New Year thanks and a warm welcome back

With the hectic festive period behind us, can I say a sincere thanks to everyone who was on duty for the Council over the past fortnight and a warm welcome back to all who have been able to enjoy a break and recharge the batteries.

The year ahead will be one of challenge and opportunity, with the journey we’re on together continuing at pace. I’m looking forward to sharing regular updates in the weeks and months ahead on the positive strides forward being made across the functions and clusters.

Of course business as usual also continues at the same pace and that was the case over the holiday period.

Our teams continued to care for those we serve around the clock through Christmas and New Year whilst other essential services carried on for the duration. Our gritter crews, for example, had a number of 4.45am starts to counter the cold snap and keep motorists and pedestrians safe.

A number of teams, led by events colleagues in City Growth, were also on duty on December 31 and the early hours of January 1 as Aberdeen rang in 2018 in style – with live music and a spectacular fireworks display drawing visitors from near and far.

It marked the culmination of months of planning not just for Hogmanay for the successful Aberdeen Winter Festival, driven by Council colleagues as well as partners including Aberdeen Inspired and contractors who provide their expertise. All relied on the support and dedication of Police Scotland and many others to ensure safe and enjoyable celebrations.

The team ethos is the foundation all these major events are built upon and we look forward to the programme for the next 12-months.

Best wishes to everyone at the Council as we prepare for a productive and innovative 2019.

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

Merry Christmas and a happy New Year

Merry Christmas and a happy New Year to everyone at Aberdeen City Council, your family, loved ones and friends.

After a flurry of activity in the past week, the holiday season is upon us with the school term finished and our offices quietening down.

For many colleagues there will be vital work continuing right through the weeks ahead – keeping people safe, caring for those who rely on us, keeping the city’s services running and the traffic moving.

As well as those on duty there are also lots who are on call and ready to respond to every eventuality, which is another important part of life in a big city Council.

I want to once again pass on my special thanks to everyone who will be working over the festive period.

Whether you’re on duty or getting a welcome break, very best wishes to all.

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.

Important lessons in lots of different ways during a whirlwind week

On behalf or the Council, can I pass on a huge thank you to everyone who took part in Sleep in the Park or who supported the cause with generous donations.

Thousands took part across Scotland and it was a really great experience to join the Aberdeen event at Duthie Park along with colleagues and elected members.

One night out in the elements can never replicate the harsh reality faced day in and day out by those affected by homelessness and sleeping rough – but everyone who took part has helped to raise the profile of the issue and, crucially, millions of pounds to support Social Bite’s work. As an organisation we’ll continue to work with partners, including the third sector, to help reduce homelessness.

Sleep in the Park in Aberdeen had a real community feel, with Derek McInnes making a special appearance for the bedtime story. It was a difficult week for all associated with the Dons, with the disappointment of the cup final defeat still raw, but that was put to one side as the club threw its weight behind the sleep out with genuine and heartfelt support from Derek. As he is the first to acknowledge, there are always issues that help put any personal or professional disappointment into perspective and homelessness is certainly one of those.

In the same week the club and players were out in force to support the Cash for Kids appeal and Mission Christmas, with Dons supporters adding to the donations being made across the city

That type of civic leadership from the club is a great example of the attitude that will help ensure a bright future for the city. The Council and public sector partners play a leading role in that but we’re very fortunate to have so many proactive and supportive organisations willing and able to join that collaborative approach.

Sleep in the Park was the culmination of a really positive and thought provoking week for me and colleagues from many different services.

I was delighted to join our tenant group’s Christmas party on Tuesday – there aren’t many Council meetings that end up with the room joining in the Grand Old Duke of York!

It was fantastic fun and a real joy to celebrate the work of a group which is doing so much to represent the views and needs of the Council’s tenants, winning national recognition year after year with too many awards to list. Staff and tenants share a real passion for making things better for all and as a Council we’re reaping the benefits of that enthusiasm.

From singing and dancing, the next stop was a cooking lesson courtesy of a looked after children’s board meeting. The underlying message was about our role as corporate parents and the importance of life skills for the young people under our wing. It’s so easy to take for granted, but for young people these lessons can have a real lasting impact in terms of a happy and healthy journey into adulthood.

On Friday I attended an event with a focus on the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry, where we heard from three former care experienced young people. The emphasis was on the role we play in telling young people their life story and how we can improve in this area. There is so much we can learn and do better simply by listening to those who understand the subject best, it really is inspiring to have that direct input.

A week of contrast for me, but every experience was a positive one and the cause of great optimism for future.

A New Year resolution in support of courageous colleagues

As I wrote my Christmas message earlier in the week, I started thinking about the new year and what 2019 will bring us as a Council.

Of course, its impossible to know what’s around the corner for us either as an organisation or as an individual.

