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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May 162020
 

By Suzanne Kelly.

Tally ho! Lockdown is bringing out the best in people; I’m getting more email than ever from lawyers of dead relatives in the Gabon and Bolivia than I never heard of, all wanting to give me money.

This is particularly heartwarming, as I’ve been singled out from the scores of relatives we apparently share in common.

All I need to do is reply with my personal details and a few hundred pounds and they’ll wire me millions. What a great thing the internet is.

Along with these generous offers I have email from people like ‘Claudia Hayman’ who emails saying I must pay her invoices immediately.

There is usually a ‘PAY NOW’ comment in Claudia’s subject line, and an invoice number – which means it’s genuine.

Funny though, she never says what service or item she’s invoicing me for, and Old Susannah must be getting forgetful, as I have absolutely no recollection of buying anything from her.

In the interest of saving time, I forward Claudia’s emails to people like The honorable Doctor Abraham Naki, who represents my deceased ancestor in Nigeria and who is about to transfer billions into my account. I tell Claudia that Dr Abraham will pay her invoices, as he apparently has US $8 million of mine.

By allowing them to talk to each other directly, I’m sure I’m making everyone happy while I stay well out of it.

Either I’m about to come into lots of money, or these people are scammers who have mistaken me for a run-of-the-mill Covidiot.

It’s ages since I wrote an Old Susannah column (thank god some may say), but I wanted No. 200 to be a landmark issue. I nearly wrote about poor misunderstood councillors Alan Donnelly and Jennifer Stewart.

He bravely continues to represent Aberdeen and won’t let a trifle like his conviction for sexual assault stop him collecting his remuneration – I mean bravely voting in favour of the ruling majority – I mean going to functions – er something like that.

And Jennifer; well, despite going to the newspapers with tales of her being bullied by unnamed councillors to the point of her being mentally ill, she didn’t let that stop her going to the press to stick up for Donnelly, questioning whether the sexual assault conviction was really a sexual assault (let’s hope the victim won’t find her remarks bullying).

But we are in lockdown, and it is time to write Column 200.

I’ve been doing lockdown, because I’m an overly-cautious, paranoid person who is too thick to realise I’m a sheeple, sleepwalking into giving government and vaccine companies my freedom for the rest of my life.

I’m clearly a stooge for following the ‘Stay at Home Save Lives’ NHS request when I could be throwing bar-b-ques and going to house parties. Or so some would have me think.

My lockdown has included BrewDog just as past columns have. I usually open my column with a quick look at what BrewDogs I drank in which BrewDog pubs.

I did this before I bought shares, I own shares now, and so do some 131,000 others. I bought shares because I wanted to see where James Watt’s and Martin Dickie’s dreams would go. They went large. Then Covid19 struck.

This is what they did next.

This photo shows me in my home-made BrewDog Neon Overlord costume (this being one of their brews a while back), which I made for the BrewDog Open Arms online pub.

Is it childish to dress up? Hope so. I will never stop enjoying such challenges when they come my way.

Like so many other businesses, BrewDog has lost a lot of income – c 70% since lockdown started. The Dog was not about to roll over and play dead though.

They immediately started making hand sanitizer in conjunction with the NHS. BrewDog has donated huge quantities of it to the NHS. Thanks BrewDog.

Elsewhere BrewDog has helped entertain, motivate and engage with people during lockdown that has reaffirmed every great thought I’ve had about them.

The online pub is a great place to virtually hang out with hundreds of others. On Fridays at 6pm there is normally a hilarious, frenetic quiz, a few words from Martin and James, and lots of silly dancing.

During the week there are other pub events too – eg beer yoga, virtual tastings, and (my favourite) art tutorials from the amazing Fischer whose art decorates BrewDog bars and bottles www.brewdog.com.

This photo is my feeble attempt at doing one of his iconic whale creatures – the tuition was fine, my execution not so much.

