Moving the Council forward with purpose

The business of a local authority is complex. When you look at the recently approved Council Delivery Plan, it gives you a sense of the diversity of services, programmes and projects which the organisation is involved in and the varied work of our colleagues.

From closing education attainment gaps and tackling food poverty to reviewing adult protection and increasing flexible childcare provision right through to pioneering hydrogen technology and introducing a cycle hire scheme the remit is incredibly wide ranging.

Given that diversity, is it possible to find a unifying purpose which can bind us all together?

We often talk about being “one team” but to feel a member of a team you have to have a sense of belonging together in order to achieve a common purpose.

I believe we can have a common purpose and it is captured in the recently approved Local Outcome Improvement Plan. It states that the purpose of the partnership is to “ensure that the people, place and economy of Aberdeen prosper”.

Prosperity doesn’t simply mean being financially prosperous – it can refer to our wellbeing, a state of peace and harmony.

I think this definition of purpose, can be something that unifies us within Aberdeen City Council too. If we align ourselves to this purpose, instead of aligning ourselves to our professions, our defined job profiles and organisational clusters, then we’ll all have something that binds us together regardless of where we are in the organisation.

Of course, it’s an inevitable feature of life, that the state of prosperity for individuals, families, communities and cities is not guaranteed and life, societal and environmental events happen which put that state of prosperity at jeopardy.  For example, the loss of a job can have a detrimental effect on a family and put at risk the ability to feed, shelter and keep loved ones safe. Environmental events, like significant flooding, can result in major damage to property as well as risk to life.

In the event of such harmful events occurring, I believe our role is to first of all help rescue the people and place from that harm and to then help with the road to recovery. In fact, in civil contingency law, we have duties placed on us as a local authority to act as a “Category 1” responder to play our part in rescue and recovery, for example, in the event of severe weather or terrorist attacks.

So, our common purpose can be defined as: “To ensure that the people, place and economy of Aberdeen prosper, but in the event of a harmful event, to play our part in the rescue and recovery from that harm”.

Going back to those earlier examples of the diversity of what we’re involved in – it’s possible to see how each contributes to the common purpose.

Protecting the people and place from harm comes in lots of different forms, from the vital work we do in schools and through our social work teams as well as in the growing early intervention initiatives and right through to the infrastructure investment and introduction of technology to prevent and respond to severe weather.

Equally, there are lots of ways in which we as a Council help the city to prosper.  From developing the economy of Aberdeen by staging events and creating world class facilities such as The Event Complex Aberdeen and redeveloped Aberdeen Art Gallery through to our work in sustainable transport and technologies.

As you know we’ve been doing a lot of work on a new behaviour framework and this has been submitted to the Staff Governance Committee for approval when it meets on March 18. The report can  be viewed here and I’d encourage everyone to read it.

Within the framework, one of the general principles being proposed is about “caring for our purpose”. My challenge to you is to share in a purpose that’s focused on helping the people, place and economy of Aberdeen to prosper but, in the event of a harmful situation, be part of a team who cares enough to play its part in the rescue and recovery. We all have a big role to play.

Priorities for 2019/20 set with budget decisions

With the 2019/20 budget meeting now concluded, as officers we have clear instructions from elected members on the priorities for the year ahead.

My appreciation goes to the finance team, led by Jonathan Belford, for their diligent and exhaustive work over a period of weeks and months as well as the governance team, led by Fraser Bell, for steering us through two complex Council meetings on consecutive days. The preparation was comprehensive, not least given the scale of the task in preparing and gaining approval for the updated scheme of governance

Thanks also to every officer who has been involved in the budget process, with valuable contributions coming from all quarters.

I’m appreciative of the positive attitude and commitment staff across the organisation display in every circumstance and that is always very evident as the budget process reaches its conclusion. The prospect of change can be unsettling and, given the scale of the financial challenges we face, this year’s budget report contained a wide range of proposals for change in all areas of the organisation. Thank you for your efforts in maintaining business as usual and continuing to show the support and care for our customers that is so important to everything we do.

