Leeds – council on collision course with unions over new terms and conditions?

Leeds-City-CouncilLeeds City Council is at loggerheads with unions over new terms and conditions that it wants to introduce this year as part of its continuing cost-cutting measures.

Included in the new package – which the council says will save it around £9m - are cuts to mileage allowances for council staff – cuts that were turned down controversially by the council as recently as February this year.

According to a council report, talks with the unions on reducing costs by changing terms and conditions began a year ago, but there’s no sign of an agreement yet.

The package currently on the table includes an end to “pay protection” for council staff (saving £1m a year), new rules on redundancy (£3.8m over 3 years), and new flexible working patterns that would cut overtime costs and spending on agency staff (£2.5m savings).

A further £1.5m a year is proposed to be saved on staff transport: £675k by bringing allowances down from the current rate of 65p to the standard 45p a mile set by HMRC; £750k by curbing allowances for “essential” car users; and £139k by getting rid of all free and subsidised city centre parking permits for staff and charging them the market rate.

Agreement with unions “may not be reached” 

“The TUs’ position gives an indication that a collective agreement on the proposals may not be reached, which is reinforced by the fact that they are not currently willing to enter into negotiations regarding changes to terms and conditions as an alternative to compulsory redundancies, the report says.

“The TUs joint position is that they do not have a mandate from their members to
enter into any negotiation about any detrimental changes to terms and conditions
of employment,” it adds.

Further talks are planned for Thursday this week (24th July). The package is going to a meeting of senior councillors on a key committee next week (29th July) for their approval.

They’re being asked to agree that the new terms and conditions be put into effect for new staff as soon as practicable after 1st August, and for existing staff offered new contracts following internal changes from 1st September 2014.

Industrial action?

Council leader Keith Wakefield

Council leader Keith Wakefield

There was a bit of a public row in February this year when a proposal to slash mileage rates for council staff – and invest the savings into safer cycling routes across the city – was thrown out by the Labour majority.

Speaking at the time, council leader Keith Wakefield said changes to the rates were already being discussed with staff and unions. “It is right that we allow those discussions to conclude before taking any decisions,” he said.

Which is presumably where we are now.

In so far as the whole package is concerned, there may be trouble ahead. As the report notes:

“In the context of the mandate the TUs already have from their members to fight any detrimental changes to terms and conditions the TUs may ballot for some form of industrial action and contingency plans need to be considered to ensure service continuity.”

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Council to spend £550k on new venue for public meetings in Civic Hall

Sketch of a possible "media wall", attached to the report

Sketch of a possible “media wall”, attached to the report

Good news for members of the Leeds public interested in observing council debates and decision-making: over half a million pounds is going to be spent on a new, purpose-built venue in the Civic Hall for meetings that are open to the public.

As a report going to a meeting of the council’s executive next Wednesday (16th July) notes, there have been long-standing issues with the rooms where the council’s planning and licensing committees, watchdog scrutiny boards and executive board currently meet.

There regularly hasn’t been room for all the members of the public who have wanted to attend, which has led to “complaints about the Council not being open and transparent”, the report says.

So it has.

Current venue: meeting rooms on right, hospital on left

Current venue: meeting rooms on right, hospital on left

Problems too with air-conditioning and heating, and noise from the street below, which is home to A&E at the LGI.

Council bosses are being asked to endorse spending £550,000 on a much larger venue in a quieter part of the building, with much more seating for the public.

What the new room is also going to have is “new audio visual equipment … capable of supporting the recording of meetings”.

While no specific mention is made of plans to broadcast meetings from the new venue, it seems pretty unthinkable that they won’t take the opportunity to kit out the new, purpose-built space out so that key decision-making meetings held there can be relayed live on the internet as currently happens with monthly meetings of full council (its formal, debating chamber).

The new room “will create a new larger modern fit for purpose committee room facility which will fully meet its democratic responsibilities and meet public expectations within the Civic Hall, which is the central democratic hub of the council,” the report says.

Good news all round.

 

 

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That “extraordinary” Leeds & Partners story in Private Eye … and the public’s right to know

It started with this tweet on Thursday from the Yorkshire Post’s former crime reporter.

preece

And so there was.

An extraordinary story about the insolvency of Ms Joseph, the city’s investment and tourism chief, which was Gazetted on 29th April and annulled on 5th June after bankruptcy debts to HMRC and expenses were “either paid in full or to the satisfaction of the court”.

peyecutThere’s more to the story. The final two paragraphs are on your right.

Worth a read.

Now, maybe I’ve got it wrong, but this is a story that’s of interest to people in Leeds, isn’t it?

I mean, we provide the bulk of Leeds and Partners’ income and if anybody’s interested in the doings of Leeds council, it’s us.


It’s the kind of thing you’d expect your local media to cover.

ypSo far there’s nothing – nothing from the Yorkshire Post, who broke the story about Ms Joseph’s “five-star lifestyle” this time last year, and followed up by reporting both on the inquiry launched in October into allegations of bullying against the L&P boss, and on the news released last Christmas Eve that Ms Joseph had been cleared.

