Shaping Aberdeen – City Centre Masterplan

The weekend just passed has seen the launch of the public consultation on the City Centre Masterplan proposals. A big thank you to all members of staff who have assisted with the events that have been held so far.

The exhibition and consultation brochure is available here and the questionnaire is available here

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, I’m particularly interested in staff views on the proposals and how the Council will go about delivering the Masterplan once it has been finalised and agreed.  A staff-specific questionnaire will appear on The Zone soon. 

In the meantime, please encourage friends and family to have their say through the survey on the website.

2015 General Election

Eight weeks today we’ll have awoken to the results of the 2015 UK Parliamentary General Election.  Personally, I’m hopeful that I’ll have had at least a few hours sleep having declared the results for the Aberdeen North and Aberdeen South polls at some point in the early hours of Friday 8th May.

In my dual role as Chief Executive and Returning Officer I’ve today provided a guidance document to the Extended Corporate Management Team on how we should handle the pre-election period which begins at the Dissolution of Parliament on Monday 30th March.  I’ve asked that the advice be shared with all appropriate officers and I’ve also copied it to all elected members for their information. 

The document runs to 16 pages but the key points we should all bear in mind are:

  • Council staff must by law act in a politically neutral way at all times.
  • There is particular sensitivity around this political neutrality in the run-up to an election.
  • Particular care needs to be taken to ensure that any events, publicity or other communications are politically neutral during a pre-election period. 
  • Council facilities and resources must not be used in support of a political party or election candidate.
  • Unless otherwise stated, it should be assumed that normal Council business will continue; and
  • Unless otherwise covered by the guidance or in the view of a particular Service in relation to a particular query, staff will most likely respond positively to requests for information or advice from parties or candidates.

Colleagues in the Office of Chief Executive are available to assist with any particular queries you may have –


The City Centre Masterplan Team needs you!

Following my earlier post today about the City Centre Masterplan, Aberdeen City Council will be supporting the next phase of consultation and are looking for staff from within the organisation who are interested in engaging with residents, businesses and local agencies about this exciting project.

This initiative will be looking 25 years ahead for the city centre, so we want as many people as possible to have the opportunity to engage in the process that will shape the heart of Aberdeen in the future.

We are looking for volunteers to give up a few hours of their time between the 18 – 29 March 2015, to support us at a number of engagement activities that will be held across Aberdeen to raise awareness of the City Centre Masterplan and to encourage as many family members, friends and colleagues to participate in this public engagement exercise.

If you are interested in supporting this activity, please contact Dawn Schultz, City Promotions Manager on 01224 522767 or email

Shaping Aberdeen – City Centre Masterplan

Following last week’s Council decision to move ahead with the new AECC and with the Aberdeen City Region Deal being considered by Council later this week, I now write about another major, long-term strategic initiative which is about to enter the final phase of consultation before going to Council in May.

As you will know from previous blogs, over the past year the City Centre Masterplan team have been working with individual members of the public, groups, partners and stakeholders gathering feedback on how we can best support the development of the City Centre for the benefit of those who live and work in Aberdeen as well as those who visit.

I now write to invite you to take the opportunity to share your views on proposals for the City Centre which could help deliver an additional 11,000 jobs and add £290 million to the city’s annual income.  Feedback is sought between the 12th and 29th of March.

The projects include:

  • Queen’s Square: The transformation of the Queen Street area into a new mixed-use urban quarter;
  • Castlegate/Castlehill: A vibrant public square reinvigorating Castlegate/Castlehill;
  • Denburn Valley: The reawakening of the Denburn Valley as the setting for a new generation of city living;
  • Heart of the City: Union Street gets the space it deserves through pedestrianisation of part of Aberdeen’s historic main street;
  • Union Street West: A contemporary business/retail/leisure feel to the west end of Union Street and the renovation of Golden Square and Bon Accord Square as accessible green spaces;
  • Station Gateway: A much enhanced gateway and better pedestrian routes to and from the railway station radically improving first impressions of Aberdeen;
  • South Dee: A new pedestrian bridge across the Dee to link to a new residential community at South Dee and enhanced riverside promenade;
  • North Dee: A significant new office and business quarter at North Dee.

