Jun 082017
 

With thanks to Jessica Murphy, Account Manager, Jasmine Ltd.

It is in the heart of the city and as one of the busiest ports in Britain, has more than 6,500 vessel arrivals each year and handles around four million tonnes of cargo.

As the centre of activity for the offshore oil and gas industry’s marine support operations in North-west Europe, Aberdeen Harbour is a crucial thoroughfare.

Ensuring the port is operating according to the marine safety management system is a regulatory requirement, and a job that is undertaken every three years by Keith Falconer of Seacroft Marine Consultants (pictured).

A marine specialist with the company, which is based at The Roundhouse, Keith also acts as the Designated Person for the Aberdeen Harbour Board.

He is tasked with providing independent assurance to Aberdeen Harbour Board that their Marine Safety Management System is fit for purpose and that it complies with the requirements of the Port Marine Safety code.

He said:

“Every three years the Duty Holder, in this case the Board of Aberdeen Harbour, is required to inform the UK Government via the Maritime and Coastguard Agency that they are compliant with the Port Marine Safety Code.

“The Port Marine Safety Code is in many ways similar to the Highway Code, it may not be law in itself, however breaching it is not advisable.”

The Code is broken down into four main sections covering everything safety related to the operation of a port, and the process undertaken by Keith to ensure compliance is a continual one carried out over the course of a year.

With more than thirty-seven years at sea, the majority of which was spent in the offshore industry, Keith’s experience is invaluable in this role, which he has held since 2012.

Keith added:

“This position is a privilege to hold and one that I enjoy tremendously. Aberdeen is a fantastic port to operate in and plays a vital role in the commercial success of the city.

“Being able to utilise my skills in the industry in this way is great and the perfect fit with my work at Seacroft.”

Launched in 1995 by Captain Roderick MacSween, Seacroft has been owned and operated by the founder’s daughter Jennifer Fraser and technical director Michael Cowlam since 2004.

With a team of 14 staff and more than 70 consultants, the company has built its reputation in the marine assurance and consultancy sphere.

Seacroft Marine Consultants’ expertise includes marine assurance packages, OVID and CMID inspections, marine warranty work, rig move services, International Safety Management audits, safety audits and inspections, incident investigation and dynamic positioning assurance as well as simulator training in ship handling and bridge team management and specialist recovery and rescue assurance services.

For further information on the full range of Seacroft Marine Consultants services please visit www.seacroftmarine.com.

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May 252017
 

By Ian Baird.

Every time a report is written about the Harbour Board’s expansion plans into the Bay of Nigg, there is invariably a reference to a Scottish Enterprise report which justified the project in economic terms, along the lines of, ‘An independent study, commissioned by Scottish Enterprise, estimates that the development will generate an additional £1 billion per annum to the economy by 2035 and will create an additional 7,000 equivalent jobs.’
But that Report was written in December 2013, three and a half years ago and therefore pre-dating the current prolonged oil downturn.

Before finally committing to the project in December when a contract was agreed with Dragados, surely in the light of what is acknowledged to be a significantly changed trading environment, the assumptions and projections made in the Biggar Report should have been reviewed?

Had this been done with any vigour, it is difficult not to come to the conclusion that the business case for £350+ million development no longer stands up to scrutiny and proceeding with the development on that basis cannot be justified.

Let’s look at some aspects of the Report from the perspective of 2017.

1) Harbour Capacity: One of the most compelling arguments emanating from the Harbour Board as justification for the expansion was that the harbour was working at or near full capacity. The argument was echoed in the Report which stated:

“It is clear additional capacity is required to retain activity in the oil and gas sector in Scotland.  If this capacity is not developed, then there is a risk that new and existing demand will be lost to Norway. Capacity constraints at the Harbour are also likely to hinder existing and potential users from developing new market opportunities in areas such as renewable energy, decommissioning, passenger ferries and cruise liners.”

As the construction of the expansion begins, is the existing harbour still running at or near full capacity? The Report noted that arrivals to the port in 2012 numbered in excess of 8,100. Based on the Board’s statements we have to assume this figure is close to maximum capacity. By 2014 arrivals were very similar at 7,937, but in 2015 they dropped to 7,428 and then precipitously to 6,462 in 2016 (unpublished).

That’s more than a 20% drop in traffic activity from the 2012 high to 2016. In short, the harbour is no longer working at or near to full capacity. Of course, had the arrivals levelled off at around the 8,000 mark, it could be legitimately argued that capacity issues were inhibiting expansion but with a 20% drop in activity it is clear that this is quite simply a downturn in business.

