Tributes to a valued Museums and Galleries colleague

Following the death of Fraser Cowie, we have had further sad news over the past week with the loss of another valued colleague.

Ethel Stewart passed away at the end of last month after a short illness, having served for more than 10 years as an important member of the Museums and Galleries team.

Ethel was a sociable, popular and knowledgeable employee who was committed to her role as a Museum Liaison Officer and to the Council and Aberdeen as a whole. She not only touched the lives of her colleagues, but all of the visitors who benefited from her passion for the city’s museums.

I know Ethel’s loss has been felt deeply by everyone who worked with her and I share in the heartfelt tributes that have been made as well as sending my condolences on behalf of the Council to colleagues, family and friends.

Transition to the Target Operating Model

Earlier this month every employee of the Council received a letter confirming their place in the structure as part of the transition to the Target Operating Model (TOM).

Further to the letter that I issued, the next phase in the move towards the TOM relates to the reduction in posts agreed by the Strategic Transformation Committee in February and in line with the areas for change identified by Directors, Chief Officers and Managers. As communicated previously, the political priority of the Administration is to avoid compulsory redundancies and that underpins the approach to the transition.

Those who may be impacted by this workforce change have been invited to meetings to notify them of the proposals and will receive an explanation of the consultation process with the Trade Unions and individual staff, who will have the opportunity to consider the rationale and make their own representations.

The Union consultations will run from 17-30 April and individual consultations over the first two weeks of May. Taking into account the responses, a formal decision will then be made on each of the affected posts.

Anyone who is displaced from their current post will be assisted in identifying opportunities for redeployment to an alternative role in which existing skills and knowledge can be utilised or in exploring retraining options.

This is a difficult time not only for those affected directly but also for colleagues and Managers. I have made clear my commitment to managing this process in a sensitive, compassionate and respectful manner and appreciate the support of everyone in the Council in ensuring that.

Members of staff being consulted with in relation to post reductions are being given details of the next steps as well as the support on offer to them during meetings taking place today and through the course of the week. There will understandably be many questions arising as well as concerns and it is vital that colleagues affected have access to information and advice.

The change we are going through as an organisation is not easy – but it is essential. As we work towards the aim of building a leaner Council which is more efficient in the way it meets the needs of those it serves and realises our ambitions for the city as a whole, I am very mindful of the duty of care we have to all employees.

Minimising the potential impact on individual members of staff is my priority and this shared by Directors and Chief Officers.

Sad loss of a kind and respected colleague

It is with great sadness that I share the news of the death of a respected and valued colleague.

Fraser Cowie, Head Teacher at Westpark School, passed away on Monday. On behalf of all at Aberdeen City Council, my condolences go to Fraser’s family, colleagues and all who knew him through his role at the school and all those it serves.

Those who worked closely with Fraser speak of a lovely, kind and genuine man who was dedicated to his school, its pupils and staff.

He will be greatly missed by the young people he was such a positive influence on as well as colleagues and the wider community, having spent decades working in the Northfield area.

Such sad news is always felt throughout the Council and I pay tribute to the contribution Fraser made to education in the city over the course of service spanning 28 years.

 

Best wishes and thanks to our Council teams

I must take the opportunity to pass on Easter wishes to all of our staff and once again express my thanks to the many teams who have been called into action to deal with the worst winter has thrown at us.

The season may be officially behind us now, but looking at the forecast for sleet and snow this week I know we’re still primed and ready to respond if needed over the weeks ahead.

Of course the hard work continues in spring and summer in so many different ways, not least as our greenspaces are in full bloom and colour sweeps the city.

From the skilled and dedicated teams tending to our parks, gardens and other award winning displays to the waste and recycling team catering for the spike in collections and many, many more there’s a busy schedule.  In the schools we have the hectic final term looming and over the spring and summer months a host of services will have peak periods.

That sums up the life of a Council – there’s no down time, with business as usual carrying on around the clock throughout the year.

With that in mind, can I thank all those who were on duty over the holiday weekend to ensure vital services continued – those efforts are appreciated. For those who are taking the opportunity for leave over the school holidays, I hope you have a fantastic break.

Further recognition on the national stage

The Council’s name has once again been up in lights on the big stage, this time at the Scottish Legal Awards 2018.

Congratulations go to Arlene Dunbar, from our Licensing Team, who was Highly Commended in the Paralegal of the Year category, which is great testament to her skill and knowledge.

The legal service’s Planning Environment Team was also represented on the night as finalists in the Government Legal Team of the Year, pipped at the post by the Scottish Government but deserving great credit for impressing upon the judges the power of good work that has been done.

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This is the latest in a run of awards recognition Aberdeen City Council has had and that endorsement of the expertise and commitment of staff and teams is fantastic not only for those involved but for everyone across the organisation.

I encourage all services to explore opportunities to showcase their achievements through award entries and must thank all those who are proactively doing that. The process itself is a good way of taking a step back and looking at service delivery, highlighting all the positives as well as identifying areas for improvement.

The Scottish Legal Awards panel found lots to applaud in the submissions from our legal colleagues and I join the judges in congratulating both Arlene and the Planning Environment Team.

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.