May 022013
 

By Bob Smith.

We’ve aa hid a  leukie
At plans fer the “Civic Square”
Tae replace St Nicholas Hoose
Eence it’s aa laid bare
.
Bliddy stracht edged biggins
O the usual gless an steel
Nae flair fae the architects
The concocshuns o some feel
.
Iss is the wye tae go
We hear the planners bleat
Great innovative designs
As modernity we maun meet
.
Fit a load o bliddy crap
We hiv the chunce tae hae
A great open green space
Faar fowk can sit or play
Dinna bigg on the foons
O the concrete St Nic’s Hoose
Mak it intae a fine square
Lit yer imaginations loose
.
Open up the bonnie view
O the hoose o Provost Skene
Wi greenery jist aa aroon
Plunty space tae meet a freen
.
A place tae sit an see
The grandeur o Marischal College
An myn back tae it’s days
As a placie full o knowledge
.
Aiberdonians are fair fed up
O biggins nae bricht an jolly
Especially eens fit micht be ca’ed
The future St Nicholas Hoose folly

Bob Smith “The Poetry Mannie” 2013

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Dec 032012
 

Local authorities in Scotland must allow the public to look at their unaudited accounts, and Aberdeen City Council is no exception to this rule. In August 2012 this annual statutory period of time was granted for interested people to examine the city council’s financial year documents from 2011.
Paying Through The Nose: Part 1 looked at invoices Aberdeen City Council paid to Stewart Milne-related companies, the Wood Family Trust and the BiG Partnership. In the second and final part, Suzanne Kelly examines finances for the 2011 financial year relating to ACSEF, the Tree for Every Citizen scheme, foreign trips by city officials and more.

Tree for Every Citizen: A scheme and a half

In this allegedly environmentally-sound tree-planting scheme, the slogan A Tree for Every Citizen came first, and the science, economics and location for said saplings was a secondary concern. Tullos Hill was once a meadow filled with birds, plants, small mammals and deer.

Thanks to the interventions of a minority, the hill is now largely a scarred, haphazard wasteland.

Pete Leonard (Housing) and Aileen Malone (Lib Dem former convener, Housing & Environment Committee) promised councillor and citizen alike that their pet scheme was totally cost neutral. Who could object to a beautification project designed to combat Aberdeen’s large carbon footprint? Who could object to a scheme that wasn’t going to cost anyone anything?

More to the point – who actually believed a polluted, windswept hill which had thus far failed to sustain many trees was going to become a lumber-producing, cost-neutral success story?

The figures below were prepared by the city in answer to my query on the scheme’s 2011 finances: 

Expenditure £
Deer Management 6,748.54
Tree Planting including clearing 33,128.00
Fencing 13,812.97
 Total Expenditure 53,689.51
Income
Grant Income (13,891.10)
Net Expenditure 2011/12 39,798.41

 

This net expenditure was then broken down as follows:

Date Amount (note – these seem to be the net figures without VAT) Description (note – text was not complete on spread sheet I was given)   Supplier
15/6/11 (13,891.10) Grant – tree for every citizen
9/11/11 7,125.00 Unknown – tree for every citizen   Bryan Massie
19/3/12 3,840.00 Unknown – tree for every citizen   Highland estate services
20/3/12 7,500.00 Unknown – deer fencing for tre [sic]   Bryan Massie
23/3/12 16,150.00 Unknown – project management C   C J Piper & Co
23/3/12 6,221.31 Aberdeen City Council
28/3/12 6,273.00 unknown – application of kerb   Bryan Massie
31/3/12 (260.00) Date of supply 28th march 2012   Forestry Commission
31/3/12 6,312.97 Unknown – Tullos hill – tree for   Bryan Massie
05/4/12 527.23 Aberdeen city council
TOTAL 39,798.41

 

It seems just a little amiss that the word ‘unknown’ should appear so many times on a summary of expenditure. It also seems amiss that the breakdown includes only one of the two C J Piper invoices I was supplied. The Hazlehead costs seem to be left out of this equation – and yet cutting these trees at Hazlehead down was, according to sources, one of the ways in which the Tree for Every Citizen scheme was paid for.

Is the meagre £527.23 from Aberdeen City Council to the TFEC scheme related to the Hazlehead tree felling which earned Piper £1,422? If it is unrelated, then which city budget did this sum come from and what does it represent?

Like so many things under our previous council and under Leonard and Chief Executive Watts, these ‘cost-neutral’ claims were a far cry from reality. The total costs to December 2011 had already been released by the FOI office, and they were damning.

After a great deal of coaxing, Watts conceded that £43,800 had been repaid to the Forestry Commission for the dismal failure of Phase I of the scheme. All who wanted Phase 2 to go ahead blamed the deer for the failure, even though the FC said the soil and weeds were largely to blame. Still, no one would have kept making money had the scheme been scrapped. Least of all Chris Piper.

We Who Pay The Piper

Apparently a sole trader under the name C J Piper & Company, Chris Piper was the principal architect of this sorry scheme. I had asked for sight of Piper invoices ACC paid in the 2011 financial year; this is what was made available:

Invoice No Date Description   Gross Amount
ACC/0312/300 6 March 2012 PO A139378 – Implementation of the Tree For Every Citizen scheme, design and plant Ph II, prepare and submit relevant applications, liaison with Forestry Commission and other agencies and ACC officers; preparation of bills of quantity, commissioning of contract works on behalf of ACC, on site supervision, submission to woodland carbon code certification, PR/media strategy (mileage 2,778 miles £1,250), VAT £3,230   19,380,00
ACC/1111/298 30 November 2011 Woodland consultancy (No PO number quoted) as per finances & Resources  Committee Report December 2010 – thinning at Hazlehead Golf Course, preparation and submission of Forestry commission felling license, drawing up of standing sale particulars and circulation to the timber market, taking and assessing bids   £1,422.00

 

Getting sight of the Piper invoices was a long process; the FOI officers protected Piper’s identity at all costs for over a year, despite this being a person writing city reports which justified his further fees on this scheme, and receiving taxpayer money.

Piper, a Forres-based tree expert, is invited to come forward and explain his determination the scheme would work, and how he produced a report jointly with the city which recommended the TFEC scheme (calling the many opponents ‘a vociferous minority’).

How someone with a vested interest in a scheme proceeding can be allowed to author or co-author a report (no one at ACC put their name on the joint submission made to the FC) should be a matter for further investigation.

The soil (or lack thereof), the wind, the weeds and use of herbicides alone should have stopped the scheme. (Note: at present nothing like 89,000 trees have been planted on Tullos despite this being the plan. Originally, some 20 deer were going to be culled in the first year – we now know it was closer to 36: which we paid some £6,000 to eliminate).

No wonder the city and Piper were so keen to keep things quiet.

As a footnote to those who believe the tree scheme will eventually be a successful carbon capture system of some sort, there are a few points to consider. Firstly, tearing out the existing vegetation ruined what carbon capture had been in place, and the earth moving vehicles used assuredly had a carbon footprint.

