Mar 242017
 

With thanks to Aberdeenshire SNP.

Local resident Heather Coull has been selected by SNP members in Westhill & District ward to join Councillor David Aitchison in seeking election to represent the ward on Aberdeenshire Council.

Councillor Mandy Allan, who has represented the Ward since 2007 is stepping down at the forthcoming election owing to work commitments.

Heather Coull was born in Aberdeen and has lived all her life in Aberdeenshire. Heather, aged 38, is married and is the youngest daughter of two school teachers.

Heather is committed to lifelong learning. She studied at RGU where she successfully achieved both BA and MSc degrees. 

As a former oil and gas industry worker, Heather has the experience and background to identify with a large number of residents in and around the Westhill area.

A member of Westhill & Elrick Community Council, one of Heather’s main priorities and areas of focus if successful in being elected will be in supporting and championing community groups in Westhill and the surrounding villages to achieve their ambitions via community choice budgeting.

Commenting, Heather Coull said:

“I am delighted to be selected as an SNP candidate for the Westhill & District ward and if elected I aim to carry on Mandy Allan’s good work and work together with David, and indeed the other Westhill councillors, as a strong team for our local area.”

David Aitchison was elected as a councillor at the 2012 election and was formerly a surveyor in the civil service. David who is married with 3 children grew up in Eyemouth and worked in Edinburgh, Nottingham and Durham before moving to Westhill over twenty years ago.

Since being elected David has served on the Infrastructure Services, Scrutiny & Audit and Education & Children’s Services Committees. Since June 2015 he has been Chairman of Aberdeenshire’s Infrastructure Services Committee and Vice-Chairman of NESTRANS, the North-east transport partnership.

Commenting on his selection David Aitchison said:

“It has been a privilege to represent Westhill & District and I am delighted to be a candidate to represent the ward again.

“In my two years as an administration senior councillor I have been able to oversee policies on regeneration, planning and economic development which will benefit Aberdeenshire.

“Westhill is now at a crossroads in terms of its development. It is time to consider what we want our community to look like in the future. If re-elected I will continue the dialogue that I am already having on this issue and work with partners and residents to create a vision for the future which Westhill deserves.”

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Mar 152012
 

Dave Macdermid updates Aberdeen Voice on the Glacier Energy Masters U -12  Winter Grand Prix.

Patrick Young consolidated his position as undisputed leader in the inaugural Glacier Energy Masters Under 12 Winter Grand Prix series with victory in the sixth and final event at Westburn Tennis Centre.
In the final, the Stonehaven youngster recovered from the loss of the opening set to edge it 0-4, 4-2, 1-0 (2) over Ross Martin (David Lloyd Aberdeen) in an entertaining match.

In the 3rd/4th place play-off, Rubislaw’s Cameron Edwards defeated his clubmate Conor McMahon 4-2, 4-2.

North East district coach Vikki Paterson was delighted with what will hopefully become an annual series.

“The grand prix has enabled the boys to enjoy regular high-level competition over the winter period and this is something we would wish to build on.”

District President Brian Morgan added.

“The standard of tennis was exceptional and I’m sure those involved will see the benefits of the grand prix going forward. We are indebted to Glacier Energy for their support as without their assistance, quite simply there would have been no event.”

Feb 242012
 

By Mike Shepherd.

The polling cards are out for the Union Terrace Gardens referendum and you have until March 1 to vote. The hype means you’ll have been bombarded with leaflets, pamphlets, news items and radio adverts.
If ‘connectivity’, a ‘21st century contemporary garden’, or ‘street-level access’ are key factors in deciding your vote, look no further; vote for the City Garden Project.

If you are undecided or swithering then read these very good reasons for voting to retain Union Terrace Gardens. 

1. Your vote will preserve the look and feel of the Granite City. Union Terrace Gardens are an integral part of the heritage of Aberdeen. Planned by the same architects who designed the Art Gallery and the frontage of Marischal College, they show an architectural harmony in the city centre which would be destroyed by a modernistic City Garden.

