Mar 062014
 

With thanks to Clinton Maxson.

LangesGrp1

Two RGU teams heading to the final of a Project Management competition

What is happening? “The Voice”, a team of six MSc Project Management students of The Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen is currently taking part in a National competition sponsored by the Association for Project Management (APM) Scottish PM Challenge 2013-2104.

The team is organising a Charity fund raiser Football match with the aim of raising £1500.00 for Rape Crisis Scotland.

Why is it happening? To create public awareness on the negative impact of sexual violence against men and women and press for attitudinal and legal change, as well as encourage the unfortunate victims of the crime to seek professional counselling from Rape Crisis Scotland and its affiliates. The Scottish Sun reported, as of November 5th 2013, an average of five incidents daily.

How is it happening? Two teams will be playing in the football match and they are the Project Management students (MSc) and the Oil & Gas Engineering students (MSc). Attendance of the match is free; however, donations will be taken from well-meaning attendees. Donations are already on-going via https://rapecrisis.workwithus.org/Fundraising/Donate.aspx?page=8185.

“No matter the excuse it is an unacceptable crime” – Clinton

Kathryn Russell, Chair of RAS (Rape & Abuse Support), who support local survivors of rape and sexual assault and are members of Rape Crisis Scotland, commented:

“We are delighted to hear that The Voice has chosen to organise this event to challenge the many misconceptions surrounding rape and raise awareness of the support services available locally through our helpline and one to one support.”

In addition, a raffle draw will be conducted at the end of the football match for the first 500 people who have made donations and prizes include an annual Tastecard voucher, one semester peak student membership of RGU:Sports Gym, Molton Brown pampering treatment vouchers, Arthi’s food and drink vouchers and books courtesy of Waterstones.

Contact for further information: Clinton Maxson
Email: 1013327@rgu.ac.uk
Phone: 07867 244848

For more information about APM please visit http://www.apm.org.uk/news/scotland-pm-challenge-2013-2014#.UxdRNqNFA-U

Apr 062012
 

In response to Suzanne Kelly’s article in this week’s issue The Scottish Green Party, Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire Branch have issued the following statement.

Suzanne Kelly’s article is factually inaccurate and misleading.

For the record, while Ms Kelly has now decided she wants to be an independent candidate, in 2010 it was her wish to stand as the Green Party’s candidate for the Torry/Ferryhill ward.
The local Green Party branch agreed to support her candidature.

In June 2011, Ms Kelly advised the Green Party branch that she was resigning as candidate, with great regret, due to a change in personal circumstances. In her resignation e-mail, she expressed great admiration for the help and support she had received as a candidate and offered to help distribute another Green candidate’s leaflets.

She remained a party member. Early this year, it became known Ms Kelly now again wished to stand in the Torry/Ferryhill ward, but as an independent. She was advised that Green Party rules meant she would need the Party’s consent to stand as an independent and this would not be given to stand against a duly selected Green Party candidate. Ms Kelly then wrote to say ‘sadly’ she had decided to resign from the Scottish Green Party.

Ms Kelly is now campaigning for her own election. In her article for Aberdeen Voice, referring to events in the early part of 2011, Ms Kelly claims,

“There was no way I was going to stay in the Green Party after this.”

Not true. She did stay in the Green Party after that, for nearly a year. She offered to help with Green Party campaigning. She resigned from the Party, expressing regret at doing so, in January 2012. The claims Ms Kelly is making now about the Green Party cannot be reconciled with her statements at the time.

We do not know why Ms Kelly took her successive decisions about standing and not standing for the Council. We do know her claims in respect of her dealings with the Green Party are not consistent with the facts.

Jan 272012
 

By Bob Smith.


There’s jist nithing ti dee
Young eens cry in Aiberdeen
Iss wisna muckle o a problem
Fin I wis aroon seventeen
.
There wis cafes bi the dizzen
Faar ye cwid sit an chat
The famous Holburn Cafe
Or maybe the Kit Kat
.
Syne later on alang Union Grove
Ye cwid dander wi ease
An cum upon The Rendezvous
Better kent as Mama G’s
.
I learnt the airt o duncin
At Garlogie, Echt an Skene
Syne twis  ti the dunce halls
In bonnie Aiberdeen
.
Wednesdays – Abergeldie Jazz Club
Ti listen or jive ti Sandy West
Setterday – doon ti “The Beach”
Faar Leslie Thorpe wis at his best
.
There wis ither eens o coorse
The Palace, Douglas or the Palais
Faar ye cwid fin a bonnie quine
Ti snog up some dark alley
.
There wis Rock n’ Roll an ballads
Maybe jazz it wis yer choice
Played on the latest record players
Made bi Decca or His Master’s Voice
There wis lots o drainpipe troosers
Sweaters wi necks ca’ed crews
There wis Tony Curtis haircuts
An ticht winkle picker shoes
.
Ti the open air duncin at Hazleheid
Ye wid wanner hand in hand
Ti listen ti the music
Or waltz ti Bert Duff’s Band
.
On Sundays ye’d “waak the mat”
An see lassies bi the score
Maybe ye’d bump inti een
Ye’d snogged the nicht afore
.
There wis hullocks o picter hooses
The Majestic an a haill lot mair
The Capitol an the Astoria
Even hid an organ player
.
Ye ask’d a lassie ti the picters
She wis dolled up ti the nines
Ye really felt a cheapskate
Gyaan in the one an nines
.
The faavrit meetin plaicies
Fer the young an gallus
Wis ootside the “Monkey Hoose”
Or near the statue o William Wallace
.
There wis Eric, Bill, Neil, Ian an me
We fairly thocht we war dashin
Noo we’re aa ower sixty five
An rinnin oot o passion