It’s their story. Why have they dropped it?

Who knows.

And the BBC?

bbcThey broke the story about the bullying allegations last year and followed it through till a local union branded the inquiry findings a whitewash.

But they haven’t reported anything this time either.

Maybe both of them feel that the latest developments aren’t newsworthy.

I’m a big fan of both, but there’s a problem here.

We’ve got the Information Commissioner telling the council in Leeds that the public has a “right to know” … but what’s the use of that right to know when nobody (apart from Private Eye) is going to publish? 

If you want to see the rest of the Private Eye article, you could always go out and buy a copy. Or check the Twitter timeline of the public-spirited  @culturevultures.

I’ve asked the council if they have any comment to make on it. I’ll write something if and when they respond.

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Council explains Leeds Visitor Centre exit from station – “positive publicity” needed

Comments on the YEP Facebook page

Comments on the YEP Facebook page

“There are currently two high risks … one is the potential decrease in footfall at the new location and the second is to ensure there is positive publicity about the relocation and enhanced service in response to customer demands”

Good points.

It’s a council report talking about the (baffling) decision that council bosses are about to take to move Leeds’ main tourist information centre from the busiest railway station in the north of England to a basement cafe/shop at the city’s Art Gallery.

Everyone’s baffled. And just about all the publicity so far is bad.

And more ...

And more …

You can see why.

You’ve got a city that’s just had its most significant tourism boost ever … and yet its only tourist information centre (which had some 4,500 people through its doors last Saturday) would apparently do a better job tucked away off the beaten track.

The footfall facts are pretty clear: over 25 million people come through the station every year (more if and when HS2 arrives), and only a million and a bit go to the gallery and library area around the planned new location.

Hence people’s incredulity (see panels left and above).

Now the council has come up with its arguments for the move, of course.

Review findings

They’re based on a review that’s just been carried out into the centre’s operation and its future. The findings are summarised in a report that’s set to be rubber-stamped by council bosses at a meeting next Wednesday, 16th July.

They say that the service doesn’t need the amount of space it’s currently got, that a new lease on the space they currently rent would be too expensive to take up in November when it falls due, and that finding a different home for the service at the station isn’t the best option.

They say that customer demand is moving away from face-to-face contact to online, and that only 40% of the 500,000 people coming through the centre’s doors every year (Leeds is the second busiest centre in the UK) are looking for information.

And they say that moving to the cafe/shop would allow them to deliver a better service to customers at the same time as adhering to their policy of putting services into council-owned buildings alongside each other.

Open data?

The trouble is: the arguments aren’t all backed up by local evidence.

We don’t know what information they’ve gathered for the review, who they got it from, or how they’ve arrived at their conclusions, in particular with regard to the detailed cost/ benefit analysis of the options they’ve looked at.

YOU ARE HERE if you want any tourism info GO OVER THERE

City Square: YOU ARE HERE if you want any tourism info GO ALL THE WAY OVER THERE

The review hasn’t been published, just a summary that backs up the decision, so we have to take it on trust that it’s reliable.

Nothing new there, you might say.

Except that not being able to see the raw data on which a decision like this is made doesn’t sit well with the council’s current attachment to “transparency through open data”.

And it means that no-one is in a position to challenge the decision, because no-one has the facts – what facts there are – apart from the council.

(What they haven’t spelled out either is how much it’s going to cost to amend all those maps – printed, online and on street furniture – that show people where to go to get tourist information.)

Who runs tourism in Leeds?

landpOne thing we do know, though. The move marks a significant change in tourism policy in Leeds.

Two years ago all of the council’s tourism effort was handed over lock, stock and visitor centre staff to Marketing Leeds, or Leeds and Partners as it’s now called.

Now, guess what? Leeds and Partners are handing part of it back. They want shut of the centre.

“Leeds & Partners have confirmed that the Leeds Visitor Centre is not a core activity for them,” the report says bluntly.

Sorry? The people who run tourism in Leeds don’t see the city’s tourism information centre as part of what they do?

Strange but true.

One final bit of bafflement

The cafe

The cafe

Twelve months after the service has been relocated to the art gallery cafe and shop, they’re planning to review the situation to see if the move has worked.

And how will they measure the success of the move or otherwise?

“Although it is difficult to define what would constitute success without knowing the preferred option, if the co-location option is agreed then an increase in retail sales in the Art Gallery shop would be a reasonable measure,” the report says.

So you measure the success of a tourist information centre by the amount of stuff sold in the shop it happens to be located next to?

Brilliant.

How times change!

2012 award nomination - Cllr Ogilvie centre

2012 award nomination – Cllr Ogilvie centre

Worth recalling that it’s only two years ago that council bosses were celebrating the fact that the Visitor Centre had been nominated for a prestigious White Rose Award.

“Tourism is such an important part of our local economy, so it’s good to know that our visitor services are being recognised,” Leisure Service chief Cllr Adam Ogilvie said at the time.

