May 122017
 

With thanks to Esther Green, Senior Account Executive, Tricker PR

Disengaged young people living in Aberdeen are being supported to reach their potential through a range of award-winning urban sports and culture programmes that have received a four figure boost from Aberdeen Asset Management’s Charitable Foundation.

Transition Extreme’s renowned youth projects combine its extreme sports and arts offering with essential skills and offer a spring board for disengaged and disadvantaged young people to move their lives onwards in a positive direction.

The donation from the Aberdeen Charity Committee of the global finance management company will support Transition Extreme in delivering its youth and community programmes like its Alternative, Outreach and Extreme Arts Academies.

The youth charity provides coaching in activities like BMX biking, skating, climbing wall, high ropes and art and design and adds in valuable life skills training, which helps increase confidence and motivation among young people who have become disengaged from traditional forms of education.

One of its longest running programmes, the Alternative Academy, works with 15-18 year olds that have become disconnected with mainstream education, training or employment. Working with agencies including social work, police and education, the Academy is designed to provide supports coaching which supports physical and mental health, complemented by soft skills workshops where employers provide support with essential skills like how to prepare for an interview, CV writing, applying for a job and fitting into a team.

Sam Begg (pictured above), fundraising manager for Transition Extreme said:

“Aberdeen Asset Management’s kind donation will help our youth work team deliver vital work and programmes tailored towards helping  disadvantaged and disengaged youngsters make positive life transitions.

“Our facility has a cool dynamic and buzz that appeals to young people who feel comfortable about coming here. As well as the sports side which is fun, we help deliver soft skills which helps towards future employability. People learn in different ways, not just sitting at a desk, and it’s encouraging to have young people come here and gain new skills. We practice what we preach as 25% of our workforce has joined us from these academies.”

Claire Drummond, head of charitable giving at Aberdeen Asset Management said:

“Transition Extreme is a well-known Aberdeen centre which offers a whole range of urban sports and is a real focus for the youth of the city.

“The programmes delivered by its Youth Work Teams are helping to build up self-belief and confidence among young people and offer an important part in the process towards helping them into further education, training or work.

“The support from our Aberdeen Charity Committee will help continue the good work of investing in positive life transitions for young people of Aberdeen.”

The Aberdeen Asset Charitable Foundation was established in 2012 to formalise and develop the Group’s charitable giving globally. The Foundation seeks partnerships with smaller charities around the world, where funds can be seen to have a meaningful and measurable impact and the firm encourages its employees to use their time and skills to support its charitable projects.

The main focus of the Foundation is around emerging markets and local communities, reflecting the desire to give back to those areas which are a key strategic focus of the business and to build on the historic pattern of giving to communities in which Aberdeen employees live and work. For more information visit http://www.aberdeen-asset.co.uk/aam.nsf/foundation/home

Transition Extreme is located at Aberdeen Beachfront and  its facilities are open to the public. As well as a range of training programmes for young people, it runs outreach  projects in Aberdeen communities.

More information is available from its website http://www.transition-extreme.com

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Mar 102017
 

With thanks to Esther Green, Senior Account Executive, Tricker PR

Aberdeen Asset Management apprentices organised a fundraising sleep out which helped raise over £14,000 for charity.

A group of Aberdeen Asset Management apprentices who have made their mark on their workplace – and also in their community by raising over £14,000 for charity – are meeting their local MSP during Scottish Apprenticeship Week.

Aberdeen Central MSP Kevin Stewart’s visit to Aberdeen Asset Management comes as the firm is looking to recruit its next batch of talented young recruits for offices in Aberdeen and Edinburgh.

Aberdeen is inviting applications from would-be apprenticeships in Aberdeen and Edinburgh between now and April 2.

Applicants meeting the criteria will be invited to attend a recruitment open day and selected candidates will be asked to complete two weeks’ work experience during July 2017. The final interview for the apprenticeship programme will take place during work experience with apprenticeships commencing in September.

MSP Mr Stewart will meet a group that includes the five strong team of apprentices who organised a series of events, including a sponsored sleep-out when they were joined by colleagues in sleeping outdoors in Aberdeen on a winter’s night, helping them raise an impressive £14,000 plus for Aberdeen Cyrenians.

Apprentice Rachel Adam will be among those meeting with the MSP and said:

“We’re looking forward to sharing the benefits we have found from directly entering the workplace rather than choosing higher education.

“We are receiving on-the-job training and are gaining relevant qualifications and we work well as a team. We’re  developing our networks and building up great connections with colleagues and we were delighted to exceed expectations in the fundraising challenge set by our employers by raising over £10,000 for Aberdeen Cyrenians, thanks to the support of our colleagues.”

Aberdeen Asset Management has introduced its own apprenticeship scheme for school leavers in recent years. The programme runs for 12-24 months and is designed to help apprentices learn about the organisation, meet the people involved and help them decide which area of the business to begin their career in. Appprentices are challenged to work together for community projects.

Lynn Brown from Aberdeen Asset Management’s learning and development team said:

“Scottish Apprenticeship Week celebrates the benefits apprenticeships bring to individuals, businesses and communities, as well as their contribution to the Scottish economy and we have first hand experience of that here at Aberdeen Asset Management.

“As a business we understand that recruiting, developing and retaining the best people is fundamental to our ability to perform and through our apprenticeship and other entry level programmes we look to identify talented individuals at the start of their career.

“Our apprenticeship programme comprises of six rotations over two years in different departments across the business giving our apprentices a well-rounded view of the asset management industry and its related functions. Apprentices will complete rotations in teams within our Operations and Technology, Finance, Distribution, Corporate, and Risk divisions.”

More information on apprenticeship opportunities at Aberdeen Asset Management are available by contacting entrylevel.recruitment@aberdeen-asset.com

 

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Feb 072017
 

With thanks to Esther Green, Senior Account Executive, Tricker PR

Four Scottish youngsters with special needs have received play equipment that will help them build their independence and get out and about in their own communities to socialise and play.
Aberdeen Asset Management granted more than £3,900 to purchase two trikes, a standing frame and a walking frame for youngsters living in the Edinburgh and Aberdeen areas.

