Publication of budget report highlights scale and impact of financial challenge

This afternoon the budget report has been published and I know the detail will be of interest to all staff, highlighting potential impacts across the organisation with wide ranging proposals.

There are many options contained in the report and appendices. These include revenue generation ideas and changes to fees and charges to increase our income in the face of diminishing central funding as well as changes to the way we deliver services or the levels of service provided to bridge the funding gap we face.

It is important to stress that no decisions have been taken on any of these measures. The report is for elected members to consider when the Council budget meeting takes place in the Town House chamber on March 5.

Following that meeting I will be able to outline the choices that have been made and the next steps for us as an organisation as we implement the council’s decisions.

Between now and Tuesday’s budget meeting there will undoubtedly be a great focus on the contents of the report, both in the media and of course from Council staff. I’d encourage everyone to take the opportunity to read the papers and build understanding of the budget process that underpins everything we do.

The final figure for the funding gap we face for 2019/20 is £41.2m and there are difficult decisions facing members in relation to many of the budget options. I explained more about the reasons for this gap previously, but essentially it stems from reduced funding coupled with increased costs and rising demand.

We know from past experience that the period between papers being published and decisions being made in the chamber leads to uncertainty and I would encourage any member of staff with questions relating to the content of the budget report to raise those with their line manager or Chief Officer.

There will be further communication, both corporately and at cluster level, following the budget meeting when we have clear instructions for officers on the options that have been adopted to close the budget gap for the year ahead.

2019/20 budget: Update on report publication

As we near another important milestone in the build-up to the Council budget meeting on March 5, I’m keen to provide a brief update.

As outlined previously, a great deal of work has been carried out to draft the budget report containing the options proposed to bridge the funding gap we face of between £40million and £50m.

The papers will be published next week, with the timings subject to the report being finalised and processed for publication online in the usual manner. When they are available I’ll ensure notification through my blog and by email.

Given the scale of the financial challenge we face for 19/20 there will inevitably be impacts felt across the organisation and the report will provide the first in-depth detail for staff and the wider public.

I’d urge everyone to take the opportunity to read the budget packs when they are available next week and build knowledge on the process that shapes the daily work of the Council – something we’re also attempting to do externally, with a new video led by Jonathan Belford to be shared this week through our social media channels.

I’m committed to providing further context and explanation of the key elements of the budget and will do that at the earliest opportunity when the report is published and also following the decisions made by Council on March 5.

Starting the week with thanks for jobs well done

We’re all familiar with taking positives from the challenges we face day to day in the Council and the past few days have put that in the spotlight.

On Friday I had the privilege of speaking at our celebration for Care Day and it was really uplifting session. There’s tremendous work being done to address the inequalities faced by our care experienced community and it’s important we acknowledge that, continue the important conversation and keep building momentum.


Thank you once again to everyone who played a part in organising our Care Day event, to all who attended and to colleagues who wore red on the day to show support – but most of all, thanks to the individuals and teams who every day to make a difference to the lives of care experienced young people and adults throughout the city.

As an organisation we protect and look after people in many different ways and in often unpredictable circumstances. Isla Newcombe, our recently appointed Chief Officer for Organisational Development, has had first-hand experience of that over the past week and I’d like to pass on my appreciation for Isla’s efforts – ably assisted by colleagues from various services.

Isla was on call as Duty Emergency Response  Coordinator for the first time, part of a rota shared by Chief Officers to manage our response to the wide range of incidents that the Council encounters, and had to contend with not one but two fire incidents.

The first I mentioned in my blog last week was in a block of mixed ownership properties, with some Council tenants impacted, whilst the second, in the early hours of Sunday morning, was in a block of private properties on St Clair Street.

Whether Council tenants or homeowners, our duty of care in emergency situations is no different and Isla, supported by Derek McGowan and his teams, was able to ensure those who required temporary accommodation were looked after in their time of need.

Care Day and incident response span very different areas of work, but both are positive examples of the way we serve the people and the place in the most testing of circumstances.

A note of thanks for Richmond Walk response

Colleagues from various functions and clusters were involved in a swift and comprehensive response to a fire in a residential block at Richmond Walk last night.

My thanks go to everyone who was involved, from the coordination of the Council’s duties through to arranging accommodation for those who needed it and the support from building services on the ground as emergency services dealt with the incident.

It was a real collaborative effort and I’m always proud to see the way individuals and teams from across the organisation come together so quickly and effectively. Well done to all who played a part.

Your success matters to me

In these times of significant change, both communication and engagement are important. I hope the various blog posts are helpful in term of keeping everyone informed.

We’re certainly seeing lots of staff engagement at the moment. Whether its staff engaging in the design of the new behaviour framework,  putting cost saving ideas forward for the budget or being involved in one of the many transformation projects – it’s fantastic to see. By being involved and engaged, I believe it will increase our sense of control as we continue through our change journey.

Understandably some colleagues may be questioning the need  for and value  of a new behaviour framework. There’s plenty of evidence that shows that most transformation efforts fail because the organisations have not aligned the organisational culture to the hopes and ambitions of the transformation programmes.

