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

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.

Notes of congratulations and thanks after CLD inspection visit and planning award win

At the end of another productive week, I’d like to put on record my thanks and congratulations for the latest achievements.

Thanks firstly to Linda Clark and Sarah Scott for supporting the visit from Education Scotland  alongside Andy MacDonald, Fiona Clark, Neil Carnegie, Madelene MacSween, Craig Singer, Susan Thoms, Alan Mulvie, Gill Strachan, Fiona Gray, Derek McGowan, Ian Cranna, Reyna Stewart, Sharon Desbois and Kirsty Wylie.

Inspectors have been scrutinising our work in community learning and development, speaking to staff and gathering feedback. I’m really appreciative of the effort that has gone in to preparing for the visit and, of course, the long-term planning and implementation of a wide ranging programme designed to support residents across all of our communities.

Community learning is essential to realising our vision for a place where every person can prosper and valuable support and inspiration is being provided by the teams on the frontline.

Regular inspection and an independent view is vital to helping us to build for the future and it has been a productive week in that sense. We await the findings with interest.

We already have the results from the Scottish Awards for Quality in Planning – and it’s fantastic news!

In the People Category, Aberdeen City Council has been crowned as the joint national winner in recognition for the work on the Union Street Conservation Area Regeneration Scheme (CARS) school shopfront design project.

The project, led by the conservation planning team in Gale Beattie’s cluster, including Zinnie Denby-Mann and, at that time, Jamie McNamara, culminated in a really well received exhibition which showcased the creativity of the pupils from the six primary schools who took part.

The schools project was developed by the Council and the Aberdeen Urban Studies Trust, through Allan Paterson’s valuable contribution, as well as the Aberdeen City Heritage Trust. It was supported by The Scott Sutherland School of Architecture and Built Environment and the Aberdeen Society of Architects, promoted through the efforts of David Ewen as our lead on City Centre Masterplan communications. It’s another great example of team Aberdeen in action.

Fittingly Gale and Zinnie collected the award on Wednesday – a lovely way to mark World Children’s Day and recognition of the many ways we are getting young people involved in shaping the vision for the built environment in Aberdeen as well as the social and cultural aspects of city life.

Council of the Year nomination and fleet success cap run of awards success

I’m delighted to say that we have been shortlisted in the Council of the Year category in the LGC Awards – a very welcome idependent endorsement for all of the hard work and commitment that has shown by individuals and teams in every area of our operations.

The LGC Awards are coveted by local authorities the length and breadth of Britain. For Aberdeen to be the only Scottish representative in the list of finalists is a great achievement and we look forward to the winner being announced in March.

We have also been shortlisted by the LGC judges in the Campaign of the Year and Community Involvement categories, with the panel impressed by the comprehensive promotion and engagement with customers around the garden waste subscription roll-out led by the External Communications cluster and Waste and Recyling team and with the Aberdeen Communities Together (ACT) approach being pioneered by Steven Shaw, his staff and hundreds of volunteers who commit thousands of hours to making the city a better place to live.

We are on quite a roll at the moment when it comes to external recognition and we can take enormous pride in the assessments being made by experts in their fields.

Aberdeen City Council has been named Local Authority Fleet Operator of the Year by Transport News, a major accomplishment for Willie Whyte and all of the fleet team. It demonstrates the great strides that have been made and the determination to excel.

My congratulations go to Willie and his staff, as well as to Mark Reilly as Chief Officer of Operations and Protective Services, for the hard work and dedication that sits behind the latest national award.

Mark’s cluster have been on a great run of form – with Douglas Gibb flying the flag for Building Services at the CITB Apprenticeship Awards and being crowned Workplace Mentor of the Year at the awards ceremony in London.

Colleagues from the service were also in the limelight at the North East Scotland College awards this month. Chloe Beech earned a bronze commendation for advanced craft studies in carpentry and joinery, Stewart McCombie a silver commendation for advanced craft studies in carpentry and joinery, Lewis Burt was the stage two winner for carpentry and joinery with Brandon Russell runner-up and Heidi Wards was the painting and decorating stage one winner. Lewis was also the Grampian Building Employers Trophy winner for 2019. Well done to all!