The global financial management firm responded to an appeal from Handicapped Children’s Action Group to fund the apparatus, which is not available on the NHS, and at purchase costs averaging £1,000 per  item, is usually cost prohibitive for families to purchase.

The charity receives over 800 referrals a year from health professionals, but only has the funding to help around 180-190 of these cases.

The charity  would love to be able to help every single applicant but with no government funding the charity is dependent on fundraising and the support of organisations like Aberdeen Asset Management to help it provide the much-needed equipment.

Carole Davies from Handicapped Children’s Action Group said:

“A trike gives independence and mobility to a child who has had to rely on an adult for every movement; a walking frame gives a child the ability to get up and walk freely without assistance while a buggy enables a family to take their child into the community without fear of safety issues. Play frames enable a child with autism to play safely and explore in a controlled environment.

“All equipment brings fun, movement, mobility and integration to children all over the country and without the help of people like Aberdeen Asset Management we would be unable to achieve this.”

More than £3,900 was spent on the purchase of two trikes, a standing frame and a walking frame for three children in Edinburgh and one in Aberdeen.

Handicapped Children’s Action Group is a registered charity based in Lincolnshire which assists children and families across the UK. When it started in 1988 it helped about a dozen families a year, but now it helps well over 100 with the purchase of equipment varying in price from £500 to £2,500 per item. Requests come from physiotherapists who recommend that the equipment will help the youngster with day to day living. All the items funded by Aberdeen Asset Management were delivered to families just in time for Christmas.

Euan MacNeish of Aberdeen Asset Management’s Edinburgh charity committee said:

“Equipment provided by Handicapped Children’s Action Group will help give children with special needs the independence and mobility they deserve. Through the support of Aberdeen’s Charitable Committee we hope we are able to give these  children the ability to join in with the activities of children their own age and no longer watch from the side-lines. We are proud to support the local communities in which we operate in this way.”

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Jan 272017
 

With thanks to Esther Green, Senior Account Executive, Tricker PR.

Megan Davies of Maggie’s Centre in Aberdeen welcomes a four-figure donation from Aberdeen Asset Management.

A cancer support centre has received a four figure sum from Aberdeen Asset Management – at a time when an increasing number of people whose lives are affected by cancer are turning to it for help and support.
Since its launch in 2014, Maggie’s Centre in Aberdeen has provided a warm and welcoming space for people with cancer and their families to drop in with around 40 visitors a day walking through its doors to make use of its support services.

More and more people are using the centre’s facilities to help them cope with the challenges they face and last year the total number of visitors rose to 9,149, up by 16% on the previous year.

This figure is forecast to increase again in 2017, demonstrating the continued and growing need for the services it offers.

From the newly diagnosed seeking answers about their treatment plan or lifestyle changes they have to make, to those in remission and struggling with the physical and emotional after effects of cancer, or the bereaved looking for social support and people who understand what they are going through, the centre is there for everyone affected by cancer, at any stage of their journey.

It offers a unique programme of information, practical and emotional support to people affected by cancer through services like psychological counselling, nutrition workshops, advice around benefits and finances, exercise classes, creative writing workshops and networking and support groups.

While every day is different one thing remains the same – the positive impact that Maggie’s Centre has on the lives of those who call in to access support. The centre relies on fundraising and donations like the one given by Aberdeen Asset Management’s Charitable Foundation, to be able to provide a welcome refuge and supportive environment for people who are living with cancer.

Maggie’s Centre fundraising organiser Megan Davies said:

“The generous gift we have received from the Aberdeen Asset Management Charitable Foundation will go towards the running costs of the centre.

“This will make a meaningful, lasting impact upon the lives of people from across Aberdeen who visit their local Maggie’s Centre. This could be a visitor coming into Maggie’s for the first time and having a chat with a cancer support specialist, a visitor having an appointment with our benefits advisor, attending a workshop or popping in for a cup of tea. Every day we provide a wide range of support that directly benefits people with cancer and their friends and family.”

One visitor summed up the benefit of being able to freely call in to Maggie’s Centre, commenting:

“The help and support I gained last week when I dropped into the centre on a very low day, for me, was so valuable. The staff made me feel welcome and normal and helped me to work through some feelings that had surfaced out of the blue.”   

Dominic Kite, representing Aberdeen Asset Management Charities Committee in Aberdeen said:

“Maggie’s Centre is there for everyone affected by cancer, at any stage of their journey. People with cancer and their families and friends can engage with various aspects of its programme and choose from a variety of elements to meet their emotional and practical needs.”

Maggie’s Centre is based near Aberdeen Royal Infirmary but receives no NHS funding. It has professional staff on hand to offer free, practical, emotional and social support of people need – practical advice about benefits and eating well; a place where qualified experts provide emotional support, somewhere to meet other people; a place to simply sit back and enjoy a cup of tea. The Aberdeen centre is one of 19 centres at major NHS cancer hospitals in the UK.

Aberdeen Asset’s Charitable Foundation seeks partnerships with charities around the world, where funds can be seen to have a meaningful and measurable impact and the firm encourages its employees to use their time and skills to support its charitable projects.

The main focus of the Foundation is around emerging markets and local communities, reflecting the desire to give back to those areas which are a key strategic focus of the business and to build on the historic pattern of giving to communities in which Aberdeen employees live and work. For more information visit http://www.aberdeen-asset.co.uk/aam.nsf/foundation/home

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Jan 192017
 

Eileen Wheeler of Sunrise Partnership

With thanks to Esther Green, Senior Account Executive, Tricker PR.

A charity that helps children come to terms with the loss of a loved one has been delivered a ray of hope from global investment management group, Aberdeen Asset Management.

Sunrise Partnership will be able to provide almost 60 specialist sessions for children and young people up to the age of 18 living in Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire whose lives have been affected by loss and bereavement, after receiving a four-figure donation from Aberdeen Asset Management.

