Helping the city’s next generation to prosper

I had the pleasure of visiting the Seaton Learning Centre last week and it was fantastic to see the progress being made in a very short space of time by the community development teams.

In particular the efforts in establishing early years provision has been of great benefit and the impact of that will continue to grow and evolve, making a lasting contribution to the area and the city.

The space being utilised became available as the result of the opening of Orchard Brae School, in itself a huge leap forward in our ambitions to give all of our young people the best opportunities, and I was so impressed by all that I saw and heard.

There’s great deal of innovation taking place in education, demonstrated by the launch in recent weeks of the ELC Academy – a new online toolkit to support those interested in early learning and childcare (ELC).

The ELC Academy is in collaboration with Aberdeenshire Council and Moray Council, with the aim of providing a new way to develop the workforce in the region. We’re delighted to be playing a key part in this new approach and are confident it will bring positive results.

Staying on the theme of young people, can I take the opportunity to thank the pupils of Bucksburn Academy who took the time to come into Marischal College earlier in the month to host a bake sale.

The aim was to raise funds towards an £8,640 target set by the TALE group, which is aiming to sail with the Ocean Youth Trust Scotland off the west coast. The group is focused on ensuring there are opportunities for children with additional support needs to take part in and learn from long length challenging excursions. We were delighted to have the pupils in – good luck with the rest of the fundraising activities and thanks for the lovely cakes!

Congratulations on national award win

Congratulations to our Democratic Services staff for their success in being crowned Administrator Team of the Year winners in the SOLAR annual awards on Thursday evening.

Run by the Society of Local Authority Lawyers and Administrators in Scotland, the 2018 shortlist in the category included Aberdeenshire Council as well as Argyll and Bute Council.

Everyone at Aberdeen City Council is well aware of the enormous amount of work that has been done by our skilled and dedicated team and clearly the SOLAR judges recognised that too.

The review of the governance framework and scheme of governance in addition to work in areas  such as the move to paperlight meetings, establishing the Member/Officer Relations Protocol and redesign of the ALEO Assurance Hub were all part of the award winning package.

There’s always strong competition for national awards and to be presented with the prize is fantastic reward for the team and for the Council as a whole. Well done and thank you to the whole team.

Delivering on our 2018/19 budget commitments

On Tuesday (6 March) elected members gathered to set the 2018/19 budget.

As I stated in my note when the budget reports were published last week, the process represents a great challenge for the leadership team and elected members in light of the financial constraints we face and the increasing demand for our services.

A budgeted spend of over £950million, comprising £269m capital and £689m revenue expenditure, was agreed as we set a balanced budget in which projected spending must be matched by income. It’s a rigorous and complex process involving not only the finance team but officers from across the Council and the way the task is completed is a great credit to all involved.

Full decisions from yesterday’s meeting will be published in the Council and Democracy section of our website on Monday and a round-up has also been posted to the news section to provide an outline of the key aspects of the budget. It is certainly worth familiarising yourself with that detail as the budget decisions link directly to the Local Outcome Improvement Plan and our overarching aims as a Council.

With the budget set our task as officers is to continue delivering in these key areas.

As I stated previously, the transition to the Target Operating Model (TOM) was at the heart of the 2018/19 budget, accounting for £17.1m of identified savings.

It should be stressed these are the savings already communicated –  comprising £737,000 from the asset review, £6m in relation to third party spend and £10.378m through voluntary severance, early retirement and the dis-establishment of vacant posts.

I have been instructed by Council to write to staff to reiterate the administration’s commitment to managing the reduction in posts through voluntary measures. That formal communication will follow shortly to every employee.

The £17.1m figure demonstrates the importance of the journey we are on and underlines the purpose of the change we are undertaking – with efficiency in operations enhancing customer experience and financial efficiencies ensuring resources are directed towards protecting frontline services.

Councillors agreed a number of other measures in terms of expenditure and income, which included a 3% increase in Council Tax. I appreciate a large number of staff are residents of the city, so this rise will have a direct impact. It was not an easy decision for members, but a necessary one as we strive to meet our funding requirements.

I thank all who played their part in the budget process and indeed those who were involved in Monday’s meeting of full Council, in which the governance structure supporting the TOM was agreed. There will be further detailed communication to outline those important changes.

With Council followed by the budget meeting it was a busy but productive start to the week and a great deal of hard work went in to ensure business ran smoothly.

As we prepare for another financial year I look forward to working with you to deliver on behalf of all those we serve.

Praise from inside and outside the Council for response to weather conditions

I must extend my thanks to all who have been involved in Aberdeen’s response to the bad weather we have encountered over the past week.

