Flying the flag for the city

It gives me great pleasure to share news of yet another Aberdeen success story – and a very fitting one for summer.

The environmental charity Keep Scotland Beautiful has confirmed that the city has been awarded five Green Flags for its outstanding green spaces.

Duthie Park, Hazlehead Park, Seaton Park, Johnston Gardens and – for the first time – Victoria Park were all winners.

The tally of five Green Flags, which recognises excellent management and environmental standards, is the highest number the city has ever achieved in a single summer.

It’s another example of great partnership working and real testament to all the hard work of community volunteers, including Friends of the parks, partners and of course our own staff.

Aberdeen is rightly proud of its renowned green spaces and this is just one more reason to explore and fall in love with your city this summer.

Summer wishes to all at the Council

With the school holidays now in full swing, there’s no mistaking the feelgood factor the summer brings to the city.

On behalf of the leadership team, can I take the opportunity to wish all staff a good break if you have time booked off and to pass on my thanks to those working through the summer to cater for all those we serve.

We’re into peak season for so many of our teams, not least the grounds and parks staff who are catering for growing visitor numbers, and the events team which has had a flurry of activity with the success of the BP Big Screens evening at Duthie Park, the popular Armed Forces Day parade and now the build-up to the Great Aberdeen Run.

Of course, our services run 365 days a year and there’s never a lull in demand or activity, so July and August will continue to be hectic across the Council.

Best wishes to you for the summer, whatever the weeks ahead may bring.

Success stories from throughout the Council

It’s a pleasure to be able to share the many good news stories we have as a Council through my blog and this week I’m taking the opportunity to round-up the latest award wins and project completions.

With summer upon us there’s been a flurry of positive announcements and it gives a real flavour of the work being done in so many different areas of the business.

Just last week the completion of the second of two new schools was marked, with final preparations now being made at Stoneywood School to welcome the first intake of pupils in August. It came just after construction at Lochside Academy was completed and these represent two huge undertakings for the Council – not just financially, but also logistically.

I must express my thanks to the project managers Les Mackie (Stoneywood) and Sharon McNutt (Lochside) for their hard work and of course their fellow team members involved in bringing these projects to fruition. The hard work continues over the summer, with the fit out in full flow now the buildings have been handed over to the Council.

Staying on a construction theme, it is fantastic to see the development of 99 new Council houses at Smithfield now complete and tenants settling in. Again, it’s a project that has been driven by the hard work and energy of officers and it is rewarding for everyone involved to see the way in which it is changing lives in a positive way.

In the Resources function, great credit must go to the Finance team for an achievement that may have gone under the radar.

At the meeting of the Audit, Risk and Scrutiny Committee on June 26 the annual audited accounts were approved – a full three months earlier than the norm for a local authority and a target we have been working to as part of our commitments following the successful bond issue.

It is a truly phenomenal achievement given the scale and complexities associated with the finances of a large city authority.

This vital piece of work was led by finance but enabled by many people across all functions and it is a credit to the organisation as a whole that it has been achieved. The committee was generous in its praise of the accomplishment and I share that appreciation.

Innovation in local government finance was at the heart of the bond issue – and that innovation has continued since, with the accounting systems and processes we now have in place putting, in my view, Aberdeen City Council way ahead of the pack. We’re determined to lead from the front in everything we do.

Colleagues in Finance have rightly been recognised with various awards and that success is flowing through the Council.

In Integrated Children’s and Family Services, Hazel Lynch was named ICT Rising Star at the Holyrood Connect Awards in Edinburgh to round off the term in style.

Hazel was recognised for her work supporting accessibility across education to ensure our young people can access digital tools that are vital to their learning. The next generation hold the key to Aberdeen’s future success and as a Council we have to ensure pupils can embrace the opportunities that digital is opening up – it’s fantastic Hazel’s efforts have been acknowledged nationally.

On the same evening, Council staff Sean Cairney and Mathew Craig were also in the spotlight as finalists for the Gordon Archibald Medal presented at Trinity Hall. Although pipped at the post, it was a great achievement to make the shortlist. The award recognised an HNC built environment project and I know the standard of the submission was excellent.

