Mar 092012
 

With thanks to Dave Macdermid. 

Organisers of the Denis Law Soccer Tournament, which replaced the longstanding Aberdeen International Football Festival last year, are looking to cement the financial future of the event with the formation of a ‘Friends’ group comprising 200 members.

Scotland legend Denis, the Patron of the DLST, is passionate about the tournament.

“Sport and in this case, football, forms an important part of a child’s upbringing and I firmly believe the experience and enjoyment that kids get from this event in my home town will stay with them forever. The organisers need your support to be able to sustain this worthy cause and I would urge you to become a Friend to ensure it can continue as an annual event. I look forward to seeing you at some point during the year to thank you personally.”

And everyone who signs up at £200 per annum to become a ‘Friend’ will get the opportunity to do just that as there will be ‘Friends of DLST’ reception at Aberdeen Sports Village, hosted by Denis himself.

In addition, Friends will receive recognition of support within the tournament programme, venue and website, a quarterly e-newsletter and entry into a prize draw for a complimentary team to be included in the DLST corporate football event.

This year’s tournament will take place at ASV between July 16th and 21st with action at 16 and Under and 14 and Under age groups.

Anyone wishing to become a Friend can pay via BACS, cheque or debit card via the ‘Friends of DLST’ link on www.aberdeensportsvillage.com or by contacting ASV Events Manager Fiona Cardwell on 01224 438926 or fiona@aberdeensportvillage.com

Feb 232012
 

Aberdeen Against Austerity, a group campaigning against the £140m redevelopment of the historic Union Terrace Gardens, has released the following statement in response to the P&J article headlined, “Police probe attacks on city garden team” of 21 February 2012. The statement is published verbatim as received by Voice with only minor graphical changes made to AAA’s release to comply with Voice’s house style.

These allegations by Mr Smith and as yet unnamed others are strong indeed – e-mail hacking, online bullying and harassment and personal threats are all criminal offences.
We at Aberdeen Against Austerity are not responsible for any of the alleged offences and do not believe any of our fellow Retain Union Terrace Gardens campaigners would stoop so low either.

We are opposed to unlawful tactics being employed by anyone in this important debate over the future of our city, as dirty tricks cheapen both sides’ arguments. However, we worry that the sensational coverage of these criminal allegations in the Press & Journal and Evening Express will serve as a deterrent to ordinary people speaking out, who oppose the City Gardens Development.

The referendum campaign is being fought on a far from level playing field. Six of the seven groups registered against the development are comprised of ordinary citizens (the 7th being the group of Labour City Councillors). By registering as campaign groups we have all been bound by the referendum rules, which allow a maximum spend of £8,524.45, although most groups have no budget at all.

Of the pro-development campaign groups, only three are registered, allowing the vast majority of campaigning to be done outwith the rules, and at huge expense, by PR company The BIG Partnership on behalf of those who propose the City Garden Project. Their Vote for the City Garden campaign has so far included 4-page flyers and newspaper-style brochures to every house in the city, constant radio advertising on all the local stations, a Facebook page manned by full time staff and daily coverage in the local newspapers.

As with any modern debate, much campaigning is being done online and this is where Mr Smith alleges bullying is taking place. Both sides are being equally forthright in their postings on social media, but Aberdeen Against Austerity are certainly not interpreting the strong wording of some of our opponents as bullying or harassment.

We have chosen to rise above any personal slurs and engage in debate based upon facts and we can still have a wee smile at those posts which satirise us and our efforts, because as Aberdonians we retain a sense of humour.

Aberdeen Against Austerity wonders if Sir Ian Wood, who has donated £50m of his own money to the controversial City Gardens Project, will be reporting local comedians Flying Pig Productions to the police for this week’s P&J column The Butter-Fingered Philanthropist.

Feb 222012
 

Aberdeen is a city on a downward slide. That makes for uncomfortable reading, doesn’t it? Our gut instinct, being the proud city we are, is to reject this notion out of hand, though deep down we all know it is true, says Graeme Campbell.

The cause of the rot is not easy to identify. Opinions will differ and any debate would most likely be fierce. It is perhaps best to say the gradual slip in the condition of our once grand and glorious city can be pigeon-holed to two vague categories – poor planning and the slow decline of the energy sector.
Or perhaps over-dependence on it? Two and a half pigeon holes then.

