Nov 252016
 

As the Aberdeen Press & Journal gets into the festive spirit by announcing on its front cover today that ‘there ain’t no sanity clause’ and it’s dangerous to encourage children to believe in him, Old Susannah aka Suzanne Kelly marvels at Damian Bate’s organ yet again, and how it has seized the spirit of good will with its attack on Father Christmas.

DictionaryAt this time of year, it’s important to realise how lucky we are, and to think of those who are less fortunate, who suffer, who are abused.

Imagine spending your days in a no-hope situation. A tyrant forces you to do things against your better nature. You are humiliated on a daily basis, and people openly laugh at what you are doing.

Let’s take a moment then and pause. We have our problems. We might have money and health worries. It’s freezing cold.

But at least we don’t have to write for the Press & Journal and Evening Express under Damian Bates and Sarah Malone Bates.

Some poor soul had to write the infamous ‘TRAITORS!’ article back in the early days of Trump’s planning campaign depicting councillors who dared to vote against the unprecedented Trump golf plans.

Some idealistic young thing who years ago dreamed of a career in journalism now takes orders to write articles praising Damian’s wife’s forays into running a 5 star resort (or is that 6 diamonds – as Turnip awarded himself a few years back?). Imagine the overpriced coffee, the clunky ‘temporary’ clubhouse where the invented ‘Trump family crest’* asserts itself on every piece of furniture, paper serviette and presumably loo roll too.

And you have to submit copy saying it’s fabulous.

While you are instructed to write yet another review of MacLeod House and its beautiful concrete fountain, all around you local writers are firing off Freedom of Information requests, digging into Companies House files, and uncovering stories which actually constitute investigative journalism while you try to find 250 words about why the chicken supreme is worth £40 per head, all the while ignoring the giant plaque staring at you through the clubhouse windows proclaiming that you are on the world’s largest sand dune system.

You might like to say something about this being a blatantly untrue fabrication – but you don’t really dare to do so.

At least you get paid for it. Rather like those girls around the harbour. At least they don’t have to put their name to their handiwork. And quite understandably, many of the AJL articles go without anyone claiming a byline.

santa-with-traumatised-children-creepy-santa-comAnd now this week one of you was handed an arcane, clearly deliberately provocative piece from two academics who believe perpetuating the Santa Claus fable is akin to child abuse. ‘Give me a front page story on Bad Santa’ Damian or one of his minions told you.

And you did it, didn’t you?

Did you care this angle has been done before? Was what you were going to bring to the argument so brilliant you didn’t care? Maybe you were happy to get away from Trump for a little, or you were happy to try and forget the real news stories in our area that a reporter would want to cover – Marischal Square and its genesis, who is linked to who in the curious companies Sir Ian Wood and others still keep afloat even though (theoretically) the Union Terrace Gardens parking lot scheme (for that was all it really was) is dead in the water.

Maybe you don’t want to think about the fact your newspaper (for lack of a better word) will soon need to metaphorically tug its forelock at the city council: what other newspaper would even remotely consider taking a free rent from a city council? Can you even keep track of the number of city council stories and dealings that should have been investigated by the local printed press?

No, you are now going to Google elves, Santa, and present your findings on the new throwaway theory Santa is Bad Santa. Someone else is going to look into Muse, Trump, Inspired, fraud inside the council, etc. etc. But not you or your fellow Aberdeen Journals writers.

And Result! Good for you!

The Facebook P&J page has hundreds of hits on this story. Of course most of them are ridiculing the fact your boss put this on the paper’s front cover, and some are angry that young children will see this and dissolve into tears – thus spoiling photoshoots for your next ‘adorable tot’ competition. Hits matter on Facebook to your boss – even if the paper is not exactly flying off the shelf. You may well put this into your cuttings book – another front page story for you.

At least it beats the brains out of having to type for the umpteenth time ‘breathe fresh life into the beating heart of the city’ and such. How do you breathe into a heart anyway?  How fast can you as an Evening Express reporter type the phrase ‘vibrant and dynamic?’ Do they pay you for the word much as some other professionals are paid by the hour?  I’ve always wondered.

Maybe someday they’ll give a Pulitzer for incisive, pithy front page stories about the Tooth Fairy’s negative psychological impact on children. Perhaps that brilliant headline your paper used when a young man was missing ‘search called off due to unforeseen circumstances’ about a no-show psychic should have received more acclaim – how the family must have laughed! But not today.

Just maybe your Father Christmas article will lead to bigger and better – there is no shortage of crackpot experts with degrees who write ridiculous papers to get noticed – not that the attack on the Santa belief wasn’t a serious, scholarly work. You’ll find them – or Damian will find them and tell you to write up an op ed. Can a piece about the Loch Ness Monster be that far off now? I guess we all aspire to something.

perhaps time for you to pick up an actual newspaper and see what other writers are doing

So, many of us who contribute to Aberdeen Voice will keep doing the work you’re too busy to do. We’ll keep revealing that despite Trump’s declarations to the contrary, he was definitely seeking compulsory purchase orders against his neighbours. That was an AV scoop, and it doesn’t seem you picked up on that.

Guess it didn’t have the gravitas a piece on the Easter Bunny will do when you write it.

We revealed the literally cozy relationship between the P&J and Trump International Golf Links Scotland. We found out how much money from the public purse was spent promoting the risible UTG project. Did you like looking at those lurid images of the ridiculous ramps arching over an impossible landscape of trees and open air theatre month after month?