©Bob Smith “The Poetry Mannie” 2011

Dec 152011
 

Voice’s Suzanne Kelly provides further detail regarding The Scottish Information Commission’s decision on Aberdeen City Council’s handling of FOI requests regarding  sales to and contracts won by Stewart Milne related companies.

 

This week the Supreme Court sided with Aberdeen City Council and rejected Stewart Milne’s appeal concerning profit-sharing on a land deal.

Milne bought land from Aberdeen City Council (property worth some £5 million was sold to him for c £375,000) with a clause stipulating Milne had to share any related profits with the seller, Aberdeen City Council.

After lengthy appeals, the Milne Group must pay £1.7 million pounds to Aberdeen City Council (legal costs are at present unknown).

Precisely how and why the cash-strapped City Council made this deal still remains unclear.  Once acquired, the property was sold from one arm of the Milne group of companies to another, and on this basis, Milne’s position was that there were no profits to share.  The Courts have disagreed.

This issue spurred a freedom of information request to the City Council.

What land had been sold to Milne-related companies?  What contracts had been awarded to the Milne companies?   Was a group of companies receiving preferential treatment by being sold public assets without the assets going on the open market to the highest bidder?  Was a construction firm buying land at considerable discount with one hand, and at the same time under-bidding competition to win work?

It is a year (and a few days) since the initial FOI request was lodged with Aberdeen City Council.  Late replies, denials that information was held, assertions that information was too difficult and costly to obtain were some of the obstacles in the way of obtaining information.

If not for the Information Commission, there would be no chance of this information – concerning public assets and the public purse – coming to light.  As it is, the City has until 23 January to finally comply.  At that time it must either disclose the information or lodge an appeal against the decision.

The decision will be disclosed to the public  around 16th December.  In the meantime, here are some of the important issues and facts to emerge from the Information Commissioner’s decision.

On 10 December 2010 a FOI request was sent to Aberdeen City.  Such requests are to be answered within a specific time frame and are backed up by legislation.

The City failed to respond in time. Aberdeen’s representatives said the information was not easy to obtain, would cost over £600 pounds to collect, and that some of the data was immune from disclosure.  When the request was largely turned down, an internal investigation by ACC into its handling of the affair was requested as the law permits.  The City was sorry it was late in responding, but it was not going to release the information.

Findings:

The Information Commissioner’s office was supplied with the entire (lengthy) chain of emails from the first request through the refusal and the internal investigation.  The Commissioner will soon release its report into ‘Case 243/2011’ and these points are among the findings:-

  • ACC FAILED to comply with Part 1 of the Information (Scotland) Regulations 2002 (FOISA)
  • ACC  FAILED to comply with the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004
  • ACC FAILED in dealing with the request by wrongly claiming that section 12(1) of FOISA was applicable to the request
  • ACC FAILED to provide reasonable advice and assistance under Section 15(1) of FOISA.
  • ACC FAILED to meet statutory timescales for handling the request

Background:

The comprehensive decision from the Commission covers the history, legal issues and relevant points of my request.  The Background section covers my initial questions to Aberdeen:

1. List of property (including but not limited to land, buildings, building services, material goods, etc.) Aberdeen City sold to the Stewart Milne Group, Stewart Milne Homes and/or any associated companies, and/or directly to Mr Stewart Milne. List to show property name/description, date of sale, sale price, minutes/reports of the City Council approving/recommending the sale, and if available the market value at time of sale.

2. List of property or services (including but not limited to land, buildings, building services, material goods, etc.), the Stewart Milne Group, Stewart Milne Homes and/or any associated companies, and/or directly to Mr Stewart Milne sold, managed or built for Aberdeen City Council. List to show property name/description, date of sale, price, reports/minutes of the City Council recommending the purchase, and if available the market value at time of sale.