Surprisingly formidable in terms of carbon footprint is the astonishing figure of 2,778 miles travelled by C J Piper, billed to the taxpayer at £0.45 per mile for a staggering £1,250. This appears on an invoice from May 2011 to 6 March 2012, totalling £19,380 inclusive of VAT. As green carbon capture schemes go, this scheme has a great deal to make up for (providing any of the trees, currently surrounded by weeds) manage to grow.

Odds and Ends

Bryan Massie Woodland Management Ltd did quite nicely out of the scheme as well, spraying herbicides. Anyone can see the chemicals did not exactly save the Phase 1 trees, and Phase 2 growth is already surrounded by high weeds.

Astute council observers will recall the blackmail deal offered by Malone: give us £225,000 for fencing, or we kill the deer. She insisted we had no money for fencing. The public were urged by all interested animal charities not to give into this blackmail and the precedent it would set. Somehow, money for fencing was found anyway – yet the deer were still exterminated.

Invoice No Date Description Gross Amount
483 27/10/2011 Spraying, planting and  tubing various sites 8550
520 09/03/2012 Herbicide application (various locations 7527
(unk) 09/03/2012 Deer Fencing at Tullos (first part) 9000
(unk) 38/03/2012 Deer Fencing (second part) 7575

 

Highland Estate Services were paid £480 per day to clear our gorse; their Invoice No. 547 shows them receiving £4,608 from the city.

Payback’s a B*tch

The city had to return £43,800 to the Forestry Commission for the dismal failure of Phase 1, but this seems to have no place in the 2010 or 2011 accounts. This figure was paid rather late; it was demanded of us in November 2010.

The Commission had to chase the city, which eventually paid in March 2011. Yet the sum was not reflected in accounts to December 2011 (received under FOI legislation), nor is this figure reflected in the 2011 scheme.

The council should explain where this figure appears in the books – it is clearly part of the tree scheme. If it were to be combined with the net expenditure recorded in 2011 of £39,798.41, then we have spent £83,598 (minimum) on a scheme opposed by 2,400 people, several community councils, and animal charities including the Scottish SPCA.

This should be a matter for serious investigation by Audit Scotland and Standards in Public Office. It has enriched a few businesses, served as a Liberal Democrat mantra and compromised what was once a rich meadow teeming with wildlife.

What the Forestry Commission wrote:

031/000390 – Tullos Community Woodland

“This is a failed WGS planting scheme. The scheme failed due to inadequate protection from deer and weeds. On the 4th November 2010 we issued Aberdeen City Council with an invoice for £43,831.90 – the reclaim of monies paid out under the above contract.

“This invoice was to be paid within 30 days. The monies have not been received. This invoice is now accruing interest and has led to a payment ban being put in place over your Business Reference Number”.

What Ms Watts eventually admitted: this money was paid in March 2011. She continues to deny the Tree for Every Citizen Phase 1 planting at Tullos and St Fitticks has any connection whatsoever to the Tree for Every Citizen Phase 2 planting at Tullos and St Fitticks. This is a nice bit of semantics, but would it stand up to an auditor’s scrutiny?

I can find no record of Pete Leonard going back to the Housing and Audit Committee and advising them the scheme which he promised was cost neutral would be nothing of the kind.

You might be forgiven for thinking an officer of the city should account to the relevant committee (if not the public) when his figures were found to be faulty. Whether the expenditure was £39,798, £83,598 – or considerably higher when taking into account the 2010 costs – this scheme was never going to be cost neutral.

Come Fly Away, Come Fly Away With Me

When a city is cutting services to the elderly and infirm, when a city wants to drop arts and music lessons, and refuses to maintain its pavements and roads, should it really be deploying its higher-ups to foreign countries for seminars? Aberdeen thought so last year:

Traveller Date Destination Flight cost subsistence Hotel cost Reason for trip
Gerry Brough 29/4 – 5/5/11 Houston Flights and accommodation arranged through group package 662.22 – returned 381 US Dollars OTC (Annual oil event)
Gerry Brough 5/11-9/11 Lyon/Grenoble 277 449.23 – returned 110 Euros 388.79 Invited to speak at conf/networking
Gordon McIntosh 3/12 – 7/12/11 Doha 671 529.72 Paid of City of Doha World Energy Cities AGM
Gordon McIntosh 6/11-15/11/11 Australia 1,518 1379.62 1,148.99 Economic Development Activity
Gordon McIntosh 17/1-25(?)/1/12 Ghana Paid UK trade & Inv 794 US Dollars 242.01 UK Trade & Investment Project
Gordon McIntosh 21/3-23/3/12 Nice 495 233.52 Launch of Hydrogen Bus Project
Gordon McIntosh 25/3-25(?)/3/12 Brussels 205 120.53 492.25 North Sea Commission 2020
Valerie Watts 27/9-30/9/11 Aarhus, Denmark 525 (?) 310.60 550.23 CPMR General Assembly
Lord Provost Peter Stephen 30/4-7/5/11 Houston Flights and accommodation arranged through group package 311.07 returned 40 US Dollars OTC
Lord Provost Peter Stephen 34/6-27/6/12 Nuremberg 314 242.45 Regensburg Burgerfest Festival
Lord Provost Peter Stephen 3/12-8/12/11 Doha 537 529.72 Paid of City of Doha World Energy Cities AGM

 

One hopes that the flight costs were reasonable; they were in many cases not disclosed. In terms of carbon capture, so important to Leonard and Malone when it came to Tullos Hill, perhaps we could have preserved the hill and lowered our carbon footprint simply by not flying these mandarins around the globe.

Perhaps attending our Oil and Gas event at the AECC would not have been sufficient to advise people Aberdeen has something to do with the oil sector. Perhaps nothing was more essential than the Regensburg Burgerfest Festival, or knocking around Australia for economic development purposes.

However, would it be more prudent and somewhat more in keeping with current austerity measures to do more teleconferences and cut out the air miles? Who knows? One or two events less and our former Lord Provost and his wife might have made some saving on their dress allowance, which of course comes from the public purse.

ACSEF: One Hand Washing the Other

ACSEF is an economic forum where our richest and most influential business people are supposed to give us an advisory forum. The quango, however, transformed itself from ‘forum’ to ‘future’, and this unelected body, existing to further business interests uber alles in our city, regularly gives advice to City and Shire governments, which are expected to rubber-stamp ACSEF recommendations.

Under the stewardship of chair Stewart Milne, ACSEF decided the city’s special area of conservation at Loirston should have been transformed into a ‘community’ stadium (and then somehow a private stadium which Milne would decant AFC into, turning AFC’s historic grounds into housing for his own profit).

How Mr Milne was able to wear his ACSEF, property developer and AFC Chairman hats without having any conflict of interest is unclear. It is perfectly clear ACSEF wanted a ‘spade in ground’ project at Loirston, coincidentally favouring its chairman’s business interests in the process.

If the taxpayer wasn’t paying for this blatantly self-interested lobbying, it might be funny. ACSEF cost the city £126,541 in 2011/12, broken down as follows:

Item Actual
Staff Costs 89,321
Premises Costs 5,484
Administration Costs 2,924
Transport Costs 927
Supplies & Services 119
Commissioning Services 7,927
Transfer Payments 19,839
TOTAL 126,541

 

Chamber of Secrets

The Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce submitted their Invoice No. 42810 dated 18 April 2011 to Aberdeen City Council – for ‘public relations services (ACSEF)’ – this bill has some of the familiar features of the invoices prepared by The BiG Partnership (its members no stranger to various quangos, boards, city groups) to the city for ‘AWPR’.

