A glimpse into the future through the eyes of Aberdeen’s children

I had the pleasure of representing Aberdeen at the Unicef Child Friendly City accreditation board at its latest meeting and it underlined the importance of our bid to be recognised.

Launched by Unicef in 1996 and active in 40 countries, the initiative is designed to put the human rights of children and young people at the heart of local democracy – translating Unicef’s global mission into local action.

To achieve Child Friendly City status, Aberdeen will need to be able to demonstrate that we hear the voice of children and that we consider the impact on all children of the decisions we take.

We need to demonstrate that as a city, not just a Council, and there is support from a wide range of partners for the bid for Unicef recognition.

The accreditation will help us realise the ambition of ensuring citizens of Aberdeen, of all ages, are involved in decision making – something that is integral to the transformation journey we’re on.

The voices of children are definitely being heard on climate change. Across the world, including in Aberdeen, we saw young people strike to drive action on climate change. Locally pupils ensured their views were at the forefront and influenced the Council’s decision to ban the use of plastic straws.

I recently attended the national conference of Scotland Excel, the sector’s national buying body, and we heard from a group of influential children who were showing us the level of plastic content in a range of commodities local authorities purchase. That input will shift attitudes and continue to make a difference to the world we live in.

We’ve had a glimpse of the future and its going to become our present – because the children aren’t going to slow down! They are, after all, fighting for their own future and we all have a role in providing the support, encouragement and platforms to enable them to shape positive change.

A jet powered tour of the city’s transformation

I jumped on the Jet 727 bus out to the airport recently and was treated to a tour of the Council’s leading role in the transformation of Aberdeen.

Moving slowly through Broad Street, the view of the stunning restoration of Marischal College is fantastic – with the fountain, set against the landscaping, providing a natural draw for locals and tourists alike.

The contrast with the bold, contemporary design of Marischal Square is something to celebrate, with Provost Skene’s House peeking out and inviting exploration of what’s become a real hive of activity in and around the new restaurants and offices.

As we headed north, the next landmark was an engineering one rather than architectural – the hydrogen refuelling station at Kittybrewster. We should all take pride in the way we have led the way in terms of the adoption of hydrogen, with the roll-out in Aberdeen eclipsing anything that has been seen in Britain and indeed Europe. The progress has been rapid and underlines the importance of innovation to the future of the city.

The Haudagain was next on the route, with the cleared site providing a nod towards the regeneration of key communities and the importance that’s being placed on modernising housing stock and changing the way people live. With hundreds of newly built council houses at Manor and Smithfield just a stone’s throw away, the progress is clear to see.

Rolling on, the sight of The Event Complex Aberdeen in the final stages of construction is overwhelming. The scale of the project can’t be overstated – creating a facility of the size and quality that will be the envy of cities not only on home soil but worldwide. We’re on the finishing straight with TECA and excitement is growing, quite rightly.

The final leg of the journey was on the airport link road, an Aberdeen City Council infrastructure project dovetailing with the AWPR (another project in which we had a significant role in delivering).

One short trip, lots of impressive achievements along the way: “Nae bad fae the Cooncil!”

A huge well done to everyone who has played their part in the landmarks of the Jet 727 tour!

A fond farewell to a long serving colleague

I attended a farewell presentation to Lorna Cassie in the Digital and Technology cluster last week and it was lovely to hear how much she meant to colleagues and friends at the Council.

As Lorna prepares for the next adventure, after 36 years of sterling service to the organisation, my own thoughts took me back to November 2013 when I joined the Council as Director of Corporate Governance.

Lorna was one of the first members of staff I met and it’s incredible to think how much has changed in that time, with no sign of that pace slowing.

Long service brings with it tales of the past and the presentation touched on the experiences over that time, particularly the significant reorganisation in the 1990s.

I recognise that many colleagues are choosing to take VSER and therefore farewells are taking place across the Council.

You often hear it said “there’s no future in the past” but it’s important at this time, I think, to celebrate that past and in particular the contributions and achievements of colleagues who are leaving us.

It seems to be human nature that it takes colleagues to leave the organisation before we tell them what they’ve meant to us, but nonetheless it’s important to say it.