If any aspect of this request is not clear, then please contact me directly for clarification.

I was asked to clarify what I meant by Stewart Milne associated companies, and on the same day as the request was emailed to me, I sent this list from Companies House:-

05232604

D

STEWART-MILNE CATERING LIMITED Dissolved
SC305012 STEWART MILNE CENTRAL LIMITED
SC152943 STEWART MILNE COMMERCIAL LIMITED
SC083265 STEWART MILNE CONSTRUCTION LIMITED
SC054259 STEWART MILNE DEVELOPMENTS LIMITED
SC191167 STEWART MILNE (GLASGOW) LIMITED
SC057709 STEWART MILNE GROUP LIMITED
SC132524 STEWART MILNE HOLDINGS LIMITED
SC137803 STEWART MILNE HOME OPTIONS LIMITED
SC065403 STEWART MILNE HOMES LIMITED
SC096898 STEWART MILNE HOMES (SOUTHERN) LIMITED
SC056620 STEWART MILNE INVESTMENTS LIMITED
SC063606 STEWART MILNE INVESTMENTS (SCOTLAND) LIMITED
SC349644

D

STEWART MILNE KITCHENS AND BATHROOMS LIMITED Dissolved
SC204848 STEWART MILNE PART EXCHANGE LIMITED
SC145941 STEWART MILNE PROPERTIES LIMITED
SC192726 STEWART MILNE (WEST) LIMITED
SC305009 STEWART MILNE WESTHILL LIMITED

The City also wanted to know what time period the request covered.  This was a bit of a surprise – was the list of property sold so extensive that a cut-off date was needed?  Dates of 1980 to the present were chosen.

On 9 February 2011 the City advised that the request would be too costly, and that it did not hold information relating to property it had sold to Stewart Milne companies.  An internal inquiry into how the City handled my request was offered and accepted.   This inquiry proved rather fruitless, and on 4 May 2011 the Office of the Scottish Information Commissioner was asked to look into the case.  The investigation began.

The Information Commissioner’s office contacted Aberdeen City Council on a number of points.  One of the issues was whether or not all or part of the FOI questions should have been dealt with as an Environmental Request (EIR).  The City then told the Commissioner’s office it ‘no longer wished to withhold the information in the reports (about tenders) in their entirety.  Some but not all the information on contracts Stewart Milne companies had won in September was released.  This included information about new build work at Byron Park, Hayton Road and Rorie Hall.  The documents were heavily redacted.

It was nine months since the FOI questions were first asked of ACC.  At one stage during the Commissioner’s investigation there was an opportunity to re-state the case and explain why the information should be put in the public domain.  I wrote about the state of Aberdeen’s finances, the fairly recent criticism of the City’s fiscal operations by Audit Scotland, the lack of transparency in the City’s dealings, and my concern for the disposal of public assets without clear attempt to get the best possible market price.

The decision notes my claim that ‘public assets should be bought and sold in a fully transparent manner, especially in such a cash-strapped city as Aberdeen.’  I wondered if my efforts would be enough.  I waited.

Findings & Analysis:

One of the most important reasons for refusing the request was cost.  If the costs were truly going to exceed £600 (the threshold over which public authorities do not have to respond – but can if they wish to), then someone at ACC’s Freedom of Information Office should have offered  guidance as to how to reduce the cost of the search.  This never happened.

Aberdeen’s initial cost estimates indicated that many people would have had to spend hours on the request, and some of these hours were going to be charged at over £15 per hour.  As it turned out, the maximum hourly rate that a public entity can charge for searches is £15 per hour.   Perhaps someone in the City’s Information area should have known this?

Over the course of the dozens of e-mails exchanged, I made clear I did not accept Aberdeen’s claim that supplying a list of the property would be to arduous and too expensive.

At one point the City said some of its records were only on paper format.  I informed the Information Commission that the City holds an Excel spread sheet detailing the property that it owns and that I considered it likely that the Council would have a similar spread sheet for property it disposed of.

Aberdeen said such a record did exist, but that it didn’t show to whom property had been sold.  (This seems like a very poor state of record-keeping if it is the case).  The City said its list would be ‘meaningless’ to me.  The City estimated that it sells some 10 pieces of property per year, and we would be talking about 140 sales from 1996.  In summary, the City said it would cost £1,117.50 (a rather precise figure I thought) to get the details I was after.

Item No. 50 of the Commissioner’s decision reads:

“…the Commissioner is surprised that the Council is unable to establish the identity of the purchaser in relation to individual property disposals in a less labour intensive manner, he accepts that the Council does not have simple access to the information requested…”

Here are some other points from the report concerning the issues:-

51.       “Having considered the Council’s submissions, the Commissioner accepts that it has identified a reasonable method of locating and retrieving the information Ms Kelly has requested.  This involves two distinct stages:  firstly identifying those property sales in which the purchaser was one of the parties of interest to Ms Kelly and then secondly locating and providing, for only those transactions involving relevant purchasers, the particular pieces of information requested by Ms Kelly about that transaction.  The Commissioner is satisfied that the information requested could all be located within the file relating to the property sale.”

