Nov 282014

Voice’s Old Susannah takes a look over the past week’s events in the ‘Deen and beyond. By Suzanne Kelly.

DictionaryApologies for the late running of this service, I’ve been on holiday. I was at the bonfire night fire festival in Lewes where suffice it to say Alex Salmond must be very popular, as there were two giant effigies of him paraded through the streets. Thousands of people, fire, pubs open late; hospitality galore all night long – and all no more police, security and crowd barriers as Aberdeen employed when the Commonwealth torch passed through town, or for a Christmas tree in the gardens.

Lewes also forgot to put up signs saying ‘no dogs, no pets, no plastic chairs, no food, no alcohol’ like Aberdeen did for its 2 hour torch party.

I think Lewes could learn quite a bit from Aberdeen City Council when it comes to having fun.

Safety first, fun … well, where possible in small dribs and drabs (‘drab’ being the operative word for recent events; let’s see what the city has in store this Christmas season).

Overall playing it safe seems to be the theme of several news stories this past week or so, and here are some relevant definitions.

Spin Doctor: (Modern English compound noun) – A person who serves as a public relations professional specialising in damage limitation, reputation enhancement, and other forms of lying.

It was a shame to be away with all of Aberdeen’s exciting developments going on, but the £80,000 pending appointment of a new City spin doctor is by far the most thrilling.  Congratulations in advance to Aberdeen City Council’s future new head of spin, Takki Sulaiman. Let’s hope he can do for the city what he did for London’s Tower Hamlets. Fraud, waste, housing issues, financial irregularities – he’ll have lots of experience in these areas to bring with him.

For some reason he still has to have his pre-employment checks carried out. For one thing apparently he didn’t bother to mention he was at one point a Labour Councillor; perhaps he was trying to forget. But if our new spin doctor is a bit forgetful when it comes to minor details on his own CV and Tower Hamlet’s many problems, I’m sure his otherwise astute eye for detail will be worth every penny of the £80k.

The P&J reported on this joyous news, adding their own spin to the story. Their news article (if that’s what they call it) reported that:

“The city’s Labour-led administration has courted controversy after ditching £140million plans to redevelop Union Terrace Gardens and attempting to ban First Minister Alex Salmond from council property.”

I am always in awe at how the P&J can recall these facts. Other facts seem to elude the paper though, in the same way that Takki forgot he was a Labour councillor.

Perhaps counting actual profit and loss from black and white figures is not their strong suit

The P&J has a little amnesia when it comes to remembering little things like the taxpayer would have had to borrow £90 million pounds to build pointless webs to nowhere, and that PricewaterhouseCooper predicted the web would earn us hundreds of millions and make 6,000 permanent new jobs. How could we have turned that down?

It would be churlish of me to mention that this same PWC entity has overestimated Tesco’s profits by a few hundred million in errors spanning the last few years.

Perhaps counting actual profit and loss from black and white figures is not their strong suit. Maybe they are best left to use their undoubted expertise to guess how many tourists will come to buy goods if they’re situated under a granite web.

At one of the many council meetings about Ian Wood’s web scheme, I gave a deputation. When I was done, Callum McCaig asked me whether I was doubting the reputation of PriceWaterhouseCooper. I managed to answer that we’d already paid a five figure sum of taxpayer money to the PWC experts for their web expertise, and they’d get more if we went ahead. My opinion of this firm has changed very little on learning they failed to add up Tesco’s books accurately.

As to the other point the P&J brought up, At the time Salmond had developed a penchant for showing up any place he was invited, such as the Bramble Brae school because a parent had asked him. This was during a by election. Well, he’s still invited to meet his own constituents at the Menie Estate and see what good he’s done them. We’re waiting Alex.

But I digress.

I suppose Suliaman’s a safe alternative to the city’s previous relationship with the BiG Partnership. At least he is not likely to enlist the services of Jake the Ghost or Morris the Monkey to tell us we need to spend £140 million on granite walkways to make money. But what can we expect?

