REVEALED: Council warnings kept secret for 6 months

York Press: Warnings at council were kept secret for 6 months Warnings at council were kept secret for 6 months

A SECRET report has revealed a raft of concerns about council decision-making in York and about information being withheld from the public.

The "democratic governance" audit of City of York Council identifies a number of weaknesses.

Councillors discussed the issue last week but officials did not publish the original report, written in December.

Its findings mirror complaints from opposition parties and the public in recent months, about council transparency and accountability.

>> Read the report here 

The audit gives the council a rating of "moderate assurance", the third of five categories. Specific concerns are ranked into three levels, and although York council had none in the most serious level, there were four each at levels two and three. Level two is classed as "significant system weakness" and level three "merits attention by management."

York-based governance expert Gwen Swinburn, who obtained the report, said: "I thought democracy and transparency were poor at the council, but we have hit yet another low.

"This time the first detailed democratic governance audit was intentionally withheld from councillors and citizens by the very officer responsible for democracy. The audit, highlighting multiple system weaknesses was not even given to councillors. Instead a rose-tinted response from the monitoring officer was slipped through, last item on audit committee - just appalling."

Ian Floyd, council director of customer and business support services, said it was usual for audit reports to be summarised to the audit committee rather than provided in full.

He said: "At a previous audit committee, where the summary of the report was included in a Veritau monitoring report, the committee asked for a report on progress against the recommendations. An update was taken to the audit committee and the full report sent to the committee following the meeting upon request. All Veritau reports are followed up by Veritau and they track progress of recommendations."

Veritau, the auditors, challenged the manner in which "key" decisions are made. Key decisions are those having a "significant impact" on communities or involving £500,000 or more of public money, or ten per cent of a particular department budget.

Such decisions must be made at cabinet level unless delegated in urgent cases. But the auditors said: "Conversations with officers throughout the council revealed there was misunderstanding regarding who could and couldn't make key decisions and under what circumstances, if any, they could be made by individual cabinet members or officers."

They said some decisions by officers or individual cabinet members had been recorded as key decisions, despite not going through cabinet.

The auditors also said there was a lack of clarity about whether decisions would be made in public or private, a controversial issue at the council in recent years, and said the lack of clarity made it difficult for the public to know how and when they could have their say. The auditors also said there was inconsistent or insufficient information published about officer decisions and raised concerns about out-of-date information on the council website, papers for some meetings not being available, the way information was presented online and the council's limited use of technology and social media to inform and engage with the public.

Overall, the auditors said the council had "sufficient controls" and satisfactory arrangements for managing risks but said there were a number of weaknesses.

In a written report to last week's meeting, legal and governance assistant director Andy Docherty officers said work had been done to address the concerns.

York Conservative councillor Paul Doughty said: "It would appear that there has been little, if any action from the council's 'Secret Towers'."

He said the inconsistent understanding around key decisions should be revisited in light of the current controversy around the use of £700-a-day interim directors at the council. He added: "As Veritau is also 50 per cent owned by the council, I'd like to know who will monitor them to avoid a conflict of interest?"

Liberal Democrat Nigel Ayre said: “The Audit Report confirms many of our criticisms about how the council is run. The report raises concerns over how decisions are taken and worryingly says that out-of-date and misleading information has been supplied to residents.

"The report makes clear that the council could and should do more to engage the public in decision making. It is this culture change that I think is needed most. We need to move away from Labour taking decisions behind-closed-doors and actually put residents at the heart of the democratic process.”

Committee chair Ruth Potter said the report would help improve how the council works. She said: “Naturally it was disappointing to see some of the initial report’s findings in December, but I’m pleased with the progress that has been made since then." She said progress would continue being monitored.

Comments (17)

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5:05pm Mon 30 Jun 14

julia brica says...

Well done Gwen.
Well done Gwen. julia brica
  • Score: -8

5:09pm Mon 30 Jun 14

only human says...

oh tut tut tut here we have it,its all coming out drip by drip.No wonder we are seeing so many manageial heads on the block of recent days , no doubt there will be plenty more to come.
I had always thought it a bit of a conflict of interests that cyc owned half of veritau.
Its a bit like the cqc secenario where they were covering up their own internal failings and audits etc.
Why do the people at the top of these public places get off on thinking its ok to mislead those that put them in power.
It really beggars belief what has been going on within cyc.
I just know there is a lot more dirt to be dished out right across all departments.
I am looking forward to having a peek at the findings as soon as possible.
oh tut tut tut here we have it,its all coming out drip by drip.No wonder we are seeing so many manageial heads on the block of recent days , no doubt there will be plenty more to come. I had always thought it a bit of a conflict of interests that cyc owned half of veritau. Its a bit like the cqc secenario where they were covering up their own internal failings and audits etc. Why do the people at the top of these public places get off on thinking its ok to mislead those that put them in power. It really beggars belief what has been going on within cyc. I just know there is a lot more dirt to be dished out right across all departments. I am looking forward to having a peek at the findings as soon as possible. only human
  • Score: -71

5:12pm Mon 30 Jun 14

courier46 says...