I hope colleagues managed to read the budget report in advance of Tuesday’s meeting. I can now provide you with a summary of the budget decisions as well instructions I received at the budget meeting.

In terms of Income, council made the following decisions against the backdrop of a reduction in our revenue grant of £6.6m.and an overall funding gap of £41.2m:

  • To increase Council Tax by 4.5%;
  • To increase a range of fees and charges: A number of proposals were put forward, with the potential to realise additional income of more than £1.6m, and many of those have been adopted by members. A variety of charges were increased at rate of 3% (for example creative learning classes, library late fees, event space hire and high hedge notices to name just some) whilst the following specific charges were also applied:
    • Parking charges will rise, as will the cost of parking permits by £10 per year for the first permit and £20 per year for the second;
    • A new fee for garden waste collection has been introduced, with a charge for brown bin collections for the first time, but it has been set at £30 per household rather than a higher monthly rate. This is expected to raise around £800,000 annually;
    • In the housing budget, an increase of 4.3% to Council house rents was approved.

In terms of the expenditure side, Council made the following decisions:

  • Staff costs: Council approved the proposed further reduction in our workforce through voluntary severance and early retirement, reiterating the commitment to no compulsory redundancies. This commitment applies to all of the decisions taken at yesterday’s budget, including those relating to changes in service provision or delivery. We have budgeted for a further 260 colleagues choosing to leave through VSER, but it’s important to acknowledge the overall reduction in numbers in the year ahead will be greater than that as we continue to limit external recruitment when vacancies arise. You will already have seen an increasing number of posts being filled by advertising internally and that will continue as we take a flexible approach to ensuring staff resource is being allocated to best meet the needs of those we serve in a more efficient way. Members did not accept proposals that would have led to a review of terms and conditions for Council staff in 2019/20, but did issue an instruction to me to begin negotiations with Trade Unions to consider locally agreed terms and conditions moving forward. In recognition of the necessity of digital transformation in order to underpin the release of staff through VSER, members approved the continuation of the transformation fund in order to ensure appropriate investment is available for the required technology.
  • Assets: Members took all the options relating to the further rationalisation of our estate resulting in reducing the number of buildings we use and getting more from those that we retain. Examples include continuing preparations to move staff out of Frederick Street, taking ourselves off our site at Kittybrewster as well as progressing with options for the co-location of partners such as Police Scotland into Marischal College. Members understand that capital receipts are required to provide a funding source for VSER payments, as councils are not allowed to borrow to fund the cost of change. Council agreed to permit the sale of a number of assets in order to provide the necessary funds for VSER.
  • Contracts: Contract spend is a major part of our overall expenditure, covering the diverse range of goods and services we purchase each year. Close to £4m of savings are budgeted for 2019/20 following decisions in the chamber yesterday by reducing the levels of purchase. Further savings will be made through the use of national frameworks to reduce costs and close to £2m through reviewing and reducing the costs associated with many other contracts. The message around contract spend is a familiar one but just as important today as it was last year and in previous years – every penny counts and we all have a duty to ensure best value.
  • Arms Length Organisations: Members have opted for some changes in the funding to our arms length organisations. Sport Aberdeen will be the subject of a £550,000 reduction in funding. Aberdeen Sports Village funding reflects the commitment to the joint venture agreement, on the proviso that investment is made by ASV in a proposed new 4G rugby pitch.  Bon Accord Care is not directly impacted as the IJB budget setting process has yet to be concluded. Aberdeen Performing Arts will be the subject of a small reduction in revenue funding but benefit from a Common Good Fund grant that will protect events such as Granite Noir. The IJB will receive additional funding, as will the Grampian Valuation Joint Board.
  • Grants: External grant funding is an area that understandably has been the subject of a great deal of scrutiny in our communities, with groups concerned by the prospect of reduced funding. There were reductions in external funding to various organisations, including VisitAberdeenshire, but members also committed to protecting grant funding to a number of groups in the budget approved yesterday, including the Workers Education Association, Aberdeen Lads’ Club, the Grampian Regional Equalities Council and the community initiatives at Fersands, Middlefield, Printfield and St Machar. The Fairer Aberdeen Fund has also been protected. There is an acknowledgement that external funding will continue to be reviewed as we move forward, but also a recognition that we must work closely with community groups to ensure solutions that enable us to deliver on the objectives of the Local Outcome Improvement Plan (LOIP).
  • Capital programme: The General Fund Capital Programme budget delivers infrastructure projects across the city and £182m will be invested following budget decisions. This includes the completion of The Event Complex Aberdeen and refurbishment of Aberdeen Art Gallery as well as City Centre Masterplan projects including the renovation of Provost Skene’s House and community facilities including the Tillydrone Community Campus. A commitment to the Union Terrace Gardens project and the programme of new school construction was also made.

