Oct 062021
 

By Craig Chisholm.

True North continued to cement its reputation as one of Aberdeen’s musical highlights of the year with another excellent event that showcased an eclectic and varied bill of excellent music.

After taking a brief hiatus from crowds last year – the event was online instead – it was encouraging to see people back in the Music Hall, Lemon Tree and numerous smaller venues and enjoying live music once more.

The number of events is slightly stripped back this with less late-night shows and no shows at The Tivoli Theatre but what was missing in quantity was more than made up in quality.

The Lemon Tree is the venue for the opening Thursday night event – a triple bill featuring Lavender Lane, Edinburgh’s Swim School and the indie pop of headliners Peaness. Providing the perfect start to usher in the weekend.

Friday night provides an even more varied bill. Opening musical proceedings is Aberdonian Katie Mackie.

Sat behind a keyboard she provides a short set of soaring baroque, chamber-pop that features a cover of Steely Dan’s ‘Dirty Work’.

Scottish / Kenyan multi-instrumentalist and poet Beldina Odenyo performs under the moniker Heir of the Cursed. Tonight, she plucks on heavily reverbed guitar and her operatic, hypnotic voice is soothing, expansive, and ethereal.

Despite a light-hearted between song gripe about the cost of salad in Aberdeen, her set is calm and transgressive, taking the crowd to a higher spiritual and musical space.

Singer-songwriter Ayanna Witter-Johnson is another rare talent.

Opening – rather boldly – with a dance, she picks up the more familiar cello for the remainder of her set.

Using a loop pedal she sounds like an entire band as opposed to one woman and an instrument.

Despite an unexpected power cut, Witter-Johnson delivers a strong, inspiring set that uplifts the audience.

Saturday night is the first of the Music Hall gigs.

Opening act Rachel Sermanni plays an intimate, minimalistic set. She somehow manages to make the cavernous Music Hall seem small and cosy, drawing the crowd into her private space.

A unique Scottish talent, she returns to The Lemon Tree in December.

Headliner John Grant is magnificent.
He cuts quite an imposing figure on stage – a large, hirsute bear of a man – but his voice is soothing but powerful.

Alternating between piano led torch songs and disco influenced bangers, he runs through a 100-minute set of dark humour, heartfelt confessionals, and unbridled joy. A stunning performance well deserving of the standing ovation at the end.

For those still looking to party into the night then the Lemon Tree is the place to be. Local rapper Ransom FA headlines an evening of beats, breaks and raps with support from DJ Home Alone, Bemz and Sean Focus.

Sunday night at True North is the traditional tribute night, curated and performed by a star performer.

This year, the performer is the talented Grammy Winner Corinne Bailey-Rae, and the subject of the tribute is the mercurial Stevie Wonder.

Looking radiant in a sparkly gold sequined dress, Bailey-Rae is every inch the superstar.

But this is not about her tonight, and she happily gives over the spotlight to guest vocalists such as Paix, Angus Munro, Jalen N’Gona and Little Acres.

And each more than hold their own and breathe new life in the songs of Stevie Wonder. The hits are all there – ‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered’ and ‘Don’t You Worry About Thing’ by Bailey-Rae are particular highlights – but there’s also plenty of deep cuts, forgotten classics and album tracks to keep the die hard Wonder fans happy.

The night – and the weekend – is brought down with a rousing, run through of Wonder’s classic ‘Superstition’ that has the crowd on their feet, hungry for more and ecstatic at the collective feeling of joy.

Yet again, True North has proved to be a success and a jewel in the crown of the Aberdeen Music Scene.

With next to no concerts in the last 18 months, it’s been a cathartic and joyful event, a light at the end of a very long, very dark tunnel and credit is due to the organisers, the venues, and the performers for pulling it all together in such a short, potentially unpredictable time.

Here’s to True North 2022, long may it continue!

Sep 282021
 

Duncan Harley reviews Slains Castle’s Secret History, a new publication by Mike Shepherd and Dacre Stoker.