2. Your vote will not result in a ghastly modern structure replacing our park. Although described as the City Garden, it is in fact a mixture of buildings, flyovers, underpasses and parkland. The design has a passing resemblance to 1960s-style new town architecture. At one public meeting, someone said that the underpasses in particular were likely to end up as urban no-go areas. I have even heard a supporter of the scheme conceding that it will look dated after about five to ten years.

3. Your vote will stop a multitude of new glass box office blocks being built in the city centre. Council documents show that consideration has been given to plans to build a central business district in the city centre and encourage office block construction. The building of the City Garden Project, “will encourage development in the city centre sooner, and on a bigger scale, than might otherwise be the case without public investment in enabling infrastructure.”

4. Your vote will improve our much-loved park. Jimmy Milne, oilman and MD of Balmoral Group, has said:

“I and many of my business contemporaries, are committed to establishing a fund which will help bring the gardens back to their former glory. Without destroying our heritage, and without putting Aberdeen City further into debt, it would not be difficult to breathe fresh life into the park. Improved access, new planting, cleaning and restoration, park wardens and live events could all be relatively easily and cost effectively achieved.”

5. Your vote will ensure that the mature trees in Union Terrace Gardens will be saved. All 77 trees will be kept, including the twelve elms, some of which are at least 200 years old.

6. Your vote will stop our Council borrowing £70m they can’t afford. Aberdeen City Council, £562m in debt, is being asked to borrow £70m through a risky tax scheme to help fund the City Garden Project. If there is insufficient money to pay back the loan, Council funds will be required to service it.

7. Your vote will avoid significant disruption and pollution in the city centre for the near three years it will take to build the scheme. The technical feasibility study for the project estimates that the equivalent of 3,947 dump trucks of earth and 4,605 dump trucks of granite will be excavated from the Gardens causing ‘large environmental impacts from noise, transport, dust and energy use.’

8. Your vote will avoid the major traffic problems caused by the movement of heavy lifting equipment, dumper trucks and lorries in and out of the city centre. It is estimated that the City Garden will take almost three years to build. It is likely that there will be major traffic problems in the city for much of this time. City centre business will be impacted by this and may never recover.

9. Your vote will avoid much, if not all, of the Council’s cultural activities being displaced to the underground building in the City Garden. The council funds institutions occupying cosy, intimate venues such as the Music Hall, Lemon Tree and Belmont Cinema. A review of council-funded cultural activities will be made with a view to possible relocation to the underground concourse.

10. Your vote will avoid any consideration that the future of the HM Theatre could be in doubt. Two major performance venues will be built in the City Garden only yards from HM Theatre. Councillors have asked if this will have an impact on the future of HM Theatre. No specific assurances have been given.

Aberdeen could change forever if the City Garden is built, and probably not for the better.

We have the chance to keep the leafy, green heart of the Granite City. 

VOTE: RETAIN UNION TERRACE GARDENS

Dec 152011
 

With thanks to Dave Macdermid. 

This weekend will see Westburn Tennis centre host the annual North County Inter District Red, Orange and Green (ROGY) competition, between the 4 districts in the North County.

This event, now in its 2nd year, was set up by North East District Coach Vikki Paterson

Vikki commented:

 “I am heavily involved in the running of the North County Cup teams from Under 10’s  through to Under 18’s and this is a great way to see the younger players coming through for the years ahead. It is a great opportunity for the players to play in a team and represent their district.”

On Sunday 18th of December the finals of the North East Red and Orange tour will take place, involving the top 8 boys and top 4 girls at Under 8 and Under 9.

This year the ROGY Tour events have recorded over 800 matches, a substantial increase on the previous year, much to Vikki’s delight.

“This year NESTLA was granted funding from Awards For All, and this has allowed me to put on more events, including indoors ones too. We have had really good support from the local players and Sunday should provide some great tennis.”

