Feb 022017
 

With thanks to Esther Green, Senior Account Executive, Tricker PR

Camphill Wellbeing Trust at Bieldside, Aberdeen.

An Aberdeen charity’s consulting rooms are all set for a spring makeover – with the help of a donation from Aberdeen Asset Management. Camphill Wellbeing Trust will be refurbishing rooms at its centre in Bieldside where it provides therapeutic services, known as AnthroHealth , to around 600 patients, including those with cancer, learning disabilities and chronic conditions.

Dr Aileen Primrose, manager of Camphill Wellbeing Trust said:

“Aberdeen Asset Management’s donation is a boost to our fundraising appeal to refurbish three consulting rooms at our centre in Bieldside.

“The upgraded rooms will be inviting spaces where patients can feel comfortable, secure and relaxed. This project is vital to enable us to respond to the increasing number of people who are asking for our help.

“We are very grateful to the Aberdeen committee for supporting our project with a £1,000 donation to help more local people with health conditions.”

The Camphill centre provides AnthroHealth services to help people find new ways to address illness, build resilience and maintain wellbeing. Based on conventional medicine but extended with a holistic understanding of the patient, AnthroHealth programmes include natural-based medicines, therapies and lifestyle advice.

The charity is part of Camphill independent charities whose shared ethos is to enable people with learning disabilities and other support needs to fulfil their potential.  Six independent Camphill charities are based in Aberdeen providing different services to meet the needs of children, adults and older people primarily with learning disabilities.

Dominic Kite of Aberdeen Asset Management’s Aberdeen charity committee said:

“This donation will go towards the enhancement of treatment rooms which will ensure Camphill Wellbeing Trust can work with the increasing numbers of patients seeking its individualised programmes.”

The Aberdeen Asset Charitable Foundation was established in 2012 to formalise and develop the Group’s charitable giving globally. The Foundation seeks partnerships with smaller charities around the world, where funds can be seen to have a meaningful and measurable impact and the firm encourages its employees to use their time and skills to support its charitable projects.

The main focus of the Foundation is around emerging markets and local communities, reflecting the desire to give back to those areas which are a key strategic focus of the business and to build on the historic pattern of giving to communities in which Aberdeen employees live and work.

For more information visit http://www.aberdeen-asset.co.uk/aam.nsf/foundation/home

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Dec 162016
 

Stephen McCormick recently quit his role as AFC display organiser describing the club as “impossible to deal with.”

By Red Fin Hall.

Recently I wrote about the situation regarding the lack of respect and communication between Aberdeen Football Club, The Supporter’s Liaison Officer within the club, and fans/supporters trying to create a better atmosphere at games via displays etc.

It appears that in some cases they, or more factually correct, people within the club, have, at some point, been actively trying to discourage said displays.

To this end a group of supporters have written an open letter to the board of the club emphasising the need for better communication and co-operation with the supporters. The fans keep getting told, “You are the 13th man.”

Feelings within the supporters at large, is that there is not much confidence that this is true. Even with the prospect of a new stadium coming, Mr Milne only said that there: ‘may be a standing area built within Kingsford’ – not that there would definitely be one. Also there was still no mention of the possibility of there being a bar within, and not just one for the corporate guests, but a public one.

There seems, at this moment in time, a lesser dialogue between the club and the fans than perhaps is perceived.

Below is the open letter.

Dear Duncan George & Stewart

We are writing this to you regarding matters this season and seasons past involving, failure on part of AFC to adequately engage with Aberdeen supporters, treatment of Aberdeen Supporters and in more detail treatment of those in the Merkland Singing Section.

Issues such as, but are not limited to the following areas:

–    A reply to questions put to AFC as to why AFC were contacting other clubs in Scotland attempting to discourage match day supporter displays.

–   Why the club lied at recent AGM telling the floor they had been in contact with those responsible for the stunning League Cup Final display at Hampden and thanking them when this simply isn’t the case .

–    Appointinment of Community Trust chief executive as SLO just to appease UEFA competition guidelines.

–    Appointment of a Supporters Liaison Officer (SLO) into the Club without consultation with Supporters groups / Supporters Trust or wider fan base etc

–    Failure of said SLO to engage with supporters groups on a day-to-day basis in order to facilitate a more enjoyable and effective match day experience

–    Failure of said SLO to engage with supporters groups for major games and to facilitate smooth access to Pittodrie and other stadia to be visited

–    Failure of SLO to engage positively with Supporters groups and other clubs in order to facilitate a coordinated and organized approach to maximizing noise generation and fan displays at away games

–    Actively and physically segregating, pressurizing and marginalizing of fans in the Merkland Singing section from other fans through use of hostile stewarding, “dead zone” seating strips and general poor attitude shown towards supporters wishing to support their team in a positive manner.

–    Misleading information regarding occupancy of Merkland block seating in order to undermine the success of the initiative and prevention of other fans joining the section throughout the game.

–    Failure to plan effectively for League Cup Final to ensure effective noise generation in order to back the team effectively by refusing to allocate area for vocal fans .

