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.

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.

 

Remembrance: 100 years

Throughout the city, throughout Britain and throughout the world the centenary of Armistice Day has served as a poignant reminder and commemoration of the sacrifices made by so many.

In Aberdeen yesterday, veterans came together with Council representatives led by the Lord Provost, public sector colleagues including the Police pipe band, community groups and members of the public at the War Memorial  for a short ceremony and to observe the two-minute silence before moving the Kirk of St Nicholas Uniting for the traditional church service.

It was a very well attended and impeccably observed commemoration which demonstrated Aberdeen’s debt of gratitude.

On behalf of the Council my thanks go to all those who attended and to the many colleagues who were involved in the weeks of planning for the event as well as for ensuring its smooth running on the day.

In communities throughout the city there were many other events both on Remembrance Day and in the weeks leading up to the 100th anniversary.

Schools have been educating the next generation about the heroes of previous generations and there have been some wonderful stories locally and nationally that have helped us all to remember the tragedy of conflict and the amazing, uplifting courage of those who served.

Lest we forget.

Reflections on a busy week in the life of the Council

Council business is always incredibly varied and our City Growth colleagues have demonstrated that in the past week, ably supported by teams from across the functions and clusters.

On Monday, thousands were treated to a spectacular fireworks display over the city thanks to the hard work and months of planning put in by Dawn Schultz and the City Events team in partnership with many others across the organisation who play a key role, not least those tasked with the roads and traffic logistics.

It is always a fantastic gathering, bringing people together from all corners of Aberdeen and far beyond.

The Council’s events programme is incredibly diverse and in the midst of preparing for the fun and festivities of Christmas the team also had the State of the Cities Conference to pull together.

Based on the first annual report from the Economic Policy Panel, the conference on Friday brought together experts from a variety of fields as keynote speakers as well as delegates from across the region with a keen interest in the economic performance and strategy for the future. No fireworks in terms of the very informed and healthy panel discussions on the day!

Dawn and Paula Fullerton, from City Events, and Shevonne Bruce, from the Communications cluster, did a wonderful job working with Richard Sweetnam to pull together the programme and ensure a successful inaugural conference.

I must also thank Richard, Jamie Coventry and Gregor Docherty for their work over the past year in establishing the Economic Policy Panel and supporting members as they worked towards the first report, with City Growth colleague Angela Taylor and designer Laura McAra, from the Communications cluster, doing sterling work in bringing the report document to life.

The conference and the report underlined the spirit of optimism around Aberdeen’s economic prospects, not shying away from the challenges that we as a Council and our partners in the city have to tackle. It was a very positive event and lays the foundations for the months and years ahead.

Warm tributes to a true stalwart of Aberdeen education

We all I am sure have memories of particular teachers who have touched our lives and made a lasting impact.

In the case of Charlie Crow, that positive influence spanned generations.

The news of Charlie’s passing last week was met with great sadness throughout the city – but with wonderful warmth from those who remember not only an excellent teacher but a fantastic role model.

Charlie was honoured in 2017 by Aberdeen City Council for 50 years service to education in the city  and only retired this year from supply teaching. In that notable career he was a popular teacher at Powis Academy and, for 30 years, Harlaw Academy.

The wave of tributes were front page news last week and have poured in from all over the city and across the world.

David Innes, Head Teacher at Harlaw Academy, knew Charlie well and I know he and his staff have been deeply affected by the loss – but uplifted by the lovely memories that have been shared.

David passed on the following note, which paints a picture of the response:

On hearing the news the school posted a tweet saying “All at Harlaw Academy wish to express our deepest condolences to his family.  It will be a devastating loss, Charlie was a genuine and selfless character who enriched the lives of thousands of people in our community”.

Within minutes someone came back to say “He taught my dad at Powis, then my brother and myself at Harlaw.  His passion was unrivalled and his classes were entertaining and interesting”.  These sentiments will be echoed in many parts of Aberdeen by people who will have a real connection to Charlie. 

He had a genuine interest in people and a deep desire to help others.  Pupils and parents knew they could go to him, be listened to and get support.  He was held in very high regard both as a subject teacher and as a guidance teacher. 

He ran discos both in the school and for good causes in the local community and he got involved in other aspects of life beyond the classroom all to provide youngsters with enjoyment and opportunities they may not otherwise have had.

A colleague who worked with him said “Charlie always put people at the centre of what he did. Pupils knew he was doing things for them. He thrived in seeing the potential in young people and was excited about this future for them”.

He had an optimistic outlook on life and was optimistic for the people he worked with.  There will be many people who will feel they would not have got to where they are today had it not been for the confidence Charlie had shown in them and the support he was prepared to give to them.

We feel a very deep sense of loss but hope his family draw comfort from knowing the very real difference he made to so many people and the positive impact he has had in the community.

Those lovely words from David and those that have come from family, friends, former pupils and everyone who encountered Charlie go some way to expressing the legacy of a lifetime devoted to helping pupils fulfil their potential.

On behalf of Aberdeen City Council, my condolences go to Charlie’s family and to the many people who have been touched by the terribly sad news.

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.

Building digital leadership throughout the Council

Following on from my recent post on the roll-out of Office 365, the latest step on the Council’s digital journey brought managers from across our functions together for a valuable event with a focus on digital leadership.

The session was designed to provide food for thought as we continue to build the Council of the future and complements work that’s being done by Chief Officers across every function and cluster to shine a light on opportunities to embrace the art of the possible.

My thanks go to the recently formed digital design team for their hard work and energy in hosting this event and others on the same theme in recent weeks.

With guests from the University of Aberdeen and input from other specialists from inside and outside the organisation, everything from Artificial Intelligence, big data and automation to smart technology that could help us tell when a particular street or stretch of pavement needs treated in winter weather was covered.

Digitalisation is already improving service for our customers and helping us to work more efficiently – but we’ve only just scratched the surface.

The roll-out of end to end online application forms, for example, is something we are able to get on and do now, but the really interesting and exciting applications of technology are several levels above that.

Most haven’t been invented yet. Some are incredibly complex. The best ideas are likely to be very simple.

If 20 years ago someone had said you would be able to carry your entire music collection around in your pocket or order supermarket shopping while sitting on a bus, you would have raised an eyebrow. Music streaming, online shopping and all the other advances smart technology has brought are just part of life now and we want to harness the local government equivalents of these complex but simple solutions to make life better for residents, businesses and staff.

All of us are on a very steep learning curve but I’ve been really encouraged by the positivity I’ve seen. The pace is already building and I’m keen to see that ramp up even further.

Our digital future will be shaped by the ideas and creativity of our workforce and the beauty is there are opportunities in every part of the business to contribute. If you haven’t been involved already, I’m sure you soon will be.

The taster session that took place for managers in recent weeks came with an ask that the knowledge and information that is building in the Council is shared, discussed and used as a catalyst for digital innovation.

Wherever you work and in whatever your role, give thought to how technology can make a difference to the customers you serve and to you and your colleagues as you go about your duties.

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.