You’ve gone all out to help the council (usually).  Remember the Evening Express story designed to lend creedence to the city’s plans for killing the Tullos Hill Deer?  The deer were going to be killed to plant trees on Tullos despite public outcry to just leave the hill, wildflower meadow and deer alone.  The trees aren’t growing, but the deer are dead.  Your paper helpfully announced ‘Two Deer Found Dead Ahead of Cull’ – implying the poor creatures needed to be culled for their own good.  Then I found out it was fully two years before the cull was proposed that the deer were found dead of unknown cause.  Your paper never did cover my story that deer had clearly been slaughtered in the Gramps – severed limbs were found.  The preposterous claim Ranger Talboys made was that the deer must have been killed somewhere else, then the poachers marched up two different hills to deposit the limbs.  I guess there wasn’t room for any of this as well as another review of MacLeod House.  The ‘cost-neutral’ tree scheme Peter Leonard of ACC forced on the taxpayer has now cost a five-figure sum – obviously that’s not newsworthy to Damian.

As I write, it’s nearly 6pm – knocking off time for you, or perhaps time for you to pick up an actual newspaper and see what other writers are doing. Does it bother you to read Monbiot, Rob Edwards, people who care about corruption, the environment, the threat Trump poses to world stability – or are you genuinely content writing about the latest P&J sponsored award show held at the AECC and who won a golden cabbage or whatever it is given out that helps generate advertising revenue and PR for your stable of publications?

From the rest of us, we feel sorry for you. It’s not news you’re writing. It’s not investigative journalism your paper offers as a norm. You are sucking up to your advertisers (remember when a certain diminutive housebuilder reportedly threatened to pull his advertising if you ever wrote a critical piece on him again? I do). The press should serve as a check and balance on the council; in the P&J’s case, the council’s cheques for ads total £200,000 a year, and press you into service.

Adios to ideals; to dreams of reporting and investigating, or choosing what stories to follow. The rest of us feel your shame, and we pity you. This has taken enough of your time though, and you will likely have a beautiful tot or beautiful bride layout to work on.

Some of us managed to believe (or half believe) the Santa Claus/Father Christmas mythology without it turning us into megalomaniacal would-be fascist dictators, preening newspaper editors whose Facebook page consists of a series of selfies and little else, or a woman in a job over her head who will do anything for money, however much that means swallowing racism, sexism and nationalism – just hypothetical examples of personality disorders, mind you.

I am very thankful. Thankful I am never going to work for you or those you serve.

STOP PRESS:  Be sure to take your children to Santa’s Grotto at the Trump International Golf Links Scotland; if you’re going to scar the offspring for life, do it somewhere where they know about great big men with odd hair promising lots of gifts to people who do what they are told to do (even if those gifts never materialise). A tenner a tyke.

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[Aberdeen Voice accepts and welcomes contributions from all sides/angles pertaining to any issue. Views and opinions expressed in any article are entirely those of the writer/contributor, and inclusion in our publication does not constitute support or endorsement of these by Aberdeen Voice as an organisation or any of its team members.]

Nov 222016
 

marischalpicBy Suzanne Kelly.

While pondering whether to offer Aberdeen Press & Journal and the Evening Express a free base for one year in the controversial Marischal College office building, Aberdeen City Council has certainly been helping the paper financially as it spends £200,000 per annum on advertisements in the papers. 

A recent Freedom of Information request shows that the city council has advertised in Aberdeen Journals Ltd’s local papers to the tune of £626,500 over the last three years. 

This is a mean of £205,500 per year. 

The breakdown is as follows:

2016 – £199,818.78 (up to 25 October 2016)

2015 – £219,123.87

2014 – £197,513.68

The City explained:

“Unfortunately, we are unable to provide a breakdown of each expense. The types of expense that ACC would use Aberdeen Journals for would be, for example, Public Notices and Job Advertisements.”

The city also claims it would be too expensive to get a breakdown of what these ads are.

Aberdeenshire Council on the other hand spend a grand total of £6,998 on advertising with the two newspapers over the same three year period. When asked to check the figures, the Shire spokesperson confirmed this figure was all-inclusive.

The city declined to give a breakdown, stating there were a staggering 3,000 invoices for the time period, and the cost to them of collating the information was over £3,000.

There IS such a thing as free rent.

The City Council declines to answer whether it is planning to give free rent to the P&J or other future Marischal Square residents.

The City does advise:

“The discussions in relation to the proposals for the AJL terms have involved the advice of external property agents, the Council’s development partner and a number of Council officers.  The Council officers involved  were Head of Finance, Head of Land and Property Assets, and Asset Management Manager.” 

The P&J editor Damian Bates seems unsurprisingly keen to move to the building his papers previously called ‘controversial’. 

He commented in a recent article:

“It’s in no-one’s interests for it to sit empty and this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us to head back home; back into the city centre where we belong and where The Press and Journal started its amazing journey more than 270 years ago.

“We are now a multi-media business and this prospective move will provide a bright future for the Evening Express, P&J, Energy Voice and all our other products and sites. The council has been our landlord since approximately 1970 so nothing is going to change.”  

Some Free Advice on Free Rent, Expensive Advertising and Ethics.

Some notices must be published in newspapers for legal requirements. Job advertisements appear on the City Council’s website, which is free to access by anyone with a computer, and anyone with a library card can access computers for free. There is no excuse for cutting services while spending this kind of money on advertising.

Considering that jobs can be easily, freely posted on the city council’s website, and citizens are told that services and that citizens were told budget cuts have to be made, cutting down on advertising should have been a priority. In January Finance Committee Convener, Cllr Willie Young told the council’s advertising vehicle the Evening Express:

“It’s possible third sector organisations could see funding cut…We have to look at everything.”

Perhaps before any other services are cut, Aberdeen City Council might want to think twice about its advertising spend and giving new office space away for free, with the taxpayer picking up the tab.

