Beautiful Scotland Awards bring Aberdeen Communities Together

It has become customary at this time of year to celebrate Aberdeen’s award wins at the Beautiful Scotland Awards and 2019 is no different – but it is even more notable.

On Thursday there was a haul of silverware for the city at the 53rd annual ceremony.

Aberdeen Communities Together – an initiative driven by the Council but supported by hundreds of groups and more than a thousand volunteers – won the gold award in the city category and the Royal Caledonian Horticultural Society Trophy.

The Powis Residents’ Group won gold in the residential community category and the young people discretionary award whilst Brighter Bucksburn and Cove in Bloom earned silver gilt prizes.

Steven Shaw and his teams deserve huge praise for the way they continue to overcome challenges, in the face of the financial challenges posed by the Council’s decreasing funding and rising demand, to deliver to award winning standards.

I know Steven is incredibly proud of all those who contribute – not just our own staff, but the many community groups and organisations who are central to the many achievements over recent years.

This year’s awards would also have been a great source of pride for Alan Gray, who we lost earlier this year but whose memory lives on through the work of his colleagues and efforts of the volunteers he took under his wing.

Aberdeen Communities Together (ACT) is the umbrella for the work being done to bring together groups and individuals with the share aim of maintaining the city’s sparkle.

ACT has been credited with creating a new wave of civic pride, as well as opening up external funding opportunities to support the work being done by the partners who work together with a common goal.

Thousands of volunteer hours, in addition to the hard work and dedication of our own staff, help maintain and improve our parks and greenspaces. Again, it’s the one team, one council, one city principle in full flow.

On behalf of the Council my thanks go to everyone who has played a part in the latest achievements – I’ve no doubt there will be many more to come!

Team goals realised as Offshore Europe makes its debut at new home ground

Just last week delegates at Offshore Europe were passing through the gates and preparing to enter a whole new world as they got their first experience of The Event Complex Aberdeen.

More than 38,000 visitors attended over the course of four days as the new venue hosted its inaugural major event, with the P&J Live arena and conference facilities coming into their own.

It was a test of the design, of systems, of traffic plans and of staff – and all passed with flying colours. Feedback has been incredibly positive and I sense a real pride throughout the city in what is such a hugely significant development.

Following on from what was a successful week for the city, I must take the opportunity to place on record my thanks to those who have worked tirelessly to realise what was at the outset a very ambitious vision.

Richard Sweetnam, Andrew Win, Scott Ramsay, Steve Whyte, Stephen Booth and John Wilson have led various teams over several years to take the project through design and build to the grand opening.

Special mention to John too for his role as managing agent of the AWPR project, with the bypass a key component of the successful operation of TECA. Aided in no small part by that fantastic infrastructure addition, Doug Ritchie and his colleagues from Mark Reilly’s cluster were able to keep the city moving throughout Offshore Europe and that’s testament to the planning that has been done. Ross Stevenson, Jack Penman, Neale Burrows, Vycki Ritson, Sharon Toseland and Iain Moffat were at the heart of an excellent package of work in relation to travel and traffic management.

A project of the scale of TECA – more than £300m of investment by Aberdeen City Council – involves intricate teamwork not only within our own functions and clusters but with the key partners in delivery. Henry Boot Developments, Robertson Group and operators SMG have been at the heart of the success.

Underpinning those partnerships is a complex and painstaking procurement and legal process, led by Craig Innes and Fraser Bell, which provided a clear framework from the outset. Alison Watson from a legal and contract perspectives and Carol Wright with Ruth Kydd in relation to insurance have all been key players with support from colleagues throughout both commercial and procurement services and legal services.  The legal and commercial foundations were expertly laid before a single spade had gone into the ground on site.

Of course, the funding of the project and financial governance has also been paramount to the success – with Sandra Buthlay, Neil Stewart and Karen Black from Jonathan Belford’s team integral to that aspect of TECA’s delivery.

