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.