According to the P&J, office space in Aberdeen commands a high price – or at least should do:

“…Aberdeen continues to lead the way for prime office rents, with Ryden reporting a current price of £32 per sq ft – higher than Glasgow’s £30 figure, with sites in Edinburgh and Dundee generating £28 and £15 respectively.” 

If the city could and should be making money out of the massive eyesore which could have been that civic square everyone in a position of power once Jonesed for (oh Sir Ian, where art thou? Why didn’t you want the civic square there? And I note that ‘Opportunity North East Limited’ has extended its accounting period so it won’t have to report at the end of this month now and has until the end of March 2017 – your comment welcome Sir Ian), and if the city has to ‘look at everything’ to find money – why should Aberdeen Journals Ltd. enjoy this largess?

Then again there is a small moral issue. For most of the rest of the UK, a newspaper has a duty to investigate with impartiality, serving as a check on government and a check on the powerful. As it stands, the P&J’s alliance to the editor’s wife’s boss Donald Trump is a dark stain.

Can the P&J really morally afford to be indebted to the city council it should be investigating, or has any pretence of journalism now left the building. We should be told.

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Sep 272013
 

Lies, Damned Lies, and The Trump Effect (or 74% of people don’t remotely trust the Evening Express).

Credibility is stretched to new extremes by claims made by the Chamber of Commerce and the Marcliffe’s Stewart Spence concerning ‘the Trump effect’. Numbers, surveys and statistics are used in attempts to demonstrate how positive an impact Trump is having on Aberdeenshire tourism. Suzanne Kelly peeks behind the curtain at the little man pulling the strings, using a satirical survey to demonstrate just how easily statistics can be massaged.

StatspicTrump International Golf Links Scotland hasn’t exactly been booked solidly, if its own online booking tool is anything to judge by.

But an assortment of people and institutions which were leading the call for the course to be built are hard at work, convincing us that we’re all better off with money flowing in.

There may be some money coming into town indeed, but here are a few thoughts before we swallow the bait whole.

Ninety-three percent increase in room sales to golfers at the Marcliffe!  Such a precise claim, it has to be accurate doesn’t it? 

Many people who’ve heard this statistic are accepting it as proof of Trump having a positive economic impact.

The Chamber of Commerce published an article, “Golf Halo effect benefitting Aberdeen City and Shire hotels by up to 93%” (http://www.agcc.co.uk/news-main/item/21109-golf-halo-effect-benefiting-aberdeen-city-and-shire-hotels-by-up-to-93/).

There is that magic number 93 again. It’s a high number, it’s echoed by Spence, the Chamber of Commerce, and in a few press releases that have been turned into press articles by some of our printed press. This is, in propaganda terms, positive reinforcement; a claim is made, it is repeated, it is not explained in depth by those who want you to believe it.

It starts to sink in.

We have the precise-sounding number ‘93’; we have had that figure reinforced in different media. You would be forgiven for drinking from the trough you’ve been led to and take it for granted that it is true and not to be questioned.

But numbers can be made to do almost anything you want them to do.  Is the glass half empty or half full? The answer depends on the spin you put on it.

A satirical survey was carried out for one week concerning the Evening Express; over 50 people replied to it. In truth, 52 people replied to it – but if you say ‘over 50’ people – then the reader can imagine higher numbers.

Taking that logic forward, let’s consider again the Chamber’s claim that the ‘golf halo’ is benefitting hotels ‘by up to 93%.’  This statistic is nearly meaningless.

How many hotels were in the survey? How many benefitted by 93%? How many benefitted considerably less than that? How many tourists were counted and how was it done? What was the mean (the figure arrived at by adding all the results together and dividing by the number of hotels)?  Was the mean significantly less than 93%?

StatsangleWithout further details such as the length of time the assessment covers, what other events were on which could have increased tourist numbers, how was the measurement made, this ‘up to 93%’ means next to nothing.

Furthermore, from most reports it is apparently the Marcliffe’s Stewart Spence claiming this 93% increase for his hotel.

The Marcliffe is a nice spot. Do hundreds of people stay there? No.

In fact there are 7 suites and 35 rooms.

Therefore this 93% increase is not likely to mean any huge number. For one thing, Donald Trump is known to have stayed at the Marcliffe; no doubt some of his large entourage stays with him. Let’s just say Trump gets one suite when he has stayed: Doing the maths, this is a 14.28% increase in suites used for visitors to the Trump course.

Depending on who’s doing the statistical analysis, you could also call this a 100% increase in Trump-related visitors from the time before the course.

The Chamber’s report also reads:-

“These figure relate to the golf ‘season’ from May to date and Mr Spence considers that by the end of September, this figures will have increased further to the point where rooms booked by golfers are three times as high as bookings in 2012.”

Coming in at something less than 93% increase – a 5% increase is reported by Jury’s.  This is buried in the Chamber’s article, and Jury’s less boastful claims also credit a discount offered as well as theatre and other events than golf being a factor.  But again, is the Marcliffe really imposing a survey on all of its well-heeled guests?

Is it guessing who’s playing and who might be playing? Without knowing the methodology used and the numbers involved, Mr Spence’s guess is just that. Furthermore, he’s hardly likely to do anything but insist the numbers are up; it might just be in his interest for us to think all is rosy – and for Mr Trump to hear him making such positive noises.

There also seems to be a faint hint of arrogance at suggestions that Trump is now why people are coming to our area to golf. There are after all more courses than this new one.

What questions you ask and whether or not they are slanted can generate virtually any statistic you want to generate.

Getting back to the spoof Evening Express survey, here are the results:-

Question:  Do you Trust the Evening Express?

Answer Choices                                                                                                                                                                           

Responses

Yes when it comes to cute baby competitions 14.29% (7)
No 20.41% (10)
Not Even Remotely 73.47% (36)
Total Number of Respondents  49


Question:  What do you think can be done to improve the Evening Express?