To update, the first 4 months of 2017 are no better than the equivalent period last year; and so just as the heavy plant moves in to the Bay, annual arrivals are around 1600 fewer per year than when ‘at or near maximum capacity’.

When challenged about declining arrivals at the 2016 AGM, Chief Executive Colin Parker argued lost business because of larger vessels being unable to enter the harbour were the main cause of the decline. This seems a curious statement given that vessels as large as 20,000 tonnes have used the harbour and yet the average gross tonnage is only about 4,000 tonnes. Two of the largest ships using the harbour are the passenger ferries plying to the Orkney and Shetland Isles. They each have a gross tonnage of 11, 720.

How many arrivals were there of vessels with a gross tonnage of over 10,000 tonnes, other than the ferries, using the port in a year? In 2015, only 21 out of 7,428, or .002%; in 2016, ever fewer at 11. Apart from the ferries, the upper 50% of the tonnage capacity range (10,000 to 20,000 tonnes) is virtually unused.

Where is the evidence that lack of size capacity is inhibiting business?

Fig. 1: The Harbour Board claims the existing harbour is too small for larger vessels. This graph shows that, apart from passenger and freight ferries running to the Northern Isles, the upper end of the tonnage capacity range from 7000 tonnes upward is barely utilised by oil-related, cargo or other vessels.

2) The new market opportunities identified in the Reportrenewable energy, decommissioning, passenger ferries and cruise liners – are central in the projections of increasing traffic to the expanded facility. How well does potential success in these markets stand up to scrutiny from today’s perspective? Let us look at each in turn:

Renewable Energy: Despite initial enthusiasm for chasing business in this market, the Harbour Board has been very quiet about prospects in this sector since the Report’s publication.

There has probably been a belated recognition that weaknesses in the local infrastructure (inadequate roads network for heavy and wide loads, lack of fabrication facilities) and being close to neither centres of turbine and blade manufacture nor to the offshore areas identified as potential for offshore wind arrays, means that there are no specific advantages, and several disadvantages, for suppliers of renewable energy components considering using Aberdeen as a transport base.

Biggar suggests a need for creating industry clusters around key infrastructure investment locations, and that one such cluster should incorporate the supply chain for offshore renewables by developing the land beside Nigg Bay as a marine renewable cluster in Aberdeen City and Shire.

Fine words, but despite the fact that construction of the harbour expansion is under way, there seems little action towards this suggested initiative and there seems inadequate land available to develop a suitably well-equipped cluster as proposed.

Decommissioning: Although the total decommissioning market is huge, Aberdeen’s potential to handle significant elements of it will again be limited by onshore infrastructural weaknesses and by the lack of deep-water berthing. Since the Report was published, many other ports in Scotland, North-east England and Norway have signalled their determination to secure a share of the decommissioning market.

Many, such as Dundee, Cromarty, Kirkwall and Scapa Flow are already well ahead in extending infrastructure and capacity. In what will be a highly competitive scramble for work, it is difficult to see Aberdeen, coming late into the game with improved facilities in 2020, attracting any more than relatively minor contracts.

Ferries: Apart from its inclusion in the Report as one of the potential markets for the expanded port, no evidence or research is offered to substantiate the sector as a potential market. The Northern Isles are the only destinations with a regular ferry service to Aberdeen. The existing ferries are large and, although running near to full capacity at peak holiday periods, for much of the year they are running well below.

At current passenger and freight usage levels, larger ferries plying those routes would not be cost-effective. NorthLink have not identified any need, nor expressed any interest, in introducing larger ferries to Kirkwall and Lerwick.

Cruise Ships: The Report predicts that up to 40 cruise ships could be attracted to the new harbour each year but there are quite a number of qualifications to that figure:

“If a new harbour is built and [if] improvements are made to surrounding roads infrastructure then this may make the harbour a more attractive destination for visiting ships. For example road improvements may make it easier for coaches to access to the quayside, which would make it easier for cruise companies to organise excursions for passengers. The additional space may even make it possible to create dedicated visitor reception facilities. [My emphasis]”

The projection of 40 cruise ships per annum is therefore very speculative. While it is true that the average size of cruise ships is rising, ruling out many of them from the opportunity of docking in the existing harbour, it does not follow that a sufficiently large harbour will attract those larger ships. A bigger swimming pool doesn’t necessarily mean more (or larger) swimmers, perhaps just more space per swimmer.