So to Lorna and all those colleagues who are moving onto a new chapter in their lives, thank you for all the service you’ve given the city and the Council over many years. We wish you well and hope you look back at your time and colleagues within Aberdeen City Council fondly.

Putting communities at the heart of our team Aberdeen approach

At the core of the new guiding principles is the importance of one team, one council, one city and we see that in action across the organisation.

The work being done in key communities is fantastic to see and is an example of the way the principles can help us to make a real difference

The development of an integrated locality model of delivering services is crucial and we have taken great strides forward.

Historically we have a number of services that are delivered through local offices – housing and community development are obvious examples, but we also need to consider the role of environmental services that are based in localities as well of schools and the presence of public sector partners including GP surgeries and police and fire stations.

Our transformation programme is designed to ensure there is a one team approach – that officers dealing with Council housing issues are as effective as they can be in sustaining tenancies and ensuring that people have warm, safe homes; or that local teachers are providing the highest level of education for children in that community to provide the best start in life. We need to understand what we can do as a team to improve outcomes for all those we serve.

Outside of that Council house is a natural and built environment. The tenant inside their new home will want to see that the environment is well cared for, that the roads are in good condition and well lit to provide a safe route to school, and that the local park their children play in provides a safe environment for play. This is a simple example of how we work as one Council to improve the lives of residents and communities.

Where there may be crime or antisocial behaviour in an area, those residents will look to the police for support and action and expect that they work with other services to remove any ongoing concerns.

Many members of that community will want to play a part in how their community looks, to participate in decision making and even take responsibility for the condition of the park or to ensure there is no dog fouling on the streets. They want to drive the provision of activities in local community centres, GP surgeries and schools for children and adults. This exemplifies the one city approach, where public agencies and communities are working together.

To ensure this approach is consolidated, we are working on new hubs in Torry and Tillydrone where services will not just be co-located but integrated, and the one city principle will be embedded.

This involves understanding the nature of demand in local communities, and ensuring the right services and approaches are working together to tackle and reduce that demand.

To support this we are developing improved mechanisms for identifying concerns sooner and sharing data across all partners. The culture around this work is critically important and I’m delighted the Chief Officers for the Aberdeen Health and Social Care Partnership, Early Intervention and Community Empowerment and Integrated Children’s Services have been working closely to achieve our ambitions.

With the three locality areas agreed and health, community and education services being aligned, they are developing plans to ensure that at both strategic and operational levels there are strong locality leadership teams in place to plan the effective delivery of services. Our existing locality partnerships will benefit from this approach.

I look forward to seeing how this work develops over the coming months as we develop our one team, one council, one city approach – and to the outcomes it will deliver.


An Inspector Calls

Many of you may be familiar with the classic book and play An Inspector Calls by J. B. Priestley and you’ll recall the intriguing plot of a mystery visitor who calls … or perhaps didn’t.

An inspector definitely appeared this week at the Council, with a lot less intrigue than that of Priestley’s work.

Colleagues from Care Inspectorate have been on site all week as they undertake their inspection of our multi-agency child protection arrangements.

We’ve given the inspectors a strong account of ourselves as a partnership on the work we do together to keep children safe from harm. Of course, we also set out how we wish to continue to improve and us striving to be better is something every child deserves.

Rightly, inspections of this kind require a lot of preparation in order to enable the inspectors to reach their independent conclusions on how we’re doing.

On behalf of the Chief Officers Group – which comprises representatives of the Council, the NHS, Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service – I’d like to thank all staff across the partnership who have supported the inspection process.

I’d like to give a special thanks to Graeme Simpson (ACC), Alex Dowall (Police Scotland) and Caroline Hiscox (NHS Grampian) along with Kymme Fraser (ACC) for all the work they’ve put in.

We’ll get a report card from the inspectors in September and the results will of course be shared with staff and the Public Protection Committee of the Council.

In this case fact is certainly more important than fiction when it comes to the visit of the inspectors and an exercise like this always provides valuable learnings as well as, we anticipate, positive endorsement of the multi-agency approach to protecting young people.

Pride in the achievements of our talented colleagues

To start the week on a really positive note, congratulations to colleagues from across our clusters for a run of success in April.