In Gale Beattie’s Strategic Place Planning cluster our planners at the beginning of the process and building standards team through to the final sign-off have also been instrumental while, from Andrew Howe’s Digital and Technology cluster, Steve Robertson and colleagues were pushed to the fore in ensuring the connectivity and systems were in place and stood up to the rigours of such a large attendance.

Offshore Europe was about far more than providing a world class venue, with our presence through the Invest Aberdeen and World Energy City Partnerships stands part of the ongoing efforts to grow our regional economy.

Richard’s team, with Dawn Schultz and Emma Watt leading the way during the months of preparation, ensured our civic leaders had a meticulous programme for the duration of the show and were able to maximise the opportunities presented by the audience Offshore Europe creates. The Invest Aberdeen flag was flown by Danielle McKinlay, Lynn Mutch, Callum Stewart and James Welsh.

The External Communications cluster was involved in everything from the launch of the venue through to the extensive traffic and travel messaging across social media and the design of exhibition material as well as having a part to play in various elements of the planning and delivery of Offshore Europe and WECP. Shevonne Bruce, Stella Evans, photographer and videographer Norman Adams, Karen Allan, Paul Smith and designers John Smellie, Katrina Angus, Laura McAra and Brenda Reid were among those involved from the team.

The WECP annual general meeting, the culmination of a packed programme for members, was hosted at the Town House to round-off the week, again with fantastic feedback on the professionalism and dedication shown by an array of our colleagues in bringing that important event to fruition. Ishbel Greig, Catherine Seam, Rachael Smillie, Morag McCorkindale as well as civic colleagues Gail Mair and Garry Watson were central to the planning and delivery. There was also a dedicated band of volunteers, drawn from various clusters, who kept the wheels of WECP turning through the week and ensured delegates left with a fantastic impression of our city.

As a final vote of thanks, it’s important to highlight the work done from an emergency planning and perspective. Largely unseen work, it is immensely important.

Mhairi McCowan, as our interim emergency planning and resilience lead, was supported by Fraser as well as our Duty Emergency Response Coordinator for the week Derek McGowan and all Chief Officers in ensuring we were prepared for every eventuality during such as a high-profile event. The comprehensive programme of work from Mhairi included devising and hosting two emergency response exercises, providing vital assurance to us and our fellow Local Resilience Partnership members, and extensive liaison with emergency services.

From protective services there was valuable input from Andrew Morrison, Samantha Bull, Nicola Dunbar, Helen Brady, Courtney Craig, Fiona Harvie, Justine Morrough and Tara Gilchrest. Andy Campbell, Lee Taylor, Bruce McKay and the building management team were also instrumental in supporting emergency planning and facilitating the WECP events.

The contributions of our public sector partners in the emergency services cannot be overstated, with collaboration during the planning stages and throughout the course of the event.

One team, one Council, one city – we can all be very proud of the way we came together to deliver on behalf of the city.

Suicide prevention week: Ask, Tell, Save a Life

Many different themes run through this blog through the course of a year, but by its nature it tends to be a corporate platform.

I’m setting my role to one side for a few moments to post something far more personal. I write as a workmate, a friend, a wife, a mother and a daughter rather than as Chief Executive.

Today marks the start of Suicide Prevention Week.  It’s a subject that isn’t spoken about openly very often and isn’t particularly well understood.

NHS Health Scotland and NHS Education Scotland have created the animation below to coincide with a week of action and awareness raising and I’d encourage everyone to take a few minutes out to watch it. It could help to save a life.

On Saturday, SAMH will be hosting a tree planting ceremony to remember those lost by suicide in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire. This is an annual event, open to all, and this year is being held at Battle Hill in Huntly from 2pm. Where a tree is planted, a plaque is placed to try to encourage conversations to open up.

There is also a drive within the Council to increase awareness of Time For Talking, with promotional material being distributed within clusters at present. The free counselling service is available to all employees by phone 24/7 on 0800 9703980 or online at, with a live chat option using the password TfTnow. The roll-out of our Mental Health Action Plan also continues.