Our transformation programme, has identified seven capabilities that we need to build across the organisation if we are to fully realise the benefits of the target operating model.

The draft behaviour framework is deliberately aligned to these seven organisational capabilities. Work is already underway on developing a capability framework for us as staff and, again, this is being aligned completely to the seven organisational capabilities.

So the work on the behaviour framework is a deliberate attempt to try and influence the culture of our organisation. The alignment between our culture and our transformation, will increase our chances of success in ensuring we are a council fit for the 21st century, living within the financial means afforded to us.

I’d like to take the opportunity to thank everyone who has shaped the behaviour framework and we’ll certainly be presenting your views to the staff governance committee in March when we ask members for their approval.

Once approved, the behaviour framework will then be a feature of everyone’s personal objectives and performance appraisals. It will be down to us to live up to the principles we adopt.

I regularly read  the ideas put forward by staff on the Ideas Hub and there’s certainly no shortage of them. It’s a great platform and if you haven’t tried it out, I’d encourage you to do so – whether that’s by sharing your own idea or simply liking someone else’s suggestion. Give it a go!

I’ve been reading closely the thread of comments on the Star Awards. I hope the concerns about wasting public resource have been allayed by the confirmation that the event is sponsored.

In my mind, the team of volunteers who drive the star awards are incredibly selfless and are entirely motivated by the act of recognising the contribution our colleagues make to the city.  These colleagues are continuing to deliver their formal day jobs and have volunteered their own time to deliver the awards. I’m sure the comments are not intended to sound ungrateful for the commitment these volunteers continue to show and I’d like to repeat my previous thanks to all those colleagues,  past and present,  who have supported the event.

Having said that, I do have some sympathy with the comments being expressed by colleagues. In these challenging financial times, particularly when we are having to reduce our workforce, I can see why colleagues might be nervous about the appropriateness of and perceptions of us celebrating.

Given the long term financial outlook our sector faces however,  if we align our choices about championing staff success to our financial fortunes, we may never be in the position to celebrate. That sits uncomfortably with me personally but also flies in the face of what staff have said in response to the staff surveys of 2014, 2016 and the current engagement on the behaviour principles – where there has been a resounding message about recognising and appreciating staff.

We must not allow ourselves as a workforce to be defined entirely by our continuing financial pressures or challenges, but instead to be defined by how we are continuing to deliver services within this context.

I think it’s important that we all feel responsible for each other’s success and that we want to be a part of celebrating those achievements. This sense of shared responsibility for the good work we do is critical to creating the culture we need in order to be successful as an organisation.

It is important to hear the views of all those who wish to share an opinion because, of course, there may be different ways to support each other’s success and to celebrate it.  It  takes courage to express views in the way colleagues have on this matter,  so thank you for doing that.  Both disagreement and agreement represent engagement and I appreciate the contributions.

This is an important  issue that we need to navigate together. So I’d like to offer to meet a range of colleagues with different views on the star awards and let’s see what, together, we can agree are ways to support, encourage and celebrate each others success. I’d also like to invite our trade union colleagues to participate in the discussion.

I know the challenge many will face in engaging in a face to face conversation due to work patterns, so I’ll ask Isla Newcombe (Chief Officer for People and Organisation) to arrange a selection of different sessions as well as an online way to engage in discussing a range of alternatives. Details will follow and I look forward to reporting back on the next steps.


Celebrating Care Day with our guests of honour

Friday brings a very important date on the calendar – Care Day. It’s a time for celebration, reflection and action that has its roots in Scotland but has been embraced internationally since being established in 2015.

You may have seen the post on The Zone urging colleagues to wear red to show their support, which is just one of a number of initiatives and events taking place in Aberdeen on Friday.

Most importantly we’ll be joined by guests of honour as we welcome some of the city’s care experienced young people to the Town House to mark Care Day, together with carers and many of our own Council officers in our role as corporate parents.

Care Day is about celebrating the shift in attitudes around the lives of care experienced young people – but at the same time as celebrating, I think it’s vital that we acknowledge there’s a lot of work still to be done.

I’ve written before about the inequalities that we have to tackle and the importance of our commitment to corporate parenting. If you can spare the time to watch the video I first posted in May last year, please do – it tells the story far better than I ever could.



Care Day is also a focus for connecting the care community and harnessing the experiences, good and bad, on all sides to make improvements for young people today and those who will need our care in the future. On a related note, I’ll take the opportunity to highlight a recent post on the need for new foster carers in the north-east – you can find out more here.

The organisers, Who Cares? Scotland, sum it up perfectly when they say the main goal that we should all be working towards  is ensuring care experienced people get the love, rights and relationships they deserve.

I must put on record my thanks to all the colleagues who have been working on the Council’s contribution to Care Day – but most importantly to the far wider group across the organisation and our partners who work tirelessly every day to make a difference to the lives of young people.