BiG was at the time also getting the city to pay for ‘AWPR’ public relations services. This Chamber of Commerce invoice is for £1416 to cover ‘public relations services (ACSEF)’, ‘newspaper licenses and cutting service’, and (partially redacted) ‘photography, energy industry conference, town house’.

In summary, ACSEF’s PR services seem to be invoiced via the Chamber without the actual supplier being specified, much like the City Gardens Project invoices were.  BiG also bills the city via central government for ‘AWPR work’ as shown in Part 1.

The Chamber refused to say which organisations’ services it was billing the City for at ACSEF’s directions when it came to the City Garden Project. So much for straightforward, transparent procurement and invoicing. (See The Great City Gardens Project Gravy Train article for more on those City Gardens Project invoices from the Chamber to the taxpayer).

As well as serving as clearing house for City Garden Project and ACSEF-related costs, the Chamber charges £300 per year for membership – which the Kirkhill school paid via Aberdeen City Council, with a few hundred more for the city’s annual membership.

People might be forgiven for thinking decisions are made in Aberdeen by a network of powerful, self-serving individuals; there certainly is a smidgeon of evidence to support this view.

Observations

It is too late to get any of this 2011 money back. It is not too late to call to account those who may possibly have overstepped their remits, wasted public money, caused environmental damage, and who enjoyed clothing allowances, portraits, parties and foreign junkets while the rest of us were coping with bills and noting a downturn in city services.

It is down to the new administration to look at the past, stop that which should be stopped, and investigate what should be investigated. It is hoped the new council will give us a more robust financial accounting system going forward, one that spends wisely and respects the public, the environment and the public purse.

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Nov 232012
 

In a move meant to demonstrate transparency in government, August 2012 saw the opening of a statutory period in which members of the public were able to view Aberdeen City Council’s financial year documents for 2011. In the first of a two-part investigation, Suzanne Kelly seeks answers but winds up with more questions.

In 2011 Aberdeen moved from being an SNP/Lib-Dem controlled city to an administration with a slim Labour majority.

Although drains on the public purse like the Tullos deer debacle and the development of the Granite Web’s TIF funding application were left behind, the public still had to bear the cost of the previous administration’s policies.

Staff at the ACC finance department were most helpful but the year-end document on display was not the detailed set of accounts I had hoped for.

The year-end statement made many claims about the city doing the best it could but most of the costs had already been lumped together and processed.  I wanted to see actual invoices and spread sheets from some of the year’s more contentious projects (or at least those I knew of).

I provided the list of invoices and accounts I wished to examine and eventually received the information collated and ready to inspect. I have to say seeing the various costs involved is a far cry from reading the wonderfully prosaic year-end statement, and though I am still sifting through documents looking for answers, here are some issues that emerged.

Stewart Milne

ACC and Stewart Milne are in legal dispute over land transaction issues at Westhill. The city sold land to one arm of the Milne empire at far less than its market value on the understanding it would eventually see a share of any future profit.

At the same time Milne companies were buying and selling land at knockdown prices, they were submitting bids for council projects (at very narrow margins compared to the competition), winning work worth approximately £10m. The courts – including the highest in the UK – sided with ACC and Milne should by rights be settling his debt to the city.

Despite Milne entities refusing to pay ACC its rightful share of profit on the land transactions, instead dragging ACC (and therefore the taxpayer) through the courts, Milne had (and may still have) preferred bidder status for council contracts. Milne is assuredly carrying out work for the city, which in 2011 was rewarded as follows:

In fact, the 2011 ‘self-raised invoices’ reflect the following monies paid to Milne:

Reference Amount
SB/P/10431 270,630.00
SB/P/10432 299,536.00
SB/P/10433 244,149.00
SB/P/10474 226,268.00
SB/P/10475 137,379.00
SB/P/10476 127,637.50
SB/P/10528 75,030.00
SB/P/10529 19,210.00
SB/P/10530 8,850.00
Job CH 12306 36,286.00
Job CH 12308 44,046.00
Job CH 2307 39,326.00
SB/P/10645 20,001.00
TOTAL £1,548,348.50

 

The paperwork I was given is intriguing, referencing neither particular jobs nor targets reached. Indeed, three of the documents entirely lack a second sheet containing supplementary information.

The cover sheets I did receive refer, for example, to Bryan Park and Hayton Road, but fail to indicate exactly what work is being paid for, or if any target has been reached. For the sums involved, one might hope sufficient documentary back-up evidence does exist.

Wood Family Trust

The Wood Family Trust (WFT) is listed as having paid £160,000 towards the CGP referendum. The taxpayer chipped in £40,000.

The city also paid the WFT £22,000 for an educational pilot scheme involving Kincorth Academy ‘per contract’. What contract ACC and the WFT have entered into will make interesting reading. Perhaps other charitable trusts have contracted with ACC – but why a charity should be engaged by contract on an educational scheme is at present unclear.

https://aberdeenvoice.com/wp-content/gallery/images2/wood-family-trust-get-22-k-from-acc-nov-11.jpg

BiG Invoices

It was a good year to be in PR. Well, it was if you were a certain BiG name agency. There was the unofficial campaign for the Granite Web – when print media was sent to every household in the city on at least two occasions (and lest we forget, in error to the shire on one).

BiG was involved in other areas, though at present we don’t know which PR agency the city paid when the Chamber of Commerce (Chaired by Bob Collier) billed ACC for work ordered by ACSEF (Tom Smith) in support of the Granite Web scheme.

Smith is, of course, better known as a director of the Aberdeen City Gardens Trust, a private company to which the management of the web and UTG was to be handed without recourse to a tendering process or checking either man’s expertise in the rather narrow field of constructing concrete webs.

But, getting back to BiG: readers may be interested to know ACC has paid monthly invoices to BiG for various PR services, storage, servers, altering maps, expenses, photos and a trip to Glasgow. Below is a short summary of selected BiG invoices, interestingly enough all addressed To AWPR – Scottish Executive, which reference A-AWPR, and seem to have been paid by ACC:

Invoice No Date Description Amount
17801 30/3/11 Info packs and inserts (what project? – SK) 10,802
42810 18/4/11 Expenses, press cutting services, photos, PR 3,416
17848 31/3/11 March PR, storage (nb seems to be £120/month) 1,022
18072 30/4/11 April PR, storage 2,076
18080 30/4/11 Website servers for PLI and AWPR 700
18320 31/5/11 May  PR, storage 2,045
18567 30/6/11 June PR, storage 2,968
(not clear) 31/7/11 July PR, storage 1,762
19062 31/8/11 August PR, storage, travel to Glasgow 6,307
19308 30/9/11 September PR, storage 5,013
19533 31/10/11 October PR, storage, amendments to AWPR map 2,434
19770 30/11/11 November PR, storage 1,858
20033 31/12/11 December PR, storage 1,493
20254 31/01/12 January PR, storage 3,492
20509 29/02/12 February PR, storage and handover re. K McKee 8,788

TOTAL

54,176

 

The BiG Partnership billed ACC for £54,176 in the last fiscal year: was the AWPR acronym used in the invoices referring to the Western Peripheral Route? Other possibilities seem slim, but why ACC should have engaged a PR firm (let alone paid it storage fees or for website servers) in relation to this project is not clear.

