Jan 102021
 

 Further to Part I of these two articles, when a stone wall in Wellington Brae started to crumble, Aberdeen City Council decided to arrange the repair work. The city went to SUSTRANS representing ‘we have a problem’ and it secured £200,000. By Suzanne Kelly.

In Part I of this series a timeline showed different stories as to who owned the land in question. Lawyer, and then councillor and finance committee convener Willie Young said at different times he didn’t know who the landowner was, or that his dad was the landowner.

The press reported that Young and his wife were the owners according to Registry documents.

In this part of the story, Aberdeen Voice comments on emails recently released by ACC as well as those previously leaked and published.

We also acknowledge the huge amount of work done on this issue by others including the Stop the Desecration of Marischal College Facebook page, and we include their recent synopsis of this bizarre tale.

The emails:

Below are images of some of the emails and commentary, both officially released and leaked, on ‘Wallgate’. Aberdeen Voice will be happy to receive further material and is continuing its Freedom of Information efforts.

I) ‘WE have a problem’ – on 3 February 2016 someone at ACC wrote to SUSTRANS to say ‘we have a problem’ and ‘our head of maintenance has advised there is no budget to carry out these repairs which could be £250,000…’

The recipient at SUSTRANS would have concluded that as the council says it has a problem, it has no budget, it is the party seeking repair funds, etc, that the responsibility for fixing the wall was the council’s.

The council keeps a spreadsheet showing every single property it owns; Aberdeen Voice has a 2012 copy and can confirm no entries exist on it for 2012 concerning Wellington Brae.

Was even this quick, simple search conducted before an email was sent to SUSTRANS from Aberdeen saying ‘we have a problem?’ Did anyone use the council tax rolls and contact the people living at the property to ask them about ownership?

It would be good to know how the author of this email to SUSTRANS decided to word their appeal- its tone is that the problem is Aberdeen’s.

There was no uncertainty over ownership expressed, just the assumption Aberdeen needed to find the money rather than a private landowner. It is also worth noting that the report brought to councillors to accept the money that was solicited from SUSTRANS in February was not presented to them until 24 May 2017 – fifteen months after the money was requested.

Will the email author’s line manager go back and check whether or not similar representations have been made to seek funds from external sources to repair properties that the city did not own?

How was the decision made to conduct the survey, to commission the in-house 12-page detailed Bill of Quantities report made in May of 2016 (which conveniently matches precisely the estimate for repairs presented to SUSTRANS in February), and who approved this budget to pay for a survey of benefit to private landowners?

II) Leaked email – Young is well aware of, and is briefed on, the approach ACC made to SUSTRANS. At least three different ACC personnel have, according to this email, been in touch with Young.

The writer says Young gave the verbal go-ahead for the project in his council role. Young is being asked for written confirmation.

We are still not at all certain why, with his legal background, Young apparently did not caution those on the project to cease any work until it was determined who was responsible for paying for the work at the moment he was approached for his permission.

Young asked for information to be re-sent to him in a paragraph: as the scheme involves SUSTRANS paying for the stonewall work, Young will have been in receipt of correspondence/data/reports/financials concerning SUSTRANS funding in the form of documents sent by email on a matter that concerns his family’s property.

Even if you disbelieve the authenticity of this email, Young later confirms officers approached him about the scheme – wouldn’t he have asked for some detail and background then, not least to find out why it was decided he was the landowner.

III) leaked email – According to this Young, who is addressed as Councillor, has the plans and is checking with his solicitor as to whether or not he owns the land.

IV) Leaked email – indicates Councillor Young issued a verbal instruction to proceed with the works at Wellington Brae 28 October 2016.

Many public and private entities have ethics charters and anything that could be a conflict of interest or potentially fraudulent or reputation-damaging must be raised, and if a decision to proceed is taken, this must be formalised and approved.

We note that Willie Young contacted ACC’s Monitoring Officer for advice – more on that appears later in this piece.

The question here is did no staff member or officer working on this project who were asking Young for approval as a private landowner think to raise any ethics/conflict of interest concerns?

Did no one question whether it was appropriate that ACC staff and resources were deployed to help private landowner Young (or his family) to obtain the SUSTRANS grant? Would this help be given to other private landowners who weren’t on the council?

We asked SUSTRANS to comment on the city’s ARS report which said:

“Sustrans funding would have been made available irrespective of who owned the affected land…”

We have have had no response as yet; this piece will be updated when they respond.

V) ACC recently-released email – The landowner has verbally given permission.

From mid-September 2016 it appears the city acted as if it were aware who owned the land – quite possibly they knew earlier looking at the leaked emails. Who is going to do the ‘rubber-stamping’ at ACC to approve this?

In a private organisation, seeking external sources of funding, issuing tenders and evaluating bids are meant to follow strict protocol, and any expenditure over a certain threshold is meant to be carefully scrutinized for internal control as well as external legal requirements.

Representatives of legal, finance and executive teams would all be expected to read detailed reports then either object or sign off before any such moves were made. This would extend from the first email sent to SUSTRANS through sealing the deal.

It is also noteworthy that the company initially appointed after the tender for the wall work went out of business and did not have much if any relevant experience. Perhaps Audit Scotland needs to visit Aberdeen’s procedures – again.

One further thought: a verbal agreement, in legal circles, is said to be ‘worth the paper it’s written on.’

VI) ACC recently-released emails from the latest FOI – How could the Head of Maintenance be ‘adamant’ there weren’t any funds? Couldn’t they have applied to Finance for either guidance on what to do or for more funds?

The path could have been closed until the new fiscal year opened – not ideal, but April was not that far off, either: during which time the mystery of who was responsible for the repair could have been determined.

Finance could have authorised emergency finance or an advance on the next quarter’s budget; You can think you have no funds for your department for important projects – but how can you be certain – or even ‘adamant’ you have no possibility of getting any finance without asking Finance to confirm?

In the private sector, such an approach would certainly lead to a member of the finance team asking the relevant questions – such as who owned the land.

VII) ACC recently-released email shows SUSTRANS awarding £200,000 on 25 November. Formal paperwork is coming – this will presumably require the landowner(s)’ signature(s). Who signed/approved for the landowner?

Young says:

Asked to comment to Aberdeen Voice on 14 October, Willie Young wrote (which was not received on the day, but re-sent when requested on 22 November):

“You ask if it was an ethical use of my position at ACC. As the freedom of information report and the Council enquiry report shows officers of the Council did not act within agreed protocols and this led to a situation where a report that should have come to committee did not appear.

“As for my position I was convener of the Finance committee and any report would have gone to the Communities, Housing and Infrastructure Committee not my committee so in answer to your question my ethics was never questioned by the Council nor was a matter ever passed to the Ethical Standards Commission, the monitoring officer for ACC is on record as saying that I did not have a conflict of interest.

“You ask when I disclosed to SUSTRANS that my family owned the wall, the answer to that is I never disclosed that my family owned the wall to SUSTRANS indeed this was not a matter for a Councillor it is a matter for the Council Officer.

“As the FOI shows the officer moved forward with discussions with SUSTRANS without involving Councillors. The Councils own report and the FOI clearly shows that the Council requested that this work was undertaken without speaking to the owner of the land and without being in a position to know who owned the land.

“Disappointingly this matter was not even discussed by Officers with the convener of Communities Housing and Infrastructure.  It was not for me to determine who owned the land it was for the Council to determine who owned the land and contact the land owner requesting permission.

“The report which went to council confirms the council failed both those tests.”

“In respect of your final question regard complaints I can categorically say without fear or favour that not one single person complained to me about the wall before or after Storm Gertrude.” 

The City’s Report should they have closed this case? Details hidden from public.

The Audit Risk and Scrutiny Committee reported on 26 September 2017 decided Young was ‘placed in a vulnerable position’; the Chief Executive apologised for this. This internal exercise resulted in a decision which reads in part:

6.18 “Sustrans funding would have been made available irrespective of who owned the affected land…”

4.67 “It was appropriate for Councillor Young to seek advice from the Monitoring Officer in order to address any perception that he was conflicted in his interests.”

4.68 “The Monitoring Officer has stated that based on the information available to him at the time, Councillor Young did not require to declare a conflict of interest because he had not been asked to make a decision as a Councillor on the works or the grant, but rather to provide his consent as a landowner.”

and paragraph 7.9 “Councillor Young’s actions did not contravene the ICT Acceptable Use Policy as the emails did not concern any confidential information, were not protectively marked, and had been addressed to Councillor Young.”

Questions arise:

6.18 quotes a claim that ‘SUSTRANS would have made the grant whoever owned the land’: Aberdeen Voice awaits SUSTRANS’ comment. Was a repair notice served on the land owner, if so when? Would a land owner approaching SUSTRANS have had to commission and pay for a detailed survey such as the one ACC had deployed resources to?

4.67, 4.68 – At what point did Young approach the Monitoring Officer – when did Young decide the perception of conflict existed and why did it exist for him? What did Young tell the Monitoring Officer that led to the conclusion there was no conflict of interest to address?

Did the Monitoring Officer proactively look at all the angles of this situation or just what Young presented to them? Why does the MO feel they have to say their conclusion was based on the information available to him at the time – has more information come to light, and if so, did it change this position?

7.9 – How is it ‘acceptable use’ of ACC computers, office and equipment to conduct business as a private landowner? These lines between councillor and landowner should never have been blurred. It is risible to think that using the address ‘Councillor’ automatically absolves Young.

Section 2 of the Audit Risk & Scrutiny report is withheld from the public for ‘data protection reasons.’

On the case: The ‘Stop the Desecration of Marischal College’ Facebook page.

AV notes the Facebook page Stop the Desecration of Marischal College has been instrumental in researching the Wellington Brae saga. In the past it has shown that claims Mr Young made concerning the Marischal Square development were unfounded.