Along with our partners (Police Scotland, NHS Grampian, the Aberdeen City Health and Social Care Partnership and ACVO representing the third sector) we are currently going through a Joint Inspection of Services for Children and Young People.

It’s an incredibly important and painstaking process, with the external inspectors rigorous in their assessment and demanding in terms of the requirements on our Council colleagues in Integrated Children’s and Family Services.

Any queries or feedback relevant to the inspection can be sent to the team by email and more information on the integrated approach in Aberdeen can be found here.

The hard work around the inspection is essential if we’re to continue to improve and striving to build on the progress that has already been made. I know I speak for all partners when I say there is total commitment to ensuring Aberdeen is a place where every young person has the chance to fulfil their potential and to be nurtured and supported every step of the way.

As a Council there is no greater responsibility than our duty of care to those we serve. Friday is a great chance to mark that together with towns and cities across the country.

Customers and staff provide a valuable insight into our digital journey

I had the pleasure of spending time with our customer experience team on the frontline at Marischal College and the Regional Contact Centre at Frederick Street last week.

My thanks go to everyone who made Andrew Howe and I so welcome, with staff and customers taking time to provide a valuable insight into the journey we’re on as an organisation.

Andrew, in his role as Chief Officer for Digital and Technology, is working with his team to drive positive change in the way we deliver services and support residents and businesses.

Every week more online options are going live, with the digital school admissions system benefiting thousands of parents and carers when it was launched last month and many more processes now being available through our website.

What we saw during the time we spent with staff and customers was the human side that has to stay at the forefront of our thinking. We’ve all got a big part to play as individuals in supporting the channel shift from traditional to digital.

Some customers simply need a gentle steer in the right direction when it comes to the online options and are enthusiastic about the ease with which they can now interact with the Council and carry out the tasks that are important to them.

We saw several people who had visited or phoned to access services already digitised – unaware they could now do that from the comfort of their own home at any time of day or night, which would have brought real advantages to them and also reduced demand on our staff. The positive thing is they’ll be aware next time and that knowledge is growing across our customer base.

Equally there are customers who may not have the same access or confidence to self-serve in this way and there is work for us to do as a Council to ensure the support is in place to maintain and enhance equality in every aspect of our service to customers. We need to be taking people with us on the journey.

The phrase ‘people first’ is crucial as our digital work gathers pace – we exist to serve the people of Aberdeen and technology will help us to do that, but certainly not at the expense of core values in customer service. Efficiency will give staff more time to devote to those who most need our support.

Thanks again to all those who extended such a warm welcome and I’m looking forward to further opportunities to see at first-hand the way in which our transformation is being embraced across the organisation.

Our Guiding Principles – have your say

With one week left to have your say, I’d encourage everyone to take part in shaping the Council’s Guiding Principles.

If you haven’t already you can find out more in a blog and a vlog post from Isla Newcombe,  Chief Officer for Organisational Development, or go ahead and take part in the survey.

Our Guiding Principles will give a shared sense of what it means to work for Aberdeen City Council.

More than ever we need to be working together and pulling in the same direction. The Principles will give voice to the otherwise unwritten rules that help us to offer challenge and support to each other at every level – and to the way decisions are made and the processes that are in place. They will help us to deliver the transformation that we need to meet the challenges we face now and continue to face into the future. Most importantly they will have been created by us all.

Around 800 people from teams across the organisation were involved in shaping the themes and now it’s incredibly important that you have your say before the Principles are finalised.

My thanks go to all who have played a part so far, with every contribution valued, and I look forward to sharing the final version with you towards the end of March.

Budget process: Further update following publication of financial report

Following on from my earlier note on the budget setting process, two significant steps have been taken this morning and I am keen to share those with all staff.

Firstly the Council’s latest quarterly financial report has been published and will be considered by members at the City Growth and Resources Committee on February 7. The report can be viewed here.

The report outlines the pressures we are experiencing in 2018/19 and shows continued prudence in the weeks ahead is essential.

It also adds more detail on the 2019/20 budget and specifically on the scale of the challenge. As mentioned previously, the funding gap we face due to decreasing funding and increasing cost pressures is far greater than we could have anticipated.

As the committee report states, we are working on the basis of a 2019/20 gap of between £40million and £50m. I appreciate those numbers will be concerning, but I can assure you that we are being proactive as we work towards setting a balanced budget next month.

There are many variables still to be determined before Council meets on March 5 to set the annual budget, but the final figure will clearly be significant.

We received notification yesterday afternoon of additions to our settlement as the result of the ongoing budget process in the Scottish Parliament and welcome positive steps. We’ll consider the implications of those changes ahead of our own budget meeting as we focus on the £40m to £50m gap we must bridge.

Today the Co-Leaders met with city stakeholders to brief them on the challenges and to encourage the partnership working that will be so important as we continue to work towards meeting our shared aims.

On the theme of engagement, I’ve been greatly encouraged by the response from across the Council following the invitation to share your ideas and views over the past week.  You can still play a part through the Transformation Zone.

Thank you once again for your support and valued contributions.