Praise for planning performance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sharing an important Christmas message on suicide prevention

In recent months I have been welcomed to the meetings of Choose Life Prevent Suicide North East Scotland, where it has been incredibly encouraging to see the work being done to address such an important subject.

The key focus for the group at this time of year is ensuring awareness of the help available over the festive period and as a Council we are committed to supporting that.

I hope you have all received information that was cascaded by email recently but I thought it was worth repeating through my blog.

If you or anyone you know needs support, please don’t think twice about making that call or seeking out the information that’s available.

Whether by calling the Samaritans (116 123), Breathing Space (0800 838587) or through the Prevent Suicide North East Scotland app (available through app stores or via www.preventsuicideapp.com) there is help available.

Christmas and New Year can be a very difficult time for so many people and Choose Life have a very important message that hopefully we can all take on board: Be kind to each other and yourself.

ChooseLife

Scottish Government funding settlement confirmed

There has understandably been a great deal of media attention this week as the Scottish Government funding settlements for local authorities have been announced.

Finance colleagues are very busy working through the detail of the settlement and collating thorough analysis.

In the New Year there will be further communications and a video briefing for staff on the detail of the settlement in the context of preparations for our own budget meeting in March. It’s important we build understanding of the finances that underpin everything we do and bring that to life for all staff.

The overarching picture is, as anticipated, one of contracting central funding. That underlines the challenge we face as an organisation in continuing to meet growing demand for our services.

The focus of the transformation we have embarked upon is on ensuring efficient operations which enhance customer experience and allow resources to be directed towards protecting the vulnerable.

That’s a very difficult task and we have to continue working together, evolving and adapting, to keep delivering for all those we serve.

The first phase of our transformation has provided the platform to build for the future and delivered our 2018/19 budget – now we need to stay focused on implementing phases 2-4 as we plan for the next set of budgets. Thanks to everyone for their hard work so far in building that solid base.

Sad news of Arthur Anderson’s passing

We have received the sad news of the death of our colleague Arthur Anderson, a valued member of the Strategic Place Planning team who had given 39-years of service.

Arthur, an application support assistant, passed away at the weekend and I know it is an incredibly difficult time for all those who worked alongside him. A death in the Council family is always felt deeply and there is support available to anyone affected.

On behalf of the Council, my condolences go to family members and all who knew Arthur.

Colleagues speak of a quiet man who was warmly regarded and highly respected as an important member of the team.

It was touching to hear those closest to Arthur at the Council saying that he would have wanted everyone to stand together and help each other out, which is exactly what the team are doing at this difficult time.

Current phase of transformation offers opportunities to shape the Council of the Future

Transformation has been a subject that has been at the top of the agenda since the approval of the Target Operating Model last summer.   

Internally and externally there has been significant discussion, debate and scrutiny of the plans. That conversation is welcome and demonstrates the importance of the journey that we’re on.   

With the first phase of transformation completed over the summer, and the structure bedded in, the full focus is now on Phases 2-4.   

It’s important that we continue to take stock from Phase 1, to discuss with each other and with managers and senior leaders how it felt and what the impacts have been, to make sure that as we move forward with Phases 2-4 improvements are being made in the right areas and in the right ways.   

The leadership team and I have committed to listening carefully to your feedback, to engaging and collaborating at every opportunity, and to move forward in a way which emphasises the value of staff and the contribution you all continue to make.   

I’m excited about the opportunities arising from this approach as we continue through the current period of our transformation – with the focus on embracing technology, working together, and exploring the possibilities that are opening up for the Council as we all seek to improve service delivery for residents, businesses and everyone we serve.  

We will need to look after each other, keep talking about what is working well and what can be done differently and better, and keep each other focussed on the outcomes that we need to achieve.  

Hand in hand with our aim of better meeting the changing needs of the people and the place is a requirement to create more efficient ways of working to ensure financial sustainability in the face of increasingly challenging funding constraints.   

The vision is of a smart city where technology is the driver for a prosperous future for individuals, communities and businesses.  

The projects at the heart of Phases 2-4 of our transformation demonstrate a commitment to innovation. There are a range of ideas and concepts in a comprehensive portfolio and I’d urge everyone to take time to learn more about the plans, which you can find outlined on the Transformation Zone.

These are the projects that have been identified for development – but it is not a definitive list. Some will be added as new technologies emerge, others may be refined or revised as the process gathers pace. The intention is for a very agile and dynamic approach, which will be shaped by those who know our business best, including staff, customers and elected members.   

We all have the opportunity to be a driving force in this positive change. The success of transformation will be amplified with your contribution and engagement, with ideas and input welcome at every stage and in relation to every project.  

The first opportunity for everyone to collectively build our Council of the Future is by shaping our underlying principles and behaviours. You can do this with your manager, with your team or input individually and you will find more information here .  

It is a two-way commitment, with the Council equipped to support employees in growing their skills, building knowledge and developing careers with the Council and partners as the public sector continues to evolve.  

This period of transformation is the most important the Council has ever undertaken and will provide the foundation for our ambitions for the city’s future. Thank you in advance for your support.

Wild and dangerous animals, dropped kerbs … and the Council’s digital journey

It maybe doesn’t sound like they have much in common, but wild and dangerous animals have been sitting side by side with dropped kerbs in our digital programme.

