School closures – Coronavirus

Dear Colleague

Today the First Minister announced that it is inevitable that mainstream schools will shut. The assumption is that they will be closed by the end of the week. What’s more, the First Minister has said that she cannot promise that schools will reopen before summer.

As a parent, I appreciate the disruption this may cause for colleagues who have children in city schools and further afield. I also very much appreciate the uncertainty this creates around future domestic arrangements.

However, I think I speak for everyone when I say that with respect to schools the priority must be the health and welfare our children, and that must come first when deciding the next steps. In particular, we need to give thought to how we protect the most vulnerable members of our communities and enable the ongoing delivery of vital services.

The Council will continue to follow government guidance, and we await an update tomorrow. As I write colleagues in education and other services are working on measures to keep children and indeed the wider community safe in what is an evolving situation. We are also looking for ways as an employer to support staff who have children of school age in the weeks ahead.

These are unprecedented times, not just for families, but for everyone. I thank you for your continuing support will update you when we have more details.

Could we be council of the year?

At the start of January I announced that we had been shortlisted by the LGC awards for awards in three categories:

  • Campaign of the Year
  • Community Involvement
  • Council of the Year

For the first two nominations, colleagues visited London last week to deliver their pitch and answer judges’ questions. You can read more about their experience below.

For Council of the Year, we had the exciting and daunting experience of live judging this week! We welcomed three judges to our city and showcased some of the great things we’ve achieved together over the past 12 months.

The LGC Awards celebrate excellence in local government. Click the image above to see the final shortlist for 2020.

In preparing for their visit, I was honoured to be reminded of all the amazing work we do across the city. At the forefront of our bid for Council of the Year is the story of us, the employees of Aberdeen City Council, and of what we collectively achieve when we pull together as one team. It’s the story of how we’re building communities with communities, working together in partnership to make things better and helping everyone to prosper.

I would like you to join me in this celebration by visiting the photo gallery, which we used as part of the judges’ visit. It has been reassembled for you on the Lower Ground Floor of Marischal College outside the glass lifts and will remain there until Friday 7th February. I encourage you to take a look, you’ll probably see some familiar faces!

Being one of six finalists for Council of the Year – and the only one in Scotland – is an accolade in itself and I know that whatever the final decision in March, we can all take a huge amount of pride in being in the running for such prestigious awards. We all play our part.

Nominations open today for the 2020 Star Awards

Award season is upon us.  Announcements have already been made for the OSCARS and BAFTAS and now I am pleased to announce that from today nominations are open for our very own awards.

The Star Awards give us the chance to celebrate the successes of the past year (we have after all been nominated for the LGC Council of the Year) and to recognise colleagues for their hard work.

We are a large organisation, across many disciplines and locations and these awards not only offer you the chance to praise a colleague or highlight a project but they can help forge stronger bonds between services by calling attention to the wide range of work we do.

I am always grateful for the dedication of everyone works who at Aberdeen City Council.  There are thousands of staff across the organisation and the commitment you all show toward the City and improving the way we do business is second to none.

We should all be proud of the work we all do for the city and I want to encourage you all to nominate a colleague or team that you think have excelled in the past year.  This is our opportunity to show members of ‘Team Aberdeen’ that we value their contribution.

The deadline for nominations is Friday 21st February.

Nominate and find out more at Star Awards

Happy New Year. Welcome back.

I hope you all had a fantastic time over the festive period and as always, I would like to offer my thanks and appreciation to everyone who was on duty or on call over the past fortnight.

The year ahead is likely to be another of continued challenge, but I have no doubt that working as one team we can also make it a year of opportunity.

We certainly have a few things to look forward to in the first few weeks of 2020.

Aberdeen City Council have been nominated for the Council of the Year category in the LGC Awards. These are much coveted awards across the UK and Aberdeen is the only Scottish representative in the list of finalists.

It is proof, not that I had any doubt, that the hard work and committed from across ACC to transform the way we do our business is exemplar. This nomination is a great achievement and I am proud of each and everyone of you. The winner will be announced at the awards ceremony on the 18th  March.

We have also been nominated for two further categories:  Campaign of the Year and Community Involvement. Our nomination for campaign of the year, reflects the significant progress we’ve made to move transactions on line and the use of an extensive social media campaign to assist this. Our nomination for Community Involvement reflects the significant expansion of our work with communities and the empowerment of such communities. Both awards feature the execution of our Target Operating model and its fantastic to see these deliberate approaches being recognized. Read my previous blog to find out more. 