Slains Castle on the very edge of the Buchan coastline is a widely misunderstood edifice and a confusion of associations with Dracula do little to explain the history of the place.
This new book by Mike Shepherd and Dacre Stoker is a gamechanger.

Readers of Mike’s previous books and followers of Dacre Stoker’s work – which includes Dracul, a Dracula prequel written in collaboration with J.D. Barker of Fourth Monkey fame – will already be aware of the Cruden Bay Dracula links.

But few however, will be aware of the true history of that Slains Castle we all love to associate with the Gothic Horror genre.

An extraordinary set of stories lie within these pages. Churchill visited as did Johnson and Boswell. The cutting off of the heads of dead Danes, an epic story of religious strife and a shambolic plan to surrender Scotland to the Spanish Crown inhabit this book. And the ‘tussle’ for the souls of the living takes centre stage.

There are tales of a French conspiracy to Anglicise Scotland and the role of the Earl of Errol in shaping Scotland’s future is explored in major detail. But no spoilers here.

This is in essence a history of Scotland as told through the lens of Slains. The castle itself dips in and out of the tale, and it’s only on page 197 that we get to the essence of the Dracula connection.

I would have preferred an earlier link if truth be told. And this perhaps suggests that the authors were conflicted in purpose. In part diary, there is however much to recommend in this book.

Spanning from 1164 to the present day, this take on the untold history of Slains is an important addition to the history, and the mythology, of North East Scotland.

With a foreword by Alan Hay – archivist of Clan Hay – Slains Castle’s Secret History, is published in paperback by Wild Wolf Publishing on 20th September and, if you’ll excuse the pun, is a book to get your teeth into.

Highly recommended. Five Stars.

Slains Castle’s Secret History by Mike Shepherd and Dacre Stoker.
ISBN: 979-8469387046

Sep 172021
 

Ayanna Witter-Johnson

By Craig Chisholm.

Aberdeen Performing Arts’ award-winning music festival, True North will return from 23-26 September for a weekend of live music and free events, boasting an inspirational and vibrant line up of shows and Fringe events at venues across the city.

True North will be based around the theme of Rise Up, celebrating freedom of expression, diversity and community as we prepare to re-open and welcome back audiences to the Music Hall, Lemon Tree and His Majesty’s Theatre for the first time since March 2020.

American singer songwriter and former Czars frontman John Grant will headline True North at the Music Hall on the Saturday evening.

John Grant

Described as ‘the misfit’s misfit’, Grant is too weird to be mainstream, too mainstream to be weird; too sad to be happy, too sharp not to crack a mordant joke about it.

The dolorous ace in his song-writing pack is to gauge impressionistic childhood experiences against their amplified adult consequences.

Rachel Sermanni

He will be supported by acclaimed Scottish performer Rachel Sermanni.

Grammy and MOBO award-winning star Corinne Bailey Rae will close the festival on Sunday with a specially curated concert at the Music Hall called “A Celebration of Stevie Wonder by Corinne Bailey Rae.”

The evening will see Corinne joined by special guests to perform the many legendary hits from the catalogue of Stevie Wonder songs in what promises to be an extraordinary evening of music.

.

With previous True North curated concerts celebrating the music of Neil Young, David Bowie and Kate Bush among others, this concert at True North has become a highlight of the festival and a firm favourite among audiences.

Headlining on Friday night at the Lemon Tree with a Night of New Voices is the soulful, eclectic Ayanna Witter-Johnson.  A singer, songwriter, cellist, composer, producer and arranger with phenomenal musical prowess, mesmerising vocals, uncompromising lyrics and mastery of the cello. Ayanna unapologetically imprints her unique musical signature into her music.  

Heir of the Cursed, Robyn Davidson and DJ Rebecca Vasmant complete the line-up.

Ransom FA

Aberdonian grime rapper Ransom FA will head up late night at the Lemon Tree on Saturday.  The fast-rising artist, was a contestant on the UK TV show, The Rap Game, where he battled other budding rappers for a record deal.  

