Nov 102016

Scottish Licensed Trade Benevolent Society launches Glass Half Full campaign to encourage current and former industry workers in Aberdeen to sign up for support. With thanks to Duncan Fisher, Senior Account Manager, The BIG Partnership.


Senior figures from the Scottish Licensed Trade at the launch of The BEN’s Glass Half Full campaign, at Blair Athol Distillery in Pitlochry, which aims to help former and current industry workers across Scotland who have fallen on hard times.

The Scottish Licensed Trade Benevolent Society, known as The BEN, has launched a new campaign to increase the number of people it supports and is calling on potential beneficiaries from Aberdeen to get in touch.

The Glass Half Full campaign, which was launched with the help of leading industry figures at Blair Athol Distillery in Pitlochry, is targeting current and former members of the licensed trade who have fallen on hard times through illness, unemployment or other factors, and would benefit from financial aid.

As well as being backed by the national trade, the campaign is being rolled out regionally with the help of The BEN’s network of volunteers, known as ‘Visitors’, who will take on ambassadorial roles within their respective areas.

Established in 1864, The BEN has been providing social, financial and emotional support to members of the licensed trade for over 150 years. Financially, the charity offers regular discretionary payments as well as one-off grants for emergency situations such as housing repairs or transport costs.

To be eligible for support, applicants must have worked in the licensed trade (incorporating bars, pubs, restaurants, hotels, wholesalers plus packaging, production and distribution firms) for at least three years on a full-time basis. The three years do not need to be concurrent.

Commenting on the campaign, Alex Carnie, The BEN’s Visitor in Aberdeen said:

“The BEN works very hard to get its message out there and the Glass Half Full campaign gives us a platform to let potential beneficiaries know we are actively seeking more people to support.

“A lot of former and current workers of the licensed trade won’t know they’re eligible for support so the campaign is great for raising awareness of how the charity can help and hopefully it will encourage as many people as possible to contact us.”

As part of the Glass Half Full campaign, the charity conducted a survey of current licensed trade workers to gain an understanding of potential challenges faced by those in the industry. The survey found that 27% of respondents knew someone who would benefit from financial aid due to life difficulties.

The feedback also showed 25% of male workers had been unemployed during their time in the industry (up to 32% for males aged 26-40) while 14% of their female colleagues had received external financial support (excluding banks or student loans) at some point in their career (up to 20% for females aged 26-40).

The younger generation of workers was also found to be at risk of facing difficulties, with 21% of respondents aged 16-25 stating they had already been in a situation which required financial assistance from an external body. Although older workers, aged 41 and over, have needed less financial aid (5%) than their younger counterparts, 17% still confirmed that they have been unemployed at some point during their career.

Demonstrating that both current and former members of the industry have been in a challenging financial position, the figures highlight the relevance of The BEN in today’s society and the continuing demand for its services.

As well as encouraging potential beneficiaries to get in touch, the Glass Half Full campaign aims to engage members of the licensed trade, and general public, to help spread the word and Chris Gardner, chief executive of The BEN, hopes it will enable the charity to support more people than ever before.

She said:

“Since it was established, The BEN has supported thousands of people across Scotland and we continue to strive to help as many as we can today. As a smaller charity this can sometimes prove challenging, largely due to a lack of awareness, but we hope the ‘Glass Half Full’ campaign will inspire people to either recommend our services or get in touch.

“We know there are hundreds of Scots out there who are eligible for support, but just don’t know it, so the campaign is a way for us to engage with them and let them know we are here to help. However, we understand the apprehension, and embarrassment, which can be caused by seeking financial support but would assure anyone considering contacting us that the application process is completely confidential and any arrangements are managed with the utmost discretion.

“The BEN will continue to support former and current members of the licensed trade for many years to come but we want to build our support network as much as possible. We believe the Glass Half Full campaign will help us expand our reach across Scotland and allow us to widen our impact on the lives of those who need it most.”

Paul Waterson, chief executive of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA), and BEN director, is backing the campaign and calling on the industry to show its support:

“The BEN has been the licensed trade’s national trade charity for over 150 years and we are immensely proud of the services it provides. From bar workers to draymen from sales people to restaurant and hotel staff it’s our job to provide assistance when needed. The BEN is well known within the industry, but many people are still unaware of how it helps people and who is eligible for support.

“Therefore we’re asking audiences from both the licensed trade and beyond to help raise awareness of the campaign and encourage anyone that may benefit from support to get in touch.”