To continue June’s run of good news, it was confirmed at the end of the month that Aberdeen has achieved the Sustainable Food Cities Award.

We are the first city in Scotland and one of only a handful in the UK to meet the strict criteria and it is a fantastic endorsement of the work of the Sustainable Food City Partnership Aberdeen to promote healthy, sustainable and local food and to tackle social challenges.

Aberdeen City Council is proud to be part of the partnership and I must thank all of the officers who have at the heart of this incredibly valuable initiative.

An awful lot to pack into one post, but all worth sharing. Congratulations and thank you once again to all staff who have played their part.

Chief Officer recruitment continues

I’m pleased to provide an update on the recruitment to the vacant Chief Officer posts, with the process nearing its conclusion.

This week we held assessment centres for the Strategic Place Planning and Integrated Children’s and Family Services roles and I’m delighted to say two preferred candidates have been selected.

Gale Beattie, currently interim Chief Officer for Strategic Place Planning, and Graeme Simpson, Lead Service Manager in the Integrated Children’s and Family Services cluster, are both experienced and well respected senior managers within the Council and I look forward to working with them in their Chief Officer roles. They will bring great knowledge, skills and energy to the senior leadership team.

Chief Officer appointments will conclude with the People and Organisation role after the summer recess.

The foundation the leadership team provides will be vital as we build for the future and it is very positive to have the bulk of that work done. It has been a thorough process, recognising the significance of these decisions.

Recently appointed Chief Officers will soon be in post, with Andrew Howe (Digital and Technology) and John Wilson (Capital) taking up roles on Monday. Sandra Ross (Aberdeen City Health and Social Care Partnership) and Jonathan Belford (Finance) will start on September 3.

My thanks go to those who have taken on interim roles during this period of recruitment, with Sandra Buthlay (Finance) and Steve Robertson (Digital and Technology) making a valuable contribution. So too has Stephen Booth, who has combined his permanent role as Chief Officer Corporate Landlord with interim duties in Capital, and Morven Spalding, who continues as interim for People and Organisation.

I know the new recruits will be welcomed by staff throughout the organisation and once again I thank you in advance for the support provided to Chief Officers and Directors.

Growing together – in lots of different ways!

There’s a growing theme to this week’s blog post, so it’s only right to start with a mention for our very own Council Gardener.

The video blog series is now in its third month and Daniel Shand is already attracting quite a following. If you haven’t caught up on June instalment yet, there are two parts available to view now.

Daniel’s doing a great job of showcasing the knowledge and skill we have within the Council, with apprentice James Graham sharing some tips in the latest video, and it’s a fantastic way of engaging with viewers and passing on expert advice.

We often talk about the need to grow the sense of civic pride in the city and the Council Gardener is just one of the many ways we’re doing that.

On Thursday the annual Glitter Pick showed that spirit in action – with 24 clean-ups in 24 locations over the course of 24-hours in Aberdeen.

Thanks to Steven Shaw and his team for coordinating such a massive operation as well as to all of those who volunteered to take part. There were more than 30 groups involved and it’s brilliant to see everyone working together as part of the wider aims of the Clean Up Aberdeen initiative.

As a Council we spend more than £4million a year on clearing litter alone – that is money that could be put to use in other areas if we can keep working in partnership to change habits and keep our streets and open spaces clear.

We’re fortunate in Aberdeen that our young people are driving that change, something that has been recognised nationally.

Earlier in the month pupils and teachers from Hanover Street School travelled to London to be crowned UK champions of the Better Energy School Awards. It’s a huge honour for all those involved and my congratulations go to head teacher Alan Markey and teacher Elizabeth Elrick as well as all of the pupils in the group, who I know are very proud of the achievement.

The project went under the banner HSS Flying Eco Pigs Change the World! – and not surprisingly captured the imagination of judges.

Pupils learned about a range of environmental issues, from single use plastics to problems posed by discarded chewing gum on the streets of Aberdeen, and set about tackling them.