Have this council really not broken any laws that could take the leaders to court and ultimatley remove them from York .
Also get rid of there crazy local plan!
Have this council really not broken any laws that could take the leaders to court and ultimatley remove them from York . Also get rid of there crazy local plan! courier46
  • Score: -5

5:15pm Mon 30 Jun 14

Dave Ruddock says...

Can anyone understand what has been said, written or whatever, Plain simple English not Political Language that the speaker is the only one to understand, no one on planet earth understands Political Spin Doctoring, also seems even when people seem to gain some understanding, the very people its spoken between, have no idea,
No wounder Members of Parliament, councils and Ruling Bodies get awy with it (that's anything they wish to fool other parties, bodies and the Citizens who put these gobbdy guck
SPEAK THE QUEENS ENGLISH
Can anyone understand what has been said, written or whatever, Plain simple English not Political Language that the speaker is the only one to understand, no one on planet earth understands Political Spin Doctoring, also seems even when people seem to gain some understanding, the very people its spoken between, have no idea, No wounder Members of Parliament, councils and Ruling Bodies get awy with it (that's anything they wish to fool other parties, bodies and the Citizens who put these gobbdy guck SPEAK THE QUEENS ENGLISH Dave Ruddock
  • Score: -44

5:47pm Mon 30 Jun 14

Dr Brian says...

Strange no comment from the Labour leader. He will - as usual - sit back and blame somebody else.

Cmon Jimmy what have you got to say about the latest **** up you are presiding over?
Strange no comment from the Labour leader. He will - as usual - sit back and blame somebody else. Cmon Jimmy what have you got to say about the latest **** up you are presiding over? Dr Brian
  • Score: -6

6:16pm Mon 30 Jun 14

AnotherPointofView says...

Further evidence of wrong doing about this discredited Labour administration.

Roll on 2015.
Further evidence of wrong doing about this discredited Labour administration. Roll on 2015. AnotherPointofView
  • Score: -12

6:38pm Mon 30 Jun 14

nobbit says...

This is further evidence (as if it was needed ) of the total incompetence of the City of York Council. It is a total disaster in everything it has got its hands on. From illegal traffic fines x2, Lendal and Coppergate, to its non existent housing policy and dreadful state of the City's road system. Do the City of York a favour and resign en-block.
This is further evidence (as if it was needed ) of the total incompetence of the City of York Council. It is a total disaster in everything it has got its hands on. From illegal traffic fines x2, Lendal and Coppergate, to its non existent housing policy and dreadful state of the City's road system. Do the City of York a favour and resign en-block. nobbit
  • Score: 29

7:06pm Mon 30 Jun 14

councilwatch says...

A council controlled by an autocrat what do they think of the people of York - not much.
A council controlled by an autocrat what do they think of the people of York - not much. councilwatch
  • Score: -4

7:43pm Mon 30 Jun 14

acomblass says...

I was looking forward to hearing Cllr Cunningham Cross's explanation of the situation in Adult Social Services on Minster FM today but instead we have an interview with Kersten England who is trying to defend the appointment of another 4 people in that area as Interim Managers. No wonder Kathy Clark and Graham Terry jumped ship.
However what on earth is the Cabinet Member for Finance and Performance Cllr Dafydd Williams doing about all this? Nothing it appears as according to his Twitter account he was at Headingly enjoying a rare day off - and this from a councillor who only works on his council job one day a week!
I was looking forward to hearing Cllr Cunningham Cross's explanation of the situation in Adult Social Services on Minster FM today but instead we have an interview with Kersten England who is trying to defend the appointment of another 4 people in that area as Interim Managers. No wonder Kathy Clark and Graham Terry jumped ship. However what on earth is the Cabinet Member for Finance and Performance Cllr Dafydd Williams doing about all this? Nothing it appears as according to his Twitter account he was at Headingly enjoying a rare day off - and this from a councillor who only works on his council job one day a week! acomblass
  • Score: -28

9:31pm Mon 30 Jun 14

jay, york says...

This report is very critical about the this labour council in a lot of key areas - and is no doubt the REAL reason why we are seeing so many "experts consultants" being brought in at a cost of hundreds of pounds a DAY EACH. Desperate measures by a desperate council - and kersten england.
This report is very critical about the this labour council in a lot of key areas - and is no doubt the REAL reason why we are seeing so many "experts consultants" being brought in at a cost of hundreds of pounds a DAY EACH. Desperate measures by a desperate council - and kersten england. jay, york
  • Score: -21

10:08pm Mon 30 Jun 14

Jack Ham says...