Because suicide isn’t discussed we tend not to acknowledge the scale. A World Health Organisation report published in recent years stated that at least 800,000 people die as the result of suicide every year. That averages one person every 40 seconds, the subject of the thought-provoking poem by Patrick Roche you can read at the foot of this post.

In Scotland the average is two people every day.

Much more than numbers and statistics, each individual lost to suicide is a family member, friend, colleague or neighbour in their own right.

Any death is a tragedy, with the loss of time that would have been spent together. When someone dies as the result of suicide it can be far more difficult to come to terms with

Every one of those people represented in the stark figures I have mentioned is different and has their own story, with so many complexities that make it incredibly difficult to find a common thread or a simple solution. But we have to try.

There is a lot being done locally and across Scotland, something I see at first-hand as a member of the National Suicide Prevention Leadership Group, and it’s so important we build on that good work.

Removing the stigma and secrecy that so often shrouds conversations about suicide is a big part of that.

Continuing to show care for one another is even more important. We spend so much time with our colleagues, day in and day out, and sometimes, not always, we get a sense that something has changed. We may have an understanding of what others are experiencing and events that may be causing distress, often we have no idea.

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.

What I really want to say is 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.

Every 40 seconds by Patrick Roche:

This is not a list poem

This is a eulogy for those swallowed by their own mind
This is a call to arms, a call to speak
This is not family gatherings when I mention mental health
And then told not to spoil the turkey
That it is uncouth
That it is better to stay silent
This is taking that silence and then breaking it with my hands
With my teeth and tongue
This is people with mental illness banging our heads against the walls
Not out of insanity
But to try to make some noise
To be heard
Too often we are ashamed
Too often we are in the shadows

Suicide is not always a banshee wailing against your eardrums

It is the child playing hide and seek behind your friend’s smile
They will not wear it openly
They will not hold its hand and introduce it to you
It is always invisible
Suicide is a lonely ghost desperate to give itself playmates
It is not a permanent solution to a temporary problem
These are so rarely temporary problems
It is aiming for a long night’s sleep
After years of insomnia
It is a seduction of safety and simplicity
Sometimes it is careful planning
Drafting the note
Inspecting the apartment for beams that can support your weight
Or it is a flip switch
Given the right trigger
Or no trigger at all
It is painting a target on the highway divider
It is imagining the phone call my mother will get in the middle of a nap
Sometimes it is sudden
It is not always arriving

The most convenient time of the clock keeps ticking
Every forty seconds
This is not a list poem
This is the tea kettle rising to a soprano screech
But you keep ignoring it to watch TV
It keeps whistling and crying
But you keep ignoring it
How much noise do I have to make
When we tell you that we are suicidal
It is a cry for help
But that’s not a sign of weakness
This is not a sign of weakness
This is saying that we’re fighting and we’ve been fighting with every weapon and fist we have
We’ve crashed against the cliffside
Broken and splintered
But we’re still fighting with whatever we can
I’m using my voice
That’s all I have left

Over the years I have written different versions of my suicide note

On the nights I almost took my life I always deleted or threw away the note
Rather than sending it or leaving it for someone
I assumed the words would just make them uncomfortable
If I’m going to die
Better to do it without all that fuss
Better to do it in silence
Hundreds and thousands of people are dying in silence
And because of silence
This is not a list poem
This is saying we can keep each other breathing
This is speaking louder than the stigma and hoping someone will listen

Energy of our Council teams in focus as OE and WECP burst into life

A very brief note to say good luck to the many, many Council teams who are involved in the delivery and support of both Offshore Europe and the World Energy Cities Partnership AGM being hosted in the city this week.

The two will run side by side in a hectic spell which will bring tens of thousands of delegates, exhibitors and VIP guests to the city.