Young once claimed that if the unpopular project went ahead, the city would be penalised by developer MUSE to the tune of £100 million. Summoned to appear before the Standards Commission, he was cleared of lying on grounds the information given to him by officers was inaccurate.

Déjà vu. (Young apparently did not find the concept of a £100 million penalty to be extreme, and did not question the information he passed on to the public).

The ‘Stop the Desecration of Marischal College’ posted this summary on 22 November:

“Willie stated on Twitter today that no one from the council contacted the Wellington Brae landowner until August 2017. He added that it was shocking.

“What’s shocking Willie is between March 2106 and April 2017 you were aware the council had checked the land registry and believed (as per the records they obtained) that you were the landowner.

“What’s shocking is you were asked numerous times by various officers to confirm that you were the landowner and for whatever reason decided not to even though – as you said last week on this page – you were a lawyer by trade and skilled in commercial negotiations.

“What’s hard to believe, particularly after August 2016 when you were told Sustrans had agreed to fund £200,000 of repairs and after you were shown and asked to approve the landscaping of the land above the wall, that you didn’t mention this to your father over Sunday lunch.

“Knowing the wall’s maintenance was the landowner’s responsibility one might have thought a saving of £200,000 might be worth mentioning.

“What’s more the August 2017 contact date Willie assured is right, is in fact wrong. In April 2017 he confirmed to the BBC that his father owned the land in question.

“What is most interesting though is when asked if anyone was sacked Willie said ‘no, but they should have been.’

“There is little doubt the council’s governance could and should have been better but Willie has no one to blame but himself for not realising £200,000 of public funding to fix and landscape a wall and land his family owned would come back and bite him.

“To now publicly say officers should have been fired is not only a cheap shot but serves to minimise his own culpability in this whole sorry affair…”

  “You can’t help but feel if this had been anyone else’s wall the outcome would have been rather different.”

Jan 102021
 

With thanks to David Forbes.

Saltire Awards Achiever Volunteer, Lucas Mackenzie, 13, from Tillydrone, Aberdeen is fundraising for Local voluntary led charity Future Choices, but isn’t asking for your donations directly.

He’s launched an online shopping fundraising effort which enables members of the public to help Future Choices’ users by simply shopping as they normally would after registering with shopping websites Easyfundraising and Amazon Smile

Once registered,  members simply do their normal shopping and a small percentage is then donated to the charity by the retailer – not the customer.

Lucas stated:

“To be fundraising in this way is really good as it actually raises money without the buyer giving any extra. So it’s a win-win all round.”

So far Lucas has raised around £26. He has produced an information film which can be watched on the following link; https://youtu.be/DmIHu_vf0ZM

David Forbes, chairman of Future Choices and Lucas’s mentor added:

“To have Lucas leading this unique fundraiser is these most challenging times shows real determination to still help and support the most vulnerable.”

There is a Facebook page so that the public can keep up to date with the ongoing project.
https://www.facebook.com/ShoppingFundraiser/

Dec 132020
 

A Night At The Museum Storybook Glen.

Continuing a tradition stretching back nine years, Aberdeen Voice presents Suzanne Kelly’s annual Christmas-time satire covering the vibrant and dynamic goings-on in The Deen, the shire and the wider world.

Angus was running late for his new job.

Courtesy of Universal Credit, the acclaimed petrochemical engineer was ‘retraining’ as a security guard. 

He was at a wooden bus stop waiting for his bus to Story Book Glen.  Nearby hung a poster – ‘Fatima’s Next Job Could Be in Cyber, Only She Doesn’t Know It Yet’ read the kindly, helpful advert, featuring a ballet dancer who obviously should give up her dancing to become a government computer spy.

If Angus got lucky, he too might be retrained in cyber.  But first, he had to prove himself to Universal Credit to get that £80 a week payment.  His bus arrived after an hour or so, and off he went.

It was getting dark as he got off the No. C-19 bus on the outskirts of The Deen; the city lights were coming on, showing how vibrant and dynamic the city looked.  From afar.

Wandering through the Maryculter streets he arrived at his work placement.  ‘WELCOME TO STORYBOOK GLEN – no dogs allowed’ read the sign at the entrance, where a man sat waiting for him.  There was a papier mache castle wall with an archway; it was as pretty and as well built as any of the Barratt Homes he’d been walking past.

The little old man, smelling a bit like Buckfast Angus thought, thrust a flashlight and some keys into his hands.

“Hullo!  Ye must be thon work experience loon, Aye? Weel, welcome tae Storybook Glen,” he said, gesticulating around him as the sun continued to sink. 

“Ere’s yer keys.”

The wizened old man led Angus to a little wooden hut; in it were a wooden chair by a solitary window, a tiny fridge, and a heater.  Before they went in, Angus looked around and in the distance he could see the figures of several nursery rhyme characters as the sun continued sinking, like the feeling in his stomach.

“Did ye tak yer passport like we tellt ye tae?” the man asked; he seemed a little tipsy.

“Sure, have it here.” Angus replied, assuming it was needed for tax or ID purposes.

“Good, good – keep it on ye fer noo.  Noo ye micht get some tresspassers; some n’eer do wells were through the ither year, paintin punk rock slogans on oor statues – caused a fair stooshie,” the man warned. 

“Aa ye hae tae dae is tak a walkie roon’ noo an again, an hit onyhin ye see o’er the heid wi yer flashy, ken?  And bide oot o’ trouble!”

‘What trouble could I possibly get into around here?,’ wondered Angus ‘this will be a boring but easy way to earn ma minimum hourly wage so I can pay my council tax off soon.’

The man thrust a paper bag with a bottle in it into Angus’ hand.

“Noo, fae time tae time ye micht hear some funny stuff gan on, aye, and see even funnier stuff” said the old man.

“Tak a scoof ‘o this an’ athin will be fine.  There’s some o’ ma homemade mushroom pate in tha fridge along with half a bottle o’ Fred Wilkinson’s Tullos Hill Red – help yersel.  Ahm awa noo; see ye in the mornin’ – if ye’re still aboot.” 

And laughing to himself, the little old man hobbled away through the fake castle entrance away from Storybook Glen and out of sight.

An owl hooted.  Angus looked in the bag at a bottle that read ‘Tactical Nuclear Penguin.’ ‘Ah fine; this job will be a breeze’ he thought, and with that he set himself down in the chair in the tiny guard’s booth.  He helped himself to the amazingly delicious homemade wine and pate, had a swig of Penguin, and started to doze off.

*                                        *                                         *                                          *

Angus woke with a start some hours later; the owl hooted.  He shivered and got up to turn on the space heater.  As he turned to go back to his chair, his eyes glanced at the window and he froze.

Looking back in on him were a pair of giant reptilian eyes.  He dared not move.

“Hullo!  Hullo!  Dinna be feart; Ah’m nae gan tae hurt naebody.”

Angus blinked, but when he looked again, the thing was still there, and was trying to open the door to the guard hut. 

It had a round face.  It looked like – but no it couldn’t be –

“Onywye. Fit Like?  Ah’m Barney” the thing said.  It stood in the threshold now; a giant lizard that looked like –

“You’re Barney.  Barney the -the-“ Angus stammered lost for words

“Dinosaur, aye, it’s often been said” said the beast with a chuckle an swish of its tail.

Grabbing Angus by the arm (Angus had just enough time to grab his flashlight and bottle) Barney took Angus out of the hut.  An eerie green glow illuminated Storybook Glen now, and Angus could see Barney was wearing a chain of office.

“You’re a talking dinosaur.  You’re Barney the dinosaur.  And – you’re purple – how is this possible?”

“Why am I purple?  Well, when ye start oot as Labour, but form a coalition with the Tories, the red and the blue get a bittie mixed up, and ye get purple.”

(Angus had actually meant how had a Barney the Dinosaur statue started walking and talking). 

“Weel ma loon, let ma lead ye doon the Storybook Glen gerden path and Ah’ll tell you aa ye need tae ken, and introduce ye to the rest o’ us.”

“Rest of you?” Angus repeated weakly as Barney led him away from the hut.

*                                        *                                         *                                          *

“Ye’re here on an affa special nicht” Barney said, elated.

“Ye ken, Storybook Glen Cooncil has won nae jist ane, but twa awards!  The hale o the Glen is celebratin’ the nicht!”

Angus was being led down the garden path.  Soon they came to a 6’ high wooden soldier which stood at tollhouse.

“HALT!  Who goes there?” Demanded the soldier; it had very red cheeks and a mop of blonde hair. 

“Passports out!  Non-Storybook Glen characters this way – take off your shoes, belt, coat, take any computers out of bags, only one flagon of mead per person do you have any cigarettes to declare –”

“Ah Boris, it’s me – Barney,”  the purple dinosaur laughed at the guard.

“We surely dinna hae tae go through aa that, div we?  This is ma new pal Angus, oor new security guard.”

“Well OK then,” said Boris.

“I’m a tough negotiator.” 

And Barney and Angus were waived past the checkpoint.

Beep!’  ‘Beep!’ 

“Bleeping ~&!!&! bleep!”

Barney and Angus were approaching what looked like 4 tiny yellow cars driving around in a circle.  Elves driving them were waving their fists, honking their horns and shouting at the other drivers.

“It’s a one wye system ya bamstick!”

“Ah’m only gan one way ya gluepot!” shouted another elf

An older elf was in her yellow car sobbing; 

“Ah jist wanted tae dae ma shoppin’; I canna go a bike or walk, ken?  Aa thon one wye signs hiv  me gan roon in circles fer oors!  Ah jis want tae ging hame!”

And sure enough, the little path they were on was covered with one-way signs, do not enter signs, and a sign which read ‘Storybook Glen Fun Beach next left. No left turn’.  Dotted around were wooden bus stops and 136 wooden benches.