 

Taking part are:

Under 8 Boys
Cameron Jappy (Westhill)
Ewan Smith  (Alford/ Westhill)
Finlay Smith (Westhill)
Alex Grant (Westburn)
Harrsha Pradeep Kumar (Dls)
Ross Grant (Westhill)
Benjamin Hine (Westhill)
Todd Blacklaw (Rubislaw)

Under 8 Girls
Varada Kamte (Cults)
Abigail Doran (Stonehaven)
Rosie Sterk (Stonehaven)
Caitlin Fraser (Tarland)

Under 9 Boys
Greg Smith (Alford/Westhill)
Ewan Smith (Alford/Westhill)
Cameron Jappy (Westhill)
Angus Edward (Cults)
Jamie Connel (Rubislaw/DL’s)
Hauoorn Arsher (David L’s)
Angus Harold (Grant on Spey moray)
Harrsha Pradeep Kumar (David L’s)

U9 Girls
Jodie Harris (Stonehaven)
Rosie Sterk (Stonehaven)
Varda Kamate (Cults)
Caitlin Fraser (Tarland)

For further information contact  – Dave Macdermid – dave.macdermid@bigpartnership.co.uk

 


Sep 302011
 

In last week’s Voice, we carried part one of A Change of Name, a chapter from Dr David Kennedy’s forthcoming book in which he outlined how significant pressure had been applied to merge The University of Aberdeen with its perceived less-worthy educational neighbour, RGIT. In the second part of the chapter, we hear of the passionate fight to preserve RGIT and have it elevated to university status in 1992.

So, here we were in 1991 with the prospect of merger very much as proposed by our old friend from Napier way back in 1989. All of the older central institutions were under threat, but the greatest injustice was to those that already had delegated powers from the CNAA to award their own degrees: the technical institutions in Dundee, Paisley and Aberdeen.
Had the Secretary of State inverted the position of the five technological institutions in Scotland, leaving Napier and Glasgow at the bottom, he would have been much nearer the mark in everything but size, and size was simply due to an accident of location.

I know the advertisers tell us that size matters, but quality is even more important.  Small can be beautiful.

This massive injustice needed to be fought and the battle for the survival of the Institute was on.  I prepared a document setting out the very powerful case for the Institute and then went to see a group of members of the Aberdeen District Council.  They were impressed by what they read and the answers given to their questions.  Once they were clear about what was at stake, they readily agreed to ask their Council to support our case.

An all-party group from the District Council gave enthusiastic support and decided, if necessary, to lobby Parliament in our favour.  Money was set aside for this to happen.  The Council also sent a formal request to the local enterprise company seeking its backing for the institute.  While the board members of the company fully supported the request, its chairman (Ian Wood – a local businessman) felt the issue was too political and should therefore not be supported.  Due to the diplomacy of its chief executive, a letter of support was suitably worded and sent off to The Scottish Office.

Copies of the campaign document were sent out far and wide, including the Prime Minister and most of his senior cabinet colleagues.  The response was overwhelming. 

Although some quangos were unwilling to commit themselves because of their fear of government reprisals, ordinary people had no such qualms and responded in their hundreds and perhaps even thousands, across all walks of life and across all generations.  From across Scotland the letters poured into The Scottish Office, many being copied to me.

For the first time, I realised just how much an educational institution can mean to a community.  John Gray, who had founded the Institute in 1885, had done them a great service and they greatly valued what he had done.

Many of the letters were very eloquent, some were very moving, but I think the one I treasured most came from a very special person, a honest man who was courageous and true, and sadly, something of a rarity among politicians: Alick Buchanan-Smith.  Alick wrote on 26 August to give us his full support, just a day or two before his premature death.