I’m isolated at home with my cats (nb just Sasha now; Molly passed away), but when the BrewDog Open Arms is open, I sing, dance and laugh along with others, and I dare say many of us feel connected.

I’m currently drinking my favourite readily-available BrewDog, Jackhammer, but I recently discovered their delicious Zealots Heart gin. Juniper, angelica; the smell is divine – divine to the point I’ve broken out my home perfume-blending lab and am making my own version of the scent.

But I digress, and it’s time for some definitions.

Covidiot:  (noun) person who displays traits of gullibility, illogic, selfishness and/or good old-fashioned stupidity. Collective nouns for group of covidiots include: a Brian of covidiots (see photo below), a pandemic of covidiots, a murder of covidiots.

Never before in history has so much factual information been available to so many for free. Never before has it been so easy to corroborate information and separate fact from fiction. But for many, where’s the fun (or profit) in that?

Here is a look at some of the sub-species of covidiot:

‘I’m a Genius’ Covidiot:

We’re all of us so stupid, listening to the NHS, the WHO and the CDC. We could be taking our health advice from Kevin in Stockport’s sister’s friend who knows someone who’s a nurse.

Genius Covidiot posts go viral, they feature audio recordings of an unnamed, unseen self-styled ‘expert’ who tells you that Covid-19 is just the ‘flu or that if you shine a UV light in your mouth, you’re invincible.

Then we have the even smarter Genius Covidiot.

They are bravely protesting against the lockdown with a breath-taking array of signs. In America, many are financed by the far right, including the charming Dorr brothers, who like guns and want freedom (unless you’re a woman needing an abortion, or a person who wants gun law reform).

Here are some of my favourite Genius Covidiots.

(Moran, if you’re out there, hope you’ve got a Brian now. I recommend May, Eno or Cox)

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It’s Pennsylvania, by the way – something most people who live there know. And… it’s ‘people’ not ‘peaple’.

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Personally, I don’t think we’re paying frontline NHS enough to flip burgers let alone deal with Covid19.

Imagine taking the time to make such a kindly sign, but not knowing how to use an apostrophe or the difference between ‘there’ and ‘their’.

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Paranoid Covidiot:

We see the Paranoid Covidiot in its natural habitat on both sides of the Atlantic, huddled together in protests. Many of them in the USA need guns because, well, rights.

To the Paranoid Covidiot the lockdown and coronavirus is all a government/Bill Gates/5G/Elon Musk/Leftist/Communist/Socialist/Illuminati/Vaccine company plot to permanently take away our rights and mandate that we be force-injected with poison, don’t you know?

If you don’t realise all this and protest, then you are not woke. On the other hand if you don’t attend mass protests, you may well outlive the Paranoid Covidiot all the same.

Survivalist Covidiot:

Also crawling out of the woodwork are the survivalists – a predominantly American type of covidiot.

They usually wear camouflage gear so they can blend into the background. They also wear unmissable bright red Make America Great Again caps so that they stick out to fellow Survivalist Covidiots.

Reading things like ‘Survival Times’ or emails from some guy named Sam, the Survivalist Covidiot should be able to survive every disaster known to man.

If you had taken their advice, you would now have an underground concrete bunker filled with canned food, turmeric and krill capsules, radiation suits and protein bars (and lots of guns and ammo and toilet roll).

If you had acted on some of their bulletins, you’d have stocked up on enough tinned Cheeetos and dehydrated tacos to last 15 years. Their missives warn that those who didn’t stockpile would be in terror during a crisis but the survivalists would be smugly safe.

And now that they’ve been asked to stay indoors for a few months to stay alive? The Paper Survivalist Covidiot is freaking out.

The ‘It’s all about me’ Covidiot:

This genre of Covidiot is typified in Kristin from Hastings:

“I’ve been going out and I don’t even have a sniffle,” she boasts online, advising that since she personally doesn’t know anyone who’s had it, then it is just a big joke.