–    Failure of AFC across internal departments (General management, Stadium Access, Ticketing, security etc in order to facilitate an organized and structured and most importantly a respectful approach to AFC supporting individuals working on an unpaid  volunteer basis in order to encourage the team positively and to enhance the matchday experience for many people.

The recent League Cup Final showed that AFC has little regard to its fans wider match day experience and even less for creating a spectacle and that the Cup final atmosphere would “look after itself” as one AFC official was quoted as saying.

Anyone who witnessed the Cup final was that those that made the effort and expense of travelling to Glasgow to set up the pre match display done a fantastic effort given that there was no input nor even the respect of reply from AFC from requests from fans made to make the day a spectacle and an positive atmosphere for the duration of the match.

The lack of Aberdeen supporter positive atmosphere generation, particularly after going a goal down (and then more) was very evident.Had there been an area for vocal fans this could have helped create a louder backing for the team.

No doubt AFC will be using footage and photography from the matches with flags, card displays etc for future marketing material, all the while actively discouraging it and disregarding the fact that positive fan interaction does make a difference to the team on the park is wholly unacceptable.

We request the following:

–    AFC immediately engage with their staff & AFC fans representatives in order to stop these negative aspects reoccurring
–    Appoint a fan elected SLO – one that has a wide understanding or proven background in match day supporter participation, supporter liaison, match day display management.
–    Empower the SLO to form a positive working relationship with the Aberdeen support and other clubs respective SLO’s to ensure that the team, the supporters (the customers) are all given the correct priority support to ensure forward progress is made on all levels.
–    Ensure that the SLO is meeting the reasonable expectations of the Club, AFC support and wider regulatory bodies such as the Police and other Football Clubs etc.
–    The SLO is active in meeting with AFC fans to gather detailed information on future stadia requirements from the “in game” perspective.

We have a supporter in mind, someone who has engaged with the support and more importantly is respected by the support .The same fan has put on many a spectacle at Aberdeen FC games at home and away for the best part of 20 years .He has organised some of the best displays in the UK, helped add colour to AFC centenary events.Always paid tribute to fans who have sadly passed. He is great with the kids and young fans and always gets them involved .

The fans trust him and he’s known throughout the support as he’s always present .

We have a petition that hundreds of fans have signed asking that the club appoint Stephen McCormick as our Supporters Liaison Officer. With the amount of work he has done over the years, dealing with clubs up and down the country, having to deal with the SFA and SPFL he has already proven he has a vast knowledge of modern day football and its supporters.

We look forward to hearing from you in due course.

Signed

Dons fans voice collective.

Also, in my last article regarding this, I mentioned that Stephen contributed out of his own pocket. It has since been pointed out to me that the displays have been fully funded by fan contribution. He is the organiser, and has only contributed as a fan. He wished this to be clear.

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Dec 062016
 
dons-display

Stephen McCormick quits his role as display organiser for AFC describing the club as “impossible to deal with.”

With thanks to Red Fin Hall.

In recent years, there have been various splendid displays at Aberdeen Football Club matches, most notably perhaps, at the 2014 and 2016 League Cup finals, arranged by one man, Stephen McCormick, aka Mezzanine.

The finances for undertaking this mammoth undertaking came totally out of his own pocket and from fan donations.

The last one, the stunning 20,000 red and silver flag waving display at November’s final, arguably the only positive thing about the match, cost in the region of £10,000.

AFC, like all clubs, have a Supporter’s Liason Officer (SLO). The one at Aberdeen is Ally Proctor. He is also the CEO of the Community Trust. Despite this, he has never, ever gone to any SLO roadshows, or communicated anything to help with the final display. His title just seems to an obligatory one to appease UEFA.

The so called ‘family club’ are now taking on the appearance of being anything but.

Here, in his own words, are Stephen’s reasons for his decision to discontinue putting on displays at Pittodrie.

“I spoke with a few folk involved in the display project and family and friends in the weeks leading up to the Final. Sunday’s final will be my last involvement with displays and those I spoke to fully understand why.

“The club held its AGM on Monday and a shareholder asked Milne, Yule and Fraser about those behind the display and a vote of thanks was agreed, Im not sure what that means but Milne said they had been in touch with the organisers. I can assure you now we haven’t been thanked by any of them. So he blatantly lied to a room full of shareholders.

“They had an opportunity to put some money towards the display as well but we had a deadline to meet to place the order. We had to go through the Operations department, they were meant to relay info to our chief exec to keep him up to speed as to where we were at with the funds, I received an email at 9 pm on a Saturday night from him asking where we were at despite telling Operations on a daily basis.

“They dragged their heels so we had to look elsewhere, the DST lent us £2500 which we paid back. Production of 20,000 flags takes time. I asked our chief exec if he would still like to donate something like a bus for volunteers. I never got a reply but the DST did and the club said they couldn’t do a bus as they would all be booked.

“I called Central Coaches, same firm the club use and got a bus straight away, the DST offered to pay half of that which was a lovely gesture.

“The club are impossible to deal with, they hate me that’s for sure because I stand up to them and won’t allow them to treat those giving up their spare time like dirt. How can I work with a club that contacts Ian Low at Dundee United, or the operations Manager at Inverness Caley and try and talk them into banning us from doing display at their grounds?