About The BEN:

  • The Scottish Licensed Trade Benevolent Society, known as The BEN, offers social, financial and emotional support to former and current members of the licensed trade facing difficulties in life.
  • The BEN supports people of all ages who have worked full-time in the sector for at least three years.
  • The charity can provide beneficiaries with discretionary financial support or one-off grants for emergency situations. Examples include support in covering utility and household bills, the provision of furnishings and injury rehabilitation equipment as well as supplying mobility and transport solutions among many others.
  • The BEN owns the BEN Pitlochry Estate, consisting of 18 bungalows, where it provides accommodation for current and retired members of the industry as well as ‘Respitality’ breaks for carers.

To find out more about The BEN or to enquire about support, please visit or call 0141 353 3596.


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May 162016

Eilidh Whiteford, Parliament [2015]featWith thanks to Kenneth Hutchison, Parliamentary Assistant to Dr. Eilidh Whiteford

Women campaigning for fair pensions ‘deserve a fair hearing’, according to the SNP’s Pensions Spokesperson, Dr Eilidh Whiteford. The comments come following a meeting between MPs and campaigners representing Women Against State Pension Inequality.

WASPI represent thousands of women born in the 1950s, who have now been hit twice by increases to the retirement age.

To date, the UK Government has announced no compensatory schemes for those who will lose out as a result of the changes.

While the SNP believes that the state pension age should indeed be equalised, the party has criticised the manner in which the UK Government has implemented its changes, in the face of significant opposition from opposition parliamentarians and civil society.

Speaking after the meeting with WASPI campaigners at Westminster, Dr Whiteford said:

“It is profoundly unfair that these ladies have worked their whole lives, only to be told that their retirement age is being raised not once, but twice. They deserve a fair hearing from the UK Government.

“The UK Government has railroaded these changes through parliament without heeding the real impact this will have on women born in the 1950s. Stephen Crabb’s statement to parliament seems to indicate that there’s still no change whatsoever to the Government’s position.

“Constituents affected by these changes should be assured, however, that I and my fellow SNP MPs will continue to keep pressure on the Tories to look again at how these changes are implemented.”

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Jan 072016

With thanks to Kenneth Hutchison, Parliamentary Assistant to Dr. Eilidh Whiteford MP

Eilidh Whiteford, Parliament [2015]feat

Banff and Buchan MP Eilidh Whiteford

Banff and Buchan MP Eilidh Whiteford has called for the UK Government to reconsider its position on cutting in-work incentives for the low-paid.

In a speech to the House of Commons on Wednesday, Dr Whiteford called on the Government to re-think the proposed cuts scheduled for April. The Institute for Fiscal Studies points out that there will be more losers than winners under the proposed cuts, and the Resolution Foundation estimates that working families with children on Universal Credit will be, on average, £1300 pounds a year worse off by 2020.

The IFS estimate that overall, 2.6 million families across the UK will be worse off by an average of £1600 a year.

Speaking after the debate, Dr Whiteford said:

“While the Government’s U-turn on cutting tax credits was very welcome, it was, as I noted in my speech, a stay of execution given the reductions to the Work Allowance under Universal Credit, scheduled for this April.

“The Government has sold Universal Credit on the basis that work should pay for those in employment. Indeed, Universal Credit was sold as a simplified system which would give families real incentives to find work, and keep work. The reality, however, is that by cutting the Work Allowance, the Government is once again heaping the costs of austerity onto low paid families.

“In a country where the minimum wage remains significantly below what could reasonably be described as a living wage, some form of welfare remains necessary for those undertaking low-paid work. By cutting the Work Allowance the Government is imposing an eye-watering level  of marginal taxation on people in low paid jobs, and making it harder than ever for those in low income households to break out of the poverty trap.

“If the Government was serious about making work pay, if they were serious about boosting the UK’s productivity, if they actually wanted to help people get on, they would be increasing the work allowance – not reducing it.”

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Oct 082015

With thanks to Kenny Hutchison, Parliamentary Assistant to Dr. Eilidh Whiteford MP.

Eilidh Whiteford, Parliament [2015]feat

SNP MP Dr Eilidh Whiteford has written to Scottish Secretary David Mundell seeking confirmation that the UK Government will amend the Scotland Bill to devolve complete control over Universal Credit – after he promised the power to top up tax credits would be given to the Scottish Parliament through the Scotland Bill.

Mr Mundell said on Good Morning Scotland yesterday that the Scottish Parliament would have the ability to “adjust tax credits” or “top-up tax credits”.

As working tax credits and child tax credits are now part of Universal Credit, which is already being rolled out across the country, the only way the Scottish Parliament would be able to do this fairly and simply, and without having to ask the permission of the DWP, would be through complete control of Universal Credit.

Commenting, Dr Eilidh Whiteford MP, the SNP’s Social Justice spokesperson said:

“The Scotland Bill in its current form limits the ability of the Scottish Government to use the additional powers it proposes and retains vetoes for UK Government ministers. Scotland needs more powers over social security to tackle poverty, inequality and help those who need support the most.

