Thank you to our Career Ready mentors – and a final call to get involved

I posted last month about the success of our Career Ready interns and the impact they made during their time with the Council. With that cohort now taking the next steps on their career path, we’re looking forward to welcoming the next intake.

My thanks go to the 12 mentors from across the organisation who have pledged their support to a fantastic programme and to supporting the young people who will join us.

There is still time to get involved as a mentor, with the deadline for registrations falling on Tuesday. Alison Paterson has done a power of work in embedding Career Ready within the Council and would be delighted to hear from you.

The Career Ready programme is a national initiative supported by a growing number of employers in the private and public sector.

It is designed to give secondary pupils, drawn from S5 and S6, an opportunity to raise their aspirations and take the first steps on the path to rewarding futures.

Twelve schools from across the city and Shire took part in the last programme, including our own Harlaw Academy, Hazlehead Academy, Lochside Academy, Northfield Academy, Oldmachar Academy and St Machar Academy.

I can’t emphasise enough how rewarding I have found mentoring to be and I’d highly recommend getting involved.

Wheels continue to turn as council cycle gathers pace

As we emerge out of the summer holiday period, there are some important dates looming on the horizon and it feels like an ideal opportunity to provide an update on where the focus will be in the weeks and months ahead.

Welcome back to those who have had leave and thank you to all those who have worked throughout the summer to maintain services and continue to provide care and support for all those we serve. I know that for many, the traditional holiday times are actually the busiest of the working year.

Across the Council there will be a sense of momentum and pace as we look forward to the next steps on our transformation journey, balancing that with the demands of daily business.

The budget process transcends transformation and business as usual and there is an important change as we plan for 2020/21.

When the City Growth and Resources Committee met at the end of last month to sign-off on the accounts for the first quarter, an instruction was made by members for a report to be taken back to the 26 November meeting outlining the indicative budget options for 20/21.

Usually those options would be presented in time for the March budget meeting of full Council, but in recognition of the complexity and scale of the challenges we have faced in recent years there’s a push to have a longer period to consider the important decisions that each budget brings.

That instruction will have an impact on every area of the Council as each function and cluster feeds into the overarching budget preparation. By bringing the process forward there will be an onus on everyone to work diligently and efficiently to ensure the committee has the detail they have requested for the November agenda. That report will help shape the approach and final budget report to be tabled in time for decisions in March.

A great deal of valuable work has already been done in relation to a very deliberate change in approach when it comes to budgeting, which will be at the heart of the 20/21 plans. The focus is on understanding and managing demand and that will be crucial to our future success.

It’s a simple principle, but sitting behind it is a complex workstream which delves deep into the data we are building in relation to demand and the way in which we meet the needs of our customers now and in the future.

As we move through the second quarter of 2019/20 that work will continue, feeding into the budget process as we plan for 20/21 and beyond. It’s important that demand management is embraced in every corner of the Council and it’s vital that employees have the chance to shape the ongoing review of the services we provide, the way we deliver them and the opportunities to evolve and improve.

That engagement will take different forms in different areas – for example building services have led the way in embracing a new approach through a series of successful workshops – but there will be a common thread.

The process of service design should be an iterative one and didn’t stop with the implementation of the adoption of the Target Operating Model (TOM) and move to the interim structure.

Our ongoing service designs will help ensure that we are organised effectively to support our customers, guided by the experiences of our teams since the new functions and clusters were introduced.

The challenge is for all areas of the council to reflect on what has worked well, improve on aspects that may not have met expectations and to ensure we are embedding the collaborative approach that is such a huge part of the guiding principles – one team, one council, one city.

I look forward to sharing updates as we move forward and continue to build the Council of the future.

Team goals to the fore in a weekend of celebration for Aberdeen

Congratulations to the many staff from across the Council who took part in the Great Aberdeen Run on Sunday – I know there are some aching limbs this week, but lots of proud participants too!

It was another fantastic showcase for the city, with thousands of runners taking to the streets, and my thanks go to everyone who made it possible – teams from City Growth, Operations and Protective Services and External Communications were all on duty over the weekend to make sure the event ran smoothly as well as in the weeks and months leading up to it with support from many other clusters. They even arranged for the sun to shine!