I am also excited to welcome Spectra back to Aberdeen in 2020.  It makes a welcome return to the city on 13th February with an exciting programme themed on Scotland’s national year of ‘Coast and Waters’.  It will be great to see the light artworks once again brighten up our dark February nights and I look forward to the announcement of the full programme in the New Year.

These are just two of the many things happening in Aberdeen and the council this year and I look forward to working with you all throughout the year.

Again, my thanks for all your hard work and commitment. Let’s make 2020 one to remember.

Merry Christmas and thank you for a memorable year

I’d like to take this opportunity to wish a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to everyone at Aberdeen City Council as well as to your family, loved ones and friends.

Your dedication and commitment to Team Aberdeen is very much appreciated and has been at the heart of some fantastic achievements throughout 2019.

I’d like to offer an extra vote of thanks to the many colleagues who will be on duty over the festive period to ensure the smooth running of services and to maintain the care and support we provide to our customers. As a busy city authority, our work never stops and the efforts over the holiday periods deserve special praise.

It has been an exciting year for Aberdeen, with several big-ticket projects coming to fruition.

We opened the doors to the lovingly restored and expanded Aberdeen Art Gallery – if you haven’t been already, the weeks ahead will hopefully provide a chance to explore an amazing venue.

The Music Hall too is nearing its first full year after extensive refurbishment and of course P&J Live is a hive of activity after its summer opening, bringing a world class facility to the region and already attracting global acts and breaking records in the process.

These are truly remarkable achievements and great additions to the city and the region.

We’ve had wonderful events – including Nuart, The Tour Series and Great Aberdeen Run – and there are more to come in 2020 as Spectra returns and The Tour of Britain rolls into the north-east for the first time.

These are just some of the headline grabbing projects and we can all take great pride in the way these are helping to transform the city.

What we should take just as much pride in, if not more, is the work of colleagues every hour of every day that so often goes under the radar but is making a difference to the lives of those we serve.

From the care we provide to young people in our schools and through integrated children’s services, to the support we provide to individuals and families through our housing and homelessness teams, from the work with partners in Food and Fun to ensure children are being catered for in school holidays to the access to free sanitary products that has been rolled out throughout the city, from the hard work of our winter maintenance teams to the patience and advice our customer service staff provide on the frontline.

The list is long and growing – the impact on the lives of the people of Aberdeen on a daily basis is something that is difficult to quantify but is very real and deserves recognition. Every member of staff has a different role to play and, with the introduction of our new Guiding Principles, we have seen the Team ethos shining through this year.

I’d like to highlight another of those principles that’s particularly relevant at this time of year – Purpose, and the way we care about our city and our people.

Care for each other and all of those who fall under our wing, both at work and at home, is so important over the festive period.

We work closely with SAMH and the annual suicide prevention message is a timely reminder that this time of year is one of great contrasts. The advice below will resonate with us all in different ways, please do share as widely as you can. There is always help and support available for staff and those we serve, there should be no hesitation in reaching out.

Once again, my thanks go to those who will be on duty for the Council over the weeks ahead and to all for your endeavours over the past 12-months.

Whatever you are doing this festive season, best wishes to you and yours for Christmas and New Year.

Suicide Help - christmas message

Looking to the future following budget and climate change decisions

Last week’s City Growth and Resources Committee meeting included a number of significant pieces of business that will shape the future of the Council and the city.

The first, as highlighted in advance, was the report on the 2020/21 budget. Members noted the approach being taken and have the context for the decisions they will make in March when setting priorities at the budget meeting.

There are clearly challenges to be met but also opportunities to continue to improve, embracing the advances that digital technology brings in every area of operations.

Further updates will follow at team and cluster level as we move through the next stages of the budget cycle, with detailed options to be presented in the spring.

The report to committee reiterated our desire to have more certainty about our financial position in the medium to long term – central funding is currently allocated year to year by the Scottish Government and we are not alone in seeking a change to that approach.

On the theme of taking a long term view, committee also supported the Aberdeen Adapts strategy on climate change.

Measures to safeguard people, place and the economy are identified and it is a very important piece of work. My appreciation goes to all who were involved in shaping the strategy and for the ongoing work to ensure the Council is leading the city’s response to the very real issues we face in relation to climate change. That includes the many partners and stakeholders who supported our officers in preparing such a comprehensive framework, with Sinclair Laing, Alison Leslie and their team leading the project and our wider work in this area in Gale Beattie’s Strategic Place Planning Cluster.