“350,000 children in Scotland will be badly hit by the tax credit changes coming into force, and we want the power in Scotland to pull children and families out of poverty.

“This can only be done if we have full control over Universal Credit.

“Mr Mundell voted against the removal of the Secretary of State veto on changes to the Universal Credit, voted against powers to create new benefits, and voted against the devolution of Housing Benefit which is an element of Universal Credit – but now he says that Scotland should have the power to adjust tax credits.

“Overwhelmingly, civic Scotland has said that social security powers should be in the hands of Scotland to allow us to protect children and low income families. The Secretary of State now needs to put up or shut up and show us the amendments they are planning.”

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Dec 112014

At this time of year homelessness and hunger hit the vulnerable particularly hard; even in our prosperous city there are rough sleepers and people with issues who need help. The generosity shown by those who donated and volunteered at this year’s Rucksack Project will go a fair way to help. Suzanne Kelly dropped off her goods, and spoke to the volunteers.

rucksacks-3On Saturday 6 December people converged on the Cyreneans’ facilities at 62 Summer Street to donate rucksacks filled with essentials – warm clothing, food, hand warmers, toiletries and more.

Over one hundred rucksacks were collected; these will be handed out to the homeless. Excess packs will be handed out later in the year- and it is not too late to donate.

People currently living rough in Aberdeen are people who have fallen on hard times for numerous reasons – loss of job and home, substance abuse issues, mental health problems, marital break-ups and ex-servicemen.

Depute Chief Executive, Scott Baxter spoke to Aberdeen Voice; he and his team are greatly appreciative of the generosity shown.

He explained that each day on average 35 people come to 62 Summer street for food, to wash, to do their laundry, and crucially for help in getting back on their feet. He led a tour of the facilities. It is clear the Cyreneans are doing a great deal of good work – but they can always use more help, more goods, more volunteers and more resources.

Anyone who finds themselves homeless should report in the first instance to Aberdeen City Council by visiting Marischal College, stating they are homeless and need shelter.

The Rucksack project is a worldwide movement born out of the simple idea to help those sleeping rough during the freezing winter months. The idea behind the rucksack project is simple, participants are asked to provide a rucksack and fill it with items which rough sleepers can use.

Ideal items include a sleeping bag, roll mat, waterproofs, warm clothes, thermals, hat, gloves, scarf, hand warmers, flask, underwear, mini first aid kit, toiletries tissues, lip balm and instant food – i.e. soup and noodle packets. There is no expectation to fill a rucksack with all these items, this is merely a guide as to what would be helpful.

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Aug 152014
Food bank 3

The number of food banks has increased 400% in two years.

With thanks to Paul Robertson.

Better Together Aberdeenshire were chastised on Tuesday after claiming on their social media site that the presence of food banks in Scotland was “normal” and “far from being a sign of failure.” The incredible claim comes just the day after the Scottish Government announced £500,000 of funding to assist Scottish food banks in meeting rising demand.

The post was uploaded on the  ‘Better Together Aberdeenshire’ Facebook page on the evening of 11 August and was removed mid-morning of 12 August, but not before it had “gone viral on social media sites sparking an overwhelming reaction of incredulity.

Ross Cassie, a Macduff-based organiser of the Yes campaign in Aberdeenshire, commented:

“Those who volunteer their time and money to run food banks deserve our unreserved thanks. However it is intolerable that food banks even exist in a country which is as wealthy as ours.”

“The most alarming statistic is that 1 in 5 who present at local food banks are actually ‘working poor’ – that is, people who have a job but whose income simply doesn’t meet all the bills.”

“In September, we have the opportunity to reject the status quo of pervasive inequality that sends working families to food banks. We have the opportunity to take Scotland’s wealth in Scotland’s hands and make it work for all of Scotland’s people.”

The Trussell Trust, which operates 40 food banks in Scotland, recently released figures estimating a 400% increase in food banks in just two years, with 70,000 people in Scotland reliant on Trussell Trust food banks alone.

Mr Cassie added:

“There is another way Scotland can become a normal European country – and that is by voting ‘Yes’ in September.”

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Apr 182014

Old Susannah gets to grips with letting go of a great local talent, and the latest government wheezes, locally and nationally.

DictionaryAnother eventful week passes in the Granite City, bringing good news and some sad. Children have done arts and crafts in Union Terrace Gardens, organised by Aberdeen Inspired. This is despite the city’s officer Gordon McIntosh insisting the balustrades will fall down any day, and the gardens aren’t safe to use.

Inspired even managed to hold their events without scores of crowd barriers or 7’ tall security guards. Rumours are that Gordon may be about to make some dynamic changes of one sort or another.

The campaign to save Bon Accord Baths is gaining more momentum; some £5 million pounds is needed. However, in a city with our level of wealth we should be able to do this. In fact, Aberdonians apparently have more disposable income than almost anyone else in the UK. 