From the project team who have delivered the fantastic venue for OE – as P&J Live prepares for its first major event – to the City Growth colleagues hosting our Invest Aberdeen stand, the road and traffic specialists who will keep the city moving, emergency planning colleagues who have prepared for every eventuality and the various Council groups who have ensured the WECP event will run like clockwork.

That is to name just a few of the areas we will have an important role in, there are lots of others to add to that list.

Best wishes to everyone involved this week, I know how much preparation has gone in and the energy and commitment that sits behind the plans for the days ahead.

Wheels continue to turn as council cycle gathers pace

As we emerge out of the summer holiday period, there are some important dates looming on the horizon and it feels like an ideal opportunity to provide an update on where the focus will be in the weeks and months ahead.

Welcome back to those who have had leave and thank you to all those who have worked throughout the summer to maintain services and continue to provide care and support for all those we serve. I know that for many, the traditional holiday times are actually the busiest of the working year.

Across the Council there will be a sense of momentum and pace as we look forward to the next steps on our transformation journey, balancing that with the demands of daily business.

The budget process transcends transformation and business as usual and there is an important change as we plan for 2020/21.

When the City Growth and Resources Committee met at the end of last month to sign-off on the accounts for the first quarter, an instruction was made by members for a report to be taken back to the 26 November meeting outlining the indicative budget options for 20/21.

Usually those options would be presented in time for the March budget meeting of full Council, but in recognition of the complexity and scale of the challenges we have faced in recent years there’s a push to have a longer period to consider the important decisions that each budget brings.

That instruction will have an impact on every area of the Council as each function and cluster feeds into the overarching budget preparation. By bringing the process forward there will be an onus on everyone to work diligently and efficiently to ensure the committee has the detail they have requested for the November agenda. That report will help shape the approach and final budget report to be tabled in time for decisions in March.

A great deal of valuable work has already been done in relation to a very deliberate change in approach when it comes to budgeting, which will be at the heart of the 20/21 plans. The focus is on understanding and managing demand and that will be crucial to our future success.

It’s a simple principle, but sitting behind it is a complex workstream which delves deep into the data we are building in relation to demand and the way in which we meet the needs of our customers now and in the future.

As we move through the second quarter of 2019/20 that work will continue, feeding into the budget process as we plan for 20/21 and beyond. It’s important that demand management is embraced in every corner of the Council and it’s vital that employees have the chance to shape the ongoing review of the services we provide, the way we deliver them and the opportunities to evolve and improve.

That engagement will take different forms in different areas – for example building services have led the way in embracing a new approach through a series of successful workshops – but there will be a common thread.

The process of service design should be an iterative one and didn’t stop with the implementation of the adoption of the Target Operating Model (TOM) and move to the interim structure.

Our ongoing service designs will help ensure that we are organised effectively to support our customers, guided by the experiences of our teams since the new functions and clusters were introduced.

The challenge is for all areas of the council to reflect on what has worked well, improve on aspects that may not have met expectations and to ensure we are embedding the collaborative approach that is such a huge part of the guiding principles – one team, one council, one city.

I look forward to sharing updates as we move forward and continue to build the Council of the future.

Team goals to the fore in a weekend of celebration for Aberdeen

Congratulations to the many staff from across the Council who took part in the Great Aberdeen Run on Sunday – I know there are some aching limbs this week, but lots of proud participants too!

It was another fantastic showcase for the city, with thousands of runners taking to the streets, and my thanks go to everyone who made it possible – teams from City Growth, Operations and Protective Services and External Communications were all on duty over the weekend to make sure the event ran smoothly as well as in the weeks and months leading up to it with support from many other clusters. They even arranged for the sun to shine!

The Great Aberdeen Run is a great example of the Team principle – one team, one Council, one city – on so many levels. We have worked hand in hand with partners including the Great Run Company, Visit Aberdeenshire and Aberdeen Inspired to deliver event over the past three years and the city has responded by signing up to take part as well as cheering runners on around the course.