52.       “Turning to the Council’s estimates of the staff time required to complete this process, the investigating officer reviewed the copy of a file provided by the Council.  Although this contained over 780 pages of information, the investigating officer was able to identify the purchaser of the land or property within two minutes of opening the electronic file.  Although, in this case, the purchaser was not one of interest to Ms Kelly, the investigating officer went on to locate the types of information about the sale she had requested.  The investigating officer was able to identify and extract the relevant information from this file within a further 15 minutes.”

53.       “Having considered the Council’s (somewhat limited) submissions and the investigating officer’s review of the sample file, the Commissioner is unable to accept the Council’s estimate that it would take 30 hours to establish which files involved sales to relevant parties.  This suggests that this initial stage would take an average of just under 13 minutes per file….”

The Commissioner’s findings on the issue of retrieving the information are even more concerning than just this over-calculation on the City’s part.  Looking back to an earlier point, it seems the Council are no longer keeping records of crucial information such as how public assets are disposed of:-

43.       “The Council explained that there is no longer a comprehensive database which records all transactions…”

After a less-than-glowing recent report from Audit Scotland into Aberdeen’s property management – why is there ‘no longer a comprehensive database’ concerning important transactions?

The decision then goes to the matter of the ‘duty to provide advice and assistance’.  The Information Commissioner found

“…the Council offered no advice and assistance to Ms Kelly on how she might reduce the scope of her request…” and “Given that the Council provided no advice or assistance to Ms Kelly in either narrowing the scope of her request, or accessing some of the information of interest to her, the Commissioner finds that the Council failed to comply with its duty…”

Part of my FOI request concerned contracts won by Milne companies.  Were we selling land at very favourable rates to a bidder who might put in low bids?  Would it be possible that a contractor won work by bidding lower than the competition, but that another company connected to the contractor bought land at profit-making prices – possibly even to the detriment of the public purse?   This possibility crossed my mind.

The Council felt harm would be done if details of contracts awarded were publicised.  I commented that there was a need for confidentiality during negotiations of a contract, but not once a deal is concluded where public money is being spent.

The Commissioner noted that my requests were about one year after the contracts were awarded.  The tenders had been evaluated; the contracts were issued.  As it turned out, the unsuccessful bidders had been advised of the details after the award – but by some kind of oversight or another on the part of Aberdeen City Council, this information was never made available to the public despite EU law making such disclosure mandatory.

This is what the Commissioner’s investigation found:-

“The Commissioner is unable to accept that a competing company would be able to gain significant insights into the relevant company’s capabilities, pricing or bidding strategies from the disclosure of this information [information re. Bids]… the commercial sensitivity of that information will have diminished with the passage of time, and in particular with the award of the contracts in the subsequent phase in the Council’s home building programme.  The Council has provided no evidence to support its submission regarding the continued risk or harm following from the disclosures of that information.”

More to come:

The decision has been released to me and the City.  They have until 23 January 2012 to lodge an appeal or comply.  The Commissioner’s intervention and in-depth analysis is greatly appreciated and clearly was much needed.

This report will be available to the public via the internet c. 16 December.  It will prove a valuable read to other researchers and anyone interested in how Aberdeen City Council handles information and requests for information.  However, one year on from asking the initial questions, there are still crucial questions unanswered:-

  • Who suggested selling land to Milne companies?  What was their position in ACC?
  • Exactly what public assets have been sold to Milne related companies?
  • Who in the City was involved in progressing and approving the sales?
  • Were any bids won by placing bids with very low likely profit margins?
  • What internal audit procedures, if any, flagged up any issues with the sales or contract awards?
  • Does anyone within this chain of decision making have any links to any of the Milne-related companies?

Further information on this subject will be forthcoming.  Aberdeen Voice will be reporting on the City’s next move.

Dec 122011
 

Aberdeen Voice  has learned that the Scottish Information Commissioner has upheld Voice reporter Suzanne Kelly’s Freedom of Information request with regard to land and property sold by Aberdeen City Council to Stewart Milne and associated companies.

Less than a week having passed since Stewart Milne’s appeal to the Supreme Court failed, the Scottish Information Commissioner has decided that the Council must provide Kelly with information on land transactions between Aberdeen City and Stewart Milne companies.

The Supreme Court had been asked to review the details of a land purchase Milne Group made from Aberdeen City Council. The Supreme Court found that Milne must pay the City £1.7 million over the land deal.

