An opportunity to hit pause before pressing fast forward

I’ve made mention in the past of the pace of life in a city council, particularly one serving somewhere as dynamic as Aberdeen during a period of really significant transformation. I think we’ll only really appreciate the scale of that change when we look back in years to come at what has been achieved in a short period of time.

There are lots of cogs in our machine and we should all take pride in the way we work together to keep those spinning hour to hour and day to day.

What that machine doesn’t have is a pause button, so taking the time to take a step back and reflect can be difficult.

With that in mind, building review into the day to day business of the council is important and there’s been an important step forward in recent weeks that will have passed under the radar for many colleagues – but it’s important to highlight.

Last month the first in a series of reports on the effectiveness of all of the Council’s committees was published and considered by the Education Operational Delivery Committee.

This is exemplar practice in local government.  It’s an illustration of taking pride in what we do and working together to make things even better – our guiding principles in action!

Given the rhythm of the committee cycle, it would be easy to flow from one meeting to the next and from one year to another. By setting annual reviews on the effectiveness of each committee, we’re embracing our organisational capability of openness, transparency and accountability.

The Education Operational Delivery Committee review highlighted the training and development undertaken by members in the past year, expanding knowledge in areas including early learning as well as on specific projects such as Big Noise Torry, as well as noting the fact the vast majority of committee business was conducted in public session. That bodes well for the future of the committee, but the annual assessment of effectiveness will guard against complacency.

The review of the Operational Delivery Committee pointed to the success over the past year of holding the organisation to account in terms of performance as well as the clear links between the business considered by members and the Local Outcome Improvement Plan’s themes – with a particular emphasis on outcomes relating to place and people. Again, it’s very encouraging to be able to take that objective view on the impact committee reports and decisions are having in our communities.

Those are just a handful of highlights from the effectiveness reports, but give a flavour of the way we’re reviewing the way we work and in turn aiming to make continual improvement.

It’s part of the wider programme to improve our governance, which has delivered on a number of levels in the past 18-months. Notably the Council’s first ever Scheme of Governance has been introduced – with all of our key constitutional documents revised, consolidated and aligned to ensure an outcome focused approach to how we do business. Risk management has been enhanced, a new performance management framework created and the Council Delivery Plan created … the list goes on.

Good governance isn’t an easy topic to bring to life in a few hundred words, given the complexity that goes hand in hand with it, but it does run through everything we do as a Council and give us the platform to make a difference to the people, place and economy.

My thanks go to all involved in the initiatives I’ve touched upon as we strive to embed the governance that is helping to drive positive change in Aberdeen.

City pupils provide the purrfect build-up to the Star Awards

If you have passed through the reception at Marischal College over the past week, you’ll have noticed some very special guests have arrived.

The collection of Kelly’s Cats are on display before they move to the Beach Ballroom on June 20 as part of the Star Awards, where they will be star prizes in a charity fundraising raffle on the night.

The cats, decorated replicas of the traditional cast iron leopards by William Kelly, have become a fixture of the awards – but there’s a twist this year, with 11 Aberdeen schools taking the opportunity to play their part in the creative process.

The end result is fantastic and well worth taking the time to view – the pupils have done us proud!

Final preparations for the Star Awards are in full flow and once again can I thank the dedicated organising team for the time and energy they devote to the event. The organisers deserve to share the spotlight with those who have made the shortlist.

The evening is all about recognising colleagues and teams from across the council for the positive impact they make, making a real difference to the lives of people in Aberdeen. It is always humbling and inspiring to reflect on the achievements of the past year and to look at the big picture of what we deliver – which is certainly worth celebrating.

Now in their eighth year, the Star Awards have attracted entries from every cluster – 236 in total, and just nine short of the record number. It is fantastic to see colleagues keen to acknowledge the efforts of those they work alongside.

There will be far more next week as the envelopes are opened and this year’s winners are revealed.  I’m looking forward to seeing all of our worthy nominees taking centre stage.

New framework to shape the future as one team, one council, one city

The introduction of the Staff Governance Committee has been an important step in putting our workforce at the heart of our plans for the Council.