The sessions allow youngsters to learn coping strategies tailored to them that help prepare them for the future.

The free and confidential support continues for as long as is needed, with referrals coming from schools, health and social work departments, third sector organisations and self-referrals too.

For younger children, using tools like puppets, books, arts and crafts and worksheets can be helpful in breaking down barriers to make easier for them to express feelings and emotions. There’s no limit to the amount of support provided and it’s not unusual for children to revisit them months or even a couple of years later as they get older and may have a different understanding of their grief.

Eileen Wheeler, manager of Sunrise Partnership, explained that loss is not always a bereavement; support is also provided for children in kinship whose natural parents may not be able to care for them.

Eileen said:

“Every case is treated individually and sessions are tailor made for the child. There is no complicated referral process or forms to fill in. We are just a telephone call or an email away from anyone who may need us.”

The bulk of the charity’s work has been in Aberdeen City, but it has also supported children in Peterhead, Aboyne, Banchory, Inverurie, Kemnay and Kintore, travelling to children and families to ensure services are accessible to all.

The charity has been providing its specialist one-to-one, sibling, family or group sessions in City and Shire since its formation  in 2014, and last year received 52 new referrals.

Dominic Kite of Aberdeen Asset Management’s Aberdeen charity committee said:

“Sunrise Partnership seeks to provide the best possible support for children and young people through its specialist sessions, allowing them to achieve their true potential despite a significant loss or bereavement in their lives. To be able to help such an inspirational charity, and young people, in the city where our company was founded is very important to us.”

Sunrise Partnership can be contacted on  07827 755735 or by emailing: support@sunrisepartnership.org

Aberdeen Asset’s Charitable Foundation seeks partnerships with smaller charities around the world, where funds can be seen to have a meaningful and measurable impact and the firm encourages its employees to use their time and skills to support its charitable projects.

The main focus of the Foundation is around emerging markets and local communities, reflecting the desire to give back to those areas which are a key strategic focus of the business and to build on the historic pattern of giving to communities in which Aberdeen employees live and work.

For more information visit http://www.aberdeen-asset.co.uk/aam.nsf/foundation/home

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Dec 232016
 

With thanks to Esther Green, Senior Account Executive, Tricker PR.

Aberdeen Asset Management’s apprentice fundraisers, from left, Hannah Booth, Raegan McBain, Sam McGrath, Rachel Adam and Harry Rothnie.

Christmas has come early for Aberdeen Cyrenians which has taken delivery of a bumper £14,000 donation raised by apprentices from Aberdeen Asset Management.
More than half of the total came from a single mission – when apprentices were joined by  colleagues and spent a chilly night sleeping outdoors in Aberdeen, an experience that drove home the relevance and need to support those for whom homelessness and sleeping rough is a daily reality.

The five apprentices – Hannah Booth, Rachel Adam, Raegan McBain, Harry Rothnie and Sam McGrath –  have been praised for putting heart and soul into the charity challenge and making the donation at the time when demand for services is at its peak.

Scott Baxter, Depute Chief Executive for Aberdeen Cyrenians,  said:

“We are all absolutely delighted at how well the Aberdeen Asset Management  apprentices have done and with their energy, motivation and commitment they have raised an incredible amount of money.

“This money  will go directly to our Drop In service at a time when there is the highest level of need. We’ve developed a great friendship which we hope will continue in the future as these young people move into the professional world.”

The apprentices were challenged by their employees to raise £10,000 in six weeks for the Cyrenians and could turn to colleague Sophie Ewen, who was recently named apprentice ambassador of the year at the 2016 Scottish Apprenticeship Awards, for advice and assistance throughout. 

They planned and organised a whole host of money-raising efforts and in addition to the sleepout, they held a bingo night and raffle, race night, auction, cake sale, and sold bacon rolls to office staff on Friday mornings. They smashed their target after just  four weeks and were so committed to the cause that they gave up a considerable amount of their personal time to planning and staging events.

Apprentice Hannah Booth, part of the fundraising team, said:

“It was quite daunting being faced with the challenge of raising £10,000 but right from the start we gained wonderful support  from colleagues and many of them joined us on the Sleepout, or sponsored us to take part, which was just great.

“We feel that taking part in this challenge has brought us closer together and we’ve really bonded from having spent so much time in each other’s company through organising and holding our events. We’re all really proud to have been able to raise so much money for Aberdeen Cyrenians which does great work to support the homeless, rough sleepers and people who experience hardship in the North-east of Scotland.”

Aberdeen Asset Management has an established apprenticeship programme for school leavers which has been running since 2012. The programme runs for 12-24 months and is designed to help apprentices learn about the organisation, meet the people involved and help them decide which area of the business to begin their career in.

Apprentices are challenged to work together for community projects, in this case for Aberdeen Cyrenians, which has its headquarters close to Aberdeen Asset Management’s Union Plaza office and has supported homeless people in the city for over 45 years.

Aberdeen Cyrenians seeks to meet the needs of people who are homeless, at risk of homelessness or are affected by severe hardship in any way. The charity listens to their difficulties, understand needs, share burdens, provide professional support and strive to identify solutions. More information can also be found online at www.aberdeen-cyrenians.org

Since 1968 Aberdeen Cyrenians has provided a range of services to homeless people, rough sleepers and those who experience hardship in the North East of Scotland.

Today these cover residential services, a Violence Against Women project, a Domestic Abuse Support & Accommodation Project, an Advice and Information Service which offers nine drop-in sessions each week, and Street Alternatives where hot meals, personal care, showers, clothing and laundry facilities are provided.

For more information visit http://www.aberdeen-asset.co.uk/aam.nsf/foundation/home

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Nov 102016
 

With thanks to Esther Green, Senior Account Executive, Tricker PR.

sleepout2016

Aberdeen Asset Management staff sleep rough to help raise over £10,000

More than 30 staff from Aberdeen Asset Management who swapped their home comforts for a night exposed to the elements have helped young apprenticeship colleagues smash a £10,000 fundraising target.