The cost of the legal action is at this point unknown.

Kelly had followed the case, and had heard from several sources that there may have been other deals regarding the property developer and the City.

In a Freedom of Information Request made to the City, Kelly asked for a list of property sold to Milne and/or associated companies and the selling price, as well as a list of contracts the Milne companies had won from Aberdeen (there are several companies connected to Stewart Milne). Kelly wanted to analyse the contracts won and land purchased. The City initially refused her request.

An appeal was lodged, and the Information Commissioner was asked to look at the history of the freedom of information request and the grounds for refusal. The Commissioner issued its findings on 9 December 2011. The Commission decided that Aberdeen City Council and its Freedom of Information officers failed to act properly on a number of issues.

Key points include:-

  • The City did not always respond to correspondence and requests in a timely manner.
  • The City said it did not have a comprehensive record keeping system and finding the information would be very difficult. Kelly proved to the Information Commissioner that the City keeps much of its property portfolio details on spreadsheets.
  • The City said it would cost over a thousand pounds to find this information.
  • Kelly received some of the requested information during the course of the investigation including details of c. £10 million worth of construction contracts won by Milne and associated companies. No information has as yet been released by Aberdeen to show what property it sold to Milne.

The property dealings of Aberdeen City council had come to the attention of Audit Scotland some time ago. In its findings Audit Scotland found:-

  • evidence of procedural and administrative deficiencies and poor record keeping,
  • cases where accurate and relevant information was not reported to elected members,
  • a lack of evidence to support the valuation at which properties were sold, and
  • cases where the Council may have achieved a better price. Overall, it appears that there is a potential loss of capital receipts which may be more than £5 million.

The City is considering a number of budget and service cuts, and this spurred Kelly on. Kelly states.

If the city is awarding contracts based even in part on low bids, then I question the wisdom and prudence of selling land at a fraction of its potential market value to a successful bidder. The City has a massive property portfolio, and if must keep detailed and accurate records of its transactions. In light of the Supreme Court decision last week, the decision from the Information Commissioner is extremely timely and most welcome. I look forward to receiving the information I have sought for so many months.”

Milne is also a director of Aberdeen Football Club. It is slated to sell its existing Pittodrie Stadium ( the UK’s first all-seater stadium ) and use the proceeds to build a stadium in greenbelt land near Loirston Loch. Planning permission was hotly contested, with local community councils objecting to the plans. The area is home to a variety of wildlife. The club’s income is thought to be in steady decline, as attendances have fallen and the team struggle to climb the league.

Says Kelly,

“I shall contact Aberdeen Council if I have not heard from them shortly, and as soon as the information is made available to me, I will report back. The Commissioner agrees that the public have a right to have the information I have fought long and hard to obtain.”

Sep 132011
 

The Friends of Duthie Park will continue their monthly gardening activities in the park on Sunday 18th September from noon until 2.00 pm. On the third Sunday of every month, during the summer season, the Friends of Duthie Park meet up to undertake gardening tasks to complement the staff in the park. With thanks to Dave Macdermid.

On Sunday, the Friends will complete the planting of a new Sensory Bed at the west side of the park.
A class from local primary school, Ferryhill, designed the bed as part of a competition and the Friends secured sponsorship for the plants from local garden centre Ben Reid & Co. In addition, herbaceous plants will be planted in other areas of the park.

Current and new members are invited join members of the committee meeting at the entrance to the David Welch Winter Gardens.

The Friends of Duthie Park, the group responsible for the resurrection of ‘Spike’ the talking cactus in time for last month’s successful inaugural Open Day, is also on the lookout to bolster its committee numbers, with certain specific skills being sought, as Chairman Tony Dawson explains.

“As a group, I believe we’ve achieved a great deal in a short space of time but if we are to continue to progress as we would like, we do need to supplement our committee numbers. While we are keen to hear from anyone who is interested in assisting, there are areas where we do require specific assistance, namely the development of our website, marketing & sponsorship, research & history and education & learning.

“In addition, the return of Spike was more of a success than we could ever have hoped for, resulting in a huge demand for regular appearances from him. Consequently, we would like to hear from anyone who would be interested in becoming one of the pool of people that we will require to call on to be the voice of Spike.

“With the forthcoming restoration work at Duthie Park, this is a hugely exciting time for the Friends and it would be fantastic to get some more people on board.”

Anybody interested in finding out more about any aspect of the Friends, including joining the committee, should, in the first instance, e-mail info@friendsofduthiepark.co.uk with their contact details and the area they would like to get involved in.

Mar 252011
 

Happy 9-month birthday to Aberdeen Voice!  And Old Susannah’s column has now been running for 6 months.

