Sleep in the Park puts homelessness in focus

As a Council we deal with incredibly tough and challenging issues every hour of every day. Homelessness is one that looms large on that list.

The most basic of human needs – to have shelter and all that brings – is something we all tend to take for granted.

The reality for so many in our city and throughout Britain is very different. For an organisation which exists to protect the people and place from harm, continuing our work to prevent and reduce homelessness is imperative.

As with so many of the problems we face, the Council cannot act alone. We are forging strong partnerships with agencies and organisations locally and nationally as we work towards common aims, with the third sector playing a major role.

Social Bite is one of the charities doing a power of work and we’re delighted to be supporting the Sleep in the Park initiative, which will bring thousands of people and four cities together on December 8.

In Aberdeen we’ll gather in Duthie Park for the north-east event, running from early evening through to the following morning.

Sleep in the Park

The sleep out will raise awareness and crucially funds to support Social Bite’s work, with a £4million target across Scotland this year.

A number of councillors have signed-up, with myself and Derek McGowan, Chief Officer for Early Intervention and Community Empowerment, amongst the staff taking part.

We both have fundraising pages set up (click here for my page and this link for Derek’s) for anyone who wishes to support. If you’re registered and would be keen to promote your fundraising page through my blog please send a link to ChiefExec@aberdeencity.gov.uk and we will get those added. If you’re interested in taking part, all the information can be found at the Sleep in the Park website.

One night out in the open for those of us taking part doesn’t begin to give an insight into the very real crisis faced by the individuals and families we serve who are affected by homelessness, but in a small way offers the opportunity to help draw attention to the issue and contribute to the efforts to provide lasting solutions. Thank you in advance to all those supporting Social Bite’s initiative.

 

Aberdeen takes centre stage in awards season

You would be forgiven for thinking October is a quieter month with the school holidays bringing leave for many colleagues – but it has been one of the busiest periods I can remember when it comes to well-deserved recognition for staff and teams throughout the Council.

The most recent came at the weekend when Aberdeen was crowned best city in the RHS Britain in Bloom awards, having collected a Gold Medal and won the Growing Communities award for partnership work with schools and communities.

It’s fitting for Steven Shaw and his incredibly dedicated team, not to mention the volunteer groups they work so closely with all over Aberdeen to keep the city’s greenspaces and displays in pristine condition, that their efforts have once again been rewarded by judges. It’s a massive achievement for Aberdeen and one we can all take great pride in.

Karen Gellatly from Steven’s team was also a finalist in the horticulture apprentice of the year category at the APSE awards, which took place in Nottingham earlier in the month.

It was fantastic for Karen to reach the shortlist, with Aberdeen also represented by the facilities team in the Best Service Team in FM and Building Cleaning category. It’s the third consecutive year that Rose Turner and her team have been on the big stage, winning in 2016, and that’s a real feat given the number of organisations involved in the APSEs.

Closer to home, at Aberdeen’s Sports Awards there was more success to celebrate as the Food and Fun programme – providing free meals and activities for children in key areas during school holidays – was named Community Sports Project of the Year. Congratulations to the Council teams who have been driving this initiative and to the partners who have supported a great collaboration to make a real difference to the lives of young people.

The spotlight will continue to shine on the Council in November at the Tenant Participation Advisory Service awards, with Aberdeen shortlisted for three different awards: Tenant of the Year (Pearl Smart); Tenant Group of the Year (Powis Tenant and Resident Group); Best Practice in Reporting Performance Award.

There’s also the opportunity for a fourth award through our involvement in North East Tenants and Landlords Together, which is nominated in the Involving Customers in Services category. There has already been great recognition for the hard work being done by officers and tenants and this is another endorsement of the approach.

The annual Quality Improvement Awards also take place in November and we are finalists in two categories – Top Team and Excellence for QI in Early Years. Having been shortlisted last year, it’s another fantastic achievement for Sacha Will and the team.

Congratulations to all who have represented Aberdeen City Council so well and good luck to everyone involved in the forthcoming awards.

Organisational Development appointment completes leadership team

I’m delighted to confirm the appointment of Isla Newcombe to the role of Chief Officer for Organisational Development.

Isla, who will join the Council from her current position of Organisational Development Manager with Northumbria University in early November, brings a depth of knowledge and skills to this important post and I look forward to working with her.