We still need food banks, mind. In the UK, over one million people rely on food banks, but they’re probably just benefit scroungers and immigrants (remind me to look up the amount of this year’s UK defence budget again).

Surprisingly some good news comes from the city council, where funds from outdated, surplus accounts were given to local causes such as the Cyreneans. It’s not a huge amount of money, but after the Kate Dean/Kevin Stewart council’s assault on our charities and good causes, this is quite a turnaround.

I learned how to make pasta at an amazingly fun course at Nick Nairn’s school. You may remember the then city council almost didn’t give Nick Nairn an alcohol license. The licensing board were probably afraid that people would sign up for courses (costing upwards of £40), learn what wines go with what foods, have a glass of red or white, and then go wilding into the night, committing crimes.

Thankfully, it seems no one from the cooking school to date has gone on a crime spree, and clearly the city has the city’s serious drink culture under complete control.

Spring has arrived! Result! The signs are everywhere: the theft of cars and licence plates continues, the gramps are being set alight once more and travellers are moving from public space to public space, leaving debris behind them, presumably as a token of the esteem they hold us in. The council say the police should act; the police seem to be implementing a reverse discrimination favouring the travellers.

And I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but you and I will be paying for the necessary clean-ups. A dead dog and £22,000 worth of waste was left near the beach by the travellers, and history looks set to repeat itself just a little further north.

If you want to live as you please, it would be nice to do so respecting the rights of the rest of us to live as we please – well in some idealised fantasy version of reality anyway. While some of us are trying to preserve and enjoy what’s left of our open spaces, other people seem to think we don’t care about mounds of trash or the very real prospect of stepping in human waste or over dead dogs. Thanks.

The UK’s police were trying to deny there is a quota system

To the people who’ll tell me not all travellers are alike, I agree. However, these past 10 years I’ve not seen a single travellers’ site in Aberdeen left in good condition when travellers travel.

And down the road in Ross-shire, it’s now 20 birds of prey that have been poisoned. So that’s good news for the shooting estates catering to people who like to blast birds from the sky with guns. Fledgling game birds are bred in captivity like ill-used hens, and thrown out without a clue, to be blasted. The sporting life indeed; no wonder billionaires and famous TV stars like Trump are into this kind of pursuit.

So how do our police perform when it comes to saving our wildlife, stopping car thefts and stopping people trashing our green spaces (when they know exactly who’s doing it)?

Aberdeen got a mention in the Sunday papers; its police seem to like arresting children, and are very fond of random spot searches. A child of two was apparently charged with property damage. I’m sure they understood their rights and I’m sure the parents were the police’s first port of call. Police Scotland are also fond of telling people who own cars and houses to hide their goods or it’s their fault if they’re robbed.

The UK’s police were trying to deny there is a quota system in place for arrest and searches. Unfortunately, the truth leaked out, and there are indeed quota systems.

Justice may be blind, but she’s counting. It’s nearly one year since the police blew the budget (or so it looked) raiding the empty flat of George Copeland. Things may have been quiet on this story in the news, but I can promise you, the fight for a rational explanation and disclosure of information are ongoing. Who knows – there may eventually be some justice for George. Watch this space.

Other than that, I’ve had some fun (Malmaison, Temple Aesthetics, BrewDog of course and the Tunnels – Palma Violets were spectacular). But this week David Innes, drummer with the Gerry Jablonski band, passed away. A service is being held the morning of Friday 18 April, and later that night a concert takes place at The Forum.

We were privileged. I’ll remember the last times I saw him, including the Moorings in early March, the Jubilee party in Union Terrace Gardens where they entertained thousands, and the Lemon Tree when the latest Gerry Jablonski & the Electric Band album was launched.

There are performers 20 years younger who don’t have his enthusiasm, energy and stamina. There are performers 20 years older than he was who would have loved to have his talent and range. If Aberdeen is a city of culture (outside of bureaucrat speak), it is because of artists like David Innes. Condolences to his friends and family.

Life Expectancy Letters: (Mod. Eng. ConDem phrase) – letters to be sent to OAPs, telling them when they will likely pass away.

Well there is a new government initiative we can all be happy with; they are going to send everyone a letter, telling them when to expect to die. I can’t see any flaws in this cunning plan.

Then again, with Alzheimer’s setting in early in some cases, and looking set to be an epidemic in the near future, I’m sure all the guardians and children of those afflicted with forms of senile dementia will be very happy to get letters to advise when mother and father are expected to die.

I’m certain too that this is not some ploy to scare the elderly into saving well into later life. After all, you want to live in comfort with as few trips to the food bank as you can manage until you die at precisely 9 September in 2027, don’t you? Letting you know when you’re likely to die will just make you take better care of your health, and your money.