I was having a quick lemonade with Fred Wilkinson (or ‘Freditor-in-Chief’ as I call him) and he explained how the Voice was born.  He was talking to friends, and they were discussing whether it was possible to create as great, impartial, investigative and intelligent a newspaper as the ones we already have in Aberdeen, and they decided to give it a go.

Nine months later, there are dozens of contributors and thousands of readers – but no advertisers the Voice is beholden to.

There are three things I particularly love about the Voice itself.

  • The first is that absolutely anyone who has something reasonable and coherent to say is welcome to submit an article.
  • The second is the stories the Voice has broken.  For instance, when Trump’s organisation explained to the world’s media that they never considered the use of compulsory purchase orders at Menie, Voice  published an excellent article proving this simply was not the case.

When Councillor Malone told the Press & Journal that only ‘about one’ Aberdeen resident contacted her objecting to the deer cull, the Voice’s readers sent in proof to the contrary in spades.  And while the Union Terrace Gardens situation gets murkier and more confusing by the minute, the Voice breaks important developments that that are not covered in other local press publications….. for some reason.

  • The Third great thing about Aberdeen Voice to me is the growing number of readers that are getting involved.  People are writing in to the  Voice for more information, contacting their elected officials on matters featured in the Voice, and are writing to Voice contributors with important leads, comments and very kind words of encouragement.

Then there are the people who make the Voice a reality.  First there is Fred Wilkinson (or ‘Dave’ or ‘Wilkinson’ as Councillor Malone calls him), the editor-in-chief.  He has two teenage children, his band, and a host of other projects and yet he finds the time to bring all the contributions together, chase down delinquent sub editors and bring together edition after edition for publication on time, every week.

Mike Shepherd and Sarah-Jane Duffus are two of the leading Union Terrace Gardens writers and activists. Their energy and dedication to saving the city’s only centre park, not to mention probably the most valuable, irreplaceable and beautiful city centre civic asset in Aberdeen, is admirable.  It is no wonder that they have ACSEF worried and complaining publicly that the UTG Friends are ‘organised’. They bloody well are.

Rob is the Aberdeen Voice ‘tech guy’ who has a dozen or so of his own projects going, yet can show up to take amazingly high quality photos  on breaking stories with lightning speed.

I was honoured then and more so now to be part of this amazing group of people

He has the patience of several saints and continuously improves the technology behind the Voice; its growing readership has meant lots of work for Rob – who also has to try and get me up to speed with technical developments – not an easy task.

I also owe a debt of thanks to Rhonda Reekie, who writes on a variety of subjects.  Some six months ago she contacted me and wondered if I’d like to consider writing something for the Voice.  Well, six months on and I really must thank the Council and the Big business interests for continuously generating material to write about.  I was honoured then and more so now to be part of this amazing group of people and this much-needed and much-enjoyed electronic newspaper which is Aberdeen Voice.  Thanks.

I was sick for two weeks, during which the world has become overcome with problems from Libya to Japan.  Closer to home, the Scottish Parliament decides not to call in the Loirston Loch stadium plan (as one fellow objector put it, ‘I am surprised they had time to open the envelope, let alone weigh up the issues.”).

One minute we are to kill deer, then no, then yes. To make matters worse, it looks like Stewart Milne homes are losing money, as young would-be purchasers are having their mortgage applications rejected – home sales in the Milne Group may be down as much as 20%.  No wonder the poor man wants to increase parking costs at Pittodrie.  It’s more than Old Susannah can keep up with.

I was, however, very pleased when I heard about the lorry-load of cement that was dumped on Aberdeen’s roads; I thought it was a great way to fill in some of the potholes.  Sad to say, it turned out that this was a mistake, and not a cunning plan by our Council (well, it did sound like the kind of thing they might do).  When I finally got out of my sickbed, I was shocked to find that a pothole on Victoria Road had been filled in.

If you don’t do return your form, you will be deemed to have ‘taken leave of your census’ and may be fined.

This was also a bit sad for the locals, as we’d been planning on stocking this particular hole with trout.  The material filling the hole doesn’t appear to have been ‘tamped down’ at all, and it is of a completely different material than either the road or all the other patches.  I have every confidence it will last as long as the other road mends have done.  I give it two weeks.

Tuesday was busy – first it was the excellent Mark Edwards ‘Hard Rain’ exhibition and presentation at Aberdeen University. I fully recommend a visit to see the work which will be up for a month.  Immediately afterwards I raced to Peacock Visual Arts which hosted ‘Run Down Aberdeen’ – another excellent film by Fraser Denholm and Mike Shepherd.  I missed the film – which you can now get online – but was entertained by the panel discussion featuring Fraser, Councillors Martin Greig, Kevin Stewart, and Lewis MacDonald MSP.