More information is available on the City Centre Masterplan website pages.

The delivery of the Masterplan will be a major undertaking involving many of the Council’s Services and Teams over a period of many years. I am very keen to hear your views on this as a member of staff about what we need as a Council to make this happen, in particular relating to:

  1. Technical restrictions on delivery
  2. Capability to deliver
  3. Capacity to deliver

Give me your own thoughts and/or discuss with your colleagues and give me a team response, by sending a message to Louise MacSween –

As I said in my blog last week, I will be referring to the responses I receive from Council colleagues in my report to Council in May.

You may of course also wish to share your views on the proposals as a member of the public and the best way to do this will be through the upcoming programme of consultation events where the multi-million pound proposals will be showcased in and around Aberdeen from 14th to 29th March.

Further information will be available through e-mail, on the Zone and in further posts on this blog.  I urge you to take the chance to get involved.

City Region Deal

I was delighted to join the Council Leader and our Aberdeenshire Council colleagues, Councillor Jim Gifford and Jim Savege at Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce this lunchtime for the launch of the Aberdeen City Region Deal.

The Deal proposes a development programme costed at approximately £2.9billion which will see funding for infrastructure in the area over the next 20 years supported by an economic strategy focusing on internationalisation, innovation and skills.  Elected members from Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire Councils will consider the Deal at their meetings on Thursday 12th March when both Councils will be asked to authorise officers to continue work on developing the detailed proposals and to continue to engage with the Scottish and the UK Governments.

The City Region Deal document is available here –

Shaping Aberdeen – moving forward

As I end the week in further meetings with colleagues from Aberdeenshire Council on the drafting of the City Region Deal which we will be jointly taking to both UK and Scottish Governments, I thought it would be useful to pause and reflect on a busy few days which have seen two Council meetings, a State Visit and the latest in the series of CityTalks which have been run as part of the development of the City Centre Masterplan.  All have seen progress in Shaping Aberdeen.

Yesterday’s visit to the Town House by the President of the United Mexican States, President Enrique Peña Nieto as part of his State Visit to the United Kingdom as the guest of Her Majesty The Queen saw the President attend a presentation and signing of Memoranda of Understanding on collaboration in the energy sector, with representatives of the UK and Scottish Governments and senior representatives from the UK Oil and Gas Sector.  The event was superbly organised by a team of Council colleagues from many services led by David Gow, Civic Team Manager.  I was proud to be involved and struck once again by the global reach of our City and the international stage on which we in the Council play such an important role on behalf of the people who live and work here.

Yesterday evening saw Rollin Stanley deliver the latest in our series of CityTalk events.  An internationally renowned city-planner, Rollin spoke on the ways in which Calgary has been developed and changed for the better over the years.  Also featuring similar events which focussed on Gothenburg and Manchester the CityTalks have been one of the range of ways public engagement with the City Masterplanning process has been stimulated.  Further consultation activities are planned for later this month and I will be formally seeking the views of Council staff on the draft Masterplan with the intention of using the feedback I receive to inform my report to Council in May on the Masterplan and its delivery.  Further information on this will be on the Zone soon.

Wednesday’s Council meeting saw a number of major matters discussed with important decisions being taken.

Elected members heard the results of the Care Inspectorate’s Joint Inspection of Services for Children and Young People in the City and I am pleased to add my congratulations to all involved from the Council and our partner organisations for such an encouraging report recognising the significant improvement in services and partnership working that has taken place in Aberdeen City over the last few years.  Of course work remains to be done and there is always room for improvement, but everyone has a right to be proud that their efforts have justifiably been recognised.