The Great Aberdeen Run is a great example of the Team principle – one team, one Council, one city – on so many levels. We have worked hand in hand with partners including the Great Run Company, Visit Aberdeenshire and Aberdeen Inspired to deliver event over the past three years and the city has responded by signing up to take part as well as cheering runners on around the course.

The same community spirit was just as evident on Saturday when Celebrate Aberdeen took centre stage. We’re proud to support that fantastic celebration of the contribution the third sector makes to the city and I know how much the appreciation showed by the public means to the volunteers and staff from all the charities and organisations who take part in the parade and programme of events over the course of the weekend.

The Great Aberdeen Run has reached the end of its three-year contract, which partners have decided not to extend into next year, but other options to build on the foundations that have been built are being explored.

The Council has had an important role in attracting ambitious and high-profile events to the city in recent years – everything from the run and Tour Series cycling to Nuart and Spectra. The Aberdeen 365 events programme will continue to evolve and to keep the calendar fresh the line-up will change from year to year.

It has been great to see people embrace the Great Aberdeen Run during the past three years and I’m sure the response will be just the same to new additions, with the Tour of Britain’s debut in the north-east looming and Spectra returning in 2020 after a one year break. These events bring our communities and visitors together and it’s fantastic to see.

Attracting the Tour of Britain is a significant coup for the city and region, aided in no small part by the way our own teams supported the Tour Series events and, just as importantly, by the tremendous public reaction.

Great teamwork and partnerships are at the root of the success we have had and there’s a huge amount to look forward to in the remaining months of 2019 and the year ahead.

Thank you once again to everyone who made the weekend a special one for Aberdeen.

A role for all to play as EU Settlement Scheme registrations continue

Official statistics released recently show that 1 million resident EU, EEA and Swiss citizens and their family members have secured their rights to stay in the UK after Brexit through the EU Settlement Scheme.

It is an encouraging figure but does mean there are still more than 2m yet to apply. I’m mindful that some of our own colleagues are likely to be among that number.

One of Aberdeen’s great strengths is its diversity and we recognise the huge contribution the many nationalities represented within our own staff and their families make to the city, both economically and culturally. I want to ensure that valued employees from the EU who want to remain in Aberdeen after the exit date do so and I would encourage anyone who intends to register to visit the registration site.

The EU Settlement Scheme provides a simple process for EU, EEA and Swiss citizens who want to stay in the UK to get the UK immigration status they need after the UK leaves the European Union and protects the right to work, study and access benefits.  It’s free to apply via a short online process.

The deadline for applying will be 30 June 2021, or 31 December 2020 if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.

There is more information about the support we are offer as an employer on People Anytime.

I’d ask managers in particular to familiarise themselves with the information available and be mindful that many of our team members don’t have online access during the course of their working day, so may welcome guidance.

If you work with looked after children or care leavers, be conscious that all local authorities in Scotland have a duty to ensure that applications to the Scheme are made on behalf of all looked after children who are EU citizens and for whom they have parental responsibility.

We also have continuing duties to support care leavers up to age 26. Eligible care leavers will be required to make an application to the Scheme. We have a responsibility to ensure that care leavers are made aware of the need to do this and to make applications on behalf of eligible children in our care.

Our role as care professionals, colleagues and friends will vary but there is an important part we can all play in raising awareness and providing support.

Still time to get inquisitive about Appreciative Inquiry

You might recall I trailed the concept of Appreciative Inquiry in June and the work has been continuing behind the scenes to develop that further.

To recap briefly, Appreciative Inquiry works on the simple principle that we grow as individuals and teams by asking questions (and working towards finding the answers). The aim is to shift thinking towards identifying successes and strengths which provide a positive platform to build from, with a structured approach to seeking improvements and solutions.

It’s a way of turning the focus to what we want to create, grounding outcomes in past successes and the new guiding principles, as well as inspiring us all to embrace opportunities. By opening up positive discussion we hope to encourage creativity, increase buy-in and improve morale.

With that in mind a working group is being set up and my thanks to all those who have expressed an interest in getting involved, it promises to be an interesting and rewarding project.

The team are making a final call for anyone keen to take part, with the aim of finalising by the end of August. You can find out more here.

The initial focus for piloting AI will revolve around how we value each other and recognise a job well done, an essential part of the guiding principles and a great starting point for another really positive innovation.