There were many other letters of support, including a senior government minister, Michael Howard, who knew personally of the work of the Institute.  The Prime Minister did not reply in person, but nor did he dismiss it out of hand.  My letter eventually found its way down to The Scottish Office for reply.  The Head of the Higher Education Division wrote: 

“You now have a reply from Mr Michael Forsyth … and there is little I can usefully add.  I would, however, re-emphasise that it is not right to suggest that a decision has been taken on this matter when the intention is in fact to take decisions only after consultations and careful consideration of the arguments”.

Once again, the point was being deliberately ignored.  Decisions had been taken.  Napier had been allowed to call itself a polytechnic and no reply was ever given to my queries about the criteria applied, when these criteria were determined and by whom, nor of the purpose of the exercise, remembering that it all took place in 1988.

If criteria existed for this, why were they not publicised and applied to the other Scottish institutions with degree-awarding powers?  According to Mr Forsyth’s letter, “explicit and well-defined criteria” exist which justify according degree-awarding powers and university status to Napier and Glasgow polytechnics, but not to any other grant-aided college in Scotland.

I noted that the Minister had not said these were the criteria that WERE USED in the case of Napier, only that criteria NOW exist that would justify the decision taken by The Scottish Office.  This was simply tricky-micky, political evasion.

A press conference launched the Institute’s campaign.  The launch was extremely well attended and the arrangements made by our Press Officer were excellent.  We got off to a brilliant start.  The problem then was, how to keep up the momentum and stop the campaign running out of steam.

At this point I told him very bluntly just what I thought of his threat to hurt students as a way of trying to coerce me.  

Our Press Officer, June Davis, better known a year or two earlier as the ‘Torry quine’, was superb.  She arranged interviews with a long sequence of North East notables who had responded to our request for support.  These interviews were written up and fed to the media, so that rarely a day went by without some comment of interest and support.

Then there were the visits to the Institute, not from supporters, but from The Scottish Office.  They came on the flimsiest of pretexts to see what was going on.  I received a phone call from another of The Scottish Office worthies.  He told me in a very brusque manner that if I kept on with my campaign I wouldn’t get an honour.

In language only slightly more moderate than that used to me by the oil company chiefs at the time of the Piper Alpha disaster, I told him how much I longed for an honour and how worried I was at the prospect of not receiving one.

Being a civil servant, he couldn’t understand my levity.  He then said that they could easily have me sacked.  I told him that I hoped to leave the job anyway and that my Governors were not too happy about my going at such an early age.  He then threatened to make the institution suffer financially.  At this point I told him very bluntly just what I thought of his threat to hurt students as a way of trying to coerce me.

The untimely death of Alick Buchanan-Smith meant a by-election in his North East constituency of Kincardine and Deeside.  This was a difficult time for the Government.

Disbanding the Gordon Highlanders; de-commissioning of the fishing fleet; and the creation in Aberdeen of the first of the hospital trusts that was widely perceived as some kind of attack on the health service caused some disaffection.  Of all these issues, the one that could be resolved with least cost was to settle the future of RGIT.

MPs kept up the pressure in the House, harrying the Minister about the criteria for degree-awarding powers.  At last, the Secretary of State and his Minister saw that they would have to concede.  The Scottish Office suggested I might invite the Minister to come to the Institute and meet with senior staff.  I readily agreed and arrangements were made for him to attend our annual management conference.

When the Minister came into the room to address the staff he ostentatiously ‘left the door open’.  Although he made no unequivocal statement about degree-awarding powers, it was abundantly clear that that was the burden of his message.  It was exactly one week before the by-election for the Kincardine and Deeside seat.

The battle had clearly been won.

Although the battle was now over, this was by no means the end of the matter.  New articles and instruments of governance had to be drafted and submitted for vetting.

The acid test would be whether our university remained true to its traditions and mission

Whereas most statutory instruments are drafted by civil servants, in this case it was for each institution to propose the powers it wished to exercise and to set these out in an appropriate fashion.  This was an extremely important task, since it laid down the pattern of governance that, once settled, could not easily be amended.

