Nov 232012

In a move meant to demonstrate transparency in government, August 2012 saw the opening of a statutory period in which members of the public were able to view Aberdeen City Council’s financial year documents for 2011. In the first of a two-part investigation, Suzanne Kelly seeks answers but winds up with more questions.

In 2011 Aberdeen moved from being an SNP/Lib-Dem controlled city to an administration with a slim Labour majority.

Although drains on the public purse like the Tullos deer debacle and the development of the Granite Web’s TIF funding application were left behind, the public still had to bear the cost of the previous administration’s policies.

Staff at the ACC finance department were most helpful but the year-end document on display was not the detailed set of accounts I had hoped for.

The year-end statement made many claims about the city doing the best it could but most of the costs had already been lumped together and processed.  I wanted to see actual invoices and spread sheets from some of the year’s more contentious projects (or at least those I knew of).

I provided the list of invoices and accounts I wished to examine and eventually received the information collated and ready to inspect. I have to say seeing the various costs involved is a far cry from reading the wonderfully prosaic year-end statement, and though I am still sifting through documents looking for answers, here are some issues that emerged.

Stewart Milne

ACC and Stewart Milne are in legal dispute over land transaction issues at Westhill. The city sold land to one arm of the Milne empire at far less than its market value on the understanding it would eventually see a share of any future profit.

At the same time Milne companies were buying and selling land at knockdown prices, they were submitting bids for council projects (at very narrow margins compared to the competition), winning work worth approximately £10m. The courts – including the highest in the UK – sided with ACC and Milne should by rights be settling his debt to the city.

Despite Milne entities refusing to pay ACC its rightful share of profit on the land transactions, instead dragging ACC (and therefore the taxpayer) through the courts, Milne had (and may still have) preferred bidder status for council contracts. Milne is assuredly carrying out work for the city, which in 2011 was rewarded as follows:

In fact, the 2011 ‘self-raised invoices’ reflect the following monies paid to Milne:

Reference Amount
SB/P/10431 270,630.00
SB/P/10432 299,536.00
SB/P/10433 244,149.00
SB/P/10474 226,268.00
SB/P/10475 137,379.00
SB/P/10476 127,637.50
SB/P/10528 75,030.00
SB/P/10529 19,210.00
SB/P/10530 8,850.00
Job CH 12306 36,286.00
Job CH 12308 44,046.00
Job CH 2307 39,326.00
SB/P/10645 20,001.00
TOTAL £1,548,348.50


The paperwork I was given is intriguing, referencing neither particular jobs nor targets reached. Indeed, three of the documents entirely lack a second sheet containing supplementary information.

The cover sheets I did receive refer, for example, to Bryan Park and Hayton Road, but fail to indicate exactly what work is being paid for, or if any target has been reached. For the sums involved, one might hope sufficient documentary back-up evidence does exist.

Wood Family Trust

The Wood Family Trust (WFT) is listed as having paid £160,000 towards the CGP referendum. The taxpayer chipped in £40,000.

The city also paid the WFT £22,000 for an educational pilot scheme involving Kincorth Academy ‘per contract’. What contract ACC and the WFT have entered into will make interesting reading. Perhaps other charitable trusts have contracted with ACC – but why a charity should be engaged by contract on an educational scheme is at present unclear.

BiG Invoices

It was a good year to be in PR. Well, it was if you were a certain BiG name agency. There was the unofficial campaign for the Granite Web – when print media was sent to every household in the city on at least two occasions (and lest we forget, in error to the shire on one).

BiG was involved in other areas, though at present we don’t know which PR agency the city paid when the Chamber of Commerce (Chaired by Bob Collier) billed ACC for work ordered by ACSEF (Tom Smith) in support of the Granite Web scheme.

Smith is, of course, better known as a director of the Aberdeen City Gardens Trust, a private company to which the management of the web and UTG was to be handed without recourse to a tendering process or checking either man’s expertise in the rather narrow field of constructing concrete webs.