Just four weeks into their six week money raising mission and the five-strong team of apprentices have already gathered a total of £10,350 for Aberdeen Cyrenians.

The bulk of the cash came from sponsorship when the apprentices persuaded colleagues to join them sleeping rough in Aberdeen.

Dressed in cosy clothes, including hats, gloves and scarves and armed with sturdy sleeping bags, 33 Aberdeen Asset Management employees took part in Aberdeen Cyrenians Sleepout in the car park of Asda at Garthdee, last month. They were given cardboard boxes to use as mats and spent 12 hours outdoors on a chilly Aberdeen night.

Collectively, Aberdeen Asset Management’s rough sleepers raised £7,348 but it also brought a sense of reality to what their efforts were for and the reality and discomfort faced by a homeless person on a daily basis.

Apprentice Hannah Booth, part of the fundraising team said:

“We were really pleased  that colleagues from different departments joined us in the Sleepout, and also that so many sponsored us to take part, and it was harder than we expected.

“It felt really cold and there was the added distraction of boy racers driving around the car park and some other Sleepout participants’ snoring.

“We did manage to get some sleep as we were all well wrapped up in cosy clothes, good sleeping bags and in some cases even camping mats but what really hit home was that in the morning we could pack up and go, return to our homes and hot showers, warm meals and comfy beds knowing that our involvement in sleeping outdoors was for a good cause.

“The reality for homeless people is  that they don’t have that choice, and face the uncertainty and discomfort on a daily basis, and not knowing where to go and how to survive another day.”

The apprentices’ charity pot has been added to from the proceeds of them selling bacon rolls to colleagues on a Friday morning, a Great British Bake Off  cake sale, and from the team taking it in turns to pedal a total distance of 125 miles on exercise bikes in their office reception – the distance between their Union Plaza base and the firm’s Edinburgh Princes Street office. More fundraisers are in the pipeline.

Scott Baxter, Depute Chief Executive  for Aberdeen Cyrenians, praised the five apprentices – Hannah Booth, Rachel Adam, Raegan McBain, Harry Rothnie and Sam McGrath –  for admirably rising to their challenge and encouraging others to get involved too.

“We are all absolutely delighted and impressed with the Aberdeen Asset Management  apprentices’ efforts and enthusiasm in reaching their target of £10,000 in such a short space of time. The funds raised will go directly to our Drop In service which is responding to an increase in demand as more and more people find themselves in difficult circumstances.”

Aberdeen Asset Management has an established apprenticeship programme school leavers which has been running since 2012.

The programme runs for 12-24 months and is designed to help apprentices learn about the organisation, meet the people involved and help them decide which area of the business to begin their career in. Appprentices are challenged to work together for community projects, in this case Aberdeen Cyrenains which has its headquarters close to Aberdeen’s Union Plaza office and which has supported homeless people in the city for over 45 years.

Aberdeen Cyrenians aims to meet the needs of people who are homeless, at risk of homelessness or are affected by severe hardship in any way. The charity listens to their difficulties, understand needs, share burdens, provide professional support and strive to identify solutions. More information can also be found online at www.aberdeen-cyrenians.org

Since 1968 Aberdeen Cyrenians has provided a range of services to homeless people, rough sleepers and those who experience hardship in the North East of Scotland. Today these cover residential services, a Violence Against Women project, a Domestic Abuse Support & Accommodation Project, an Advice and Information Service which offers nine drop-in sessions each week, and Street Alternatives where hot meals, personal care, showers, clothing and laundry facilities are provided.

For more information visit http://www.aberdeen-asset.co.uk/aam.nsf/foundation/home

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Oct 272016
 

With thanks to Esther Green, Senior Account Executive, Tricker PR

sophie-ewen1

Sophie Ewen.

Aberdonian Sophie Ewen (20), who began her career as an apprentice, has been nominated as Apprentice Ambassador of the Year in the 2016 Scottish Apprenticeship Awards.

Sophie, who completed her business and administration modern apprenticeship with Aberdeen Asset Management, is now the firm’s graduate programme co-ordinator.

The awards, which are organised by Skills Development Scotland will be announced at The National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh on 3 November.

The awards aim to showcase excellent apprentices who deserve recognition for their hard work as well as employers who are committed to the apprenticeship programme.

Sophie, who is a former pupil at the city’s St Machar Academy, was one of the first apprentices recruited by Aberdeen Asset Management in 2012 when the apprenticeship programme was introduced to complement the company’s existing intern and graduate programmes.

As well as studying for her Highers and Advanced Highers, Sophie was an active participant in the school’s extracurricular groups as well as being on the school’s charity committee and involved with the equal opportunities group.

Initially considering applying for a University course, Sophie was attracted to the business and administration modern apprenticeship as a way to join a large global company where she could earn while she learned and gain valuable working experience.  Through the structured rotation programme between different departments, Sophie quickly realised that HR was the perfect fit for her.

On completion of her apprenticeship, Sophie remained in the HR team where she helps in the co-ordination of Aberdeen Asset Management’s talent programme including apprenticeships, investment trainees, interns and graduates. Sophie also runs employability workshops for school leavers, mentors young people to help them get job-ready and finds time to volunteer with a number of training related charities.

Aberdeen supported Sophie to complete her investment operations qualification and she is currently working towards an HR chartership.

Martin Gilbert, chief executive of Aberdeen Asset Management commented:

“Sophie clearly has all the attributes and skills needed to be an Apprentice Ambassador of the Year. With her ambition and initiative she is a popular member of the Aberdeen team and never fails to help colleagues. Just like Sophie, we’ve found all our apprentices to be keen, motivated individuals who are committed to on-the-job training and learning.

“By rotating to different departments, our apprentices learn a wide range of skills and develop knowledge that will stand them in good stead for the future, while gaining a feel for the business and finding out which area best suits them and their skills and interests. We will all be cheering on Sophie in November when the winners are announced.”

