Where has the time gone?

It only seems a couple of weeks ago that we were coming back from the Christmas holiday and now here we are about to enjoy Easter.

Hopefully as the Easter eggs beckon, we will also be able to enjoy some lovely Spring weather, although the recent snow and sleet seem to promise something else.  All in all of course we’ve had a fairly mild Winter, but that doesn’t mean that we’ve not been ready to respond if needed.  It’s a good opportunity to once again thank all those colleagues who have been on hand to help keep the City moving during any bad weather.  The arrival of Spring will also offer me the chance to re-visit some of our public parks to meet again colleagues I last saw during the Autumn and the Winter and to see how the gardens are coming along as they move towards their Summer glory.

It’s certainly been a busy few months from my perspective.  We’ve welcomed a number of new colleagues to the senior team:

  • Euan Couperwhite, Head of Policy, Performance and Resources
  • Helen Shanks, Head of Inclusion
  • Takki Sulaiman, Head of Communication and Promotion
  • Richard Sweetnam, Head of Economic Development

and we have three more arriving over the coming months:

  • Bernadette Oxley, Head of Children’s Social Work and Chief Social Work Officer
  • Head of IT and Transformation
  • Head of Legal and Democratic Services

Further information will follow soon on the appointments to the latter two posts above.

One post remains to be filled – the Director of Corporate Governance.  We’ll start recruitment for this after the holidays.  A big thank you to the many people who have supported the recruitment process to date.  Particular thanks to staff and Trades Union colleagues who have participated in the Assessment Centres.  I’d also like to express my thanks to all our partners who have given freely of their time to help us with these important appointments.  And without this turning into an Oscar acceptance speech, special thanks to the HR colleagues for all the organisation and arrangements they coordinated.  It has been a very professional process that has drawn many complimentary comments from external colleagues.

Looking back, the Oil and Gas Summit represented a significant milestone for the Council.  It’s important that we play our part in supporting the oil and gas industry in the City given the role it plays in our local economy.  Another vote of thanks to those colleagues who helped pull the event together, you’ve set the bar very high for all future summits!

The work on the City Region Deal began in 2014 and continued into the current year.  A whole range of colleagues from both the City Council and Aberdeenshire Council came together to establish jointly what we felt the region needed.  It’s been  fantastic to see the two organisations working together for the benefit of the North East and I was delighted when the Chancellor announced in his Budget that the UK Government is happy to enter into discussion with us on a City Deal.  Again, a big thank you to all those colleagues involved.  We’ve a huge amount of work ahead of us, but for now let’s celebrate getting to this stage.

I must also take the opportunity to thank everyone for the support that’s been given to enable us to meet the conditions of our vehicle operators license.  As you may remember we were called to a Public Hearing with the Traffic Commissioner just before Christmas.  A reconvened Hearing is scheduled for May and I’m confident that we’ll be able to report significant progress.  Again a big thank you to everyone and a particular thanks to Trades Union colleagues for their support.

Work has also continued at a pace on the City Centre Masterplan culminating in the final round of public consultation.  I’m particularly pleased with the diversity of the engagement events organised and I’m grateful to all those colleagues from across the Council who volunteered to support the public engagement activity.  I’d also like to take the opportunity to remind all staff that I am very interested in hearing your views on the implications that delivering the Masterplan will have for us as a staff group.

Another highlight from a very busy three months was the positive report we received from the Care Inspectorate on its recent inspection of our integrated children’s services.  I was particularly pleased to share this with the Council and again I am delighted to recognise that many colleagues played a part in achieving such a positive outcome.  I’d like to express my thanks in particular to Susan Devlin for the leadership she has given the service, and again big thanks to all those staff involved.

So, a busy few months indeed.  I’m looking forward to some time off and I aim to enjoy one final restful holiday before we finally concede to the kids’ request for a puppy.  There’s an options appraisal that needs to be revisited!

If you’re taking time off, I hope you have a good break.  If you’re working, many thanks.

Let’s all hope for some good weather in the next few months.


Shaping Aberdeen – shaping the team

A full week of recruitment and selection this week with assessment centres and interviews for the posts of Head of Legal & Democratic Services and Head of IT & Transformation.

Some disappointment at the end of last week as it was decided not to make an appointment to the post of Director of Corporate Governance.  I completely understand and support the Appointment Panel’s decision and I am now working with colleagues to establish interim arrangements ahead of beginning a fresh recruitment exercise.

I will of course provide further updates.

City Region Deal

I am delighted to be able to follow-up my post of 9th March with the news that the Chancellor has today announced in his Budget Speech that formal negotiations will begin on the City Region Deal for Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire.

I must take the opportunity to put on record my appreciation of all those from both Councils and our partners who have put in so much effort to get us to this position.  Of course, the hard work now begins.

I am very much looking forward to joining Jim Savege in working with our colleagues in the City and Shire, in the public and private sectors and in the UK and Scottish Governments to ensure that the negotiations are successfully concluded for the people we serve across the North East.

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 http://goo.gl/oGUCMe and the questionnaire is available here http://goo.gl/iGn0oa.

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 – chiefexecutive@aberdeencity.gov.uk


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 Dschultz@aberdeencity.gov.uk

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 – LMacSween@aberdeencity.gov.uk.

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 – http://goo.gl/GuaGUu

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.”