If it doesn’t impact Kristin personally, it can’t be bad right? Kristin doesn’t know anyone who died? Let’s all go back to normal then. Thanks Kristin.

The WTF Covidiot:

The WTF Covidiots are the ones who’ve taken being a covidiot to new levels.

The ‘My Body My Choice’ covidiot has taken a pro-choice slogan, which would be fine, if not for the fact the highly-contagious virus can live for days on some surfaces, and a single infected person can infect scores, hundreds, even thousands in the case of South Korea’s Patient 31.

They are often American, almost always far-right.

This person supports Trump, who with his evangelical preachers oppose the ‘My Body My Choice’ mantra when it comes to abortion.
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Thank you, mystery woman, for fighting for our right not to wear facemasks and freedom to infect others at large gatherings and all those they come in contact with; your contribution will not be forgotten.

Face Masks are controversial even among experts. Can they pose risks if used wrongly?Apparently.

Can they stop an infected person’s droplets infecting others? Seems so.

But dang, they’re just so uncomfy – and unflattering.

Thinking outside the box, a Kentucky woman has solved the problem.

No need to thank me for sharing this tip.

https://metro.co.uk/video/american-woman-cuts-hole-face-mask-make-easier-breathe-2164644/

PS: do not agree to pull a bank heist with this woman.

The Head of State Covidiot:

I cannot express how I felt when Boris Johnson announced he had shaken hands with Coronavirus patients. Then he got criticised and said he hadn’t.

Then he fell ill.

Now he’s making speeches again. Thanks Boris. Where would the NHS be without you?

But in this pandemic, the greatest head of state covidit is undoubtedly Donald J Trump. I admire how flexible he can be – not afraid to change his stance from ‘zero cases’ and ‘just one person from China’ into recommending specific, as-yet untested drugs (which may add profits to the Trump family coiffers) and recommending that people ingest bleach.

You first Donald.

At the time of writing the valet who serves POTUS diet coke, Kentucky Fried and hamberders has tested positive.

I’m not worried for The Donald: evangelical preachers tell us Trump is God’s man on earth, and they’ve prayed for him. Bleach and prayers, that’s all you need – if you’re Trump.

The ‘I’ve found a new expert’ covidiot:

In times of pandemic, nothing’s more important than being the first person to push a radical theory or wacky pseudo expert.

So if your google search comes up with one chiropracter who has a radical theory about the disease, if you find a video from a woman denounced in her profession because she can’t run experiments properly – by all means share these peoples’ views on every social media page you can.

Join new pages, tell everyone how the world’s greatest minds are wrong/corrupt/in a conspiracy, but Dr Bloggs from Dumbarton or Muskeegee has the solution to the pandemic. That’ll help.

And if someone takes dodgy advice you’ve shared and falls ill because of it, well, that’s not your fault, is it?

I think that’s enough Covidiots for now.

Please isolate yourself from idiocy, please take any non-medical advice with a pinch of salt, do not buy all the toilet roll in the asda superstore, and please – don’t go to mass protests against lockdown, even if you do believe you have a right to a haircut or golf game.

Lockdown measures are designed to stop you joining the 30,600 dead in the UK and 279,000 dead worldwide – and taking others with you.

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May 152020
 

With thanks to Alec Westwood.

A new series exploring true stories from Aberdeen’s mysterious and murky past has been launched.
Delivered as a podcast, ‘Darkside Of The Deen’ is presented by Aberdonian actor Alec Westwood.

Following on from playing Sgt Howie in the audio drama sequel to The Wickerman, Alec set up a home studio and began working remotely with writers and producers Richard Skinner (Turriff) and Cliff Hughes (Peterhead).

Known for his role Folly the Jester in cult childrens’ TV show Knightmare, Davy Reins in the BBC’s Roughnecks and portraying Robert Louis Stevenson on Radio 4’s Great Lives,  Alec also enlisted help from a number of fellow local actors and musician/Inverurie Postmaster, Rory Will to bring dark stories from Aberdeen’s past to life.