The Council meeting also saw an important milestone reached with the members approving the draft Health and Social Care Integration Scheme for the City which we and our partners in NHS Grampian will now submit to the Scottish Government.  Another report to Council that marked the culmination of many months of detailed work by Council and partner staff.

A third major decision at Wednesday’s meeting saw the Council unanimously agree the proposal to support the new AECC development which will include a conference centre, energy centre and two hotels.  The £333 million costs of the development are offset by a number of income streams and significant savings are made in comparison to the Council’s current financial support to the existing AECC.  The new development will be built on the site of the Rowett Institute in Dyce and a residential-led mixed-use scheme is proposed for the existing AECC site in Bridge of Don.  Tribute must be paid to Andrew Win and those who worked with him over many months bringing together the scheme presented to Council this week.

The week has also seen Thursday’s Special Council Meeting confirm the decision to progress the Marischal Square development and Wednesday’s Council Meeting agree that the Council will leave COSLA at the end of the month, more on this latter decision in a future blog.

Last, but by no means least, Monday this week saw the deadline pass for applications to the posts of Director of Corporate Governance, Head of Legal & Democratic Services and Head of IT and Transformation.  Assessment Centres and Interviews are timetabled for later this month and by the end of March the Council’s Extended Corporate Management Team will be complete.  Subject to notice arrangements, I hope that everyone will be in post by before the summer break.

A busy week, enjoy your weekend.  Back on Monday for more!

Shaping Aberdeen – Oil and Gas Summit

The week begins for me at AECC for the Oil and Gas Summit. Below for your interest is the opening speech delivered by the Council Leader, Councillor Jenny Laing.

“The city council has taken the bold initiative of bringing together three tiers of government to the summit to look strategically at the challenges the oil industry faces in a climate of falling prices.

Today is an opportunity for policy and decision-makers in all layers of government to join with senior industry representatives, trades unions and academic experts to develop meaningful and sustainable solutions. Certainly I cannot remember a gathering of so many senior representatives from interested parties in one location at such a critical, and indeed, opportune juncture in the history of the industry and our region.

The reasons for the recent oil price reductions are well documented:
– a reduction in demand from key markets such as China;
– increases in production from the US shale industry; and
– of course OPEC’s decision to maintain production levels even as the price decreased.

But let’s put this in some local historical context. It is almost 50 years since the first Oil and Gas company located to this City. Almost immediately we started to experience the cyclical nature of the oil and gas industry with its health tied to the price of Brent Crude.

Our city and region has been affected by major swings and low points throughout the decades. Most notably when the price dropped to under $10 a barrel in July 1986 from just under $30 in the previous year. And of course there were significant price fluctuations in 1991,1998 and again in 2008.

Each time there is a decline in oil price there is a rallying round of industry, government and the broader oil and gas community to deal with the crisis. Cost reduction, fiscal review and diversification are debated and discussed. Promises are made and some effective short term solutions are put in place. But the price invariably recovers and the momentum to deliver on longer term infrastructure investment falls by the wayside. This means greater reliance on a single industry for Aberdeen and the North East which is of course a risk for all involved.

The story of the Oil and Gas industry is not just about its impact on the city of Aberdeen and the North East but its impact across the whole of Scotland and the UK – through nationwide supply chains and substantial exchequer contributions.

Estimates suggest that this extended Oil and Gas industry employs 450,000 people throughout the UK. So I stand here as a City Council Leader fully aware that there is a complex and interdependent UK wide relationship resting on an industry that radiates outwards from Aberdeen.

Aberdeen competes globally for the investment, skills and resources that sustains the oil and gas industry. We are seen as the only UK based Energy Capital and it is often the case that investment lost to Aberdeen is investment lost to the UK.

But of course the UK is a relatively small player in the World’s oil and gas community. What happens across the rest of the global oilfields has a big impact on our economy.

Aberdeen is a founder member of the World Energy Cities Partnership which is 20 years old this year and now has 21 members including most of the cities that you would expect to be in such an organisation.