“When we did a foil display in the Shed at Tannadice I was taken aside and told they (DUFC) would do anything they possibly could to make sure our display was a success, which it was. DUFC and ICT both couldn’t understand why any club wouldn’t want their own fans to add as much colour to the games.

“The League Cup final at ParkRed for example the club did absolutely nothing to assist us. I had to deal with the SPFL, Celtic,and the police and all were very helpful.

“The club were quick to sell framed pictures at £70 a pop in the club shop of the display, I was never offered one.

“This display was a huge task and thankfully I had a great team to share the load, some of them will continue Im sure but after witnessing how I’m treated they will probably do future displays away from home.

“At Hampden, Motherwell, Celtic, Inverness, Ibrox, Tannadice, I have always been made welcome and always get a glowing report of how organised we were. Its just our club that make life extremely difficult to do anything and I’ve had enough.

“We also have a SLO at our club, a role given to someone in the community trust just to appease UEFA, a SLO should be someone that is known to the support and is helpful to the supporters, ours didn’t even get in touch leading up to the final, Im not even going to mention his name but another ex-cop who nobody within the support knows. Im in regular contact with SLOs at other clubs as well as Supporters direct etc and kept up to date with matters.

“It was very humbling for the support to put so much faith in me at the last 2 finals and to donate such an incredible amount was just staggering, I had several sleepless nights leading up to this game but I knew as soon as I knew the materials we would use what I was going to do. Without the supporters kindness and participation I’d never have been able to do any of them.

“Thanks also to those that helped me make it happen, you know who you are.

“Thank you all once again and good luck to those who want to try and add some colour in the future. Time to spend some time with those that are far more important than football, my amazing family.”

To say that the fans I have spoke to are annoyed at this situation is an understatement. He went on to say,

“A SLO is someone who the support have known for years, someone they have faith in. I have proved over the years that the fans have faith in me, fundraising, centenary celebrations, loads of displays, football competitions, set ups, social media. Been in touch with them for best part of 20 years.

“I also never lie to the support, that’s the one thing that winds me up about our club, I could tell you some stories like.”

Independently, another fan has set up a petition to replace the current SLO with somebody who has more interest in fulfilling his position that the title suggests.

Let’s hope that the club is taken to task over this and things change in the future.

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Aug 232013
 

Whilst the result didn’t quite turn out as hoped for curiously-optimistic Dons followers last weekend, the capacity crowd who attended dug deep to add a very welcome £343 to the coffers of the AFC Heritage Trust, writes AFCHT Vice-Chairman, David Innes.

47 SCW medal AFCHT

A big crowd does not always guarantee a bumper collection.

In their haste to take their seats, purchase the pie-shaped equivalent of lunch given the early kick-off time and take other necessary comfort after an hour in the Pittodrie Bar, collectors are often fighting a losing battle as the density of the crowd of incoming handsome, fashionable and knowledgeable sages of sport means that individual interaction with donors is compromised.
The total raised is welcome, however, and the Trust extends its thanks to the volunteer collectors who helped us out and to anyone who dropped a few coins in our buckets.

As always, interest in the Trust’s work was considerable and the explanatory leaflets snapped up.

Those who had already dipped into the growing and almost-omniscient Dons history and heritage resource that is the Trust website spoke warmly of it for its ability to allow browsers to reminisce, add to their knowledge of our community’s leading sporting organisation, or just settle the pub argument about which Dons scored in the 7-2 win over Partick Thistle in 1971 (Harper 3, Willoughby 2, Forrest and The Brush, since you ask).

Whilst the longer term aim in fundraising is to kit out and operate a museum and community learning centre in a new stadium, the day-to-day work of the Trust continues, and incurs running costs.

Whilst all trustees and a team of avid, committed researchers give freely of their time and efforts, adding to the considerable archive of Dons-related material and individual artefacts which enrich our understanding of fitba history in the city, costs money. Only last week, the Trust concluded a deal to buy the winner’s medal from the 1947 Scottish Cup final awarded to Willie Waddell, a unique item.

How unique? In those days, there were no substitutes, so eleven medals were struck by the SFA for members of the winning team. The manager also received a memento. That was it. The Trust now has possession of one of only twelve such items in existence.

The 1947 final was memorable for a number of reasons, not only because it was the first time the Dons had won the famous trophy after over 40 years of trying, but because of Waddell’s gesture at the final whistle, offering his own medal, the one that is now back at Pittodrie, to full back and popular stalwart servant Willie Cooper who missed the final due to injury.

The club later received SFA permission to strike a medal for the unfortunate Cooper.

It is on such anecdotes, artefacts and memories that the heritage of the Dons is founded. No matter how low spirits may descend during a torrid run, how much flak we each get at work by fans of inferior clubs (that’s everyone else) or how often they let us down, we are united by common cause.

The AFC Heritage Trust is determined to ensure that generation can speak to generation through this cause and take pride from a shared history and, with a little fortune, a bright future.

Do you want to know more or help us out? www.afcheritage.org

Stand free.