Prior to the Rap Game, Ransom had already shared the stage with many of the biggest UK rappers, such as Skepta, Wiley, Mist, M Huncho to name only a few. He will be joined by Chef, Sean Focus and DJ HomeAlone.

Playing on Thursday 23 September and kicking off True North 2021 will be Peaness, who will be bringing their catchy, fuzzy, harmony-driven indie-pop songs about love, friendship, frustrations, Brexit and food waste to the Lemon Tree.

Formed in 2014 in Chester university digs, the trio have secured nationwide and international shows with bands such as The Beths, Kero Kero Bonito, The Cribs, We Are Scientists, The Big Moon and Dream Wife. They will be joined at the Lemon Tree by Swim School and Lavender Lane.

A spoken word event specially commissioned by Aberdeen Performing Arts and headed up by award winning poet and three-time slam champion Jo Gilbert will focus on the festival’s theme of Rise Up.

Four local spoken word artists will produce new work based around this theme and showcase their work at the Lemon Tree on Sunday in an event which promises to challenge and inspire in equal measure.

Fringe events are planned to take place in venues across the city over True North weekend and details will be announced shortly.

Ben Torrie, Aberdeen Performing Arts’ Director of Programming and Creative Projects said:

“We are thrilled to announce the lineup for True North 2021, which feels like a huge step in the return of live performance at our venues. It feels really good to be able to bring the festival to a live audience once again.

“It means a lot to us to be able to put this on for people in Aberdeen, and to shine a spotlight on so many talented performers and musicians is a privilege that has never been so important.

“The theme of this year’s festival is Rise Up. It’s a positive message about rising up to bring people together, marking the re-opening of our venues, and celebrating the power of music to help us stand up for the things we believe in. We could not be prouder of this festival at this time.”

Tickets for all True North events are available from www.aberdeenperformingarts.com

 

Aug 242021
 

When the granite stairs went temporarily missing from the custodianship of Aberdeen City Council and its contractor Balfour Beatty, questions arose over how the city looked after its valuable property. The conclusions are shocking. By Suzanne Kelly

Aberdeen City Council cannot say with certainty where 1,500 valuables in its possession are.

This information was acquired in response to a freedom of information request by Aberdeen Voice following the confusion over the whereabouts of the Victorian granite steps which are part of Union Terrace Gardens.

The request was to cover items in the Aberdeen Art Gallery, Town House including gifts from outside organisations, and in entities such as Provost Skene’s House.

The city responded as follows:

“Although c. 1500 items have a ‘missing’ status, we have assigned around 3100 items with temporary numbers; many of which have become disassociated from their accession number e.g. the label with the number has become separated from the object.

“It is highly likely that there is an overlap between these two categories and we will be able to reconcile in the future by undertaking research in to the extensive paper files pre-computerisation. The remaining temporary numbers are items stored in the buildings but not accessioned into the collections.

“Many of the ‘historical loss pre-TMS’ records refer to a ‘missing’ date of 2020. It is important to note that these items were missing before we began using TMS in 2002, however, their status was confirmed as ‘still missing’ in 2020 as data cleaning work was undertaken.

“A number of items have been recorded as ‘missing’ and requiring further investigation during the decant of the art gallery in 2015. As we were moving thousands of items between buildings we suspected an admin error occurred in the recording of blocks.”

The city is meant to supply, electronically is the preference, an inventory of the valuables in question, but they advise they are having difficulties with the spreadsheet.

The city said no insurance claims have been made in the past 5 years.

The request is on the ‘What Do They Know’ Freedom of Information request website, visible to any other reporters or newspapers that are interested in Aberdeen City Council, where the city’s reply was posted on 29 June.

What Do They Know helps anyone who wants to make FOI requests or look at existing FOI requests. They run on donations and can be found here https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/

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Jul 192021
 

Mike Shepherd reviews Duncan Harley’s latest publication, Long Shadows – Tales of Scotland’s North East.

Authors are told that when they write the blurb for the back jacket of their book they should focus on explaining what the reader will get out of it when they buy it.