In Integrated Children’s and Family Services, Dyce Academy teacher John Naples-Campbell has been nominated in the Inspiration category of the Proud Scotland awards and has our best wishes as the final looms. To be shortlisted is a fantastic achievement, following on from John’s place in the top 10 educators in the country in the prestigious Times Educational Supplement Scotland annual listings for 2018.

He has rightly being recognised for his role in ensuring education is driving equality and empowering the LGBT+ community, with John’s passion shining through.

We have another final to look forward to In Operations and Protective Services, where Daniel Shand will be flying the Aberdeen City Council flag at the APSEs as a nominee in the Rising Star category. We’ll find out if Daniel, well known for his work on the Council Gardener  video blog and with a growing following, takes gold in May but he’s already guaranteed a silver award. A big congratulations to Daniel, who’s in the midst of an innovative project to teach primary pupils in Aberdeen the importance of growing fruit and vegetables.

With the help of a friendly bear Craster and his friend Bella the Honey Bee, Danny’s doing great work in our schools.

Craster and friends have been brought to life thanks to Daniel’s enthusiasm and the efforts of the External Communications team, with Laura McAra, Norman Adams and Paula Fullerton working on the animations and and Karen Allan continuing to promote the blog and expand its reach.

An educational pack is available for interested schools, containing everything you need to grow radishes, peas, carrots and onions and full instructions in the form of a series of short animations. You can get involved by emailing Daniel at projectcraster@aberdeencity.gov.uk and the animations can be viewed here.

Our Finance cluster is already award-winning – and they’ve hit an important milestone that may have gone unnoticed but deserves to be held up in lights.

The annual accounts have been closed down for 2018/19 and external auditors tell us we’re the first local authority across the whole of the UK to do so. It’s a fantastic achievement and testament to the systems, processes and sheer hard work for everyone in the team. As a self-confessed accounts anorak, I may no excuses for celebrating the achievement!

On the subject of teams and achievements, I must veer away from Aberdeen City Council briefly to draw attention to the exertions of our Scottish Fire and Rescue Service colleagues who have been responding to significant forest fires in the region. The efforts over a number of days at Knockando were impressive and vital in protecting people and place – a difficult job done in the usual efficient manner.

All very different updates to bring on a Monday morning, but there’s a common thread running through them all – pride.

We should all take great pride in the achievements not only of the workmates we work closely with, but of our public sector colleagues who share our goals for the places and people we serve.

The new guiding principles have pride at their heart and it’s a topic I’ll be touching on regularly in the weeks and months ahead through the blog.

In the meantime, congratulations once again for everyone involved in the successes mentioned above – great team efforts sit behind them all.


A marathon not a sprint in the race to the exam finish line!

The butterflies are fluttering in the stomach, the sleepless nights have started, fingernails are chewed – and that’s just the parents and teachers!

Exam time is upon us and it’s the culmination of years of hard work by pupils, teachers and all of our dedicated school staff alike.

Thanks to all who have got our thousands of city pupils to the start line – now it’s just the race to be run!

If like me you have children preparing to put their hard work to the test you’ll be well versed in the trials and tribulations of revision timetables and the sweat and toil of preparation.

We’ve all been through it ourselves and it’s easy to forget that there is a lot of pressure on young shoulders. As we always say at this time of year, all anyone can do is give it their best – whatever the results may be, there’s a long road ahead for every pupil and opportunities at every turn.

Good luck to all of the young people as the exams get into full flow and to the parents and carers who will be lending a guiding hand.

Taking time out to recognise the sacrifices of workers

On Friday at 11am you are invited to join a minute’s silence as part of the Council’s recognition of International Workers Memorial Day.

Introduced as a day of remembrance for those who have lost their life at work or suffered work related injury or illness, the day itself falls on Sunday (April 28) but we feel it is important to give employees the opportunity to pay their respects during office hours.

There will also be ceremonies at Duthie Park and Persley, on Friday and Sunday respectively, as part of the programme organised by trade unions in conjunction with Council colleagues.

The health, safety and wellbeing of every member of Aberdeen City Council staff is a priority and I’d urge everyone to use IWMD as an opportunity to reflect on how we can all play a positive role.