They created papier-mache pigs with eco messages on their wings that were awarded to local shopkeepers, cafe and bar owners who agreed to stop providing plastic single use items.

I’m told the Eco Pigs went far and wide – even reaching Sir David Attenborough, who sent a personal letter of thanks for the work Hanover Street is doing to protect the environment.

Young people are growing up with a better understanding of the issues the world is facing and a real passion to make positive changes – it’s fantastic that is being rewarded.

Great support for first Career Opportunities Information Day

Thank you to all who took time out to attend the inaugural Career Opportunities Information Day this week and to the team from People and Organisation who organised the successful event.

Hosted in the Town and County Hall on Wednesday, there was great support from throughout the Council from colleagues interested in expanding their skills or finding out more about career development opportunities with the Council and partners.

We were joined by Bon Accord Care and the Aberdeen Sports Village, Cornerstone, NHS Grampian, Scottish Fire and Rescue and Police Scotland as well as Skills Development Scotland, NESCOL and the University of Aberdeen.

There was a lot of positivity in the room, with a variety of Council teams on hand to offer guidance and support – not just our People and Organisation specialists but representatives also from internal teams that are actively recruiting and offering re-training opportunities in areas including teaching, early years and HGV driving.

I know there has been some really positive feedback and I’m sure everyone who joined on the day will have benefited. We will be looking to arrange similar events in future and will give consideration to timings to ensure as many people as possible can attend.

As I mentioned prior to the event, and I think it worth repeating, we’re committed to helping our people realise their potential and there continue to be great opportunities both with the Council and our partners. Over the weeks and months ahead we’ll continue to share details throughout the organisation.

Partnership working puts career opportunities in the spotlight

The first in what could become a regular series of events with a focus on career opportunities takes place tomorrow (June 20) for Council staff.

Colleagues in the Organisational Development team have put in a great deal of hard work to pull together an interesting programme featuring workshops as well as hosting stalls from a number of organisations.

Thanks to all those internally who have come together to deliver this and to those externally who have pledged their support.

The Career Opportunities Information Day is aimed at individuals interested in expanding their skills or finding out more about career opportunities with the Council and partners. I’m sure it will attract a lot of interest and everyone is welcome to drop in between 9am and 4pm at the Town and County Hall. Workshop places can be booked in advance.

As well as our own Council teams there will be representatives from Bon Accord Care and the Aberdeen Sports Village, Cornerstone, NHS Grampian, Scottish Fire and Rescue and Police Scotland in attendance in addition to Skills Development Scotland, NESCOL and the University of Aberdeen.

We’re committed to career development and ensuring individuals realise their potential – there continue to be great opportunities both with the Council and our partners, so it’s important information is shared as widely as possible.

I know these events have proved popular at other local authorities and I think there’s great potential for our own to gather momentum.

Success on the awards stage – and the bowling green!

On the back of the positivity around our own Star Awards, there’s more success to celebrate this week.

Aberdeen came away from the Tenant Information Service’s annual ceremony with a hat-trick of prizes and was a finalist in two further categories, which is fantastic national recognition.

As a landlord to tens of thousands of people – with 22,000 rental properties in the city – our innovation in tenant engagement and support is one of the most important elements of our day to day work.

The TIS presented Aberdeen City Council with the Danny Mullen Award, presented to the Organisation of the Year. It is the first time we have been honoured in this way and it means an enormous amount to the Council but most importantly our housing teams.

The criteria focuses on innovation in housing, with a particular emphasis on tenant participation. Our staff, elected members and, most importantly, tenants have embraced this in recent years and clearly judges recognise the great strides that have been taken.

This is underlined by Carol Hannaford, Development Officer for Tenant and Resident Participation, being crowned Tenant Participation Champion of the Year by the TIS. It’s a fantastic achievement by Carol and recognises the contribution she and her team have made in improving services by putting tenants at the heart of our approach.

