Mar 172017
 

With thanks to Martin Ford.

In an initiative by Aberdeenshire’s Democratic Independent and Green councillors Councillor Martin Ford is asking Aberdeenshire Council to ‘give consideration to the feasibility of creating a significant visual arts, museum or other cultural facility as part of its redevelopment of the Harlaw Road site in Inverurie’.

Cllr Ford’s call comes in a notice of motion he has submitted for debate at the next meeting of Aberdeenshire’s Education and Children’s Services Committee on 23 March.

It has only been possible to submit notices of motion for debate at Aberdeenshire Council’s policy committees since 27 January this year when the Council’s new scheme of governance was introduced (previously notices of motion were restricted to Area Committees and full council).

Cllr Ford’s notice of motion says:

“Aberdeenshire Council shall give consideration to the feasibility of creating a significant visual arts, museum or other cultural facility as part of its redevelopment of the Harlaw Road site in Inverurie. The consideration process shall include seeking public views, establishing what external funding sources might be available and discussions with potential partners who may want to be involved (e.g. the local universities).”

Committee chair Cllr Alison Evison has confirmed Cllr Ford’s notice of motion will be included on the agenda for next week’s Education and Children’s Services Committee meeting.

Cllr Ford said:

“The motion doesn’t commit the Council to anything beyond an exploratory process. But it’s an exploratory process we should do, and we need to do it now before the site is master-planned.

“Essentially, the motion asks the Council to think about the possibilities, and have discussions with others. Why would it not do that?

“The motion is deliberately not prescriptive about the kind of facility. That needs to be discussed and a decision emerge from consultation and dialogue.

“Personally, I rather like the idea of an ‘Aberdeenshire Museum’, but that’s clearly just one possibility. I want to see what comes out of the discussion and consultation that I hope results from the motion I have tabled.

“The point is, who would have predicted the V&A going to Dundee? Someone had to suggest it, against all reasonable expectation, and it happened.

“There is certainly room on the Harlaw Road site.

“A major cultural facility would bring significant benefits for the Aberdeenshire economy and tourism. It would also contribute to the quality of life for residents and raise the profile of the area.

“Clearly, funding will be an issue – which is why the motion asks the Council to look at external funding possibilities and open discussions with potential partners as part of an initial exploratory process.”

Cllr Paul Johnston said:

“This is a good idea. At this stage, agreeing the motion does not commit the Council to expenditure, it only opens the door to exciting possibilities.

“The Council should be keen to hear the public’s views.”

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Feb 102017
 

With thanks to Martin Ford.

In a ground-breaking move, Aberdeenshire Council today became the first local authority in Scotland to set a carbon budget alongside its revenue, housing and capital budgets. All four budgets for 2017/18 were set at the meeting of the full Aberdeenshire Council yesterday (9 February).

The idea of a Council carbon budget was put forward last year by Democratic Independent and Green Group (DIGG) councillors Martin Ford and Paul Johnston.

The aim of the budget is to promote the effective management and delivery of reductions in Aberdeenshire Council’s own carbon emissions – and so contribute to the wider efforts to prevent more serious man-made climate change.

Aberdeenshire’s first carbon budget, agreeing to limit total Council emissions to 74007 tonnes CO2e for 2017/18, was backed unanimously by councillors. The new total represents a five per cent cut in emissions relative to emissions in 2014/15 (the most recent year for which data were available when the budget was being calculated). 

Speaking in support of the carbon budget at today’s meeting, Green councillor Martin Ford said:

“This is a very important improvement to the Council’s governance. It will change the way the Council takes decisions.

“Despite very considerable effort, the Council has only been managing to cut the carbon emissions arising from its operations by about one per cent per year – nowhere near enough to meet its own or national targets. I have held the view for some time that this is partly down to the governance arrangements in place in the Council for taking decisions with climate change implications.

“The adoption of an annual carbon budget should make it impossible to ‘forget’ in future that, as well as its intended consequences, a decision may also, unintentionally, increase carbon emissions.