We work very closely together and so we have carried out a brief survey on the impact of the downturn across our partner cities and some of the results of this survey will be discussed in the economic impact workshop.

Efforts to anchor the industry and the supply chains locally have been in train since before the oil price fall. Industry and local government have long been concerned with investing in the skills base and infrastructure to keep costs down. Our concerns must be more than about fiscal measures – which are of course vitally important – but we need to ensure the long term sustainability of the industry. We, as a council, need to think about the potential impact locally of a loss to accommodation providers, cancellation of investment in property, loss of business rates from empty offices and any job losses as a result of an extended period of low oil prices.

Council leaders and officers in Aberdeen City and Shire have been thinking strategically about a package of locally led growth proposals that will also begin to address some of the challenges set out in the Wood Review. We know that Aberdeen’s competitors in the oil and gas industry from Houston to Dubai and from Perth to Stavanger have made significant investment in infrastructure. It is important that Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire consolidates and expands its capacity to ensure new and old industries can thrive in the North East of Scotland. Aberdeen based innovators placed 4th in the UK in terms of patents registered per 100,000 of population – but even high performers need support!

However owing to Aberdeen City’s relative prosperity we receive the lowest share of funding of any Scottish local authority.

Despite this we have demonstrated our commitment to growth and infrastructure. And together the two councils have used all available capacity through our ten year capital plans to invest over £1.4bn including a £150m contribution to the Aberdeen Bypass and the City Council’s award winning Strategic Infrastructure Plan.

But pressures to deliver on wider statutory duties and continuing austerity measures mean that we are severely constrained in our ability to help address the urgent concerns of industry. There is evidence that – despite Aberdeen’s booming economy over the last ten years – the lack of enabling public sector investment is holding back investment from the private sector.

In particular a lack of transport capacity is constraining housing and employment. Development of the airport is limited by congested roads and a much needed £400m expansion of the harbour is seeking a public contribution for roads.

That is why in November 2014 we submitted strategic briefing documents to the Scottish and UK governments to kick start discussions for an Aberdeen City Regional Deal to catalyse growth and diversification for existing and new industries. Similar deals have been put in place for City Regions in England and for Glasgow.

These City deals give regions more powers to stimulate growth whilst increasing returns from sources such as tax to central governments or reducing costs associated with developing employment opportunities and skills enhancement. At the core though lies an investment fund to develop infrastructure together with initiatives to stimulate the regional economy in terms of innovation, diversification and internationalisation.

We thank the Secretary of State for Scotland for his leadership in taking this forward with the UK government and thank the First Minister for allowing us to engage with officers of the Scottish Government to develop these proposals. I have also been encouraged by the public support for a City Regional Deal from Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy, Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson and UK Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.

Never has there been a greater need for this City to work with and receive support from both levels of government. We have an historic opportunity to establish a City Deal for this region which will benefit local people, the industry and indeed the UK as a whole. Let us seize that moment for the mutual benefit of all.”

Shaping Aberdeen, budget 2015/2016

The papers for the Council Budget Meeting on 5th February have now been finalised and circulated to the elected members. 

The Council will be considering reports relating to the General Fund Revenue 2015/2016 and indicative 5 year budgets, the Non Housing Capital Programme 2015/2016 and indicative 5 year budgets and the Common Good budget 2015/2016 and indicative 2016/2017 to 2019/2020 budget.  The Council approved the Housing Revenue Account and Housing Capital budgets 2015/2016 to 2019/2020 at its meeting on 17th December 2014. 

At the time of writing the organisational review of the Council’s management structure approved at the meetings of 14th May 2014 and 20th August 2014 is moving towards its conclusion and in addition, recruitment and selection will soon be underway to the posts of Director of Corporate Governance, Head of Legal and Democratic Services and Head of IT and Transformation. In order to ensure continued effective financial stewardship the Council’s budget was not realigned to the revised management structure of the Council during 2014/2015.  The realignment will be completed for 2015/2016. 