In the show Alec presents a different true story from the shadier parts of Aberdeen’s history in each new episode, from bubonic plague, to bodysnatching, all the way to more recent, intriguing, true crimes.

The first episode (available now) recounts the time in 1964 when the city was hit by the biggest typhoid outbreak in modern day history.

He investigates the causes of the outbreak, the effect it had on local individuals and the lessons learned that are relevant more than ever during the current Covid-19 crisis.

There will also be special episodes that will bring strange stories from further afield in Scotland, such as the mysterious disappearance of three lighthouse keepers from the remote island of Eilean Mor in the Outer Hebrides during the festive period of 1900 – an event which inspired the 2019 Gerard Butler film The Vanishing.

Alec is enthusiastic to bring interesting stories from Aberdeen’s past to a global audience via Darkside Of The Deen.

Episode one ‘The Summer of 64’ is available now on Acast, Spotify, Apple Podcasts and Youtube.

Listen on Instagram
Listen on Youtube

May 122020
 

By Suzanne Kelly.

The Scottish Information Commissioner has agreed to investigate Aberdeen Voice’s complaint as Aberdeen City Council claims ‘it doesn’t know’ how much rent Aberdeen Journals Ltd pays for space in controversial Marischal Square.

Several parties have tried to obtain this information; and the information commissioner is investigating Suzanne Kelly’s formal complaint into the city’s recent refusal to disclose details.

According to an article published on Jan 27:

“Marischal Square.. is 75% let [after] just over two years… it is on track to achieve 100% occupancy later this year, defying critics who opposed the scheme and claimed it would become an expensive white elephant…”

Whichever Press & Journal hack wrote this piece praising Aberdeen City Council’s contentious (and ugly) Marischal Square development likely did so from the offices the paper got cheaply from…ACC.

You could be forgiven for thinking a newspaper should not take a free rent deal from a council it should be investigating (and there is plenty to look into), but the P&J and sister paper Evening Express did just that.

The £107 million Marischal project achieved the unthinkable: replacing a hideous 70s building with an even uglier office complex, while managing to immure the 16th c Provost Skene’s House inside a claustrophobic glass tomb. It ruins the setting for Marischal College across the road, as previously reported on by Piloti.

Other businesses thought to be enjoying sweetheart deals and free rent periods include multinationals with Chevron and EY set to move in. Why precisely such firms need to be subsidised is a mystery.

True to form, the city is releasing as little information as possible, however many FOI requests it receives.

It reluctantly admitted:

“Aberdeen Journals have been offered a rent-free period,”

and the current headline rent is £30 per square foot.

What dates the free rent covered, who agreed this deal and other details are ‘confidential’ according to the city. Despite public money being used to create the building and the public purse subsidising multinationals and newspapers, the city has clammed up. The Scottish Information Commissioner’s office is expected to investigate.

ACC insists only management company CBRE knows how much rent each company pays, and that ACC only gets the total figure of rent CBRE collects. CBRE are saying nothing.

We do know that:

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

The start of that time period? ACC aren’t saying.

Exactly how much the building cost to build, how much in debt the cash-strapped city is, and what negative impact Marischal Square has on companies that were already desperate to rent existing office space remains a mystery for now. But, as the P&J reported in January 2020, the building is ‘an award-winning success’.

Things moved on a bit since the paper reported on what it once called a ‘controversial’ and ‘contentious’ project. Councillor Willie Young claimed it would cost millions not to proceed with the project, but the P&J reported on March 5 2015 that there was scope to cancel the plans as some protesters wanted.

What possibly could have changed the paper’s position?

Apr 212020
 

By Duncan Harley with thanks to Andy Kite.

In March 2020 Aberdeen Performing Arts switched off the lights in its three iconic venues: His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen Music Hall and the Lemon Tree amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
Shows were cancelled and staff put on furlough. Lockdown had struck and, like it or not, the theatre doors slammed shut on 17th March ironically on the very eve of a week long run of ‘A Monster Calls’.