Aug 172012
 

By Bob Smith.

Noo a hunner business billies
Faa support  City Gairdens Trust
Tae destroy Union Terrace Gairdens
They aa think iss is a must

They’re aa the usual suspects
Faa stan tae mak a killin
An ding doon ony cooncillor
Faa disna show ony willin

Ye hiv the likes o Martin Gilbert
Twa Stewarties, Milne an Spence
An woe betide ony business chiel
Faa micht sit upon the fence

A letter tae oor  toon council
Wis sint wingin on its wye
If ye vote agin the plans
We micht hing ye oot tae dry

Think o the bigger picter here
Is their affa mournfu plea
An Sir Ian he’ll jist waak awa
If oor biddin ye dinna dee

Their PR machine is gearin up
Wi  helpfu freens at the P&J
Faa canna say onything naistie
Advertisin revenue cums intae play

Fit richt hiv aa thae buggers
Tae tell us fit’s best fer oor toon?
An try tae dictate tae oor council
Fit they can or canna vote doon

We wull sin fin oot fit’s fit
The cooncil’s back is tae the wa
Can they haud faist agin the critics
An a hunner “snipers” an aa an aa? 

© Bob Smith “The PoetryMannie” 2012

 

Jul 092012
 

Mike Shepherd has  lodged a complaint in a letter to Aberdeen City Council Chief Executive Valerie Watts regarding the recently published TIF business case. Mike shares the content of the letter with Aberdeen Voice readers.

To The Chief Executive, Aberdeen Council

I am lodging a complaint about the TIF Business Case “Aberdeen City Centre Regeneration Scheme” which has been written as a report to inform a council vote in August. This document should be a disinterested analysis of the case, or otherwise, for Aberdeen Council borrowing £92 million through Tax Incremental Financing (TIF).

It is not. The report is a constructed narrative that contains major factual mistakes, errors of omission, false statements and flawed data. It is not credible.

The key argument of the report is based on input by private developers and their advisors who have a clear interest in a positive outcome to the council vote.  The conclusions of the report are therefore incompetent.

I request that Aberdeen Council withdraw the TIF business case as unfit for purpose.
http://www.aberdeencity.gov.uk/TIF_business_case

The details of my complaint are as follows:

  • The TIF business case contains a major factual mistake concerning funding for the Art Gallery:

On page 11 it is stated: 

It is expected that a further £20 million of funding will be secured via Grants and other funding mechanisms to enable the City Art Gallery Redevelopment.”

In a table on page 42, it is stated that:

“The City Art Gallery redevelopment:  Funding identified from existing sources – £20 million”

This is incorrect. There is no identified £20 million funding for the Art Gallery. Council minutes show that the appropriate figure is £4 million.

The £20 million figure stems from an unrealistic aspiration to apply for funding from the Scottish Heritage Lottery Fund (SHLF):

“Both the Art Gallery redevelopment and a Museums Collection Centre would be eligible to apply for Heritage Fund Lottery grants, although the value the City Council would wish is beyond the annual allocation, which for all of Scotland is currently £20 million.”
http://committees.aberdeencity.gov.uk/mgConvert2PDF.aspx?ID=7314

The Council have yet to apply for funding from the SHLF and intend to do so later this year, in November. They have approached the SHLF:

“Officers have also discussed the current status of the project with the Scottish office of the Heritage Lottery Fund; the Fund advises that if matched funding can be raised within the City, then their Board would accept this as the Council’s contribution to the project within the application.

“The Art Gallery redevelopment is also included as one of the projects within the Tax Incremental Fund BID to the Scottish Government and if this is successful, that funding can be counted as part of the city’s contribution.”
http://committees.aberdeencity.gov.uk/mgConvert2PDF.aspx?ID=18050

The Art Gallery component of the TIF application is for £4 million (Ref: Table on page 42).  Matched funding from the SLHF for the TIF sum would be £4 million, not £20 million.

In the table on page 42 it is also stated:  

“The TIF Scheme creates the opportunity to invest in the City Art Gallery and even if after this investment the City of Culture bid is unsuccessful, the City will still have a state of the art asset for future generations to enjoy, as a result of the TIF mechanism.”

This is misleading. The Art Gallery redevelopment costings are as follows:

“The Development Study was fully funded by the Marguerite McBey Trust. Gareth Hoskins Architects provided an options appraisal in 2010 outlining 5 schemes ranging in scale and costs from £15.7m to £24.3m [2010 prices].”

TIF plus matched funding from the SHLF would only account for £8 million of the total sum required. The conclusion that “the City will still have a state of the art asset for future generations to enjoy, as a result of the TIF mechanism” is false and incompetent.

  • The TIF business case is misleading about funding from the private sector:

On page 11 there is a statement concerning private funding for the City Garden Project:  

“This includes £55 million that has already been pledged to the City Garden Project by private donors and a further £15 million to be raised”.

It is also mentioned that Aberdeen Council are confident that the extra £15 million can be found even though that this has been an unfulfilled aspiration for the last two years. Although the full £70 million has not been pledged, this figure has been assumed as valid for the rest of the report.