If you don’t already follow the business of this committee, I’d recommend keeping up to date with reports. There is some very innovative work being done that will shape the way we all work.

Next week’s Staff Governance Committee agenda is a very good example of that. A Workforce Plan will be considered by Councillors and trade union colleagues when the committee meets on Tuesday, June 18. Papers have been published and are available online.  

The Workforce Plan describes the vision for our workforce of the future.  A key part of this is the Capability Framework which sets out how we will develop each individual so that, collectively, we are able to deliver the seven organisational capabilities needed for transformation.  This is a significant piece of work that will benefit every employee and my thanks go to Isla Newcombe and her team for the diligent work in bringing this to fruition.

In simple terms, the Capability Framework lists the skills, knowledge and behaviours that we need from every single employee. The framework is structured into four levels, which reflect increasing levels of responsibility. But while the knowledge and skills required by employees increase with the level of responsibility they hold, the behaviours remain the same at all levels. I’m as responsible for these as you are.


The Capability Framework will give us clarity and direction for our own personal and career development. The results will provide an oversight of the talent held across the organisation, which means we can develop an increasingly agile and flexible approach to managing and moving talent.

Subject to the committee’s endorsement, the framework will also be used to significantly enhance our approach to performance review. We recognise the PR&D system needs to evolve and the creation of the framework will enhance the way we manage performance and foster a culture where behaviour has equal weight to skills and knowledge.   At the same time, revisions have been made to PR&D which remove the link between absence and increment, in line with our new Supporting Attendance policy and our commitment to the health and wellbeing of our workforce.

The wider Workforce Plan will enable us to respond to the existing challenges we face and those coming down the line as the size and shape of the Council continues to evolve. It will be of great benefit as we adapt to better meet the needs of all those we serve whilst ensuring staff have the capability, confidence and capacity to deliver the crucial services we provide to the city.

The report to the Staff Governance Committee is about far more than words on a screen – it’s about building the Council of the Future and the role we all have to play in that. It’s an exciting time for the organisation and the support we’re seeing from all corners of the Council is playing a huge part in the momentum that’s building.

BP, P&J, AFC and ACC … writing the A-Z of partnership goals

We’re incredibly fortunate in Aberdeen to have organisations with big ambitions for the city, aspirations that every resident and every business can share.

From public bodies to the corporate world and through to sports clubs and the third sector, there’s a real determination to make a difference and realise the vision of a place where all people can prosper.

As a Council we’ve got a duty to drive that progress – both socially and economically – but we make no secret of the fact we can’t act alone. Partnership working is crucial and ties back to the guiding principle of one team, one council, one city.

The teamwork within the council every hour of every day is what we’re building our future on, but in recent weeks the bigger picture has been really well demonstrated.

May was a busy but important month, particularly for Richard Sweetnam and his City Growth team. We had the colour and noise of the OVO Energy Tour Series, bringing around 10,000 people into the city centre and showcasing the heart of Aberdeen to a global television audience. It was the third anniversary of our relationship with organisers Sweetspot and we hope that link will continue to evolve and thrive.

Just a week later the attention shifted to two of the most significant capital projects in the cultural story of the city – the Aberdeen Art Gallery refurbishment and the new events complex.

On a single day we saw BP announce a £1million investment in the Gallery and the Press and Journal confirm the naming rights to P&J Live after agreeing a significant sponsorship package. As an events and conference facility, it will be the envy of cities throughout Britain and the World.

To have BP and the P&J, two brands which have been cornerstones of north-east life and the region’s economy for generations, buying in to these landmark projects is a fantastic endorsement for the shift we’re overseeing in the cultural landscape of Aberdeen. Most importantly, it’s a great credit to these two companies that they’ve underlined their commitment to the city in this way.

Aberdeen Football Club is another important institution and we’re proud to work closely with the club and particularly the AFC Community Trust in a number of ways.

The success of the Food and Fun initiative has been well documented and the contribution the Dons have made to that has been a major part of the drive to tackling inequalities by providing free meals and activities in our regeneration areas during holiday periods.

