UPDATED: The 91 questions put to council leader James Alexander and cabinet members on Thursday – and their answers

The 8 questions put to council leader James Alexander on Thursday – and his answers

The 8 questions put to council leader James Alexander on Thursday – and his answers

First published in News
Last updated

LAST THURSDAY evening, questions were put to council leader James Alexander and the rest of the cabinet, by other councillors at a full meeting of City of York Council.

The question to Cllr Alexander and his answers, are below, and the questions to the rest of the cabinet which include queries over economic growth, the Tour de France, care for older people, and the Local Plan are available to read online here.

(i) To the Cabinet Leader from Cllr Steward:

“What were the full costs, including everything from time of officer salaries to pre conference wine and canapes of the recent Fairness Conference and what are the tangible outcomes which the conference led to?”

The recommendation to host an International Fairness Conference was a recommendation of York's Independent Fairness Commission.

The drinks reception was kindly provided by the University of York. The event was held on Sunday to welcome our overseas guests and no staff overtime was claimed by City of York Council Employees.

The overall cost of the International Fairness Conference itself was £18,635.58. £8,635.58 was provided by City of York Council and £10,000 was donated by JRF. Some elements of the conference were provided free of charge, including the venue hire cost, by the University of York.

We are sharing policies and other evidence-based ways of tackling poverty with cities nationally. Much of this is to do with influencing government policy. The event and contacts made through the event will help inform the future development of the Financial Inclusion and poverty strategies.

We also used the session to share and discuss the experience of poverty and fairness in York. I was pleased that there was an excellent session led by the pupils of York High School and other York residents. Over the next few weeks, we will be working with the JRF and the York residents that ran the community session at the conference to run sessions in York to help us better understand how to address financial hardship in the city.

(ii) To the Cabinet Leader from Cllr Healey:

“What were the reasons given for the University of York's withdrawal of funding from Science City York?”

As a result of a strategic review of priorities for the institution the University of York has determined that it wishes to strengthen its work be tween university departments and business directly. The University will continue to partner and to co-invest in Biovale, an innovation cluster in biorenewables technologies, with City of York Council, continue to own York Science Park with the Council and has also expressed a willingness to engage with the new company being established to consolidate wider business support activity in the city.

The council's representative on the board of Science City was briefed during the change in policy as was the Chair of Economic and City Development Scrutiny Committee.

(iii) To the Cabinet Leader from Cllr Jeffries:

“Why did the Council Leader not take earlier action to address the overspends being recorded on social care budgets and what is his latest estimate of expenditure against budget for this are a for the current financial year?”

I have been raising issues about expenditure in this area since December 2009 when I was Chair of the council's Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee. I invited the Executive Member at the time to the committee to discuss the issue but he refused to attend on two occasions.

The council has received a 45% reduction in Government funding over the course of this parliament and this has clearly played a role in adding to financial pressures just as demographic changes have. You will recall from when you were elected as a Labour councillor that you used to stand up against such reductions in funding and support Labour's position of modest increases in council tax to place funding into health and social care.

However you have chosen to support a Liberal Democrat policy of defending these Tory cuts and to oppose modest council tax increases for this long term expenditure.

The pooling of health service funding with social care is recognised as essential by all parties, and this has not been helped by the low amount York receives in health funding from the Government you now support, nor from the reorganisation of the NHS you also now defend.

Significant progress has been made over the last six months by officers and both Cabinet Members; putting in place better financial controls that have been long overdue. I expect further progress to be made, rather than refusing to engage on the issue, as the former Liberal Democrat Executive Member did before your party lost control.

There has been well recorded pressure on adult social care budgets locally and nationally for the last 4-5 years due mainly to demographic changes and rising costs in the care sector.

In the last five years, demographic change alone has increased demand nationally by an average of 14%. As a result , the budget has consistently overspent - by £1.453M in 2010/11, by £1.660M in 2011/12, by £2.083M in 2012/13 but by an improved £1.766M in 2013/14. These significant pressures have been recognised and, despite average adult social care budgets falling nationally by 12% over the last three years, we have provided £2.5m of extra growth funding in York in 2013-14 and a further £2.5m in 2014-15 as well as an additional one off £957k in 2013-14. I expect the progress made last year in reducing the overall overspend to continue this year.