By page 42 this has become “funding identified from existing sources: £70 million.” This is incorrect, only £55 million has been identified.

On page 89 the conclusion states:

“The estimated total cost of the assets and enabling infrastructure for the TIF Scheme is £182 million.

“Pledged donations towards the City Garden Project of £70 million and potential grants for the City Art Gallery of £20 million creates a public sector investment requirement of £92 million, or marginally over 50% of the total cost, which will be borrowed by ACC as part of the proposed TIF Scheme.”

This conclusion is incompetent. The sums are wrong.  A consequence of this blunder is that Aberdeen Council may be required to borrow more than £92 million to ensure that the ‘city centre regeneration project’ is enabled.

  • An overlooked detail of critical importance to the business case: 

The report quotes extensively from the conditions voted through at the January 25th Council meeting. However, I have failed to find the following information mentioned.

From the report to Council of 25th January and voted through:

“Instructs officers to enter into negotiations with a view to putting in place a development agreement with Aberdeen City Garden Trust (ACGT) and/or their representatives, which sets out the terms upon which Aberdeen City Council (ACC) would be prepared to make necessary Council owned land available, to realise the proposed development described in Appendix 1 of this report after 1st March subject to;

“(x) Requires ACGT to confirm, in a legally binding form, that they have access to at least £70 million of private sector funds to invest in the CGP, prior to the signing of;

“a. An appropriate Development Agreement, and

“b. A TIF agreement confirming ACC’s ability to invest at least £70 million in enabling infrastructure related to the CGP. “

http://committees.aberdeencity.gov.uk/mgConvert2PDF.aspx?ID=18252

In other words, councillors have already decided that if the extra £15 million of private investment is not guaranteed, they are not going to apply for TIF funding. This should have been stated in the business case.

  • Flawed data:

Part of the justification for the City Garden Project is based on a questionnaire that was sent out to two selected groups in Aberdeen. This covers several pages of the report. One ‘cohort’ was a small group of 35 developers, landowners and agents in the City Centre area; the second comprised

“four hundred local private, public and third-sector organisations, representing a wide range of views.”

They got no replies from the first group (“a small response”), and later tried to phone them to get any views at all. Eventually seven people replied and several pages of analysis ensues in the report based on the comments of only seven individuals. There was a bit more interest from the second group, a group that included me.

I found that the questions were framed in such a way that it was virtually impossible to register any negative opinions about the City Garden Project. By dint of answering almost all the questions you ended up agreeing that the project was worthwhile.

This is typical:

“Considering each of the development schemes, which of the following benefits do you envisage they might deliver to the wider Aberdeen City economy?”

There is a clear intentional bias to the questionnaire that looks designed to elicit positive statements in favour of the City Garden Project. My opinion is that this is propaganda not data, and it should have no place in what should have been a dispassionate report informing councillors regarding the decision they have to make about the TIF business case.

  • Inappropriate input from the Aberdeen City Garden Trust:

The bottom line of the business case is that the City Garden Project will “will act as a catalyst for regeneration and economic growth” in Aberdeen and gives “The potential to unlock significant private sector investment and generate up to 8121 jobs and an average of £142.0 million per annum of economic growth over 25 years.”

The business justification is that take up of commercial space in two large business parks being built in the north of the city will be significantly under-subscribed unless the City Garden Project is built. An additional assumption concerns extra business activity in the city centre.

There is no discussion concerning how these assumptions have been made, yet this is the crux of the business case. We are being asked to trust that these assumptions are valid without any cogent analysis provided.

Yet, trust is a major issue concerning these assumptions. On page 74 under the section ASSESSMENT OF NEW DEVELOPMENT AND BUSINESS RATES UPLIFT” we read that:

In undertaking this assessment of development uplift ACC has received specialist research support from property advisors CB Richard Ellis as well as input from ACGT and PwC.”

(ACGT –Aberdeen City Garden Trust, PwC – Price Waterhouse Coopers, CBRE – CB Richard Ellis)

The relationship between CB Richard Ellis, PwC and the Aberdeen City Garden Trust is made clear on page 52:

 “ACC, with support from ACGT Enterprises and their advisers (PwC and CBRE)”

Thus it appears that major input has been provided to the critical argument in the business case by Aberdeen City Garden Trust and their advisors. A private company seeking to take over a lease and operatorship of council property, has been allowed to dictate input to a report recommending that  Aberdeen Council borrow £92 million for a project in which the company has a direct interest. This is entirely inappropriate.

The Aberdeen City Garden Trust has a clear interest in a positive outcome for the City Garden Project. They and their advisors should not have been allowed to have input into this report.

  • Conclusion:

Aberdeen Council operates at both a corporate and political level. Politicians make policy while key council officials provide a detailed examination of the background that commonly informs the decision making process.

In this regard, it is important that council officials provide a rigorous and dispassionate analysis, with any recommendations based on logic and a clear basis for the arguments that have been set out to justify these recommendations. In the report detailing the business case for the City Garden Project and other ancillary schemes, they have failed abysmally.