The Aberdeen Asset Management programme for apprenticeships which will start in September 2017 will open in February 2017. The apprenticeship runs for 12 to 24 months and apprentices rotate to different teams every four months to give a well-rounded view of the asset management industry and its related functions.

The rotational aspect of the programme helps apprentices learn about the organisation, meet the people involved and help them decide which area of the business to begin their career in. As well as learning on the job, Aberdeen provides apprentices with an extensive induction, access to training courses and qualifications during their apprenticeship. More can be found at http://graduates.aberdeen-asset.com/en/graduates/apprenticeships.

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Apr 062012
 

If you are of the opinion that the City Garden Project controversy was all about what flavour of city centre park Aberdeen should have – think again. There seems to have been a much bigger picture involved here, and the politics are murky.  Mike Shepherd writes.

The power of the print media in shaping opinion

The public referendum has been held, and the City Garden Project won by the smallest of margins: 52-48%. Feelings are still poisonous in the city, as it is clear that a marginal result was swung by dubious means.

On the City Garden Project side, unregistered groups spent a disproportionately large sum of money on campaign material, whereas the officially registered groups were restricted to spending about £8,000 only.

Some of the claims made by supporters of the City Garden Project were outrageous and substantially misleading. One newspaper advert is now being investigated by the Advertising Standards Authority.

Even Aberdeen Council were responsible for punting a justification for the City Garden Project with the questionable claim that a new park could create 6,500 new jobs in the city.

The local papers showed a bias in favour of Sir Ian Wood’s project and framed their reports to show one side in a much better light than the other (“Yes, vote for change” or “No, don’t vote for change”). Ludicrous claims were accepted uncritically – such as oil companies leaving Aberdeen if the scheme did not go ahead.

I had been advised by an expert that:

 “Newspapers are very powerful at shaping public opinion”

and:

 “You will need the support of a PR company during the campaign.”

It was very good advice, but in practice not something that a campaign group of limited influence and funds could realistically put in place. Yet, it was clear from canvassing in the street that the combined effort of relentless advertising, the glossy brochures and the press bias was having an effect.
Whereas many would stop and give me a considered analysis of how they would vote, a large minority were reflecting City Garden propaganda back at me, phrases recognizable from glossy brochures or Evening Express headlines.

Our society today is witnessing a battle between democracy and political lobbyists / PR companies. Out of this, democracy is not doing that well. It’s a shock to see this writ large in Aberdeen, but at least the Gardens Referendum result has made this crystal clear to any thinking person in the city.

Local politics

After two years of campaigning to keep the Gardens, I have been able to observe how local politics works. It is clear that the current council administration is very business friendly and they will tend to make decisions that primarily favour business interests. At just about every council meeting you will hear the phrase “Aberdeen is open for business.”

Local democracy commonly involves a conflict between what business wants and what is in the interests of the general public. For example, if Aberdeen Airport is allowed to land flights at night, Dyce residents will get woken up by the noise. The conflict between business and public interests came to the fore after the consultation on Sir Ian Wood’s scheme two years ago. Over 50 local businessmen wrote to the council asking for the result to be ignored:

‘due to misunderstanding of the project among the public’

and an ‘inability’ to appreciate its impact. The council – to their shame – did this. The current Council administration (an SNP / Lib Dem coalition) appears to favour business almost every time.

There are a number of reasons why business gets its own way with the council. Many councillors are instinctively business friendly and will tend to support projects that are favoured by local commercial interests. This is certainly true of the Conservatives on the council and of many councillors from the other parties too.

There is also a powerful business lobby. Businessmen make up two thirds of the Aberdeen City and Shire Economic Forum (ACSEF), a “public-private partnership that drives economic development in the region”. Funded by both Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire Councils, ACSEF is a non-elected body that have been given a significant degree of control over local economic policy. There is no doubt that ACSEF exerts power and influence over the activities of both councils.

  advanced societies work by a system of checks and balances between moneyed interests and the public regard

ACSEF were involved with the City Garden Project in the early days and described it as one of their flagship projects. Two of the board members, including the Chairman Tom Smith, are directors of the Aberdeen City Garden Trust, the group that organised the architectural competition and who hope to take the project forward to completion.

Extensive networking appears to go on amongst the “great and the good”. Politicians, local businessmen, council officials and senior figures in local organisations turn up and meet at parties, functions, charity events and business meetings. One Freedom of Information request gives an indication of how much hospitality is provided to council officials for instance:
http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/76531/response/199821

To the worldly wise, this will not come as a surprise. However, advanced societies work by a system of checks and balances between moneyed interests and the public regard. This does not appear to be working too well in Aberdeen.

The SNP and the City Garden Project

The SNP have been intimately involved with the City Garden Project since its inception. Alex Salmond was present at the project launch  in 2008.
http://www.eveningexpress.co.uk/Article.aspx/933616

But only recently have both Alex Salmond and Callum McCaig, the SNP leader in the council, explicitly endorsed the City Garden Project.

Yet, the majority of SNP councillors have supported it throughout (the notable exception being Clr. Muriel Jaffray). This is clear from the voting records every time the project has come up for debate in the Council. The SNP support has been instrumental for the progress of the City Garden Project through successive council votes.

  Major businessmen such as David Murray, Brian Souter, Jim McColl and Martin Gilbert have now endorsed the SNP.

The SNP have a reputation for populist politics and it may seem surprising that they have embraced such a controversial project for the city. I believe that there is a much bigger picture here, and one that takes precedent over local politics. The SNP are essentially a single-issue party; they want independence for Scotland. The realpolitik of the SNP is that much of what they do is focussed towards this end.

A key aim for the SNP has been to secure the support of major business figures in Scotland. This is partly financial; the party has no natural source of funds apart from membership fees, but they are also trying to secure influence leading up to and beyond any independence date. Major businessmen such as David Murray, Brian Souter, Jim McColl and Martin Gilbert have now endorsed the SNP.