Issues so far

a) ACC regularly deals with a company holding preferred bidder status, a company that has not only reneged on a profit-sharing scheme but dragged the city through every court in the land. How much was lost on the initial transaction? How much is the city incurring in legal fees, and which side picks these up?

Why is the Milne group apparently saying it wants to negotiate when the courts have already found against them? Have Milne companies retained their preferred bidder status? If his companies were enjoying profits from a favourable land deal, while at the same time entering low bids for contracting work, is this ethical, fair, and completely within tendering guidelines?

b) Should the referendum have been financed to such an extent by one of the interested parties? Was there even a slight possibility of psychological influence over those involved in administration of the referendum by the fact the costs were picked up by the web’s main proponent? At one stage we were told the entire costs were being met by Wood – why did the taxpayer pick up a £40,000 tab?

c) ACC seems to be paying a billionaire’s trust for an educational pilot – and has entered into a contract. What is the nature of the contract, and in what way can the services performed be described as charitable?  An overview of the charity seems to indicate no money is received by the Trust from government. I wrote to WFT and received this reply:

“The funds received from Aberdeen City Council were a relatively small contribution to an Enterprise in Education programme, which was delivered as a partnership project with the local authority and carried out at two schools in the region, with the balance of the funds coming from Wood Family Trust. I can only assume that the reason the Scottish Charities Register indicates WFT received no money from Government is that this doesn’t cover funds received from Local Authorities.”

d) Has the city paid for public relations for the AWPR?  If so, how was the contract for the work tendered? Was BiG given favoured status in obtaining this work via its involvement with ACSEF and the CGP?

 

Coming soon in Part 2

The Tree for Every Citizen Project – more revelations, CJ Piper, Bryan Massie

A Scottish Enterprise invoice or two

Further observations

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Nov 062012
 

The Iraq war was rubber-stamped despite the wishes of protesting millions; the justification that then Prime Minister Tony Blair used was a report. This report had been notoriously ‘sexed up’ to the extent that the Americans refused to endorse it. Blair aide, the foul-mouthed Alistair Campbell, was one of the main editors of this ‘dodgy dossier’.  Blair stood by its robustness. We all know better now. Suzanne Kelly examines the quality standards of the reports on which life-changing decisions are taken.

Closer to home, what kinds of reporting standards are we seeing? Very poor ones, I’m afraid.

A report prepared for Aberdeen FC’s stadium plans for Loirston included a lengthy commentary from MSP Brian Adam, who favoured the project.

Labour MSP Richard Baker’s comments against the stadium were excluded from this report, leaving it unbalanced. At the time, Kate Dean first insisted that Baker missed the deadline, but Baker proved otherwise. Dean later apologised, but by then, the hearing was long finished, and planning permission was granted.

PriceWaterhouse Cooper were hired as consultants for the City Gardens Project. They were paid out of public funds and Scottish Enterprise was involved in the invoicing arrangements.

PwC used a very small sample of business people in its research, yet somehow came to the conclusion that 6500 permanent new jobs would be created by the Granite Web and £122m would flow into Aberdeen every year until 2023, this also due to the Web. These figures were seized on by Vote for the City Gardens Project during the referendum and printed as if they were factual in VftCGP literature.

PwC did quite handsomely from the consultation (£41100 in March 2010, for example), and might well have gained further work from SE, the Aberdeen City Gardens Trust or other involved party, had the Web gone ahead.

When questioned as to the appropriateness of their projections being used in an advertising campaign during the referendum, PwC declined to comment, saying the work had been done for ‘a private client’ – despite the taxpayer picking up the bill.

Had the reports using these figures to justify the Web included further background on the statistics used, and details of the money already paid to PwC? For purposes of transparency and accuracy, one would hope so.
See:  PwC Invoices To Aberdeen Council 

The report sealing the fate of Tullos Hill’s roe deer and many of its other former flora and fauna, was created by the City Council’s Peter Leonard, a senior civil servant in Housing, and by CJ Piper & Associates, an entity related to one Chris Piper, the man who stood to gain tens of thousands of pounds if Phase 2 of the Tree for Every Citizen scheme went ahead.

The report is riddled with bias, not least of which is the assertion that objections to the cull came from a ‘small but vociferous minority’. In reality, 2,500 people signed a petition handed to Aileen Malone, and three community councils representing tens of thousands of citizens, and animal charities including Animal Concern Advice Line and Scottish SPCA condemned the cull.

Piper made some £44000 from the tree scheme. Should the report have noted his obvious financial interest? Definitely.
See: Piper Report re. Tullos Hill: Page 48

It would be bad enough if this kind of bias was an isolated event; it is not. We recently saw a report concluding that elected councillors were treating the city’s administration in a ‘bullying’ manner. The report also claims that councillors don’t fully understand what the administration does.

It is wholly one-sided, despite its assertions to the contrary. If it had been thorough, it surely would have picked up on the many failings of the unelected senior administration, such as the dubious reports going out from their departments.

Councillors on committees will all tell you that they have to make their votes based on the reports before them – reports that are almost all prepared by the administration. Most of these reports are required to adhere to values which have all but lost their meaning. Reports have to relate to ‘vibrant and dynamic’ aspirations, have to prove the programme in question will deliver ‘value for money’, and so on.

From national ‘sexed up’ reports to those on local issues, information given to those who have to vote on their contents must  become more accurate and details of any consultants employed and those involved in preparation must be included in the contents.

At present, Aberdeen’s reporting system relies on a formula which is far from perfect.

There is always an opening section which requires the writer to say whether or not the proposal fits with ‘vibrant/dynamic’ and other archaic criteria. The report writer is supposed to indicate whether or not there are financial implications. In many cases, the financial implications are overlooked.

For instance, we were promised that the Tree for Every Citizen scheme was ‘cost neutral’. Even when the primary report’s author Pete Leonard surely realised the scheme was not cost neutral (ie when the £43800 refund was demanded for the failure of Phase I and when no sponsors came forward to pay for  Phase 2 and its deer cull), no correction was publicly issued or sent to councillors on the Housing Committee.

The failures are mounting up.

Perhaps it is time for report writers to pay less heed to the existing report framework’s demands for rhetoric about ‘vibrancy’ and the like, and be required to ensure that all future reports include a form along these lines:

Preparers

Internal Preparers

  • Author(s)
  • Editor(s) (if any changes made to original author’s report)

External Preparers

  • Name
  • Company
  • Company type: (sole trader, limited company, PLC)
  • Company registration no

Conflict of Interest Issues

  • Financial
  • Fee paid for assistance, consultancy, preparation of this report to date
  • Any additional fee to be paid specific to this report
  • Is there any likelihood the external preparer will be hired for further assistance if this report and/or its recommendations is accepted?
  • Estimate of the extent of further earnings the preparer could earn from acceptance of this report and/or its recommendations

Other

  • Does this report contain any statement or input from a political party or politicians?
  • If so, have other parties been offered an opportunity to give their input?
  • Does the author, editor or preparer have any personal interest in the issues contained in the report?