In light of the above, the Council now has a balanced budget for 2019/20.

Planning to deliver – the year ahead

So while the ink may not have set yet on the council budget, we must now create a momentum around our delivery. Whilst our transformation programme has helped council to set a balanced budget in 2017/18 and 2018/19, our 2018/2019 end of year outlook still looks unfavourable because of the continuation of demand pressures we face. It’s therefore vital that we redouble our efforts to deliver all of the approved budget options in order to get ahead of the growing demand pressures we face.

In addition to receiving the budget reports, members also noted the new Council Delivery Plan. I would ask every member of staff to take time to read through plan, which was approved during the budget meeting.

It summarises the way in which the next phases of transformation will take shape and sets out our clear priorities for 2019/20 arising from the council’s policy statement, our commissioning intentions for council services as well as our contribution to multi-agency improvement priorities contained in the recently approved refreshed LOIP: https://bit.ly/2H1ONgu .

The spending priorities for the year ahead have been set using the LOIP as the foundation, tying our budget back to the LOIP vision of Aberdeen as ’A place where all people can prosper’.  Our purpose is to ensure that the people, place and economy of Aberdeen do prosper but in the event of harm happening, to be one of the first bodies to be there to rescue people and place from harm and to help them recover from the harm. With diminishing resources, the LOIP is vital in ensuring we target resources where they can really drive positive outcomes.

The Council Delivery Plan is a clear statement of our priorities for 2019/20 and all staff objectives for the year ahead will be derived from it. More detail will follow on the way we will improve that process for staff, with the aim of ensuring every individual is clear on their part in delivering outcomes and can relate to the overarching ambitions we have for the city.

As I said previously, we need to collectively have a strong belief in ourselves and that we have the ability to change our organisation in a way which responds to these challenges. We owe it to all those people in Aberdeen who rely on the Council, to make sure that we can continue to provide the support they need – and that will involve doing things differently in order to live within our financial means.

Planning ahead – The medium term outlook

When we set off on our transformation journey the estimate was that in the region of £125m of savings would need to be identified over a five-year period, or around £25m per year. What the 2019/20 funding settlement and budget has demonstrated is that was a conservative estimate, with £41.2m required this year alone. We do expect the gap to fall to around £25m each year for the next two years, with current estimates for a £19m gap in 2022/23 falling to around £11m the year after – so combined efficiencies of £90m in the four years ahead.  We are currently placing reliance on the Scottish Government’s medium term financial strategy for forecasting our medium term financial position. Of course, we will have to await our financial settlement notification from Scottish Government in order to confirm the position exactly.

The short to medium term picture is clearly one of continued financial challenges, we can’t sugar coat that and I wouldn’t want to. As soon as the budget meeting finished in the chamber, my thoughts and those of the senior management team were already turning to 2020/21 and continuing to drive improvements and efficiencies. Colleagues from all corners of the Council have stepped up with suggestions in response to the invitation to submit ideas to support the aims of reducing spending and increasing revenue. Every one of those is being considered for 2020/21 and I’m looking forward to providing updates soon.

I continue to need your support and input by:

  • Identifying where you feel resources, money or efforts are being wasted or where things could be done differently to save money and reduce spend;
  • Being open to doing things differently as options for doing so come forward;
  • Making an investment in your future within the Council, by being proactive about shaping the Council’s future.

Whilst there has been a focus on the gap we have to close, it is also important to underline what we will spend in the year ahead to make a real difference to the people and place – in the region of £700m that we will use to meet our aims. That is a real positive we can all reflect on.