Answer Choices                                                                                                                                                                            

Responses

Sack the Editor 48% (24)
Protect the jobs of the workers who it seems face more job cuts 32% (16)
Allow reporters to investigate stories and write their conclusions up freely 68% (34)
Stop taking items that are 3 days old and recycling them 46% (23)
Exorcism 28% (14)
Total Number of Respondents 50


Question:  What do you think of first when you think of the Evening Express?

Answer Choices                                                                                                                                                                            

Responses

Sarah Malone Bates, VP at Trump Golf, Winner of the EE Face of Aberdeen Contest, and her subsequent marriage to Damian Bates, Aberdeen Journals Editor in Chief, and the wee potential for a conflict of interest this creates 70% (35)
The balanced, reasoned, multifaceted approach to local issues 6% (3)
The lovely pictures of the granite web, printed at the drop of a hat 28.00 (14)
The time their headline read ‘two deer found dead ahead of cull’ and the deer actually
died a year before of unknown causes?
18% (9)
Total Number of Respondents  50


Question:  What would you most like to say to the EE Editorship?

  • Print facts without bias
  • More people read Aberdeen Voice………
  • propaganda isn’t journalism.
  • Just give up.
  • Print a newspaper, not a comic
  • You traitors!
  • What will you do when there is no more oil? You’ve sh*t upon the people of Aberdeen for many years (on behalf of your advertisers), so there will be no-one to cry when your advertising revenue dries up and your paper goes bust.
  • Not printable, I’m afraid.
  • Have you considered journalism as a possible change of career ?
  • Well done for speaking up for the silent majority in Aberdeen, those who shout loudest usually get what they want, that’s why our City is such a mess.
  • Print the truth
  • Why and when did he decide that Joseph Goebbel’s style of propaganda was appropriate for a local newspaper?
  • Get out of the pocket of big business.
  • The only content from local areas is of vandalism or babies. If there is any cultural events happening that the EE haven’t sponsored – they will not find its way into the paper. Certainly have no decent article written about them.
  • You’re a crook and an obsequious lickspittle of corrupt and greedy businessmen
  • Unprintable
  • Well, hello, I suppose as I didn’t realise it had an editor. Thought some PR company just collated their press releases. I would also like it to campaign for chips to be wrapped in newspaper once again – then it would have a purpose
  • Take a reality check
  • Can the editorship read?
  • Balanced! Not a lot of crap typed by keyboard warriors!
  • I used to think this paper was the only one worth buying, until it printed a story about me that was utter sh*te.
  • Stop printing sh*te!
  • Your fired
  • we want proper unbiased news not some fatcats pipedream
  • so long and thanks for all the fish
  • How do you manage to sleep at night.
  • Get a grip.
  • Goodbyeee!
  • Stop promoting Donald Trump, Sir Ian Wood and Stewart Milne.
  • Unprintable.
  • Get tae …
  • Get a divorce, mate.
  • Nothing …. because anything I say will be taken down, changed beyond recognition, put in quotes and used against me in a skewed context.
  • What is the difference between the EE and a bucket of shite? The bucket.
  • Being the “Millionaires Best Friend” and slanting the news accordingly, may be profitable, but as a newspaper, ???? shameful.
  • Ta, ta!
  • Get Ye behind me Satan!!!!
  • Stop sucking up to “Big business”

 

Question:  What would you like to see done to the EE headquarters?

Answer Choices                                                                                              

Responses

Build a granite web over it 20.41% (10)
Turn it into an outdoor theatre 6.12% (3)
Give it to Aberdeen City Gardens Trust (an unelected private company) to manage 16.33% (8)
Turn it into some kind of credible business 53.06% (26)
Exorcism 16.33% (8)
Total Number of Respondents  49

It should be noted that the respondents were anonymous; I did not ask anyone to reply, and I did not reply to the questions myself. When setting up a survey, it is possible to target specific audiences. I was asked if I wanted to purchase an option to have specific kinds of people given my survey to answer; I declined.

When it comes to surveys you are being asked to put your trust in, you may want to determine who the respondents were and how they were chosen.

Aberdeen’s Evening Express seemed a likely candidate for this illustrative, satirical exercise for several reasons.

Firstly, they are more than happy to print the conclusions of the Pro-Trump lobby.

Secondly, there is a good, recently disclosed reason for that:  Aberdeen Journals Editor in Chief is married to Trump’s Vice President, not that you learnt this from the paper itself.

Thirdly, on occasion their coverage of issues could be what you might call slightly bias.

Fourth, the  paper is running its own survey as to ‘mending our broken heart’. This survey starts from the premise we are broken-hearted over not having built a granite web over our only city centre green public space. Their campaign in favour of building the web was nothing short of ferocious.

ballsNow they want us to believe they are interested in mending the huge divisions the issue caused, and that they merely want to get our opinions. Not everyone would agree their survey comes from a place of neutrality with a goal of peace-making. They therefore seemed a good candidate to illustrate how surveys can be slanted.

The EE survey questions all had set answers (except the last one). Those who live in Aberdeen City will recall being given similar ‘straightjacket’ answer choices when it came to choosing a shortlist for potential designs for Union Terrace Gardens.

The choice to leave the gardens as they are and just improve them was not given to us, forcing us to choose one of 6 (mostly abhorrent) designs.

What the public did actually vote on and comment on in this exercise remains a mystery. Despite the public purse paying (at least in part) for the exercise, an unelected Limited company consisting of 4 people refuse to let us have the results. Perhaps the Hotel Association will want to come forward with the raw data they have collected regarding Trump .

The Evening Express survey was leading – were leading questions asked of hotel guests?

Using the logic employed by the Chamber, I could write an article now saying ‘Up to 98% of Aberdonians think the Evening Express is Dreadful’.