But, getting back to BiG: readers may be interested to know ACC has paid monthly invoices to BiG for various PR services, storage, servers, altering maps, expenses, photos and a trip to Glasgow. Below is a short summary of selected BiG invoices, interestingly enough all addressed To AWPR – Scottish Executive, which reference A-AWPR, and seem to have been paid by ACC:

Invoice No Date Description Amount
17801 30/3/11 Info packs and inserts (what project? – SK) 10,802
42810 18/4/11 Expenses, press cutting services, photos, PR 3,416
17848 31/3/11 March PR, storage (nb seems to be £120/month) 1,022
18072 30/4/11 April PR, storage 2,076
18080 30/4/11 Website servers for PLI and AWPR 700
18320 31/5/11 May  PR, storage 2,045
18567 30/6/11 June PR, storage 2,968
(not clear) 31/7/11 July PR, storage 1,762
19062 31/8/11 August PR, storage, travel to Glasgow 6,307
19308 30/9/11 September PR, storage 5,013
19533 31/10/11 October PR, storage, amendments to AWPR map 2,434
19770 30/11/11 November PR, storage 1,858
20033 31/12/11 December PR, storage 1,493
20254 31/01/12 January PR, storage 3,492
20509 29/02/12 February PR, storage and handover re. K McKee 8,788




The BiG Partnership billed ACC for £54,176 in the last fiscal year: was the AWPR acronym used in the invoices referring to the Western Peripheral Route? Other possibilities seem slim, but why ACC should have engaged a PR firm (let alone paid it storage fees or for website servers) in relation to this project is not clear.

Issues so far

a) ACC regularly deals with a company holding preferred bidder status, a company that has not only reneged on a profit-sharing scheme but dragged the city through every court in the land. How much was lost on the initial transaction? How much is the city incurring in legal fees, and which side picks these up?

Why is the Milne group apparently saying it wants to negotiate when the courts have already found against them? Have Milne companies retained their preferred bidder status? If his companies were enjoying profits from a favourable land deal, while at the same time entering low bids for contracting work, is this ethical, fair, and completely within tendering guidelines?

b) Should the referendum have been financed to such an extent by one of the interested parties? Was there even a slight possibility of psychological influence over those involved in administration of the referendum by the fact the costs were picked up by the web’s main proponent? At one stage we were told the entire costs were being met by Wood – why did the taxpayer pick up a £40,000 tab?

c) ACC seems to be paying a billionaire’s trust for an educational pilot – and has entered into a contract. What is the nature of the contract, and in what way can the services performed be described as charitable?  An overview of the charity seems to indicate no money is received by the Trust from government. I wrote to WFT and received this reply:

“The funds received from Aberdeen City Council were a relatively small contribution to an Enterprise in Education programme, which was delivered as a partnership project with the local authority and carried out at two schools in the region, with the balance of the funds coming from Wood Family Trust. I can only assume that the reason the Scottish Charities Register indicates WFT received no money from Government is that this doesn’t cover funds received from Local Authorities.”

d) Has the city paid for public relations for the AWPR?  If so, how was the contract for the work tendered? Was BiG given favoured status in obtaining this work via its involvement with ACSEF and the CGP?


Coming soon in Part 2

The Tree for Every Citizen Project – more revelations, CJ Piper, Bryan Massie

A Scottish Enterprise invoice or two

Further observations

  • Comments enabled – see comments box below. Note, all comments will be moderated.

  17 Responses to “Paying Through The Nose: Part 1”

  1. Strange article and odd that you appear again to be singling out Sir Ian Wood and Stewart Milne for scrutinising, both these people have provided employment for hundreds of people and have paid Millions back to taxpayer through themselves and their companies. A truly pointless exercise imo trying to dig dirt on them, not only a waste of your time but not a pleasant thing to read. Couldn’t you have done a positive article on the great work the Wood family trust is doing in Africa, perhaps research the schemes it has put in place to help families over there.

