Celebrating Care Day with our guests of honour

Friday brings a very important date on the calendar – Care Day. It’s a time for celebration, reflection and action that has its roots in Scotland but has been embraced internationally since being established in 2015.

You may have seen the post on The Zone urging colleagues to wear red to show their support, which is just one of a number of initiatives and events taking place in Aberdeen on Friday.

Most importantly we’ll be joined by guests of honour as we welcome some of the city’s care experienced young people to the Town House to mark Care Day, together with carers and many of our own Council officers in our role as corporate parents.

Care Day is about celebrating the shift in attitudes around the lives of care experienced young people – but at the same time as celebrating, I think it’s vital that we acknowledge there’s a lot of work still to be done.

I’ve written before about the inequalities that we have to tackle and the importance of our commitment to corporate parenting. If you can spare the time to watch the video I first posted in May last year, please do – it tells the story far better than I ever could.



Care Day is also a focus for connecting the care community and harnessing the experiences, good and bad, on all sides to make improvements for young people today and those who will need our care in the future. On a related note, I’ll take the opportunity to highlight a recent post on the need for new foster carers in the north-east – you can find out more here.

The organisers, Who Cares? Scotland, sum it up perfectly when they say the main goal that we should all be working towards  is ensuring care experienced people get the love, rights and relationships they deserve.

I must put on record my thanks to all the colleagues who have been working on the Council’s contribution to Care Day – but most importantly to the far wider group across the organisation and our partners who work tirelessly every day to make a difference to the lives of young people.

Along with our partners (Police Scotland, NHS Grampian, the Aberdeen City Health and Social Care Partnership and ACVO representing the third sector) we are currently going through a Joint Inspection of Services for Children and Young People.

It’s an incredibly important and painstaking process, with the external inspectors rigorous in their assessment and demanding in terms of the requirements on our Council colleagues in Integrated Children’s and Family Services.

Any queries or feedback relevant to the inspection can be sent to the team by email and more information on the integrated approach in Aberdeen can be found here.

The hard work around the inspection is essential if we’re to continue to improve and striving to build on the progress that has already been made. I know I speak for all partners when I say there is total commitment to ensuring Aberdeen is a place where every young person has the chance to fulfil their potential and to be nurtured and supported every step of the way.

As a Council there is no greater responsibility than our duty of care to those we serve. Friday is a great chance to mark that together with towns and cities across the country.

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.

Our Guiding Principles – have your say

With one week left to have your say, I’d encourage everyone to take part in shaping the Council’s Guiding Principles.

If you haven’t already you can find out more in a blog and a vlog post from Isla Newcombe,  Chief Officer for Organisational Development, or go ahead and take part in the survey.

Our Guiding Principles will give a shared sense of what it means to work for Aberdeen City Council.

More than ever we need to be working together and pulling in the same direction. The Principles will give voice to the otherwise unwritten rules that help us to offer challenge and support to each other at every level – and to the way decisions are made and the processes that are in place. They will help us to deliver the transformation that we need to meet the challenges we face now and continue to face into the future. Most importantly they will have been created by us all.

Around 800 people from teams across the organisation were involved in shaping the themes and now it’s incredibly important that you have your say before the Principles are finalised.

My thanks go to all who have played a part so far, with every contribution valued, and I look forward to sharing the final version with you towards the end of March.

Budget process: Further update following publication of financial report

Following on from my earlier note on the budget setting process, two significant steps have been taken this morning and I am keen to share those with all staff.

Firstly the Council’s latest quarterly financial report has been published and will be considered by members at the City Growth and Resources Committee on February 7. The report can be viewed here.

The report outlines the pressures we are experiencing in 2018/19 and shows continued prudence in the weeks ahead is essential.

It also adds more detail on the 2019/20 budget and specifically on the scale of the challenge. As mentioned previously, the funding gap we face due to decreasing funding and increasing cost pressures is far greater than we could have anticipated.

As the committee report states, we are working on the basis of a 2019/20 gap of between £40million and £50m. I appreciate those numbers will be concerning, but I can assure you that we are being proactive as we work towards setting a balanced budget next month.

There are many variables still to be determined before Council meets on March 5 to set the annual budget, but the final figure will clearly be significant.

We received notification yesterday afternoon of additions to our settlement as the result of the ongoing budget process in the Scottish Parliament and welcome positive steps. We’ll consider the implications of those changes ahead of our own budget meeting as we focus on the £40m to £50m gap we must bridge.

Today the Co-Leaders met with city stakeholders to brief them on the challenges and to encourage the partnership working that will be so important as we continue to work towards meeting our shared aims.

On the theme of engagement, I’ve been greatly encouraged by the response from across the Council following the invitation to share your ideas and views over the past week.  You can still play a part through the Transformation Zone.

Thank you once again for your support and valued contributions.



2019/20 budget setting process gathers pace

On March 5, Elected Members will meet to agree Aberdeen City Council’s budget for the 2019/20 financial year. The budget outlines the spending and savings priorities for the year ahead.