I’ve been reminded of that several times this year, by a range of colleagues within ACC, who have experienced the shock of a cancer diagnosis. Conversations with these colleagues leave you feeling incredibly in awe of their strength, bravery, resilience and optimism.

All of course stress the importance of the screening services and facilities that we all have access to – both men and women,  young and old.

So as I start to think about my New Year resolution, I’m definitely going to make a personal commitment to continue to access these screening services and I encourage you to do the same.

Let’s hope our colleagues continue to have the courage and bravery to cope with their treatment and as their “work family” lets give them all a commitment to be there for them when they need us most.

Christmas wishes and reflections

 

Can I take the opportunity to pass on my festive best wishes to all at Aberdeen City Council – here’s to a merry Christmas and a happy New Year.

I’m always very conscious that although the holiday season is looming, for so many colleagues it will be business as usual throughout. My thanks go to everyone working over the public holidays and keeping vital services running, it is very much appreciated not only internally but by all those we serve in Aberdeen.  If you are able to get a break over the festive period, I hope you have a good one and return refreshed and ready for 2019.

A great deal has been achieved this year and it’s important to acknowledge the pace of the transformation that we’re undertaking as an organisation. I know there have been challenges for every area of our business as we change and adapt – thank you for your support and commitment. My appreciation also goes to colleagues who have moved on during the course of the year for all they contributed, many over lengthy and distinguished service.

Continuing on the note of thanks, special mention to designer Scott Cumming from the Communications team for his work on the Council’s digital Christmas card. It will be seen far and wide and is a great celebration of Christmas in the city.

Of course, Broad Street has a very festive feel at the moment with the Christmas Village in full swing. We’re getting a particularly close view from Marischal College – with one ride in particular flying past at regular intervals and keeping us all on our toes!

It has been fantastic to see so much positivity around the village and the Christmas in Aberdeen programme in general. The conversation on social media and around the city has been overwhelmingly positive and, together with Aberdeen Inspired, we can be very proud of the great spirit that’s being fostered. Locals and visitors alike have played their part in bringing that Christmas cheer.

It’s important to acknowledge that the  festive period can also be a difficult time for many.

In particular, my thoughts and wishes are with the family of young Liam Smith. Liam, who is just 16 and a pupil at Westhill Academy, has been missing since 17 November and I cannot begin to imagine what family and friends are going through at this time. I’d urge anyone who may have information that could assist the search to get in touch with Police Scotland. Further details can be found here.

The police will continue to work tirelessly as they search for Liam and always face the most testing of circumstances with professionalism and wholehearted commitment.

As our own Council teams play their part in the city’s winter readiness in terms of road and pedestrian safety, with the gritter teams mobilised this week, it’s important we remember that the freezing conditions pose an even greater danger across the city in respect of those who are without shelter.  For one person to be facing winter in those circumstances is simply not acceptable in a modern, caring society – unfortunately the numbers are stark in Aberdeen and throughout the country. This weekend I’ll be joining the Council contingent, officers and elected members, for Sleep in the Park at Duthie Park – aiming to raise funds and awareness in the ongoing efforts to tackle homelessness across Scotland. It is a small gesture in acknowledgement of a significant issue and part of four simultaneous events taking place in Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Food poverty is another issue to be addressed and thank you to everyone who contributed to the recent food drive by CFINE across Council premises. Stock levels remain low and your support is valuable – to find out more about ways to contribute visit the CFINE website.

I know we all take time to think of those less fortunate than ourselves at this time of year and it is always uplifting to see across the year the many ways in which so many colleagues play their part in making a positive difference to individuals and communities across the city.

We’ll continue to strive to make a difference throughout the Christmas period and into 2019 and I look forward to working alongside you to do that.

In the meantime, the very best of wishes for the festive season to you and yours from the directors and I.

Thank you to all involved in Beachview Court response

The team ethic that underpins so much of the work we do as a Council came to the fore at the weekend as we dealt with an incident at Beachview Court.

A leak caused by a fractured pipe in the roof water tank affected the lifts and stairwells at the property, with water supplies to householders interrupted as repairs were carried out and other disruption in and around the building.

Although the initial incident happened on Friday, the response carried on through the weekend both in terms of housing staff ensuring residents were reassured and given the care and attention they needed as well as from building services colleagues who were put to work restoring services in the buildings.

Colin Low, Ian Cowling and Paul Tytler were amongst those who coordinated the effort, with Richard Sweetnam on duty in his role as Duty Emergency Response Coordinator, and many more also involved on the frontline.

Can I pass on a huge thanks to all those who were part of the cross-function team who made sure a testing situation was managed in a calm, professional and caring manner. I know residents of the building appreciated everything that was done for them.

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.