And of course should you fall sick or need residential care, then the government will take your savings off of you to pay for such care.

Of course most of us who work have been paying tax throughout our working life in the belief this would go to giving us good care when we’re older. Just don’t bank on it. I’m glad there’s no chance of another pension mis-selling scheme like we saw a few decades ago. No-one would take advantage of the elderly and sell them financial products they didn’t need, would they?

Pensions minister Steve Webb said that under new government guidance, experts could assess approximate life expectancy by looking at factors such as smoking, eating habits and socio-economic background.”

 As far as socio-economic background is concerned, I wonder if those living on the food banks will have the same life expectancy as those at the merchant banks

I’m sure this scheme to write to everyone with an expected death date is not geared to frighten us into getting into private pension schemes. That would only benefit bankers and financial institutions, and our government wouldn’t show the financial sector any special treatment, would it?

I talked to an older citizens who was still of working age recently; they had decided to skive off work for a few months, and used a slipped disc as their flimsy excuse to get on the dole. I’m happy to say we made it as hard for this scrounger as we could; it was 6 weeks before they got any financial help, despite having worked all their life. Dipping into their savings to pay bills, they eventually bled the taxpayer for £78 per week.

Now if they knew what their death date was, they might have been convinced to save a bit harder, work more hours, and have more savings to burn through at the first sign of illness. This guy was not good at financial planning, either. All of his money was earned and taxed in the UK, and he didn’t shelter any of it offshore. Well, if you don’t save as much as you can, it’s simple. Just don’t fall ill or die.

Old Susannah is interested to see what factors are taken into consideration. I’m sure the ConDems won’t want to upset anyone by letting on that the air is now killing more people than ever before.

Perhaps this is such a good idea we should take it further, and make dying by the projected death date mandatory? I’d be surprised if some ConDem somewhere isn’t contemplating it.

Dune Management: (Modern Eng. compound noun) To preserve a natural area by changing it beyond recognition.

It would seem the Donald Trump school of sand dune management’s principles are taking off a treat.

the-end-of-the-road-for-trump-suzanne-kelly-by-collapsed-section-of-course-photo-by-rob-avA Cornwall-based council decided that they would ‘stabilise’ their own sandy beach by planting conifers on the beach. Somehow, this has displeased residents and visitors, who wanted to see beach at the beach, and not dying, dried out half dead trees that were never going to grow in the first place.

Of course the marram grass, gorse and trees Trump has planted has totally stabilised ‘The Great Dunes of Scotland’ as Trump Golf seems to call Balmedie Beach.

The dunes are so great I think travelling spice and silk merchants will be crossing them by camel to stay at the opulent MacLeod House.

Anyway, Trump saved our dunes for us, and that’s why there is no sand blowing around the greens or any other problems there.

My photo above shows just how stable the course is.

 Next week:  A Trump update and more definitions

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Aug 192013

A benefit concert has been arranged in aid of George ‘Dod’ Copland whose Aberdeen home was at the centre of a dramatic armed siege on June 7. With thanks to Ruaridh McAilein.

The concert featuring Oi Polloi, Billy Liar, The Bucky Skanks and T34 takes place at Audio, 14 Midland Street, Glasgow this Friday, Aug 23.

As reported in a previous Aberdeen Voice article, much of Mr Copland’s property was damaged or destroyed as police forced entry to search his unoccupied house following what was later reported to be a hoax call.

Mr Copland is still seeking an apology and compensation from the police.

Ruaridh McAilein, lead singer of popular punk band Oi Polloi told Aberdeen Voice.

“Dod has clearly been the victim of a significant injustice here. It’s extremely disturbing to think that something like this can happen in the first place but the fact that he has still not been compensated for either the damage to his property or to his reputation – not to mention the adverse effect that this must have had on his health – simply beggars belief.

“We’ve known Dod for the best part of thirty years now and can vouch for how willing he has always been to put himself out to help other people in need both through his community work and also in his personal life – and we also know how much pleasure he has brought to others over the years through his musical endeavours with Toxik Ephex – so the least we can do is to attempt in some small way to return the favour now that he finds himself in these straits after being treated in this quite frankly disgraceful way by the police.

“It’s a sad indictment on the state of affairs in Aberdeen that the authorities appear to have done very little to put right this clear wrong and that it is left up to other ordinary people like ourselves to help someone in this situation.

“On the positive side, when we first suggested the idea of a benefit concert for Dod it was greeted very enthusiastically indeed by the many people in Edinburgh and Glasgow who have come to know Dod through his musical performances with Toxik Ephex.

“He has a lot of friends all over Scotland, and there will be plenty of us coming together in Glasgow on Friday night to not only raise some much needed cash to help Dod repair some of the damage to his house but also to enjoy a night of excellent music and partying of the kind that Dod himself has so often provided for us over the years.