In Governance, we will discover later this month whether we have won the In House Legal Team of the Year Awards at the Herald Law Awards. Against competition from across Scotland, it is fantastic to have been shortlisted and for the work done in particular around legislation tracking and horizon scanning by Kundai Sinclair and colleagues in Fraser Bell’s cluster to have stood out for its innovative approach.

We made a similar impact with the Keep Scotland Beautiful panel – who made 27 awards to Aberdeen groups at the It’s Your Neighbourhood event in Stirling recently, from our own Airyhall School to a wide range of community organisations. It’s another really positive indication of the team spirit being fostered and links back to the nomination in Steven’s area for the LGC Awards.

I think it’s vital that we celebrate the many and varied achievements of the Council and our colleagues.

The awards and nominations are lovely recognition, but I realise that they are not what motivates us every day to do the best for our city – that drive comes from delivering against the vision we have for a place where all people can prosper, which is what we take greatest pride in. We see that in everything we do and it is hugely appreciated by those who matter the most – the customers we care for and serve, the most important judges of all.

What’s in a name? Today PR&D changes to CR&D

Since the introduction of the Guiding Principles it has been really encouraging to see fantastic examples being brought to life, many highlighted through my blog, of Individuals and teams across the Council who have taken the themes to heart and are using them every day as we go about serving the people and place.

I’m very conscious it’s a two-way street and we’re ensuring that these local examples of living the Guiding Principles are mirrored in the way we operate as an organisation. So today is a very important step.

As you will be aware, the old PR&D (Performance Review and Development) system is being replaced and this week brings the introduction of CR&D (Continuous Review and Development). The new system is being rolled out in phases over the next few weeks and you can find out when you’ll get access by clicking here.

Behind the change in name is a radical shift in approach and one that has been designed in response to the engagement we had as the Guiding Principles were shaped.

Employees from many different parts of the organisation provided feedback that was very similar. The message coming through was that staff want to feel informed, trusted, recognised, supported and valued – to know where the organisation is going and to feel proud of the contribution to the city whilst being supported and encouraged in achieving individual and group objectives.

To me that is a really solid base to be working from and in building the new CR&D the aim is to meet those aims for colleagues.

The old reliance on annual review is replaced by a focus on continuous improvement. You should expect regular one to one opportunities to plan and discuss personal and professional development with your line manager, with ownership of your own objectives.

Providing clarity on every individual’s role within the organisation is an important part of CR&D, not to mention the emphasis on recognition and appreciation for our valued staff.

To support the move to the new way of working, an online portal is in place to allow objectives to be tracked and updated on a rolling basis.

My thanks go to Isla Newcombe and her team, including Kim Wong, for the hard work and care that sits behind this week’s launch. It has been a thorough, complex and very worthwhile piece of work that will stand the Council in good stead for years to come.

Any new system and approach will take time to bed in, but I thank you in advance for your support for CR&D. It’s another positive step on the journey we’re on together and promises to change the outlook for each and every employee.

Remember, remember to say thank you for the 5th of November

It’s always been a memorable date, but the 5th of November brought not one but two major events for the city – and both were a great success thanks to the efforts of all who worked so hard on them.

The annual fireworks display lit up the sky and brought people from across Aberdeen and far beyond together on what’s always a lovely night of celebration. A break in the horrible weather we’ve been enduring was welcome, not least by the many staff working on the ground to make sure everything ran like clockwork.

Dawn Schultz and the events team from the City Growth cluster planned everything to perfection, with Stephen O’Neill, Danny Parrot, John Purcell and Christie Milne ably supported by colleagues from teams involved in everything from traffic management to communications.

Earlier in the day many of the same teams and individuals, led by Dawn, were on duty at the State of the Cities conference as the annual report by the independent Economic Policy Panel was published. More than 200 delegates signed up for a day that reflected on the progress to date in realising our economic ambitions and looked forward to the next steps.