The next 2-3 years will be an even greater period of challenge for Adult Social Care than the last 2-3 have been, both nationally and locally, as a direct result of the Conservative-led government’s imposed austerity and legislative change.

The Care Act recently completed its passage through Parliament and is the biggest overhaul of social care statute for over 60 years. It creates a new duty for local authorities to promote and protect the well-being of local people and their carers with a duty to consider their physical, mental and emotional well-being and to provide preventative services to maintain people’s health.

The Care Act provides the legislative platform that, coupled with the requirement for greater Health and Social Care integration through the Better Care Fund, will drive huge transformational change in Adult Social Care. Thistransformational change will mean existing patterns of expenditure will need to be qu ite significantly amended to place greater emphasis on prevention and early intervention there by enabling a balanced budget to be created.

(iv) To the Cabinet Leader from Cllr Brooks:

“If the Leader of the Council may exercise any function of Cabinet where a decision cannot reasonably wait until the next meeting, will he explain what was so important about the decision to re-open Lendal Bridge that it could not wait until the Cabinet meeting?”

The published decision of the traffic adjudicator created confusion for residents and clarity was required quickly. This was a position supported by the Conservative Chair of Scrutiny Management Committee and I thank him for his help in dealing with this matter so swiftly.

(v) To the Cabinet Leader from Cllr Aspden:

“As the council’s revenue account only came in on budget last year because of Automatic Number Plate Recognition fine income and lower than anticipated debt charges (itself the result of low interest rates coupled with many capital projects having slipped into the current financial year), will the Cabinet Leader agree now to abandon at least some of his profligate “vanity” projects?”

I find this question fascinating. I assume through the question you are arguing against the expenditure included in the Economic Infrastructure Fund Labour set up to boost York's local economy and number of job opportunities. Part of the same Fund in fact that you sought to re-badge as Future York Fund in your last council budget amendment and attempted to pass off as something original. Demonstrating once again, in a consistent way it has to be said, that Lib Dem trait of adopting conflicting positions on the same issue depending on which day of the week it is.

I would like to remind Council the Fund is financed through New Homes Bonus (NHB) and prudential borrowing at historically low interest rates. The NHB element is trumpeted by Liberal Democrats nationally as supporting York's economy, but locally is opposed. Further evidence of consistent inconsistency from the Lib Dems.

The following list of events funded from the EIF has or will result in a positive economic impact:

1. New Park and Rides, supported by all parties

2. Investment in Newgate market, supported by Conservatives but not Liberal Democrats

3. A commitment to a new bridge to unlock York Central, supported by Conservatives but not Liberal Democrats

4. Investment in the high street, not supported by Conservatives or Liberal Democrats.

5. Tour de France – talked down by the Liberal Democrats The amount being spent on council debt per year has increased by £300k a year since the budgets set by Liberal Democrats and Conservative councillors, yet we are delivering a huge amount more than they ever did.

(vi) To the Cabinet Leader from Cllr Steward:

“Will the leader use this opportunity to finally apologise to York’s residents for the shambles of the Lendal Bridge trial?”

Councillor Steward may think I am naive in the art and science of politics and this question clearly shows such qualities.

What is important is we now build the consensus over the issue of congestion, cross-party, on what action is required in this city to cope with the problem of congestion. Opposition parties may wish to beat their chests over the issue, but it is an issue that is not going to go away without some action. We have received no suggestions on how to tackle congestion from the opposition over the course of this council.

(vii) To the Cabinet Leader from Cllr Healey:

“What have been the outcomes and jobs created from the additional 2 year funding given to Science City York by this administration?”