Barney puffed out his Devonian-era chest and said:

“Storybook Glen may yet win anither award for this An’ aa. Ah’m richt prood. Ess is how we fecht the dreaded plague here in the Glen.  We canna hae fowk jis drivin intae toon an’ parkin’ cars tae ging intae shops; it’s nae safe. Abody should be on bikes.  An’ it’s only cost £1.76 million pieces o’ gold tae get it sortit oot.”

Angus took a swig.

“Do you ride a bicycle then?” asked Angus, feeling sure Barney could not manage such a feat – knowing there were many others who could not either.

“Oh aye, yer yer a funny guy, eh?” Barney replied nodding his head,

“Me on a bike? Are ye wise min? Ah’ve got ma ain Barneymobile wi’ a chauffeur.”

Barney pointed to a large marquee in the distance; it was lit up, as were its customers apparently; the shouting and carrying on could be heard faintly on the air.

“At’s far we’re heidin,” said Barney, dragging an unwilling Angus along,

“Jist one mair stop tae mak.”

Heading down the path, Angus could make out in the green glowing light which filled the glen one brick house, a wooden house, and a big pile of straw.

“That’s …. surely not?” Angus stammered, seeing three little pigs; two were patting a sobbing pig on the back.  Angus took another swig.

“Aye, yer richt enough. Come an’ meet some o’ ma constituents, The Three Little Pigs.” Barney replied, anticipating Angus’ question.

Wordlessly Barney and Angus now stood in front of the pigs.  The sobbing pig looked up at Angus

“Stewart Milne Home, eh?” Angus commiserated and the pigs nodded.

“Come on an’ hae a drink lads, it’ll gee ye up a bittie” Barney said to the pigs, who immediately perked up. 

And soon Angus, Barney and the three little perky pigs were heading to the giant marquee.

Angus could barely hear Barney, who was telling story after story, as a terrible din rose from the marquee, which Angus soon realised was a big beer tent.  A huge roar went up; Angus peered inside.

The place was filled with storybook characters brought to life; swigging flagons of ale, Jaegerbombs, and Buckfast.  There were banshees screeching; elves dancing on tables, screaming, laughing and hugging.   Above hung a sign saying ‘Welcome to the Seven Dwarves Incorporated Trades of Storybook Glen Annual beer tent – An Inspired idea’

Dwarves mixed with trolls and witches; in a corner sat Little Jack Horner, eating a Christmas pie.  Angus swore he’d never drink again as he took another swig of the Tactical Nuclear Penguin. 

Beer flowed, shouts were heard, everyone hugged one another.  Barney took Angus by the shoulder and they entered the crowded tent.  A witch at a table stopped them at the entrance.

“Good evening.  Do you have reservations?”

‘Quite a few’ thought Angus.

“No” answered Barney.

“Good – I hate all that red tape.” Answered the witch.

“Are you in a bubble?” she demanded.

“Course Ah am, Ah’m wi’ the Cooncil.”

Barney and the witch both laughed.

“Right then, have a great time, social distance or wear a mask if you feel like it, and hug the nearest strangers if there is a goal scored in the football match on the telly. 

“We canna stop ye daein ‘at can we, ken?” She said, forgetting herself and lapsing into her default Doric.

Passing it off as humour to hide her embarrassment, she continued in her adopted, more ‘professional’ tone:

“We close at the stroke of midnight, except if we don’t.  The big award ceremony celebration starts at 11”

“Come an’ meet some o’ ma fella cooncillors.” Barney said.

“Sit doon an’ A’ll get the drinks in – nah, dinna sit there –“ Barney said, grabbing Angus away from a tall bald man and plonking him in a chair next to a man in a suit. 

Angus was introduced to him as being Wee Willie Wilkie.

Angus took another swig of his Penguin.  And with that Barney started to make his way through the throng to the bar, using his tail to sweep the crowd out of his way.  Angus was left at the table.  ‘I am definitely asking for a pay rise’ he thought, taking another sip of Penguin.

“An then –” cackled the bald man,

“then when Ah wez on me holidays, Ah got them te gissies another suspension!” 

He leaned forward on the table, and the others laughed and nodded approvingly.

“An then…” he continued, hushing the approving chuckles of agreement.

“Then Ah got them te postpone the hearing fre a furtha month. Another month on the payroll!” 

He nodded confidently and the others smiled and cheered.

“What’s all that about?” asked Angus to no one in particular as the bald speaker polished off flagon after flagon of wine.

Wee Willie answered him.

“That’s Donnelly Wonnelly Puddin and Pies. He assaults the unwilling and always denies. 

“He gets away with lots of things – like taking sex offenders fer drinks in shady bars in STorrybook toon, and taking cash fer upgradin passengers tae first class on Thomas the Tank engine trips an keeping their gold. 

“Nothing touches him, he doesn’t even get his wrist slapped, and if he does get into trouble, the judges say ‘it’s just a one off’ or ‘it didn’t seem like an assault to me’, and away he goes on holidays. Unlike poor me.”

Angus felt revolted and was glad Barney stopped him from sitting next to Donnelly.  Donnelly Wonnelly continued:

“Aye man, but get this,” he threw back his head howling with laughter,

“then at the hearing the convener sez the assault wez ‘a one off!!’”

The whole table – except Angus – erupted in laughter and they clinked their glasses and toasted Donnely Wonnelly.

Wiping a tear of laughter from his eye, Donnelly addressed Wee Willie,

“Ahm sorry aald mate, Ah divvent mean te celebrate me victories when Ah knaa yee hev yer problems.  or should Ah syah ‘Wall te Wall’ problems!” 

Everyone at the table laughed again – except Wee Willie and Angus.  Willie shook his head and sighed.

“Well, at least the wall’s paid fre noo . Forst , Humpty Dumpty sat on it an had a fall, then Storm Gertie made it fall in.” Donnelly said.  

At that several eyes silently met each other around the table, almost as if they didn’t believe Gertie was responsible.

“Yes, go on, laugh if you must. But it was not as easy as you might think to remember whether I owned the wall, whether I didn’t own the wall, whether I owned the wall with the wife, whether the city owned the wall, or me or my da or-“  Willie stammered

“Aye,” interrupted Barney, who was back with drinks, plonking a steaming tankard of something or other in front of Angus. 

“Some of’ us drink tae ferget; but Wee Willie, you dinna need ony help at aa, div ye?  How’s the amnesia?  Cleared up noo?” 

A few at the table laughed; Willie blushed.

“Dinna worry yersel aboot it Willie; that’s aa fergotten”. 

“Handy though that ye didnae hae to pay 200,000 pieces o’ gold tae get it fixed.  But this ither business needs tae blaw ower, then ye can come back in aboot the body o’ the kirk.”

“What has to blow over, Barney?” asked Willie,

“You mean when I told the peasants we had to build Marischal Square Castle or that they would have to pay a billion pieces of eight in penalty?”

“Nah, nae thon” said Barney.

Ye mean that I’m in the Labour party but support the Tories?” asked Willie.

“Nah, ‘at’s nithin; hisna stopped the rest o’ us.” 

The table laughed.

“You mean when I didn’t know who owned that wall but I gave verbal permission for the repairs, that I sent and got emails aboot it using my council email and held meetings in my council office aboot it? 

“Maybe you mean when I accidentally leaked some information about yon Marischal Sq? Or-”

“No Willie – Abody likes to mix a wee bit o’ business wi’ council business” said Barney

“Ah mean this fortune cookie Covid-19 racist cairry on.  We hae tae hing fire til ‘at aa blaws ower.  Ahm thinkin we’ll get oor pals at Inspired tae dae some’hin in the Storybook Glen Press. Gie fowk some’hin else tae spik aboot.  Mibbee some good news aboot the ‘Inspired indoor Christmas fayre’. 

“We’ll hae thoosans o’ fowk come in aboot tae shop – and they’ll be gled we stopped them gan intae aa the wee shoppies.  Some’hin’ lik ‘at. But dinna worry Wee Willie; anither wikk or twa, and it’ll be aa business as usual again.”

Everyone at the table chatted to each other, growing increasingly drunk. Angus, who was feeling somewhat left out of the conversation, decided he really wanted to do the rest of his security guard rounds – and to get some fresh air out of the stifling, noisy, crowded tent. 

After he finished whatever was in his tankard that is.  Soon he was ready to go, but feeling somewhat worse for wear.

“Barney, ladies an gents; I really must go do my rounds” Angus said.

“Maybe I’ll be back here though before closing time.”

“Cinderella will arrive around 11pm; myek sure yee are heor fre tha – she’s got summat ta celebrate – we’ve won awards –  and that’s why so many of weh are oot the neet – though Ahm not heor in me official capacity, yee knaa” said Donnelly, and the table laughed.

Angus got up, wove his way out of the crowd, and found himself in the night air once more.  He had another hit of Penguin.  Somewhere an owl hooted.

*                                        *                                         *                                          *

Angus felt dazed; ‘Well, at least things can’t get any stranger’ he prematurely told himself as he wandered down a further path.

He heard a whirring noise, and stumbling towards it, found himself face to face with an imp hard at work on a spinning wheel.  On the creature’s left was a huge pile of sh*te and straw which he placed on the spinning wheel; on the right was a tiny pile of gold, falling from the wheel. There was also a giant pile of books.

“I’ll bet ye canna guess ma name!” The creature said in a smug, satisfied conceited manner.

“Err, yer Damian Bates, disgraced news editor who used his job to further his wife’s business aspirations.”

“”$!”%!!! ye little sh*te” said the outraged creature,

“I’ve rebranded!  I’m Trumplestiltskin!” said the thing angrily, spinning harder than ever.

Angus picked up a book; the cover read ‘Shirk in Scotland:  Thon Real Deal, Ken’; over it was a sticker saying ‘SALE NOW ON: ONLY 1 GROAT OR 2 EGGS’

“Ah’m a Spin Doctor!  If aince on a blue moon Shirk says or daes some’hin’ that could be taen the wrang wye,  it’s ma job tae spin his sh*te intae gold.