Exclusions

  • Has the editor deleted any substantial part or parts of the original report? (if so, these must be listed)
  • Does this report cover all of the known, relevant factors pertaining to the issues?

Until we can rely on the information in the reports going to our elected officials, and the impartiality of those involved in preparing them, we will continue to have a flawed system subject to abuse. It’s time for a ‘vibrant and dynamic’ overhaul of our city’s reporting standards – if not the country’s.

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Sep 232012
 

After a long build-up, vitriolic postings on FaceBook, and a call to the media to attend a protest by hundreds of people, a group of approximately 70-80 stood outside Marischal College today for three quarters of an hour.  Aberdeen Voice’s Suzanne Kelly attended.

Background: Aberdeen has been split over a controversial plan to build a £140 million pound series of arches over Union Terrace Gardens called ‘the granite web’.
The city is far from financially sound, and would need to borrow some £70 million minimum to build the scheme, which would also see the felling of ancient trees – some of the few trees in the city centre.

Those against the scheme point out the city has vast areas of disused brownfield, some of which are becoming arson hotspots which could be the site of any futuristic architectural projects.

The web’s opposition also cite that simple improvements to the gardens are affordable and would be sympathetic to the existing area, and that money should be spent on other projects and restoring services cut under the previous LibDem/SNP coalition.

Proponents of the granite web cite projections made by PriceWaterhouse Coopers, which was paid some £44,000 pounds to create projections for the scheme and research the TIF scheme by scheme supporting agency, ACSEF.  These projected benefits included 6,500 permanent new jobs and no cost to the taxpayer.

It has been shown the taxpayer has already picked up a substantial tab for furthering this project (see https://aberdeenvoice.com/2012/02/the-great-city-gardens-project-gravy-train/ ).

An advisory referendum was held; the Labour Party stated from the start it would not be bound by this referendum, which saw the pro-web side narrowly win.
Various issues arose with the referendum, and an anonymous group placed hundreds of radio adverts via the BiG Partnership which were found in breach of code by OFCOM.

PwC refused to say whether or not the ads’ use of its projections as fact was appropriate, as a ‘private company’ (actually  the PwC invoices are made out to Scottish Enterprise) had commissioned the work (which the taxpayer paid for).

Labour’s election pledges included stopping the granite web, and Labour wound up with a majority in the council at last May’s elections.

The Protest:  A Whimper not a Bang
The organisers included Chad West-MacGregor (who resides in the USA according to his FaceBook page, but who now says he will stay in Aberdeen); they had told the assembled media before the event that hundreds would be in attendance.

A video of the speech can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u57XTEus84

This proved optimistic in the extreme.  The weather was dry and sunny; the date selected was apparently the most convenient date for those who wanted to attend, even if there would be no one in the City Council’s Marischal College to protest to.

This lack of relevant audience did not bother the organisers, who posted on their FaceBook page:-

“Providing hundreds of us make an effort to attend, we will have several media photographers and journalist’s [sic] there to show the entire country that we were there and we were loud. Barney’s back hair will be sticking up when he opens the front page of the EE or the P&J and sees his council building swamped with protesters.”

STV reported:-

“More than 400 people had said they would attend the event on Saturday outside Marischal College to vent their fury at the decision to axe the plans to transform Union Terrace Gardens.  In reality, it was probably only around 60 people who turned up to the demonstration but the organisers felt the small band of protesters made their point.”
http://local.stv.tv/aberdeen/news/local-democracy/191410-city-garden-project-supporters-hold-demonstration-outside-councils-hq/

Organisers have made different representations as to the number of protestors; the FaceBook page linked to the protest has posts from organisers saying there were less than 100 present, but a different post says the organisers had more than 100.

This Aberdeen Voice reporter and her friend were present and counted approximately 70-80 people (more than STV counted) – but there was some fluctuation as people left.  There were about ten media professionals covering the event – 1 for every 8 protestors by my account, or 1 for every 6 by STV’s figures.

The two higher-profile attendees were former councillor Kate Dean and Aileen Malone.  Dean held a Cove Bay Supporters Club banner and wore leggings and the club’s shirt.

Aileen Malone’s presence was something of an oddity. The protest was against the council she is elected to, and she had made it plain that the remaining five Liberal Democrats on the council were not subject to a party whip when the vote on the granite web was held.  Precisely why she felt the need to protest against her own party members – who did not all vote for continuing with the granite web – is a mystery.

The Facebook Pages
A page using Barney Crockett’s photo to represent the organiser (for some odd reason), and an ‘event’ page were launched.  The FaceBook pages caused controversy with a wide range of offensive posts.

After one person, ‘Sasha Molyneux’ mocked someone who had been abused as a child, one person who planned to go on the protest said he now would not.  This person was then attacked for being ‘an anarchist plant’ by Molyneux.

Many posters asked the web pages’ administrator(s) to step in and stop the abuse, but the posts are still there (as at 17:30 22 September 2012).

The web ironically was supposed to attract talent from outwith Aberdeen.  Non-Aberdonians and Aberdonians alike were put off by more posts from Molyneux, who wrote:

“Isn’t it strange that inabootcomers like Suzanne Kelly from New York USA (got a current Visa I hope), Alasdair Johnston from Ayrshire, Richard Baker from Edinburgh, Lewis MacDonald from Lewis via Insch, Willie Young from Stonehaven (we’ll let him off with that) and countless other dissidents seem to think they know what’s best for Aberdeen and it’s [sic] citizens. All the while there are others who can trace their ancestory [sic] back hundreds of years to people who have hewn the very rock from the ground that Aberdeen is built from, taught in the schools that were built with that rock, employed generations in factories run by local entrepenuers [sic] and generally built this city from the ground up and afforded others a lifestyle that they enjoy today. The abuse and disrespect coming from the above mentioned individuals is absolutely disgusting and an extreme isult [sic] to our history and heritage and really if they are not happy they should go elsewhere and learn some decorum and basic manners.”

Most of those mentioned above had not even posted on this page.  Brian Scott then countered with:-

“I can hardly believe my eyes. Has some one actually posted a comment about incomers not having a right to have their say on issues because they cannot trace their roots to Aberdeen despite them setting up home here? Isn’t that racist and reminiscent of a certain political party that takes their mandate from a 1930’s movement originated in central Europe?”

Voice’s Suzanne Kelly quoted Sasha’s earlier anti-incomer post (above) and Sasha replied:-

“I know what I said and i’m glad it is on record because it is the truth. As Annie Lennox once said a North East of Scotland upbringing puts a rod of iron in your soul so just remember that. Your Bully Boy tactics and general disrespect for the people in general don’t go down too well with the people up here and if you think you are being smart and clever just consider this we are a pretty stoical bunch up here and we will break you in the long run.”

 The subjects brought up by pro web factions also included one man’s assertion that the English Defence League is a “peace loving group”, and its leader ‘inspirational’.

There was heated debate back and forth between the two camps, but the radical extremist posts of Molyneux and others from the pro web side were considered by many to be highly inflammatory and seem to constitute what is called ‘trolling.’

It is clear that these extremists do not represent the views of all of the pro granite web faction, but it is clear that the FaceBook page administrators, the organisers of this event, gave tacit support to these posts by allowing them to remain and by not banning the posters.