“Leeds Visitor Centre is often the first point of contact for visitors arriving in the city and this nomination demonstrates the importance of ensuring that each and every visitor is able to make the most out of their visit.

“Congratulations to the staff at the centre, who provide a great service in spreading the word about our fantastic city and enabling visitors to buy tickets for a range of events.”

How quickly things change!

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Council set to cut funding pot for Leeds arts organisations by £430k

Leeds-City-CouncilThe amount of cash available to local arts organisations in grants from Leeds City Council looks set to be cut over the next couple of years.

A report going to council bosses for approval at a meeting next week proposes that the total arts grant pot is reduced by 10% in 2015-16, and by a further 5% in 2016-17.

The Council awards its main arts grants in a similar way to Arts Council England’s national portfolio programme: grants are awarded for three years to give organisations some stability and financial security.

Spending on the grants this year, the final year in the council’s current three-year programme, is £2,970,110

That is set to go down to £2,673,099 in 2015-16, the first year of the new programme, and to £2,539,444 in 2016-17 – a total reduction of  over £430k.

The current plan is for no further cut in the final year of the 2015-18 round, but that will depend on the council’s budget position at the time, the report says.

“Difficult decisions” ahead

Other new proposals include setting the maximum grant that can be allocated to any single organisation at £750,000 a year (or £2.25m over the three years).

That shouldn’t alarm any of the city’s major arts organisations too much. The top grant earners are all getting less than that from the council for 2012-15: Opera North £2.19m, West Yorkshire Playhouse £2.1m, and Northern Ballet £720k.

The application process for the 2015-18 grants gets under way at the end of the summer, with a decision announced on who gets what in January.

“In the context of the proposed cuts in Year 1 and 2 of the scheme we anticipate needing to make some difficult decisions from a range of truly exemplary organisations,” the report says.

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Where’s the Arts Council cash going in Yorkshire? A couple of tables

A couple of quick tables based on today’s announcement about which organisations are getting what cash from Arts Council England (ACE) from 2015-18.

They’re what are known as the National Portfolio organisations. Over the three years ACE will be spending just over £1bn on them – around £100m of it in Yorkshire.

Here’s a breakdown of where the cash is going in the Yorkshire region by local authority.

bylocalauthority

 

And here’s a little table showing how much of the total cash for the Yorkshire region (48.7%) is snaffled by the top four big Leeds arts organisations.

indidvorgs

You can draw your own conclusions from the data, but here’s one: Opera North gets more funding than all the organisations in Sheffield, York, Bradford, Hull, Kirklees, Doncaster and Barnsley combined.

You can download the data here.

 

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£100k+ “misappropriation of funds” at Leeds Grand Theatre covered three years, accounts show

1678208367The news that Leeds City Council is to bail out the company that runs Leeds Grand Theatre to the tune of £653,000 will come as no surprise to those at the top.

The most recent accounts for the company – which also runs the City Varieties and Hyde Park Picture House – show that it posted a deficit of £550,809 in the year 2012-13, up from £508,091 the previous year.

The 2013-14 accounts – which presumably prompted the bail-out – haven’t been published yet.

The company is owned by the council, but managed at ‘arms-length’ by a board made up of five councillors and four ‘independents’.

The accounts also throw some light on the alleged “misappropriation of funds” at the company that came to public light at the beginning of this year and led to three arrests.

Council loan to cover losses

According to the accounts, funds were misappropriated from the company over three financial years, from 2011-12 to 2013-14.

How much was involved?

I’m no accountant, but it looks like £46,310 went missing in 2011-12 …

grandmisapp3

…  and the total? Well, I can’t work it out.

The £46,310 appears alongside an entry for “recovery of misappropriation of funds” for £103,250 for the year 2012-13. Whether there are further losses to be included in the 2013-14 accounts isn’t clear.

grandmisapp

“Financial difficulties will not be turned around quickly”

Currently showing

Currently showing

The bail-out may have only been made public last week (see section 5.5.1 of this report for chapter and verse), but it seems clear from the accounts that the council agreed at the back end of last year (when the accounts were signed off) to provide a loan to cover the “misappropriated funds”.

The loan will only be repayable once the losses are recovered.

In the meantime the accounts admit that the company’s financial difficulties “will not be turned around quickly”, and a “robust financial plan” is being worked on to bring it back into profitability “in the medium term”.

grandmisapp2

Deja vu

Council leader Keith Wakefield

Council leader Keith Wakefield

Speaking to the Yorkshire Post today, council leader Cllr Keith Wakefield said it was clear that “we cannot accept the current governance arrangements” for the company.

Details of proposed new arrangements are expected to be released next week, ahead of a meeting of the cabinet on 16th July.

Worth noting then that it’s only eight years ago that the council commissioned “a fundamental review of the governance arrangements (of the company) … to assess a range of options … to ensure governance arrangements are fit for purpose”.

Back to the drawing board.

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