“There is overwhelming scientific evidence for man-made climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions. It’s the most serious threat we face.

“Aberdeenshire Council must play its part in tackling the problem, and get better at reducing its own emissions.”

DIGG councillor Paul Johnston said:

“The carbon budget will allow the Council to achieve the necessary carbon emission reductions as efficiently as possible. We can use it as a tool to ensure the Council gets best value, the maximum carbon bang for our bucks.

“We should never lose sight of the fact that carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuels is pollution.”

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Feb 072017
 

With thanks to Martin Ford.

Aberdeenshire Green councillor Martin Ford has welcomed the extra money for local government secured by the Green MSPs in return for supporting the Scottish Government’s budget.
Aberdeenshire Council is set to benefit from an additional £6.309 million revenue funding and an additional capital allocation of £1.88 million – beyond the settlement previously intimated by the Scottish Government.

Budget day this year for Aberdeenshire Council comes on Thursday (9 February) and the agenda for the budget meeting has just been published containing proposals for balancing the 2017/18 revenue budget on the assumption of acceptance of the Scottish Government’s previous position on local government funding. 

Cllr Martin Ford said:

“I am relieved and delighted that, at the eleventh hour, additional government funding has been secured for next year for Aberdeenshire Council.

“For Aberdeenshire Council, Green MSP colleagues have secured a huge improvement.

“Even with £6.3 million extra funding, it is still going to be a tough budget this year for Aberdeenshire Council. But clearly the Council will now be able to re-visit the budget proposals just published and, at the very least, take out some of the proposed cuts to services. This is excellent news. I am so pleased.

“As it stands, the proposed budget includes some staffing reductions in Education and Children’s Services which I certainly don’t want to see implemented. Converting some of the Council’s spending on roads maintenance from revenue to capital, as proposed, is a short term saving, but long term is more expensive. There are good arguments for dropping these measures from next year’s Aberdeenshire budget now the financial pressure on the Council has been eased.”

The proposed Aberdeenshire 2017/18 revenue budget, as published yesterday, does include elements put forward in the Democratic Independent and Green Group (DIGG) draft budget proposals last November – including additional money for active travel, traffic calming and youth work.

DIGG councillor Paul Johnston said:

“We’re pleased some issues we identified as needing support have been taken on board by the administration, but, given the financial squeeze, the amount of extra money was inevitably going to be very limited. There is clearly now scope for a greater investment in these agreed priorities.

“The DIGG will also want to look at the potential for using some of the new money for measures not included at all in the published proposed 2017/18 revenue budget – such as support for businesses affected by the business rates revaluation.”

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Nov 222016
 

marischalpicBy Suzanne Kelly.

While pondering whether to offer Aberdeen Press & Journal and the Evening Express a free base for one year in the controversial Marischal College office building, Aberdeen City Council has certainly been helping the paper financially as it spends £200,000 per annum on advertisements in the papers. 

A recent Freedom of Information request shows that the city council has advertised in Aberdeen Journals Ltd’s local papers to the tune of £626,500 over the last three years. 

This is a mean of £205,500 per year. 

The breakdown is as follows:

2016 – £199,818.78 (up to 25 October 2016)

2015 – £219,123.87

2014 – £197,513.68

The City explained:

“Unfortunately, we are unable to provide a breakdown of each expense. The types of expense that ACC would use Aberdeen Journals for would be, for example, Public Notices and Job Advertisements.”

The city also claims it would be too expensive to get a breakdown of what these ads are.

Aberdeenshire Council on the other hand spend a grand total of £6,998 on advertising with the two newspapers over the same three year period. When asked to check the figures, the Shire spokesperson confirmed this figure was all-inclusive.

The city declined to give a breakdown, stating there were a staggering 3,000 invoices for the time period, and the cost to them of collating the information was over £3,000.

There IS such a thing as free rent.

The City Council declines to answer whether it is planning to give free rent to the P&J or other future Marischal Square residents.