So, avoiding any unhelpful debate surrounding the way we arrived at this point, we must as a city look forward to the best possible route to a future of prosperity. We must look for a plan to return grandeur and pride to the Granite City. 

Our carefully-selected councillors, together with possibly our most successful loon, Sir Ian Wood and the private partnership Aberdeen City and Shire Economic Futures (ACSEF) think the solution to the gradual slip is a new garden. Not exclusively a garden you understand, but a garden with conferencing facilities and a café. To give all credit due, the plans certainly are impressive and whilst perhaps not so impressive in keeping with the architectural fabric of the city, we are, of course, a city not afraid of change.

In the most recent release posted through all city letterboxes, Aberdonians are directed by a host of interested parties to the key point, “You deserve it!” Well yes, most likely. But oddly, relegated to fifth, is what will be the key point for most Aberdonians. Once again we don’t want to admit this but we’re all thinking it, “We can afford it”.

Will Aberdeen City be pushed to the very brink of bankruptcy by this plan, as happened when the city took the bold decision, so long ago, to construct our now famous Union Street granite mile? Probably not. Of course, Sir Ian’s mammoth oil wealth will go some way to meeting the cost of development on the site – and only on this site, he has been quite clear on that point – the further estimated £100m will come from business rates, council tax – of course – and the heinously-complex Scottish Governmental TIF funding mechanism.

Now nobody wishes to be bored to tears by the inane workings of a TIF, so let’s not worry about that. Instead, let’s find out what other places are using TIF to create.

  • North Lanarkshire plans to spend £73m to transform the former Ravenscraig steel site, an area of quite unrivalled deprivation, to the benefit of the many people who live in the area.
  • Argyll and Bute is to extend the North Pier at Oban for £20m, further securing the town’s position as Gateway to the Islands, a major boon to the tourist industry no doubt.
  • Falkirk plans to use its TIF in a far less grand manner, by bringing about strategic road developments and improving the flood defences. Clearly a sound decision.

But the plans which should be of most interest to any outward-looking Aberdonian comfortably seated in Europe’s oil capital, come from Fife. The council there is to spend its modest £17m TIF improving vehicle and marine access to the already-thriving Energy Park Fife, where renewables are already being constructed. I know, that’s not oil, but it is very real, so let’s not sneer. Not content with this, Fife has also begun construction of the Levenmouth Low Carbon Investment Park which is set to become ‘Scotland’s foremost energy park’.

Whilst in Aberdeen we plan to spend £150m on a garden and café.

Is anyone else embarrassed? Our great city, the economic powerhouse of Scotland, is being distracted by plants and trees whilst other towns are going green in a wholly more financially-sound way. This city has the engineering and science skills, brought by the oil industry and our two modern and diverse universities, to become a world leader in the renewables field.

You don’t need to do the math to know a research and development centre, alongside a manufacturing park would be of significantly greater financial gain to the city than the redevelopment of a garden.

This brings us to the question – has the Council considered this? Understandably, Sir Ian may not be keen, but this is about so much more than the oil empires held by the few; this is about the continuing prosperity of the many.

So, as the ballot papers find their way to you, look around the city. Look for the signs of the rot brought about by poor management by those who, for too long, have only looked inwards – decision makers enjoying the security of the formerly-booming local oil industry.

Consider what the world, given the current environmental and economic climate, would look to Aberdeen for. Horticultural tips? A show in our new 5000-seat outdoor amphitheatre? Or will they look to Europe’s ENERGY Capital to lead the way to a bright new future of renewable energy? And then, as our city leads the world in technological advancement in the renewables field we will look forward to investment, to jobs and to success.

When the ballot paper lands on your doormat, consider what Aberdonians truly deserve and ensure your vote lets our council know just what you want for your future.

Feb 192012
 

TIF – doesn’t this American innovation in borrowing just sound fantastic?  You get to ‘unlock’ money, re-develop an area, and money comes flooding in.  What could be wrong with that?  Karin Flavill looks across the pond to the home of the junk bond and bad mortgages, and doesn’t like what she sees.

While arguments rage over the future of Union Terrace Gardens, there’s consensus about one thing.  Tax Increment Funding is a somewhat difficult concept to get to grips with.  Not because the basic definition is complex.