You really couldn’t make it up.

Cancellations of Buddy Holly, Once and Something About Jamie swiftly followed and a planned May run of The Gondoliers described in glowing terms as ‘Sunny, funny and with more ‘tra la la las’ per square inch than any other opera in the canon’ is as they say, dead in the water.

But, as they say, the show must go on and today Aberdeen Performing Arts has announced a set of stay-at-home projects and initiatives designed to keep the North-east connected and engaged in arts and culture during the pandemic lockdown.

Titled ‘We’re Here For You’, the initiative spans a range of activities for all ages, from re-creating favourite album covers, to online piano recitals, all with the aim of encouraging contact and creativity in the North-east while under lockdown.

Aberdeen Performing Arts Chief Executive, Jane Spiers, says:

“There’s never been a time when we need to be more connected and here for each other. Here for You is about celebrating the amazing creativity we all have within us and across the North East.

“We’ve been so impressed with the entries we’ve had for our ‘Build Your Own HMT’ project, and we can’t wait to see what our ‘When Life Gives You Lemons’ project brings, re-creating your own album cover!

“Our Here for You activities are also a small thing we can do to say thank you to our audiences who have been so supportive and raised £50,000 to date to keep our charity alive when we rely so heavily on ticket sales.”

An early project, ‘Keep The Lights On At HMT’, seemingly resulted in a flood of home built model versions of His Majesty’s Theatre and a new initiative, ‘Armchair Audiences’, gives theatre goers a chance to sit back, relax and join a weekly theatre discussion each Tuesday at 6pm (bring your own ice cream).

The first event in the Armchair Audiences series is a collaboration with The National Theatre and features a free streamed performance of Jane Eyre.

More @: https://www.aberdeenperformingarts.com/

Mar 212020
 

Three former Torry community councillors have lodged a complaint against Depute Lord Provost Jennifer Stewart with The Commission for Ethical Standards in Public Life. By Suzanne Kelly (one of the three).

The Commission for Ethical Standards in Public Life received a complaint from Bee Kerr, Renee Slater and Suzanne Kelly against Councillor Jennifer Stewart.
They have asked the Commission to investigate, and if appropriate, censure or suspend Jennifer Stewart on account of her behaviour following Councillor Alan Donnelly’s sexual assault of a person at a civic function.

Councillor Donnelly, who has represented Torry and Ferryhill in the past, was placed on the sex offenders register by the Aberdeen Sheriff Court. The court found him guilty of sexually assaulting a waiter.

The offence occurred while Donnelly was at a civic function in his capacity as councillor.

Donnelly tried to deny events; the court said he should be ashamed. He refused to step down despite his criminal act being a clear violation of the Code of Conduct for councillors.

Renee Slater launched a petition demanding Donnelly resign, which was signed by over 700 people.

The Standards Commissioner’s office announced his suspension one day after he voted on a crucial budget during a stormy council session, to the benefit of the council’s majority group. If he doesn’t resign, he will face a public trial.

Prior to this vote, Cllr Stewart took to radio and commented that the sexual assault didn’t sound serious.

She said:

“I would wonder if it was an attack. To me an attack is a much more physical and aggressive thing, but sentence has been passed.”

Her remarks infuriated many including councillors, residents and people connected to victim support groups.

The signatories to the complaint and experts they spoke to feel it is hard enough to cope as a victim of an assault; it is harder still to report it.  Getting to trial is stressful, and many trials end with no conviction.

It is arguably harder for a man to be a victim of sexual assault given some societal attitudes. Elected officials should not use their office to question the judgment of the courts and to add to the burden of the victim, who has had to endure the harmful insult by way of the Depute Lord Provost suggesting the assault was not serious.

It is quite probable, the complainers feel, that future sex assault victims who are aware of Stewart’s widely-reported remarks may be reluctant to come forward fearing she may weigh in to judge them too.