I’m pleased to say there were no fireworks as far as the report and conference were concerned – the expert panel reported steady performance and forecast a return to growth in the years ahead, reflecting the prudent yet innovative approach we pride ourselves on as a Council which is leading the economic recovery after the obvious challenges associated with the oil and gas downturn.

A power of work went in behind the scenes to support the panel with the report, which is the culmination of a year of research and analysis, as well as in delivering the State of the Cities conference. Jamie Coventry, Gregor Docherty, Shevonne Bruce, David Ewen and Laura McAra  – to mention just a few – were all involved as City Growth and External Communications clusters worked together to deliver a very valuable and well received event.

With the public opening of Aberdeen Art Gallery going fantastically on Saturday and Sunday, it has been another incredibly busy and positive week. A special mention again to the Gallery team, if you haven’t watched the video on their reflections on the project I’d highly recommend it.

I’m very appreciative of the hard work that is driving all of these projects and events, with so many going above and beyond to make sure everything is being delivered on time and to the highest standards.

The next wave of activity will bring the launch of the Christmas programme and, as we have seen already this week with the gritter crews out on duty and flood response teams also called into action, the demands of winter maintenance.

As a busy city council the work never stops, but I hope all who have been involved in the events of the past week get the opportunity to catch breath, rest and recuperate. It’s certainly well-deserved and my thanks go to everyone who has played a part.

A celebration of another major milestone in Aberdeen’s transformation

We are at the end of a landmark week for the city and the Council as the eagerly anticipated reopening of Aberdeen Art Gallery draws near.

A media day on Monday served to give the first glimpse of what visitors will be treated to when the doors open on Saturday.

More than 5,500 free tickets for the opening weekend have been booked, with the two days full to capacity, and that demonstrates the excitement that is building. From an appearance on The One Show to visits from The Times, The Observer, The Guardian, Country Life, Conde Naste and everything in between there are new audiences learning about the way Aberdeen is evolving and the positive change being steered by the Council.

Before tomorrow’s public opening, I must take the opportunity to say congratulations and a very well deserved and sincere thank you to the many colleagues who have been working so hard to prepare – not only in recent weeks, but over a number of years as another complex project has moved from concept to design, construction and completion.

The video below, crafted by Norman Adams, tells some of that story in the words of the team and please do take the time out to enjoy their very personal take on an incredible achievement, it really is from the heart. My favourite section is on the new beginnings (from around 5:05 in the video), with the guiding principles of Team and Pride shining through.

With the redevelopment including the Gallery, Cowdray Hall and Remembrance Hall – three Category A listed buildings – there have been huge challenges. What has been delivered is a world class venue that will serve the city and the region as well as fulfilling the economic aims of attracting visitors from national and international markets.

I spoke recently about my admiration for the team effort behind the opening of The Event Complex Aberdeen.

Quietly in the background a very different but just as important development has been taking shape – with the the Aberdeen Art Gallery project brings the same great sense of pride as colleagues from across functions and cluster have come together through the different phases to achieve an amazing end result.

Of course the Aberdeen Art Galleries and Museums team in City Growth has been the driving force and special mention must go to Christine Rew, who has lived and breathed the redevelopment over a number of years. Supported by Helen Fothergill and the collections team, Deirdre Grant, Alex Robertson, Lorraine Neilsen, Jacqui Curtis and the hugely talented team of specialists, including our fantastic group of Museum Assistants, who serve as custodians of the city’s acclaimed collections.

From the decant from the Gallery in the first instance, opening of the Treasure Hub and meticulous fit-out programme it has been an undertaking of a scale and significance that can’t be overstated.

It would be easy to forget the way in which normal working lives were turned upside down for the Gallery team – so it’s important to acknowledge the way in which they have come through the disruption with great spirit and ambition.

Richard Sweetnam, as Chief Officer of City Growth, has played an important role in bringing the project to fruition – of course running in parallel with the push to complete TECA for its grand opening in the summer.