Sir Brian Souter, founder of the bus company Stagecoach, caused controversy when he donated £500,000 to the SNP in 2007. Shortly afterwards, the SNP dropped an election commitment to bus re-regulation, although they denied that there was any connection to Sir Brian Souter’s donation.

Sir Ian Wood has not given open support to the SNP, yet the SNP continue to court the billionaire’s favour. Not only has Alex Salmond given his own backing to the City Garden Project, the machinery of Government has also been used to bankroll the scheme.

Scottish Enterprise funded the public consultation two years ago and also allowed grant money to be used for the technical feasibility study. Although the public rejected Sir Ian Wood’s project in the consultation, it didn’t stop Scottish Enterprise from giving Aberdeen City Garden Trust £375,000 of public money from its available funds for major infrastructure projects.

Another niggly problem has been the concerns of Audit Scotland

The Scottish Government are keen to provide investment money for the project through TIF funding. Yet it has been established that the initial proposal did not rank very highly by comparison to other investment and infrastructure projects elsewhere in Scotland.

The Scottish Futures Trust, who carried out the ranking, has refused to make their calculations public in spite of Freedom of Information requests to do so. Another niggly problem has been the concerns of Audit Scotland, who have questioned the long term capability of the indebted Aberdeen Council to pay back a risky loan for the project.

The proposed use of valuable investment and infrastructure funds for something as trivial as building a new park is shocking. The business case is dubious and the council can’t afford the risk. Political considerations seem to have taken precedence to a strict business evaluation on the Aberdeen TIF case.

Sir Ian Wood discussed independence recently and gave an indication of what he wants from the Scottish Government:

“The Wood Group will not endorse a Yes or No vote on independence. But Sir Ian added: “What’s key is the extent to which our clients, and to some extent ourselves, anticipate that a Scottish Government would continue with a similar oil and gas policy to the UK.

“The suggestion right now, from the discussions I’ve heard, is that there’s a lot of overlap between the present Scottish Government’s thinking on the development of the oil and gas industry and the UK government’s thinking.”

He went on:

 “What’s important – and I think the First Minister realises this – is that they must provide as much clarity as possible over the next two years towards the vote in 2014, so that we minimise the uncertainty.”
http://www.scotsman.com/captains-of-industry-and-finance-join-clamour-for-clarity

I have no doubt that this will happen.

The SNP are hoping to secure a majority at the council elections on May 3rd. This is possible, but as a one-issue party they tend to do better in national elections than local elections. They are also heavily identified with the Union Terrace Gardens issue and this appeared to have cost them votes in the Scottish elections last year.
https://aberdeenvoice.com/2011/05/the-election-the-utg-effect/

If they do not get a majority, this raises the intriguing possibility of an administration run by a Labour-SNP coalition. The Lib-Dems are likely to see their vote collapse outside the West End of the city. The Labour group are vehemently opposed to the City Garden Project and it could be that a condition for agreeing to form a coalition is that the scheme is dropped.

The “Union” in Union Terrace Gardens refers to the union of the United Kingdom and Ireland in 1800. Perhaps it is ironic that the park has ostensibly become a pawn in the big game of Scottish independence. It would be immensely sad if this was the case. Aberdeen’s heritage could end up sacrificed for the sake of political wheeling and dealing.

This would not bode well for a future Scotland. As Paul Scofield, playing Thomas More, said in A Man For All Seasons:

“I think that when statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their public duties, they lead their country by a short route to chaos.”

Oct 132011
 

How can Labour  move forward in the wake of the SNP electoral Tsunami of May 2011? Mike Martin interviews  Barney Crockett, the Labour Group leader on Aberdeen City Council.

What is your explanation for the overwhelming SNP victory in May?

The first obvious point to make is that everybody who didn’t want to vote Labour transferred their votes to the SNP. It should be noted that Labour’s problems did not start in the last election since Labour’s vote has been similar in the last couple of elections. But the weakness was disguised by that fact that people who didn’t like Labour voted in different ways. On this occasion it all came together so that made the situation for the SNP overwhelming.

I think the explanation for that is what the SNP managed to do is make a large part of the Scottish population scared of a Labour victory, in particular, Iain Gray, and that doesn’t correspond to reality. The SNP strategy was to make Iain Gray look inadequate and play on that relentlessly and Labour, by allowing the campaign to become Salmond versus Gray, therefore had a great problem.

I think the SNP strategy was to make everything a Salmond versus Gray issue and Labour would have wanted to avoid that because Salmond had all the advantages of being someone who is the only key character in his party and has been the dominant figure for nearly all his adult life.

 Whereas it is always going to be the case for Labour that the question of leader is always going to be a more complicated issue because, as leader, you have to be relevant at a UK, Scottish and local level and no one individual will have the enormous dominance that Salmond has.

What resources did the SNP deploy?

I think resources were also relevant and one of the apparent weaknesses of the SNP is that they didn’t seem to have the ability to raise funds but this was reversed by the enormous donation of Brian Souter and went on to attract support from a few key business figures.

Labour are unable to undermine the illusion that the SNP have the support of business when the reality is their support is from quite a narrow section and Labour has the affirmation of more mainstream sections of the business community.

I think that this may be an on-going difficulty as the SNP may be able to carry on attracting support from the oligarchs or proto-oligarchic sections of the business elite and that’s going to be politically interesting as to how reliant the SNP are on some sections of the business elite that gain from deregulation and some that are effectively asset strippers.

What sections of the electorate moved over to the SNP?

A very large proportion as I’ve mentioned earlier, again something interesting is that the SNP have managed to portray themselves as having an entirely different kind of attractiveness to different sections of voters.

Scotland is the part of the UK that most resembles the UK average in almost all measurements

I think the most important element to them that Labour has to process very carefully is that the most significant part of their core electorate is men in their middle or later middle age who have done quite well. Scotland has quite a lot of people in those circumstances which historically we may not have seen in such large numbers before.