“We are hoping to not only collect a decent sum for Dod but also to show him that he’s not alone in facing what’s happened and that he is held in considerable affection by a lot of people throughout the country who have come to know him through his music.

“We also hope that further publicising what exactly happened to Dod will help keep the pressure on the authorities to apologise and properly compensate him.

“We’d encourage as many people as possible to come along for a night of great live music and to support the cause of a person who has spent so much of his own time over the years helping and entertaining others.”

Bands: Oi Polloi, Billy Liar, The Bucky Skanks, T34

Venue: Audio, 14 Midland Street, Glasgow
Friday Aug 23, 8pm
£6 on the door

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May 132013

Voice’s Old Susannah takes a look over the past week’s events in the ‘Deen and beyond. By Suzanne Kelly.

Apologies for the late arrival of this service; it’s been a busy week.

John Aberdein, author of works including Strip the Willow, was in town, and I am pleased to have been able to spend some time with him.

We met at the May Day March, where a surprisingly large number of people attended.

You almost got a sense that people weren’t all that happy with the way central government is bringing us economic prosperity.

There were some interesting speeches on issues such as the bedroom tax, health assessments, inflation, loss of workers’ rights, forced employment, austerity, exploiting young workers, service cuts and closures, and other trivialities. 

For some reason I could only see Labour councillors around.

I’d hoped some of our Conservative and LibDem councillors would be on hand to dispel the Labour propaganda; they could have for instance given back-up for the Department of Work & Pensions’ claim that one in four people on sickness benefit is fit for work.  I’d have also appreciated their reassurances that everything is fine and that ‘we’re all in it together’.

I keep meaning to ask a ConDem councillor exactly what ‘it’ is that we’re all in together?  Economic prosperity?  Fair taxes and a fair society?  A bed of roses?  I’d love to ask for instance Councillor Gillian Owen what ‘it’ is, but alas!  She’s not going to be communicating with me.

I could conceivably have done or written something upsetting, but I now have the anxiety of waiting until Christmas time to see whether or not she’ll be sending me a card.

Rather than only offering definitions this week, I thought a portrait of Councillor Owen might make a refreshing and pleasant change, together with some related timely terms.

Councillor Gillian Owen: (Proper noun; name of an elected official in Aberdeenshire)

Conservative Party Councillor for Ellon & District, Aberdeenshire Council. Chair of the Council’s Chair of Aberdeenshire Council’s Scrutiny and Audit Committee

Councillor Gillian Owen is a multitalented woman, serving her ward and its constituents, overseeing the Scrutiny and Audit Committee, and, er. working at Snappy Snaps now and then.

Alas!  I seem to have offended the lady; I’ve no idea how that could be.  Some weeks ago, a number of Aberdeenshire residents gave me permission to write to their councillors on their behalf.  Oddly enough, some residents don’t think their elected officials are taking them and their views seriously enough.

clearly she wanted me to call instead, as she sent her mobile number

When I wrote to councillors, some were slightly hostile; some were slightly helpful, and some simply didn’t write back to me or their constituents (they probably get so much fan mail that they don’t really have time to answer it all).

But Cllr Owen’s modest replies warmed my heart and the hearts of those voters who’d asked me to write to her in the first place.

When first contacted about her friend Donald Trump’s development and its slight tendency to occasionally deviate from the plan, she wrote:-

“As previously requested remove this email. I do not wish to receive emails from you.”

I did try to remove the email, but I didn’t have much luck.  She said she didn’t want to receive emails from me; clearly she wanted me to call instead, as she sent her mobile number.

I thought I’d clarify why I was writing, and sent this:-

“Reminder Councillor:  I am writing at the behest of your constituents – shall I tell them you do not want to hear from them?  Thank you for clarifying//END”

To which Gillian Owing-Trump-A-Favour replied:-


Which was rather thoughtful; full caps are so much easier for Old Susannah to read.  Her constituents who’d asked me to write were touched by this warm exchange; no doubt these words deserve a wider audience.

Scrutiny and Audit Committee: (compound proper noun) A group within Aberdeenshire Council looking into issues including:-

  • “Residents and Employee Surveys;
  • “Internal and external audit reports;
  • ” Issues raised by residents, local community groups and external organisations…”

Residents of course already know how deeply their councillors care about their concerns.  It is reassuring Cllr Owen is at the helm, helping to decide what issues raised by residents will be scrutinised and audited.

As David Milne’s petition going before Holyrood on 14 May has nearly 19,000 signatories demanding a public inquiry into the handling of the post-approval developments at Trump Scotland, Gillian will doubtless prioritise this issue for her constituents.  I’d ask her to confirm this myself, but she’s not going to answer.