The organisers seem to indicate they will hold more such events.  Aberdeen Voice will keep you posted of any further developments.

Sep 212012
 

Voice’s Old Susannah  takes a look over the past week’s events in the ‘Deen and further beyond ( including the murky depths of ‘local’ cyberspace ). By Suzanne Kelly.

Across Aberdeen this past week most of us have enjoyed the last warm(ish) days of summer, and the sunny days and early evenings. Others have been glued to their computers waging a curious battle over a protest planned for tomorrow (Saturday 22nd September).

In the quest to win new friends and influence people, the ‘Protest Against Aberdeen City Council’ Facebook pages have entertained a wide variety of opinions, and a wide spectrum of humour (I am using the term ‘humour’ loosely).

Somewhere between 12 and 500 people will appear at 1pm tomorrow in front of the Marischal College  building (which will be deserted, as it’s Saturday), to protest against Aberdeen City Council, Labour, and the death of the granite web.

An interesting report is to go before the Audit Committee soon; it is by an independent reporter who finds that both the councillors and the officers of Aberdeen City Council need to think about how they interact.

Anyone who read about this report in the Press & Journal would have been shedding tears, assuming this bullying was 100% by mean councillors against poor but honest officers.   Indeed. More on that later.

But the real talk of the whole country is around the most fundamental question of all, which is dividing the Scottish nation, setting brother against brother, and causing an affa bother:  is the deep-fried Mars bar a national treasure or not?  Earlier on, the Mars company reportedly disowned the creation;  other sources later claimed the Mars business had embraced the calorific snack.

This crucial question will no doubt be the subject of several independent consultations, a referendum, Holyrood debate, health & safety analysis, a PR campaign by the BiG partnership featuring Morris the Monkey, and more than a few bar room fights.

Some people claim that the original, unadorned Mars bar was good enough as it was, and should be retained.  Others claimed it wasn’t 21st century enough unless it was covered with a web of deep fried flour and grease.  Not since Culloden has such bickering been seen in this part of the world.  Old Susannah hopes resolution is possible.

There have been a few amusing news stories across the UK as well.

  Just tell that to your boss next time you need a few grand on your company’s credit card; I’m sure they won’t mind

Seems some of those nice people at Scottish Enterprise have been very enterprising indeed.  Old Susannah never realised what a generous employer SE was, but it is kindly allowing staff to take SE credit cards and take out nice big, fat juicy cash advances (in a variety of currencies), and paying the amounts back as and when.

As a taxpayer, I’m so pleased we can help out the less fortunate SE employee with the odd £10K loan or two.  It’s alright though, as the employees always intended to pay the money back.  Just tell that to your boss next time you need a few grand on your company’s credit card; I’m sure they won’t mind.

It’s almost as if proper financial controls were not working 100% at SE – which is a bit unfortunate in such a tiny organisation; they still operate on a mere £750,000,000 or so per annum (much of which is salary – which Old Susannah finds difficult to reconcile with the cash advances the cash-strapped staff seem to need).

And in England, a woman has been sentenced for hijacking a ferry boat, telling her pursuers ‘I’m Jack Sparrow!’ and sailing away until finally caught.

Readers will find it hard to believe, but she was high on drink and belladonna (deadly nightshade to you and me, which is quite poisonous).  I prefer the odd BrewDog and crisps, myself.  After two days of drink and hallucinogens, she felt ill for some reason or other, and called the paramedics.

When they arrived she was, naturally enough, on a moored ferry boat, as you do.  She ‘didn’t mean to untie the craft, but the ropes kept getting under her feet’.  Fair enough – could have been any of us really.  The ferry boat’s owner told the BBC this incident was a:-

“total one-off bizarre incident which we have never experienced before”.

Old Susannah should hope so, too.

I’m afraid the definitions this week do involve the web; don’t worry – this too shall pass.

Carrot or the Stick: (English saying) to offer an inducement – reward and/or sanction to gain support or agreement.

Any movement needs to recruit new members.  Those nice Scientology people give out free books on  Oxford Street, and tell you how clever you are.  Next thing you know, you’re married to Tom Cruise and waiting for the mothership.  The Moonies used to give out flowers; various missionaries would trade a square meal in exchange for preaching at you.

The Friends of Union Terrace Gardens and Common Good Aberdeen – two forces with the same ultimate goal of saving UTG from development have web presences, hold meetings, and hold the odd demo or two.  New members and the curious are welcome.

Speaking of odd demos, there is a group called ‘Protest against Aberdeen City Council’ holding the demonstration I mentioned before, taking place tomorrow.  They too have a web page and embrace open debate.  And what a debate it has been.

The finest minds in all of Scotland’s past pale into insignificance against the rhetoric, logic, self-restraint and persuasive skills of a small number of the posters on this page.  I’m surprised we’ve not all been convinced the web’s the way to go by this bunch.

The page’s administrator, who apparently lives in the United States, has allowed a wide raft of comments to go unmoderated, which I’m sure doesn’t mean they are encouraging trolls at all.

Usually when you want someone to come around to your way of thinking, you offer them some reason to do so – the proverbial  carrot and the stick.  The Big Partnership, recently rendered silent on the topic of the web, used both the carrot and the stick to get us to join the granite web fanclub.

  There is an explanation of why the English Defence League has nothing to do with hate or violence

The carrots were ‘build the web and 6,500 new jobs appear’, ‘two hundred million pounds will magically flow into the city annually until the year 2023 (not 2022 or 2024 – 2023) AND the added incentive that Morris the Monkey and Jake the Ghost want the web convinced us in the thousands.

The sticks used to try and beat us into submission?

‘No one will come to Aberdeen’, ‘we’ll look silly if we don’t take Ian’s £50 million and do what he says with it’ and ‘people will think Aberdeen is ‘closed for business.’

I always liked this last ‘closed for business’ argument.  It was supposed to make me think of a vibrant and dynamic shopping mall, doing lots of business.  Instead, it made me think of an indiscriminate callgirl who would do anything with anyone if the price was right.

How are the ‘Protest against Aberdeen’s’ members and posters winning hearts and minds?  Reasoned argument?  Supplying facts and figures?  Welcoming newcomers?  Parrying dissent with rapier-like wit and friendly banter?  Absolutely!

Please do go and visit this page yourself – it has all the relevant facts you need to know to make an informed decision to support the web.  These include colourful postings such as the following:-

*  There is an explanation of why the English Defence League has nothing to do with hate or violence;

*  there is a woman being insulted because of her looks;

*  there is a man who says he’s no longer onside with the protest because of the abusive comments made by protest supporters – so he’s attacked as being a ‘plant’;

*  a man who was abused as a child is asked if he was ‘a little sh*t who deserved a clip ‘round the ears’;

*  there is a woman who ‘has it on good authority’ that all the bills the taxpayer has already picked up for the web were really somehow not paid by the city council (who the invoices were made out to), but Sir Ian really picked them up; and

*  a hilarious joke about building a mosque on UTG (alas; Old Susannah is unable to appreciate the witticism or the point being made)

People against the web have in several instances risen to the bait and argued back.  But whatever side of this issue you are on, have a look at the comments made by people like Sandy M, George S and others.  They’ll have won you over with their carrots and sticks before you know it.