TIF funds development by borrowing against future business tax gains arising as a consequence of that development.   New developments mean new business rates.  The local authority keeps a portion of those business rates (from businesses that wouldn’t have moved into the area but for the development) to repay the loan.

The complexity arises in assessing how this mechanism can be applied in a manner that avoids various potential pitfalls.  TIF is still very much in the experimental stages in the UK, so we lack a domestic reference point to understand how well the process is likely to work from start to finish.

When business is attracted from one area to another by a TIF funded development, it may be at the expense of another area.  This is known as “displacement”.   The area benefiting from TIF is pleased to lure business away with its spanking new TIF-funded development.  The region losing out wants some protection against financial detriment.

The TIF scheme provides that tax increment coming at the expense of another region can’t be retained by the local authority to make TIF repayments.  Like other NDRs, those increments must be sent to Central Government who will pool them with other funds then redistribute the funds equitably among regions.

Rather than being a tool to give cities a competitive edge and win City of Culture status for celebrated developments (the vision currently being promoted in CGP supporters’ referendum campaigns), TIF was first developed in the US as a means of helping regions to improve their most blighted areas.    Gradual shifts away from this philosophy, and increasingly creative ways of arguing blight, have led to many states in the US tightening up legislation to prevent TIF from being awarded except where genuine blight is demonstrated.

Chicago is often cited as example of the TIF scheme being misused to benefit the areas that least need it.  In August last year, a report was released outlining areas for improvement in the operation of TIF in that city.  The report highlighted problems regarding the monitoring of TIF expenditure.

Taxpayers had not been afforded easy access to information that would help them understand the TIF process or to evaluate the performance of the investment.   This reduced transparency of the process.

  although the initial cost proposed was $224.3 million, ultimately the park cost $482.4 million

The harder it is for the ordinary citizen to understand the TIF process and to evaluate the success of the development it funds, the greater the potential for corruption and abuse of the process by those who do understand it, and who can make it work to their own advantage.

That some will seek and gain an advantage through cronyism is an unfortunate element of life from which no city is immune.

In the 1990s, Chicago Mayor Daley (no relation to Arthur) developed a strong attachment to a project that would come to be known as Millennium Park.  A 16-acre landscape situated over an underground parking structure, it was built on top of Railroad tracks in an existing park called Grant Park.  The architect involved was Frank Gehry who had won international acclaim for the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.  The Chicago Tribune enthused that:

“The most celebrated architect in the world may soon have a chance to bring Chicago into the 21st Century”.

The park has certainly won many admirers worldwide and is, in many ways, an excellent model for what the City Garden supporters are hoping that project will become.   Properties in the immediate surrounds have become very fashionable and have increased significantly in value.

For others there has been a hefty price tag.  For example, although the initial cost proposed was $224.3 million, ultimately the park cost $482.4 million.  The park has come at a very high price to Chicago residents in terms of cuts to funding of public services and job cuts that were necessitated by the cost of the park.  Salt is rubbed into the wound, on occasion, when the park is closed to the public so that corporate functions may be held there.

During and after the building of the park, Mayor Daley was frequently criticised for alleged cronyism in the awarding of contracts.   Other areas of the city continued to deteriorate, while their inhabitants observed the increasing wealth and prosperity of those parts of the city that benefited from TIF funded schemes.
Areas that never suffered from true blight in the first place, but which were a focus of interest for developers, politicians, owners of business premises and others who could make the TIF scheme work for them.

In some ways it’s puzzling that we, supposedly a far more socialist nation than the US, are applying a model of TIF so similar to that model which states in the US have been increasingly trying to move away from by drafting legislation that aims to help TIF function in accordance with its original aims.

There has always been a tendency for conservatives to condemn the poor for their reliance on state sponsored welfare, but in recent years have people started questioning more vigorously the exploitation of taxpayer financed schemes by the some of the biggest players in business (players who have traditionally, but not always accurately, been lauded for their self-sufficiency).

TIF deserves close attention for its potential to increase this problem.  Failure to know, or care about, the original philosophy of TIF leaves us less alert to its potential for misuse that could worsen existing inequalities in our society.