Tower Hamlets has had one or two wee problems; like our friend up the road Donald Trump, Panorama decided to take a look at how things work there. It’s all a bit messy, complicated, fiscally obscure, politically-skewed story. Takki will love it here in the uncomplicated, straightforward Deen. As a media professional Suliaman knew exactly what to do.  He refused to make a statement, and hired a PR company (I’ll bet Tower Hamlets taxpayers were thrilled):

“[Suliaman] … declined to speak to PRWeek earlier this week, explaining that he did not believe it was appropriate with the Panorama controversy ongoing.

“Rahman and Tower Hamlets Council have mounted a robust response to the programme, for which Sulaiman has enlisted the help of PR and public affairs agency Champollion.

“An agency spokesperson stresses it is working for the council, of which the mayor is the head, and is not involved in political campaigning. “Takki has a duty to protect the reputation of the council and we’ve been supporting the council to ensure that whatever happened wouldn’t harm its reputation,” the spokesperson says.

“Champollion’s work has involved interview preparation for the mayor, along with help for press officers in preparing for calls from journalists.”

So how does our £80,000 per year job candidate get on with the press historically? PR Week’s article continues:

“A difficult relationship with the media appears to be a theme with Sulaiman.  [well, that’s a little bit of a downside; maybe that’s why he’ll only cost us £80K]

“Ted Jeory, a Sunday Express journalist who also has a blog on east London politics, Trial by Jeory, argues Sulaiman’s approach to working with the press is about placing “barriers in the road” rather than developing relationships.

““The council doesn’t have the best of reputations for transparency and his overly defensive, bordering on aggressive attitude doesn’t help overcome that,” says Jeory. “He’s a former politician, of course, and I get the impression the argumentative nature required in that field has spilled over.””

It looks that between Takki and Aberdeen Journals we’re set to get even more of the straight-talking, fact-based, unbiased reportage that we’ve come to expect. The city’s secrets will be in a safe pair of hands soon – don’t worry.

Vaping: (New English gerund) Process of vaporising products such as tobacco and inhaling the vapour instead of smoke. Billed as a safe alternative (?) to smoking.

It is a bit confusing to Old Susannah – vaping may be completely safe – but we don’t know that yet for certain and everyone seems to be at it. We do know smoking is dangerous and often deadly – but laboratories are still making money by forcing animals to inhale smoke and get diseases. Something seems just a little bit wrong there. Vape to your hearts are content; it seems that there is no secondary smoke. But as to whether or not vapers are damaging their health, the jury is out.

United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP): (Modern English  proper noun) New political party gaining ground, considered by some to be the safe alternative (?) to conservatives, Lib Dems, BNP and Labour

So UKIP has won further power in UK politics. UKIP is seen by its supporters as the alternative to the other political parties. Which of course it is. Putting aside UKIP’s views on immigrants, women, religious tolerance, homosexuality and so on, it’s a great choice.

Congratulations to all those who’ve switched to  UKIP. We’ve not seen anything like this before in Europe. Except in the 1930s. In Germany. What can possibly go wrong with putting in place a government that fears foreigners?

Nuclear Power: (Modern English compound noun) Energy produced by atomic reactions, considered by some to be the safe alternative (?) to fossil fuels.

Nuclear power is clean, wonderful, efficient, and will stop us depending so much on foreign energy. Result!  It’s the safe way to go, so we’re told by a few engineers and energy leaders, all of whom I assume are completely objective in their support for nuclear power.

In a story a few weeks back, The Engineer reported:

“British scientists are to research whether a new type of supposedly safer, smaller, cheaper nuclear reactor could help reduce the UK’s radioactive waste stocks.”

Safe and cheap. That’s how we like our nukes. We were previously assured ad nauseum that nuclear energy is safe. That is, except for Chernobyl, Fukushima, and closer to home another release of radioactive material following a fire at Douneray.

But don’t worry – everything is fine, what’s a little (more) radiation, and in a shocking development, lessons will be learned.  Somehow lessons seem to get learned after the horse has bolted or after the tritium has escaped into the atmosphere or sea, but the important thing is, the people in power are learning.  The BBC wrote:

“DSRL said trace amounts of tritium were released and did not pose a risk to the public. No-one at the plant was hurt in the early morning incident. The Caithness site’s fire brigade extinguished the blaze in the PFR’s sodium tank farm within 30 minutes.