“Like, fan Shirk cages immigrant bairns -he micht be cooking them fer aa I ken- I spin for him an’ tell fowk that nasty trolls fae abroad are tryin tae sneak intae Storybook Glen. 

“Hiv ye nae read any o’ the stories I wrote aboot fit a topper o’ a boy Shirk is?  Did ye nae hear aboot thon time he rearranged some o’ his paintins in Turnberry Glen Castle? Amazin!  Fit a guy! 

“Anither time, he tellt me personally – he likes eatin ornery grub like hamberders and cofvefee!  Can ye believe Ah got these amazing insights!  I really ken the loon! He’s  ane o’ wer ain, ken? 

“Ah’m ees best pal!  Lik Brithers! He took me tae farawa lands in a flying machine aince.

“Ah hae a Ferrari.  Ye needin a copy o’ ma book?  It’s chock-a-block wi smashin stories lik thon.  A could gie ye a signed copy fer jist one egg if –“

“Wait a minute” Angus interrupted “Just who is this Shirk guy?”

The imp was astonished and stopped his monologue.  Jaw dropping, he said:

“Well if ye dinna ken, jis follae the path on the richt.  Tak a far richt turn, an’ hud gan as far tae the richt as ye can. Ye’ll find Shirk.  He’s wi ma bonny wife richt noo – She’s ca’d ‘Fee-earner’.  Just tell them Ah sint ye! 

 “Then I ken ye’ll be back ta buy ma book!”

Angus, feeling a desire to be away from the imp, made his excuses and headed away down the right-leading path, taking one further swig of Penguin from the now half-full bottle.

After a time, Angus saw a clearing up ahead on the extreme right.  As he got closer, he heard bellowing- then a golf ball whizzed past his ears.

“ANOTHER HOLE IN ONE FOR ME, FEE-EARNER – I’M MAKING GOLF GREAT AGAIN!”

Angus reached the clearing. 

An enormous ogre stood in a golf swing pose. 

Its skin was bright orange with bright pink lips on a misshapen mouth.

White circles were around its beady black eyes.

It was as wide in the stomach as it was tall. 

Before Angus could recover himself, an ear-splitting shriek went out, and an ogress grabbed Angus by the arm.

“EEEEK!  FA ARE YOU?” the ogress shouted.

“FIT YE DAEIN HERE?  ARE YE FAE THE PAPERS?  THEY’RE AA OOT TAE GET ME AN SHIRK, KEN? AND IT’S NAE FAIR!” 

She had brown hair teased up into a ridiculous do, wore impossibly high heels, which kept sinking into the grass, and from her shoulder hung a banner which read ‘FACE OF THE GLEN – 2010.’

Angus found himself dragged in front of the Ogre, who wore a red baseball hat with the initials MSGGA.

“Look fit ah’ve foon, Shirk” she said to the golfing ogre.

“WHO IS THIS GUY?  WHADDYA WANT? AN AUTOGRAPH?  A MSGGA HAT? GONNA VOTE FOR ME AGAINST THOSE COMMIES?” it bellowed.

“Er, my name is Angus, and some guy named Trumplestiltskin told me I should come and say hello.”

“WHO? OH YOU MEAN FEE-EARNER’S HUSBAND, THAT WRITER GUY -WHAT’S-HIS-NAME.  HE BETTER BE SPINNING ME SOME GOLD.”

“Aye, too richt boss”, crooned the ogress, pointing to her oversized feet spilling out of her high-heels,

“Thon ‘Jimmy Choomaker and the Elves shoes’ dinna come cheap.”

Angus’ curiosity got the better of him, and taking a swig from the bottle in his tightly-clutched paper bag asked:

“Why de they call ye ‘Shirk’?”

“BEATS ME!” Bellowed the ogre, lining up another golfball

“SOME PEOPLE HAVE NO IDEA HOW HARD IT IS TO BE AN OGRE. SOMETIMES THEY EVEN WANT ME TO LISTEN TO SECURITY BRIEFINGS.  DON’T THEY KNOW I’M BUSY?  DID YOU WATCH FOX LAST NIGHT?”  he asked while swinging at the ball, which flew off into the sky,

“ANOTHER GREAT SHOT!  MAKE GOLF GREAT AGAIN!  MAKE STORYBOOK GLEN GREAT AGAIN!  MAKE ME A HAMBERDER FEE-EARNER!”

Angus felt a strong desire to get away, but what to his wondering eyes did appear but Santa Claus, a team of reindeer pulling his flying sled, which landed on the edges of the clearing.

Santa was not what Angus expected:  he was tall and thin, and looked a bit like Sir Ian. Santa approached.

“Shirk, wonderful to see you again, and you too Fee-earner.  I’ve got a few presents for you,” Santa said, pulling some brown envelopes out of his sack. 

“Ah, just look at all these trees, glens and glades.”  Santa smiled, waving his hand towards the trees and a sand bank.

“Isn’t it a pity” said Santa slowly,

“that the Sandman no longer has environmental protection on his sand dunes?  Who could have seen that coming?”

Fee-earner laughed.

“Between that ‘unfortunate’ loss of protection, my connections and your, errr, obvious charisma, this will all be Stewart Milne homes before you can say ‘Jack Swinney be Nimble’.”

“THANKS SANTA! THIS IS MUCH BETTER THAN THAT DIPLOMA THINGY YOU TRIED TO GIVE ME A FEW YEARS AGO.  DID YOU BRING ME ANY KFC?  HUNGRY!”

“Yes, well. I wanted to-” but before Santa could finish his thought, shots rang out from several directions. 

Donner and Blitzen fell over dead in their tracks.  Dasher was wounded.  Angus took a big sip.

“Daddy!  Daddy!  Daddy!” said a little donkey clutching an AK47, “Daddy I killed them!  I’m a hunter daddy, a big scary macho hunter!”

“JUNIOR, THAT’S NICE NOW RUN ALONG AND PLAY, DADDY’S BUSY.” Said Shirk as his son, the ass, who was visibly crestfallen, “NOW THERE’S A GOOD BOY, GO RUN ALONG AND MAYBE FIND SOME SHEEP YOU CAN SHOOT TOO.”

“I got one! Kill! I got one! A Tree for every citizen!  Kill!”  Another hunter emerged from the glen. She was a tiny little witch with a pointed hat.

“Damn those deer!  They eat plants!  Kill!  Kill!”

“JUNIOR, TAKE YOUR FRIEND AILEEN MALICE WITH YOU AND GO KILL STUFF SOMEWHERE ELSE, I’M BUSY”

Shirk dismissed the pair who wandered off together.  Soon other shots rang out as the pair disappeared into the trees.

“Don’t worry about those deer” said Santa coldly,

“No one is irreplaceable.  I’ll just be off now though, plenty of ‘gifts’ to be delivered at the Awards Ceremony, not least to the people behind the Storybook Glen incinerator and the Storybook Glen harbour expansion.  Shouldn’t we all be heading there now?”

And as everyone always obeys Santa, off they headed back to the beer tent.  Angus had some Penguin.

*                                       *                              *                                     *

Shirk, Fee-earner and Santa all headed back down the path towards the beer tent.  Angus followed behind.

“PSST!” Angus heard a voice,

“Come here fer a second”

Angus found himself face to face with three fish.  What three 2-metre-long fish were doing in this place he had no idea.

“Ye must be the new security guard” said the first fish.

“Ok, I’ll bite – who are you?” Angus asked.

“We’re the three fish. Naebody kens ower muckle aboot us, tho there’s mony a tail, maistly codswallop, but on a scale of 1 to 10 we dinna gie a dab” said the first fish, floating above the ground.

“Ye see we’re actually the legendary Black Fish.  Ye ken? – fish that were caught and landit, but nivver declared tae the Storybook Glen tax mannie.  A big ‘net profit’ ye micht surmise. There wis heaps o’ gold in that back in the day.”

“Still is” said the second fish.

“T’wis the Crookit Man fa steert thon up, Ah’m tellin ye.” said the third fish, which inexplicably wore a bowler hat. 

“Them fa land black fish ayewis say it’s by accident – but we ken it’s daen on porpoise.”

Angus, who found himself transported from Universal Credit minimum wage security guard to grown man talking to three giant hat-wearing talking fish who was about to catch up with ogres and Santa, found himself finally lost for words.  He had another swig from his bottle.

“Ye ken the story” said the first fish: “There was a crooked man, and he walked a crooked mile?  That guy.  Affa fishy indeed.”

“Need tae watch thon crooked mannie lik a hake” said the second fish “He’ll come bearing gifts an’ acting like yer best pal.  Ye’ll fa’ for him hook, line an’ sinker if ye dinna look oot.”

“Aye,” said the second fish, “he stitched ma mate up like a kipper.”

“What’s your names?” asked Angus.

“Ah’m Gil” said the first fish.

“And this is Finn, an’ Ray.”

“Well, thanks for the warning and all, but I think I need to go get a drink.”

“Sorry we canna jine ye.”said Finn.

“Gil drinks like a fish, an we’ve aa been barred.  Thinks he’s the life and sole o’ the party.”

“Always legless” said Ray,

“And Ah dinna like pubs; Ah aye feel oot o’ plaice – lik a fish oot o water.”

Angus, who feared he had a haddock coming on, had had enough. 

“Bye then chaps; I’d best get my skates on.  Bigger fish to fry.  Sea you later.”

“Whale meet again!” chimed the three fish.

And off Angus hurried to catch up with Shirk and his party, taking a quick sip from his bottle on the way.

*                                            *                                    *                                       *

The Seven Incorporated Dwarves tent was heaving.  A space had been cleared in the middle of the tent when Angus arrived.  His friend Barney sidled up to him and thrust a further tankard of drink into his hands.