The UK version of TIF springs from recommendations in a 2008 report by PWC and Core Group Cities for an alternative method of funding developments in core group cities (the 8 largest regional cities in England).   The report is here.  

It begins with commentary on the economic successes of the core group cities, and highlights continuing problems relating to unemployment and deprivation in some neighbourhoods.    It states an aim to “rejuvenate communities, provide new employment opportunities and stimulate further economic growth.”

  Promoters of the CGP dismiss the possibility of serious overspending as scaremongering

The report then discusses the increasing political emphasis on a devolved approach to economic  development .   A defining aspect of TIF is that it permits local authorities greater autonomy in the matter of funding developments once they have been granted the TIF loan.

For this to happen, they must submit a detailed business plan to the SFT who make recommendations to central government regarding feasibility.

PWC, having been involved in the UK version of TIF from its conception, is ideally positioned  to assist local authorities with the preparation and submission of their business plans.  Finance and Resources Committee meeting minutes from September 2010 discuss PWC’s remit in preparing a TIF business plan for approval by the SFT.  The minutes refer to several important city projects the Council would wish to progress, whether or not the City Garden project went ahead.
See: https://docs.google.com …committees.aberdeencity …pwc+tif+business+plan

“The terms of PWC’s assignment make it clear that they are required to produce a business case that ensures zero financial risk for the Council.”

The Council states that it will make no financial contribution to the City Garden Project.  The development must be funded wholly by private contributions and by the TIF loan and completed within the budget.

Promoters of the CGP dismiss the possibility of serious overspending as scaremongering.  Chicago’s Millennium Park experience demonstrates, however, how this can and does happen.   As a response to such concerns, Sir Ian Wood has pledged an extra £35 million.   It’s not clear what will happen if the cost exceeds this.

Despite ACC’s insistence that PWC present a business case involving zero risk to the Council, the draft business case completed in January of this year contains no such promise.  It focuses on minimising risk and balancing the risks involved in carrying out the project against the risks involved in doing nothing.

Outlining the need to attract investment and talented professionals to Aberdeen to assure future prosperity, the plan refers particularly to the energy industry.  Due to the oil and gas industry being regarded as the primary targets for investment in Aberdeen, and Aberdeen’s existing status as the main centre in Scotland for this industry, PWC anticipate displacement being low (10%).   A low anticipated displacement figure is essential for arguing the likely success of a business plan.

  PWC appears to anticipate investment by that industry increasing in Aberdeen, alongside the increasing depletion of oil and gas reserves

Work is expected to be completed over a 5 year period beginning this year, with TIF borrowing being carried out in stages (the first draw down taking place in 2014).  The proposed development is expected to create approximately 2 million square feet of commercial space and to speed up the development of a further 1.4 million square feet of commercial space.

The CCRS (City Centre Regeneration Scheme) predicts 6,500 new jobs resulting from the development.  It should be noted, though, that that figure is a “by 2039” prediction.

The business plan states:

“Oil and gas reserves will run out over time, perhaps 30 years, and Aberdeen is looking ahead. It knows it needs to adapt its industrial base and re-examine how it creates wealth and prosperity.   Aberdeen is confident it can do so.”

This project is to be completed in 2017, and its success relies significantly on a very low displacement figure of 10%.  In presenting this figure PWC relies on the oil and gas industry, already present in Aberdeen (and therefore not being taken from other areas) being the main sources of increased investment in Aberdeen.   Confusingly, PWC appears to anticipate investment by that industry increasing in Aberdeen, alongside the increasing depletion of oil and gas reserves in the North Sea.

Perhaps in anticipation of confusion about this assertion, much is made of the possibilities relating to renewable energy – an industry Aberdeen must embrace and develop expertise in, regardless of Donald Trump’s views.  The question is whether developments in other areas area will not only compensate for the steadily diminishing presence of the oil industry, but expand to the point where the business plan can work as anticipated.

Regarding the City Garden proposed as a replacement for UTG, the report comments…

“While there is no direct benefit the fact that the City Gardens Project becomes a reality and underpins the CCRS will benefit Aberdeen’s wider population and business community.”