If any readers living in the Shire would like her committee to look at issues of policing, security, environment, rights of access, adherence to the Outdoor Access Code and so on at the Menie Estate, she can be contacted at  – just tell her Old Susannah sent you.

‘And what are the values of this committee?’ I practically hear people asking.  They are:-

“Open, Transparent, Investigative, Deliberative, Evidence-based, Accountable, Responsive, Inclusive, Influencing, Flexible, Proactive, Non-partisan and Outward Looking.”

How important indeed it is to be open, transparent, accountable and responsive is reflected in so many things councillors do.  As an aide to that transparency and openness, electors have the right to know more about their councillors.  One way this noble aim is accomplished is via the Register of Interests.

Register of Interests: (compound noun) A detailed record, legally required, showing the outside interests (paid and unpaid), hospitality received and other activities of councillors so that any potential conflicts of interest can be identified and compromising situations avoided.

Codes of ethics and standards are hardly necessary for our elected officials; I for one am happy to take it on good faith that they are all working without any thought of reward other than their salaries and that they would not compromise themselves by taking inappropriate hospitality.

For instance First Minister Alex Salmond is still feeling the heat for meeting with Donald Trump while planning issues were being discussed.  At least I guess he must have recorded the hospitality on his register of interests’ entry.  Not doing so would be rather naughty indeed.  I do get the feeling that any future dinners are somewhat unlikely.

“The Register is accurate as at today’s date [April 25 2013]”  – an Aberdeenshire council employee confirmed to me recently.  I had asked for clarification, as amazingly, Councillor Owen’s record did not show any remuneration, shares, election expenses, or gifts and hospitality.

Many are impressed by this saintly abstention from gifts and hospitality; it contrasts greatly with the record of old City councillor Kate Dean [Who she?  Ed], who had managed to get to a heck of a lot of events indeed.  No, our Councillor Owen is too busy to write to me or for any socialising or gift-getting.  Canonisation cannot be far off.

Newsletter: (noun) A means, printed or electronic, of updating people on current events, news, etc.

One thing Councillor Owen does have time for is keeping us all updated on the latest news.  Her newsletter can normally be found here (I have randomly chosen a lovely story link from the site):-

But alas!  This newsletter website was down last night.  Happily it is back up and running now, for I foresee an increased interest in it.

Just in case the site is not working when any Aberdeen Voice readers try to access it I’m certain that Cllr Owen-us-an-explanation will be more than happy for me to share this lovely photo, which I managed to save as a screenshot from her newsletter some time ago:-

It’s amazing what can happen when two world-class celebrities get together; I don’t know about you, but I simply adore this image.

This is text of the story in case it can’t be accessed on line for some reason:-

“I had the pleasure today to see at first had the new Trump International Golf Links at Menie. I must say it was a marvellous sight and a fantastic golf course.  I have supported this development since it came before the Area committee five years ago and have always believed that it will provide the North East with a superb facility and a legacy which will grow and one day I hope will host The Open.  Enjoy a couple of the photos that I took today!”  

Thank you Gillian, we will enjoy the rest of those photos indeed. (I fear my odds of getting my copy of the Owen-Trump photograph signed are somewhat low; if any readers who are getting glossy prints made of this great picture autographed could ask for a spare signed copy one for me, I’d be most grateful.  I might however just run down to Snappy Snaps to get some blow-ups made.  I suppose Gillian got her copies made there; I wonder if there was an employee discount.)

Let’s hope it was a very very quick visit or our Councillor would have been tempted to have a coffee, tea, or meal – and as we know, the prices for a bite at the temporary clubhouse are slightly more expensive than a Big Mac Meal.

Obviously, any hospitality taken in July at the world’s greatest golf course would have shown up on the gifts register, particularly as Owen-Trump-A-Lunch seems likely to have voting power which could benefit her friend and ours, Donald.   Again if anyone wanted to bring any issues to the attention of Cllr Owen for scrutiny, please see her email address above.

While I am at it, another useful website address just happens to be at hand; this is for Standards Commission Scotland .  If you have for any reason any issues of potential conflict of interests, incomplete register of interest entries and so on, the Standards Commission might be a good website to visit.

Next week:  A look at some recent Freedom of Information requests, and possibly some more on ethics, conflict of interest, gifts, hospitality and so on

PS:  All the best to David Milne tomorrow as he attends Holyrood trying to get a much-needed public inquiry into the catalogue of disasters that ensued following planning permission going to Trump at Menie.  At last count there were over 19,000 people wanting answers as to how the planners, councillors, police, environmental advisory group MEMAG, the countryside access officers and so on acted.   Holyrood has to agree to this inquiry.

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Apr 222013

By Suzanne Kelly.

Evidence continues to mount against the French giant ATOS, brought in to assess the fitness of UK citizens to work or otherwise, yet the current UK Government does nothing.