So let’s apply this recommendation to Duncan Harley’s new book, Long Shadows. What will you get out of it?
You will be entertained for sure.

Duncan is a walking encyclopaedia of curious and interesting facts about everything that’s been written about Northeast Scotland.

If something extraordinary happened in your town or village, it’s probably in this book.

I can assure you that after reading it you will never dare repeat that ‘nothing interesting ever happens…’ in Buckie, Kintore, Ellon or the likes.

Now I do like quirky stories, and there is plenty in here to tickle the fancy – unexpected tales; little known tales. Take the story on page 54 about the artist Joseph Farquharson from Finzean.

In 1883, Farquharson painted The Joyless Winter Day which hangs in the Tate Gallery. It depicts a shepherd tending his flock in a raging Deeside blizzard. The execution of the painting was tricky because as Duncan explains:

“sheep cannot easily be persuaded to stand still.”

He adds:

“To solve this difficult problem, Farquharson commissioned a flock of life size plaster sheep from Monymusk born craftsman William Wilson of Kelly’s Cats fame, and used these to mark out the positions of the original live subjects in order to preserve the scene as the work progressed.”

The downside of all this ingenuity was that Joseph Farquharson ended up getting the nickname from his fellow artists of ‘Frozen Mutton Farquharson’.

Or the connection between the horror writer Stephen King and Buckie.

Did you know (a phrase you will find yourself repeating after reading Duncan’s book) that in the course of investigating a terrorist act in If It Bleeds, fictional private investigator Holly Gibney discovers that Buckie Academy is twinned with a bombed US High School.

The two schools take a mutual interest in each other’s local sports teams – Buckie Thistle thus picking up a small fanbase in a fictional part of the US.

Long Shadows comprises thirty-three chapters starting with Aberdeen and ending up with Turriff.

In between are tales from local towns and villages, or in one case, the forest at Lenabo where there was once an airship base during World War I. The airships would fly silently out over the North Sea scouting for German submarines to shoot up with machine guns. The story is laid out in chapter 22.

Now I do know about this. My paternal grandfather, who was too old to fight in the trenches, helped to build the Lenabo base. If that makes me sound ancient – be aware that both my grandfather and father became parents in their forties.

Having written this I now take a peek at Duncan’s back-cover blurb.

“In his two previous two books, Duncan exposed readers to an exciting mix of history and mythology. The intention of this new book is to expand greatly on these themes in an entertaining and informative way.

“Please enjoy these wee snippets of Scottish history and smile gently at the past. Long Shadows – Tales of Scotland’s North East is guaranteed to enthral both residents and visitors alike!”

I must agree.

I enjoyed reading this book and recommend it. It’s available on Amazon at a price of £17.95 and looks to be selling fast. Do buy it.

Mar 092021
 

By Suzanne Kelly.

It appears Marischal Square is nothing like the money-spinner city taxpayers were promised.

Within that glass box building, one of the most repugnant carbuncles to disgrace Aberdeen in recent years, government, multinationals and food businesses are enjoying sweeteners in the form of rent holidays, discounts and more.

Figures obtained through Freedom Of Information requests reveal that, to date, these sweeteners amount to nearly £4.5m.

Other costs have been estimated by the ‘We Campaigned Against Marischal Square’ group, which like Aberdeen Voice, has been fighting for data from Aberdeen City Council under FOI law.

We Campaigned posted:

“By my reckoning, since opening, MS has COST US £18 million so far. It’s taken in around £3 million and we have paid Muse/Aviva rent > £15 million plus we’ve spent around £3 million in operational costs.

How do we stop this financial mismanagement? Can we hold anyone to account? (We also have £1.3 BILLION debt to pay back the bond – interest payments of £40 million per year).”

Should the council have decided to go into the commercial rental sector with a new build? Did it have the expertise in house?

At one point the city claimed it had no idea of the amount of rent each individual business was paying, and that only Muse knew this.