During a recent BBC Scotland debate, campaigner Mike Shepherd (a geologist with years of experience in, and expert knowledge of, the energy sector) was shouted down and jeered at by pro CGP hecklers.  The latter have tended to define opponents of the City Garden Project as tree-huggers and luddites who will be crushed by the wheels of change.   UTG has also been described, throughout the debate, as a dangerous area…despite police reports indicating far lower crime levels in UTG than in surrounding street level areas.

The debate has often been an acrimonious one, featuring conflicts of various kinds.  Already the TIF pilot scheme in the UK form originally advocated by PWC has brought deep divisions to Aberdeen.  It seems set to be promoting a cheerfully unapologetic attitude, amongst some in our community, with regard to social exclusion.

A popularly cited reason for getting rid of UTG is that this will also rid the city centre of people with drug and alcohol related problems.   Presumably, relegating them to more blighted areas that would, were TIF being applied in a manner consistent with its original aims, be the areas actually benefiting from this scheme.

 

Feb 102012
 

By Bob Smith.

“Fred the Shred”’s nae langer Sir
He’s bin strippit o his title
Noo jist a plain ex bunker
Wi views nae langer vital
.
Reduced eence mair ti the rank
O a mannie in the street
Bit still he his mair millions
Than fowk ye’ll likely meet
.
Wull the chiel be maist pit oot
Nae langer bein ca’ed Sir ?
Is stem cumin oot his luggies?
Is oor Fred in a bit o a birr
.
Forced ti chynge his letterheids
Titled stationery wull disappear
An cardies sayin he’s a Sir
Wull be chuckit on the fleer
Noo spare a thocht fer Fred
There’s lots mair o his creed
Titled gadgies linin their pooches
Wi the proceeds o great greed
.
Anither Goodwin we aa ken
A bank – bit een o sand
As notorious as oor Fred
Fer “shipwreckin” oot o hand
.
The puir mannie’ll hae ti learn
An iss he micht weel dread
Fin ask’t fit his name is
He’ll hae ti say “jist Fred”
.
.
.
©Bob Smith “The Poetry Mannie” 2012
Image © Alexandr Denisenko | Dreamstime.com
Jan 272012
 

The business case for TIF and the City Garden Project by Mike Shepherd

The Technical Feasibility Study for the City Square Project was published in 2009. A key problem area was identified early on:

“The difficulty in quantifying the economic gain is considerable. To describe the benefits in cultural and civic terms and to focus on the future raison d’être of the City of Aberdeen will become the means of explaining the benefits. However it is very difficult to make these benefits seem tangible. Yet this is precisely what will have to be done for a proposal to succeed.”

Three years later, and with the scheme rebranded as the City Garden Project, they are still struggling to give any clear explanation for the economic benefit.

The business case for Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) was presented to Council on Wednesday. TIF is a mechanism whereby a local authority borrows money from central government funds to finance a development project. Any new business rates created by the project are used to pay off the loan and interest. It is intended to act as a self-financing mechanism.

The City Garden Project has a nominal cost of £140m, of which the promised private sector contribution is £70m. Aberdeen City Council is being asked to underwrite a £70m loan through a TIF scheme. This is part of a larger plan to redevelop the city centre which includes knocking down St Nicholas House, the Denburn car park and health centre area.

The TIF business case presented to councillors is, however, seriously flawed.

http://committees.aberdeencity.gov.uk/mgConvert2PDF.aspx?ID=18350

An Attractive Aberdeen

The main justification for the City Garden Project is that it would apparently create a high quality city centre to make Aberdeen more attractive. This is supposed to act to retain and draw in energy and other professionals, together with an increased number of visitors.

Research shows that talented people choose place rather than job when making location decisions. As an Energy City, Aberdeen competes for skilled people with….areas like Abu Dhabi, Kuala Lumpur, Houston and Perth (Australia).”

Yet, a survey published two months ago makes this claim somewhat questionable.

ABERDEEN has been rated one of the world’s top cities to live in for the second year in a row, a survey published today reveals.  Quality of life in the Granite City is ranked above that of Hong Kong, Los Angeles, Houston and Dubai in the study, which is used by governments and multinational firms to help decide where to send staff.”

http://www.pressandjournal.co.uk/Article.aspx/2536835

Jobs Creation

Most controversial is the claim that regeneration of the city centre could create 6,500 jobs.