Sensationally, Dr Stephen Bick MP claimed to have uncovered a quota system through which ATOS planned to allow only one in every eight people it assessed to be considered permanently unable to work, irrespective of the medical facts.

Scores of people have had their own physicians’ opinions overturned. Bick has called for a National Audit Office report.  And still ATOS carries on, at great expense to the taxpayer, with its ritualistic, insensitive, arcane investigations and operations.

Sometimes they cause upset and damage before the client even sees a doctor – take David Brazendale’s case.

In his words, here is his Aberdeen ATOS experience.

“I had an appointment set to take place at the ATOS Medicals, Aberdeen centre today at 11.20. It never happened as I was told when I got there at 11.10, the required 10 min early, that there was a 2 hour wait. Well, the air nearly turned blue with steam coming from my ears. This is a copy of the e-mail I have just sent them.”

“Dear Sirs

I am writing to you today to make an official complaint about your Aberdeen Medical Centre. I had an appointment today scheduled to take place at 11.20 at the Aberdeen medical centre, I struggled to make the appointment after a 45 min journey to get there the required 10 min early for the appointment.

When I got there I was informed that there was a long wait for my appointment well you can imagine my shock to find out that is was at least a 2 Hour wait, at the time I was there was only one other person sitting in the waiting room. I find this totally unacceptable as I had an appointment for a set time , also I have not received any communication before I got there today.

I said that I would come back in 2 hours as I could not sit and wait for 2 hours, anyway how many disabled people do you know who could sit and wait for 2 hours?

I was then told that I could not come back in 2 hours as it might upset the afternoon appointment so I was sent away and was told that I would get another appointment for a different day, it’s bad enough that I have to go there in the first place, never mind the fact that I was only released from Hospital yesterday the 11th April after having a hernia repair operation and I was in severe pain on top of the chronic back pain that I have anyway.

I have contacted my local Job Centre Plus about this, who told me I had to make a complaint to ATOS myself.

Yours Disgusted

David John Brazendale.”

At David’s invitation I contacted ATOS on Monday 15 April, asking questions relating to both his bad experience and ATOS’s treatment of Justin Smith. David now has a letter from ATOS regarding his e-mail and it has launched an investigation into his complaint which should take four weeks or less to complete.

ATOS was asked to explain its lack of communication with David. Its own charter reads,

“We aim to keep to your appointment time, and if not, we will update you about any waiting times”

Other issues put to ATOS include:-

  • Please confirm whether or not everything is running in Aberdeen as it should,
  • Please confirm what should be done when an appointment is running late – do you call the patient or not?
  • Is it policy to read a patient’s existing notes in advance? If not, why not?
  • Are patients allowed to reschedule if they have newly come from hospital or have some other issue?
  • Do you tell people in advance that when you ask them to, for instance, move a box from place to place you are not making a medical diagnosis, but determining if they can do moving work?
  • Does ATOS believe that anyone on chemotherapy or radiotherapy should be working?
  • Why would someone be forced to wait in your waiting rooms if there was a two hour wait?

In a spokesperson’s response on Thursday 18 April, I was given contact details for anyone wishing to make a formal complaint.

ESA/WCA Customer Service: Telephone 0800 2888 777. E-mail:

Anyone with a complaint should register it, but judging by the evidence of those who have gone down the complaint route, I would not expect a particularly sympathetic, helpful, quick decision.

The spokesperson continued,

“Our doctors, nurses and physiotherapists work hard to provide a compassionate and professional service for all those asked to an assessment, at what we know can be a difficult and emotional time. Last year we conducted over one million assessments on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions.

“If there is any aspect of our service that people are not satisfied with, we would urge them to make a complaint to us directly so that we can thoroughly investigate and make changes if necessary.”

To my cancer-related questions, they had this to say:

“On your cancer question, please may I refer you to a recent announcement made by the DWP on cancer regulations for the WCA? You will be aware that DWP own the policy surrounding the WCA not ATOS Healthcare.”

It seems that following orders is the order of the day at ATOS. If it wishes to disavow responsibility for part of the work it carries out as a medical practitioner, could this put ATOS medical ethics in a poor light? I recommend reading the full transcript of Dame Anne Begg MP’s recent contribution to the debate from which this is an extract,

“It is not enough for Government to say that the genuine claimant has nothing to fear. In too many cases, genuine claimants are not scoring any points in their initial assessment. There is something fundamentally wrong with the system and the contract that ATOS is delivering.

“When the British Medical Association votes at its conference to say that the work capability assessment is not fit for purpose there is something wrong with the system. When GPs are reporting an increased workload, not just as a result of providing reports but as a result of treating patients whose condition has worsened as a result of their WCA experience, there is something wrong with the system.”

Sources/further reading:

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