It was a simple promise when in its 2011 Local Election manifesto Labour in York said they ‘will make consultation genuine’, however predictably it is one they have not lived up to. In fact ‘not lived up to’ is one greatest understatements since Liam Bryne said there was ‘no money left’, the Labour councillors running York have taken ignoring residents’ wishes to new levels.
The latest low has seen Labour councillor Lynn Jeffries resign from the party, in part due to anger at their spending choices, but mainly due to the way that decisions are made by the leader Cllr James Alexander and his deputy Cllr Tracey Simpson-Laing with no opportunities to discuss issues amongst Labour members……and certainly not amongst residents!
One such example was the decision to cut care of moderate need adults, where the decision was in reality taken by Alexander and Simpson-Laing long before the supposed consultation. In that public ‘consultation’, even the council’s own report admitted 200 people had the wrong survey, some questions were impossible to answer and the key question alleging residents supported the cut was terribly worded to imply not cutting care to those with moderate needs would necessitate cuts to
those with higher care needs.
Cllr Lynn Jeffries wanted ‘free’ Wi-fi, the extra thousands in cabinet member allowances, the £1 million wasted on the cancelled Local Development Framework and Cllr Alexander’s vanity funds cut before care to vulnerable adults. She also had a supporter in this….a supporter known as the people of York. The decision was called before Scrutiny Management, but a well whipped Labour majority ensure that (like every other scrutiny decision whilst Labour’s been in power!) the cabinet’s decision was endorsed. Cllr Jeffries has now resigned from the Labour Party to sit as an independent.
Sadly the recent incident is merely the latest in a long line of Labour showing contempt for York’s residents by going against their clear wishes. On council tax, the Labour leadership were one of the few to force an increase in council tax – despite a then record online petition against the rise; the number of signatories only surpassed by a later petition against the latest Labour decision to close one of the city’s key recycling centres.
Other examples of contempt for residents include decision to slash the popular ward funding, where local residents voted on schemes for their community. Most crazily of all the Labour cabinet cut the funding by 90% after the schemes had all been voted for! Residents’ choices were therefore literally binned as the money they were voting to spend, as they had successfully done for years, was instead reallocated.
Most recently, with the speed of Usain Bolt (though to rather less public acclaim), Labour took away 350 bins from the city. Many of these were not even the council’s property and for why no consultation was done or notice given; residents were told because ‘opinions differ’! It would be funny if it wasn’t so serious. York’s residents want the bins back, but Labour won’t let this happen; swaps are therefore now going on to switch those which were taken with those that if some have to go it would have made more sense to remove!
However the biggest show of contempt and ignoring of consultation was early in Cllr Alexander’s time in power (sadly a word he applies very literally) when he decided to sell Union Terrace Coach and Car Park. Observers may suggest the sale of the main coach park in the second most popular city for tourists was not advisable, or that selling a car park vital for local shops or people visiting the nearby doctor and hospital was poor for the economy and community; they would be right.
Financiers may suggest selling a key capital asset to spend the money on one off items like street paving would be financially stupid; they would equally be right.
However Cllr Alexander thought it made sense, he was then not put off by the Conservative Party’s opposition, or that of the Lib Dems, or the Greens, or even the independent councillor. He motored on…… but then a record number of public speakers registered for the cabinet meeting, local businesses galvanised to oppose the closure with marches, town centre stalls, adverts and a petition, sadly you guessed it……..he motored on.
The petition got to 1,000 signatures, then 2,000 and ultimately over 22,000; that’s right 22,000 people signed to support a Car Park! This is not a decision that should have been taken or had to be taken, it was the wrong one, but the decision to press ahead through such opposition delivered a powerful warning about the arrogance of the new Labour leadership. Sadly by then we were after the election, there are now three years until the next election…. and the people of York are counting down the days.