The report sets out how his figure was derived. A questionnaire was sent out by the Council to companies and a small number of interested parties in Aberdeen with the intention of assessing the economic impact of the city centre redevelopment. One of the target groups comprised key developers, land owners and agents. Of the 35 parties in this group, only one replied to the questionnaire. They then contacted all remaining 34 developers by phone. Even then, when directly approached, only six of the 34 were prepared to speak to them.

Unfortunately this question did not garner any responses

The developers were asked ‘to identify the extent to which the delivery of each of the five development schemes would result in uplift in development potential for housing, retail outlets, office space, business units, hotels, tourism and leisure in the City Centre’.

However:

“No respondents identified the project as having any impacts on the development potential for business/industrial units in the City Centre”.

Then:

The next question in the survey requested developers to provide an indication (in quantifiable terms such as the number of units, square footage etc) of the extent to which the identified benefits would impact upon their organisation’s investment plans and/or objectives. Unfortunately this question did not garner any responses as consultees felt it was too soon and/or complex to attribute impacts in these terms.”

That questionnaire wasn’t that much help then.

“Additionally it was apparent that individual developers and other respondents identified potential uplifts in activity and recognised that the timing of investments would be brought forward as a result of TIF. However, many of these developers still had expectations that, irrespective of future economic conditions or City Centre Regeneration Scheme (CCRS) , their specific sites will be taken forward. It was apparent that individual developers and other respondents identified potential uplifts in activity and recognised that the timing of investments would be brought forward as a result of TIF. However, many of these developers still had expectations that, irrespective of future economic conditions or CCRS, their specific sites will be taken forward.” (HA!)

SO WHAT DID THEY DO NEXT ?

“In balancing these different responses (i.e. CCRS will act as a stimulus to market uplift in general versus developers views that each individual site is likely to be taken forward anyway) the Council, ACGT Enterprises and their advisors have initially assumed a profile of development under the no CCRS scenario whereby:

“None of the cultural, leisure or retail elements of the CCRS projects will be taken forward;

“At least one major site totalling 0.720 million square feet will be taken forward in the anticipated timescales projected by developers regardless of CCRS; and,

“On the remaining sites identified, 1.369 million square feet will go forward without TIF over the 25 year period considered, but such developments will lag, on average, three years behind the profile assumed with CCRS.

“On the remaining sites identified, 2,029 million square feet of development (out of total development potential of 3.468 million square feet) will not go forward without the CCRS, over the proposed 25 year TIF period.”

THIS IS THE KEY BIT

“the Council, ACGT Enterprises and their advisors have initially assumed a profile of development “

AND THEN …

Took the 2,029 million square feet figure, multiplied it by ‘standard job density ratios,’ and came up with 6,500 jobs.

Assumptions?

So what happened next?

“In balancing these different responses (ie CCRS will act as a stimulus to market uplift in general versus developers views that each individual site is likely to be taken forward anyway) the Council, Aberdeen City Garden Trust Enterprises and their advisors have initially assumed a profile of development under the no CCRS scenario whereby:

…. 2,029 million square feet of development (out of total development potential of 3.468 million square feet) will not go forward without the CCRS, over the proposed 25 year TIF period.”

The footage was multiplied by standard figures which relate development area to the number of jobs likely to be created, hence 6,500 jobs.

The key word here is ‘assumed’. An exercise in speculation somehow translated into a press statement that the City Garden Project will create 6,500 jobs. This wild claim led to much scepticism. It was pointed out that the London Olympics are only predicted to create 3,000 new jobs.

The Risks

The discussion on project risks is somewhat lightweight. One concern is the possibility of massive cost over-run on the project. The report even tacitly recognises the possibility:

“It has demonstrated with the redevelopment of Marischal College that it can have a major project delivered on time and under budget. This is a rare accomplishment in such large projects.”

In June 2010, I gave a deputation to a Council meeting where I asked who would pay for any cost over-run on the City Garden Project. The then Chief Executive, Sue Bruce, decreed that the private sector would pay, not the Council. Since that meeting, there has clearly been little progress on the matter. The report mentions that:

“Before entering into any TIF arrangement, ACC will endeavour to structure an arrangement with its private sector contributors that minimises ACC’s risk exposure.”

