Ring Road improvements falter but York Council set to borrow £24 million

A report to a Council meeting later this week details how an £80 million Council investment programme will be funded.

The Council will again borrow heavily to fund schemes which include:

Borrowing costs click to enlarge

Borrowing costs click to enlarge

  • Expansion of Fulford school (£5.8m)
  • Schools maintenance (£4m)
  • Older persons accommodation (£0.5m)
  • Museums plus art gallery gardens (0.85m)
  • LED street lighting replacement (£1.3m)
  • Provision of 20 new Council houses (£8.9m) and modernisation (£2.3m)
  • Local Transport Plan (£4.6m)
  • Community Stadium (£20.7m of which £6.4m will come from taxpayers)*

*It seems highly unlikely that this money will be spent in the current financial year as the contract is not now expected to be let until the spring.

The Council will also invest in better play grounds and more solar powered litter bins.

The programme also includes a (mostly unallocated) £15m sum in the “economic investment fund. This is understood still to include major contributions towards a bridge into the York Central site and funding for a Digital Media Centre.

A1237 northern by pass improvements delayed?


The 5 year rolling programme – which includes projects which are both directly and indirectly funded – does not identify any money for improvements to the northern by pass.  

The West Yorkshire “Combined Authority” agreed last November to include a £37.6m scheme in their forward programme fro the project.

Following the announcement by the government of an allocation of £1 billion for the “West Yorkshire Plus Transport fund”, the York Council committed £500,000 a year in its revenue budget to progress the ring road project.

The expectation was that the investment would be used to upgrade those roundabouts – such as the one on the Haxby Road – which currently cause bottlenecks on the A1237.

According to the Combined Authorities programme formal approval for improvements at the first junction was due to be given this month (August) with a start on site in March 2016.

No explanation for the delays has been provided in the report to York Councillors.

The funding must be used by 2021.

York Council budget surplus hides underlying problems – Public service quality hits buffers

The York Council had an underspend against its revenue budget of £688,000 in the last financial year.

Most of the surplus came from a £2 million improvement in the “central services” budget which is heavily influenced by external factors such as favourable interest rate levels.

Worryingly all the major service departments were overspent with environmental services (which includes waste management activities) racking up a £941,000 overspend and Adult Social Care (services for the elderly and those with disabilities) came in £528,000 above expected expenditure levels.

An overspend on children’s services was blamed on difficulties with fostering and adoption services.

Landfill Tax payment increased to £4.2 million with 52,370 tonnes of waste dumped.

There was a £325,000 reduction in car parking income compared to estimates. This is partly blamed on unreliability issues at the pay on exit barriers installed at the Marygate car park. Most of the Environmental Services underspend was due to poor performance on waste management.

Following the delays to, and subsequent collapse of, the older persons homes strategy that account showed a shortfall of over £1 million last year. There has been a significant overspend of £1,021k within the Elderly Persons Homes budgets due to utilities, cleaning, catering and repair and maintenance (£325k), increased staffing ratios (£237k) and temporary staffing costs (£332k)

Public Health overspends (£658,000) are put down to the demand for genitourinary (basically sexual diseases) services being higher in York than the rest of North Yorkshire.

The Council is making a payment of £1.3 million to the Leeds City Region business rates pool.

The overspends are a concern as they carry over into 2015/16. Taxpayers will be looking with concern at the first quarter outturn figures (due on 24th September) to see whether there have been any improvements.

The last Labour Council approved a budget for the current year which included £11.9 million in cuts and efficiency savings.

Many of these look like they were built on – to put it kindly – shaky assumption.

Click for full list

Click for full list

The Council has also published updated performance information. Performance in many areas is stable although several wage level, public health,  and waste management indicators are below target.

The outturn report is due to be discussed at a Council meeting taking place on Thursday.

York Council slips further into debt

The York Council’s debts increased from £118.3 million to £128.8m at the end of March 2015.

D4NT09 Council Tax bill 2013/2014 for property dwelling band F with 25% discount for sole adult resident

D4NT09 Council Tax bill 2013/2014 for property dwelling band F with 25% discount for sole adult resident

In addition £140.3m was owed on the Council housing account.

The debt represents part of a £317.4 million capital investment programme commitment (which is partly offset by fluctuating revenue balances).

The Council had decided to spend an additional £83.2 million in the current year. Borrowing will peak at £204.3 m.

The inherited Labour programme committed between £13.9 and £26.6m in expenditure in subsequent years (excluding housing)

12% of Council Tax income in the City is now spent on debt charges (interest plus principal repayments)

Details can be found by clicking here

LibDem reaction to Tory budget

Anyone interested in the details of summer budget can find some useful briefings and information here:

Local Government Association
Liberal Democrats

As a Liberal Democrat, this is obviously a difficult day. Our party spent five years preventing the Conservatives from implementing policies that we felt were unfair, as well as introducing distinctive Lib Dem policies that made our recovery fairer and more sustainable.
Sadly, today’s budget shows the real difference that Liberal Democrats made in government, and are no longer able to make after May’s elections.

Welfare Cuts – The first of an excessive £12 billion in cuts which will fall disproportionately on the poorest. Also, limiting child tax credits and universal credit payments to only cover the first two children in a family sets a worrying precedent for any future Tory changes to child benefit.

Student Maintenance – We protected the maintenance grants for the poorest students and prevented any changes to this in the last parliament. Now the Tories are turning it into a loan and adding it onto students’ debt.generator

Green Energy – We created a system of subsidies for renewable energy production, funded by taxes on energy companies, to shift our economy away from our dangerous reliance on carbon. In government, we more than doubled the amount of energy the UK gets from renewable sources. Described by David Cameron as “green crap”, these taxes and subsidies are now being slashed. This is a tragically short-sighted cut that undermines the promising green energy foundations we have spent five years struggling to create.

Housing – The mass sell-off of housing association properties is a shameful example of short-term Tory electioneering at the expense of the social fabric of our communities. The plans for replacement of properties are threadbare and this whole plan has been ill thought-through. Now, these plans are being joined by the removal of housing benefit for Under-21s, which is going to make it even harder for young people and the less well off to find a home in our communities.

These are just four areas where the absence of Liberal Democrats in government will soon be felt. There will, no doubt, be more – such as protecting the Human Rights Act, fighting the Snooper’s Charter

Locally and nationally, we will continue to campaign for a fairer Britain. You can join us in this campaign by clicking here.

Join us today, and help us continue the fight to protect our environment, our civil liberties, our housing and welfare systems, and fairness in higher education.

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.




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

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


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

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.

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.

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.




“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.