The gallery was packed, including the area just outside the gallery.  I did get a chance to ask if there was any connection between Stewart Milne’s Triple Kirks plan and the desire to turn our Victorian garden into a parking lot.  I didn’t exactly get an answer.

Right, time to define some of the terms arising of late.  Apologies for the long intro.

Census (noun) A polling of individuals and householders, usually undertaking by governments, in order to aid future planning.

We are currently all receiving our Census forms, which must be returned by 27 March.  No doubt the post office will provide its usual swift service and not a single form will be lost.  If you don’t do return your form, you will be deemed to have ‘taken leave of your census’ and may be fined.

It is unfortunate that the population can no longer respond with “Jedi Knight” as an answer on the religion question

But you will, of course, want to reveal to the government every detail of your life, family, health, finances etc.  That’s how they keep giving us the great, forward-thinking services enjoyed today by the elderly, people with special needs, school children and the poor.  The number of bathrooms in your house is crucial to these calculations.

(Naturally all details will be kept strictly confidential – unlike all of the past instances of confidential information being left on trains, leaked or lost).

Aberdeen couldn’t be the great place it is if 10 years ago people hadn’t done their census forms.  It is just unfortunate that we’re closing our schools down while at the same time building new ‘affordable homes*’ on every patch of green that still exists.  I guess the Census back then must have said our population would quadruple.

It is unfortunate that the population can no longer respond with “Jedi Knight” as an answer on the religion question.  This is unfair discrimination against Jedi Knights, and just goes to prove that the dark side of the force is in control in Scotland.  Any resemblance between Ms Dean and an Imperial Storm Trooper (or one of those furry muppet alien squeaky things) might be more than coincidental.  May the Farce be with you – get those Census forms in.

*Affordable Housing (noun) dwelling places priced lower than fair market value, intended to benefit people with low incomes.

Are you a multimillionaire feeling the pinch?  Need to build some luxury des-res homes in the greenbelt (where there is no VAT to pay on the land) in a hurry and cheaply?  Need to convince those sceptical, uncooperative, incisive Councillors that new housing should be built rather than old buildings converted?  Well then, ‘affordable housing ‘ is your ticket to your next few million.

The local authorities will always give you planning permission anyway, but the phrase ‘affordable housing’ is music to their ears:  it will help them to justify the approval to build your unique, individualistic, state-of-the art homes where endangered species currently roam unchecked.

You’ll probably get a tax break for building ‘affordable homes’ as well.

There is dancing in the streets today as people rejoice over the 1p reduction in the price of motor fuel

What happens is this:  your development goes up, and you build say 2 to 4 ‘affordable homes .  The press tells the world what a great guy you are, and announces the date for the homes to be sold.  People then queue up on site to buy these bargains for days in advance of the sale.  The first few people get the homes, and move in to spend many happy years living in a luxurious new development.

None of these buyers will instantly sell their bargain property for a massive profit – that would be morally wrong and would defeat the purpose of ‘affordable housing’ in the first place.

Budget (noun) a set list of rules for fiscal expenditure.

In the UK the budget is set by established financial wizard and genius, George Osborne.

There is dancing in the streets today as people rejoice over the 1p reduction in the price of motor fuel. People can now fill their tanks for about 17p less than before.  What will you do with your 17p?  You could put it towards the cost of a drink, but it won’t  pay for the increased cost of your cigarettes (which you should really quit anyway – unless you’re immortal and super-rich).

The ‘coalition’ government was no doubt left with a huge mess to clean up, and bombing Libya will no doubt go a long way to helping us get back on our feet.  Or something.  We did after all sell Libya all those finely crafted, UK made handcuffs, riot gear, clubs and shackles – time to capitalise on the investment.

By bombing them, we’re making more money for UK Defence Contractors.  Result!

The old joke was ‘A capitalist is someone who will sell you the rope they are going to hang you with’.  The Libya situation is an interesting take on this sentiment. Clearly nothing is more important than British Jobs – and the idea of weapons large and small no longer being made in the UK is too much to bear.

The North Sea Oil industry will be stumping up an extra few pence in tax, and George Osborne has promised to close some of the tax loopholes exploited by the rich for decades.  I just hope none of our important, famous multi-millionaires are troubled by this budget.  Somehow, I doubt they will be.

Next week – more definitions and a look back at some of the Old Susannah outstanding issues

Feb 102011
 

By Fred Wilkinson.

Aberdeen Voice will be taken offline for a period this weekend for essential major surgery in preparation for our site upgrade. Many of you will have read the recent AV article outlining our need to upgrade our hosting arrangements in response to growing readership which our present set up displays signs that it is struggling to cope with.