The link is new online forms that allow customers to apply through the Council’s website for licences and permits.

There has been a flurry of activity in recent weeks, with the team going live across a variety of subject areas. The latest forms include:

  • Parking permits (residential and business), including new applications, renewals, lost permits, contractor permits and change of details;
  • Environmental health, including pest reporting, stray dogs and food safety;
  • Animal licensing, including wild and dangerous animal licences and pet shop licences;
  • Dropped kerb and driveway applications.

All in all more than 20 new online forms went live on a single day this month and the programme will continue to pick up pace, with many more projects being developed in a cycle of short sprints.

Every digital process that comes into service is designed to improve the customer and staff experience, a central focus of the shift to the Target Operating Model.

My thanks go to the whole project team, being led by Kate Fraser. They are working to a very tight schedule and it’s been really encouraging for all involved to be able to bring these digital options on stream.

I’m sure we can all relate in our personal experiences how digital platforms have changed the way we live our lives – from online banking and shopping to finding information and consuming media – and our customers expect the same transformation as they interact with us and perform everyday transactions.

There’s much more to follow as we carry on through our digital journey, both quick wins and more complex long-term opportunities. As ever, the input of those who know our organisation best – staff and customers – is vital and it’s fantastic to see some early ideas beginning to filter through to delivery.

Congratulations across the Council!

Another incredibly busy week for across the Council has brought some early festive cheer, with news of a succession of award wins for talented colleagues.

On Wednesday at the National Outdoor Events Association annual ceremony in Bath, Aberdeen City Council’s name was up in lights as winner in the NOEA Scotland Tribute Award in recognition of the City Growth events team’s promotion and running of the Tour Series cycling event.

Well done to Dawn Schultz and her colleagues for that recognition – although there’s no rest in that line of work, with attention quickly turning to last night’s Christmas tree lights switch-on and this Sunday’s Christmas lights parade.

Steven Shaw’s team from Operations are on a roll at the moment and have been toasting two more awards.

The Countryside Rangers were commended at the VIBES Awards in the Climate Adaptation Category – recognised for an entry based on the Tree for Every Citizen initiative and the work being done at East Tullos Burn and Seaton Wetland, which includes the use of the sites for outdoor learning.

Community involvement was noted by the judges as a cause for celebration, and that’s a great endorsement for the ethos we are so keen to embrace throughout the organisation. The second accolade came from ACVO, with a Volunteer Friendly Award marking the commitment to coordinating and developing volunteering opportunities with the Countryside Rangers.

It’s also important to acknowledge the wider relationship with community groups, which was a focus at the recent Keep Scotland Beautiful Your Neighbourhood seminar and awards. Aberdeen continues to lead the way – with 25 award winners and nine groups receiving certificates of distinction. No other local authority had the same level of success and it’s a brilliant example of communities and the Council, through Steven’s teams, working together with common goals.

Staying in Operations, Integrated Children’s and Family Services took centre stage at the national Quality Improvement Awards. Named the top team in Scotland, Sacha Will and her team were praised for the multi-agency approach which is improving family support services in Aberdeen. The praise for the success of the Council’s collaborative approach is a tremendous credit to the work that has been done.

Not to be outdone, Doug Gibb also has success to report to keep the Operations flag flying high. At the North East Scotland College Awards three awards and two runner-up spots in the 11 apprenticeship categories went to Aberdeen City Council’s talented crop. Brandon Russell collected two prizes – the First Year Carpentry and Joinery Apprentice of the Year and the Gordon Burns Award for best draughtperson – whilst Heidi Wards was winner of the David Murray Shield, the introduction to construction award. Lewis Burt was runner-up to Brandon in the first year category and Stewart McCombie runner-up in the Second Year Carpentry and Joinery Apprentice of the Year section. A huge congratulations to all of the apprentices and to Doug for his work in developing our workforce.

In Customer, Aberdeen was well represented as a runner-up in all four categories at the Tenant Participation and Advisory Service (TPAS) annual awards: Tenant of the Year (Pearl Smart); Tenant Group of the Year (Powis Tenant and Resident Group); Best Practice in Reporting Performance (Aberdeen City Council); Best Practice in Inovolving Customers (NETRALT project). My thanks go to Susan McLeod and to Carol Hannaford for the fantastic work being done with our tenants across the city.

To round off the good news, Commissioning colleagues were also in the spotlight at the National Procurement Awards – with Stuart Calderwood representing the Council as we were highly commended in the Social and Community Benefit Category for the Tillydrone Community Hub project. A real cross-Council effort from Craig Innes and the team, involving clusters across the Council and, even more importantly, the end users in the community.

Congratulations and thanks to all of those involved in the latest round of award wins and recognition – it’s a real boost for every one of your colleagues in every corner of the Council.

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, as well as Martin Murchie, Chief Officer for Business Intelligence and Performance Management, amongst the staff taking part.

We both have fundraising pages set up (click here for my page, here for Martin’s 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.

A team of teachers and youth workers at Hazlehead Academy have joined the list, with fundraising details here.

A huge thank you to everyone who has already donated, your support is very much appreciated.

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.