“Managing director Mark Rouse said DSRL has been served with an improvement notice by the nuclear industry’s regulators. He said: “Our investigation identified unacceptable behaviours and practices that fell well short of our values and standards. It is important to take the time to ensure as many lessons are learned from this incident as possible.”

As well as our experts learning yet more lessons, we’re assured that everything is perfectly safe. I’m sure you find that as comforting as I do. What’s the odd fire at a nuclear power plant every now and then anyway?

So there you have it – we’re all completely safe. Phew. There may be fires at nuclear plants that have ‘unacceptable behaviours and practices’ – but lessons are being learned.

There may be no other alternative than to vote UKIP – I’m sure that will be consequence free and safe as well. We can vape as we see fit. We’ll be safe the next time Aberdeen City throws a festive party with security guards, police, anti-climb paint and crowd barriers. The city’s secrets – not that it has any – will be safely guarded by Takki Suliaman going forward. Nothing to worry about.

It’s just as well I didn’t mention the fact that our local NHS is leaving our private patient files lying about in supermarkets.

Next week:  More on document security, privacy, spying – and other things that keep us safe. Tally ho!

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  31 Responses to “Old Susannah No 166 – Playing It Safe (?)”

  1. Fact is the people of the City voted for the city gardens project, it’s called democracy, for the council to overturn that is a disgrace that will stain them as long as they are in office, the people spoke…the council ignored them.

    The £90 Million was to be paid for from new business rates, one only needs to look at the new business parks being built around the City to see that would have been no problem, now instead of retaining the money within our city it will go to the Central government and be spent elsewhere.

    The people who didn’t want a new garden can spin all the scare stories in the World but a lack of finance or the people of Aberdeen having to directly pick up the tab isn’t one of them. Come out and say you don’t want it, don’t spin sensationalised rubbish to back it up. Very poor journalism in my humble opinion, no better than a Daily Mail headline.

    • You conveniently forget that the public initially voted AGAINST The UTG proposal Bill. Only after a whole lot of dubious figures and promises were thrown in to the arena did the public vote in favour. While everyone was broadly in favour of The Peacock Visual Arts plans (fully funded as I recollect), Sir Ian’s “vision” blew that out of the water. It does little credit to the cause that, after public “consultation,” the choice of The Web was selected, despite being the least supported by the public. The whole exercise was woeful and best forgotten.

      • We only had one vote where everyone was asked, I wasn’t even aware of the initial vote, have since found out activists voted numerous times in my opinion.

      • Dear Bill, if you found out that ‘activists voted numerous times’ – (we had to add the phrase ‘my opinion’ to this sensational claim) then you have more information than the rest of us. Despite numerous requests to see the votes and comments people made on the six shortlisted designs, the private entity, Aberdeen City Gardens Trust, which has the votes, refuses to let anyone else see them. Councillors told me they asked for the votes and were turned down. The taxpayer helped to pay for some of the voting process as well – and yet this unelected group of about 3 people has them. Doesn’t seem very democratic somehow. Further, the public were initially going to get the choice of saying no to the whole scheme during the shortlist process – and Gerry Brough and various unelected committees removed that choice, which councillors objected to.

    • “The £90 Million was to be paid for from new business rates”

      Sorry, you can’t get away from the fact that a £90 Million pound debt is a huge debt that we can do without.

      • It would have been a TIF loan, not a debt to the people of Aberdeen, don’t let the scare stories by those opposed to this put you off.

      • As I recall, there was no offer of a “£90 million loan”. The loan offered was, I believe, only £70 million, which left a £20million black hole, to be filled by an alleged mystery £5 million donation from a mysterious anonymous donor and the remainder by….well by wishful thinking basically.

        As for the repayment method, I seem to recall the business rates would be received from a specific area of development only, as opposed to region – wide and, given rumours of widespread redundancies in the oil industry and the recent 40% fall in the oil price, it is beginning to look extremely doubtful that this untried and untested method of repayment would have succeeded, even if the £20 million black hole was suddenly and miraculously filled. This would have resulted in Aberdeen City Council, that is the citizens of Aberdeen, including “Bill”, being left with the debt liability.