As we have seen across the country there have been immense challenges posed by the conditions that swept in. Thankfully we avoided the worst, but certainly didn’t escape entirely.

The actions of a wide range of Council teams and our many partners ensured we were able to minimise disruption and, most importantly, keep people safe.

Vast resource was put to use – both in terms of the assets deployed and the human resource involved – in the frontline work.

The clearing and treatment of roads and pavements takes a great deal of planning behind the scenes and hard work in the execution of those plans. It’s a relentless task and a very testing one in the harshest of conditions – but a vital one.

The operation revolves around the efforts of the roads service, but a vast number of colleagues in various services are also involved.

During a weather event like this, clear and regular communication is imperative and in the past week the Council played a key role in sharing information not only on our own response but also in amplifying the messages coming from partners such as Police Scotland.

The response was heartening – with lots of positive sentiment coming back in response to the messages we circulated through our own social media channels and website as well as through traditional media statements and updates. There has been lots of praise from residents and businesses for the actions we took and the appreciation of elected members was voiced in the chamber on Monday when full Council met.

Proactive communication is vital, but there’s also a major job in these situations to respond to the thousands of messages, queries and requests for support the Council receives and it was good to see communications and customer service colleagues working together with all of the other services involved to demonstrate a joined-up approach.

Roads, in terms of the planning and many frontline duties, and education, in relation to school closures and updates, fed into that and the waste and recycling team was also rightly praised for successfully delivering the regular service throughout the period despite the challenges.

It’s a very good example of why working in isolation as individual services simply isn’t an option if we want to deliver for those we serve. Collaborative working is central to everything we want to achieve as an organisation.

As I’ve said many times before, that approach isn’t confined to within the walls of the Council – our partners in the public sector play a major role and so too do individuals and communities.

In the past week, through the very open communication there has been, we’re aware of people rallying across the city and coming together to join the effort to beat the weather.  That came in lots of different forms – some by playing their part in clearing paths in their own area or others simply by heeding the warnings about safe travel and the requests to be mindful of vulnerable neighbours.

As difficult as these events are, we can take pride in the response not only from within the Council but from the city as a whole. It’s fantastic to see community spirit at play.

Celebrating success in all its guises

Success takes many forms in an organisation as large and diverse as Aberdeen City Council – but hard work, knowledge and expertise underpin everything we achieve.

There have been some great achievements in the past week across many different services.  Some have taken the form of awards, others relate to exceptional delivery.

There was an example of that this weekend, when in the early hours of Saturday morning teams were mobilised to respond as part of the Local Resilience Partnership after reports of a fire in a communal area at Cairncry Court, a multi-storey property.

Fortunately nobody was injured in the incident, which is always the prime concern, and there was no serious damage to the building – however in the early stages of any response that can never be taken for granted.

The fire did impact on power and water supply to the building and plans had to be made for a rest centre for residents, not to mention the remedial work required to restore normal service.

The response from Aberdeen City Council teams and our partners was excellent and I commend everyone for their swift, reassuring and efficient actions. Special mention must go to Wendy Carle and Paul Clark for their exemplary efforts on site. It is the latest in a number of incidents Wendy and her colleagues as well as Paul and his colleagues from building services have dealt with.

Staying on the theme of recognising staff who go above and beyond the call of duty, that applies to two employees who have recently reached 25-years of service. Mary Simpson, cleaning team leader for the Bridge of Don and Oldmachar areas, and Carol Scott, who is the cleaning charge-hand at St Machar Academy, have rightly won praise for their attitude and commitment. Both ladies lead by example and I congratulate them on their service.

The blend of experience and new staff eager to learn will be vital in building the Council of the future and we had confirmation this week that the approach is paying dividends,

Three of our apprentices were shortlisted in the APSE annual awards.  Graeme Baird, Craig Paterson and David Hutcheon flew the flag proudly for Aberdeen in the face of competition from across the country.

All three did fantastically well to reach the final and Graeme triumphed on the night by winning the Apprentice of the Year prize – the fourth consecutive year he has been chosen by judges, which is a remarkable achievement for Graeme and all those who have supported him through his apprenticeship.

Within 24-hours of that individual award we had further success on a project level at the Aberdeen Society of Architects annual ceremony, with Marischal Square winning the public realm award and The Hub at Middlefield commended. These awards reflect positively on the teams that have brought two very different but important developments to fruition.

To round off the recent good news, I must take the opportunity to thank Kincorth Academy’s acting head teacher Mike Paul and his team for their work, which was singled out by inspectors as an important factor in the continued improvement of the school and the transition plans for the opening of Lochside Academy.

