Board at Leeds investment agency depleted as key figures depart

Gone - Leeds Met VC Price

Gone – Leeds Met VC Price

Two key figures have left the board of Leeds and Partners, the city’s investment and tourism agency.

There’s been no public announcement, but it turns out that the council-funded company’s vice-chairman Roger Marsh left at the end of last year, while Leeds Met University’s vice-chancellor Susan Price departed in early July.

No reasons for the departures are given in the official documents lodged with Companies House.

Gone - LEP chief Marsh

Gone – LEP chief Marsh

Marsh, a former senior partner at Price Waterhouse Cooper, is currently chair of the Leeds City Region’s Local Enterprise Partnership, the public-private body that awarded (without contest) a £2.25m inward investment contract last autumn to Leeds and Partners … of which he was then vice-chair.

Professor Price attended her last board meeting at the beginning of July. Her position as director was terminated on the 8th of the month.

Two days later Private Eye published THAT story about the temporary bankruptcy of Leeds and Partners chief exec Lurene Joseph.

The two have not been replaced yet. Ms Price still appears as a board member on the company’s website.

Return for council stake?

Gone - assistant chief exec Rogers

Gone – council assistant chief exec Rogers

Where does all this leave the way Leeds and Partners is governed?

Call me an innocent in business affairs, but if I had a major stake in a company and was providing the bulk of its income, I’d expect to have a meaningful presence on the company’s board.

Not the case here.

Despite the fact that the council holds a 49% stake in Leeds and Partners and provides it with at least £1m a year (£2m in 2012-13 according to this report), there has been only one council representative – Executive Member for Development and the Economy Councillor Richard Lewis – on the board for the past year.

It wasn’t always that way.

Long gone - Cllr Carter

Long gone – Cllr Carter

Back in 2012 when Leeds and Partners arose Phoenix-like from the ashes of Marketing Leeds, its new board had two other council representatives: leader of the opposition Tories, Cllr Andrew Carter, and the council’s Assistant Chief Executive, James Rogers.

Cllr Carter is long gone. He lasted just eight months. Mr Rogers departed quietly in July last year.

No reasons for their departures were given.

Is the council happy with the current make-up of the board? We’ll never know. It doesn’t comment on Leeds and Partners affairs as, it says, it’s none of their business.

“All funding is governed by appropriate checks and balances with all grants monitored and audited,” they say.

That’s alright then.

 

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New Leeds local TV to launch in October

madetv2It’s official. Leeds is getting its new local TV station in October.

There was a bit of confusion on social media a few days ago about when Made in Leeds TV would finally start its broadcasts, but chief exec of parent company Made Television Jamie Conway said on Twitter this afternoon that …

madetvThe station was advertising for staff last month, including a news editor, video journalists, camera operators, production assistants, craft editors and producers.

Broadcasting on Freeview and Sky, the station’s schedule includes an evening magazine show, two half-hour live news bulletins every night, “core in-house programmes” on cookery, sports, property etc, plus new programmes made by local production companies.

There’ll be news and info updates and local “shorts” on the hour throughout the daytime schedule of repeat broadcasts and “acquired content”.

To help them do it all they’ve got a fair few “partners”, including Leeds Met University, Leeds United fanzine The Square Ball, discussion group The Leeds Salon, the Leeds Civic Trust and the Trinity Leeds shopping mall.

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How many hours is your library going to have cut? Here are the details

humanities-libraryIf you haven’t heard already, there’s a consultation just got underway on proposed cuts to the opening hours of libraries in Leeds.

All 36 libraries run by Leeds City Council are affected.

Under the proposals, 17% of the total hours will be cut in an effort to make staff savings agreed when the council set its budget in February.

The savings were initially set at £100,000.

Some libraries will be hit harder than others: Gildersome, for example, will lose nearly half (48%) of its opening hours, while Moor Allerton will lose just 3%.

You can have your say here.

consultationHere’s how the consultation works: you aren’t asked whether you agree with the cuts, just how you’d like them to be implemented.

You’re given two options, Option A offering different opening days and times to Option B. Either way you’re losing the same number of opening hours in nearly every instance.

There’s a space for you to make suggestions or comments.

I couldn’t find a list of how the cuts will affect each library, so here’s one I’ve put together.

(Methley library doesn’t appear in the consultation documents. Either a clerical error or it may be for the chop)

hourslost

 

What’s the rationale for how the cuts have been targeted? Well, they’ve carried out a library by library analysis to identify when the quietest hours are.

“We believe that not opening during the quietest times will provide significant savings whilst minimising the impact on customers – approximately 97.7% of book borrowers and computer users have used their own library or another library at times which would not be affected by this review,” they say.

As often happens with decisions like this, the data collected in the review hasn’t been made public.

We can save our libraries Phil Bradley

Campaign in west Leeds

One of the things they’ll have borne in mind too, one imagines, is how many people have been using each library since the 2011 reorganisation in the city, which saw 13 libraries axed.

So, there’s another list below showing how each library performed in the first two years since the reorganisation (taken from Leeds Data Mill). They’ll have figures for 2013-14 at their disposal, but they haven’t been published yet.

A couple of observations: a library like Yeadon that lost 18% of its visitors in 2012-13 is having 7% of its hours cut, while Dewsbury Rd, which saw a 9% increase in visitors in the same period is facing a 27% cut in its hours.

You have to ask yourself what future there can be for a library like Scholes, which had only 93 visitors a week in 2012-13, and is now facing a 47% cut in its opening hours (down from 15 to 8 per week).

There’s a campaign to fight the cuts already under way in west Leeds, backed by local MP Rachel Reeves.

I haven’t heard of anything similar happening elsewhere. Let me know if you hear if there is, please.

Here’s the list. The figures in red represent a fall in visitors (“pw” means per week).

cutsvisits

 

 

 

 

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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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