One thing my survey did was to ask for comments. No two are alike. Not only do they all say different things while conveying the same general message, none of them were from the same IP address. Bear that in mind, and go back to the public consultation as to whether or not to allow the Trump complex to overrule the SSSI protections.

Of course both sides had recommended their followers to either support or object. However, a startling number of supporters came in via email – and dozens and dozens of these are wholly identical.

Identical not only in terms of the wording being verbatim, but the fonts and even the line breaks. Of course these were all counted as individuals weighing in. While many organisations will use form letters, usually this is pointed out when responses are counted – this does not necessarily seem to have taken place with the Trump application.

do not accept any conclusions until you know how big the sample was

It is one thing to say thousands of people support a course of action – but it is quite another thing to say that thousands of people sent in precisely the same replies supporting a course of action. (Does government look at things like IP addresses?  It might be worth doing so in future).

Let’s assume that massive hordes of golfers are now coming here because of the Trump course. You would therefore expect the course to be running at capacity. From eyewitness accounts of people living nearby, this is not the case. Even the online booking system used by the Trump organisation shows there are often many un-used tee times almost every day.

The next time someone tells you there is ‘up to 93%’ of an increase in something, or the next time you read a statistic somewhere, do not accept any conclusions until you know how big the sample was. Do they mean 93% of ten thousand people? Or are they talking about 93% of 7 suite and 35 bedroom guests?

If someone tells you there is an increase in an activity, find out what the time period is, what other factors could have influenced the increase (were people flocking to an area, say for an event like Offshore Europe?). Ask whether the person or group giving you the statistics have a vested interest in the matter at hand: does Mr Spence want to encourage Trump and co. to continue to visit his hotel?

Do VisitScotland want to validate their ongoing claims as to the benefits of the Trump course? Does the Evening Express have any reason to want to regurgitate pro-Trump statistics? Unfortunately numbers, as well as people, can be deceptive. Without having more information such as who the respondents were, the raw data and background, statistics are meaningless.

Put another way – at least up to 93% of survey data and statistics are unreliable.

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Sep 172013
 

read_all_about_it-2With thanks to Suzanne Kelly.

The state of the EE has proved divisive in our area.

Some see a dark hole that should be rid of druggies and alcoholics. Some think it is a waste of space, empty of any meaningful content.

Some see a cute place to look at baby picture competitions.

Have your say on the future of this once-loved institution.

Answer questions which are in no way leading, and have your say.  Participate in this survey, the completely scientific results of which will be shared with government, Star Fleet Academy, and even ACSEF.

The survey can be found here  http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/PYSMBQ2

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Aug 102012
 

Local folklore will tell you of a night, some years ago, of Antarctic-proportion blizzards and mini-Himalayan snow drifts, somewhere on the A9 between Inverness and Wick. To help assure the well-being of travellers, locals being far too sensible to venture out on ‘sic a nicht’, the local police had a patrol out at the start of the affected area, preventing would-be Ice Road Truckers from venturing into the blin drift. 

One traveller was determined that he had to get through. The cops were equally adamant that he should turn around and seek shelter for the night away from the freezing trunk road hell beyond the road block. As he pleaded his case, from nowhere came a vehicle, lights ablaze and wipers working double time, before disappearing into the whiteout ahead. The traveller’s protests that this vehicle had been allowed to venture beyond the official barrier was waved away by the bobby, “That, sir, was the P&J van.”

News has broken this week that the twin local institutions of The Press & Journal and Evening Express have entered consultation with 59 transport, circulation and finance staff in Aberdeen and Inverness over redundancy, writes our Business Correspondent.

Ellis Watson, CEO of DC Thomson Publishing commented on the BBC News website,

We have been working hard to assess how our business can meet the challenges of the dramatic changes in the publishing industry and the turbulent economy.

“We are one of the last publishers in the country still distributing our own titles. The cost of producing and distributing to market is ever-increasing, which is why we’ve had to make this decision to outsource, rather than to see our business decline.

“We are working with our affected staff members to ensure the best possible outcome for each individual during this difficult period.

“By facing the challenges head-on and investing for a new era, we will maintain a strong position on the news stands and continue our important role as an employer for the future.”

In the P&J’s own Business supplement, Mr Watson was more forthcoming,

“We are actively considering the option of outsourcing to a third-party provider for the distribution of our Aberdeen titles”.

The piece credited to Ian Forsyth reveals,

Newspapers would be delivered and collected by an external provider; likely to be John Menzies.”

Voice contacted a staff member likely to be affected by the outcome of the consultation who said,

“Alarm bells rang when The Courier and Telegraph distribution was outsourced to Menzies. When we asked them, managers said there were no plans at that time for Lang Stracht. That would have been late last year, or early in 2012. In fact, we had understood that when the costs of keeping distribution in-house were compared with the costs of outsourcing, our own transport was the cheaper option.

“The Dundee outsourcing started in July. Staff were asked if they wanted to move to Menzies under TUPE, but enhanced redundancy terms were attractive to them which meant that most left.

“We expected this, but thought that we would have had longer notice. The Dundee staff were given three months, but because there are under a hundred of us, only a month needs to be given.

“We’ve been told that the company wasn’t in a position to comment on enhanced redundancy terms just now, but that if there was no rocking of the boat, the company would consider enhancing the conditions.”

This will inevitably mean that Aberdeen Journals’ most visible presence in local communities, the ubiquitous (once red, now blue) transit van will disappear as the distribution service is outsourced.

No more ducking in Northern Road in Kintore as a tightly-rolled consignment of the latest edition is flung expertly on to the newsagent’s doorstep by a passing, yes passing, P&J van and consigned to the past will be stories such as that featured in our opening paragraphs.