Undoubtedly, her comments on the assault would not have been published had she not been the Depute Lord Provost. She has not responded to a request for comment.

In press coverage almost immediately following her remarks, she accused both the SNP and Liberal Democrats of contributing to her confessed mental health problems through bullying and intimidation.

She named no names; the Liberal Democrats denied any such wrongdoing, and the SNP wished her recovery.

The complainants know the Ethics Commissioner will look into her remarks, which, as they stand, smear the entire opposition with serious accusations of breaking the Code of Conduct – accusations they cannot counter as they are not levelled at any one person or persons.

The Evening Express have been asked to explain how they verified her later claims of mental health problems caused by the SNP and Liberal Democrats; 5 days on, we still await their response

Anyone who wishes to add their name to the complaint or lodge a complaint against a councillor can contact the Commission here: info@ethicalstandards.org.uk

Mar 022020
 

Will a convicted sex offender hold the key vote on Aberdeen City budget cuts? Suzanne Kelly writes.

Disgraced Alan Donnelly was found guilty, in an Aberdeen Sheriff court, of sexually assaulting a waiter at a civic function.
Despite this completely contravening the Councillors Code of Conduct, he’s staying in power and may hold a key vote on swinging budget cuts at the council’s meeting Tuesday 3 March: and some councillors are happy with him staying put.

The council’s ‘Urgent Action’ Committee have removed him from committees he was on, and reported him to the Commission for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland (they had to really – so many people have done so, the Commission won’t take more complaints).

However, it does not appear they asked the Commissioner to exercise the power and suspend Donnelly. Instead, some councillors have been making statements in their official capacity to support Donnelly. Many believe this is because his vote is needed.

Repercussions.

While publications such as Private Eye (Eye 1516) cover this scandal and, as the Commissioner confirms, it is investigating Donnelly’s breaking of the code, Donnelly is still being allowed to attend civic functions and represent the city – and vote.

If he hangs on, he will be the subject of a public hearing by the Commission.

The Commission may be asked to look into what the council did to protect people from Donnelly, not least as there are reports Donnelly, who once was attached to ACC social services, bought alcohol for a sex offender in violation of protocol.

Did the city really do all it could to prevent this sexual assault? Were councillors’ remarks and actions appropriate? The commission’s remit is apparently widening by the day.

A petition started by Renee Slater, a former Torry Community Councillor (Donnelly’s ward) has over 770 signatures asking for Donnelly’s swift departure from office.

Reaction: Survivors UK say ‘he should step down or be removed’

“I agree wholeheartedly that he should step down or be removed from being a Councillor,” said Alex Feis-Bryce, Chief Executive Officer of SURVIVORS UK.

SURVIVORS UK helps sexually abused men as well as their friends and family, no matter when the abuse happened, and challenge the silence and attitudes.

Mr Feis-Bryce added:

“I say this as a survivor, the CEO of an organisation supporting thousands of survivors and a former Councillor.” 

According to the group, an estimated 12,000 men are raped in the UK every year, and more than 70,000 are sexually abused or assaulted.

Which witch hunt? What Jennifer Stewart did next.

“What I see is that there is a bit of a witch hunt to get him (Donnelly) out.”
– Depute Lord Provost of Aberdeen, Jennifer Stewart

As Survivors UK’s web page says:

“we know male sexual abuse has profound effects on those who experience it and can deeply affect their mental health and relationships.”

Most people understand sexual assault does not have to be a penetrative rape or involve being beaten. Not Cllr Stewart.

Jennifer Stewart, now in Donnelly’s former role as Depute Lord Provost went to the press in her official capacity and said:

“I would wonder if it was an attack. To me an attack is a much more physical and aggressive thing but sentence has been passed.”

In other words, the Depute Lord Provost of Aberdeen went to the press to call into question the robustness of an Aberdeen Sheriff court decision and to denigrate the sexual assault victim.

