Ending the week with two very different votes of thanks

Council life is always varied and I’m ending the week with two very different but equally important votes of thanks.

The first is to all those who once again have put Aberdeen on centre stage through the staging of the OVO Energy Tour Series, an event broadcast worldwide and enjoyed on the day by thousands of spectators who turned out to cheer on the elite cyclists, applaud the local competitors and enjoy the programme of activities.

It’s another great example of the one team, one council, one city principle – with colleagues from across a variety of clusters (City Growth, Communications and Operations to name just three) coming together to ensure the smooth running of the event, working closely with public and private sector partners to deliver a memorable day for city residents, businesses and visitors. Thank you to everyone for the hard work behind the scenes – it really paid off.

Pride is another of the principles that is in plentiful supply across the Council and it certainly applies to our role in the Career Ready initiative – as does our purpose, and vision of Aberdeen as a place where all people can prosper.

You might recall I previously posted an appeal for colleagues to join me in volunteering as a mentor, with an excellent response.

We have an enthusiastic group of Aberdeen City Council mentors and are preparing to welcome our young people for a four-week placement that will give a great insight into the world of work.

My thanks go to all who have given their time to volunteer – your efforts will make a real difference to those who are falling under our collective council wing.

I remember my own one-week work experience as a 15-year-old at Timex in Dundee – and how daunting it all was! The memories are of seeing the big mainframe computer for the first time and the big, noisy print room.  Times have certainly changed in the workplace since then, but the nervousness and excitement for those joining us will be just the same.

I recently attended the Career Ready 2019 graduation ceremony in Perth, where a group of Aberdeen schools were among those from across Scotland taking part.

If I had any doubt about the positive impact the scheme has, that was quickly dispelled as I listened to the young people describe themselves pre and post participation. They highlighted how much more confident they were as a result of Career Ready and it was lovely to see so many of the young people then chose to pursue a career in the area where they had spent their interim placement.

There will be new opportunities for you to get involved with mentoring in the months ahead. Speaking from personal experience, it’s just as important for our own development as professionals as it is for the young person. I’ve gained so much from being part of it.

I came away from the Perth event with a renewed belief and pride in the influence we have on the lives of children in the city – but even greater pride in the Aberdeen graduates. I’m already looking forward to the next graduation ceremony for our current cohort.

One (cycling) team, one council, one city!

16/0519 Tour Series 2019A group of intrepid colleagues will be showing the one team principle in a whole new light today when they take to the streets as part of the OVO Energy Tour Series.

Flying the flag for the Council in the corporate race are Sandie Scott, Phil Astley, Janet McRoberts and Barbara Jones – good luck to team ACC!

The city centre is a hive of activity this morning as it’s is transformed into a cycling hub, with activities running from noon right through to the start of the elite races that get underway with the women’s event at 5.30pm.

The corporate competition is part of the support programme, with age group and amateur categories on the 1.3km circuit from noon, and our team will be on the start line at around 2.20pm for anyone who is keen to cheer them on.

They’ll do us proud and will surely come through with fewer bumps and strains than the Council football team that fell to a gallant one goal defeat against Police Scotland counterparts last week. It’s the taking part that counts, at least that’s what the football team tell me!

The Tour Series route this year starts and finishes on Broad Street, showcasing the incredible event space that has been created, and takes riders down Upperkirkgate and onto Schoolhill before looping back through Back Wynd and Belmont Street to head back along Union Street to the home straight past the Town House and Marischal College.

The organisers take the Tour Series to towns and cities across Britain and have been vocal in their praise of the Aberdeen crowds, with thousands turning out over the past two years. Here’s hoping for similar support today and this evening – and more of the sunshine that was a feature of the Aberdeen leg in 2017 and 2018.

Tour Series 2019

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.

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.


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.

Bringing our new guiding principles to life after seal of approval

Another important step on the Council’s transformation journey was taken last week  when the Staff Governance Committee approved our new guiding principles.

The endorsement from elected members is the latest stage in adopting the principles that will shape the culture of the organisation and is testament to power of work that was put in to get to this stage.

Thanks to Isla Newcombe, Dorothy Morrison, Martin Wyllie and Sandie Scott for driving the project forward and, just as importantly, to the employees from across the Council who got involved, made suggestions and gave feedback as part of the process. Around 2,000 people played an active role in creating the principles and that type of collaboration is really fantastic to see.

The approved principles are:

  • We care about our purpose, our city and our people;
  • We take pride in what we do and work to make things better;
  • One team, one council, one city;
  • We trust each other and take responsibility;
  • We value each other and recognise a job well done.

In addition to defining those guiding principles, the valuable exercise we have gone through has also helped to paint a picture of what this looks like in practice for all of us as members of that united Aberdeen City Council team.

After all the hard work, energy, enthusiasm and passion that has taken us to this point the real challenge starts here!

We’ve all got a very important part to play in turning the theory into practice and I’m looking forward to working together to do that.

Sharing experiences of the guiding principles in action will be at the heart of the culture we nurture in the weeks, months and years ahead. A new platform on the Transformation Zone has been created and will give everyone the chance to share their stories.

It’s well worth taking the opportunity to read and to contribute to this section as it evolves as we all have a responsibility to each other to keep building momentum after the great progress that has been made already this year.

I’m looking forward to hearing more from all corners of the Council and sharing those stories with you as we bring our new guiding principles to life.

A lunch invite with a difference!

The Clean Up Aberdeen campaign for 2019 will be launched next week and it’s the perfect opportunity to recognise a fantastic initiative.

Steven Shaw and his team join forces each year with volunteers, community groups, schools and many more organisations and individuals to do exactly what it says on the tin!

Clean Up Aberdeen involves everything from litter picks around schools and parks to beach clean-ups and everything in between and it’s a great example of the Council working together with others to make a difference to the city.

The launch at the Beach Ballroom on March 21 will involve 16 schools, with young people from across the city getting the opportunity to ask important questions of a panel comprising representatives from the Council and other organisations with a litter and recycling theme.

More schools than ever before are taking part in Clean Up Aberdeen, with a range of challenges to choose from.

There will be a clean-up following on from the launch, with the pupils and teachers leading the way.

That’s where Council employees can get involved and join the lunch-time clean-up, starting from the Ballroom. If you’re interested in taking part, the intention is to start at 12.30pm and all are welcome.

Steven is the best point of contact if you’re keen to find out more about Clean Up Aberdeen opportunities through the year. My thanks go to Steven and his dedicated teams for their efforts, not to mention the pupils and volunteers who continue to make it a project to be proud of.