The necessity to act now was highlighted by the independent Economic Policy Panel in its annual report and to underline our commitment a motion at last week’s meeting was agreed by councillors to develop a new Net Zero Transition Plan, designed to encourage investment by both the Scottish and UK governments in a low carbon future in Aberdeen.

The city, for so long the oil and gas capital of Europe, is rapidly becoming a centre for energy transition – harnessing the expertise and skills we have to innovate in the race to net zero.

That theme ran prominently through the panel’s annual report, with the overarching message one of cautious optimism for the city and region’s economic outlook.

The findings pointed towards the latest data showing the north-east economy stabilising after challenging times. Recent indicators suggest that growth – albeit modest – is likely to have returned during 2018 and 2019. Employments levels and earnings have also increased in the past 12-months, but there is acknowledgement that a lot of hard work remains in front of us as we aim to build momentum.

In their report, the panel members underlined the continuing significance of the oil and gas sector but stressed the need for diversification within both the energy sector and the wider regional economy.

Challenges identified included the transition to a net zero emissions economy and population ageing, with the panel calling for bold action across the public, private and university sectors.

As ever, Aberdeen will be at the forefront in acting on the recommendations and the Council will be a driving force.

Whilst there is much political uncertainty at present, what we can be sure of is that all parties are committed to energy transition and we are also seeing growing support in our communities, the business sector and all parts of society. We will use  the work we’ve done to date as a springboard for further positive action, as evidenced in our climate change report, to support the city and the Council’s transition.

What’s also certain is that demand for council services continues to look like it will outstrip available funding and therefore the focus within our budget options on continuing to reshape the council is vital. Throughout 2019 we have continued to lay very solid foundations and in 2020 we’ll carry on building towards a sustainable and vibrant future.

An opportunity to show our support for festive food drive

A shorter than normal post from me today – I think the poster below speaks for itself, a timely reminder that this time of year can be so difficult for so many people in our city and across the country.

Nobody should be going hungry, nobody should be worrying about where the next meal will come from. Unfortunately the reality is it is happening every day for thousands of individuals and families.

That type of inequality is magnified over the festive period and I made mention in a recent blog post of the stresses and strains that Christmas can create in so many different ways.

Our teams have different roles to play in supporting and caring in times of need, but we also rely on our valued third sector partners as part of that vital network.

The Council supports CFINE’s work in tackling food poverty, including through funding, but we have the opportunity to contribute on a personal level through the crates that will be in place in kitchens in Marischal College from Monday.

Every donation is welcome and I know our staff always give generously. Thank you in advance for your support and for making a difference this Christmas.

CFINE Poster

Launch of new intranet marks fresh approach to communication

You will notice a significant positive change when you open up your web browser for the first time this morning, with the launch of our new intranet. 

The fresh, clean and intuitive site has been designed as part of the wider work to improve internal communication and engagement. My thanks go to Isla Newcombe and Andrew Howe and their teams, with Paula FullertonDamien Bird and Chris Sellar central to this workstream. 

Utilising Office 365 and representing another benefit of our collaboration with Microsoft, the new intranet is a SharePoint platform and incorporates a number of new features that will help foster the two-way communication that is so important to us as we evolve.  

In particular, the introduction of Yammer will allow colleagues from all parts of the Council to engage with each other in an open forum that will encourage innovation and collaboration.  

I’d encourage everyone to embrace the opportunities Yammer presents and at the same time reiterate the importance of upholding our guiding principles. In particular, we should always be respectful of colleagues when ideas are being aired and discussions are taking place – that applies online just as it does in any other part of the working day.  

Yammer is one of many elements of the new intranet that we expect to be well used, with a variety of possibilities opening up through the use of a Microsoft solution. Delve is another of those, which will enable us to find and collaborate with colleagues in new ways and is particularly pertinent given the feedback from previous staff surveys about the difficulties in that respect.  

Please take the time to explore the new site and familiarise yourself with it. Today’s launch is very much the first stage, with opportunities for each of us to help shape the development of the intranet and ensure it meets the needs of the organisation. The success of the new intranet relies on your participation and interactionjoin in straight away by updating your Delve profile and recognising the work of others in the Celebrating Success page, which has been built by colleagues from across the councilThe beauty of our digital platforms is they will constantly improve and change to mirror the journey of the organisation, with the intranet built with that type of iterative approach in mind.  