With the clarity the budget meeting provides on the priorities for 2019/20 it’s important we take the impetus that provides and push forward once again. Thank you in advance for your support and energy as we prepare to embark on the new year.

A note of thanks for Richmond Walk response

Colleagues from various functions and clusters were involved in a swift and comprehensive response to a fire in a residential block at Richmond Walk last night.

My thanks go to everyone who was involved, from the coordination of the Council’s duties through to arranging accommodation for those who needed it and the support from building services on the ground as emergency services dealt with the incident.

It was a real collaborative effort and I’m always proud to see the way individuals and teams from across the organisation come together so quickly and effectively. Well done to all who played a part.

Your success matters to me

In these times of significant change, both communication and engagement are important. I hope the various blog posts are helpful in term of keeping everyone informed.

We’re certainly seeing lots of staff engagement at the moment. Whether its staff engaging in the design of the new behaviour framework,  putting cost saving ideas forward for the budget or being involved in one of the many transformation projects – it’s fantastic to see. By being involved and engaged, I believe it will increase our sense of control as we continue through our change journey.

Understandably some colleagues may be questioning the need  for and value  of a new behaviour framework. There’s plenty of evidence that shows that most transformation efforts fail because the organisations have not aligned the organisational culture to the hopes and ambitions of the transformation programmes.

Our transformation programme, has identified seven capabilities that we need to build across the organisation if we are to fully realise the benefits of the target operating model.

The draft behaviour framework is deliberately aligned to these seven organisational capabilities. Work is already underway on developing a capability framework for us as staff and, again, this is being aligned completely to the seven organisational capabilities.

So the work on the behaviour framework is a deliberate attempt to try and influence the culture of our organisation. The alignment between our culture and our transformation, will increase our chances of success in ensuring we are a council fit for the 21st century, living within the financial means afforded to us.

I’d like to take the opportunity to thank everyone who has shaped the behaviour framework and we’ll certainly be presenting your views to the staff governance committee in March when we ask members for their approval.

Once approved, the behaviour framework will then be a feature of everyone’s personal objectives and performance appraisals. It will be down to us to live up to the principles we adopt.

I regularly read  the ideas put forward by staff on the Ideas Hub and there’s certainly no shortage of them. It’s a great platform and if you haven’t tried it out, I’d encourage you to do so – whether that’s by sharing your own idea or simply liking someone else’s suggestion. Give it a go!

I’ve been reading closely the thread of comments on the Star Awards. I hope the concerns about wasting public resource have been allayed by the confirmation that the event is sponsored.

In my mind, the team of volunteers who drive the star awards are incredibly selfless and are entirely motivated by the act of recognising the contribution our colleagues make to the city.  These colleagues are continuing to deliver their formal day jobs and have volunteered their own time to deliver the awards. I’m sure the comments are not intended to sound ungrateful for the commitment these volunteers continue to show and I’d like to repeat my previous thanks to all those colleagues,  past and present,  who have supported the event.

Having said that, I do have some sympathy with the comments being expressed by colleagues. In these challenging financial times, particularly when we are having to reduce our workforce, I can see why colleagues might be nervous about the appropriateness of and perceptions of us celebrating.

Given the long term financial outlook our sector faces however,  if we align our choices about championing staff success to our financial fortunes, we may never be in the position to celebrate. That sits uncomfortably with me personally but also flies in the face of what staff have said in response to the staff surveys of 2014, 2016 and the current engagement on the behaviour principles – where there has been a resounding message about recognising and appreciating staff.

We must not allow ourselves as a workforce to be defined entirely by our continuing financial pressures or challenges, but instead to be defined by how we are continuing to deliver services within this context.

I think it’s important that we all feel responsible for each other’s success and that we want to be a part of celebrating those achievements. This sense of shared responsibility for the good work we do is critical to creating the culture we need in order to be successful as an organisation.

It is important to hear the views of all those who wish to share an opinion because, of course, there may be different ways to support each other’s success and to celebrate it.  It  takes courage to express views in the way colleagues have on this matter,  so thank you for doing that.  Both disagreement and agreement represent engagement and I appreciate the contributions.