If we compare the new harbour with, for example, Shetland’s port at Lerwick, which is projected to attract 80 cruise ships in 2018, there must be some doubt about its attractiveness as a destination, requiring as it will a bus journey with views (and possibly smells) of a sewage works, possibly an incinerator, Altens industrial estate and a complex onward route to get to either Aberdeen city centre or to Deeside.

In fact, all of the Report’s projections of future economic gains are qualified by the recognition that for their predictions to be realised it would be necessary ‘to upgrade the roads infrastructure in the surrounding area’.

We are now embarking on a £350 million development, not only in the absence of any such planned upgrade, but with the economics of the North Sea oil industry considerably changed for the worse, and with technological changes and innovations which lessen Aberdeen’s ability to attract certain kinds of business (for example the commissioning of the Pioneering Spirit vessel which can lift and transport complete platform topsides of up to 48,000 tonnes to a limited number of deep-water berths).

There is no doubt that on the completion of the new harbour, some additional types and sizes of vessels will visit the port.

The question is: will they do so in sufficient numbers and frequency to justify a £360 million investment and the permanent loss of a valuable amenity to the local community?

To fulfil the expectations of the Biggar Report, harbour activity not only has to regain the current 20% loss of traffic but has to utilise to near capacity the additional 25% berthing the expansion will enable. That’s 45% above current activity.

Given that the mainstay of the harbour is oil-related business and that it is not contested that it is an industry in decline, there must be a huge question mark over the prediction that in Year 20 of the Report’s projections the net economic impact of Aberdeen Harbour in the City and Shire will be 12,350 jobs and £1.8 billion GVA (Gross Value Added).

The questions are these therefore. What re-evaluation of the Biggar Report was undertaken prior to the final decision to proceed with the expansion into the Bay of Nigg? Is anyone from the Harbour Board, Biggar Economics or Scottish Enterprise prepared to stand by the projections in the 2013 Report? If not, on what basis is the project proceeding?

Sources: Economic impact of Aberdeen Harbour Nigg Bay Development – A final report to Scottish Enterprise, Biggar Economics, December 2013

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Apr 282017
 

With thanks to Martin Ford.

Aberdeenshire Greens have launched their manifesto for the 2017 council election.

The manifesto sets out the priorities and approach for Green councillors elected to Aberdeenshire Council this May.

The Scottish Green Party is contesting five of the nineteen council wards in Aberdeenshire. There is currently one Green councillor on Aberdeenshire Council.

Rachel Shanks, Green candidate for Stonehaven and Lower Deeside, said:

“The more Green councillors elected to Aberdeenshire Council this May, the more influence they will have. We want to prioritise investment in education, better local public transport and protecting Aberdeenshire’s special environment.

“Inevitably, Aberdeenshire Council is going to face some tough challenges in the years ahead. Green voices need to be heard in the council chamber when the Council decides how to respond. The last five years have shown a Green presence has made for a better Council. We want to build on that this May.”

West Garioch Green candidate Richard Openshaw said:

“The election on 4 May is a local election. It’s about local issues, not national ones.

“We’re proud of the Green successes on Aberdeenshire Council since 2012, like funding for youth work, traffic calming, cycling and walking. Our manifesto for the next five years sets out what we will prioritise going forward.

“The forecast rise in pupil numbers in Aberdeenshire schools means additional resources for education are essential. I was appalled at the education cuts advocated by the Lib Dems and Conservatives in their proposed 2017/18 Council budget. Green councillors will give priority to spending on schools and resist education cuts.”

Mearns candidate Karen Allan said:

“I particularly welcome the manifesto commitments on road safety and tackling climate change.”

East Garioch councillor and Green candidate Martin Ford said:

“A significant number of proposals from the 2012 Aberdeenshire Green manifesto have been agreed by the Council and have become Council policy. Greens elected to Aberdeenshire Council this May will similarly seek cross-party support to get Green proposals adopted.”

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Apr 132017
 

Port of Malaga. Photo by Daniel Bichler.

By Ian Baird.

When in December Aberdeen Harbour Board’s Chairman Alistair MacKenzie signed the contract with Dragados’ representative in Scotland – Daniel Paunero Alonso – to build the harbour’s £350 million expansion into the Bay of Nigg, it was the culmination of an an idea which had been conceived six years earlier.