“Been haein a fun wi Shirk an’ Suntie Claas Ah hear” smiled Barney, who was now clutching a brown envelope. 

In fact Santa was working the room, handing out brown envelopes large and small.  Just then, to Angus’ astonishment, Santa pulled off his beard, which had been a disguise, and his Santa hat.  He put on a tall, black hat, which was crooked.

“The crooked man” muttered Angus to himself.

“What wez tha, Angus?” asked Donnelly Wonnelly tucking something into his suit jacket pocket.

“Er nothing.  I-“

But Donnelly wasn’t listening and a sudden blast of trumpets made even the drunken revellers hush.

“Ladies, Gentlemen an’ Cooncillors” Barney addressed the room; he was now in a spotlight talking on a mic. 

“Here she comes noo; the fairest in aa the land:  Give it up fer SNOOOOW WHITE!”

A hush fell over the room as Snow White glided to the centre of the room.

‘She looks just like Melania Trump’ Angus thought, although he didn’t recognise her at first with so much clothes on.

“Ladeees and Gentlemen.  I am Snow White.  Whiter than White.  White Power.  Obama he had never been born – no birth certificate.  My husband Shirk is going to make Storybook Glen Great again!  Be best!”

Huge cheers rang out in the tent.  She continued, but it was clear she was a bit tipsy.  Suddenly as Shirk tried to take her hand, her mood changed abruptly.

“I really don’t care do you?  F Christmas!  Who gives a F about Christmas! I-“ Snow White growled, as she was suddenly being dragged away by footmen. 

“I have more to say!  I am brilliant like Shirk!  I have Epstein Visa!” she bellowed as they took her away.

Barney swiftly recovered the event. 

“OK, Movin richt along noo, here she is:  oor ain Cinderella, an’ AWARD-WINNING COUNCILLOR OF THE YEAR!  Welcome Jeanny Ling!”

The crowd shouted wildly and applauded as a pumpkin coach drawn by six hydrogen-powered cars pulled up next to Barney, who helped the beautiful award-winning Cinderella out.

“Well, this is the best thing that has ever, ever happened!” 

“I WON!  I won an award as best councillor!”

The crowds chanted ‘Jea-nny!  Jea-nny! Jea-nny!’ as she held the shining golden trophy aloft.

“Ah micht nae be Labour richt noo, but Ah’m an AWARD WINNER!” Jeanny told her admirers,

“Aye, thon prestigious, fee-charging, private thinktank, the LGIU decidit to mak me – ME! The top cooncillor!”

Barney handed her a bouquet of flowers; Angus thought he saw a bulging brown envelope inside of it.

“Tae show oor gratitude, Ahm hopin ma fella Storybook Glen cooncillors will be a-signing up fer some o’ the LGIU’s braw workshops – there’s a bargain course ‘how to deal with difficult people’  for jist 540 pieces o’ eight.  Some o’ ye micht need ‘at if yev hid ony doins wi Donnelly Wonnelly or Wee Willie!”

The crowd guffawed except Wee Willie, who was busy live-tweeting the event, pretending not to notice the slight.

Angus started to have his doubts about the integrity of his new-found pals.

Jeanny continued: 

“Ah hope ye’ve aa got yer memberships; maybe cometime ye’ll win an AWARD as weel – jis think foo happy the peasants will feel aboot ‘at  – or think they feel, Ah should say.  Costs Storybook Toon Cooncil next tae ni’hin for the annual membership fees – but we canna tell ye foo muckle.”

“And this prestigious LGIU award is sponsored by CCLA.  And fit’s the CCLA?” Jeanny trilled,

“A charitable investment fund!   AND..” she waited for cheers to die down.

“Last year CCLA had a turnower o’ 33 million gold coins!”

The applause was thunderous; streamers and balloons fell from the sky.   Brown envelopes were flying like confetti.  The Crooked Man had left the Santa suit he’d been wearing across a table; he was now talking to a few men in suits.

Angus felt a touch on his arm.  It was the witch from the table at the doorway.

“Here dearie,” she crooned,

“Ye look a wee bit peaky.  I’ve something tae mak ye feel better.”

“Is it a magic potion?” Angus asked.

“Well, dearie in a wye it is” and she pressed a small but thick brown envelope into his hand. 

“Time ye wis back doon tae yer guardhoose.”

She snapped her fingers.

*                                      *                          *                                          *

“Huzzaat?”

With a jolt Angus was awake.  The sun was coming up.

Next to him on the desk was the now-empty dish of home-made mushroom pate and the empty wine bottle. There was still a slug of Penguin left.

“You wakkint?”

The old man who’d helped him last night was knocking on the window of the guard hut; his face was beaming. 

“Ony bother last nicht?”

Angus took a few moments to recover his senses. 

“Err, all fine last night, nothing to report.”

“Smashin,” said the man with a twinkle in his eye.

“Morn’s nicht again then, Aye?”

“Err.. sure” said Angus, gathering his things. 

“Mind if I take the rest of this Penguin with me?  I’ll bring you some ‘Sink the Bismarck’ tomorrow.”

“Ach, ‘at would be affa good o’ ye”. said the man patting Angus on the shoulder.

“Ah think me an’ you’s gan tae get on jist rare.”  

Angus turned to leave and was walking away when the old man caught his arm. 

“Ye fergot this, pal.” said the old man, and he thrust a brown envelope at Angus, who swiftly put it in his inside pocket.

Angus took a further swig from the bottle, patted the envelope through his jacket and headed to find the bus back home.  Somewhere a sleepy owl hooted.

*                                      *                          *                                          *

From Aberdeen Voice, Old Susannah, and the fictitious, unrelated to any plaice, place, person or persons, Storybook Glen and its fake inhabitants – MERRY CHRISTMAS, HAPPY 2021, and Good Health!  Wear a mask.

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Nov 302020
 

When a stone wall in Wellington Brae started to crumble, Aberdeen City Council decided to arrange the repair work.

Rather than identifying the property owner and troubling them with a repairs notice, the cash-strapped city mysteriously decided to look to its own maintenance budget, and decided somehow that there were no funds.

Did those involved approach anyone connected with Finance to ask for emergency funding? Apparently not. Did they decide to determine who owned the land at that point and issue a repairs notice? Suzanne Kelly presents part one of a two part investigation.

As many Aberdeen homeowners can attest (including the writer), even a few slates falling off a roof or a damaged front garden wall can result in a warning letter from the city that repairs must be done.

The wall in question sat on privately-owned land and the stone wall collapse spilled over onto Wellington Brae cycle path: all the more reason why, some might think, a repairs notice should have been swiftly sent to the owners, who should have been identifiable from the Land Registry records.

This is the origin of ‘Wallgate’, a tale of council procedures being ignored, a simple matter of land ownership being hopelessly (unnecessarily) confused, leaked emails and more.

ACC officers first tried to identify and contact the property owners AFTER the money was sought from SUSTRANS the cycling/walking charity, on 3 February 2016.

Why didn’t ACC do what they have often done – identify the owners and hit them with a repairs notice?

The email author asserted that the cause of the wall crumbling was Storm Gertrude; others claim that the wall was in bad repair before then (Aberdeen Voice will try to find out whether any repair notices were served on the property, or whether any complaints had been made prior to the storm).

The city’s version of events can be found in this FOI (heavily redacted) and with comments in the Appendix to this two-part article.

As it transpired, then Finance Chief Councillor William Young apparently owned the wall – or maybe his dad – or maybe his wife – or maybe someone else.

For reasons hard to fathom, ‘Wall I Am’ was uncertain who owned the wall despite telling the press on 3 May 2017 he had sold property at Wellington Brae to his father in 1992, and despite apparently giving verbal permission for the repairs.

All will become clear – or not – shortly.

Whose Wall is It Anyway? – A time line.

Mr Young is adamant that he acted properly throughout. Would a lawyer and Councillor acting as Finance Chief/convener be expected to know whether or not he owns a property – or to act swiftly to find out whether he did if asked for permission to do with it?

If you sold your father land, would it slip your mind?

Here is a partial timeline showing dates of statements, sources, and who is apparently being treated as the landowner.

Much of this information has been published before, such as the leaked emails, but assembling this timeline illustrates how problematic all the conflicting ownership claims are, and the issues arising.

DateQuoteWho is said
to be the landowner?
IssuesSource
03/02/2016









‘WE have a problem’








EMAIL WORDED AS IF ABERDEEN CITY COUNCIL WERE RESPONSIBLE




Someone at ACC writes to SUSTRANS to ask for £250,000, wording the email as if the responsibility for repair had already been determined to be Aberdeen’s. The city’s later report does not appear to address this misrepresentation – a serious failing one might think. FOI-released email from ACC to SUSTRANS.






28/10/2016










“Following your conversation with our XX yesterday (27th October) re your verbal instruction to proceed with the works at Wellington Brae.”
WILLIAM YOUNG









Why did Willie give verbal instructions to proceed if he was as he said in 2017 unsure who owned it? Would a lawyer remotely risk acting like this? If he knew he was the landowner and was free to give these instructions, then he ‘misspoke’ in 2017 when he said officers ‘mistakenly believed’ he was the landowner.28/10/2016 Leaked Email 1.








00/00/00






















“A couple of months ago XX and myself [came] to see you about Wellington Brae. Please find attached. These show the extent of the works to be undertaken. My understanding from our meeting was that you would forward the plans to your solicitor to confirm whether you owned the area?”UNSURE






















Willie was to have checked with his solicitor and knew about the scheme ‘months ago’. If he acted promptly – and who wouldn’t to find out if they owned land or not? – then why is there still uncertainty to ownership implied in this email?














Leaked Email 2.





















00/00/00









“…we are looking for written confirmation that the works can proceed – can you reply with this confirmation?