The most recent version of the business case is a travesty of synthesis and thesis. Rather than setting out a well argued case leading from careful marshalling of data towards a conclusion, the report appears to proceed from conclusion (the City Garden Project is a good thing) via a constructed narrative that includes mistakes, flawed data and wishful thinking.

Given that a consequence of this report is that Aberdeen Council could end up borrowing £92 million on the basis of ‘economic regeneration’, this may result in major reputational and financial damage for the council. The vote to approve submitting the business case to the Scottish Government is likely to take place in August this year.

  • The outcome I would like to see:

The TIF business case should be withdrawn immediately as incompetent and unfit for purpose.

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May 032012
 

Angus Macmillan shares some interesting facts about The Woodland Trust with Aberdeen Voice, and wonders if the phrase ‘charity begins at home’ is being taken too literally by the Trust.

Recent emotive claims from a variety of sources that government is “robbing” charities by capping tax relief on donations do not take into account the benefit to the general public of increased revenue for essential services.
However, one large charity, which I understand has a hand in the killing of the Tullos Hill deer, has an income of over £20m a year according to accounts filed in December 2011 (£2m “cash at bank” and a net worth of £107,601.000).

Yet The Woodland Trust frequently pleads poverty to the general public for donations towards buying parcels of land which it then “banks” as its own real estate.

See: http://companycheck.co.uk/company/01982873

It recently built a new state-of-the-art creature comfort headquarters at a cost of over £5m – from donations for trees? Hardly charity! So is the reverse true that large charities are “robbing” the public of services to the sick and elderly that can’t otherwise be afforded in this time of austerity?

Under the present system of tax and rates relief etc. to such charity behemoths, we are all subsidising their existence by default – whether or not we agree with their aims and objectives – thus depriving every local community in the country of vital funding.

The government is right to put a cap on charity donations that qualify for tax relief, but perhaps it should also consider removing relief and benefits from such charities once their income exceeds £1m a year.

The rich and powerful – whether they be charities or individuals – can well afford to pay their way in society.

They should do so now.


Apr 062012
 

If you are of the opinion that the City Garden Project controversy was all about what flavour of city centre park Aberdeen should have – think again. There seems to have been a much bigger picture involved here, and the politics are murky.  Mike Shepherd writes.

The power of the print media in shaping opinion

The public referendum has been held, and the City Garden Project won by the smallest of margins: 52-48%. Feelings are still poisonous in the city, as it is clear that a marginal result was swung by dubious means.

On the City Garden Project side, unregistered groups spent a disproportionately large sum of money on campaign material, whereas the officially registered groups were restricted to spending about £8,000 only.

Some of the claims made by supporters of the City Garden Project were outrageous and substantially misleading. One newspaper advert is now being investigated by the Advertising Standards Authority.

Even Aberdeen Council were responsible for punting a justification for the City Garden Project with the questionable claim that a new park could create 6,500 new jobs in the city.

The local papers showed a bias in favour of Sir Ian Wood’s project and framed their reports to show one side in a much better light than the other (“Yes, vote for change” or “No, don’t vote for change”). Ludicrous claims were accepted uncritically – such as oil companies leaving Aberdeen if the scheme did not go ahead.

I had been advised by an expert that:

 “Newspapers are very powerful at shaping public opinion”

and:

 “You will need the support of a PR company during the campaign.”

It was very good advice, but in practice not something that a campaign group of limited influence and funds could realistically put in place. Yet, it was clear from canvassing in the street that the combined effort of relentless advertising, the glossy brochures and the press bias was having an effect.
Whereas many would stop and give me a considered analysis of how they would vote, a large minority were reflecting City Garden propaganda back at me, phrases recognizable from glossy brochures or Evening Express headlines.

Our society today is witnessing a battle between democracy and political lobbyists / PR companies. Out of this, democracy is not doing that well. It’s a shock to see this writ large in Aberdeen, but at least the Gardens Referendum result has made this crystal clear to any thinking person in the city.

Local politics

After two years of campaigning to keep the Gardens, I have been able to observe how local politics works. It is clear that the current council administration is very business friendly and they will tend to make decisions that primarily favour business interests. At just about every council meeting you will hear the phrase “Aberdeen is open for business.”

Local democracy commonly involves a conflict between what business wants and what is in the interests of the general public. For example, if Aberdeen Airport is allowed to land flights at night, Dyce residents will get woken up by the noise. The conflict between business and public interests came to the fore after the consultation on Sir Ian Wood’s scheme two years ago. Over 50 local businessmen wrote to the council asking for the result to be ignored:

‘due to misunderstanding of the project among the public’

and an ‘inability’ to appreciate its impact. The council – to their shame – did this. The current Council administration (an SNP / Lib Dem coalition) appears to favour business almost every time.

There are a number of reasons why business gets its own way with the council. Many councillors are instinctively business friendly and will tend to support projects that are favoured by local commercial interests. This is certainly true of the Conservatives on the council and of many councillors from the other parties too.