The Council should walk away from the project unless it gets a legally-binding commitment from the private sector to cover all costs of any project over-run. The major financial problems caused in Edinburgh Council as a result of the projected £200m-plus overspend on the trams project should be foremost in councillors’ minds, one would hope.

TIF can be a risky way to borrow money. The risks are understood by the Council:

“For most TIF projects the most significant risk would be in relation to the business rates identified not materialising or being delayed. This would result in ACC having insufficient revenues available through the TIF mechanism to service and repay their borrowings.”

There is another risk. The loan will be in place for a period of 25 years, gradually being paid off, it is hoped, by new business rates. Like a mortgage, interest will accrue on the unpaid part of the loan. The business case assumes an interest rate of 5.2% over the 25 year period. Should interest rates rise by only 1%, then there will be a predicted shortfall of £20.7m left to pay after 25 years.

Careful reading of the TIF business case for the City Garden Project shows that it is based on unexplained assumptions, optimistic extrapolations and will involve financial risk for the Council. Yet the public are being told otherwise.

Tuesday’s ‘Press & Journal’ quoted a City Garden Trust director, who mentioned they had polled 50 people in Aberdeen. Those against the City Garden Project had said the city could not afford the project.

“When the funding was explained and the economic benefits outlined, ten of these people changed their minds. “

This is what I would have told them instead.

“Your house needs doing up, you are heavily in debt, you can barely find the cash for the essentials in life. Should you take out an enormous mortgage for a new patio and garden? No!”

Jan 192012
 

By Bob Smith.

Ma birthday’s in a fyow days time
Anither ‘ear it bites the dust
Noo ae present a wid affa like
In fact iss een wid be a must
.
A day withoot ony Eurozone news
Een free fae aa doom an gloom
A day fin the financial mairkets
Are nae beamed ti ma livin room
.
A time free o news o the FTSE
Or foo the DAX is deein the day
A time fin a dinna hae ti hear
A country’s drappit fae a triple A
A day fin the mairket prices
Are nae seen as a holy grail
A day free fae bliddy economists
Haein a greet an a bit o a wail
.
Nae Cameron, Sarkozy or Merkel
Tryin ti tell us aa fit needs deein
A day fin we can enjoy oorsels
An nae listen ti the buggers aa leein
.
So TV moguls an Press barons
Tak heed o iss puir mannie’s plea
Jist gie us aa a gweed present
A day we bide Eurozone free

©Bob Smith “The Poetry Mannie” 2012
Image Credit © Andy Brown | Dreamstime.com

Dec 012011
 

Last year Aberdeen City Council proposed the complete closure or privatisation of Aberdeen Instrumental Music Service. After a strong campaign, the council was persuaded of the senselessness of its proposal. We were assured that the existence of the Music Service would be safeguarded, provided the Music Service made cuts requested by Aberdeen City Council. It did. The service was saved for a year, but it is once again under threat. Kathryn Reid tells Voice about the Come and Play Protest

On Tuesday 6 December, the Council’s Finance and Resources Committee will meet to discuss Priority Based Budgeting: Draft financial budget 2012-2013 5-Year Business Plan budget.

Once again it contains a proposal to ‘withdraw music tuition’.

We want to demonstrate to councillors how much musical talent is thriving in Aberdeen thanks to the Aberdeen Instrumental Music Service, and we aim to do this in the most obvious way – by playing and singing!

We are planning a Peaceful Playing Protest in Union Terrace Gardens, from 12noon to2pm at the same as the budget meeting is taking place. We are inviting as many people as possible to attend so we can really make an impact. If you are a member of an instrumental or vocal musical group, please come along with your friends and lend your talents.

More information and details are available from rona.h.cook@gmail.com

A FEW THINGS TO REMEMBER…

This is a peaceful protest. Bring a smile and your best behaviour!

Union Terrace Gardens doesn’t have facilities for an orchestra, so take along music stands if you need them.

Neither chairs nor a PA system can be provided, so remember this when planning your performance.

Union Terrace Gardens managers have been kind enough to let us use the space, let’s show our gratitude – don’t leave behind litter or damage the area!

It’s Aberdeen, and it’s December….wrap up warm!