For anybody who works closely with CYC this comes as no surprise and is only the tip of the iceberg.

The last few years have seen a culture of paranoia and secrecy pervade throughout the top levels of our council. Dissenters have been silenced - this includes both members and officers.

Whilst the senior officers are so closely politically aligned with the ruling labour group nothing is going to change. For that handful of senior staff who are still struggling to do a professional job I have the utmost sympathy.

Roll on the 2015 elections.
For anybody who works closely with CYC this comes as no surprise and is only the tip of the iceberg. The last few years have seen a culture of paranoia and secrecy pervade throughout the top levels of our council. Dissenters have been silenced - this includes both members and officers. Whilst the senior officers are so closely politically aligned with the ruling labour group nothing is going to change. For that handful of senior staff who are still struggling to do a professional job I have the utmost sympathy. Roll on the 2015 elections. Jack Ham
  • Score: -18

9:16am Tue 1 Jul 14

meme says...

Bloggers have been commenting on the lack of transparency for years ...something CoYC have denied
Most 'consultations' are rigged in favour of the Council with reports being written in the way they wish them to be. The people invited to consultations are massively biased in favour of the Council sympathisers.
I wen to one and was the only member of what I would call the public there. The rest were organisations with close ties to the council!
No wonder they got the vote they wanted.
There has to be a way to make them accountable open and honest or democracy and the public views will never be fairly represented
Bloggers have been commenting on the lack of transparency for years ...something CoYC have denied Most 'consultations' are rigged in favour of the Council with reports being written in the way they wish them to be. The people invited to consultations are massively biased in favour of the Council sympathisers. I wen to one and was the only member of what I would call the public there. The rest were organisations with close ties to the council! No wonder they got the vote they wanted. There has to be a way to make them accountable open and honest or democracy and the public views will never be fairly represented meme
  • Score: -61

9:26am Tue 1 Jul 14

nearlyman says...

'Ian Floyd, council director of customer and business support services, said it was usual for audit reports to be summarised to the audit committee rather than provided in full. '
In other words.....Its usual to try and hide the truth about our incompetence ' ....More shame heaped on the democratic credentials of City of York Council under Labour.
'Ian Floyd, council director of customer and business support services, said it was usual for audit reports to be summarised to the audit committee rather than provided in full. ' In other words.....Its usual to try and hide the truth about our incompetence ' ....More shame heaped on the democratic credentials of City of York Council under Labour. nearlyman
  • Score: 20

6:16pm Tue 1 Jul 14

nearlyman says...

..............I suppose the the reference to brisk ticket sales for the TDF bash is another sort of notional figure.........if they were going that quickly they would be saying, 'get 'em quick, they're running out ' !
But we're not allowed to comment on that one !!
..............I suppose the the reference to brisk ticket sales for the TDF bash is another sort of notional figure.........if they were going that quickly they would be saying, 'get 'em quick, they're running out ' ! But we're not allowed to comment on that one !! nearlyman
  • Score: -25

12:00am Wed 2 Jul 14

eeoodares says...

Is ANYBODY surprised, morally bankrupt! Roll on the elections!
Is ANYBODY surprised, morally bankrupt! Roll on the elections! eeoodares
  • Score: -1

12:33am Wed 2 Jul 14

Badgers Drift says...

meme wrote:
Bloggers have been commenting on the lack of transparency for years ...something CoYC have denied Most 'consultations' are rigged in favour of the Council with reports being written in the way they wish them to be. The people invited to consultations are massively biased in favour of the Council sympathisers. I wen to one and was the only member of what I would call the public there. The rest were organisations with close ties to the council! No wonder they got the vote they wanted. There has to be a way to make them accountable open and honest or democracy and the public views will never be fairly represented
Agreed.

The only way to do this is to remove the senior officers who are creating the problems..... you know who they are.....?!!!!
[quote][p][bold]meme[/bold] wrote: Bloggers have been commenting on the lack of transparency for years ...something CoYC have denied Most 'consultations' are rigged in favour of the Council with reports being written in the way they wish them to be. The people invited to consultations are massively biased in favour of the Council sympathisers. I wen to one and was the only member of what I would call the public there. The rest were organisations with close ties to the council! No wonder they got the vote they wanted. There has to be a way to make them accountable open and honest or democracy and the public views will never be fairly represented[/p][/quote]Agreed. The only way to do this is to remove the senior officers who are creating the problems..... you know who they are.....?!!!! Badgers Drift
  • Score: -21

11:56am Wed 2 Jul 14

Badgers Drift says...

i see the score hacker has returned from holiday, and is still bitter and twisted!
i see the score hacker has returned from holiday, and is still bitter and twisted! Badgers Drift
  • Score: 3

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