The AFC Community Trust’s projects were in the spotlight last month at the SPFL Trust’s annual awards. I was pleased to attend and to present alongside the trust on the benefits of working hand in hand to deliver better outcomes in our communities. To cap a great day, it was fantastic to see the Alternative Academies project win the community programme the year prize for AFC. As ever the football rivalries were in full flow … with the trust  pipping Rangers and Celtic to the trophy!

It’s heartening to see different partnerships flourishing on so many different levels – but all brought together by the common theme of helping the people and place prosper.

I’m really keen to acknowledge the contributions of our many partners, old and new, and to thank them for playing their part in the massive change we’re seeing all across the city. Here’s to many more collaborations and to a bright future for Aberdeen.

End of an era for the Ideas Hub as new opportunities for collaboration are explored

Building the Council of the Future and transforming the customer experience requires us to work together – and harnessing the creativity and knowledge of all employees is central to that.

As a complex organisation, with staff working different shift patterns and in so many different locations, I recognise we need to have the right tools to enable the collaboration and engagement that is so important to our success.

The Ideas Hub has been one of the platforms we have used and it has been of real benefit to the Council. However, our contract with the Ideas Hub provider HunchBuzz ends this month and the decision was taken earlier in the year that we would not be renewing. The associated saving is included in our budget measures for 2019/20.

With Office 365 now rolled out, there is an opportunity to look at how we can continue to improve online collaboration using the options open to us and work is ongoing in that respect.

The intention is to launch a replacement for the Ideas Hub, developed and managed in-house, with a firm focus on improving services across the organisation while making the most of our reduced resources. We need to put the customer at the heart of innovation.

The aim is to promote collective problem-solving and collaboration across the organisation as we seek to capture, refine and deliver your suggestions for how we can do things, big and small, more effectively. The hub is likely to be have a different name, reflecting our customer-centric approach.

A customer’s experience often cuts across Clusters and Functions, so we must think beyond organisational boundaries. One City, One Council, One Team: our new Guiding Principles provide inspiration. Our Organisational Capabilities provide the context.

Digital systems may give us the means to be more efficient but it’s the way we use new technology that really counts. That means having a greater understanding our customers and their requirements. Qualities like empathy and imagination will be invaluable as we redesign services and operations to better serve communities and deliver value for money.

The new platform is being developed using tools in Office 365 and I will share further news on that as the project progresses, as part of a wider piece of work being done to improve communication and engagement throughout the Council.

Since its introduction in 2015, the Ideas Hub has helped drive transformation and I would like to thank its many contributors (and impassioned commentators!). Be assured, recent submissions – including those from the “Make Every Penny Count” campaign – remain under active consideration.

We want to build on that success, so I hope you will all join me in constructively embracing the new hub when it arrives.

If we improve the customer experience, we improve our own experience as public servants.

From counting votes to collecting awards, May marks a month to celebrate

There’s lots to celebrate as the end of another month looms – so much that I’m not quite sure where to begin!

I’ll start with the most recent and thank the hundreds of Council staff who ensured the European Parliament elections ran like clockwork in the city. From polling day to Sunday’s count at the AECC, everything went to plan. Congratulations to Fraser Bell on his first count as Returning Officer, ably supported by David Gow, Steven Dongworth and colleagues from every cluster and function. Particular thanks go to Town House building assistants Derek Morrison, Hamid Abouelouafaa and Ian Bell as well as customer service advisor Jenny Main for their valued contribution. A real team effort and logistical triumph!


Whilst the final preparations for the count were underway on Sunday morning, a logistical challenge of a different type was unfolding at our accommodation facility at West North Street. Flooding led to the need for swift action on the ground to look after those displaced and prepare contingency plans. Special mention to Kay Diack and her team for their actions and making sure everyone was cared for.

Continuing with the notes of thanks, last week Core HR went live as the transition to the new system draws to a close. For users of the system it represents a far cleaner and intuitive platform, which many will already have seen when accessing the latest payslips online, and for the organisation it supports our modernisation in HR, payroll and workforce planning.

As with all change on this scale, there have been teething problems to overcome in recent days and we’re committed to ensuring any issues are addressed as a matter of urgency.