        Of course, the referendum promise of hundreds of thousands of tourists rushing to Aberdeen to see the wondrous Granite Carbuncle, thereby creating thousands of jobs and making us all rich beyond our wildest dreams, was not at all wildly optimistic or unrealistic or cynical or a downright lie, as can be verified by the success of similar promises, in relation to the Trump development for example, which has brought tourists flocking from all over the world, filling our 5 star hotels to such an extent that their owners have decided to flog them off to their mates to give us more “luxury housing developments” and the promised new and exciting flights to and from Aberdeen, such as those to… Majorca and Majorca. Haud me back min!!

      • well, that’s a pretty concise, accurate summary of the state of things as far as I’m concerned; with all the numbers (some of them quite fanciful) flying around, it was hard to keep up.

  2. Fact is Bill, the plans to raise the gardens were put out to public consultation and the result of the consultation was a clear No and that was to be the end of it. As seems to be popular in Scotland nowadays however, the clear No vote was ignored and the Yes supporters ploughed on and the population were even offered a choice on what they could say Yes to! This choice included the Granite Web but the public once again voted No to such a monstrosity and preferred an alternative option. Again, the public No vote was ignored and the public were asked to vote, yet again, whether or not the Web should go ahead. This time, the answer was Yes and,strangely enough, the verdict was accepted.

    But just when I thought the scope for democratic choice had been exhausted, a political party stood for election on the basis of saying No to the Granite Web and they won. The voters had once again said No to this proposed development and this time, at long last, the matter was concluded, I think.

    For some reason, which I don’t understand, there seems to be a significant minority who just won’t accept No for an answer on anything and only think an answer can be a democratic representation of the will of the people if the answer is Yes!

    Do you think such an unwillingness to accept No and even an eagerness to interpret No as Yes is a welcome development Bill. Yes or No?

    • FACT is the people of Aberdeen were asked if they wanted it via a democratic referendum, they said yes.

      Those opposed to it can cry all they like but they’re a minority IMO. They acted like spoilt brats imo when they lost, toys came out of the pram big style.

      We’re now left with what is to me a cold dank hole in the ground and a decaying City centre, well done the minority.

      • congratulations to that ‘cold dank hole’ for winning an award recently for the quality of its flowers 🙂

  3. Why do we need a spin doctor at ACC I wonder? Could it be the blatant lying of some councillors and senior officials has been found out? Perhaps the impressive salary being awarded for this non job would have better spent on educating the aforementioned parties on how to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth and not prevaricating and blustering trying to make black seem white, costing the council tax payers significant sums in the process.

  4. Poor old Bill – continuing to toe the EE / P&J line. Thank goodness many people can see beyond the nonsense that Aberdeen “needed” UTG to be raised.

    • I never buy or read either paper, I think for myself unlike many on here in my opinion.

      I think UTG is a shambles that is empty the vast majority of the year, open your eyes our City is dying and needs regenerating, this could have been a great focal point.

      Which other City in the World would reject a £50 Million donation to kickstart regeneration, utter madness to me, the people voted for it as well but a bunch of amateur politicians IMO turned it into a political football and ignored direct democracy, a disgrace IMO.

  5. Nice one, Suzanne! Aberdeen needs the Tower Hamlets connection like a hole in the head.

  6. I wish some reporter would check out the state of Graham Lawrences (Labour Councillor) garden to see if he should have been having any say over what happens to the CGP, it’s an overgrown shambles that hasn’t been tended to in years in my opinion.

    Why local councils are ran [sic] by amatuer politicians in my opinion is beyond me, I believe local lever councils should not be about politics, it should be who’s best to represent the area where people live, it’s a disgrace that councillors have to tow the party line at this level. 20 independants would be a much fairer situation.