Funding is falling at a time when costs and demand for services are rising and this makes the task of setting a balanced budget, as required by law, very challenging.

In preparation for the council’s budget meeting, senior officers have drawn up a list of potential options for both saving money and generating extra income.

These options were shared last week with the leaders of each of the political groups represented on the Council as part of the budget preparations by those groups and, because they are in draft form, must remain confidential at this stage.

I appreciate that treating these papers as confidential at this point reduces the sense of openness and transparency, but it is necessary.  I can assure you that prior to the March 5 budget meeting in the chamber, a finalised report outlining the options will be published on the Council’s website and available for staff and members of the public to view. The papers are scheduled to be available from late February and I will remind all staff when these papers are publicly available.

Given these papers are being shared with group leaders on a confidential basis, I do not expect to see any public discussion of these papers and the options contained within. It must be stressed that no decisions have been made at this stage and will not be made until March 5 when councillors decide which options they wish to adopt in meeting obligations to set a balanced budget.

The challenge:

So, what is the scale of the challenge we’re facing?  Let’s break that down and begin by looking at our sources of income.

The Council has three main sources of income:

  • An annual funding settlement from the Scottish Government, accounting for 46% of our income (71% of that from Non Domestic Rates and 29% general revenue grant);
  • Council Tax, representing 17% of our income;
  • Local fees and charges which the council can set, making up 37% of our income.

Whilst we have received notification advising us of the scale of reduction in funding we can expect to receive from Scottish Government, the Government still has to get Parliamentary approval for its budget. Parliament is scheduled to consider the Scottish Government budget on 21 February 2019. Until parliament has agreed the budget, there remains uncertainty over our funding. However, based on the figures we have received, Aberdeen City Council will receive a reduction of funding from the Scottish Government of 3.1% on a like for like basis.

What is certain, in terms of income, is that we cannot increase levels of council tax beyond the 3% cap set by the Scottish Government, which has previously capped the level of council tax increase which councils can set and this has continued to be a condition set by it for financial year 2019/20. Whilst not a significant source of income for the council, a 1% increase in council tax can generate in the order of £1.1m of additional income.

In terms of local fees and charges, there are some areas where we do have some discretion over and Council will be asked to consider increasing charges in a number of those. Of course, Council would need to be mindful of the ability of citizens to pay increased fees and charges.

Turning to the challenge we face on the spending side, we are experiencing cost pressures across key areas – so there is an impact of the double whammy of funding reductions and cost pressures.

That means the gap we face will be in excess of the £25m annually we had already been planning for. Final figures will be determined once we have confirmation of the settlement.

Of course, the broad principles will not be a surprise to you, but some of the detail may be.

We anticipated a significant scale of funding pressure and that led, as you know, to management asking Council to approve a new Target Operating Model. Since approval of the TOM in 2017, and the implementation of the associated transformation programme, we’ve been able to produce a balanced budget for 2018/19 by achieving significant savings.

Planning ahead – and a call to action

The plan of attack for the 2019/2020 is to continue to progress our transformation journey, and this will provide savings to enable council to set a balanced budget. It’s important to stress that the funding outlook for us as a sector does not look positive, and therefore we must continue to change and evolve in the years ahead.

We will continue to offer Voluntary Severance and Early Retirement (VSER) as part of that process, with information on those options available by calling 01224 522430 or by email.

Our transformation programme and the work up to this point has positioned us well to respond to the financial challenges of 2019/20 – but I appreciate the scale of the financial challenge may seem daunting and you may well be thinking “what can I do?”

You may complain about the situation we find ourselves in, feel angry or pessimistic about the future. However, that won’t change things. 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.

I need your support and input by:

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

I’m encouraging everyone to share their ideas, big and small, in addition to those already passed on. The Council has been praised by external auditors for the strength of its financial management, which owes much to this proactive approach which we need everyone to be a part of. We will all need to continue to pull together and you can play your part through the Transformation Zone.

I’m mindful of the impact the budget process, and the difficult options that are considered in public forum, can have on individuals and teams. I will of course provide a further update once the budget report is published and then to advise you of the budget decisions.

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 .


Praise for planning performance

It’s always pleasing to start the year on a positive note and we have had that in the shape of feedback on our Planning Performance Framework report.

The outcome is great credit to Gale Beattie and her colleagues in Strategic Place Planning, with Aberdeen City Council recognised for strong performance across a number of measures.

These include the reduction in timescales for decisions, collaboration with applicants, engagement with elected members and cross-service working within the Council.

That is just a snapshot of the comprehensive assessment carried out and the feedback provided by the Scottish Government, which has highlighted considerable progress.

The approach within planning fits hand in glove with the wider organisational objectives of a more efficient and customer-focused approach to everything we do.

The 2017/18 reports can be be viewed here and provides great detail on the ambitions for Strategic Place Planning and the city as a whole.

Well done to Gale and everyone in the team for the work done to date, the feedback is a tremendous reflection on the hard work and innovation being demonstrated.

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.


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.