Aberdeen Crematorium

I have this morning provided the following statement to the Council on Aberdeen Crematorium.  A video is available here

Members will be aware that Dame Elish Angiolini published her report on the National Cremation Investigation on Monday this week. I felt that it was important to give an immediate public response to the report on behalf of the Council and therefore on Monday afternoon I attended a media conference and spoke at the Audit, Risk and Scrutiny Committee. A Council helpline was put in place on Monday to offer support to families affected by the issues raised in the Investigation report.

Members will appreciate that having only received the report on Monday I have not as yet had the opportunity to consider its content fully. It is critical that I do that now and that I report back fully to Council. When I spoke to the Audit, Risk and Scrutiny Committee I indicated that I would submit my report to Communities, Housing and Infrastructure Committee as the relevant service committee for the Crematorium. On reflection, I now believe that it would be more appropriate to bring a report to Full Council and to do this immediately after the recess.

I fully understand the shock and upset felt by families affected by past practices at the Crematorium and the public wish to be assured that people are held to account for those past practices.

On receiving in June 2014 the anonymous allegation relating to the joint cremation of babies and adults, I immediately shared the letter with Lord Bonomy, Chair of the Infant Cremation Commission as the allegation cast doubt on the reliability of the evidence provided by the Council to the Commission.

Service management immediately undertook a full internal investigation which resulted in the dismissal of the Crematorium Manager and no action being taken against a further two members of staff.

I had indicated on receipt of the anonymous allegation that I would instigate my own investigation bearing in mind that at the time I was not formally in post as the Council’s Chief Executive. By the time I had taken up post in July 2014, Dame Elish’s National Cremation Investigation was underway and it was agreed that it would take on the investigation of the allegations made in relation to practices at Aberdeen Crematorium.

Regrettably Dame Elish has found the allegation to be true and that unethical and abhorrent practices had taken place over many years at Aberdeen Crematorium. I said on Monday and I say again today that I fully concur with Dame Elish’s description of the past practices and I once again apologise wholeheartedly on behalf of the Council for the distress such practices have caused.

As I have already said, I received the report on Monday. Yesterday, I formally instructed the Head of Legal and the Head of Human Resources to review the report fully and to advise me what further action I require to take. I will fully review the report myself and consider the advice I receive from the two Heads of Service before bringing my own report to Council in August.

In addition I understand that the Crown Office has indicated that it has Dame Elish’s report under consideration and I can confirm that the Council will fully co-operate with the Crown Office should it be required.

In the meantime, and in recognition of the need there is to provide public reassurance in the Crematorium as it now operates, I have invited Robert Swanson, Inspector of Crematoria Scotland to undertake an inspection of Aberdeen Crematorium. This he will do in the next few days and I will of course bring his findings to Council in August.

As we did with the recommendations made by Lord Bonomy, the Council fully accepts the recommendations made by Dame Elish. Many of her recommendations are for Chief Executives to address and I am committed to doing so personally on behalf of the Council.

I hope what I have set out to members today provides you with the reassurance the Council requires that the findings of this important investigation are being fully and urgently addressed so that a report can be brought to Council in order that members can fully scrutinise the actions of its officers.

Having said all this, I feel deeply and I’m sure all in the Chamber do so too, that in addressing all these matters we must never forget the impact there has been on the families affected by the past practices at the Crematorium.

I can only imagine how awful it must be to lose a child; it is truly terrible to now think that the Council has added in any way to the impact of that loss.

Sadly, I can’t undo what has happened in the past. What I can do is make sure that nothing like it happens again at the Crematorium.

Changing the City

I was delighted to attend the opening yesterday of the new bridge across the Don.

The Diamond Bridge is another fine example of the team work necessary across the Council to achieve the delivery of major projects that make a significant change to the City.  Having the bridge and its related infrastructure designed, built, completed and opened has involved many teams from within the Council’s Roads Service as well as colleagues from Estates, Finance, Legal, Human Resources, ICT, Housing, Planning and Environmental Services.

Of particular note have been the efforts of Tom Rogers (now retired), Mike Matheson, Ian Taylor, Alex Macrae, Stuart Allan, Khalid Abdalla, David Salmon and Katherine Duncan.  Thank you to you all.

Perhaps not the most obvious thought to have occurred while at the opening yesterday, but I did reflect that alongside major physical projects such as the new bridge the Council’s work in introducing the Reclaiming Social Work programme will also have a profound impact on the City and the people who live here.  I’ll update you more in future blogs on the progress with the programme.

Its testament to the diversity of the Council’s responsibilities and the services we together deliver that we are involved in so many ways across the City in leading changes to the place and for the people.

Staff making news and newsletters

At the risk of being accused of OCE bias, I write to recommend highly to you the latest edition of the CG/OCE Newsletter which has just been published online.

Not only is the content of interest, but I’m particularly impressed by the way the newsletter celebrates members of the team’s professional and personal achievements, it celebrates the diversity of colleagues’ talents and of them as individuals and it has a real feel of connecting people in a very social and non-corporate way.  It is a fine example of the kind of culture that we are trying to build across the Council – by the staff for the staff.


Saying “thank you and well done” – Star Awards 2016

What a fantastic time last night at the Beach Ballroom for the 2016 Star Awards. Thank you so much to the Projects Team for all their hard work bringing together such a superb event – Gail Woodcock, Grace Milne, Gordon McDade, Tara-Erin Gilchrist, Fiona Cochrane, Mo Wasi, Paula Fullerton, David Leslie and Carol Wright.

Congratulations to our winners this year:

People’s Champion – Davie Henderson

Collaboration – Waste and Recycling Team

Shining Star – Scott Bruce

Innovation – Northfield Total Place Project

Shaping Aberdeen Culture – Doug McKenzie

Rising Star – Erica Manfroi

Well done to all, and well done too to those shortlisted and those nominated.

As I said in my opening remarks last night:

“I’d just like to pause and reflect on just how important it is to acknowledge the work that Council colleagues do across the City 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.  It’s tremendous to have an evening like this as an annual highpoint celebrating the work, effort, commitment and service delivered by individuals and teams in order to make a real difference to people’s lives here in Aberdeen.

We’ll certainly celebrate with tonight’s winners.

But I think it’s just as important for us to ensure that during each of the other 364 days in the year we all take the time to say thank you.  Working for the Council, we’re all public servants and I think we all know that it can sometimes be a thankless task.  I’m not saying my office never receives e-mails providing compliments on what the Council does, but they can be so rare that each one that arrives is memorable! 

And before anyone says it, I know this is not because we never do a good job – it’s because that when we don’t, it can be a cause for complaint.

Good work, first-class service can go unacknowledged and unremarked, that’s why I passionately believe that we should acknowledge it, we should remark on it year-round whenever and wherever we see it.”