    • Quite right Bill, let’s get Ian Wood, Stewart Milne, Donald Trump and the like to run the city and shire without any need for councillors and elections and that kind of thing, come to think of it they already…..oops nearly said something controversial there Bill. With a Scottish Government talking left wing rhetoric whilst indulging the whims of their favoured billionaires, they could form a tartan Dream Team.

      What could go wrong?

      As for Cllr Lawrence’s garden, I heard he had hired the same firm of landscape gardeners as Trump. Have you seen the pictures of the “overgrown shambles” and giant mounds of earth at Menie? I agree with you that something should be done about this Bill. What would you suggest?

  7. To clarify regarding what Bruce alluded to in an earlier comment re. the £70m figure, here is a fact ( yes, a fact ) which seems to have been continuously shoved under the carpet … and the edges of said carpet apparently stapled.

    Progress of the Granite web was CONDITIONAL on £70m being raised from private sources/business community.

    Sir Ian put up £50m. An anonymous donor pledged a further £5m …. leaving a £15m shortfall. As far as I can find ( or cannot find as the case may be ), to this day, not a single individual or business has gone on record even to express an interest in making a significant donation towards making up said shortfall.

    We know you believe we should have had a granite web Bill, you’ve made that very clear. But whether you blame ‘activists’, the Council, Labour, voters, or the tooth fairy, the fact remains that the hordes of businesses/business leaders who voiced their support for the development ( or to get a mention in the press? free advertising? ) failed to put their hands in their pockets. Therefore the project was never going to see the light of day whatever the ( non-binding ) referendum result.

    In simple terms … No dough, no go!

    Before the referendum, supporters of the web insisted the money would come. It didn’t … and even in the period between the referendum result and the council elections, no individual or business went on record with a pledge of funds to breach the shortfall.

    The idea of our City taking out a massive loan, whilst the private investors/business community were being too ‘careful’ with their own fortunes to address their side of the bargain, understandably I suggest, did not sit well with with a great many folks.

    • You seem to forget Sir Ian said he’d make up any shortfall, I get people don’t want the garden improved but why they make up scare stories to back their position I’ll never know.

      • Bill,

        With all due respect, you are wrong again. Sir Ian Wood said he would make up any shortfall in the event of a cost over – run, over and above the £140 million budget. I can categorically state that he never, at any time, offered to make up the missing £15 – £20 million pounds to meet the original budget shortfall.

        Regretfully, I must tell you that you are equally wrong when you say that no one was against the Gardens being “improved”. Indeed, prior to Sir Ian’s intervention, there was an approved proposal to build a visual arts centre, for which guaranteed money was, I believe, already in place, which attracted little or no controversy and which would not have risked any debt liability for Aberdeen City Council and the tax payer. I also seem to recall some enterprising and public – spirited cafe owners submitted very reasonable proposals to “improve” and attract people to the Gardens. Unfortunately, Aberdeen City Council, if my memory serves me correctly, rejected these proposals.

        With regard to your response to Mr Bothwell below, I must wholeheartedly agree with you that you are definitely not providing me with competition. I do however look forward, with eager anticipation, to your next contribution to this discussion.

      • Peacock Visual Arts were working with Scottish Enterprise to have their arts centre in the gardens; it would have cost a few trees, and I admit I didn’t wholly love it at first. Compared to the ‘monolith’ design(?) or the granite web, it was the Taj Mahal of arts centres. It needed only a few million more; it would have cost a fraction of the pointless granite ramps to nowhere. Perhaps Bill, Sir Ian, or someone at Scottish Enterprise can finally explain why they decided to change projects mid stream? I had some past rhetoric from SE along the lines that they were only interested in a generic arts centre in the gardens, not necessarily Peacock’s plans. That however, in my opinion, doesn’t match the facts – they certainly did a lot of work with Peacock, and no other arts organisation before Sir Ian and ACSEF got interested in our common good land.

  8. Bruce Wood wins hands down.

    • Are we in competition??

      What a strange thing to say IMO.

      My posts get edited so heavily it could never be a fair debate on here, IMO.