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Apr 062012
 

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

The power of the print media in shaping opinion

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

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

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

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

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

I had been advised by an expert that:

 “Newspapers are very powerful at shaping public opinion”

and:

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

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

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

Local politics

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

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

‘due to misunderstanding of the project among the public’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The SNP and the City Garden Project

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another niggly problem has been the concerns of Audit Scotland

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

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

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

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

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

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

He went on:

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

I have no doubt that this will happen.

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

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

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

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

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

Feb 232012
 

UTG Debate – Unearthing the hidden truths between the lines, or…

More puerile crap musing as to why the City Gardens Project will be the greatest thing to hit Aberdeen since the third one went in against Bayern Munich.

Dave Watt and an Italian gentleman muse on some more even-handed, totally neutral articles on the UTG debate from our two august local newspapers, The Depressing Journal and The Evening Suppository.

Col. Gaddafi was a supporter of UTG
A document has been found in a secret box in his Tripoli palace in which Col Gaddafi revealed his support for Union Terrace Gardens. The Colonel’s note admits that he did not want UTG dug up as he had a secret storehouse of Nazi gold which he used to finance the Miners’ Strike in 1983/4 buried under the grass just across from HMT.

– The Depressing Journal 02/02/12

Travellers support unchanged UTG as future camping ground
Joe the gypsy and his family have declared their support for UTG as they intend to have summer camps there for the next ten years. Joe said today,

“UTG is a great camping place and it’s only a short hop from there to the DSS where I and my family can make fraudulent benefit claims by day and roast small babies stolen from Aberdeen citizens over open fires by night”. 

– Evening Suppository 22/02/12

Indian and Aussie Tourist Boards worried about City Gardens Project
A spokesman for the Indian Tourist Board in Delhi expressed the Indian government’s worries that the completed City Gardens Project would draw tourists away from the Taj Mahal to the Granite City. Tourism Director Lal Singh said yesterday,

“This is a very worrying development indeed. If this goes ahead it will be the eighth wonder of the world, and who’s going to pay thousands of rupees to visit the Taj Mahal when something concrete built by Stewartie Milne Sahib is on offer.”

The Sydney Bridge’s Press Officer was rather more blunt, however, saying,

“Stone the crows, mate. It’s not bad enough that you whingeing Poms get off stealing our Ashes last year but now you’re going to build something that will make Sydney Harbour Bridge look like the Sheilas’ toilets in Wollamaloo. It’s enough to make a man give up ill-treating Abos and complaining about immigration all day long”. 

– The Depressing Journal 22/02/12

Dead rise ruse to praise Gardens raise
Legendary dead Aberdonians have been queuing up at dozens of reliable, scientific and not in the least bit hooky séances across the NE to endorse the City Gardens Project, the ES can exclusively reveal. Local medium, the mysterious, yet oddly familiar, Madame Ina Wood has found that local spooks are unanimous in their support for the cement vanity project. She said that famous Japanese, Kung Fu mannie Thomas Glover explained to her,

“I’m Thomas Glover and I’m dead now, but I look forward to my eternal spirit flitting hither and thither like a divine zephyr around the concrete gardens that will totally put Aberdeen on the map as it wasn’t on one before apparently.”

Long dead architect Scott Sutherland said,

“Jings I wish I’d built something half as good as the City Gardens Project. It’s going to look wonderful, and not at all be a hideous concrete abortion. I can’t wait to tell Bernini and Frank Lloyd Wright all about it at our next Jenga evening.”

Early photographer George Washington Wilson added,

“I took photos of Union Terrace in the nineteenth century and I only wish these hideous gardens had never existed. If there had been nothing there to photograph, I may have been able to follow my original dream of taking lots of photos of naked ladies for bongo mags. My spirit shall haunt the development like a bad smell.”

Madame Ina Wood told the ES,

“Cross my palm with silver dearie – about £50m should do – the spirits don’t lie. This is all absolutely true, and not a pile of hooey designed to fool the gullible. I’ll stake my hoop earrings and bizarre sideburns on it”. 

– Evening Suppository 23/02/12

Nostradamus predicted City Gardens Project
A recent study revealed that the seer Nostradamus predicted the rise of the City Gardens Project in Les Prophecies (1555) where he stated,

“A mighty stone mountain shall arise in the north like a phoenix from a deep valley frequented by ne’er-do-wells and assorted rascals in a city made of granite. The rising of this stone shall herald a Golden Age for the city. Poverty and want shall be a thing of the past and by God and Sweet Sunny Jesus, will those jammy Jock bastards be coining it in? I should f**king say so. Shekels galore, more funny black stuff than you can shake a stick at and four straight European Cup wins for the local calcio team added to a seventeen-nil home win over some recently impoverished followers of William of Orange. Go for it, you hairy kneed Caledonian caber tossers”.

– The Depressing Journal 23/02/12

City Gardens Project means absolutely phenomenal number of jobs and money for everybody
A recent study by the totally neutral Vote For The City Gardens Or We’ll Come Round To Your House, Rape Your Dog And Scatter Your Garbage Group has discovered that the City Gardens Project will actually generate jobs for around nine billion people. A spokesperson for the group told us that there was a slightly worrying shortfall with less than eight billion people on the planet at present but it was hoped that some sort of shift system might be introduced allowing people to breed during working hours.

The same study showed that the knock-on effect of this huge project would encourage tourists from all over the Solar System to visit Aberdeen with many hotels in the Granite City receiving bookings from Mars, Venus and Mercury already. With this increase in tourism plus the work situation the group also estimated that each household in Aberdeen would be £17m better off once the Project was completed.