The City does advise:

“The discussions in relation to the proposals for the AJL terms have involved the advice of external property agents, the Council’s development partner and a number of Council officers.  The Council officers involved  were Head of Finance, Head of Land and Property Assets, and Asset Management Manager.” 

The P&J editor Damian Bates seems unsurprisingly keen to move to the building his papers previously called ‘controversial’. 

He commented in a recent article:

“It’s in no-one’s interests for it to sit empty and this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us to head back home; back into the city centre where we belong and where The Press and Journal started its amazing journey more than 270 years ago.

“We are now a multi-media business and this prospective move will provide a bright future for the Evening Express, P&J, Energy Voice and all our other products and sites. The council has been our landlord since approximately 1970 so nothing is going to change.”  

Some Free Advice on Free Rent, Expensive Advertising and Ethics.

Some notices must be published in newspapers for legal requirements. Job advertisements appear on the City Council’s website, which is free to access by anyone with a computer, and anyone with a library card can access computers for free. There is no excuse for cutting services while spending this kind of money on advertising.

Considering that jobs can be easily, freely posted on the city council’s website, and citizens are told that services and that citizens were told budget cuts have to be made, cutting down on advertising should have been a priority. In January Finance Committee Convener, Cllr Willie Young told the council’s advertising vehicle the Evening Express:

“It’s possible third sector organisations could see funding cut…We have to look at everything.”

Perhaps before any other services are cut, Aberdeen City Council might want to think twice about its advertising spend and giving new office space away for free, with the taxpayer picking up the tab.

According to the P&J, office space in Aberdeen commands a high price – or at least should do:

“…Aberdeen continues to lead the way for prime office rents, with Ryden reporting a current price of £32 per sq ft – higher than Glasgow’s £30 figure, with sites in Edinburgh and Dundee generating £28 and £15 respectively.” 

If the city could and should be making money out of the massive eyesore which could have been that civic square everyone in a position of power once Jonesed for (oh Sir Ian, where art thou? Why didn’t you want the civic square there? And I note that ‘Opportunity North East Limited’ has extended its accounting period so it won’t have to report at the end of this month now and has until the end of March 2017 – your comment welcome Sir Ian), and if the city has to ‘look at everything’ to find money – why should Aberdeen Journals Ltd. enjoy this largess?

Then again there is a small moral issue. For most of the rest of the UK, a newspaper has a duty to investigate with impartiality, serving as a check on government and a check on the powerful. As it stands, the P&J’s alliance to the editor’s wife’s boss Donald Trump is a dark stain.

Can the P&J really morally afford to be indebted to the city council it should be investigating, or has any pretence of journalism now left the building. We should be told.

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Nov 222016
 

martinford-kintore-crossing-tallWith thanks to Martin Ford.

Aberdeenshire’sDemocratic Independent and Green Group of councillors (DIGG) is arguing the consultation on alternative service delivery models for sport and cultural services agreed at their council’s Education, Learning and Leisure Committee should form part of the expected wider consultation on budget options due to start later this year.

Aberdeenshire Council has agreed to follow a revised budget setting process for its 2017/18 budget in line with the decision taken at the Council’s budget meeting last February and in accordance with the provisions of the confidence and supply agreement between the DIGG and the Council’s coalition administration.

Draft budget proposals are to be published in November giving time for public consultation and to allow discussion on proposals between the various political groups on the Council ahead of formal budget decision making in February.

Cllr Martin Ford (pictured) said:

“I’m really not keen on the charitable trust proposal for future delivery of sport and cultural services. If it was not for the potential financial benefits – possibly betterment in excess of £1 million per annum – I don’t think the option would be under consideration. As it is, given the financial pressures on the Council and anticipated need for future savings, using a Council-owned charitable trust to deliver sport and cultural services has to be given serious consideration.”

Aberdeenshire Council is expected to have to make significant savings in its revenue budget for 2017/18 and in subsequent years. At this stage, before the Scottish Government grant settlement is known, there is considerable uncertainty about the amount the Council will have to save to balance its budget for next year.

However, based on reasonable assumptions, additional spending cuts or other savingstotalling over £10 million are expected to be required, over and above thesavings already identified in the draft 2017/18 revenue budget published last February.