      • Bill, when you deviate (as you sometimes do) from our policy, we will clarify when your opinion is being stated where otherwise you make it look as fact; we’ve explained many times the policy for posting here. For someone who feels they can’t get a fair debate on here, you certainly expend time trying to do so. Please do take up our standing offer and write an article for us. As to your believe Steve’s question is strange; I in turn think it’s strange that you don’t get the importance of the articles of association for the private group we nearly handed common good land to. But mostly, I want to know where you get your information from as to people making multiple votes at the shortlist voting opportunity: you seem to have access to information no one else does if you are making such a statement as fact. Please tell us where this assertion came from, thanks.

      • Why didn’t Stevens quote get a IMO added after it??

        I actually replied to his wife but the name has changed overnight, this place is just bizarre, a group of friends are the only people who comment apart from me, you’re no voice for Aberdeen, you’re a bunch of elitist left wing incomers, IMO, that’s my IMO not yours just so your friends reading here know.

        I also had a post on your heavy editing not posted, your editing is trying to make my grammar look bad to aid your argument, that’s really not on. IMO!!

      • I’m not sure where to start with this one. We have never changed grammar; if a phrase or sentence is unclear, “[sic]” is sometimes used to reinforce it is the poster’s grammar and not the editors’. In fact, in the post above, we didn’t change/comment on the uncorrect ‘Stevens quote’. There is only one Steven, who made two comments – neither of which breached AV policy or needed any revision. As to the comment about friends making posts, Steven and Voice editor Fred Wilkinson are the only posters on this thread personally known to me. Steven will be interested to know he has a wife. He does have a mother. No one has changed any names, overnight or otherwise. I do not see any post from Bill about heavy editing; if Bill would like to give examples of how our modifying his comments (which is only done to make them suitable for use as explained ad infinitum) to make his grammar look bad, I will be more than happy to comment on any such examples; none of which exist to my knowledge.

      • Ok I’ll play along.

        Why would you add an IMO to this sentence…..

        What a strange thing to say.

        Yet leave your friends sentence untouched….

        Bruce Wood wins hands down.

        Your editing just doesn’t make sense to me and is so clearly biased in my opinion it’s bizarre you’re even trying to argue the point, I’m obviously writing this so it’s clearly my opinion, please leave my posts alone like you do with the other contributors, If you believe I’ve said something defamatory then you have a right to edit, stop getting power hungry with my perfectly valid posts.

      • Yet again my post gets heavily edited, it wasn’t defamatory and was written in a clear concise manner yet you choose to add the stupid in my opinions all over it, if you treated every reply like this I’d say fair enough, if you want to run the place like that then fine but to single out me because I don’t agree with your hippy left wing stance is just strange.

        For the avoidance of doubt I did not add any imo to the paragraph above, nothing in it is even bordering on being illegal.

        I also note my question has been unanswered.

        Aberdeen voice….you’re having a laugh.

        [ Bill, after some consideration, your post appears unmoderated despite the fact it has absolutely no relevance to the content of the article, and adds nothing we would consider quality or value to our publication. But let’s make it quite clear, the comments boxes are not a platform for you or any other to dish out insults or unsubstantiated judgements on fellow readers/posters or the Aberdeen Voice team/members/contributors.

        You are more than welcome to comment on articles and participate in discussion providing your contribution ….
        1. remains relevant to the article,
        2. does not involve using defamatory remarks, or gratuitously insulting, belittling or misrepresenting fellow posters on a personal level,
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        5. clearly distinguishes statements of fact from your stated opinion.

        Regardless of how you feel about our handling of comments, we are satisfied that we adhere consistently to our established moderation procedures. This will not change, and we will be discussing the matter no further with you … particularly as this would have no relevance to the article, or discussion re. same, which the comments box is designed to facilitate – Moderator. ]

  9. Perhaps Bill would like to see the Articles of Association for the City Gardens Trust?

  10. Hello all – a comment has come in; it will be moderated when one of our other moderators has a chance. But to reiterate (sorry, yes again it seems necessary to do so), comments are moderated when deemed appropriate to do so; you may agree with the way they are moderated; you may not agree. Aberdeen Voice’s policies on what is acceptable and what isn’t may or may not agree with your views. Enjoy. Or not.

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