If true, it’s a shocking dereliction of fiscal responsibility. Effectively, it makes freedom of information requests hard to successfully lodge, as Aberdeen Voice and ‘Stop the Desecration of Marischal Square’ have found.

The following companies moved in. The list shows the value of their sweeteners. 

Tenant / Approximate sweetener total
Aberdeen Journals Ltd / £1,710,630
Tony Macaroni / £225,000
Chevron / (£285,270 min, £570,540 max) £427,905
Ernst & Young / £570,420
Mitchells & Butlers / £187,500
Tenaris / £116,215
KPMG / £266,535
Scottish Ministers / £582,905
Costa / £59,800
National Westminster Bank / (£193,847 min £ 243,306 max) £218,576
Prezzo / £46,200
Mackies / £38,200
TOTAL = £4,449,886.00

Aberdeen City Council was less than forthcoming with this information Only after the Information Commissioner’s office interceded did they release the information.

Anyone wanting to see the actual heads of terms agreements for the rents showing duration, other perks granted eg. carpeting allowances and free parking, size of space rented, etc, will find this hard-fought-for information here. 

As an aside, when finally handing this information over, the city tried to claim the documents were so large that they could only pass them over if Aberdeen Voice opened an account with ACC.  This nonsense was quickly countered. An account with ACC to access its FOI documentation or make requests is not required.

The ‘too large documents’ were under fifty pages in total.

The city is competing with the private sector in creating this building, just a time when Brexit impacts and the changes in the oil industry reverberate. Sir Ian Wood is busy trying to convince central government to build yet more offices and industrial space in the city. Doubtless he’ll get his way.

The businesses that moved out of existing spaces to Marischal such as KPMG leave behind empty office space and take income from the private sector.

In order to compete with the private sector in a market where office space is hardly in short supply, ACC uses the taxpayers’ largess to dole out the sweeteners.

Aberdeen Voice will try to determine whether the city is giving any further rent breaks or sweeteners to their Marischal Square tenants

The businesses forced to close, yet forced to pay for Aberdeen Inspired/business rates may look with some justified envy on the treatment given to national chains, multinationals and Aberdeen Journals Ltd.

Damian Bates, disgraced former Aberdeen Journals Ltd empresario, alluded to the fact the city was already subsidising its rent at Lang Stracht.

Why a genuine news corporation would be willingly indebted to a government with so many stories that should be robustly investigated is not a mystery – the city used to spend quite heavily on advertising in the rags.

However, the P&J and EE no longer refer to Marischal Square as ‘controversial’ and seem happy to sing its praises.

The city recently said it is £30,000,000 in debt.

Many consider this figure to be considerably lower than the reality. Where it will be in a year’s time is anyone’s guess – but if it is banking on Marischal Square, it’s doomed.

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Mar 022021
 

By Suzanne Kelly.

Marc Ellington, musician, philanthropist, climate change activist, author has passed away. He leaves behind his family and many friends.

Dr Ellington, or Marc to his many friends, was a singer, songwriter and guitarist.  He occasionally performed with his lifelong friend Richard Thompson, and with Fairport Convention. 

Marc had not often performed in recent years, but joined Richard on stage at the Royal Albert hall in September 2019 for Richard’s 70th birthday party show along with many members of the Thompson family, and artists including Dave Gilmour, and Harry Shearer.

Marc and his wife Karen lovingly restored Aberdeenshire’s Towie Barclay Castle and gardens.  From its great hall he worked on his many projects. 

He founded and ran the charity The Scottish Traditional Skills Centre.  The Centre ran some of the first-ever courses on how climate change threatens our cultural and built heritage. 

Presentations were made by experts from various disciplines including the Met Office, focusing on historic properties and sites such as Skara Brae. 

The Centre ran courses for professional and amateur alike including topics such as gardening, dry stone walling, and property repair.  Perhaps its greatest success was running courses for young people with a variety of needs. 

Young people learned from different specialists about the environment, wildlife, botany, and enjoyed hands-on activities from dry stone walling to building lean-tos at locations such as Fyvie Castle grounds. 