WILLIAM YOUNG








How is the public supposed to know for certain which hat Young is wearing here, not least as he is taking meetings about privately-held land in his office by now according to the ACC report – land he is at points denying ownership of or expressing uncertainty whether he owns it?Leaked email 3. (To Cllr Young)







00/00/00









“… you would continue to be the legal landowner…”






WILLIAM YOUNG








AV has to ask why aren’t all the involved parties asking for complete cessation of negotiations until the question of ownership is 100% settled? If Mrs Young is also an owner as was claimed in the press subsequently, there is scarce evidence to show her approval was ever sought.Leaked email 3. (to Cllr Young)







26/04/2017














“The Land Register for Scotland lists William Young and his wife as landowners of the site.
Cllr Young said he was unsure who owned the land despite council officers telling him he was the land owner.
MR & MRS W YOUNG













Willie says he’s not sure who is the landowner; Land Register apparently says he and his wife are. Was Land Registry advised of the sale Willie made to his dad in 1992? What was the sale price? Were there any tax/stamp duty implications from the sale? Why was the Council not able to get this information?




Probe into £200,000 of public cash used ‘to fix Willie Young’s boundary wall’ – Evening Express






03/05/2017





















“The land in question does not belong to me. I sold land at Wellington Brae to my father, David Young, in 1992, and land in this area remains in his ownership.
“Late last year, I was approached by officers of the council, who mistakenly believed that land at Wellington Brae belonged to me.”
DAVID YOUNG





















This sale does not appear to be reflected in Land Registry records. We are meant to believe a man with a law degree did not know he owned the land and/or somehow the title transfer was not made.
Why would council officers have approached Young – through his councillor email/office – as being the owner?
Why didn’t Young immediately tell the officers he either wasn’t the owner or was unsure who was?






Willie Young confirms land at centre of row belongs to his dad
– Press and Journal
















03/05/2017



























“I told them I would ask my solicitor to check the title… and I have since confirmed that none of this land belongs either to Deeview Homes or to me personally.
“All I actually did was to respond to council officers who mistakenly believed I owned land there, to say that I was not sure of the position, and that I would ask my solicitor’s advice on the matter.
UNSURE



























While stating he sold land at Wellington Brae to his father in 1992, Young is simultaneously unsure about the title. ‘All he actually did’ also includes (according to ACC emails) giving verbal permission for work.




















Willie Young confirms land at centre of row belongs to his dad
– Press and Journal






















24/05/2017




















“The Council is in the process
of contacting the landowner to discuss the necessary agreements to access
and facilitate the works.”











UNSPECIFIED




















Eric Owens, Fraser Bell and Stephen Whyte reported to councillors requesting scheme approval. Councillors were presented with their report – without the ownership issue or Cllr Young’s potential ownership getting a mention. In private institutions this omission might be taken extremely seriously. As an aside, it is likely now a new fiscal year for ACC: would Maintenance still have had no budget? Why didn’t the report authors suggest getting the landowner to pay as an option? Councillors are often slated by the public, but they are only allowed to vote on what officers put before them.Wellington Brae – report to Communities, Housing & Infrastructure.















26/09/2017



















“Councillor Young did not require to declare a conflict of interest because he had not been asked to make a decision as a Councillor on the works or the grant, but rather to provide his consent as a landowner”



WILLIAM YOUNG
Willie Young referred to as landowner in this Audit Risk & Scrutiny report












Back to Square One: NB Willie had told the P&J on 3 May “Late last year, I was approached by officers of the council, who mistakenly believed that land at Wellington Brae belonged to me.”
Some would say the conflict arises precisely because Young is both a councillor and a private landowner, benefitting from council help with the estimate and securing finance as meetings were held in his council office and correspondence conducted through his council email. His title of Finance Convener, his position as a councillor all carried weight.
Aberdeen City Council ARS report

















14/10/2020



































“You ask when I disclosed to SUSTRANS that my family owned the wall, the answer to that is I never disclosed that my family owned the wall to SUSTRANS indeed this was not a matter for a Councillor it is a matter for the Council Officer. As the FOI shows the officer moved forward with discussions with SUSTRANS without involving Councillors.”










UNSURE



































If we accept the ARS finding that Willie was being contacted via his council email as the private landowner, it is unnecessary to talk about what his role was as a councillor. As a private landowner whose permission was required for the scheme (perfect word for it) went ahead, at some point SUSTRANS must have been made aware whose land it was they were putting c£250k of their money to work on and whether via intermediaries or not, Young must have been in the loop. Willie is right – councillors were not involved – but the landowner was – whoever that actually was. The landowner is mentioned in the 26 September email as having given verbal consent. The leaked emails show that Young was in the loop; the ARS report says he was giving his consent as landowner. If he never disclosed that ‘my family owned the wall to SUSTRANS’ it was nevertheless disclosed to the staff within ACC that ‘his family’ owned the land or they would not have sought his permission – permission which perhaps should have come from his father.Email to Suzanne Kelly from Willie Young 14 October 2020 (re-sent Nov 2020)





























Mr Young told AV:

“As the FOI (the most recent answered by ACC) shows the officer moved forward with discussions with SUSTRANS without involving Councillors.”

AV accepts this: what we have been questioning is who owned the land, why ACC was not pursuing the land owner to pay for the repairs, why Young was uncertain whether or not he owned land, and why he was being contacted as a private landowner (mistakenly or not) via his official ACC councillor email rather than a private one.

Aberdeen Voice continues this story in Part II – examining recently-released emails and leaked emails in further detail.

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Nov 132020
 

What are friends for? Aberdeen City Council gives Aberdeen Journals Ltd three years rent free at Marischal Square. Suzanne Kelly reports.

A Freedom of Information request by Aberdeen Voice has revealed that Aberdeen City Council gave Aberdeen Journals Ltd the equivalent of three years free rent for Marischal Square.

The Information Commissioner’s office is investigating the city’s refusal to provide details, and in October it was revealed that the brand-new, taxpayer-supported project gifted AJL space for c 200 staff (with 19 free parking spaces) at virtually no cost whatsoever for the first three years.

The document reads in part:

“The tenant will benefit from an incentive package as follows: Equivalent to a rent free period 36 months.”

Aberdeen Journals Ltd is allowed to choose how it will use this benefit:

“… taken as rent free, surrender payment for the lease at Land [sic] Stracht or a capital payment or a combination of all three.”

The 19,000 square feet are charged (if AJL were paying that is) at £30 per annum or £570,210 per year. Over three years this comes to £1,710,630.

Other details to emerge from recent FOI requests by Aberdeen Voice include:

* ACC said:

“Marischal Square is managed by CBRE on behalf of ACC. This means that all invoices for rent are raised by CBRE and are payable to CBRE who then pay over rental income to ACC as it is received. We are therefore unable to provide any information on amounts billed and whether or not these have been paid in full.”

*  The total rental income received via CBRE for Marischal Square to 30 September 2019 is £849,936.61.

* The Headline rent for Marischal Square is £30 per square foot.

*  The city claimed at one point it had no idea about details of which entity paid how much rent.  The City said:

“We are unable to provide you with information on rent ACC has collected from occupants, renters of Marischal Square including amount billed to occupants/ renters, and whether or not the sum invoiced for has been paid in full as it is not held by ACC. 

“In order to comply with our obligations under the terms of Section 17 of the FOISA, we hereby gives notice that this information is not held by us.”

When the Information Commissioner concludes its report, Aberdeen Voice will update this story.

Oct 252020
 

By Suzanne Kelly.

If you managed to keep up with shifting Covid-19 government advice, changing statistics and the evolving list of related health complications, congratulations.

If you have mastered the Rule of Six, know when you are or aren’t in a relationship, have figured out when you’re free to break the rules ‘in a specific and limited way’, and when it is or is not acceptable to drive to Barnard Castle, perhaps you can explain to the rest of us why pubs and restaurants are risky, but schools are safe.

Advice on children and Covid-19 is as changeable as everything else to do with this disease, and yet teachers, staff, parents and students are being reassured by some school heads that ‘school is perfectly safe’.

How safe is ‘perfectly safe’?

A teacher’s perspective: An arse covering exercise.

“Risk assessments have been talked about more than anything else in every school, folk that are employed to do them have seen their workload go through the roof recently because they’re needed as an arse-covering exercise.

Teachers will get Covid and die; their family members will too, children will spread it to vulnerable people they’ll die too.

“The risk assessment will be used to justify that ‘we all knew what we were signing up to’ and that’s true to a point. It’s all about getting people back to work and getting taxes and money coming back into the system. Safety is secondary to that.”

The Safety Expert: Not enough detail.

We invited an expert to look for risk assessments, and we sent a representative sampling from the short (1 to 3 page) document to the massive document (over 30 pages). We looked at scores of risk assessments – some schools happily publish them; others feel they should not be shared – which rather defeats their purpose.

Our expert wrote:

“ In preparing risk assessments not enough detail is put into them and people tend to just put in an overview and think it’s sufficient when dealing with a highly contagious virus. 

“What needs to happen is every small detail needs to be looked at, the slight act like passing a pen to each other can prove fatal down the line, therefore this highlights the actual need to be doubly vigilant in the preparation of a risk assessment” 

Risk assessment should identify every task involved in an enterprise (such as a school day) from students lending each other pens to touching surfaces to grouping together. 

A valid risk assessment identifies every activity’s possible risk and then determines how likely or unlikely the risks can be (from catching or transmitting Covid-19, being mildly ill with it – or worse). 

A robust risk assessment then determines how likely or unlikely the risks are before corrective measures are made, so it can prescribe the corrective measures to lower the risk. 

Aberdeen’s Oldmachar Academy has a 31-page risk assessment document based on government templates seen elsewhere; it mingles Covid-19 and non-Covid issues (lift maintenance for instance).

Staff are mentioned 137 times; the word pupil appears 47 times. It is cumbersome, and the actual risk matrix says nothing concrete about the risks of Covid-19 – illness, death, transmission, long Covid etc.