 I think the striking feature now about Scotland is that sociologically it is very like the rest of the UK in ways that it didn’t used to be, for example,  traditionally Scotland would have been seen as having  higher unemployment, greater poverty, poorer housing , a higher proportion of the workforce organised in Trade Unions and a lower proportion of upper middle class – Now Scotland is the part of the UK that most resembles the UK average in almost all measurements.

The wider aspect is that Scotland is the third wealthiest part of the UK but what is interesting is that the two parts which are more wealthy are London and the South East – and sometimes, depending on how you measure it, East Anglia – these parts are so far ahead that Scotland is at the average and all the other regions are below.

Sometimes politicians look backwards and are slow to appreciate these trends and build them into their thinking. This is due to the rise of Finance which is by far the largest employment in some parts of the country and this has to be part of the forward thinking as to how politicians respond to that.

That was the starting point, but by the end a number of sections of the electorate have moved to the SNP and that is going to be politically interesting for our strategies as the SNP will not be  able to please all of the people all of the time, and Labour will have to have a set of policies that appeals to different groups within that. There is a perception  that young people have moved to the SNP,  I am not sure that is true.

Labour’s appeal is quite high to young people and we can develop that. I think we have to also look at how we appeal to older people and to maintain our high attractiveness to female voters as thinking about what we do about the relatively prosperous middle class.

What is your take on the Labour campaign?

we should have made it clear what we would be sacrificing in order to achieve each one of our key policies

I think it would be slightly controversial in my view to say how Labour should have responded. Everybody is terribly clever with  20-20 hindsight but I think Labour have found the SNP, in this election in particular, hard to grapple with because we have not had  such a clear populism in British politics for a very long time.

Labour found it difficult to cope with someone who would outbid whatever populist policies that were there and Labour would have to ground their policies in a great depth of realism, that meant in my view that we should have made it clear what we would be sacrificing in order to achieve each one of our key policies.

We appeared to the voter to be offering the same as the SNP, that stretched the credulity of the voter, they did not think that Labour could do it. I think we would have to respond to that by making it crystal clear what we would be sacrificing for instance to get our apprenticeship program or harsher penalties for knife crime.

 I think it is interesting because Labour members have said to me why should the voters have higher expectations of Labour than the SNP and I think that is partly because Labour is the leading party in Scotland in people’s minds but also that’s a positive for Labour in as much as they expect a higher level of integrity and I think we should have built on that as well.

The SNP picked up a spectacular number of votes in the West of Scotland, what do you think was going on there?

There are  two things to say there, first of all that people who are active in politics, playing close attention to politics will see an enormous chasm between Labour and the SNP from both sides but the voters do not always appreciate that and a lot of voters see Labour and SNP as having a lot of similarities and so it means that voters will quite easily switch and I think that again is something for parties to take into account in the future.

As for the particular issues in the Clydeside area, there are two things, first of all any movement of votes was magnified because of the non-voting.  It was the low turnout that magnified any changes in voting and this  turn out is an enormous issue for all parties but especially for Labour because it tends to punish Labour disproportionately and it is quite sobering that the turnout was only 30% in some areas.

Labour will have to process carefully the fact that the candidate is very important

The other aspect would be that the SNP are moulding quite a different message in different areas and the other  parties whether they be  Scottish Socialists or the Pensioners party have introduced people to not voting Labour.

So I think that in one sense Labour feel they can rebound quite well whether it be  the Inverclyde UK Parliamentary by-election  and recent North Ayrshire by-election in local Government . These have shown that you could draw some comfort from the fact that Labour can respond and  in both those instances that Labour will have to process carefully the fact that the candidate is very important and that if the voters see both Labour and the SNP as being quite similar then that puts a big onus on the selection of candidates.

How can Labour most effectively respond to the SNP?

They have the advantages and disadvantages of a massively centralised organisation which operates in a fairly stalinoid sort of sense so they have the advantage of total loyalty, total obedience but also have the disadvantages that come with that as well –  which may come to the fore in the next wee while  …and that is one thing about Labour’s policies. They have to have policies which try to show up potential divisions within the SNP  but much more importantly divisions between the SNP and what the people of Scotland really need.

we have to be looking at these big structural issues  and that may mean striking out in quite a different direction from the SNP

In terms of policies, I think that I mentioned earlier that the SNP is a populist party but, because we have not really had the depths of populism policies in the UK politics in recent decades, people do not automatically understand what that involves. And the key thing is avoiding difficult realities by a day to day tactical response to issues.

One thing that Labour have to learn is being crystal clear with voters about some of these difficult circumstances and how the SNP are unable to provide answers to them and that even includes the big macro-economic issues of overall expenditure but also includes things like the level of house building, which is currently at the level of 1931 –  that is we are completing housing at the rate we did at the depths of the depression.

That’s shocking!

That is a really shocking fact and we just have to find ways of addressing that which are quite honest with the electorate but which give some hope for the future. …and  we have to be looking at these big structural issues  and that may mean striking out in quite a different direction from the SNP.

It may mean for example, at quite a trivial level in terms of government spending, that you have to look at prescription charges, parking charges, whatever.. as a way of trying to maintain relevance around some of the bigger issues such as housing.

And the Council Tax as well?

The Council Tax again is another thing that is not going to be seriously discussed now for a few years but if we are going to have a discussion on how we fund local services in a serious way,  in my view, that will inevitably involve a local property tax.

You mean a departure from the current Council Tax system?

No, not necessarily, but it means something  fairly similar to what there is now.

The big issue, and the debate that has to be had – is a debate about land value tax and it has to be had imminently if it is going to happen at all. What has happened so far, is that Local Income Tax is a dead duck – only some politicians support it –  it is not feasible, it is not going to happen, so we have to return again either to a Council Tax adjusted to be more progressive or something more radical such as a Land Value Tax but we have to find a stable way of supporting Local Government spending.

Do you think that the SNP gained votes around the issue of opposition to the UK nuclear weapons system?