Against stiff local opposition, with multiple planning and maritime applications to overcome, and complex loan agreements to negotiate, Chief Executive Colin Parker, the Chairman, and his fellow Board members must have breathed a huge sigh of relief when finally reaching the stage where building could commence.

But Daniel Alonso would have had a smile on his lips too. He had helped secure a huge contract for his firm in his operating region of Scotland.

Three years earlier, Daniel’s star wasn’t shining so brightly. In October 2013 in his then capacity of Manager of Dragados in Spain, together with Sanchez Domines, President of Dragados’ parent company Sando, he was summoned to testify as a defendant in a tribunal case in Malaga. The pair’s presence was required to answer allegations of irregularities in projects undertaken by the two companies at the Port of Malaga in 2008.

The Port was claiming losses amounting to a total of €5.3 million as a result of work carried out which subsequently proved not to be done to specification. The prosecution in the case, which is still ongoing after 5 years of investigation, is demanding a total of 26 years of imprisonment for 5 directors and engineers of the two companies for the crimes of document falsification, embezzlement and fraud.

Is this important as far as the Harbour Board is concerned?

Well, it may be the end of the planning and approval stage, but it’s only the beginning of what will be, at a minimum, three years of construction. Entrusting Dragados with this major project should mean that the Harbour Board has exercised due diligence in satisfying itself that the company has a sufficiently impressive record to give them confidence that the construction will be completed on time, on budget and to the required specification.

Is it possible that in their haste to ensure that planning, financial and contractual matters all fell into place, the Harbour Board, inexperienced in awarding such a large contract and struggling to raise the necessary finance, were overly hasty in agreeing a deal with Dragados, lured by the most attractive tender price to the exclusion of other considerations?

Had the Harbour Board investigated the details of the problems in Malaga, they would have found that there were two projects that ran into problems after their completion.

what happened in Malaga should, at the very least, have sounded a warning bell or two

The first was at the South cruise ship mooring in the Port which had been built in a joint venture between Sando and Dragados. Following a slight collision with the mooring by a cruise ship in 2008, an investigation into the damage to the pier established that fewer, and thinner, pilings had been used in its construction than had been specified.

In this case a State General Inspection concluded that the discrepancy in value between what was paid for by the Port and what was built by the two companies amounted to €1.8 million.

The second project which ran into trouble at the Port was at container dock no. 9. This was also a joint venture with Sando, but in this case Dragados was the leading partner.

After a particular vessel was unable to access the dock, it was discovered that the excavated depth of the mooring was less than had been specified and, additionally, that debris had been dumped in it. In this case the discrepancy between what was charged for by the companies and what was delivered was estimated at €3.6 million.

In addition to these very specific problems with a failure to build to specifications, there were also in both cases significant cost hikes.

The budget estimate for building the South mooring was €8 million but eventually cost €12.21 million – 50% over budget; the budget estimate for container dock 9 was €28.2 million but eventually cost €35.9 million – 25% over budget.

From the perspective of Aberdeen Harbour Board what happened in Malaga should, at the very least, have sounded a warning bell or two. Of course it is true that Dragados have been involved as contractors in many major projects without landing in court as in this highlighted case. But globally their record of completing projects on time and on budget where they are a major contractor on very large projects is very patchy [1].

By giving Dragados the major responsibility for a £350 million (budgeted) project (almost 10 times as much as the budgets for the two Malaga projects combined), has the Board considered a) the likelihood and b) the implications, of a cost increase and/or a delayed completion time?

Let’s say there was a 20% increase in costs and a 30% increase in construction time. Can the Board finance, for example, a £420 million project which takes four years to build instead of three?

Even if they can, will future business be able to service the loan or will the cruise ship and decommissioning markets prove to be elusive in the face of aggressive competition and a possible severe economic downturn? The combination of a cost escalation, a delayed completion date and a continuation of the oil downturn in the North Sea could prove to be a fatal combination for the Harbour Board’s ambitions.

if the Bay is to be lost it should at least be for very tangible benefits for Aberdeen

This article does not accuse Daniel Alonso of being complicit or having any knowledge of the failings in the two projects in Malaga and perhaps not too much should be read into the fact that he is now in Scotland rather than managing the company’s home territory.

But it seems extraordinary that with so much at stake, the Harbour Board is totally reliant on a company which has proved in the past that its management team failed to ensure adherence to specifications on two major harbour projects and exceeded budgeted costs so spectacularly.

Historically, one of the benefits to local communities of Trust Ports has been that no profits are dispensed to shareholders. That has meant that all profits have been re-invested in port improvements to help increase traffic and enhance local economic activity, as indeed has been the case with Aberdeen Harbour Trust until now.