There is also a powerful business lobby. Businessmen make up two thirds of the Aberdeen City and Shire Economic Forum (ACSEF), a “public-private partnership that drives economic development in the region”. Funded by both Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire Councils, ACSEF is a non-elected body that have been given a significant degree of control over local economic policy. There is no doubt that ACSEF exerts power and influence over the activities of both councils.

  advanced societies work by a system of checks and balances between moneyed interests and the public regard

ACSEF were involved with the City Garden Project in the early days and described it as one of their flagship projects. Two of the board members, including the Chairman Tom Smith, are directors of the Aberdeen City Garden Trust, the group that organised the architectural competition and who hope to take the project forward to completion.

Extensive networking appears to go on amongst the “great and the good”. Politicians, local businessmen, council officials and senior figures in local organisations turn up and meet at parties, functions, charity events and business meetings. One Freedom of Information request gives an indication of how much hospitality is provided to council officials for instance:
http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/76531/response/199821

To the worldly wise, this will not come as a surprise. However, advanced societies work by a system of checks and balances between moneyed interests and the public regard. This does not appear to be working too well in Aberdeen.

The SNP and the City Garden Project

The SNP have been intimately involved with the City Garden Project since its inception. Alex Salmond was present at the project launch  in 2008.
http://www.eveningexpress.co.uk/Article.aspx/933616

But only recently have both Alex Salmond and Callum McCaig, the SNP leader in the council, explicitly endorsed the City Garden Project.

Yet, the majority of SNP councillors have supported it throughout (the notable exception being Clr. Muriel Jaffray). This is clear from the voting records every time the project has come up for debate in the Council. The SNP support has been instrumental for the progress of the City Garden Project through successive council votes.

  Major businessmen such as David Murray, Brian Souter, Jim McColl and Martin Gilbert have now endorsed the SNP.

The SNP have a reputation for populist politics and it may seem surprising that they have embraced such a controversial project for the city. I believe that there is a much bigger picture here, and one that takes precedent over local politics. The SNP are essentially a single-issue party; they want independence for Scotland. The realpolitik of the SNP is that much of what they do is focussed towards this end.

A key aim for the SNP has been to secure the support of major business figures in Scotland. This is partly financial; the party has no natural source of funds apart from membership fees, but they are also trying to secure influence leading up to and beyond any independence date. Major businessmen such as David Murray, Brian Souter, Jim McColl and Martin Gilbert have now endorsed the SNP.

Sir Brian Souter, founder of the bus company Stagecoach, caused controversy when he donated £500,000 to the SNP in 2007. Shortly afterwards, the SNP dropped an election commitment to bus re-regulation, although they denied that there was any connection to Sir Brian Souter’s donation.

Sir Ian Wood has not given open support to the SNP, yet the SNP continue to court the billionaire’s favour. Not only has Alex Salmond given his own backing to the City Garden Project, the machinery of Government has also been used to bankroll the scheme.

Scottish Enterprise funded the public consultation two years ago and also allowed grant money to be used for the technical feasibility study. Although the public rejected Sir Ian Wood’s project in the consultation, it didn’t stop Scottish Enterprise from giving Aberdeen City Garden Trust £375,000 of public money from its available funds for major infrastructure projects.

Another niggly problem has been the concerns of Audit Scotland

The Scottish Government are keen to provide investment money for the project through TIF funding. Yet it has been established that the initial proposal did not rank very highly by comparison to other investment and infrastructure projects elsewhere in Scotland.

The Scottish Futures Trust, who carried out the ranking, has refused to make their calculations public in spite of Freedom of Information requests to do so. Another niggly problem has been the concerns of Audit Scotland, who have questioned the long term capability of the indebted Aberdeen Council to pay back a risky loan for the project.

The proposed use of valuable investment and infrastructure funds for something as trivial as building a new park is shocking. The business case is dubious and the council can’t afford the risk. Political considerations seem to have taken precedence to a strict business evaluation on the Aberdeen TIF case.

Sir Ian Wood discussed independence recently and gave an indication of what he wants from the Scottish Government:

“The Wood Group will not endorse a Yes or No vote on independence. But Sir Ian added: “What’s key is the extent to which our clients, and to some extent ourselves, anticipate that a Scottish Government would continue with a similar oil and gas policy to the UK.

“The suggestion right now, from the discussions I’ve heard, is that there’s a lot of overlap between the present Scottish Government’s thinking on the development of the oil and gas industry and the UK government’s thinking.”

He went on:

 “What’s important – and I think the First Minister realises this – is that they must provide as much clarity as possible over the next two years towards the vote in 2014, so that we minimise the uncertainty.”
http://www.scotsman.com/captains-of-industry-and-finance-join-clamour-for-clarity

I have no doubt that this will happen.

The SNP are hoping to secure a majority at the council elections on May 3rd. This is possible, but as a one-issue party they tend to do better in national elections than local elections. They are also heavily identified with the Union Terrace Gardens issue and this appeared to have cost them votes in the Scottish elections last year.
http://aberdeenvoice.com/2011/05/the-election-the-utg-effect/

If they do not get a majority, this raises the intriguing possibility of an administration run by a Labour-SNP coalition. The Lib-Dems are likely to see their vote collapse outside the West End of the city. The Labour group are vehemently opposed to the City Garden Project and it could be that a condition for agreeing to form a coalition is that the scheme is dropped.