This is an important  issue that we need to navigate together. So I’d like to offer to meet a range of colleagues with different views on the star awards and let’s see what, together, we can agree are ways to support, encourage and celebrate each others success. I’d also like to invite our trade union colleagues to participate in the discussion.

I know the challenge many will face in engaging in a face to face conversation due to work patterns, so I’ll ask Isla Newcombe (Chief Officer for People and Organisation) to arrange a selection of different sessions as well as an online way to engage in discussing a range of alternatives. Details will follow and I look forward to reporting back on the next steps.

 

Customers and staff provide a valuable insight into our digital journey

I had the pleasure of spending time with our customer experience team on the frontline at Marischal College and the Regional Contact Centre at Frederick Street last week.

My thanks go to everyone who made Andrew Howe and I so welcome, with staff and customers taking time to provide a valuable insight into the journey we’re on as an organisation.

Andrew, in his role as Chief Officer for Digital and Technology, is working with his team to drive positive change in the way we deliver services and support residents and businesses.

Every week more online options are going live, with the digital school admissions system benefiting thousands of parents and carers when it was launched last month and many more processes now being available through our website.

What we saw during the time we spent with staff and customers was the human side that has to stay at the forefront of our thinking. We’ve all got a big part to play as individuals in supporting the channel shift from traditional to digital.

Some customers simply need a gentle steer in the right direction when it comes to the online options and are enthusiastic about the ease with which they can now interact with the Council and carry out the tasks that are important to them.

We saw several people who had visited or phoned to access services already digitised – unaware they could now do that from the comfort of their own home at any time of day or night, which would have brought real advantages to them and also reduced demand on our staff. The positive thing is they’ll be aware next time and that knowledge is growing across our customer base.

Equally there are customers who may not have the same access or confidence to self-serve in this way and there is work for us to do as a Council to ensure the support is in place to maintain and enhance equality in every aspect of our service to customers. We need to be taking people with us on the journey.

The phrase ‘people first’ is crucial as our digital work gathers pace – we exist to serve the people of Aberdeen and technology will help us to do that, but certainly not at the expense of core values in customer service. Efficiency will give staff more time to devote to those who most need our support.

Thanks again to all those who extended such a warm welcome and I’m looking forward to further opportunities to see at first-hand the way in which our transformation is being embraced across the organisation.

Help share the message about Aberdeen’s need for more foster carers and adoptive parents

We are indebted to an incredible network of foster carers and adoptive parents in Aberdeen who nurture and support the young people of all ages and backgrounds who fall under their wing.

They make a real and lasting difference not just to the lives of individuals but to our communities and the city as a whole, providing care and comfort to children who are unable to remain with their birth families.

My heartfelt thanks go to all those who have taken the step and joined what is a very special group of Aberdeen carers. You can read some of the personal stories here.

The reality is we have more children in need of care than we can cater for and often this results in placements outside of the city, which can cause obvious difficulties for children and their families.

It’s a source of great frustration for frontline colleagues who want only the best outcome for every young person, with colleagues working hard each year to encourage more people locally to consider fostering and adoption.

As a Council we’re here to protect and care for the people of the city and there are lots of ways we can all play our part.

A fresh drive is currently underway and that’s something we can all help to support – whether it something you are interested in exploring from a personal perspective or perhaps an opportunity friends, family or colleagues may be keen to embrace.

I will be doing what I can to spread the word and I’d encourage everyone to do the same. Word of mouth, through clubs and groups or sharing the Council’s social media posts  will all help.

If together we can bring even a single foster carer or adoptive parent into the Aberdeen family then we will have made a difference to at least one young person in a time of need.

Colleagues in the Alternative Family Care team need our support to attract carers for all age ranges as well as for sibling groups and for children with additional needs. In return they offer a great deal of support and training, with foster carers receiving a competitive financial package for playing such a vital role.

To find out more please visit the adoption and fostering web pages or contact the team at adoptfostrecruitment@aberdeencity.gov.uk .

 

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.