But the absence of shareholders can have an adverse effect when projects that require external financing are considered. Because there is no financial risk to any individual Board Member or employee, the Board is in a position to back projects knowing that it is risk-free from their own personal perspective. That same phenomenon was responsible for the reckless trading by bankers prior to the 2008 crash.

If this project fails badly, either because of delays, escalating costs, unpredicted market conditions, or a combination of all three, the individuals who currently comprise the Board and the Executive will quietly retire (Chief Executive Colin Parker has already announced his imminent retirement), leaving a badly crippled Trust Port to recover from a gamble which didn’t pay off.

The residents of Torry who opposed the harbour development in the Bay of Nigg did so because of the loss of the Bay as an amenity, and the resulting general degradation of the local environment through increased traffic and pollution.

Whether the harbour would ultimately prove a commercial success or not has not been a major consideration. But now that it appears about to become a reality, I’m sure the concensus will be that if the Bay is to be lost it should at least be for very tangible benefits for Aberdeen and the wider community.

It would be a cruel blow indeed if the Bay was sacrificed for a speculative project which ultimately proves under-utilised and a financial millstone to the Harbour Board, and the Bay of Nigg is destroyed for no useful gain.

Notes:

  1. To cite just three examples, Dragados USA is 3 years behind schedule and $223 million over budget in a tunnel-boring project in Seattle; the company was removed from the Florida Department of Transportation’s list of qualified contractors because of project delays and other problems, it being stated that on some projects they “have a variety of materials and workmanship issues that will have to be addressed before FDOT will accept the work.”; and Los Angeles Metro Agency refused to give a major contract to Dragados, despite being the cheapest bidder, because they considered they had a high probability of exposing the agency to cost overruns and project delays,

Sources:

Dársena Case’ by Marta Sánchez Esparza / Malaga, El Mundo,  23/10/2013
http://www.elmundo.es/elmundo/2013/10/13/andalucia_malaga/1381659778.html

Article, by Agustin Rivera, El Confidencial, 5/10/2013
http://www.elconfidencial.com/espana/andalucia/2013-10-05/el-presidente-de-sando-imputado-por-el-agujero-del-puerto-de-malaga_37380/

Article by S. Sánchez, Málaga, Málaga Hoy , 16/10/2013
http://www.malagahoy.es/malaga/presidente-Sando-descarga-tecnicos-puerto_0_743925794.html

‘Sacramento sewer contractor faced delays, minority hiring violations’ The Sacramento Bee, June 4, 2016
http://www.sacbee.com/news/investigations/the-public-eye/article81843937.html

‘Beleaguered Seattle tunnel project facing $223M cost overrun, 3-year delay’, Construction Dive, July 25, 2016
http://www.constructiondive.com/news/beleaguered-seattle-tunnel-project-facing-223m-cost-overrun-3-year-delay/423164/

‘The prosecution asks for 26 years of imprisonment for five people responsible for port works’, Ignacio San Martin, La Cadena SER, 16 November 2016 http://cadenaser.com/emisora/2016/11/18/ser_malaga/1479473619_856001.html

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Feb 102017
 

With thanks to Martin Ford.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DIGG councillor Paul Johnston said:

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

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

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Feb 072017
 

With thanks to Martin Ford.

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

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

Cllr Martin Ford said:

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

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

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

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

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

DIGG councillor Paul Johnston said:

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

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

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Jan 062017
 

With thanks to Martin Ford.

It’s a small budget adjustment that could make a big difference.

That’s the rationale for the proposal by Aberdeenshire’s Democratic Independent and Green Group of councillors (DIGG) to reallocate £70,000 to support youth work in Aberdeenshire Council’s 2017/18 revenue budget. 

Cllr Paul Johnston said:

“We believe informal learning activity for young people in safe social spaces is valuable for both the young people involved and communities.”

The purpose of community learning and development has changed since revised Scottish Government guidance was introduced in 2012. 

“Traditional youth work is still important as part of a wider view of supporting communities, even though the focus of community learning and development has shifted due to government policy,” said Cllr Johnston.

“We want the Council to be able to support youth work that now falls outside the scope of community learning and development,” said Cllr Martin Ford.

“Provision could be either by the Council itself or by making funding available to community groups.

“For example, I know of really valuable youth work being provided through a community organisation locally. But it’s a continual struggle finding the funding required to keep provision in place.