She said that those seeking to get Donnelly out were on a ‘witch hunt’.

Was she trying to conflate a hysterical persecution of the innocent (witch hunt) with trying to protect people from a sex offender, protect the council’s reputation, and ensuring the code was adhered to by councillors? Surely she knows the definition of the phrase ‘witch hunt?’

The barrage of justified criticism of her words was swift. Stewart immediately took to the press again and released a story, again in her official capacity, claiming she suffered mental health problems. These, she said, were so bad she was scared to walk down certain council corridors.

Stewart said:

“The level of pressure that was brought on me by the SNP and Liberal Democrats caused me significant mental health issues and anxiety, something I have never suffered from before.

“I have been ostracised, shunned and prevented from walking down certain corridors.

“Other councillors have no right to go on a witch-hunt to try and get rid of someone.”

In her next press outing, she was praised for her work to help female victims of domestic abuse in a new initiative with the police and a charity.

(NB – The most recent figures (Scottish Government 2012a) show that in 2011/12 there were 9,569 reports to the police of a domestic abuse incident where the ‘victim’ was male and the perpetrator female and 659 reports where there was a male ‘victim’ of a male perpetrator (where the sex of the parties were recorded).

A day or two later she was portrayed in the press again sympathetically, talking about the death of a friend.

Ms Stewart was asked to comment but has not replied. If it is true, she has mental health issues which she is willing to talk to the press about while accusing political opponents of causing these problems, then the Standards Commission should be asked to investigate these as a matter of urgency.

However, if she suffers mental health problems because of bullying, perhaps she should not go around contradicting the sheriff court’s finding a man was a victim of sexual assault, and in her official role telling the press ‘an attack is a physical (it was) and aggressive (it was) thing’.

If, however she has cynically made a false claim of mental health problems caused by political opponents (who strenuously deny such claims – and Stewart named no names) as a means of garnering sympathy and to deflect attention from her contentious remarks over Donnelly’s victim, this must be investigated.

For a woman who uses the term ‘witch hunt’ about those wanting Donnelly out, she has herself started a genuine witch hunt with her claim unnamed people gave her mental health problems.

She has tarnished her every opponent and by not naming anyone has made the public wonder who is harming her mental health, thereby causing people to mistrust those who would do such a thing: with absolutely no evidence for her claims.

It is understood Ms Stewart’s conduct will be reported to the Standards Commission shortly too.

Reaction.

At least some members of ACC recognize the crime of sexual assault is serious. Councillor Alex Nicoll and Steve Delaney want Donnelly out now.

The calls came not long after Donnelly was seen at a Town House event to celebrate the success of local food bank (the ‘oil capitol of Europe’ should not need food banks, by the way).

Lord Provost Barney Crockett told the BBC the city must:

“ensure everybody is treated appropriately, and that’s what I’ll continue to do.”

How he is treating Donnelly’s victim appropriately remains to be seen.
Mr Nicoll demanded Crockett must:

“clarify why he feels the sex offender should be treated the same as everyone else.”

Responsibility.

Mr Nicoll added:

“It is utterly disgraceful that Councillor Donnelly continues to attend events, by invitation, as if nothing has happened.

“I would urge the Lord Provost to ban him from civic events if he is serious about protecting the public and ensuring Aberdeen City Council is not a laughing stock.”

When asked where the responsibility for protecting the public from a further Donnelly attack lies, a spokesman for Aberdeen Sheriff Court said

“This would be a matter for Aberdeen District Council.”

Risible.

As things stand, Donnelly is on the council, attending events, drinking alcohol, enjoying himself, laughing with other councillors.

He is poised to vote, and may be key to getting a controversial budget passed. Depending on what ACC do over this vote, it looks as if the Standards Commission is going to be very busy with investigations indeed.

But, alas for Cllr Nicoll, Aberdeen is now a laughing stock throughout the UK and is on record as being an institution callous to sexual assault victims.

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