    • George,
      I hope you’re not suggesting that just because Sir Ian Wood and Stewart Milne provide jobs for people they are somehow above scrutiny. Dictatorships arise when people are not scrutinised. Yes, I agree Sir Ian has done good charitable work in Africa, but then Sir Jimmy Saville was looked upon as someone who did good work for charitable causes. NO!!! I’M NOT FOR ONE MOMENT BRACKETING SIR IAN ALONG WITH SIR JIMMY SAVILLE, only trying to make the point that nobody should be above scrutiny.

  2. Why don’t you submit the article you suggest, George?

  3. Ian Wood promised to give fifty million to Africa and he has now gone back on his word. For Mr Wood to say that he is giving money to charity and then not do so, displays dishonesty.

    *Post Moderated. Sean, please refrain from including direct accusations in your comments as these require us to amend or remove in order that we do not become legally responsible/liable on your behalf.
    We do value your opinion and your contributions, but not to the extent that we will risk court action and all that entails,

    Please do continue to contribute material, preferably that which we can publish in full, compromising neither your sentiment or style, nor our journalistic integrity.

    – Moderator

    • He may yet donate the money he promised. What he has done is delayed the withdrawal of his offer to part-fund the CGP by a year whilst there is an obvious clumsy concerted effort to get this discredited and rigged TIF scheme back on the table. In August 2013 that year will be up.

  4. Bob,

    The reason they’re getting scrutinised looks to be for their involvement in the CGP, this appears little more than an attempt to gain some revenge by those against the project by finding some dirt on them. Quite petty imo considering all those two men have done for the people of this city and beyond.

  5. That will be the same Mr Wood who stated he would, “walk away,” if the public voted against his plan for UTG, then did the exact opposite George? The same Mr Milne that, when found by the courts (at great expense to the taxpayer) to be in the wrong, decided to “negotiate” a settlement with ACC? Hardly paragons of virtue..

  6. Ron,

    Also the same people where one gives Millions of their personal wealth to the poor in Africa and another who underwrite’s the debt at Pittodrie to keep our football team in business. That’s before you get to the huge employment they provide.

    Starting a vendetta against them because they didn’t agree with you on a garden project is a joke.

    • Nothing to do with The Gardens directly George. It’s about wealthy individuals trying to usurp public assets for their own wealth making ploys. Granted, both have given employment to many in the city and beyond. That does not give them the right to ride roughshod over public opinion, or to try and sway said opinion by foul means.

      • Ron,

        The article in question has nothing to do with the garden, that’s my point, the author is trying to dig dirt on them because they had an opinion she didn’t agree with. I just don’t see the point. Attacking them over their support of the garden is fine but digging into their life’s looking for nuggets to fire at them is not on in my book, that’s Murdock style reporting.

  7. Ron,

    You’ll be glad to read I’m giving up on this forum, it seems futile to try and debate issues when the moderation is so one sided, again I’ve had a post chopped because it didn’t fit with the agenda.

    • George, it has been explained to you at some length, and in some detail why one sentence was removed from a comment you made for LEGAL reasons, not on account of any agenda. I see no point in discussing this any further with you, particularly as the moderators have thus far put more effort into clarifying the issue for you than they were obliged to, both publicly via the comments box and via private email, but I will not allow your view on the moderation to go unchallenged.

      If you are incapable of understanding that direct, unsubstantiated accusations are out of bounds in a publication, and that for us to publish these is to accept liability on your behalf, then that is your problem and one that only you can rectify.

      If I may take the opportunity to provide figures re. how your comments to date have been dealt with, they look like this.

      Total comments contributed : 46
      comments published in full and unaltered : 44
      comments blocked : 1 (Reason : legal. Explanation provided )
      comments published but amended : 1 (Reason : legal. Explanation provided )

      These stats are easily checked by anyone George. Please look them over before attempting to persuade anyone other than yourself that your attempts to participate in debate on this site have been made ‘futile’ by ‘one sided moderation’ because the evidence suggests otherwise.