The appointment brings to a close the successful recruitment process for the senior leadership team, with a talented and dedicated group of Directors and Chief Officers in place to drive the organisation forward with your support.

That support is very much appreciated and vital as we continue the transformation of the organisation in the weeks and months ahead.

Momentum builds with Office 365 roll-out

Over the summer I introduced the next phase of the Council’s digital journey and last month touched on the new HR and payroll.

There are many more digital projects in various stages of development and I’ll continue to post updates at regular intervals.

A key focus at present is the roll-out of Office 365, which will touch all areas of the organisation.

In short, Office 365 is Microsoft’s toolbox for the digital age – containing applications we all reach for on a daily basis with additions that will be new to many within Aberdeen City Council, myself included.

We use Word, Excel, Outlook and PowerPoint as second nature. I’m confident OneNote, OneDrive, SharePoint and other applications will be used in just the same way throughout the Council very soon.

The tools are there to help us work more efficiently and already I’m seeing Office 365 being put to good use, which is really heartening.

With your support, what are pockets of good practice now will quickly expand.

Of course all new technology relies on knowledge and understanding to get the best out of it and demonstration sessions have been launched, with the first taking place next week. The take-up has been excellent, with the Marischal College dates already booked up. Please check back on the page for new dates as they’re added if you haven’t managed to secure a slot.

A dedicated Office 365 portal has been set up to support online learning – with lots of helpful guides and tuition videos to bring the information to life.

Learning more about the potential of Office 365 is important and we’re fortunate to have experts on hand to guide us – but just as we’ve all come to understand the capabilities of Word and Excel over the years, the key to becoming comfortable with the new applications is in using them day to day.

I’ve found OneDrive and OneNote particularly useful in my day to day work and the feedback has been great.

OneDrive, for example, will eventually replace the B Drive for Council users. As well as providing a cloud-based storage solution, which reduces hardware requirements, there are some brilliant features that make it invaluable.

Being able to work on a document at the same time as multiple users saves time (and frustration) and really encourages the collaborative approach that underpins everything we strive to be as an organisation.

The safety net of built-in version control is also fantastic in our environment, where governance is so crucial, and auto-save prevents that sinking feeling we’ve all had when time and energy spent working on a document is wasted by an untimely crash … or forgetting to save.

The features sound so simple – and they are. That’s the beauty of technology at its best.

I’m encouraging everyone to embrace Office 365 and to explore the opportunities it presents to help you in your role. If you’re already using it, please share your knowledge and experiences with team members. The ball’s rolling and we all have a part to play in building momentum.

Beautiful Aberdeen continues to shine

Congratulations to our own Council teams and the hard-working community groups who continue to put Aberdeen’s name up in lights through the Keep Scotland Beautiful Awards.

There were no fewer than eight prizes at last week’s national ceremony for local organisations and projects, with Powis winning a gold medal and the Residential Community Trophy. Aberdeen Inspired won a silver gilt medal as well as the David Welch Memorial Award while Culter, Bucksburn and Cove claimed silver gilt medals. Cove also won the Garden for Life Biodiversity Award to complete the honours.

There is  a huge amount of preparation and year-round work involved in keeping all of our public spaces at the award-winning levels we know and love, with partnerships between the Council and the community so important.

Well done to all involved and good luck to those driving our involvement in the Britain in Bloom awards – here’s hoping for continued success.

Staying on the theme of collaboration, it’s well worth highlighting a project Trading Standards officers in the city and Shire have been involved in over recent weeks. The campaign, under the #notafavour banner, was delivered with North East Scotland College to underline the important message that any adult buying tobacco for under-age youngsters is playing a harmful role.

A lot of effort went in to the joined-up approach, which brought not only the College and students on board but also retailers, and it was a great team effort.

We’re surrounded by colleagues determined to give young people the best possible start in life – and the sign-up rate for the appeal that went out for Council staff to become Career Ready mentors is a brilliant example of that.

I joined the list and I’m pleased to say that a total of 20 have registered. We have all committed to helping school leavers prepare for their next steps in the world of work and I look forward to bringing further updates on what’s a very valuable scheme.

On a final note, I’m keen to promote dates looming in the Council diary.

The health and wellbeing sessions taking place throughout September continue this week. Colleagues have organised a number of Pitstops and workshops across a broad range of topics, ranging from tomorrow’s mental health and wellbeing focus and Thursday’s spinal care event to regular Tai Chi and chair-based yoga sessions.