OTHER THINGS YOU CAN DO TO HELP…

Write to councillors on the Finance and Resources Committee giving your point of view

Write to your MSPs

You can find addresses and links for councillors and MSPs at
http://www.friendsofaberdeeninstrumentalmusic.co.uk/
 

Sign the online petition at:
http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/no-withdrawal-of-music-tuition-in-aberdeen.html

Tuesday 6 December,
12noon – 2pm.
Union Terrace Gardens, 

HOPE TO SEE YOU ALL THERE!

Oct 282011
 

In our final extract from Suzanne Kelly’s interview with former RGU Principal Dr David Kennedy, he describes how the community came together, in the face of serious local business opposition, to help RGIT achieve university status in 1992, how that community spirit inspired him to raise his voice against the Menie development, and how he still gets a buzz from teaching and seeing its benefits.

“At least one good thing came out of Trump”, David Kennedy is convinced, “Community spirit”.

“Twenty years ago the Government had a policy to make polytechnics into universities. Here in Scotland they decided there would be two new universities, not very good ones I may say, one in Edinburgh and one in Glasgow. These two institutions, which previously had been local authority colleges, became centrally-funded in 1985, thus enhancing their status.

“Then in 1988, Napier in Edinburgh called itself a polytechnic, followed a couple of years later by Glasgow College who renamed itself Glasgow Polytechnic.

“The older technological institutions in Aberdeen, Dundee and Paisley still retained their old names, that is, they had not called themselves polytechnics, even though they were wholly polytechnic in educational status and character, and were longstanding members of the UK committee of polytechnics. My fellow principals simply assumed that their institutions would be included in the forthcoming legislation.

“Being a suspicious person, I phoned the Scottish Office and asked if it were right that all were going to become universities, or only the titular polytechnics? The Scottish Office spokesman confirmed that only the polytechnics would become universities. I mounted a massive campaign. RGIT, with its long and proud record in higher education, had produced several times more graduates and PhD students than Edinburgh and Glasgow put together.

“Behind the scenes, Ian Wood had played a significant part in the formulation of Government policy.

“Wood was from an old fishing family. When the offshore oil industry started in Aberdeen, there were many opportunities, and several fishing companies decided they would go into the supply vessel and stand-by vessel business. Wood was quite entrepreneurial and in the right place at the right time.

“In 1986 there was a massive drop in the price of oil, and many companies just went belly up. Ian Wood had good financial backing and mopped up a number of firms going into liquidation during that massive downturn. He was the man who persuaded the Government that Aberdeen needed a world-class university and thus didn’t want RGU to become a university.

“The irony is that the current RGU chancellor is Ian Wood, the man who did his utmost to prevent RGU becoming a reality. The people of the North East supported me in my hour of need and I wanted to return the favour and support the people of Menie Estate.”

Dr Kennedy’s strict values have not always been popularly received, however. He describes a time in his own professional life where he had to survive criticism.

“In 1992, the Queen said it was her annus horribilis. The following year was mine. Practically every day the local papers had me as the controversial man. As a result of that I have never read The Press & Journal or Evening Express since. Alan Scott who is just retiring is a good friend, but they had Derek Tucker back then. When I first came to Aberdeen, Peter Watson was the editor and he was a gentleman.

“The standards in the press have gone down, as we’ve seen. I was a victim of it all in 1993. I was eventually vindicated in the courts, but as the old saying goes – ‘if you throw enough mud some will eventually stick’. I was blacklisted by officialdom.

On the subject of his own fulfilment, Dr Kennedy returns to education, his own profession for which a passion still burns 

“As it turns out, I do a lot of voluntary teaching and I am a befriender. I currently have about ten students, adults who missed out at school in English and numeracy. I suppose in a way I am a born teacher and I fulfil myself by teaching others who are in need.

“There is satisfaction in helping other people. We must be hot-wired for it, for a cooperative nature. It is infectious. It is more fulfilling than materialistic fulfilment. When I see people understanding things for the first time, that is a terrific kick for me.”

Voice, and Suzanne in particular, are grateful to Dr Kennedy for giving his time to talk with such passion and conviction about what continues to frustrate him, drive him and sustain his zest for improving the lives of others. We can be sure that this is not the last we have heard of him and wish him success in seeking a publisher for his book. It is certain to be of huge interest to all in the NE who have had their lives touched by his life in education and the community.