– The Depressing Journal 24/02/12

Pro-UTG groups to establish labour camps for opponents
Reports have reached the Evening Suppository that supporters of the City Gardens Project have been subjected to threats and intimidation by shadowy figures in trenchcoats at three in the morning brandishing voting forms.

Speaking in stock ludicrous 1960’s movie German accents they have announced:

“Zat for you, Scottische schweinhund, ze Union Terrace Gartens debate is ofer” and “Ve haf vays of making you vote nein”.

If their demands have not been immediately agreed to by the unfortunate victims they have been threatened further,

“Perhaps your family und household pets vould benefit from ein kleine holiday in ‘ze camps’”.

– Evening Suppository 24/02/12

Feb 232012
 

Aberdeen Against Austerity, a group campaigning against the £140m redevelopment of the historic Union Terrace Gardens, has released the following statement in response to the P&J article headlined, “Police probe attacks on city garden team” of 21 February 2012. The statement is published verbatim as received by Voice with only minor graphical changes made to AAA’s release to comply with Voice’s house style.

These allegations by Mr Smith and as yet unnamed others are strong indeed – e-mail hacking, online bullying and harassment and personal threats are all criminal offences.
We at Aberdeen Against Austerity are not responsible for any of the alleged offences and do not believe any of our fellow Retain Union Terrace Gardens campaigners would stoop so low either.

We are opposed to unlawful tactics being employed by anyone in this important debate over the future of our city, as dirty tricks cheapen both sides’ arguments. However, we worry that the sensational coverage of these criminal allegations in the Press & Journal and Evening Express will serve as a deterrent to ordinary people speaking out, who oppose the City Gardens Development.

The referendum campaign is being fought on a far from level playing field. Six of the seven groups registered against the development are comprised of ordinary citizens (the 7th being the group of Labour City Councillors). By registering as campaign groups we have all been bound by the referendum rules, which allow a maximum spend of £8,524.45, although most groups have no budget at all.

Of the pro-development campaign groups, only three are registered, allowing the vast majority of campaigning to be done outwith the rules, and at huge expense, by PR company The BIG Partnership on behalf of those who propose the City Garden Project. Their Vote for the City Garden campaign has so far included 4-page flyers and newspaper-style brochures to every house in the city, constant radio advertising on all the local stations, a Facebook page manned by full time staff and daily coverage in the local newspapers.

As with any modern debate, much campaigning is being done online and this is where Mr Smith alleges bullying is taking place. Both sides are being equally forthright in their postings on social media, but Aberdeen Against Austerity are certainly not interpreting the strong wording of some of our opponents as bullying or harassment.

We have chosen to rise above any personal slurs and engage in debate based upon facts and we can still have a wee smile at those posts which satirise us and our efforts, because as Aberdonians we retain a sense of humour.

Aberdeen Against Austerity wonders if Sir Ian Wood, who has donated £50m of his own money to the controversial City Gardens Project, will be reporting local comedians Flying Pig Productions to the police for this week’s P&J column The Butter-Fingered Philanthropist.

Feb 032012
 

It’s the American holiday Ground Hog Day this week, and Old Susannah wonders if she’s not reading the same old stories over and over again in the local news.  By Suzanne Kelly.

Happy Ground Hog Day!  In America people eagerly await the movements of groundhogs on 2 February (everyone has to have a hobby I guess), and allegedly can predict whether there will be an early spring by what the little things do.   Ground Hog Day was also a Bill Murray film wherein he kept reliving the same events over and over again.

As I read the Evening Express and the Press and Journal, I wonder if the same old stories aren’t coming back again and again just like Ground Hog Day.  Another car crash, more pictures of cute babies and cute pets, potholes and personal health stories I’d rather not read.

 And of course Union Terrace Gardens stories have sprouted up faster than the  ‘rare’ pine forest  the architects have now drawn fully mature in their ‘vision’ of the concrete future.  Guess the pines should appease all those environmental-type people.

I had really wanted to ‘keep off the grass’ and spend one week not writing about the City Gardens Project.  However, the issue continues to dominate our local newspapers, other than a few car accidents and cute pictures of babies and/or pets, there’s nothing else in the local news.

On the other hand our bus fares have gone up – by about £150 per year for weekly pass users.  This is to pay for all the improvements – the increased reliability, cleanliness, and improved frequency and so on that you are experiencing.  No doubt you likewise received a pay rise of 15% or more, so you don’t mind stumping up more for First Buses.  I hear their owners are a bit hard hit by the recession, and heating mansions isn’t as cheap as it used to be.

Last week I was one of the deputees at the City Council’s great vote on shovelling  money into the City Gardens Project.  If you’re interested in what I had to say, here’s a link:  http://oldsusannahsjournal.yolasite.com/

I spoke for 10 minutes, and answered 10 minutes of questions from our elected officials.  Councillor McCaig repeated the promise  made by Alex Haig the Scottish Infrastructure Secretary that the project will NOT go ahead if the people vote against it in the referendum.    We shall see.

But back to the Ground Hog Day theme.  Sir Alex Ferguson has stepped up to the plate concerning Union Terrace Gardens:  he’s in favour of the garden scheme (and ‘scheme’ seems like the operative word) going ahead, per the Evening Express.  But haven’t we heard from him on this score before?  Yes we have – several times.  You have a feeling of déjà vu for a reason.

  You can usually tell something is a fact if an authority figure tells you it is true

The pro City Gardens teams are still ramping up with their fantastic, well-planned campaigns.  The people in Aberdeenshire were the first to receive the glossy, beautiful (not at all fifties retro, dated, overly busy) A3 colour brochures telling them why they must vote for the City Gardens Project.

It was such a heart-breaking pity to realise that no one in the Shire gets a vote.

Easy mistake.  I just wonder exactly who has paid for these brochures and this little mistake. But this lovely piece of campaigning literature (for which we don’t know who wrote, created, paid for) leads nicely to a definition or two.