After twenty years of senior management in education there were aspects in the existing arrangements that I believed could be improved upon.  I did not favour the division of staff into academic and non-academic.  All had a part to play in creating a successful organisation.

One of the problems is how to exert enough control to safeguard public funds, without becoming excessively overbearing and in effect, usurp the authority of those appointed to exercise it?  Although important, systems alone are not enough.  So these were the things I had in mind while writing the draft articles and instruments.

Although approved by the Governing Body, it was not acceptable to The Scottish Office.  I was forced to follow the existing model, which had been designed by civil servants many years before.  Being accepted by them meant that it was also acceptable to the Privy Council, and so at last the job was complete.

On Friday, 12 June 1992, the Institute formally adopted the name of The Robert Gordon University. Aberdeen, once again, had two universities.

The acid test would be whether our university remained true to its traditions and mission, or whether, like so many before, it adopted the traditions and mission of the old universities.  If it adopted their values then, without doubt, our own had been vanquished and they had won.

Who can say what the future will bring?  In order to at least make clear what I believe RGIT stood for, what the former mechanics institutes had stood for, what the old crafts and trades had stood for, we had a parchment prepared that set out our mission.

The Robert Gordon University is pledged to produce versatile and resourceful practitioners who are relevantly qualified for their chosen professions and vocations within an educational environment that fosters innovation, enterprise and an enthusiasm for excellence”.

This was formally presented to the City of Aberdeen as an earnest of our intentions.  No doubt it is mouldering somewhere in a basement of one or other civic building, but perhaps many years into the future someone will come upon it and know just what we stood for on that memorable day.

 

 

Sep 222011
 

Dr David Kennedy served as  Principal of RGIT/RGU, having been appointed in November 1984  and took up the post on 1 May 1985.  He retired in September 1997. Aberdeen Voice is delighted to present, in two parts, Chapter One of his forthcoming book wherein he recalls the educational debate of the early 1990s and reveals behind the scenes moves to merge Aberdeen’s two higher education establishments.

1991 was an eventful year for higher education in Britain. Colleges operating under the aegis of the Council for National Academic Awards (CNAA) had conducted a lengthy campaign for parity of esteem with universities, which had now met with success.

A Government White Paper published on 20 May 1991 set out the proposals for all polytechnics to have the right to award their own degrees and to decide on the name by which they chose to be known.

Significantly, it also set out the closure of the CNAA, thus forcing those colleges without degree-awarding powers to seek an association with a neighbouring university.  But it did hold out the possibility for some colleges to qualify for degree-awarding powers at some future time.

Here in Scotland, the immediate expectation was that the five major Scottish central institutions, which were fully equivalent in all but name with the English polytechnics, would also become universities.

In launching the White Paper, the Secretary of State for Scotland, Mr Ian Lang, confirmed that polytechnics would become universities.  He went on to say that other colleges would have to wait until criteria were devised by which they might be judged on their suitability for the university title.  He stressed that the title of university had a very special distinction in the United Kingdom and government had to be sure before letting just any old institution call itself a university.

I took the precaution of phoning The Scottish Office to check the accuracy of what had been reported.  This was confirmed, but with regret over Mr Lang’s addition about the distinction of the title ‘university’ to the speech they had prepared for him.

In 1986, two local authority colleges, one in Edinburgh and the other in Glasgow, were brought under the direct funding of the SED.  They became central institutions. 

The one in Edinburgh had a close link with the then Secretary of State for Scotland, Mr Malcolm Rifkind.    His wife had worked at the college where she enjoyed a happy relationship with her colleagues.  The college principal became an educational adviser to the Conservative Party in Scotland, SCUA, and within a couple of years Napier College triumphantly announced itself as Napier Polytechnic Edinburgh.

 The latter must have known what was going on, but kept it from the rest of us.   

This was despite the fact that the Scottish Office had hitherto adamantly refused to allow Scottish institutions to use the title polytechnic and had turned down a number of earlier proposals to do so.