Cllr Martin Ford said:

“In setting its revenue budget for 2017/18, Aberdeenshire Council is going to have to take a range of decisions driven by the need to save money. Moving to a Council-owned charitable trust to deliver sport and cultural services is one option that could be adopted.

“Deciding what to do to balance the revenue budget means comparing all the potential savings options and trying to identify the least damaging and disruptive way of achieving the spending reductions required. Public consultation on those savings options that would affect the Council’s public services should also allow simultaneous consideration of the different proposals, so their relative acceptability can be gauged.

“Including alternative models for the delivery of sport and cultural services in the Council’s budget consultation process is the logical way to proceed,”

Cllr Paul Johnston said:

“As part of consideration of alternative delivery models for sport and cultural services, I would want the Council to look at options for local control, not just a single Aberdeenshire-wide charitable trust.

“As a group, the DIGG aim to have a range of draft budget proposals ready for the November full council meeting, and will welcome the opportunity to get feedback and comment on these before the Council sets its revenue budget for 2017/18 next February.”

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Sep 162016
 
MartinFordatUTG

East Garioch councillor Martin Ford.

With thanks to Martin Ford.

Campaigners in favour of re-opening the Buchan line railway at least as far as Ellon are demanding that fair forecasts of passenger numbers are used to evaluate the projected benefits of rebuilding the line.
In response to the announcement that the re-opened Borders railway has carried its first million passengers in its first year of operation, East Garioch councillor Martin Ford commented:

“There must be no bias against re-opening the rail line to Ellon or beyond in the evaluation of future transport options for the Fraserburgh/Peterhead/Ellon/Aberdeen transport corridor,”

While the verified passenger numbers for the whole of the first year of operation are not yet available, it is clear the re-opened Borders line is far busier than the forecast levels of use predicted when re-opening was being considered.

“The passenger numbers using rail stations and lines that have re-opened have generally been above – often well above – the forecast numbers used to decide whether the re-opening was a value-for-money investment,” said Cllr Ford.

“Essentially, the predictions of passenger use have been, pretty consistently, far too pessimistic.”

The North East of Scotland Transport Partnership (Nestrans) reports that following re-opening passenger numbers at Laurencekirk station were more than double the projected usage.

“The pessimism in the forecasting of expected use amounts to a bias against rail re-openings and risks seeing proposed schemes blocked when they would be successful,” said Cllr Ford.

“Fortunately the Borders line re-opening went ahead anyway despite the poor forecasts of passenger numbers. But hopes for re-opening the Buchan line must not be put at risk by underestimating its attractiveness to passengers.”

Cllr Ford and Mid-Formartine councillor Paul Johnston have now written to Nestrans director Derick Murray seeking assurances that better methods of predicting passenger numbers will be used to quantify the expected benefits of re-opening the Buchan line railway to Ellon or beyond.

“The business case for re-opening the railway, as opposed to other options, must not be unfairly damaged by underestimating the number of people who would opt to travel by train if that choice was available,” said Cllr Paul Johnston.

“No-one expects passenger number forecasts to be exactly correct every time. But the pattern of repeated underestimates strongly suggests the methods being used are not accurately reflecting actual behaviour. So lessons must be learnt from the success of the Borders line re-opening and revised methods for forecasting expected passenger use applied in future.

“The desire to bring back the Buchan line must not be derailed by faulty forecasts,”
Cllr Ford Added:
“There is every reason to believe a re-opened railway to Ellon would be a great success.”
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Nov 162015
 

Aberdeen City and Shire Hotels’ Association launches new tourism awards at Dunnottar CastlefeatWith thanks to Eoin Smith, Senior Account Executive, Tricker PR.

Dunnottar Castle, the spectacular medieval ruin in Aberdeenshire, continues to enthral audiences around the globe after an array of Hollywood film appearances. In 1990 the castle played a starring role in the film ‘Hamlet‘ featuring Mel Gibson.
More recently it provided inspiration for the castle in Disney Pixar’s ‘Brave’ and this December Dunnottar will feature in ‘Victor Frankenstein’, a remake of the horror classic Frankenstein, starring James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe.