Passionate about Aberdeen city’s and shire’s architectural gems, Marc edited The Lost City: Old Aberdeen by Jane Stevenson and Peter Davidson. 

Marc knew any number of little-known historic jewels, and greatly enjoyed showing these off to his guests.  He was a keen student of the area’s history, not least its importance to folk music from the past through artists such as Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan.

Along with Charles MacLean and Daniel MacCannell Marc Ellington was an editor on the book, Scotland’s Secret History: The Illicit Distilling and Smuggling of Whisky.  The book paints a vivid picture of whisky’s history and the Cabrach. 

He was instrumental in the creation of a memorial cairn in the Cabrach dedicated to those from the area who lost their lives in WWI and subsequent conflicts.  Whisky giants The Gordon family were the main funders. 

Marc said:

“Each and every aspect of the construction of the cairn has involved members, both young and old, of the Cabrach Community working closely with master craftsman Euan Thompson.

“As well as being one of the finest memorial cairns to be built in Scotland in recent years, this is an outstanding example of what a local community, working together with energy and determination, can achieve.”

Marc spoke at an exhibition of international artists in 2018 held at the Glenfiddich Distillery. 

He talked about the role art plays – or should play – in education and in our culture.  As part of the speech he applauded the creators,  rebels, movers, and individuals who stand up for what is right, who follow their passions and dreams.  Indeed, this was how many saw him.

As the historic landlord in Gardenstown and Crovie, he was shocked when in 2015 salmon farmers were illegally shooting seals from the land in order to stop them eating salmon. 

He was actively involved with stopping the destruction of wildlife, and cared deeply for the sea and marine life.

He acted as announcer and master of ceremonies for the annual Portsoy Boat Festival, often sailing his craft to the harbour. 

Marc never missed a chance to help people when it arose; he always had a hilarious, apt anecdote for whatever social situation he found himself in. 

He sought to impart his passions for the environment, culture, history, music and arts, and succeeded in influencing many.  He is greatly missed, but his music and his many accomplishments will continue to influence.

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Feb 262021
 

It’s back to business for convicted sex-offender Aberdeen City Councillor Alan Donnelly. His suspension from his role as a councillor ends 3rd of March. Suzanne Kelly writes.

Alan Donnelly was convicted in December 2019 for a November 2018 sexual assault on a young male waiter while attending a civic function in his capacity as councillor

He was given interim suspensions on full pay before a Standards Commission for Scotland hearing was held which allowed him to continue as a councillor.

In November 2020, two years after the assault, Standards declared that a further four month suspension was all the stricture required.

Standards justified their decision saying Donnelly was cooperative, had no previous referral to Standards, and had not received a custodial sentence. The Standards hearing panel could have removed him had they chosen.

Donnelly’s first hearing date was postponed on health grounds His attempt to likewise put off his November 2020 hearing failed.

Perhaps not even Standards could justify another postponement on revelation that Donnelly had enjoyed several holidays while suspended.

In response to the hugely unpopular decision, a formal complaint was made to Ethics Standards in Public Life. Ethics’ role had been to issue a report to Standards before any hearing could be set.

The complainant asked:

  • Why did it take Ethics until June 2020, six months after Donnelly’s conviction, to issue a report?
  • Why did Ethics decide not to give the victim an opportunity to make a statement?
  • Does Ethics took sexual assault seriously?

Ethics found its officers acted properly. There is no avenue for appeal.

Ethics claims it had to determine whether Donnelly was perceived as being a councillor when attacking the young man at a social function.

Donnelly is expected at a crucial council budget meeting

Donnelly’s city council register of interests clearly reflected he attended in place of Councillor Lumsden.

Instead, Ethics waited weeks to hear what the venue managers thought.

ACC Councillor Jennifer Stewart was quoted in the local press saying the sexual assault ‘didn’t sound too bad’. The victim could have been approached for comment, but they were excluded from proceedings.

During its investigation, Ethics was so deluged with complaints about Donnelly it refused to hear anything further.
Had they not shut the public out, they might have learned of a 2001 incident.