“In such circumstances, a small grant from the Council could make a big difference and would certainly represent value for money for the Council in terms of the benefits for the community.”

The DIGG proposal comes despite Aberdeenshire Council facing severe budget cuts next year. The £70,000 to support youth work is proposed to be reallocated from within the community learning and development budget, which is forecast to be underspent this year

Aberdeenshire Council’s overall budget for community learning and development work was protected by the confidence and supply agreement struck between the DIGG and the Council’s administration group in 2015.

Aberdeenshire Council’s 2017/18 revenue budget will be set at the full council meeting on 9 February.

 

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Nov 222016
 

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

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

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

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

Cllr Martin Ford (pictured) said:

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

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

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

Cllr Martin Ford said:

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

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

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

Cllr Paul Johnston said:

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

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

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Feb 192016
 

MartinFordThmWith thanks to Martin Ford.

A reformed budget setting process for Aberdeenshire Council was formally agreed at last Thursday’s  full council meeting. The new approach to deciding the authority’s annual revenue budget was first proposed last year by Democratic Independent and Green Group (DIGG) councillors Martin Ford and Paul Johnston, who wrote to the Council’s other political groups in March 2015.

“We want to see draft budget proposals coming forward from the various political groups in the autumn so there can be proper public consultation and cross-party dialogue and negotiation before the budget is set in February,” said Cllr Martin Ford. 

“This allows for much more scope for public input into budget decisions and creates opportunities for cross-party agreement and sharing of ideas.”

During the 11 February full council meeting, the DIGG plan attracted cross-party support and was praised by Council co-leader Cllr Richard Thomson. The officers’ report on Aberdeenshire’s 2016/17 revenue budget recommended that budget proposals for 2017/18 are initially reported to the full council next autumn, in line with the process put forward by the DIGG.

In his speech to the 11 February meeting, proposing the 2016/17 revenue budget, Cllr Martin Kitts-Hayes said:

“Linked to the importance of a budget consultation exercise is the early discussion on future years’ budget proposals. Therefore I propose that all groups prepare draft budget proposals and report these to Council in autumn.”

Said Cllr Paul Johnston:

“I welcome the cross-party agreement on this important reform. Ultimately, we believe this new budget process will lead to better budgets and more say for Aberdeenshire residents on these key decisions.”

In acordance with their own proposed budget process, the DIGG presented detailed draft proposals for Aberdeenshire’s 2016/17 revenue budget to the November 2015 Aberdeenshire full council meeting.

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Feb 122015
 

martin-fordWith thanks to Martin Ford.

At yesterday’s (12 February) Aberdeenshire Council budget setting meeting, proposals from the Democratic Independent and Green group of councillors (DIGG) were echoed in proposals by other political groups.

But there were also key differences between the budgets put forward by the coalition administration, the SNP and the DIGG.

The administration alone backed increased care and burial charges.

Green councillor Martin Ford (pictured) said:

“Only the DIGG proposed more funding to improve Wi-Fi connectivity in schools, and for cycling. The administration’s decision to increase care charges was unnecessary, as the savings needed to balance the budget could be achieved more fairly in other ways.”

The administration, the SNP and the DIGG all proposed to make a saving on roads maintenance.

The key strategic difference between the three budget proposals was the emphasis in the DIGG budget on ‘invest-to-save’ initiatives. Seconding the DIGG budget, Cllr Paul Johnston outlined areas where the Council could potentially make changes, subject to public consultation, that could cut costs or generate income, including:

– Partnership investment arrangements in the delivery of industrial and economic development projects.

– Partnership investment arrangements to install wind turbines on suitable sites not owned by the Council.

– Development of the Council property portfolio through a third-sector partner.

– LED replacement of street lights and part night switch off in appropriate locations.
– Introduction of further comfort partnerships to improve publicly available toilet facilities.

– Differential car parking charges based on vehicle emission bands, lower charges for low emission vehicles and higher charges for high emission vehicles.

– An anaerobic digestion heat plant for district heating, using suitable organic waste generated or collected by the Council.

“We believe the Council should aim to develop an income stream, to help fund public services, independent of the Council Tax or Scottish Government grant funding,” said Cllr Johnston.

“Utilising existing assets and taking opportunities to develop renewable energy, at least £3 million a year extra could be secured towards service provision.”

There was praise for the budget consultation during December and January conducted by the DIGG, and an acceptance by the Council leadership that more and better consultation was needed on future budgets.

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