge

Planned Council borrowing levels click to enlarge

The York Council currently owes about £330 million.

That is set to rise to £348 million over the next 2 years.

This is an historic high and means that a significant proportion of the taxes being paid (around 14%) are being absorbed by interest and repayment costs.  

The Council is currently borrowing at an interest rate of about 4% pa

The new proposals (above) will add around £28 to next year’s average tax bill.

Big Community Energy Switch – York deadline

City of York Council is reminding residents to sign up to the Big Community Energy Switch by 2 February.

People will be joining together with over 170 other residents from York and 12,000 people from around the UK in the switch, that could help them save on average £169 on their gas and electricity bills.


The council and iChoosr held their first scheme between December 2013 and February 2014. A total of 751 York residents signed up, along with 36,000 people across the UK. Average annual savings for those York residents who switched was £169!

Supported by York’s Citizens Advice Bureau and Age UK York – the Save Money by Switching Energy campaign launched in December 2013. The scheme enables York residents to register for the assisted scheme through these four easy steps that can result in them being offered potentially cheaper alternative tariffs to consider switching to.

1) Anyone who pays a household energy bill can register for free. Registration is easy – you just need a recent fuel bill or annual statement.

2) Registration closes on 2 February 2015. The council’s switching partner iChoosr then gathers everyone’s registrations together and invites all the energy companies to offer their best prices. This is all done by iChoosr. You don’t need to do anything.

3) The cheapest tariffs win! Residents will receive an with details on the new tariff secured by the scheme from 16 February. It will tell you how much money you could potentially save if you accept.

4) Residents have until 16 March to decide to accept the offer or not. There is no obligation to accept and there are no fees or charges. You simply get a new offer that could potentially save you money on your energy bills. If you choose not to take up the offer, you can always register again in future schemes.

If residents are unable to sign up to this round of the Big Community Energy Switch they can join the next round, which runs from 24 March until 18 May.

To find out more or to register go to www.york.gov.uk/switchingenergy. If residents do not have access online please visit City of York Council’s customer service centre at West Offices or call us on 01904 551550.

Quango set to take over Council’s economic development activities

More of the York Councils decision making powers are to be handed over to an unelected body tomorrow (Tuesday) The Council’s Cabinet is being recommended to approve  the transfer of “marketing, culture, tourism and business development” activities to a company called “Make it York” (MiY).

The new company will have a budget of around  £4 million a year. Much of this will come from Tourism activities although the Council will transfer its Shambles Market (£241k),  Tourism (£232k), Science City (£100k), Economic Development (£337k) and Cultural activities (£229k) budgets into MiY control.

Made-in--York-T-Shirts

As well as tourism, the company will be responsible for an eclectic range of activities including “Christmas Lights”.

The outline business plan for the organisation can be read by clicking here

The Council’s interests on the Board of Directors will be represented by the Council Leader and Chief Executive.

Some will feel that the second Council seat should be allocated to an opposition Leader, rather than to a paid official. This might improve the chances of a  consensus emerging on priorities and could give the company a life expectancy extending beyond May 2015

The move comes in the wake of a series of decisions which have, in recent years, steadily eroded  taxpayers influence over how their money is spent.

As well as the Museums Trust, the City’s Libraries and Archives are now managed by an independent organisation. In fairness, both  these organisations have so far been relatively benign and seem to be sensitive to users views.

Strategic transport and economic development powers have been partly transferred to a “combined authority” which has its headquarters in Leeds. Feedback from this body is poor with the decision making process largely impenetrable for the average resident.  There will be big questions to be answered about York’s future in the “Leeds City Region” after the Council elections take place in May.

In the meantime, the major criticisms of “Make it York” remain its lack of accountability, transparency and its attitude to the needs of the City’s suburbs.

 It could quickly enhance its reputation by publicly backing the Front Street regeneration project.

Residents will want to see the organisation making its decisions in public and will expect it to – voluntarily – agree to respond to Freedom of Information requests.

Tour de France report leaves many unanswered questions

The Councils Cabinet and, later, scrutiny committee will be debating the final report on last years Tour De France event when they meet next week.

Tour De France launch dinner in Ripon Cathedral

Tour De France launch dinner in Ripon Cathedral

The report rightly highlights the positive benefits which the event produced. Not least among these were the 200,000 spectators in the City and the international publicity which the City received as well as an estimated £8 million injected into the local economy.

The latter figure is estimated and does not seek to relate benefits to the £1.8 million that the taxpayer paid for the event.

That was the largest amount that the York Council has spent on a single leisure event.  

To put it into context, a similar number of people visited the City for the “Royal Ascot at York” event held in 2005. That event cost taxpayers less than 10% of the TdF costs (with most costs relating to traffic management).

The reports are weakest in the areas which caused some local residents concern.

A much hyped claim was that merchandising, car parking and camping sales would produce a “profit” to off set costs. That simply didn’t happen.

Sparse crowd for  Grand Departy

Sparse crowd for Grand Departy

Many decisions such as the location of the event “hubs” were delayed before being imposed on unwilling neighbourhoods.

Some failures – post start entertainment and big screen blackouts – could have been avoided with better planning.

But the conspiracy of silence about the £180,000 Grand Departy decision making process remains the most significant outstanding issue. Only a passing reference is made to this event in the reports.

Hopefully the Scrutiny Committee meeting on Wednesday will finally insist on answers being given to the outstanding questions about the Grand Departy. When we know the answers, a more informed decision can be made about the level of public subsidy – if any – which should be given to the proposed “Tour de Yorkshire” (TdY).

Ironically that event is scheduled to hit the City on a busy bank holiday only 3 days before the Council elections are scheduled to take place.

York residents deserve to know all the facts before Council discussions are veiled by the start of the local election “purdah” period.

Lendal Bridge “automatic” fine refund process revealed

Report published – administration to cost extra £150,000

The Council Cabinet will decide on 20th January how to implement the Councils decision to “automatically” refund those who were fined during the Lendal Bridge trial.

Lendal Man

So far 12,512 refunds have been issued by the Council.

The most likely course of action is that all 35,000 motorists, who have not yet claimed a refund, will be written to and advised of their opportunity to claim.

After that the process will be much the same as the scheme currently in operation.

The cost of sending out and managing the notification process is put at £150,000. The money will come from grant income which otherwise would have been spent on public services in the City.

In total the Council took around £1.8 million in fines from the Lendal bridge and Coppergate schemes. The Council continues to pursue a claim that the Coppergate fines were levied lawfully but their appeal has been outstanding for over 9 months now.

Additionally, over £700,000 was spent on implementing and administering the original schemes.

The Council is shying away from simply putting a cheque in the post to the registered vehicle keeper details that its agents have on file. They fear that many of the payments would not reach the right people (hire cars, parental cars, foreign tourists, deceased etc)  and Legal Counsel have said that such an option could jeopardise the Councils  Coppergate appeal.

All in all it now looks like the Lendal Bridge experiment will cost over £1 million.

That is money which could, and should, have been spent addressing road safety issues across the whole City.

York Council Tax grant settlement announced

Council Tax levels set to be frozen

The York Council has fared relatively well in the grant settlement announced today.

The Councils “spending power” will fall by only 0.1% against a national average of 1.8%.

The “spending power” figure combines regular central government funding with one-off grants and things like Council Tax, a proportion of business rates and other fees and charges.

The government has also confirmed that it will underwrite the costs of freezing Council Tax levels. The new Labour leadership have promised to accept the offer of support unlike their predecessors who hiked up Council Tax rates unnecessarily.