It has been a huge undertaking to migrate from our old system to Core HR, with colleagues in Digital and Technology working closely with those in People and Organisation and Customer Experience in particular. Jacqui McKenzie, as Chief Officer for Customer Experience, has been fulsome in her praise of the teams who have worked tirelessly to make the switch and can I add my appreciation.

Moving on to awards, we have had a number of notable successes in May.

The Council has been presented with the new Buildings Standards Community and Building Safety Award in recognition of the work undertaken in relation to fire safety following the Grenfell disaster.

Grant Tierney and the building standards team impressed judges with the comprehensive response in Aberdeen, particularly the reviews carried out within all 59 of our multi-storey properties and the approach to fire door compliance. It has been a major undertaking but a vital one – safety must always be our first priority. The national award is a very welcome endorsement of Aberdeen City Council’s diligent work in this important area.

The APSE Awards have also brought success, with Daniel Shand receiving a silver award in the Rising Star category. Daniel’s work as the Council Gardener has been very well received and his latest initiative with city schools is reaching a new audience. Daniel’s enthusiasm and passion for the subject is fantastic to see.


Sport Aberdeen has also been in the spotlight – taking to the stage at the Community Leisure UK Awards and winning two prestigious prizes. First was the Leisure Capital Project of the Year Award, for the investment in the Sheddocksley facilities, and then came the Outstanding Individual Volunteer Award for 15-year-old Aimee Work for her achievements as chair of Aberdeen’s Active Girls Committee.

Staying with our ALEOs, the Music Hall redevelopment earned Aberdeen Performing Arts the RICS Scotland Community Benefit Award. The community engagement was singled out by judges for praise, as well as the long term benefits for the people of the city.

That’s an awful lot of positive news to squeeze into one blog post – but it represents just a slice of the good work being done all across the Council and the city. There’s much more to follow!

In the meantime, thank you to everyone who has contributed and congratulations to all for the wonderful achievements of the past month.

Back to the future with Digital Skills Week

We might not have the doc’s DeLorean parked up at Marischal College, but there is an opportunity to go back to the future as a legacy of the excellent programme that colleagues in Organisational Development ran for Digital Skills Week from May 13.

I had my first experience of hosting a live webinar, as part of Webinar Wednesday, and it was great to be involved in.

Thank you to everyone who took part on the day and if you didn’t get the chance then there’s still the facility to go back and view at your leisure through Office 365.

So that’s the ‘back’ element covered off, but what about the ‘future’?

The future of the city and Council was at the heart of the session, with the expert input of Martin Murchie, Craig Innes and Jonathan Belford.

The focus was on one of our seven organisational capabilities – managing demand through prevention and early intervention. Of course that links to the other capabilities, notably focussing on outcomes that make a difference.

I hope we provided a good overview of demand management and how it applies not only the organisation but to each of us as individual members of staff. It will be something you hear much more about and we all have a role to play.

It’s a really interesting subject when you scratch beneath the surface and there’s a power of work being done to evolve our approach.

Digital Skills Week was a great way of turning the spotlight on the role technology will play as we continue to make leaps and bounds forward as an organisation.

On a personal level, I’m enjoying exploring new platforms and the first webinar was a case in point. I have to admit I was apprehensive to start with, when you’re more used to face to face events it’s a really strange experience speaking to an audience you can’t see, but I certainly hope to be involved again as webinars become more of a feature across the Council.

We’re a complex organisation, with thousands of staff working different shift patterns and at various different locations inside and out, so communicating to everyone is a real challenge. It’s something we are committed to getting better at and digital tools will help us to do that.

Ending the week with two very different votes of thanks

Council life is always varied and I’m ending the week with two very different but equally important votes of thanks.

The first is to all those who once again have put Aberdeen on centre stage through the staging of the OVO Energy Tour Series, an event broadcast worldwide and enjoyed on the day by thousands of spectators who turned out to cheer on the elite cyclists, applaud the local competitors and enjoy the programme of activities.