The “Union” in Union Terrace Gardens refers to the union of the United Kingdom and Ireland in 1800. Perhaps it is ironic that the park has ostensibly become a pawn in the big game of Scottish independence. It would be immensely sad if this was the case. Aberdeen’s heritage could end up sacrificed for the sake of political wheeling and dealing.

This would not bode well for a future Scotland. As Paul Scofield, playing Thomas More, said in A Man For All Seasons:

“I think that when statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their public duties, they lead their country by a short route to chaos.”

Apr 062012
 

A report on the UTG referendum was discussed at a meeting of full council on Wednesday with a view to it being approved before being sent to the Scottish Government. Friends of Union Terrace Gardens chairman Mike Shepherd was permitted to give a deputation. Aberden voice presents Mike’s deputation in full.

“I was allowed to give a deputation here in January when I said that the FoUTG would agree to take part in a referendum if it was fair.

We agreed to the referendum in spite of the shameful behaviour of this council in ignoring the result of the public consultation two years ago. We agreed for two reasons.

First, we saw the CGP as a juggernaut pushed through relentlessly by business and a friendly council. There were only two options to stop this; either through the referendum or legal action. We chose the referendum.

Secondly, we chose this route through public spirit. We were only too aware of the poisonous attitudes building on both sides of the issue. Aberdeen was at war with itself. A fair referendum was the only way of killing this beast.

I also told the council that the referendum would have to be fair because implicit in taking part was that we accepted the final result, whatever it was. This was said in good faith.

THIS WAS NOT A FAIR REFERENDUM!

We do not accept the result. The process was flawed. Internet and phone voting should not have been allowed as without signatures, this was open to fraud. The Green party have also asked me to complain about their shortened message in the information pack that was sent out.

The City Garden Project supporters were allowed to spend tens of thousands of pounds on PR, newspapers, leaflets and radio ads. This money spent on advertising bought a marginal result for the referendum.

The ads were often misleading and in some instances blatantly so. We were told of a bogus £182M investment, consisting of a bogus £15M of private investment and a bogus £20M Art Gallery grant which didn’t exist. One misleading ad is under investigation by the Advertising Standards Authority.

This council also misled the public. The claim that a new park could create 6,500 jobs was utterly ludicrous. They did not explain the risks of borrowing through TIF properly, even when Audit Scotland expressed their concerns about the long term implications for the Council’s finances.

You are £618M in debt, you cannot afford the risk on further borrowing.

The council were partial to one side of the referendum. The ACGT were allowed to show a video in the Art Gallery, council property, yet we were excluded until after several days of complaint on the matter.

This was a dishonest referendum. The public were misled right up the City Garden path. The council should vote to ignore the result. Furthermore, this report should not be passed onto the Scottish Government as suggested. The proposal to spend valuable investment and infrastructure money on something as trivial as a new park is a disgrace.

We do not accept the result of the referendum and we intend to carry on campaigning to save Union Terrace Gardens. Thank you.”

Evening Express report here.  http://www.eveningexpress.co.uk/Article.aspx

Mar 202012
 

With thanks to John F. Robins, Secretary, Animal Concern Advice Line (ACAL).

 

Three Community Councils representing neighbourhoods close to Tullos Hill have issued a last minute appeal asking Aberdeen City Council to call off the deer cull planned for Tullos Hill.
In a strongly worded open letter the Community Councils, which represent over 25,000 Aberdonians, accuse the City Council of using underhand tactics to get backing to plant trees on Tullos Hill as part of their Tree for Every Citizen initiative.

They claim that,

“the public consultation was seriously flawed and made no mention of a deer cull. Community Councils and the general public were given incomplete information, allowing ACC’s intention to cull to remain unchallenged”. 

When the intention to kill the resident roe deer eventually became public knowledge there was an outcry with many Aberdonians telling the City Council that if the Tree for Every Citizen project meant killing the deer they did not want any trees planted for them. The Community Councils say the City Council dismissed local public opinion and have pleaded with the Council to change their mind at the eleventh hour and to,

“Listen to the voices of the people who elected you, cancel the cull and let the Tullos Hill deer live”.

For over a year Animal Concern Advice Line (ACAL) has been supporting local campaigners in the battle to save the Tullos Hill roe deer. John Robins of ACAL welcomed the intervention of the Community Councils. He states;

“This is a severe embarrassment to Aberdeen City Council.

“They can no longer claim that opposition to the deer cull is coming from outwith Aberdeen. Three Community Councils representing over 25,000 Aberdonians have made it perfectly clear that they want this cull stopped. On Sunday of this week the CEO of the National Trust for Scotland admitted on national television that they had made a mistake by undertaking a mass cull of deer on the Mar Lodge Estate. 

“The very same advisors who were behind that cull are the people advising Aberdeen City Council to kill the deer on Tullos Hill. There is still time for Aberdeen City Council to avoid making that same mistake. All they have to do is respect the wishes of the people who elected them and call off the cull.”

  •  The Open Letter signed by Nigg, Torry and, Kincorth & Leggart Community Councils can be viewed here.