Last year Dunnottar was awarded seventh place out of over 200 entrants in a competition to find the 8th Wonder of the World, an incredible accomplishment for the small team of staff who are all passionate about showcasing Dunnottar to the world.

Their dedication appears to have paid off, as footfall to the castle more than doubled from 35,000 in 2009 to just under 89,000 in 2014.

These recent achievements for the team have resulted in Dunnottar Castle being shortlisted for Best Visitor Attraction in the Aberdeen City and Shire Tourism Awards (ACSTA). The Best Visitor Attraction award celebrates Scottish attractions which are dedicated to providing excellent customer service to visitors.

Jim Wands, Custodian of Dunnottar Castle who recently took over from Wendy Sylvester, says,

“The ACSTA nomination continues an extremely successful few years for the team at Dunnottar. It is a fantastic feeling to receive recognition for all our hard work and commitment towards improving the castle and the overall visitor experience.

“We want visitors to enjoy the magnificence of Dunnottar as much as we do, so visitor satisfaction, the preservation of the castle and its environment are our main priorities. We have people visiting daily from all corners of the globe and we aim to provide them with the best memories of the North-east of Scotland.

“The castle now has a prominent social media presence which has created a loyal and interactive following from around the world. We have also received a Tripadvisor Certificate of Excellence for three consecutive years. I firmly believe these achievements have been made possible by the dedication and persistence of the staff at Dunnottar.”

As well as working exceptionally hard to enhance the overall experience for both domestic and foreign visitors, the team of staff at Dunnottar Castle works very closely with local businesses and attractions in their local town of Stonehaven.

Jim explains,

“We have built strong connections within Stonehaven as we realise the mutually beneficial roles we both play in attracting visitors to the area. We have helped to support and implement projects such as information boards, granting land for projects and regular donations to local charities via our wishing well fund. With each other’s help, businesses in Stonehaven and Dunnottar Castle have continued to flourish together, bringing in a larger number of visitors each year.”

Dunnottar Castle was once considered significant enough to house the Scottish crown jewels, or the ‘Honours of Scotland’, during Oliver Cromwell’s invasion of Scotland in the 17th century. The Honours were smuggled out of the castle during a siege by Cromwell’s army. For 11 years they were buried in nearby Kinneff Church, until they were finally returned back to Edinburgh Castle.

Dunnottar Castle is nominated for the Best Visitor Attraction in the 2015 Aberdeen City and Shire Tourism Awards and will be up against Macduff Marine Aquarium and Drum Castle.

The winners of each category will be announced at an award ceremony on Friday November 27, 2015 at Ardoe House Hotel and Spa, and the winners will then go on to represent the region at the national Thistle Awards.

For more information about the Aberdeen City and Shire Tourism Awards, visit www.acsta.co.uk

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Sep 292015
 

Haddo House is pleased to present a varied festival this year; with thanks to Alice Dennis.

As well as numerous fine arts exhibitions and theatrical performances, there are three concerts at Haddo House this Sunday and Monday.

They include fantastic performers; the internationally acclaimed string quartet the Endellion, the Songsmiths who are two Ferrier winning singers and accomplished pianist Audrey Hyland and world famous pianist Peter Donohoe giving a recital on Monday night.

All  the concerts feature accessible music to appeal to concert goers old an new, young and not so young with never a dull moment!

photo by Eric Richmond compressedThe Sunday lunchtime Endellion concert has light refreshments afterwards in the Peatyards where the Art Exhbition is; hy not have a walk afterwards and something to eat at Formartines on the estate and then come to the Songsmiths in the evening?

This concert has a wide selection of beautiful romantic song loosely connected to the theme of the story of Lady of the Camellias. A must for every aspiring singer!

On Monday Peter Donohoe playing the Steinway grand has to be the highlight of the week – please don’t miss out on the chance to hear him play!

A programme of events can be found here