John Wilson and Stephen Booth and their teams in Capital and Corporate Landlord, including Neil Esslemont, Nigel McDowell and Martin Stewart, Simon McKenzie and John Stevenson have also been heavily involved and important parts of the Gallery redevelopment machine, with Fraser Bell’s legal colleagues and Jonathan Belford’s finance experts also crucial to the success.

The External Communications cluster has provided valuable support to the Gallery’s Marketing Manager Margaret Sweetnam, who is doing a sterling job in telling the story of the redevelopment to audiences far and wide, and as a lead in City Growth Dawn Schultz has been instrumental in supporting the Gallery team in planning the opening week’s busy programme of events.

Aberdeen Art Gallery first fell under the wing of Aberdeen Town Council in 1907, following on from the public-spirited founders who founded the Gallery to open up their private collections for the citizens to enjoy.

The project our colleagues have led is the most significant and inspiring cultural development undertaken since then – a once in a generation reinvention of one of the city’s most iconic and inspiring venues, one we should all celebrate.

Awareness week helps build momentum with Mental Health Action Plan

Our first ever Mental Health Awareness Week took place earlier this month and I must thank everyone who worked so hard to make it happen and all who took part in what was a packed programme of events.

Hundreds attended the sessions that were held at various locations and the support shown by staff is really encouraging.

The events were another important step in the implementation of our Mental Health Action Plan, with many positive steps already taken and lots more in the pipeline.

Since the introduction of the plan earlier this year we have recruited our first cohort of mental health first aiders, who are currently undergoing training, and have introduced mentally healthy workplace training through OIL.

The introduction of monthly events has begun and is being developed further, with partnership working also expanded to harness the support of the Aberdeen City Health and Social Care Partnership and the Samaritans. Our contract with Time for Talking is also important, providing a free and confidential service to staff and family members who live in the same household by calling 0800 970 3980.

Further information about the initiatives can be found at People Anytime, with the awareness week part of the ongoing focus on mental health.

Developed in partnership with the NHS, Aberdeen City Health and Social Care Partnership and the third sector, the purpose of the week was to raise awareness of mental health in the workplace and to begin breaking down some of the taboos and stigma associated with poor mental health.

A programme of 28 events was developed, ranging from traditional talks and training opportunities to mindfulness and wellbeing sessions.

Members of the organising committee also took information on the road to some of our schools and depots to ensure all our colleagues had the opportunity to take part.

I know we are all busy and I’d like to thank everyone who attended for taking time out of their day to find out more and to access the support and resources that are available.

 My appreciation also goes to the team who pulled the programme together and our excellent guest speakers for their valuable input.

From the Council this included Jenny Styles, Anna Bennett, Fiona Lindsay, Andrew MacDonald, Louise Ironside, Martin Wyllie, David Keith, Baldeep McGarry, Jayne Boyle, Darren Smith, Tracey Buchan, Andrew Moat, Caroline Duguid and Chris Smillie.

The NHS team of Russell Arthur, Fiona Musk and Liz Howarth was instrumental as were Matthew Brooks (See Me Scotland), Liam Yule (SamH), Dr Robert Plant (University of Aberdeen) and Graeme Skene (Police Scotland).

This is such an important issue and we want your help to build on the success of Mental Health Awareness Week and make it an annual event.

The organising team is keen to hear your thoughts, with a survey now live and would also welcome volunteers with an interest in getting involved in the planning for 2020.

While thoughts are already turning to the next Mental health Awareness Week, there’s an ask in the meantime for everyone to keep mental health and wellbeing at the top of the agenda in every corner of the Council.

It feels right to borrow from a previous post I wrote on a similar theme – it’s fine to ask ‘are you okay?’ and it’s fine to tell those around you and reach out for help if things aren’t right.

Mental and physical wellbeing aren’t always visible, but both can have a profound impact on our lives and those around us – deserving of compassion and understanding. There’s no shame and should be no secrecy, as a society we have to get better at breaking down the barriers and opening up the conversations that might make a difference.