While in an ACC social work post, Donnelly reportedly took a sex offender to a bar against rules and was disciplined for it. Standards might not have concluded Donnelly’s improper conduct was a ‘one off’ had this information been presented.

Apparently one sexual assault on its own is not deemed sufficient to stop someone serving as a councillor.

On the 10th of March, Donnelly is expected at a crucial council budget meeting. The meeting was originally set for March 3rd  – the final day of Donnelly’s period of suspension.

However, council business manager Ryan Houghton arranged a postponement, ostensibly relating to central government’s imminent budget announcement.

Donnelly is expected to vote with the reigning Labour/Tory coalition just as he did in 2020 in a meeting that took place the day before his suspension.

Donnelly was a Tory and part of said coalition until he went ‘independent’ coinciding with the sexual assault conviction.

The Labour councillors in this unholy alliance are suspended from the party for defying orders and aligning with Tories. To say that Aberdonians are looking forward to the May 2022 elections is an understatement.

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Feb 212021
 

By Suzanne Kelly.

As seen in our earlier article https://aberdeenvoice.com/2021/02/acc-taxi-driver-grant-handling-to-be-investigated/ , central government is giving £1500 one-off grants to eligible taxi drivers who have lost trade during lockdowns. 

Edinburgh, Glasgow and other cities are distributing the funds to drivers who answer a series of questions online, submit ID, and supply bank account and sort code details.   

In Aberdeen, things are not quite so straightforward.

Aberdeen City Council’s handling of the grant is being reviewed by central government and data protection agencies following Aberdeen Voice’s investigations. 

Drivers here are told they can only apply electronically, must open a user account on the city’s website to access the application, and must submit a bank’s official statement showing a month’s worth of transactions.

A central government spokeswoman said: 

“The requirement for the bank details is an SG condition but that is just literally account number and sort code so people can be paid into their account.  Our guidance states that drivers must provide bank account details and local authorities can request appropriate additional evidence to determine eligibility.”

As a Glasgow city council spokesman we contacted added: 

“The webpage doesn’t say that transactions within the account have to be shown, only the name, address, account number and sort code. A bank statement with redacted transactions is therefore acceptable.”

A spokeswoman from the Information Commissioner’s office said unofficially that she would redact transactions if asked for a statement.

ACC will neither back down from nor explain its position. The type of statement an account holder can print off themselves is not accepted; the bank must issue an official statement to satisfy ACC.

Should anyone think it is not a big deal to hand a month’s worth of financial transactions over to ACC, AV is pleased to remind readers that in 2018 ACC was investigated for a massive data breach when it sent personal details such as salary and NI numbers to third parties. 

In 2019, it was reported by Jon Hebditch of the Press & Journal that the city’s computers were hacked no fewer than 15 MILLION TIMES.

Why does ACC need to see what a driver is buying and where they are spending their money?  

A driver approached us who sent in their unredacted bank details and they advise they have had two attempted identity thefts following their application.  Of course, this may be wholly coincidental, but it highlights the need for privacy.

Many banks, mobile companies, credit card companies will sometimes ask for details of a previous transaction in order to verify the identity of a phone caller.  Anyone who gets hold of a bank statement can make an identity theft bid.

Data protection laws say personal data must not be collected unless it is required for a specific transaction, and must be destroyed once it is no longer needed.  Once a driver proves who they are, their eligibility and their bank name, account number and sort code, there is no need for that driver’s financial transactions to be seen by anyone.

The question is, why does Aberdeen City Council think knowing a driver’s bank transactions is any of their business or relevant for issuing a grant once the driver establishes identity and eligibility?

Many drivers are understandably unhappy then that ACC wants sight of the applicant’s individual bank transactions.  Derek Davidson told AV: 

“I wasn’t aware transactions could be redacted. My understanding was that if you did this it could affect your claim being processed.”

Who in ACC will see this data and whether or not it will be destroyed as soon as it is no longer needed are unclear. 