We have established processes and policies to ensure safe working environments – but those are built upon the vital input of each of us as individual members of staff and collectively as teams to maintain the highest standards. By being vigilant, diligent and conscientious we can make important contributions.

The public sector and private sector must strive to ensure Aberdeen is a place where workers are protected and where we can all take pride in a proactive approach.

This week’s programme is a timely reminder of those aims and an important opportunity for remembrance across the world.

Cycle accreditation and accountancy awards add up to success

As Council life gets back into full flow after the Easter school break in the city, it’s fantastic to be highlighting the latest good news stories.

The many colleagues who commute to work by bike will be pleased to know that we have been re-accredited as a Cycle Friendly Employer at Marischal College. The recognition may even tempt a few more to join the growing band.

Cycle Scotland have made the award after assessing facilities and have been very complimentary about the Council’s approach – with the inspection following on from Cycle Scotland’s grant which funded the improvements at Marischal, creating two-tier parking as well as a maintenance area and equipment.

Sustainable transport is a core part of our agenda as an authority and it’s fantastic to see so many staff making use of the improved facilities.

Staying on the good news theme, I must congratulate two of our finance colleagues for their recent success.

Accountancy graduate trainees Graeme Snape and Eve Bane (nee McIlroy) have both come through their final exams with flying colours and are in the process of gaining CIPFA member status.

Congratulations to both and also to Alan Simpson and his team in Strategic Place Planning for their work with Cycle Scotland.

Putting mental health at the top of the agenda

Earlier this year the Staff Governance Committee approved a Mental Health Action Plan for adoption by the Council.

It may not have grabbed the headlines in the way that some reports and decisions do – but it is every bit as important.

The focus of the plan is on ensuring that mental health is a priority for us all and that we continue to build a culture that encourages an open, inclusive and supportive attitude towards wellbeing.

Angela-Jane Hesketh has written an excellent blog post on the subject, following on from the work she and all those who have had an input in creating the plan have done.

It’s something that was raised directly with me, by staff members initially and also trade union representatives, and quickly took shape thanks to the energy and enthusiasm of colleagues from a variety of clusters, led by Organisational Design. I’m delighted to see something so important that has been driven by staff coming to fruition and that’s something we want to see more of in all parts of the Council.

Angela-Jane’s blog post is a really thought provoking read and this particular challenge from Angela-Jane jumps out from the screen:  “I ask you all to stand with me, let’s battle the stigma and get the conversation going, raise the awareness that we can only be our best selves if we start by looking after ourselves, mentally as well as physically.”

I echo those sentiments and I’m really keen to do all I can to support the team in promoting and implementing the plan.

At a time when our guiding principles and culture are being shaped, it’s heartening to see the mental health action plan gathering pace and underlining the caring ethos that we want to be running through our relationships with customers and colleagues.

That includes being open about the inevitable pressure that colleagues feel as our staff numbers contract.

I’m very conscious this is impacting on how people feel and the challenges they face day to day, something we have to manage together. The commitment to no compulsory redundancies that was reiterated by elected members at the budget meeting earlier this month means the reduction in posts is being managed through Voluntary Severance and Early Retirement. That is obviously reassuring for staff but I know it brings different worries in terms of covering the workload of those who choose to leave.

We can’t control the funding constraints we face or which areas of the Council colleagues will opt to leave from through VSER. What we can do is ensure we are innovative in how we deal with that, particularly through the digital technology we’re embracing to reduce the volume of manual work required. We must also continue to consider how we adjust our service levels to take into account the financial challenges, with a great deal of work being done around defining what we should and can provide as an organisation by creating commissioning intentions that will map that out in detail.

Turning back to the Mental Health Action Plan I’d encourage everyone to take time to familiarize themselves with it, read Angela-Jane’s blog post and give some thought to what the plan may mean for you and the colleagues around you.

As Angela-Jane points out, we would all know what to do if we cut our finger at work – but not necessarily where to turn if mental rather than physical health is the concern.

The adoption of the plan is a vital first step and my appreciation goes to everyone who has driven the project. It’s up to all of us now to help build the momentum and keep mental health at the top of the agenda.