It’s another great example of the one team, one council, one city principle – with colleagues from across a variety of clusters (City Growth, Communications and Operations to name just three) coming together to ensure the smooth running of the event, working closely with public and private sector partners to deliver a memorable day for city residents, businesses and visitors. Thank you to everyone for the hard work behind the scenes – it really paid off.

Pride is another of the principles that is in plentiful supply across the Council and it certainly applies to our role in the Career Ready initiative – as does our purpose, and vision of Aberdeen as a place where all people can prosper.

You might recall I previously posted an appeal for colleagues to join me in volunteering as a mentor, with an excellent response.

We have an enthusiastic group of Aberdeen City Council mentors and are preparing to welcome our young people for a four-week placement that will give a great insight into the world of work.

My thanks go to all who have given their time to volunteer – your efforts will make a real difference to those who are falling under our collective council wing.

I remember my own one-week work experience as a 15-year-old at Timex in Dundee – and how daunting it all was! The memories are of seeing the big mainframe computer for the first time and the big, noisy print room.  Times have certainly changed in the workplace since then, but the nervousness and excitement for those joining us will be just the same.

I recently attended the Career Ready 2019 graduation ceremony in Perth, where a group of Aberdeen schools were among those from across Scotland taking part.

If I had any doubt about the positive impact the scheme has, that was quickly dispelled as I listened to the young people describe themselves pre and post participation. They highlighted how much more confident they were as a result of Career Ready and it was lovely to see so many of the young people then chose to pursue a career in the area where they had spent their interim placement.

There will be new opportunities for you to get involved with mentoring in the months ahead. Speaking from personal experience, it’s just as important for our own development as professionals as it is for the young person. I’ve gained so much from being part of it.

I came away from the Perth event with a renewed belief and pride in the influence we have on the lives of children in the city – but even greater pride in the Aberdeen graduates. I’m already looking forward to the next graduation ceremony for our current cohort.

One (cycling) team, one council, one city!

16/0519 Tour Series 2019A group of intrepid colleagues will be showing the one team principle in a whole new light today when they take to the streets as part of the OVO Energy Tour Series.

Flying the flag for the Council in the corporate race are Sandie Scott, Phil Astley, Janet McRoberts and Barbara Jones – good luck to team ACC!

The city centre is a hive of activity this morning as it’s is transformed into a cycling hub, with activities running from noon right through to the start of the elite races that get underway with the women’s event at 5.30pm.

The corporate competition is part of the support programme, with age group and amateur categories on the 1.3km circuit from noon, and our team will be on the start line at around 2.20pm for anyone who is keen to cheer them on.

They’ll do us proud and will surely come through with fewer bumps and strains than the Council football team that fell to a gallant one goal defeat against Police Scotland counterparts last week. It’s the taking part that counts, at least that’s what the football team tell me!

The Tour Series route this year starts and finishes on Broad Street, showcasing the incredible event space that has been created, and takes riders down Upperkirkgate and onto Schoolhill before looping back through Back Wynd and Belmont Street to head back along Union Street to the home straight past the Town House and Marischal College.

The organisers take the Tour Series to towns and cities across Britain and have been vocal in their praise of the Aberdeen crowds, with thousands turning out over the past two years. Here’s hoping for similar support today and this evening – and more of the sunshine that was a feature of the Aberdeen leg in 2017 and 2018.

Tour Series 2019

Digital skills and numeracy in the spotlight

I’m delighted the Council will be lending its support to Digital Skills Week (May 13-17) and National Numeracy Day (May 15), with lots of opportunities for everyone to get involved.

The programme for the digital week can be found here and includes events, showcases and drop-in sessions.

Digital skills are the foundation the Council of the future is being built upon and this week is a good chance to shine a light on the way we’re all changing and adapting –  I hope every week will be a digital skills week going forward!

National Numeracy Day promotes skills that are also central to so many of the tasks we carry out as a Council day to day. At its heart there’s a challenge to test your ability with a view to learning and developing. You can find out more here, with links to useful resources.

Both Digital Skills Week and National Numeracy Day are part of growing national campaigns and I’d encourage as many people to take some time to explore the resources available and to support these two initiatives.