The same community spirit was just as evident on Saturday when Celebrate Aberdeen took centre stage. We’re proud to support that fantastic celebration of the contribution the third sector makes to the city and I know how much the appreciation showed by the public means to the volunteers and staff from all the charities and organisations who take part in the parade and programme of events over the course of the weekend.

The Great Aberdeen Run has reached the end of its three-year contract, which partners have decided not to extend into next year, but other options to build on the foundations that have been built are being explored.

The Council has had an important role in attracting ambitious and high-profile events to the city in recent years – everything from the run and Tour Series cycling to Nuart and Spectra. The Aberdeen 365 events programme will continue to evolve and to keep the calendar fresh the line-up will change from year to year.

It has been great to see people embrace the Great Aberdeen Run during the past three years and I’m sure the response will be just the same to new additions, with the Tour of Britain’s debut in the north-east looming and Spectra returning in 2020 after a one year break. These events bring our communities and visitors together and it’s fantastic to see.

Attracting the Tour of Britain is a significant coup for the city and region, aided in no small part by the way our own teams supported the Tour Series events and, just as importantly, by the tremendous public reaction.

Great teamwork and partnerships are at the root of the success we have had and there’s a huge amount to look forward to in the remaining months of 2019 and the year ahead.

Thank you once again to everyone who made the weekend a special one for Aberdeen.

Congratulations to our P&J Live stars

I spoke last week of my enormous pride in the team behind the creation of The Event Complex Aberdeen, with the P&J Live entertainment and conference facilities at its centre, and after the celebrations over the past few days it’s important to once again thank all those who have played a part.

The opening ceremony on Thursday was followed by the preview event on Saturday and I know lots of our own staff were among the thousands who snapped up tickets.

The reaction to both events has been overwhelmingly positive and the complex is a shining light in terms of our ambitions for Aberdeen.

I make no apologies for repeating what I’ve said previously – the scale of the achievement by the project team and the many, many colleagues from across a huge range of Council services is phenomenal. We can all take inspiration from the way this project has been delivered – the Team principle in action.

Of course, with test events continuing and Offshore Europe around the corner the hard work is carrying on for those closest to the development.

In months and years to come, we will take a step back and truly appreciate the impact of what has been achieved and the social and economic benefits it has brought to the city and its residents. In the meantime, thank you once again to our teams and congratulations on a hugely important week.

New term, fresh faces thanks to success of early years initiative

Whisper it, but the school holidays are almost at an end. For one group in particular the start of term can’t come quickly enough as they embark on new careers as qualified Early Years Practitioners in our city settings.

All are existing members of Council staff who decided to put themselves forward for retraining and a change in career, successfully completing their traineeships in time for the start of the new academic year.

A celebration event is planned next month to mark their achievements as they head off to put their skills into practice as part of the ongoing expansion of Early Learning and Childcare provision. It’s such an important and rewarding role, giving children the best possible start in life and the chance to be the best they can be.

The response from staff to the opportunity to retrain has been excellent and very welcome as we aim to cater for demand in all of our communities.

A further 30 council employees will form cohort two and begin their traineeship in early years later this month. I wish all well as they start on an exciting new journey.

As part of our new Apprenticeship Scheme we’re also offering Modern Apprenticeships in early years as well a number of other areas of our business. These include care, housing, business administration and customer service, offering a positive destination for young people who are at the stage of choosing their career path.

Three information sessions have been held over the past week and the response was excellent, so we’ll start to see the green shoots very soon from the seeds that have been sown.

There will be lots of activity continuing around early years in particular and it’s a growth area that presents a variety of options. If you’re interested in finding out more, please contact the Talent Acquisition team within People and Organisation and they will be happy to provide information on all the training initiatives we’re developing.

Congratulations to all of our new Early Years Practitioners and best wishes to them and our new trainees for the start of term.