Readers of a sensitive disposition may, however, wish to stay well clear.  https://www.facebook.com/events/456202784419418/

Cautionary Tale: (compound noun; English) A story intended to impart advice by showing someone else’s error.

This new Information Commissioner is taking no prisoners – well, actually she might be, as the police have been called in to enforce the law.

This kind of development in Aberdeenshire is extremely worrying!  The local authority seems to have accidentally denied it had information and accidentally deleted the information it denied having.  It was almost as if there was something to hide, and as if the law came second to what the local government mandarins wanted.

This story, covered in this past week’s Press & Journal (really) implies that Freedom of Information requests have to be answered with the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  Old Susannah is reassured that there won’t be any such issues here in our city.

Even if the Information Commissioner’s office is reportedly auditing the work our FOI office does, it’s not as if information has ever been withheld from me, or anyone else, is it?  (Unless of course you count requests about Mr S Milne, the deer cull, cost of Marischal college…)

Pre-emptive strike: (compound noun; English) a form of defence or deflecting attention  by attacking one’s opponent first.

Well, a report going to the Audit Committee next week seems to imply that councillors had in the recent past not been treating officers courteously and had asked difficult questions.  Naughty!

No real naming and shaming was done.  I hope no councillors asked awkward questions of Pete Leonard for instance.  Mean councillors in the past may have asked him why he kept representing that the deer-culling, tree-planting scheme was completely cost neutral, even though he knew for months that phase one failed, and ACC had to repay £43,800 for the dead trees.

He recently tried to deflect this irritating fact by reportedly saying £43,800 referred to something in the 1990s.  Just because the money was paid in March 2011, when he was saying the great scheme was cost neutral to the Housing Committee, is no reason to think he wasn’t accurate or completely open, is it?

A cynic could think this report’s suggestions that councillors should show more deference to officers like Leonard is a pre-emptive strike.  Did the report authors know about all the assorted little machinations of Leonard and his ilk?  I’d love to know.  At least one person must have come out of this untarnished:  the softly-spoken, always calm and rational Gerry Brough, kindly volunteer to the City Gardens Project.

Now that this report has come out, I hope city councillors will be warned by this pre-emptive strike not to ask any tough questions!  Hope that’s settled then.

And there we leave it for now.

Next week:  I will attempt again to escape from the granite web – unless Zoe finally writes back about those CGP radio ads, promising us the web for free.  Will keep you posted.

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Sep 132012
 

Aberdeen Voice’s Suzanne Kelly visited Tullos Hill on 29 August and St Fitticks’ on 2 September.  These were sites of tree planting – and deer culls.  Around 40 animals were killed (the record-keeping is so poor and the freedom of information office reports so contradictory that the exact number is hard to tell). Suzanne presents a pictorial record of the current condition of these two sites.

The Housing & Environment Committee  August 2012 took a report from Pete Leonard, Director of Housing Services, and supporter of the tree scheme and deer cull.

As we have come to expect, the report supports the scheme and the manner in which it was carried out.

(click on pictures for description )

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While we await the official minutes from this meeting, here are some photos intended as a special Thank You to scheme proponent Aileen Malone, Pete Leonard, countryside expert and ranger Ian Tallboys, mysterious consultant Chris Piper.
The city’s information office claim to have no information on his company or address – despite paying over £44,000 for this stunning result, and despite Piper writing a joint report sealing the Hill’s and the deer’s fate.

Thank you as well to all those councillors who voted in favour of the Tree for Every Citizen Scheme and who voted to stop myself and Andy Findlayson (now elected councillor) from speaking out on the scheme’s flaws when this could have been prevented.

None of this would have been possible without these peoples’ involvement and determination to turn a once beautiful, thriving hill into what you see in these photos.

Yes, parts of the hill were left intact – but much of the biodiversity and beauty is gone.

 

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What if the £120,000+ spent on this unwanted scheme had gone on preventing arson in the gramps instead?

The Minutes of this meeting are not out, but word has it those who favoured the scheme have hailed it as ‘a green success.’ 

It seems the £43,800 we had to repay in March 2011 was ignored as somehow being relevant to the late 1990s. 

The incorrect, legally unsupportable position that the deer had to be destroyed anyway was maintained.

There were also assurances that the shooting took place with proper regard for safety. 

Those responsible for decisions concerning the actual shooting and risk register are in for a surprise before long on that score.

The only good thing that came from the H&E meeting was the repeated reassurance from new Convener Neil Cooney who replaced Aileen Malone that there will be no repetition of any scheme that demands the life of deer to plant arbitrary trees.

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Will these trees thrive?  Doubtful.

The soil is poor, the trees will be subject to ‘wind toss’, there is salt spray from theNorth Sea, and weeds are being left totally unchecked. 

Was anything like the scheduled 89,000 trees planted on Tullos and St Fitticks? 

 Definitely not.

 

If you want to attend an upcoming meeting (date, time TBC) on next steps and lessons learned, please get in touch at tullosdeer@yahoo.co.uk .

 

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The scheme may be over, the PR and legal repercussions for its supporters is not.

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Aug 312012
 

Voice’s Old Susannah looks at events over the the last week … and once again, what a week it’s been in the ‘Deen. By Suzanne Kelly.

Vibrant and dynamic adjectives are being used to describe the Labour, Lib Dems and Independents who voted against the beloved web.

Conspiracy theorists say that these ungrateful refusenicks have brought civilisation to an end, even that they secretly scheme to bring the monolith design for the gardens back.

Such villainy!  It is hard to believe that some LibDems were not swayed by the powerful, intellectual charismatic persuasion powers of Aileen Malone.  But they weren’t.

Old Susannah failed to make it to the 28 August Housing & Environment Committee; alas I missed the debate on the deer.

Pete Leonard’s reports on the tree for every citizen and deer cull say the whole thing is ( a) finished, and ( b) a success.  Result!  Funny how something can look like a ‘cost-neutral’, complete success to someone, and yet seem like a shambolic, environmentally unsound, unwanted, exorbitant, barbaric disaster to the rest of us.

As I wasn’t there, I missed the chance to see former Convener Aileen Malone show up to defend her scheme and those who implemented it for her; I’m sure her speech to the new H&E Committee was as moving as her speech during the Union Terrace Gardens debate.

On that occasion she said how important it was for councillors to listen to the people.

During the deer cull she embodied this tenet by ‘accidentally’ deleting emails protesting the cull, ignoring 3 community councils which implored her to stop the cull, and taking delivery of a 2,500 signature petition against the cull.

Oh, HoMalone listened all right. She just chose not to pay any attention to what she heard.  I say that I missed her defence of the scheme at the H&E Committee – but even though I was not there, she – being a person of honour and principle must have put in an appearance rather than leaving Leonard hung out to dry.

Any shirking would have been cowardly and an admission of ineptitude.

We will be toasting Neil Cooney with several brewdogs; he has said there will be no further culls simply to plant trees.  Perhaps he will be able to resurrect the scheme of keeping Tullos Hill meadow as, er, a meadow, even if Pete Leonard says that is more expensive than trees, tree guards, deer fencing, mechanical diggers, gorse stripping, and pesticide spraying for a few years.