Don’t miss the chance to recognise colleagues who shine

There’s just one week to go until nominations close for the 2018 Star Awards – if you haven’t taken the opportunity to make your voice heard, now’s the time to do so.

The Star Awards have become an important part of the Council calendar for us and are all about celebrating those who go the extra mile for those we serve, colleagues and the organisation as a whole.

It’s always humbling to hear the stories behind the nominations – we’re very fortunate to be surrounded by dedicated, skilled and, in so many cases, selfless team members.

The nomination process is straightforward and I’d love to see recommendations coming in from across every service. The response so far has been great, but the more nominations the better as far as the Star Awards team and I are concerned.

On that note, can I thank all those who have made themselves available to organise this year’s awards. A lot of hard work goes into making it happen and I know that is appreciated  throughout the Council.

Nominations can be submitted in a range of categories and all of the information can be found here. The deadline is noon on Friday, March 2.

I appreciate the contribution of everyone who has taken time out to nominate a colleague so far and hope there are many more to follow over the next week.

SPECTRA puts Aberdeen in the spotlight

The feel-good factor around SPECTRA 18 won’t have passed you by I’m sure – the reaction to this year’s event has been fantastic.

The figures show more than 91,000 visits across the three sites over the four days, significantly up on last year.

As is so often the case, the statistics tell only a small part of the tale. The wonderful pictures, amazing feedback and goodwill towards the event add the real colour to the story.

SPECTRA helps put Aberdeen on the map internationally with the calibre of artists it attracts, helping to draw in visitors from far and near, but it also brings people together from all corners of the city and generated a real buzz amongst residents and businesses alike.

What began as an idea has grown to become the success we all recognise – and that success just wouldn’t be possible without the endeavours and efforts of colleagues from a number of teams, not least City Events and culture.

Our valued partners, including Curated Place to name just one, share in the praise for the delivery of what is one of Scotland’s most dynamic events.

It is a credit to all involved that this year’s event was bigger and better than ever before and that the high bar set previously was surpassed.

On behalf of the Council and the tens of thousands who braved the winter chill to enjoy all that SPECTRA had to offer, my thanks go out to all those involved.

Transition to Target Operating Model

Following Friday’s meeting of the Strategic Transformation Committee (STC), I am now able to share with you the detail of the report on the transition to the Target Operating Model (TOM) which was considered in the private section of Friday’s meeting. The report can be found online here as the second additional circulation.

As a result of the regulatory framework we work under following the bond issue in 2016, the Council was required to first notify the London Stock Exchange of the detail of the report on the transition to the TOM and that was done this morning. Following that notification, I am now in a position to provide you with the same information.

On Friday the STC gave its approval for the next stage in the transition to the interim functional structure.

The decision by members of the committee included approval for recommendations to allow for a reduction by up to 230 full time equivalent (FTE) posts. An additional 140 FTE posts which are currently vacant and not required within the TOM will also be disestablished.

Posts have been identified as opportunities for change and in-scope for change as a result of teams coming together in the new interim structure. This may mean there are too many roles within a new team for the required service delivery.

The reduction in posts together with the dis-establishment of current vacant posts is expected to realise £10.378million in savings in 2018/19 and it is hoped these savings can be achieved through voluntary means.

We will manage the reduction in posts in as sensitive and understanding way as we can. Communication will be central in managing this process and as opportunities for change are identified, employees will be involved through both engagement and consultation.

Trade Union representatives are being briefed this morning, including information on the timeline for consultation.

It is planned that during the rest of February the Council establishes the extent of FTE post reduction that can be achieved through further disestablishment of vacant posts, agency worker relationships, secondments and non-renewal of fixed term contracts.  The Council is also committed to using VSER subject to the operational needs of the Council and budgetary constraints. This will include reconsideration of previously non-supported VSER applications.

The position will be reviewed at the end of February in advance of the new organisational structures for the affected areas being presented to the Transformation Delivery Boards and the Transformation Management Board.

As new organisational structures are adopted the Council will seek to implement those new structures including FTE post reduction throughout March.  At the moment these are simply indicative time frames which are subject to change depending on the outcome of consultation meetings and logistical considerations.

Members of the Extended Corporate Management Team and Third Tier managers have been asked to attend a meeting today to ensure they are aware of the process we are following. I would urge anyone with specific questions or concerns to raise them through their manager in the first instance.

I appreciate the uncertainty many will feel in relation to the transition to the TOM and I would ask everyone to be mindful of that and to be supportive to colleagues.

Whilst the reduction in posts will understandably be a focus of attention, Friday’s report included wider information that I would urge everyone to read to gain a greater understanding of the rationale being used.