What is clear is that ACC does not need to see any personal transaction details to pay people money they are due. AV is trying to get the council to remove this intrusive, potentially illegal invasion of privacy.

After several attempts by AV to get ACC to explain its invasive requirement, we have received a list of rules and regulations, and an assertion that central government did not specify how to handle the roll out. 

The city was asked if it will now follow Glasgow’s example (other councils allow redaction too, we understand) and let drivers conceal their individual bank transactions.  No answer to this simple question was offered.

If the city does reverse its policy, we will advise.  However, as ACC is dragging its feet since it was first approached, and we know drivers are in great need of the money, it may well come too late. 

An Information Commission Office spokeswoman commented:

“As mentioned we can’t give a judgement before knowing the full facts and being able to establish formally what information the council wants, how it is being used, what their privacy policy states etc.  If someone complains to us then we would look at the detail and possibly make further enquiries if necessary.

“As per our statement,  if people are concerned about how their personal data is used they can raise it with ACC and then the ICO.”
 
We urge anyone with data protection issues to issue a complaint both to ACC and the Information Commissioner – here is the link again to their complaints procedure:  https://ico.org.uk/make-a-complaint/, and here is ACC’s chief executive’s email address:  chiefexecutive@aberdeencity.gov.uk

AV will be happy to hear from anyone impacted by the issues arising.

Aberdeen Voice maintains that the city’s press office has the ability to check with every department, and could have learned more about the issue if it needed to. 
 
We will try to find out why it chose not to do so and why it is choosing to doubt AV’s story.
 
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Feb 172021
 

Thanks to Ian Stuart Baird.

Residents in Torry, Aberdeen opposed to the possibility of St. Fittick’s Park being lost to development, have stepped up their activities by launching a website and announcing a photo competition to increase awareness of the threat to the precious green space at the heart of their community.

After the publication of the Proposed Local Development Plan (2022) in March and neighbour notifications had dropped through letterboxes in June, shocked residents realised the catastrophic potential of the proposed changes in the LDP.

A small informal group meeting on Zoom and Facebook realised that the fight for the park would be a long one. The group would need to become bigger, open to all and representing all views, so a steering committee – Friends of St Fittick’s – was formed.

The stated mission of the Friends of St Fittick’s Park  is to:

focus on ensuring the survival of St Fittick’s Park, and improve the engagement and experience the local people have with this fantastic natural space’.

Local people have been angered by the rezoning of the Green Space to an opportunity site (OP56) in the Local Development Plan where development as one of the sites in the Energy Transition Zone adjacent to Aberdeen South Harbour would be favoured.

A similar rezoning would apply to Doonies Farm, another valuable local resource.

They are worried that even more land might be threatened as the ETZ’s Feasibility Study identifies the southern section of Balnagask golf course as another potential ETZ site and the northern one as part of a proposed Energy Coast all round the Bay of Nigg.

Announcing the launch group member David Hunter said:

“This proposal is a slap in the face for the people of Torry. Aberdeen South Harbour has already deprived us of the Bay of Nigg but residents were promised that St. Fittick’s Park would be preserved.

“We support the concept of energy transition but destroying a complex wetland ecosystem and a green space which is at the heart of the local community is certainly not the way to go about it.”

As well as mitigating climate change as a carbon sink and a flood plain, St. Fittick’s Park provides the community with educational opportunities, a buffer between housing and the South Harbour, and benefits its physical and mental health.

By highlighting these current diverse roles and imagining future improved and new ones, the group, through its web site and with community engagement, is encouraging both locals and those in the wider Aberdeen community to realise what an enormous asset we have, and to do everything possible to protect and improve it.

A photo competition has been launched both to encourage more people to visit the park, and for the photos to capture the threatened essence of the space and share with others.

Prizes totalling £100 will be awarded, the entries later published on the website and, Covid-19 permitting, displayed in a public space.  Full details are on the website.

The Friends of St. Fittick’s Park are encouraging people to join the group and support them by raising awareness, letter-writing, fund-raising and generally helping to protect the Park now and in the future.