My report to the Budget Meeting includes the latest workforce planning document for the Council – Shaping Our Future Workforce 2015 – 2020.  This document will underpin the work of each Directorate in relation to the development of the Council’s staff team over the coming years. 

Work will begin before the end of the current financial year on the development with staff across the Council of a re-focused culture within the organisation which will see consideration given to each of customer experience, staff experience and use of resources in everything we do.  Decision-making within the Council will include an assessment of how the proposal being considered addresses the balance between these three factors.  This will be of central importance to the transformational work to be led by the new post of Head of IT and Transformation. 

Extensive work has been undertaken on developing the programmes to underpin the customer experience and staff experience aspects of this refocused culture. The early part of the new financial year will see initial piloting of an approach to outcome planning and budgeting which will be the subject of a report back to Committee. 

While the structure and culture of the Council are being refreshed, work is also underway with colleagues from public sector partners to refresh and refocus the City’s Single Outcome Agreement.  At the same time, given the changes underway within the Council, the Council’s own 5-year Business Plan 2012/2013 – 2017/2018 will also be updated in the coming weeks to reflect the changed working environment within the organisation. 

It’s useful to reflect that the Council’s current suite of corporate planning documents makes no mention of the impact of a City Deal or the delivery of the City Centre Masterplan.  Both will need to be included within the revised documents and both will require to be underpinned by a long-term financial strategy for the Council.  Officers are currently preparing such a strategy which will provide the Council with a clear understanding of its long-term financial opportunities and challenges within the context of the medium term financial stability that it has achieved in recent years. 

The budget reports considered by members next week set out how work continues in delivering against the Council’s Smarter Aberdeen policy statement and the Strategic Infrastructure Plan.  The reports also make clear that the financial situation to be faced by the Council, along with every other public sector body, over the coming five years is bound to be challenging. 

The Corporate Management Team is keenly aware of this challenge and work is underway both in terms of making the very best case to both the UK and Scottish Governments to explore with the Council mechanisms by which Aberdeen and the wider North East can be supported and in working with public sector partners locally to examine options through which further services might be shared. 

Such efforts with local, Scottish and UK partners will be built upon efforts within the Council to work with staff and their Trades Union representatives to seek and deliver service improvement and/or transformation. 

Reports will be brought to Committee as required.

Shaping Aberdeen, shaping the team

The week just coming to an end saw another milestone passed in the restructuring of the senior management of the Council with the announcement that Bernadette Oxley is the preferred candidate for the post of Head of Children’s Social Work/Chief Social Work Officer.

With Euan Couperwhite having taken up post just before Christmas as Head of Policy, Performance and Resources and with Helen Shanks having started work with us at the beginning of the year as Head of Inclusion, the senior team in the Education and Children’s Services Directorate is now complete.

Next week, Takki Sulaiman begins work with the Council as Head of Communication and Promotion and next month Richard Sweetnam joins us as Head of Economic Development.

We will soon begin the recruitment and selection process for the posts of Director of Corporate Governance and Head of IT and Transformation, so it is hoped that we will have a full Extended Corporate Management Team complement by the Spring. 

It’s exciting to be progressing in this way, but as I’ve said many times before while the structure is important it isn’t the be all an end all.  The key for the Council moving forward will be the culture we develop within the organisation and the focus we have on balancing improving customer experience, improving staff experience and improving our use of resources.


New Year, New You?

As we come to the end of the second full working week of 2015, it seems like a good time to see how we’re all doing with our New Year Resolutions…

If its fitness that you’re after you’ll find a recent reminder on the Zone that there’s a 25% discount for City Council staff at Aberdeen Sports Village, just show your ID badge. 

If the wellbeing you seek is slightly less frenetic you’ll also find on the Zone that discounted alternative therapy sessions are also being arranged for staff.  The first two sessions are already fully booked but more are promised for the future.

Finally, if a reduction in alcohol intake was the resolution for you for January you might be interested in giving the quiz a go at 

Whatever the New Year goals you set yourself, keep up the good work!