I would think that is a very small issue in electoral terms but relevant in the sense that the SNP have a broad spectrum of things to say to different voters and it will appeal to a certain type of voter but I do not think it was a major influence on voting in May. Fairly obviously, the only powerful influence it had was in West Dunbartonshire for local reasons and in so much as it was just about the only place where the Labour vote increased.

But it is difficult to measure across the country… 

The vote in West Dunbartonshire clearly was about local jobs but I see what you mean.

So when do you anticipate that the SNP will run into budgetary difficulties?

this election …. will not succumb so easily to being all about Alex Salmond

I presume it will start with the next budget because as I understand it they are going to have two helpings of cuts in one because they managed to agree with the Conservatives last year to postpone last years cuts to help the SNP through the Scottish election and now they will have to do the catch-up.

So the first big bite will be this time round but again the SNP will try to delay it beyond the Council elections. As to how successful they are with that we will have to see but they will be trying to lay traps for all the other parties.

Increasingly it looks as if the parties other than the SNP and Labour are being squeezed out. How do you think the political landscape may look like after the May election?

I think what you are going to see is increasingly, to all intents and purposes, a two party system in an electoral system geared to a multi-party system and I think that is going make some unpredictable issues – a lot will depend on how much the width of support they have can be preserved going into that election.

I think what will be interesting is that the pattern of 3 member and 4 member council wards for each local authority might be interesting because it might be systematically 2-1 in all the threes and 2-2 in all the fours, so if you have a lot of four member wards  it might be very equal between SNP and Labour. But if you have a preponderance of three member wards you might get a very disproportionate result.

the bulk of people who join the SNP do so only because of the independence issue

So I think it is going to be interesting and the SNP  have made it clear that they are going to make an enormous effort in Glasgow to try and seize, as they would see it, the Citadel of Labour and then therefore Labour will also be campaigning very hard in Glasgow.

How that will affect across the country is not so certain. My feeling is that having been intensively involved in the last elections, that the SNP will be able to field less activists than Labour and that will be an important factor as this election is going to be fought all the way across Scotland and will not succumb so easily to being all about Alex Salmond, although the SNP may wish to try and do that.

Clearly the greater part of the Scottish population do not want full independence, so what effect do you think the referendum will have?

I presume that the SNP will be trying to avoid all discussion of the referendum because they know it is a bad thing for them. Maybe what they will try and do is speak about some sort of middle issue of more powers for Scotland or whatever, and try to make the discussion about that , but they will be  trying to avoid it being in anyway about independence.

I think maintaining a reasonable level of Corporation Tax is part of a civilised society

At that point it may become a bit divisive within the SNP, because the bulk of people who join the SNP do so only because of the independence issue. So the premise might be that we will talk about it after the local elections.

I think that within COSLA it will become increasingly important because under the four plus party system, COSLA did not take strong positions on most things because it did not have that level of unity amongst the local authorities. That very unified nature of the SNP may start to rebound a bit in terms of COSLA because the SNP councillors in lock-step with Salmond, may be unable to make the face-saving deals with the LibDems and Conservatives that have covered the cracks in the relationship between Scottish and local government.

So it might end up that quite a lot of the decisions made in COSLA will be anti-SNP positions and with quite a lot of division between local and Scottish Government in the lead up to and in the aftermath of the 2012 elections.

Suppose the referendum ends up with the Scottish Government gaining the power to set Corporation tax – how do think that will pan out?

Well, if they do then I think the UK government may, well let’s say the Tories, will know exactly what they are doing.  So suppose the setting of Corporation tax is devolved to the Scottish Government and they carry out what they say they will do, which is to lower it fairly dramatically, then I think the UK Government may rebound by cutting Corporation tax in parts of England to a lower level and that will leave Scotland losing a lot of income and not gaining the extra business they had anticipated.

Obviously I am a Labour Party supporter and I think maintaining a reasonable level of Corporation Tax is part of a civilised society and we should be trying to ensure that it is reasonably level across the developed world,  we certainly do not want to see an auction of cutting Corporation Tax further and further to the benefit of international finance and to the detriment of our electorate.

Do you think that English inner city riots will come to Scotland?

One aspect which is different is that Educational Maintenance Allowances have been retained in Scotland and I do not think that anyone has processed what that means for poorer communities, and that is a genuine difference.

the idea that new communities in the UK are forming is something the SNP have not processed at all

I think for everything else, and it would be comic if it wasn’t so serious, that people thought that Scotland could not be prone to rioting – I think we could easily see similar things happening . I do not think that we would be immune from rioting. We have more trouble focussing around things like football matches, for example, so it might happen in a different way.

One of the things I found interesting about that was the vehemence in the SNP wishing to say it was English violence rather than UK rioting and one thing to me is that it showed a lack of awareness of the changing world, because quite a lot of the population in the UK do not regard themselves as English or Scottish so, for example, there will be quite large categories of people in census listed as “Black British” or whatever and the idea that new communities in the UK are forming is something the SNP have not processed at all.

I rather like the idea of “new communities”

It is a good development but a problematic one – people do not process long term trends very easily. They do not fully appreciate the changes that have happened in the UK in the last 25 years.  I think the UK is now an enormous magnet for people and is seen as a very positive model for people across the world.

I think that a modern reforming party has to really understand that and what it involves, I mean every year a couple of Aberdeens (in terms of numbers of people) come to stay in the UK and in Scotland, the UK Government is committed to targeting a much reduced migration. In fact its net migration has grown very much with a particular impact on Scottish cities and that brings challenges but it is also appreciating the change.

And what about the countryside?

The impact of change in Scotland’s towns has been profound. The decline in town centres in Scotland I believe has been about twice the UK average probably because of the higher costs of distribution. We need imaginative responses encouraging conversion of shops to much needed residential housing.  We probably need to accept a transformation of the retail sector on which so many jobs currently rely.

Barney Crockett was interviewed by Mike Martin on 30th August 2011.