I guess Pete and I went to different accounting lessons.

we have to deal with an awful lot of garbage here in Aberdeen

The dust is not settling very well on the granite web, which has been toppled.  What a shame.  Rather than us having shiny walkways in the sky to enjoy rain, snow or shine, to walk up and down on, to fall off, it looked for a moment as if all that lovely £50 million was going to be wasted helping people in Africa.

To put things in perspective, we have to deal with an awful lot of garbage here in Aberdeen:  vacant and decaying properties acting as beacons for arsonists; closed shops, litter that never gets cleared, social problems and services slashed by the previous administration.

The relatively simpler problems which pose minor irritations in Africa include famine, infant mortality from disease and hunger; kidnapped children beaten into soldiers, civil wars, a plague of AIDS, illiteracy and so on.

When I learnt the web was not going to be built, I remembered Sir Ian’s words as told to the Press & Journal:

“Sir Ian Wood said last night that projects in Africa would benefit from the £50million he has offered toAberdeen– should the City Garden Project be rejected” – Press & Journal, 11/02/2012

How wonderful!  I wondered if there was going to be an African granite web, perhaps with some fir tree bosque and underground parking – that would cheer the starving multitude a little.  But like the web, this promise seemed almost too good to be true.

But then something unforeseen happened – something which has never happened before:  Sir Ian changed his mind.

No – Sir Ian is going to leave the money on the table for a year in Aberdeen.  Fine.  It’s his money (if he actually has all this in liquid assets he is a lucky man indeed).  Perhaps it’s time to turn to the dictionary for some assistance with the relevant issues.

Life Expectancy: (compound noun; English) – Statistical figure showing the mean for a group of people or living things to determine the typical time span from birth until death.

Old Susannah wondered which group of people needed £50,000,000 more – Aberdonians to turn their only city centre (common good land) garden into a giant web with an outdoor theatre next to a theatre?  Or Africans for food, shelter, education and healthcare.

Just for the record, the UK’s average life expectancy is about 80.5 years.  If, however,  you are in parts of Africa, this can be slightly lower – say about  56.5 years if you’re born in Niger,  50.6 years in Chad, 46.2 in Rwanda and give or take a few days you get 43.5 years to live if you’re born in Zimbabwe. Figures are not available yet on the life-extending benefits of granite webs.

We live longer in the West; that’s why we need more places to shop and more theatres to entertain us.

A town of Aberdeen’s size and stature can hardly be expected to get by with a Music Hall, an AECC, a HMT, a Lemon Tree and a dozen private music venues (plus concerts now and then at Pittodrie) – no, we need to build an outdoor theatre in front of HMT while we subsidise the operation of the other publicly-owned theatres.  Simples.

On the other hand, if you are likely to be killed in some form of tribal gun battle, die in childbirth, or die as either a starving infant or a child soldier, you don’t really need as many different diversions for your leisure time.

So, in a year Sir Ian may send his £50 million to Africa, if Aberdeen hasn’t begged him to put up the web, repenting of last week’s decision to just fix what we have for less than the £140 million web. Africa will just have to wait and see.  And if a few million people have an extra year of hardships, then so be it.

Petition: (Eng.verb) to entreat, often formally with writing and backing of others, for a desired outcome.

I can’t help but notice how many different petitions have been started since the City cruelly turned down the chance to borrow £92,000,000 to build a bosque and a sensory hippy trail thingy (no, I don’t get it either – ask Paul at Gray’s  School of Art).

There are petitions demanding Labour resign, petitions denouncing Barney Crockett and others, petitions saying the granite web was the marvel of the age.  Even Kevin Stewart, last seen explaining why our vulnerable and disabled had to suffer services cuts, has come out of the woodwork and made a very clever motion in the Scottish Parliament.

I was involved in petitions to save the Tullos deer and save Union Terrace Gardens.  This confused some people who called me a tree-hugger, and were baffled that  I didn’t want 89,000 trees on Tullos Hill if it meant destroying what was already there.

But now I have a new petition.  Do have a look, and if you agree, please feel free to sign and to share.
petitions/sir-ian-wood-send-your-£50-million-to-africa

Dummies:

Dummies are being used to guard parking spaces in Old Meldrum; evidence suggests this scheme probably originated in the higher levels of ACC management.

The dummies are thought to be on secondment at the highest levels of the Housing Directorate.  I am asked to point out that any resemblance between the dummies in Oldmeldrum and any former city councillors is purely coincidental.  And obvious.

Next week:  more definitions.

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Apr 262012
 

With thanks to John F Robins. 

Further to our release this morning concerning asking Her Majesty the Queen to intervene in the case of the controversial Aberdeen deer cull we have this afternoon received a belated response to a request we made to Aberdeen City Council (ACCO) under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 and the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004 on 25th March.

The response from ACC confirms that of the estimated 30 roe deer on Tullos Hill ACC have killed 22 animals, all but wiping out the herd. 

John Robins of Animal Concern Advice Line states;

“This is not a cull or a management programme, it is an unjustified massacre of innocent animals which had happily and healthily lived on Tullos Hill for many generations.

“Aberdeen City Council did this despite opposition from several thousand people – the majority of them Aberdonians, a number of animal welfare and conservation groups including Animal Concern and the SSPCA and at least three of the local Community Councils. A great number of Aberdeen City Councillors should hang their heads in shame over what they have done. 

“I hope the people of Aberdeen will remember the dead deer on Tullos Hill when it comes to casting their votes next Thursday.”

Footnote – A protest will take place on Tullos hill this Saturday 28th April – See link: tullos-deer-cull-protestors-to-stage-mock-funeral

Apr 112012
 

With thanks to John F Robins. 

Aberdeen City Council have been warned that Council employees and volunteers could be bitten by adders during a tree planting day planned for the end of this month.

If they avoid being bitten by snakes the planters could still end up being prosecuted if nesting birds are disturbed during the event on April 28th, right in the middle of the nesting season.

John Robins of Animal Concern Advice Line (ACAL) states:

“I could not believe it when I learned that the tree planting was being organised for the time of year when both snakes and nesting birds are most likely to be active on Tullos Hill. The Council is supposed to be creating a wildlife woodland yet they are destroying an existing excellent wildlife habitat, killing deer – and now risk disturbing protected birds and reptiles at the most sensitive time of year.

“I’ve alerted the Grampian Police Wildlife Crime Officer, RSPB, SSPCA and some reptile conservation groups to the situation. I’ve also contacted The Woodland Trust who are involved in the project and should know better than plant trees at this time. I urge Aberdonians who want to protect wildlife to boycott this tree planting session.”

ACAL has opposed the Aberdeen Tree for Every Citizen project for over a year since it emerged that roe deer were to be culled to avoid the expense of installing deer fences and tree guards. It has since been suggested that due to its poor soil and exposed situation Tullos Hill is not a suitable place to plant trees.

John Robins again:

 “The more I learn about this the more I am convinced that Aberdeen City Council have no idea what they are doing. I wouldn’t employ them to manage a window box, far less a woodland project on this scale. You can probably spot the ACC delegate at a COSLA meeting. Just look for the person wearing a Jesters hat or a dunce’s cap.”