See Article:  http://aberdeenvoice.com/2011/01/aberdeen-voice-an-update/

At this point we do not know how long the site will be down, but we understand the work involves more of a rebuild than a refurbishment. However, hard wired for pace and efficiency, our tech-man  is the kind of guy who works for exactly 26 hours a day, but only when everyone else is asleep, so we are fairly optimistic that the changes will be relatively smooth and swift.

Although the changes to be implemented this weekend are primarily to add facilities for more efficient team working as well as preparation for the site upgrade, it is likely that readers will see an improvement in page loading times as a result.

As for the site upgrade, we are still not entirely sure when this will take place. We are all too aware of the risks to site stability the longer this is delayed, and proud as we are to have kept Aberdeen Voice running for 6 months on a total budget of £40, somewhat regrettably, this is not sustainable.
However I am pleased to report some progress. An Aberdeen Voice bank account has been opened, and between donations pledged, and donations already received, we have sufficient funds to cover the first 6 months of our improved hosting package.

For the most part, the funds so far have come from the long overlooked and fluffiest corners of the pockets of AV team members in addition to the time effort and resources they willingly contribute on a daily basis, free of charge, in favour of keeping Aberdeen Voice as loud, clear and inclusive as possible.

If you enjoy reading Aberdeen Voice and would like to contribute towards our growth and longevity, then please consider making a donation.

Aberdeen Voice operates, and will continue to operate as a ‘not-for-profit’ organisation, and will continue to be run by volunteers. All monies raised/contributed will be used for running costs and operational expenses only.

( Ahem …. cue new fangled button …  now let us pray! )

Jan 072011
 

First of all, on behalf of AV, Fred Wilkinson would like to wish a Happy New Year to all our readers and contributors… and everyone else as well.

Whatever it is you have found to celebrate of late, whether the glittering blanket of snow some are glad to see the back of, a significant birth, time off work, turkey and trimmings, drinking to the seasonally normalised abnormal levels, the giving and recieving of gifts, the kids faces when they saw the decorations, the wrappings come off a coveted item, the effort of removing all the sellotape before said paperage could be recycled, we hope you had a good combination of joy, madness, and involuntary downtime.

Anyway, underneath all that razzamatazz, that highly anticipated and revered date, the 25th of December, marked exactly 6 months since publication of the first issue of Aberdeen Voice.

Determined and dedicated though our team may be, I doubt if any of us would have dared 6 months ago to predict we would be publishing regularly into a new year – otherwise we would all have ran off and done something less daft – like nude underwater indoor bowling, or low impact breathing, or …
The truth is, we didn’t know what lay ahead – only that there was an appetite for an alternative, and it would appear that appetite is still there and growing.

Today, by contrast, I doubt if any of the Aberdeen Voice team would bet against us providing a regular service beyond next Xmas and into 2012. However, the coming year poses a different set of challenges.

Our readership has grown steadily to the point where we have all but outgrown our present hosting arrangements. We are already experiencing dips in performance at peak periods, and current projections would indicate that a major upgrade is required within weeks if we are to satisfy the growing, global as well as local demand.

The fact that we have managed to run AV for 6 months on a budget of a few coins atop £40 never fails to raise a chuckle, and a proud chuckle at that – if there ever was such a thing.
However, whether we like it or not, due to you pesky readers multiplying like bloody vermin, we have no choice, other than to kill you all, but move to a more professional package. And so we now face an annual budget of around £500 to maintain progress at the rate that you, yes YOU, the readers demand!

We do not accept payment for adverts or in exchange for publishing any kind of material as we believe that this compromises our status as an independent organisation – and an independent organisation we wish to remain.

However, that’s not to say we will refuse a beer in exchange for a quiet mouth and an open ear – as long as we can buy you one back in exchange for your silence and attention while we feedback our assessment of your story, your angle, your character and your parentage.

But seriously folks, we do feel the time has come to seek assistance with future running costs.

We will of course be putting our hands in our respective collective pooches as we believe the value of AV is greater than the aforementioned cost, and in view of feedback to date, we know many of you agree.

With the planned introduction of a ‘donate’ button, and a fundraising event coming up soon, we are confident that we will not only continue to encourage grassroots citizen journalism and regularly publish items of relevance to the people of Aberdeen and the Northeast, but we will have access to features which will facilitate the creation of a better and more flexible product.

Whether or not you will find yourselves able to ease our financial burden, we hope that you will continue to support Aberdeen Voice by contributing articles and information, reading regularly and spreading the word.

One way or another we, will continue in our role of supporting freedom of expression and democracy within the widest acceptable bounds in the known journalistic universe … and wider if you toss the odd coin into our fountain of genuine fresh fairy tears – of joy I hasten to add.

We are the vehicle – you are the voice….. and that voice is getting louder… so, mind ye dinna scare the bairns noo!

Wishing you all the biggest and best in 2011 – AV