Three Aberdeen City schools have had Covid-19 cases.

It is not easy to use and is not geared for all the people who are meant to be covered by it. As adults we find it cumbersome; if we were pupils, we’d find it less than user friendly.

It scores diseases as medium risk; though permanent health problems and death are present when Covid-19 is present.

Despite the time-sensitive, urgent nature of our request for risk assessments, Aberdeen City Council suggested we do a Freedom of Information request rather than have its media department send all or at least some of it for us to review.

The city should have had all the assessments in and professionally reviewed before schools opened. As it happened, the city’s risk assessments were still not finalised in the last few days before its schools opened.

Three Aberdeen City schools have had Covid-19 cases.

How it handles these in the media follows a pattern seen elsewhere: dissuade the public from thinking there could have been school transmission; claim their risk assessment is robust; patronise parents by saying ‘we understand your fears’.

Here is what Bridge of Don Academy told the press:

“Mrs McWilliam said: “I would want to reassure parents and carers that there is no evidence of transmission of Covid-19 at Bridge of Don Academy and that the school has very good control measures in place.

“The strength of the control measures has enabled Public Health to advise that the school remain open to the vast majority of young people.

“I realise that this is unsettling news and want to reassure you that decisions have been made following a robust risk assessment process with public health.””

We have requested this ‘robust risk assessment’ but do not have it yet. How is it determined ‘there is no evidence of transmission?’

Teachers are not all keen on going to school; as we saw, our teacher states they believe teachers will die.

Covid-19 facts that dropped out of the curriculum.

Few if any risk assessments we saw which were prepared prior to school openings acknowledged the existence of long Covid (the lingering fatigue and other symptoms that can last weeks or months). Perhaps this is a very rare occurrence; some say it is.

Is it worth taking the risk though, or risking long-term or permanent heart, lung nervous system damage, and inflammatory syndromes striking young Covid-19 victims such as Kawasaki disease.

Some head teachers still seem happy to insist their schools are safe, to insist it is fine for children to mingle unmasked in groups which can range from a dozen to one hundred pupils, and that ‘safety is our main concern’.

Talking to parents, it is this insistence that all is well and there is no risk that causes their worry: how can a school be a sanctuary from a disease that is spreading elsewhere in a community?

In order to get children through the doors, parents are being threatened with fines, threatened with social worker visits, threatened with police visits, ridiculed (‘you are the only parent who has any worries’), threatened they are harming their child (children must socialise and must learn at the government prescribed rate). But possibly worst of all, they are being greatly misled.

Failing marks for factual information.

One sentence found in a few school bulletins up and down the country concerns symptoms; here is one variant (from South Grove Primary School):

“This means that if your child has a cold, they should still come to school just like they would have last year. If your child has symptoms that point to a cold, they can still come to school. These could be a blocked or runny nose, sneezing and/or itchy eyes.”

The problem is experts, including the CDC, advise the following concerning flu and Covid-19 symptoms:

“Both COVID-19 and flu can have varying degrees of signs and symptoms, ranging from no symptoms (asymptomatic) to severe symptoms. Common symptoms that COVID-19 and flu share include:
“Fever or feeling feverish/chills
“Cough
“Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
“Fatigue (tiredness)
“Sore throat
“Runny or stuffy nose
“Muscle pain or body aches
“Headache
“Some people may have vomiting and diarrhoea, though this is more common in children than adults” 
– https://www.cdc.gov/flu/symptoms/flu-vs-covid19.htm

If the schools are handing out advice contrary to world experts, it hardly inspires confidence.

Unsurprisingly, some teachers and parents fear retaliation if they talk to reporters on the subject. Many tell us they ‘are not allowed’ to tell others if their school has had a positive Covid-19 case. This stifling of expression would have been contrary to European Human Rights law – but that seems like something we don’t need to worry about any longer.

One school wrote to parents, advising their child might have been exposed to an infected peer to self-isolate for 14 days:

“We must prioritise the health and safety of our students first and foremost.”

It begs the question: if they were prioritising health and safety, wouldn’t they allow students to study at home and take lessons remotely?

The government maintains its recalcitrant stance against this sane, risk-mitigating measure.

With a vaccine in the pipeline with several pharmaceutical companies, would it be that bad to save lives and educate at home for a number of months?

Yes, children need to play, socialise, learn and be around others: but if junior falls behind a few months but is free of long-term health issues, surely that is worth it.

BRTUS

Parents’ advocates Boycott a Return to Unsafe Schools (BRTUS) keeps a map of school Covid-19 occurrences, and its Facebook page is filled with discussion.

A BRTUS spokesperson said:

“Boycott Return To Unsafe Schools is campaigning for a Sensible, Safe and Sustainable return to schools, which should take consideration of local infection rates and include properly resourced blended or distance learning where appropriate.

“BRTUS understands the pressures teachers are under, and BRTUS is concerned for the welfare of all who are in the school environment – students, teachers and staff.

“Our map of Covid-19 cases within schools demonstrates that a return to full classes in the most densely populated classrooms in Europe is unsustainable and threatens the safety of society as a whole.

“In addition to sending newspaper reports to add to our map, parents have forwarded us communications they have received from their school, confirming cases which have not always reached the media. Some parents state they have been pressured not to discuss the case outside of their school community, and express concern that we will ensure anonymity. “

This is just one example of unacceptable treatment being endured by parents; the blanket policy of compulsory attendance fines – irrespective of local infection rate or the health risk factors of family members – is entirely inappropriate in the context of a pandemic.

“This policy has a detrimental impact on the mental health of family members including children, and alongside lack of funding prevents schools from providing appropriate support for home learning in order to protect children’s academic progress.

“With cases rising once again the Government must now formulate a properly funded plan for education which will minimize the opportunity for schools to be vectors of transmission, protect children’s educational outcomes and ensure the safety of families who are at increased risk from Covid-19.”

Parents said:

Parent A:

“The headteacher hates any disruption to their usual [routine] and any complaints tend to be quashed pretty quickly.  Their risk assessment was poor to say the least, as most points there were useless or still to be done.

“Even though the school is in the area with most cases in our town, they supposedly remain Covid free. It just simply doesn’t make sense. Rumours started amongst students that a teacher got it and when enquiring about that, I was told that the school doesn’t comment on rumours.

“Regardless of the fact that my own child had direct contact with this teacher, they refused to confirm if he is waiting for results or already has a positive result. 

“Our local newspaper has published that the council confirmed that “a number of schools have had positive tests”, yet only one school has been named. I do believe my children’s school has been affected by now.”

Parent B:

“If my child gets sick who is to blame? Me? The school or the government?”

Parent C:

“We’ve even been threatened with police!”

Parent D:

“We don’t want to deregister but we’ve been told we’ll be fined.”

Parent E:

“My head teacher says I am the only parent who has worries”

Parent F:

“The school says it will send social workers because I don’t want my child in school.”

Other parents talk about an absence of social distancing and masks at drop off and pick up times; parents with conditions such as asthma do not feel they are being taken into account, some find out their head teacher have called their child’s physician to discuss the parent’s reticence to send their child to school.

One thing bothering teachers, staff and parents is how widely varying policy and procedures vary from one school to the next. Some schools are having giant bubbles of the entire year; some have small bubbles of different classes within a year.

Some have taken the concept of ventilation to extremes insisting windows must be left open all the time (one parent told of a puddle forming in the back of a classroom when it rains) but will not let children wear coats to keep warm (cue potential respiratory illnesses) – and a school in Aberdeenshire has classrooms where windows cannot be opened.

Children in one school will eat at their desks; others will eat outside in all weather – standing up.

There is nothing logical, scientific or even consistent going on in the country’s schools when it comes to the pandemic. Maybe students will not die – but we believe the risk to teachers, staff and parents has not been addressed sufficiently.

If you think we are being overly dramatic or fearmongering by bringing up the risk of death, don’t blame us, here’s a quote from Matt Hancock:

“Don’t kill your gran.”

Hancock was referring to young people not keeping social distance: what exactly does he think happens in a school setting?

Image by Steve Riot from Pixabay

Sep 032020
 

By Suzanne Kelly.

Multi-million pound charity Sustrans has halted controversial plans to spend £100k on artwork as part of its ‘Spaces for People‘ project in Aberdeen.
Aberdeen Voice has seen correspondence which reads:

“[Sustrans Scotland] … confirmed that Aberdeen City Council has decided not to proceed with this commission, especially in light of the recent increase in confirmed cases in the city, to enable it to prioritise the protection of public health.”

The city and Sustrans have £1.76 million to spend under the scheme, which is meant to aid social distancing and slow the spread of Covid-19.

The controversial plans include building 136 ‘parklets‘ (wooden benches with decking) on the city’s closed streets.

A group of over 30 people have formally complained to Sustrans, ACC and central government about how the £1.76 million is being deployed.

The complaint covers the road closures (done with no prior consultation), permission granted for tents and marquees (formerly banned – but fast-tracked for some, despite social distancing problems) and the parklets (at least one was dangerously vandalised, and which will see tonnes of wood wasted when these are removed – and they create new spaces which can harbour Covid-19 for hours or possibly days).

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Aug 202020
 

By Suzanne Kelly.

Sustrans, a pro walking and cycling charity with a multi-million pound budget might not seem an obvious choice for doling out millions in funds “to improve social distancing and slow the spread of Covid-19”, but here we are: Aberdeen will get benches and artwork, delivered in partnership with Sustrans, for £1.76 million of taxpayer money.

Sustrans’ website claims:

“The work we’re doing is creating healthier places and happier people.”

Not so much in Aberdeen where a second lockdown took place while Sustrans and the city were spending money.

Aberdonians familiar with the ‘Wallgate’ scandal may recall Sustrans’ involvement.