Microsoft collaboration underlines digital ambition

The Council has been in the headlines over the past week as lots of the big-ticket items we’re delivering reach important milestones. From P&J Live and Union Terrace Gardens to council house building, they’re all very visible projects that will change Aberdeen in a really positive way.

There’s another news item this week that will also drive positive change – one that may not leap out from the front page of the newspapers in the same way, but shares the same ambition for the future of the city.

Microsoft has today published a media release that highlights a partnership with Aberdeen City Council and heralds what is a first for Scotland as we blaze a trail with the Cloud Navigator programme.

It represents the next phase of our digital transformation, with great success to date in a number of areas thanks to the endeavours of our in-house teams. Becoming the first Council in Scotland to introduce end to end online school admissions and the move by the registrars to online appointments are just two highlights in what has been a comprehensive programme, with Aberdeen leading the way among local authorities with the breadth and quality of our digital offering.

As we look to the next stage, there are various strands to the collaboration with Microsoft and more detail will be shared as the work takes shape.

At a high level, it will range from savings through moving from on-premise data storage to cloud solutions to exploring opportunities for Artificial Intelligence to be embraced as we use digital technology to better meet the needs of customers and staff. Expanding the use of Office 365 to enable employees to communicate more effectively is also a major focus.

Being able to call upon the expertise and global experience of Microsoft will be a huge advantage to us as our digital journey gathers pace and I’m excited about the path ahead.

The partnership working will bring Microsoft’s teams together with our own, particularly when it comes to looking at how modern cloud services can improve Council business functions. We hold the knowledge in terms of the processes that can be modernised to free up our time to spend with customers, they hold the key in terms of cutting-edge solutions.

Thank you in advance for welcoming in our Microsoft partners and working as one team.

I’ll certainly be taking the opportunity to find out more from our new Microsoft cohort, who will be working on the third floor at Marischal College as part of the unique collaboration, and we’ve all got a great chance to share ideas and challenges.

This is hugely ambitious programme and there will be opportunities to get involved, work with and learn from global technology leaders – with great benefits for Council customers and staff as we put digital at the heart of our transformation.

Congratulations to our P&J Live stars

I spoke last week of my enormous pride in the team behind the creation of The Event Complex Aberdeen, with the P&J Live entertainment and conference facilities at its centre, and after the celebrations over the past few days it’s important to once again thank all those who have played a part.

The opening ceremony on Thursday was followed by the preview event on Saturday and I know lots of our own staff were among the thousands who snapped up tickets.

The reaction to both events has been overwhelmingly positive and the complex is a shining light in terms of our ambitions for Aberdeen.

I make no apologies for repeating what I’ve said previously – the scale of the achievement by the project team and the many, many colleagues from across a huge range of Council services is phenomenal. We can all take inspiration from the way this project has been delivered – the Team principle in action.

Of course, with test events continuing and Offshore Europe around the corner the hard work is carrying on for those closest to the development.

In months and years to come, we will take a step back and truly appreciate the impact of what has been achieved and the social and economic benefits it has brought to the city and its residents. In the meantime, thank you once again to our teams and congratulations on a hugely important week.

New term, fresh faces thanks to success of early years initiative

Whisper it, but the school holidays are almost at an end. For one group in particular the start of term can’t come quickly enough as they embark on new careers as qualified Early Years Practitioners in our city settings.

All are existing members of Council staff who decided to put themselves forward for retraining and a change in career, successfully completing their traineeships in time for the start of the new academic year.

A celebration event is planned next month to mark their achievements as they head off to put their skills into practice as part of the ongoing expansion of Early Learning and Childcare provision. It’s such an important and rewarding role, giving children the best possible start in life and the chance to be the best they can be.

The response from staff to the opportunity to retrain has been excellent and very welcome as we aim to cater for demand in all of our communities.

A further 30 council employees will form cohort two and begin their traineeship in early years later this month. I wish all well as they start on an exciting new journey.

As part of our new Apprenticeship Scheme we’re also offering Modern Apprenticeships in early years as well a number of other areas of our business. These include care, housing, business administration and customer service, offering a positive destination for young people who are at the stage of choosing their career path.

Three information sessions have been held over the past week and the response was excellent, so we’ll start to see the green shoots very soon from the seeds that have been sown.