Going behind the scenes at TECA as momentous day looms large

This week marks two red letter days in the largest single project ever undertaken by Aberdeen City Council as The Event Complex Aberdeen bursts into life.

On Thursday the Co-Leaders will perform the official opening ceremony and on Saturday Preview @ P&J Live will welcome thousands of members of the public for a first glimpse inside the venue. Free tickets for the weekend’s event were quickly snapped up and there’s a real sense of anticipation around the unveiling of the complex.

I find it difficult to put into words the pride I feel when I visit the site and see what has been accomplished.

Aberdeen will have a truly world class facility, the largest development of its type in Europe, and it’s a project that symbolises the scale of the ambition we have for the city as well as, just as importantly for me, the wealth of talent we have within the Council.

It’s an undertaking that has brought teams together from all parts of the organisation – driven by project manager Andrew Win and Richard Sweetnam with their City Growth colleagues, led by Steve Whyte and the key clusters from Resources in Finance, Capital and Corporate Landlord but also with vital work from legal teams in Governance, from Strategic Place Planning at the outset, Commercial and Procurement, the roads and traffic experts as well as other teams in Operations and Protective Services and colleagues in External Communications.

There are many others within our own camp who have played a part, not to mention the valued partners from Henry Boot Developments and Robertson Group with the thousands of individual workers involved, and my sincere thanks go to everyone who has been on what is an incredible journey.

In the days ahead we’ll share more updates from the site, but I’m really keen to give those closest to the project the platform to share their memories as we celebrate a wonderful moment.  It’s well worth taking the time to watch the video with Andrew below to get a first-hand account.

As Andrew points out, although construction has been rapid – just three years to get to this point – the planning and preparation stretches back to 2012. So many have lived and breathed this development during that time and they can all walk ten feet tall this week as the finishing touches are made to a complex that will serve the city and region for decades to come.



Summer success for our teams

Congratulations are in order for the latest wave of achievements across the Council, with our Operations and Protective Services cluster reaping the benefits of the great collaborative approach they have adopted.

We’ve been notified that judges for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities Excellence Awards have taken the Aberdeen Communities Together (ACT) initiative forward to the next round as they prepare to select the 2019 finalists.

Making the COSLA longlist in the Achieving Better Outcomes in Partnership category is a great achievement for Environmental Manager Steven Shaw and the team. I may be biased, but ACT is already a winner in my eyes!

It brings together various organisations, including friends groups and public sector partners, as well as thousands of volunteers with the common goal of improving the environment and inspiring civic pride throughout the city – both among staff and residents.

More than 150 partnerships are part of ACT. A lot of work goes in to coordinating the efforts, but it is certainly worthwhile.

On a related note, we recently had the great news that six of our greenspaces have been awarded Green Flag status – another cause for celebration.

Duthie Park, Hazlehead Park, Johnston Gardens, Seaton Park, Slopefield Allotments and Victoria Park have all been recognized. It’s another example of the dedication and care that goes into these areas, from our own teams and from the many volunteers who play their part in tending to them.

Well done to all involved.

In a very different area of our operations, the Aberdeen Scientific Services Laboratory’s success in renewing its United Kingdom Accreditation Service accreditation was reported through the Public Protection Committee earlier in the summer.

The laboratory provides analytical services to a wide range of local authority and private clients, with a team of 20 in the Operations and Protective Services cluster. Everything from food sampling to monitoring agricultural products, potable water, swimming pools, legionella, air quality, surface and ground waters and leachates from landfill sites falls under the wing of the lab.

It’s one of the less visible Council services – but as you can see from that list, it is crucial in fulfilling our duty of protecting the people and place from harm.

My appreciation goes to the team for their diligence in what is a rigorous audit process.

Attention will turn to achievements of an academic nature this week, with the SQA results due out on Tuesday.

Good luck to the young people (and parents and carers!) who are awaiting news and thank you to the teachers and school staff who will be on hand over the holiday period to lend support and advice.