I appreciate many colleagues have relied on The Zone for different functions and resources. It’s important to stress nothing has been lost and access to the old site has been included as a link from the new intranet.  

I’m confident once you have had the chance to explore the new site there will be no looking back to what has gone before and our new intranet will grow at pace. With plans for more regular updates and easier access for users to post and share information, it promises to be a really exciting step forward in our ambitions to create a more inclusive and engaging environment that supports the focus on Purpose, Pride, Team, Trust and Value. 

City Growth and Resources Committee: Report on 2020/21 budget

This afternoon papers for the City Growth and Resources Committee meeting on 5 December were published, with a report on the 2020/21 budget included on the agenda.

I would encourage you to take the time to read the report, which provides a detailed overview of the challenges we face from a financial perspective and, in response, the opportunities being developed to continue changing and improving service delivery.

We can expect media and public interest in the report and its content in the days ahead and I am keen to provide you with a summary in advance of those headlines.

As you are aware, in the current financial year a range of revenue generation and cost saving measures are being implemented to bridge a funding gap of £41.2m for 2019/20.

A combination of reduced grant funding coupled with increasing costs and rising demand led to the 2019/20 gap and those same factors will be pressures in the 2020/21 budget.

Due to the General Election, both the Scottish and UK budgets have been delayed. This leads to uncertainty for local authorities in terms of the funding settlement from the Scottish Government, so the report to committee next week is based on informed assumptions.

On that basis, at the moment we are predicting a gap in the region of £38m to be bridged in 2020/21. Financial challenges of this scale are forecast to continue for the foreseeable future and underline the importance of the transformation journey we are on and the efficiencies that must continue to be delivered to ensure a sustainable future.

The focus will continue to be on ensuring the best outcomes for individuals and communities and ensuring resources are being directed to the areas that will deliver for the people and place.

Demand management and early intervention will remain overarching themes and the natural contraction of the workforce, managed whilst maintaining the political commitment to no compulsory redundancies, has also been a central strand. This has been possible due to the increased focus on harnessing digital technology to better meet the needs of customers and staff by providing more efficient services, and through changing the way we work – breaking down siloes and working flexibly with colleagues. The recently approved new approach to the internal movement of staff underlines the proactive focus we have.

This is reflected in the report to be considered by members of the City Growth and Resources Committee next week. The paper is being brought before councillors to outline the approach and anticipated challenges for the new financial year, but it is important to stress detailed options will not be considered until full Council meets for the annual budget meeting in March.

In the interim period, there will be opportunities to provide input and feedback in your individual teams, clusters and functions as we work towards the final budget report.

During a period of stark public sector challenges, financial constraints and economic uncertainty Aberdeen City Council has led from the front to build for the future – physically, culturally and socially. We can take great pride in the ability to innovate and evolve that we have demonstrated. That journey will continue in 2020/21 and I thank you in advance for your support and continued dedication to serving the people and place.


Taking a strategic approach to … strategy

Strategies, policies, frameworks, protocols, guidance, legislation. In local government, our work is shaped by all of these and more.

It can be a difficult landscape to navigate through and in response to that a very valuable piece of work has been undertaken to streamline our approach.

At the Strategic Commissioning Committee last week, elected members approved a new Strategy Framework to mark a very positive step forward that will benefit us all as employees of the Council.

Led by Fraser Bell and Vikki Cuthbert, supported by a power of work across various clusters, the process has taken a forensic look at the various strategies that shape our work as an organisation.

The report to committee set out  a clean, coherent picture of the strategies of Council  that will support the organisation in delivering its contribution to the outcomes as set out in the Local Outcome Improvement Plan   Whilst also showing the city and regional partnership strategies which contribute to the achievement of the LOIP outcomes.


The report can be viewed here and a recent webinar hosted by Fraser and Martin Murchie touches on strategy and the wider approach. I would encourage you to take the time to read and watch, it’s such an important part of what we are working towards.

My thanks go to everyone who has played a part in the Strategy Framework – a very concise and easy to read report belies the complexity and the level of detail involved in taking us to this stage.

It is integral to the commissioning approach that is being embedded, designed to ensure our resources are aligned to the areas of delivery that will deliver the best outcomes for the city and those we serve.