There will be lots of activity continuing around early years in particular and it’s a growth area that presents a variety of options. If you’re interested in finding out more, please contact the Talent Acquisition team within People and Organisation and they will be happy to provide information on all the training initiatives we’re developing.

Congratulations to all of our new Early Years Practitioners and best wishes to them and our new trainees for the start of term.

Going behind the scenes at TECA as momentous day looms large

This week marks two red letter days in the largest single project ever undertaken by Aberdeen City Council as The Event Complex Aberdeen bursts into life.

On Thursday the Co-Leaders will perform the official opening ceremony and on Saturday Preview @ P&J Live will welcome thousands of members of the public for a first glimpse inside the venue. Free tickets for the weekend’s event were quickly snapped up and there’s a real sense of anticipation around the unveiling of the complex.

I find it difficult to put into words the pride I feel when I visit the site and see what has been accomplished.

Aberdeen will have a truly world class facility, the largest development of its type in Europe, and it’s a project that symbolises the scale of the ambition we have for the city as well as, just as importantly for me, the wealth of talent we have within the Council.

It’s an undertaking that has brought teams together from all parts of the organisation – driven by project manager Andrew Win and Richard Sweetnam with their City Growth colleagues, led by Steve Whyte and the key clusters from Resources in Finance, Capital and Corporate Landlord but also with vital work from legal teams in Governance, from Strategic Place Planning at the outset, Commercial and Procurement, the roads and traffic experts as well as other teams in Operations and Protective Services and colleagues in External Communications.

There are many others within our own camp who have played a part, not to mention the valued partners from Henry Boot Developments and Robertson Group with the thousands of individual workers involved, and my sincere thanks go to everyone who has been on what is an incredible journey.

In the days ahead we’ll share more updates from the site, but I’m really keen to give those closest to the project the platform to share their memories as we celebrate a wonderful moment.  It’s well worth taking the time to watch the video with Andrew below to get a first-hand account.

As Andrew points out, although construction has been rapid – just three years to get to this point – the planning and preparation stretches back to 2012. So many have lived and breathed this development during that time and they can all walk ten feet tall this week as the finishing touches are made to a complex that will serve the city and region for decades to come.



Summer success for our teams

Congratulations are in order for the latest wave of achievements across the Council, with our Operations and Protective Services cluster reaping the benefits of the great collaborative approach they have adopted.

We’ve been notified that judges for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities Excellence Awards have taken the Aberdeen Communities Together (ACT) initiative forward to the next round as they prepare to select the 2019 finalists.

Making the COSLA longlist in the Achieving Better Outcomes in Partnership category is a great achievement for Environmental Manager Steven Shaw and the team. I may be biased, but ACT is already a winner in my eyes!

It brings together various organisations, including friends groups and public sector partners, as well as thousands of volunteers with the common goal of improving the environment and inspiring civic pride throughout the city – both among staff and residents.

More than 150 partnerships are part of ACT. A lot of work goes in to coordinating the efforts, but it is certainly worthwhile.

On a related note, we recently had the great news that six of our greenspaces have been awarded Green Flag status – another cause for celebration.

Duthie Park, Hazlehead Park, Johnston Gardens, Seaton Park, Slopefield Allotments and Victoria Park have all been recognized. It’s another example of the dedication and care that goes into these areas, from our own teams and from the many volunteers who play their part in tending to them.

Well done to all involved.

In a very different area of our operations, the Aberdeen Scientific Services Laboratory’s success in renewing its United Kingdom Accreditation Service accreditation was reported through the Public Protection Committee earlier in the summer.

The laboratory provides analytical services to a wide range of local authority and private clients, with a team of 20 in the Operations and Protective Services cluster. Everything from food sampling to monitoring agricultural products, potable water, swimming pools, legionella, air quality, surface and ground waters and leachates from landfill sites falls under the wing of the lab.

It’s one of the less visible Council services – but as you can see from that list, it is crucial in fulfilling our duty of protecting the people and place from harm.

My appreciation goes to the team for their diligence in what is a rigorous audit process.

Attention will turn to achievements of an academic nature this week, with the SQA results due out on Tuesday.

Good luck to the young people (and parents and carers!) who are awaiting news and thank you to the teachers and school staff who will be on hand over the holiday period to lend support and advice.