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.

ACC_5253FB

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.

 

 

2019/20 budget setting process gathers pace

On March 5, Elected Members will meet to agree Aberdeen City Council’s budget for the 2019/20 financial year. The budget outlines the spending and savings priorities for the year ahead.

Funding is falling at a time when costs and demand for services are rising and this makes the task of setting a balanced budget, as required by law, very challenging.

In preparation for the council’s budget meeting, senior officers have drawn up a list of potential options for both saving money and generating extra income.

These options were shared last week with the leaders of each of the political groups represented on the Council as part of the budget preparations by those groups and, because they are in draft form, must remain confidential at this stage.

I appreciate that treating these papers as confidential at this point reduces the sense of openness and transparency, but it is necessary.  I can assure you that prior to the March 5 budget meeting in the chamber, a finalised report outlining the options will be published on the Council’s website and available for staff and members of the public to view. The papers are scheduled to be available from late February and I will remind all staff when these papers are publicly available.

Given these papers are being shared with group leaders on a confidential basis, I do not expect to see any public discussion of these papers and the options contained within. It must be stressed that no decisions have been made at this stage and will not be made until March 5 when councillors decide which options they wish to adopt in meeting obligations to set a balanced budget.

The challenge:

So, what is the scale of the challenge we’re facing?  Let’s break that down and begin by looking at our sources of income.

The Council has three main sources of income:

  • An annual funding settlement from the Scottish Government, accounting for 46% of our income (71% of that from Non Domestic Rates and 29% general revenue grant);
  • Council Tax, representing 17% of our income;
  • Local fees and charges which the council can set, making up 37% of our income.

Whilst we have received notification advising us of the scale of reduction in funding we can expect to receive from Scottish Government, the Government still has to get Parliamentary approval for its budget. Parliament is scheduled to consider the Scottish Government budget on 21 February 2019. Until parliament has agreed the budget, there remains uncertainty over our funding. However, based on the figures we have received, Aberdeen City Council will receive a reduction of funding from the Scottish Government of 3.1% on a like for like basis.

What is certain, in terms of income, is that we cannot increase levels of council tax beyond the 3% cap set by the Scottish Government, which has previously capped the level of council tax increase which councils can set and this has continued to be a condition set by it for financial year 2019/20. Whilst not a significant source of income for the council, a 1% increase in council tax can generate in the order of £1.1m of additional income.

In terms of local fees and charges, there are some areas where we do have some discretion over and Council will be asked to consider increasing charges in a number of those. Of course, Council would need to be mindful of the ability of citizens to pay increased fees and charges.

Turning to the challenge we face on the spending side, we are experiencing cost pressures across key areas – so there is an impact of the double whammy of funding reductions and cost pressures.

That means the gap we face will be in excess of the £25m annually we had already been planning for. Final figures will be determined once we have confirmation of the settlement.

Of course, the broad principles will not be a surprise to you, but some of the detail may be.

We anticipated a significant scale of funding pressure and that led, as you know, to management asking Council to approve a new Target Operating Model. Since approval of the TOM in 2017, and the implementation of the associated transformation programme, we’ve been able to produce a balanced budget for 2018/19 by achieving significant savings.

Planning ahead – and a call to action

The plan of attack for the 2019/2020 is to continue to progress our transformation journey, and this will provide savings to enable council to set a balanced budget. It’s important to stress that the funding outlook for us as a sector does not look positive, and therefore we must continue to change and evolve in the years ahead.

We will continue to offer Voluntary Severance and Early Retirement (VSER) as part of that process, with information on those options available by calling 01224 522430 or by email.

Our transformation programme and the work up to this point has positioned us well to respond to the financial challenges of 2019/20 – but I appreciate the scale of the financial challenge may seem daunting and you may well be thinking “what can I do?”

You may complain about the situation we find ourselves in, feel angry or pessimistic about the future. However, that won’t change things. We need to collectively have a strong belief in ourselves and that we have the ability to change our organisation in a way which responds to these challenges. We owe it to all those people in Aberdeen who rely on the Council, to make sure that we can continue to provide the support they need – and that will involve doing things differently in order to live within our financial means.

I need your support and input by:

  1. Identifying where you feel resources, money or efforts are being wasted or where things could be done differently to save money and reduce spend;
  2. Being open to doing things differently as options for doing so come forward;
  3. Making an investment in your future within the Council, by being proactive about shaping the Council’s future.

I’m encouraging everyone to share their ideas, big and small, in addition to those already passed on. The Council has been praised by external auditors for the strength of its financial management, which owes much to this proactive approach which we need everyone to be a part of. We will all need to continue to pull together and you can play your part through the Transformation Zone.

I’m mindful of the impact the budget process, and the difficult options that are considered in public forum, can have on individuals and teams. I will of course provide a further update once the budget report is published and then to advise you of the budget decisions.

Help share the message about Aberdeen’s need for more foster carers and adoptive parents

We are indebted to an incredible network of foster carers and adoptive parents in Aberdeen who nurture and support the young people of all ages and backgrounds who fall under their wing.

They make a real and lasting difference not just to the lives of individuals but to our communities and the city as a whole, providing care and comfort to children who are unable to remain with their birth families.

My heartfelt thanks go to all those who have taken the step and joined what is a very special group of Aberdeen carers. You can read some of the personal stories here.

The reality is we have more children in need of care than we can cater for and often this results in placements outside of the city, which can cause obvious difficulties for children and their families.

It’s a source of great frustration for frontline colleagues who want only the best outcome for every young person, with colleagues working hard each year to encourage more people locally to consider fostering and adoption.

As a Council we’re here to protect and care for the people of the city and there are lots of ways we can all play our part.

A fresh drive is currently underway and that’s something we can all help to support – whether it something you are interested in exploring from a personal perspective or perhaps an opportunity friends, family or colleagues may be keen to embrace.

I will be doing what I can to spread the word and I’d encourage everyone to do the same. Word of mouth, through clubs and groups or sharing the Council’s social media posts  will all help.

If together we can bring even a single foster carer or adoptive parent into the Aberdeen family then we will have made a difference to at least one young person in a time of need.

Colleagues in the Alternative Family Care team need our support to attract carers for all age ranges as well as for sibling groups and for children with additional needs. In return they offer a great deal of support and training, with foster carers receiving a competitive financial package for playing such a vital role.

To find out more please visit the adoption and fostering web pages or contact the team at adoptfostrecruitment@aberdeencity.gov.uk .

 

Praise for planning performance

It’s always pleasing to start the year on a positive note and we have had that in the shape of feedback on our Planning Performance Framework report.

The outcome is great credit to Gale Beattie and her colleagues in Strategic Place Planning, with Aberdeen City Council recognised for strong performance across a number of measures.

These include the reduction in timescales for decisions, collaboration with applicants, engagement with elected members and cross-service working within the Council.

That is just a snapshot of the comprehensive assessment carried out and the feedback provided by the Scottish Government, which has highlighted considerable progress.

The approach within planning fits hand in glove with the wider organisational objectives of a more efficient and customer-focused approach to everything we do.

The 2017/18 reports can be be viewed here and provides great detail on the ambitions for Strategic Place Planning and the city as a whole.

Well done to Gale and everyone in the team for the work done to date, the feedback is a tremendous reflection on the hard work and innovation being demonstrated.