Later in the month, the CFINE pop-up stall that proved popular in August will return. It’s a great opportunity to shop for fresh fruit and vegetables whilst supporting the work done by a valued charity partner. CFINE will be back on the lower ground floor at Marischal College from 12-2pm on September 25, with pre-orders also being taken. I know your support is very much appreciated.

Recruitment update: Chief Education Officer appointed

I’m delighted to provide a further update on recruitment and confirm that Eleanor Sheppard has been appointed to the role of Chief Education Officer. Eleanor will take up her new role on 1 September 2018.

Together with Graeme Simpson, in his role as Chief Officer of Integrated Children’s and Family Services, this post will be key in delivering on behalf of Aberdeen’s young people. Eleanor has demonstrated the knowledge, skills and energy she will bring to the role.

Recruitment for the post of Chief Officer for Organisational Development is ongoing and I will provide an update at the earliest opportunity.

New term, new schools and new projects to embrace

The start of the new school year and the end of the Council’s summer recess always feels like the official end of the holiday period – and the start of the next wave of exciting projects.

As we all look forward to what’s ahead, a warm welcome back to those of you who are settling back in after leave and a huge thanks to the efforts of everyone over the past few months for maintaining our services over the summer. There’s never a quiet period in the life of a busy city council and summer is no exception.

It has been particularly hectic for staff in the Children’s and Integrated Services function as the final preparations for the opening of Lochside Academy and Stoneywood School were made.

Both schools showcase the very best in modern education and an enormous amount of commitment, innovation and sheer effort has gone in to realising the vision for these sites.

Of course, the head teachers and staff at both will be quick to point out that the hard work will keep on flowing as the buildings spring to life with the start of the new term.

Congratulations to all involved in the projects and the very best wishes to the pupils and staff as they embrace a new era.

In the Town House, the focus is on the next committee cycle and a packed diary of meetings for the weeks ahead is in place.

Another productive period is in store and I’ll continue to bring regular updates on projects, achievements and Council news through my blog.

Tributes paid to colleague Elaine Smith

Colleagues in the library service and throughout the Council have paid tribute to Elaine Smith, who passed away last week after a short illness.

On behalf of Aberdeen City Council I extend my condolences to Elaine’s husband Norman and children Martyn, Darren, Keiran and Lisa.

She will be greatly missed by all she worked with and all those who knew Elaine, who first joined Aberdeen City Libraries in 1978.

Her career included a number of key projects and roles, including working for a number of years on the very first stage of the automation of library catalogue records. In the 1990s Elaine served at Kincorth and Kaimhill branch libraries before returning to Central Library in 2002, promoted in 2009 to the post of Senior Library Assistant in the Media Centre.

Elaine, who celebrated her 60th birthday in May, was active in a number of working groups which included the library Facebook team, Training in New Technologies (TNT) and the group set-up to plan the successful 125th anniversary for Central Library last year. Outside of work her hobbies included photography and family history, with her own family always the number one priority.

The news of Elaine’s passing has I know been felt deeply amongst colleagues, who speak of a valued friend and a dedicated professional who was knowledgeable, skilled and committed. It is a terribly sad time and my sympathies go to all those affected.

New HR and payroll system marks another step on our digital journey

Embracing the opportunities presented by technology is at the heart of our plans for the council of the future and as we build towards that vision there will be lots of different examples of the Council’s digital transformation.

Last week I gave an overview of the Being Digital approach and through my blog I will aim to keep you updated as the many projects that are underway move forward.

One of those that will have a positive impact for all employees revolves around the replacement of our main HR and payroll system, known as PSe.

The current system is due to be retired by the supplier in 18-months and we have an in house project team working to finalise a new solution, taking the opportunity to consider how we can better use technology to manage our information and improve our processes by reducing unnecessary steps.

This project will affect all of us in some way – whether that be simply changing the look of our payslip, allowing more of us the opportunity to self-serve or providing managers with more tools to better support their team.

The system that is being implemented is called CoreHR and you can review in greater detail what this will offer in this video.

The CoreHR system will go beyond simply replacing the current system and replicating what we do now.  It will provide increased functionality that will improve our self-service capability allowing us to build upon what is currently done well within YourHR and ultimately replace both YourHR and Open Options.

The replacement of these systems will be done in a phased approach with the functionality of the various systems being gradually shut down as it is moved into CoreHR.