The third award for Aberdeen on the evening went not to the Council but to one of our tenants – which is particularly fitting, given the approach we have adopted. Norma Groves won the Frances Nelson MBE Award for Tenant of the Year. The prize is a tribute to the dedication and commitment Norma makes to improving the lives of others in her community and the example she sets. It is the second consecutive year an Aberdeen tenant has been honoured, with Paul McMenemy the 2017 recipient.

Congratulations to Norma, Carol and all the many staff and tenants who work so hard all year round.

From the awards stage to the bowling green, there has been success for colleagues on the sporting front.

The Meff Spence Trophy was contested at Broughty Bowling Club between hosts City of Dundee and Bon Accord Bowling Association – with both squads featuring strong representation from Council staff. Bon Accord came through to win 148-107 and bring the trophy back to Aberdeen. Well done to all who played on the day.

Congratulations to our Star Awards finalists and winners

Last night the Star Awards winners for 2018 were crowned and it was inspiring evening at the Beach Ballroom as we recognised colleagues from across the Council.

Can I firstly congratulate all of our finalists – to be shortlisted is a fantastic achievement, with nominations this year as strong as ever.

Our winners deserved their time in the spotlight and my congratulations to all of those who came away with a coveted Star Award.

The 2018 roll of honour is:

Improving Staff Experience – Lynn Scanlon;

Collaboration – Marchburn and Oldtown Working Group;

Improving Use of Resources – Heathryfold Park Building Project;

Innovation – Will Burnish, flooding and coastal operations;

Rising Star – Graeme Baird;

People’s Champion – Ian Geddes;

Improving Customer Experience –  Grace Shanks;

Team of the Year – Environmental Services, Aberdeen In Bloom team;

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Special mention to Gordon McDade and the hard-working organising group who pulled the whole event together from start to finish as well as everyone who played their part – from our MCs on the night to sponsors, judges and everyone in between. It was a real team effort.

The Star Awards allow us to come together to celebrate not just the award wins and finalists but all the amazing work that has been done over the past year.

Not everyone can win a Star Award – but every single one of us within the Council should take a real sense of pride in this organisation. As Chief Executive I’m certainly proud of our people and proud of the way we deliver for everyone we serve in the city.

When you take a step back and consider all of the ways Aberdeen City Council touches the lives of residents and visitors, not to mention the impact we have on businesses and the third sector, it is quite incredible. Every individual member of staff, every team, every cluster and function is working day in and day out to make a difference.

We don’t often take the time to acknowledge all of the great things that you do as staff. I made reference last night to modesty being a very admirable Aberdonian quality. Often I hear things being spoken about as ‘Business as Usual’. In actual fact, so often what you do is extraordinary and I’m delighted we are able to recognise just some of those contributions through the Star Awards.

I never fail to come away from the Star Awards feeling energised by the efforts of colleagues – not to mention humbled by the selflessness that shines through time and time again. Last night was no exception.

Once again my congratulations go to our winners and finalists any my thanks to everyone who played a part, from nominating and judging through to organising and entertaining.


A huge congratulations to Big Noise

Everyone loves a birthday party – and last week I had the real pleasure of attending a very special one at Torry Academy.

Big Noise Torry held a celebration to mark its third birthday and 10 years of Big Noise across Scotland.

Hosted by Sistema, the fantastic organisation behind the project, the young musicians were the stars of the show. So much positive energy,  so much talent on display and so many big, big smiles to go with the Big Noise.

The Council has invested significant funds in bringing Big Noise Torry to life – but the benefits to the community make that a very worthwhile investment.

It isn’t just about the children, who gain massively from the programme, but also about engaging with parents, carers, grandparents, volunteers, teachers, tutors and many more. The adults didn’t disappoint with their very own performance and it was an afternoon full of warmth and laughter.

Last week’s birthday concert showed the community spirit around Big Noise Torry in great style and I must thank Jenny Cranna and everyone at Torry Academy for hosting the programme over the years and the celebration.

Thanks also go to all of the non-school staff who make the project the success it is – not to mention the team at Sistema, who have taken Aberdeen to heart as much as Aberdeen has embraced Big Noise.