Seemingly, having bedazzled the Scottish Office with Napier stardust, its principal went on with great confidence to say that their next name change would be to that of university.

This was in 1988.

The longer established and more mature institutions were surprised that the expected blast from the Scottish Office never materialised.  We were to learn later to our cost why this was.

Two years after Napier, and shortly before the publication of the White Paper, Glasgow College of Technology changed its name to Glasgow Polytechnic and advertised the fact as “having earned a few more letters” after its name!  Its Principal told me that they had used the word ‘earned’, because they had undergone a thorough vetting by The Scottish Office.  The latter must have known what was going on, but kept it from the rest of us.  We were never told about any change in policy, nor that the title of polytechnic was of such profound significance in Scottish higher education.

Many non-polytechnic colleges in England had grown in size and maturity and were clamouring for polytechnic status.  Government asked the funding council responsible for polytechnics and colleges to recommend the criteria for polytechnic designation.  It did this towards the end of 1989: long after Napier had changed its name!  The criteria were accepted and a handful of new polytechnics were created.  RGIT would have satisfied the required conditions.

Meantime, the Principal of Napier Polytechnic did a little kite flying for the Scottish Office. 

He circulated a paper suggesting there were too many institutions of higher education in Scotland and proposing possible mergers.  ‘Mergermania’ was in the air.

No one at RGIT had been consulted about this and the announcement caused quite a stir. 

During the seventies, universities, unlike colleges in the non-university sector, had been funded to pay for staffing and space in advance of any expansion.  This was before the experts had got to work on their predictions of demographic decline, but well after the decline in the birth rate had started.

By the eighties, universities found themselves with an embarrassment of riches: too much space, too many staff, and too many under-utilised resources.  Swinnington-Dyer of the University Grants Committee spent much of his time trying to rectify the funding follies of earlier times.  The University of Aberdeen was one of those particularly badly hit, as was the university in Cardiff, which perhaps suffered most of all as a result. Edinburgh University had to sell off some of its art treasures to pay its debts.

First mention of a merger between the two institutions in Aberdeen occurred early in 1981, when the principal of the university issued a press statement to the effect that his university would be taking over RGIT.  No one at RGIT had been consulted about this and the announcement caused quite a stir.  Unsurprisingly, there was considerable resistance to the suggestion.

Shortly after my appointment to RGIT, the principal of the university invited me over for lunch in order to explain the rationale of his plans for merger between our two institutions.

The institute would be asset-stripped of degree courses, students, and estate, leaving a rump of sub-degree work to be done by whichever staff were left.  The sale of the estate would pay for staff redundancies and the university would be immeasurably strengthened and enlarged.

This view received strong support from some local people.  I was told my position would be protected: a professorial title and an attractive salary, because universities were free to pay professors on a very wide scale.

For my part, I explained that I had already refused the title of professor – being of a Quakerish disposition, titles have never been high in my order of priorities – and nor was money an over-riding concern since, being somewhat abstemious, I had more than enough to meet my needs.  However, I understood the point that was being made very well.  In their position, I might have agreed with it.  But I had a different set of responsibilities, not least to students and staff of the institution for which I carried responsibility. 

A senior official in The Scottish Office told me that three influential businessmen had persuaded the Secretary of State of the benefits of a merger.  If RGIT were denied the right to award its own degrees it would be forced to seek the help of another degree-awarding body, which, of course, would have to be done on terms dictated by that body.  Their hope was that the Institute would merge with its local university.

A local parliamentary candidate (Nicol Stephen) issued a press statement of ‘the plot by the Scottish Office to get rid of Aberdeen’s world famous Robert Gordon Institute of Technology’.

Voice will carry part 2 of A Change of Name next week recalling the fight to save the much-loved and respected RGIT from being absorbed by a predatory neighbour; of the triumph in attaining university status on the abolition of the CNAA; and the bestowal of full degree-awarding power on the new university.