  8. Apologies, my mistake, I thought comment 6 had been chopped as I didn’t see it awaiting moderation when I looked in.


  9. George:

    In fact, I will be sorry to see you giving up the forum. The moderation is not, in reality, one sided in my view. Aberdeen Voice was set up so that matters ignored by, or reported in a biased manner could be addressed by ordinary Aberdonians. It does that effectively with moderators only stepping in when “legalities” raise their head. I find it refreshing that you have apologised for the unwarranted attack on the moderators. Too few in this world are prepared to admit their mistakes and you and I appear to take the same moral stance on this issue. I always had the greatest respect for Ian Wood until, as previously stated, he went back on his word. That is my reason for losing respect for this, otherwise, pillar of our society.. I do wish you would reconsider remaining in the forum. As you say, debate/discussion is healthy and it is important all sides of issues are represented.

  10. I usually make it a point not to comment on stories I have in Aberdeen Voice, but occasionally one or two posters go too far down either illogical or legally-questionable routes that I am better off commenting than not. George has written “..that’s my point, the author is trying to dig dirt on them because they had an opinion she didn’t agree with…”.

    George, perhaps you mean to say ‘you think the author is trying to dig dirt…’ or ‘you believe the author is trying to dig dirt…’ But your assertions you know what my intent is are (as ever) wrong, and in this instance getting rather close to libel.

    For the avoidance of doubt, this piece (and the follow-up out shortly) is a partial exposé on how our tax money is carved up and given to questionable projects, billionaire philanthropists who have their own money, yet want ours, and how unelected quangos are hiding the identities of firms/people whose services we are paying for (eg the chamber of commerce invoices sent via Scottish Enterprise for the City to actually pay regarding the City Garden Project).

    George calls the piece ‘strange’ – another tool of the propagandist is to assign negative labels to people and things, hoping they will stick. The way in which a cash-strapped city which is cutting vital services, yet finds money to give to a billionaire, sells land at far less than market value to a millionaire which under-bids on jobs in construction are the things which are strange (if not unacceptable), not my uncovering them. I look forward to publishing Part 2 of this article shortly; no doubt George will have something to say about it as well. In fact, I’m finding it hard to remember the last time I wrote something George (if that’s his name) didn’t comment on. But thank you George – as long as you stay legal, avoid libel, and want to say something of value and relevance, do go ahead and post.
    Cordially, Suzanne

  11. I shall keep on commenting for as long as my comments are allowed, I don’t agree with your views and will voice that if I can.

    Keep on being negative about people who have done far more good for my City than you have (in my opinion) and I’ll keep on pulling you up.

    Champagne socialism doesn’t sit well in my book, Aberdeen is rife with it and in my opinion it is damaging the City.

    And my real name is George, I have nothing to hide or fear by posting my real name. I am part of no group and have no political leanings, I’m certainly not a “propagandist”, I’m merely someone who dislikes the way some activists (imo) are holding back progress in our City, I’m born and bred here and can see it slipping into disrepair, me views on reversing that are the opposite of yours and I won’t be silenced on airing that viewpoint.

    I’m well aware of the libel laws and have recently been successful when defending myself in a case, a case that now is actually cited as case law in bulletin board cases, it’s not something I would wish to do again due to the time it involved so if you feel I acted with malice towards you then I apologise and will strive to make it clear my viewpoints are just my opinion.

  12. btw The council did not give money to a Billionaire, that is simply just misleading the reader imo, it gave money to a joint venture along with the Wood family trust to fund a very worthwhile project involving two schools, hundreds of children benefited and the long term benefits can only be good for the city, I just can’t see the negative in the programme, I actually hope the next school it’s introduced too is my daughters. The way you’ve written it above in my opinion makes it sound like the Council gave Sir Ian Wood directly.

    The project in question;

    Lets hope it encourages many of the children to set up business and provide employment, it may even spawn the next Aberdeen born Billionaire and could even lead on to another person from our area funding charity work in the poorer parts of Africa as Sir Ian does.

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