The 2 year funding given to SCY is from EIF for high growth business support and the 3 year Innovate York programme. As the EIF programme hasonly just finished and the Innovate York programme is still ongoing, the outcomes are still being measured, but early outputs and outcomes are as follows:

High Growth Business Support Programme.

The high growth business support programme has provided over 30 high growth businesses with business support, totalling over 96 mentoring days worth of support. GVA and job outputs are being calculated following engagement with businesses assisted.

Innovate York Programme

Positioning York as a Major Global Innovation Player:

  • LLGA Global Awards and Pilots: Received Global Awards for proposals to pilot in Cape Town (2012) and Glasgow (2014) (£22k est. funding received)
  • Lead city in URBACT EU pilot transfer programme sharing our GeniUS! York approach with Syracuse in Sicily, San Sebastian in Spain and Tallinn in Estonia. (EU 325k funding received)
  • In top 21 most innovative cities in Europe through finalist status in Bloomberg ‘Mayor’s Challenge’ competition, with the intent to be in the winning top 5 most innovative cities by end September 2014. (est. fund ing if we win EU 1-5m)
  • In talks with Citymart global innovation network around 2-3 year partnership with York to fast track alternative procurement solution s through their global innovation network of solution providers.

Embedding Innovation as a Key Driver in the City of York:

  • We have comprehensively mapped existing innovative businesses, initiatives and activities in York, and provide an accessible source of ‘innovation intelligence’ to the city through our web site. We have further enhanced this knowledge hub through contributing regular blogs, research, communications and innovation opportunities. (120 contributors to the innovation map)
  • Created a draft ‘Roadmap for innovation’ paper which will assist CYC in developing their strategy for future innovation in the city.
  • We are continuing to develop an ‘innovation ecosystem’ through the ‘GeniUS! York’ platform, linking CYC with Businesses, the Community and Residents in a more meaningful way. To manage and deepen relationships between these groups and CYC, with a focus around ‘open innovation’. To date we have 434 registered members on the GeniUS! platform and 1145 twitter members. 99 individuals have been involved in taking the pilot ideas forward from the previous 8 challenge areas.

Delivering a City-wide Innovation programme of events and workshops to Catalyse Development

  • We have had over 1600 people attending the 43 events and workshops we have delivered over the last 22 months. Feedback has consistently been over 80% good/excellent for all events.
  • Included in the workshops we have delivered, is a programme of Workforce Development to increase ‘intrapreneurship’ skills in the organisation. These took the form of lunchtime taster sessions over a five week period, and places were oversubscribed within a few days of becoming available and feedback from staff was excellent. We are now running the same course for a second time in CYC.
  • Through partnership working with the University of York and the Institute of Leadership and Management, we will be offering intensive three day Innovation Leadership workshops for 25 more senior members of CYC staff to further embed innovation capacity within the organisation. This course is endorsed by ILM and can lead to further accreditation.

Comprehensive Provision of Support Activities to Drive Innovation

  • We have worked with 190 members of CYC staff over 33 service areas to build innovation capacity within the council.
  • Over the last 22 months we have assisted 8 organisations to draw down funding from external sources e.g. TSB, Art Council, Joseph Rowntree Foundation etc to enable their projects. This amounted to £167,000 additional funding.
  • We are working with TSB SBRI, to develop a Yorkshire-wide match funded initiative with the Technology Strategy Board to run pre-procurement competitions, to identify cutting edge solutions to challenges facing the region, and to implement them quickly in the city through pilot and scale approach. This system is similar to GeniUS! except that TSB SBRI looks for existing solutions rather than co-designing a new solution. This has great potential to support our SMEs as well as to fast track innovative solutions in the region.

So as you can see the investment already has or has the potential to leverage significant extra funding to develop innovation both inside and outside the council.

(viii) To the Cabinet Leader from Cllr Healey:

“How many applicants have been considered for the Interim Director position of the new company to be formed to provide 'Marketing and Business Development'?”

The post of Director for the new company (interim or permanent) has not yet been advertised. In the short time since Cabinet agreed the next steps, work has begun in a job description and recruitment process but no decisions have yet been made.

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