You will, of course, be interested in what the transition to the interim functional structure means for you individually in terms of your role, responsibilities and ways of working – staff will be fully informed and involved through the implementation stages. All cost centres, services and staff posts have already been aligned to the appropriate function on paper and plans for how everyone will be re-aligned and begin to work are currently being developed.

It is important to note there will continue to be opportunities to fill vacancies for posts at the heart of the TOM, many of which will appeal to existing Aberdeen City Council employees keen to utilise existing skills or to explore options for retraining.

As I have stressed in the engagement sessions we have held and at various intervals in recent months, whilst we are committed to change and to our ambitions to build the Council of the future there is also a sincere will to be inclusive and respectful of all staff during this journey.

Once again, I thank you for your support and the valuable input there has been to date. The contribution of our employees will continue to be essential as we shape the journey. we are on as an organisation.

Preparation is key to responding in times of crisis

We often talk about the Council’s purpose of ensuring people, place and economy prosper. That role is central to our daily business and it is right that we promote it – but what we must ensure is that the conversation about the other vital elements of our purpose is heard just as loudly.

Wherever possible we seek to protect people and place from harm.

We are, however, faced with events outside of our control and unfortunately harm to does occur – we see that far too regularly. In these challenging situations Aberdeen City Council is relied upon to respond, rescue and recover.

Experience shows that when called upon we are capable of doing so in ways which put the commitment, professionalism and expertise of our staff in sharp focus. Our response in times of crisis has been a source of great pride for me in my role as chief executive.

What we cannot do is stand still – and nor can we work in isolation.

Training and development in conjunction with our colleagues in the emergency services, neighbouring local authorities and other public sector bodies is crucial and it’s pleasing to see that gathering pace.

In recent weeks I joined an emergency planning exercise in Aberdeen, where the collaborative approach was put into action. It was particularly useful for our own Duty Emergency Response Coordinators (DERCs).

The scenarios for these exercises vary – we have to plan for every eventuality – but the common thread is the aim of improving the way we work together to respond on behalf of the individuals and communities we serve. Learning lessons from these exercises, and of course from the live incidents we deal with, is essential.

It’s important to add that communities are key to how we plan. It’s recognised quite often it will be groups and individuals in the areas affected who respond first, but we have to make sure we give them the support to do so as part of a joined-up approach.

The most recent session provoked interesting discussion and action points and my thanks go to all staff and representatives from our partners who took part in the day.

Success stories to round off the week

It’s important we celebrate the success that we enjoy as individuals, teams and a Council as a whole. In the past fortnight there’s been plenty to shout about!

We have been informed Aberdeen City Council will be represented in not one but two categories in the finals of the Scottish Legal Awards.

The Planning and Environment Team from Legal Services is shortlisted in the Government Legal Team category – facing competition from colleagues at Aberdeenshire Council and from the Scottish Government.  Arlene Dunbar will also be flying the flag for the Council in the Paralegal of the Year category, nominated alongside five representatives from private practice.

I wish both the team and Arlene well for the ceremony in March – but to reach the final is a fantastic achievement in itself.

Before then, we have three members of staff shortlisted in the APSE Scottish Apprentice of the Year Awards. Presented in February, being selected as finalists is great recognition of the individuals and of those who have trained and nurtured them. Congratulations to Graeme Baird, Craig Paterson and David Hutcheon for earning their place on the shortlist.

At the end of last week, I watched with pride as pupils and teachers representing two city schools took centre stage at the Young Engineers and Science Clubs Scotland awards run by the Scottish Council for Development and Industry.

The Torry Academy and Kingswells School teams collected the North East Young Engineers Club of the Year prizes in the secondary and primary categories respectively.  STEM subjects will be crucial to a bright future for the city and it was great to see youngsters being recognised for excelling. I can’t praise the young people and teachers enough for their commitment and enthusiasm.

We also received news from the Big Lottery Fund that we have progressed to the next round of the Early Action System Change application process – another step towards securing vital funding to address the needs of young people in Aberdeen.  The work done by our partners in relation to this bid, particularly the Foyer, is very much appreciated.

Staying with the theme of young people, the work that our Virtual School has been doing in the city to support our looked after children has been recognised nationally by the Centre for Excellence for Looked After Children in Scotland (CELCIS). Our innovation will be built upon to inform policy and guidance for authorities across Scotland.

Finally, I would like to say well done to members support assistant Lee Green – who has successfully gained his ECDL qualification, achieving a 100% pass rate.

Congratulations to Lee and to all who have brightened up January with their achievements. I’m sure there will be much more to celebrate in the year ahead.