Phase one of the project is focussed on the foundation elements of the system; ensuring that our HR records (including annual leave) are in place and enabling us all to be paid from the new system in October.  This initial phase will also bring more self-service opportunities for us all and an improved experience for new employees.

The second and third phases of the project will bring improvements in how we approach recruitment by streamlining the process and reducing the time to recruit,  expenses will be processed in a self-service way  and health and safety will also allow more of us the opportunity to record any health and safety issues ourselves.

One of the major benefits that CoreHR will bring will be talent management functionality, replicating aspects of the existing PR&D process but providing a full and complete view of all our employees and their development needs.  Ensuring we have the correct skills, behaviours and attitudes is critical to ensuring we achieve the aims of the Target Operating Model and it is vital that we are all provided with the opportunity to develop our skills and progress within the Council.

The existing Employee Benefits and Occupational Health Assist portals as well as the online learning platform (OIL) will be maintained.  Details of how training will be provided and what opportunities there will be for remote employees to begin to self-serve will be provided directly by the team as part of the project communication.

There will be more information on the roll-out of CoreHR in the months ahead, but I’m pleased to be able to provide an introduction at this stage and to thank you in advance for your support in embracing new systems and new ways of working.

Working together with the aim of Being Digital

The way we embrace the possibilities presented by digital technology will be central to the successful transformation of the Council.

I’ve spoken often about the need to build the Council of the future and for all of us as employees to drive that change.

I’m conscious that what that means in practical terms is what matters most to every member of staff across every service and over the months ahead I will provide regular updates on different digital strands to provide some tangible examples of the positive strides we’re taking together.

Before focusing on individual projects in greater detail, I can provide an overview of the progress with the Being Digital strategy which brings all of this important work together.

Being Digital was first established late in 2016 and is designed to take a holistic approach to the Council’s technology challenges and opportunities.

The biggest challenge is the pace with which digital moves – and as such we accept that we can only plan so much. We have a ‘Deliberate Plan’ which encompasses the essentials that we know we must deliver, but equally important is the ‘Emergent Plan’ designed to enable us to be flexible and agile as we embrace new technologies as they appear.

Regardless of how the digital world evolves, the vital element for the Council is the fact the aim will not change – that is to help us to better meet the needs of residents and all those we serve in Aberdeen and to do so in a more efficient and effective way.

Because digital is all around us, we don’t always realise the change that we’re all part of.

This year, for example, we have seen the launch of the new Council website powered by a new Content Management System to provide the foundations for our online presence. An enormous amount of work has gone in to improving the web offering and that work continues.

The roll-out of Office 365 is more recent but just as significant. Access for staff is the first baby step – the real benefits will come as the huge possibilities of Office 365 are put to use by individuals, services and the Council as a whole. There are tools and applications that will change the way we work for the better and I’m eager to see that happen quickly.

Earlier this month the new ServiceNow portal was launched by colleagues in Digital and Technology, colleagues in People and Organisation are doing final testing of a new P&O Anytime online hub that will change the way we access information in that sphere and the programme for the new CoreHR system is gathering momentum as launch moves closer. I’ll focus more on CoreHR and what that means in a separate blog post soon.

In short, there’s lots of activity and the key message is that the Strategic Transformation Committee (STC) has been supportive of the Being Digital strategy, for example backing an enhanced Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system to add functionality in bookings, workflow and integration. The committee has also approved plans to continue to enhance the digital tools for reporting and to bring in a new solution for Master Data Management (MDM).

This is just scratching the surface of the possibilities for the Council – with great opportunities to free up staff time to focus on the most important aspects of service delivery, at the same time delivering important financial savings.

The Digital and Technology team, with support from our digital partner, will work with services to identify opportunities to implement the technology needed to digitise more of the Council’s services.

What we cannot lose sight of is the fact that technology is only advantageous if it is put to good use – and that’s where we all have a crucial role to play.

Training and digital skills development has been a focus for the STC and there is a commitment to ensure that is provided throughout the Council. I make no apologies for repeating the fact that people are our most valuable asset and we must invest in building knowledge and expertise to support the Being Digital ambitions.

A programme of support to get the best from Office 365 is being rolled out and there will be engagement with you and your team to ensure you have the coaching you need. I’m sure the skills and knowledge will build quickly.

I look forward to sharing more information as we continue on the journey – your support, ideas and innovation will be the key to success.