At last night's Full Council meeting, Conservative Group Leader Cllr Paul Doughty delivered the following speech in support of our motion aimed at restoring normal pre-pandemic working practices at City of York Council:
Council acknowledges the challenges Covid-19 has brought to the everyday life of our citizens. Many millions have worked tirelessly and shown resilience without complaint in order to help keep the country running. There are undoubtedly staff within the Council who have worked tremendously hard and we thank those for their continuing efforts and dedication for York residents.
While not complacent and recognising the challenges, everyone should be pleased the UK vaccination programme has been amongst the most advanced, with most adults having received their first vaccination and a sizeable two-thirds majority of adults now having had their second jabs. Indeed it is only Malta and Israel that can in any way claim to be doing better vaccine wise than the UK. The data continues to show that despite further new Covid cases, the vaccination programme is breaking the link between cases and the levels of very serious hospital admissions previously seen.
We believe the current Council administration now needs to show more ambition in restoring the basic democracy which has been sidelined and improving the basic services our residents expect in return for their substantial council tax contributions, raised by the maximum possible in successive years by this Lib-Dem led Council.
The Council has shown no urgency to properly restore the Committee Calendar so elected Councillors (and not just the Executive) can have oversight and scrutinise decisions being taken. It remains unacceptable for many meetings to take place ‘informally’ with no minutes publicly available for accountability. Some will claim the Committee calendar is available for all to see on the Council website and will claim it was shared at Group Leaders and Scrutiny Chairs meetings with ability to input. It was - but there is little evidence that some of us have been listened to. The formal Calendar (and not informal forums which have no public access or accountability) remains a shadow of its former self and is for the foreseeable future. The frequencies of some remain limited – a quarterly Health Scrutiny public meeting for example when they used to be held mostly monthly. I should point out that I and others (I certainly recall Labour Councillors asking too) for restoration to as normal a possible structure at several such meetings which had Democratic Services attendance. So some certainly have been requesting – and perhaps further highlights why meetings without public scrutiny and/or fully minuted documents available for the public to see are needed ASAP. While the early months of Covid were a valid reason and we do not politicise that, after 16 months and ‘working from home’ for many, there should have been the ability to plan for eventualities. Coupled with the removal of most of the rest of the national Covid restrictions this coming Monday, there should be little excuse to restore the frequency previously seen prior to Covid – or commence a full open Review as to why not - or the effectiveness or need for some if it is believed that is in doubt. The Council does need to save on taxpayer waste after all, even more so with the Covid-related pressures we are constantly told about.
Concerning for residents is the continued deterioration in basic services, recently including repeatedly late and in many cases completely uncollected green waste, overgrown vegetation which is once again becoming a problem and deteriorating roads and paths throughout the city. To add insult to injury, where fortnightly green waste collections were missed recently in parts of the city, the exact same residents, in some cases, suffered the same the following fortnight including in my ward in Strensall; six weeks between is simply not good enough.
We know the LibDems will blame Brexit for driver shortages and will no doubt continue to bleat on about it for years to come rather than look closer to home for their own failings, it is however more than five years since the referendum so with better planning and perhaps some better staff retention measures should have been looked at some time ago. While there may be some staff self-isolating pressures to compound on occasion, it is imperative the same residents do not suffer repeated consecutive failings.
Those at the Planning Committee on the 1st July will recall the plea of concern from the Planning Consultant working on behalf of the recent Askham Bryan College planning application. She explained the planning application was well overdue for determination and indicated a sizeable portion of the painfully slow 36 week process was down to the working arrangements of CYC and the inability to reach Officers by telephone. How long before we see applications taken out of the hands of the Council for determination due to such circumstances?
Therefore due to some of these concerning issues and to help the City economy recover, we ask Council and the current administration to commit to seeking the action points in the motion are fulfilled and which I will not repeat as you will have hopefully read and can see for yourselves in the papers.
I will however briefly comment on one of the proposed actions, the first of the bullet points. Whilst behaving safely we do need to get back to normality, although I am sure going forward that many more people will be able to work from home more to the benefit of all there are currently too many people working from home. The council is a large employer and local businesses have suffered from the loss of hundreds of customers a day. The direction of travel we need to take is clear and that must start from the top. With the council so evidently in chaos we need structure and order and part of this must start with directors in the main working from West Office.
I beg to move the motion.