Former city councillor Willie Young’s father owned a stone wall that collapsed; through some maneuvering the city got Sustrans to spend a quarter of a million pounds to fix it. Neither Sustrans nor the city seem to have done any due diligence to find out the public did not own the wall; questions remain over the massive expenditure and where all the money went.

As an aside there was a vote to claw back this money from the Young family. It failed by one vote, with disgraced sex-offender Alan Donnelly voting in favour of letting Young off.

But that is a tale best told on Facebook by the Stop the Desecration of Marischal College page.

Many are still scratching their heads at the central government decision to give SUSTRANS the cash and remit to deal with social distancing in city centres. It exists to get us out of cars and buses and onto bikes or to walk instead – is this really the moment for doing so?

The city has just informed Aberdeen Voice where some of the money is going, and that all these wooden structures are temporary: All that wood will eventually be removed, possibly scrapped.

Parklets life:

These are not just any wooden benches with planters and decking; these are ‘parklets’. To date (21/7/20) ACC spent approximately:

“…£105,000 on the completed parklets, which has been carried out by in-house operational teams, with Hall & Tawse Ltd providing specialist joinery workshop fabrication and delivery to site… we were only able to locate one supplier that could meet the demand.

“The installer has a link to ACC by having an existing contract to manufacture and supply doors and fire doors from their workshop.”

Sustrans says Aberdonians will get 136 parklets. A Sustrans spokesperson said:

“It is hoped the parklets will be an attractive addition to the city centre and provide an alternative to the use of plastic bollards”

How it was determined that plastic bollards were essential in fighting Covid-19 is unclear.

Sustrans’ and Aberdeen City’s parklets jut into Union Street and other areas; many businesses are irked that they had not been consulted on road closures. Sustrans distanced itself from any road closure issues, but did not explain how it could be working with the city to build the parklets without being involved in putting them on city streets.

Businesses have been hurt by one-way traffic systems and road closures, with several small businesses closing.

The Covid-19 virus can live for quite some time on wood, but fear not. Sustrans said:

“…like all public infrastructure, it would be up to the user to assess the risk of catching the virus, before touching a surface.”

In other words, rather than spending funds on awareness posters, stickers on the pavement telling people to social distance, stickers showing any one-way pedestrian areas, added hand sanitizer stations, partnerships with retailers and hospitality businesses to ensure better social distancing, you will get 136 temporary benches, providing 136 brand new surfaces where the virus can exist, creating a risk (even if small) where none previously existed.

Two weeks ago a photo was posted to social media showing a vandalized parklet, where wooden strip had been dangerously bent to a vertical position.

Aberdeen Voice asked the city whether it had done any cost projection for the cost of maintaining, cleaning, restoring the decking. We were told no cost projection has been undertaken yet.

The city’s FOI response also said:

“To date the decking materials expenditure is £31,167.45 total (to 21/7/20) for decking, anti slip inserts, bolts, nuts, shims, adhesive, sealant, non-slip tape.

“The suppliers used to date are Keith Builders Merchants, Jewson, MGM Timber, Premier, John Smith Ltd, Cordiners Timber, General & Technical Flooring, Hall & Tawse. Quotation enquiries have been sent to suppliers by email and telephone, in line with the ACC procurement regulations.

The process is still ongoing as the units are still being manufactured, and there is limited stock due to factory and cargo shutdowns… all suppliers except for Keith Builders had existing links as suppliers with ACC, and had supplied ACC in the past.”

Simultaneously, there are insufficient resources to facilitate blended and/or on line learning and children are returning to schools – many of which do not have their risk assessments finished.

These will not be published in any event, despite UK government recommendations to do so, and other unions and schools happily publishing their assessments.

While acknowledging that not a single other Scottish city which got some of the £38 million-pound Spaces for People pot opted for decking, we are assured that:

“The decking is grooved and is sold in Scotland commercially as decking. The trip and slip potential for footwear has been considered and non-slip strips have been provided on the decking.”

Convinced that no one will slip and fall / cut themselves on the edges of these parklets, the city confirmed:

“We are not considering procuring specific insurance for the decking. The Council has public liability insurance for all its activities should a claim be received from a member of the public.”

Whether that insurance has been updated to include 136 parklets is unknown, but seems unlikely in light of the city’s comment. By the way, the decking is not fireproof – because it doesn’t have to be.

Precisely how wooden decking, notorious for slippery nature and for its uneven surface hostile to those in heels or with mobility issues, artwork and security guards from Leicester will make Aberdonians happier and safer remains to be seen.

Icing on the cake:

In order to ‘make people feel confident’, the Sustrans money for Covid-19 distancing will see £100k spent on three artworks. Sustrans demanded the right to help approve how this is allocated, according to local press ‘to help Aberdeen stay within the rules’.

The same newspaper article quotes someone on the project saying:

“This will make people feel confident.”

Complaint:

Nearly 30 people sent a formal complaint about the Sustrans/Aberdeen City plans, asking for a review involving central government of just how these projects meet the initial remit, noting there has been a new spike – possibly because people were feeing a little too confident and not sufficiently cautious.

Moves like allowing marquees and crowded pavements may well have contributed to the transmission of new cases. Anyone wishing to add their name to the complaint can email sgvk27@aol.com.

Sustrans is very keen to distance itself from any responsibility for overcrowding that took place at a nightclub, saying it had no remit to deal with private businesses.

It was reminded that the crowd was on the public pavement and road.

More people are welcome to add their name to the complaint; it was felt best to get it out as soon as was possible due to the urgency of the situation. It replied to Aberdeen Voice quoting a portion of its remit; we replied quoting their website:

“The Spaces for People programme is funded by the Scottish Government and managed by Sustrans Scotland.

“It aims to enable statutory bodies to implement measures focused on protecting public health, supporting physical distancing and preventing a second wave of the outbreak.”

With £1.76 million going on benches, artwork and goodness knows whatever else, public health protection was a fail, physical distancing was a fail, and a second wave of the outbreak hit Aberdeen. That artwork had better be spectacular.

With millions flowing through Sustrans staff according to last year’s Companies House documents, the pro-walking/cycling quango will be just fine. As yet only a small portion of the £1.76 million has been spent or committed as yet: Aberdeen Voice will watch where the rest of the money goes.

Aberdeen Voice is happy to hear in strictest confidence from anyone with information on the spread of Covid-19 and/or related issues. Please contact Suzanne Kelly via sgvk27@aol.com

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Aug 122020
 

By David Forbes.

Covid-19 has had a damaging affect on the whole of society, however it’s not all doom and gloom.

Two local teenagers, who are life long friends, have stepped forward to help support their local community, particularly those that are physically disabled.

Ryan Bannerman (14) from Northfield, currently doing his Saltire Awards volunteers his time for local voluntary led charity Future Choices, a charity which provides social inclusion and recreational activities, however due to the current pandemic, the charities activities are currently suspended.

Ryan commented:

“Helping the most vulnerable is a really good feeling.”

Also currently doing his Saltire Awards and a Future Choices volunteer, is Ryan’s friend Lucas Mackenzie (13) from Tillydrone,

Lucas added:

“I’m so excited to help the most in need during these tough times.”

For both teenagers, the challenges of going back to a new school routine and academic year is a hurdle in itself so trying to help the community via an online fundraiser is very commendable. 

Both Ryan and Lucas have learnt a great deal by doing their Saltire Awards and take pride in the community work they both do. They hope that their appeal will raise much needed funds and inspire other young people to volunteer.

The funds they raise will help to provide vital support to help those most vulnerable adults post covid-19, and to help engage them in social inclusion by breaking down the social isolation barriers they have had to endure since March.

You can check out their special film and view their Crowdfunding page at:

Aug 082020
 

By Suzanne Kelly.

Aberdeen City Council yesterday admitted that it has not finalised revising risk assessments for next week’s school openings and have refused to release the assessments to Aberdeen Voice.
Students are due to return to school despite a new lockdown in Aberdeen City Centre in response to the recent Covid-19 outbreak.

The City told Aberdeen Voice the school risk assessments were being revised.

With days to go before schools open, Aberdeen Voice asked for sight of the assessments; a city council spokesperson said:

“These are internal documents which we would not routinely share with the media. You can of course submit an FOI request.”

Aberdeen Voice replied it had never received a freedom of information request response from the city in less than 25 days – clearly too late for concerned parents

The City pointed Aberdeen Voice to its website when we first asked about safety for students, teachers and everyone connected to schools. The website lacks any specific provision details – but does say that distance learning has virtually been ruled out:  and parents must send children to school.

Additionally, on the Aberdeen City Council website, it says that risk assessments have been done. 

However earlier today ACC told Aberdeen Voice: 

“These will be discussed and agreed with all staff at the beginning of next week and before children return.  This is in keeping with the best practice advised in the national guidance. The risk assessments are informing the information that is being shared with families.” 

How the city can claim the assessments are done when they are now being redone, and claim ‘the information that is being shared with families’ but will not release the assessments to the general public is unclear.

The TUC is one of many organisations to publish its Covid-19 risk assessment; its website reads:

“UK law says every employer with more than five staff must produce a risk assessment. And new government guidance for the return to work after the coronavirus pandemic says that these risk assessments should be published on employers’ own websites.”

One school proud of its risk assessment that has published it to its website is Blackheath; it can be seen here: 

Parents and teachers throughout the UK are concerned at safety and according to The Scotsman only 1 in 5 teachers are confident about returning to the classroom.

The myth that children are ‘nearly immune’ to Covid-19 has been dispelled; they are not only efficient carriers who can transmit the virus to others, but when infected themselves, they may be prone to syndromes including multisystem inflammatory syndrome and Kawasaki syndrome.

Aberdeen Voice also awaits comment from Aberdeenshire council and Unison.  We are happy to continue receiving information and questions from parents, teachers and health professionals who alerted us to the situation.

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