Facts: (plural noun; Eng) data based on measurable, demonstrable truths and observable phenomenon.

A triangle has three sides.   The sun rises in the East and sets in the West.  The City Gardens Project will create 6,500 jobs and make Aberdeen £122,000,000 every year for about 20 years.  All these are examples of facts.

You can usually tell something is a fact if an authority figure tells you it is true.  If you read something in print, it must be true as well.  All those lovely brochures that went to the Shire residents (who can’t vote on the issue) tell you to vote for for 6,500 jobs and all the millions of pounds the Teletubbie Park will bring.

Who would vote against these great things?  It’s not as if these figures for an as-yet unfinished design with no price tag on it are just wild, bloated fictional guesses paid for by, er, organisations that want this building project.  Or are they?

My favourite part of the brochure is the transparent boy running through the flower bed in front of the theatre.  If it were to scale, the wee lad is about 27 feet tall.

If you still aren’t sure what is fact and what is fiction, here’s an example from ACSEF meeting minutes from 22 March 2010:-

 “Reassurance was given that the consultation report commissioned by Scottish Enterprise on behalf of ACSEF will be independent, and the consultation process had been robust and transparent”. 

Even if the electronic voting went a bit strange, and even if all of the entities involved in ‘reassuring’ that the report would be ‘independent’ wanted the garden project to go ahead, it was all ‘robust and transparent’.  (and that’s a fact).

    You can’t say Aberdeen doesn’t have its fair share of celebrities

Another favourite fact of mine was when Sue Bruce left Aberdeen and claimed in a press release that our city had a budget surplus of a few million pounds after she’d done her bit.  (Yes, I miss her, too).  Pity the budget surplus didn’t even last as  long as she did here.

Celebrity: (noun or adjective) fame, or being famous.  You can’t say Aberdeen doesn’t have its fair share of celebrities:  There is Sir Alex Ferguson, Annie Lennox, Scotty from Star Trek, an’ tha quine fae Torry wi the accent naebody kens fa’s on ‘River City’ [Editor:  am I getting the hang of Doric yet?  Suz].

But alas:  no longer can Aberdeen lay claim to being the home of ‘Willie’ – school janitor from  ‘The Simpsons’.  Willie is apparently from The Orkneys.  The Evening Express carried this exclusive this week – I think they did a telephone interview with Willie or something.  DOH!

At least we still have Mr Scott, and of course our own talking cactus, Spike.  Neither has yet released statements through their agents or directly as to their view of Union Terrace Gardens.  Annie Lennox has in the past stated that it’s up to Aberdonians to vote for what they want, but that she is a supporter of the gardens as they are.

She is clearly not as vibrant, dynamic and forward-looking as the much more hip Sir Alex Ferguson.  Sir Alex took a break from throwing football boots at players’ heads long enough to yet again pop up in the press in favour of the skateboard park – sorry granite web.  In the Evening Express Sir Alex is reported as saying:-

“I would urge everyone not to be scared of change and to look upon this as an opportunity and something which will allow Aberdeen to be favourably compared with cities both in the UK and further afield”

Well, we can safely assume his friend Stewart Milne looks at the gardens as being ‘an opportunity.’

Perhaps Sir Alex has hit it on the head (which he’s good at doing):  I’m really just scared of change.  I’m not scared of killing off the existing wildlife by removing the vital feeding and living grounds the wildlife depends on.  I’m not scared of destroying beautiful, listed, healthy 200 year-old trees that clean the surrounding air.  I’m not even scared of the city taking a £70 million (or probably more) gamble on an as-yet untried financial gambit:  Nope, I’m just scared of change.

As to how the granite web will make Aberdeen compare to other cities and places, I’d suggest that Milton Keynes, Siberian work camps and Ceausescu’s Romanian architectural projects would be the best place to start.

I think I’ll leave it there for now.   Keep a look out for your full colour brochure from the pro City Garden Project now, won’t you.  It should arrive any day now (if you live in Yorkshire).  You may wonder who printed it and who stands proudly behind its facts.  You may wonder for quite some time, as they didn’t bother to say who they were on this flyer.

There is a helpful web address on it, even if it doesn’t work at the time of writing, I’m sure that’s just another one of the few dozen small errors that’s hit the publicity campaign.

Question:  if the people supporting this project are throwing your money around on inaccurate full colour A3 leaflets that are going to the wrong houses today, what will they do with a giant architectural project tomorrow?

– Next week:  disappearing press releases, Press Complaints Commission, and Code of Practice for Public Relations Agencies – and more.

 

 

Jan 062012
 

Old Susannah tries to get to grips with the newspapers, the actual news, and council-speak.  By Suzanne Kelly.

Tally Ho and Happy New Year! Old Susannah’s had a bit of a holiday break in London and New York, but is back in the Deen and looking for news in all the wrong places.
All major world cities have their problems – New York, London – even Aberdeen.  It’s how these problems are dealt with that show the intelligence, logic, and well class of a city’s government.
New York at Christmas has subtle holiday lights, but all the stores (particularly 5th Avenue ones) do their best to have creative, exciting, individualistic window displays.

This just makes things look non-uniform and that’s a bad thing of course.  If only there were some giant red balls and uniform lights overhead to herald the presence of the New York Government.  Better still if such lights would fall down now and then  for a bit of drama as well.

There is a policeman on every corner of 5th and people are well behaved as a result.  Our streets are of course ‘livelier.’  How sad.  No one is allowed to use the streets for fighting/throwing up/robbing/ rolling around drunk in while the police stand idly by.  Here in Aberdeen there is more freedom to indulge in these traditional holiday past times.

Iconic landmarks such as Manhattan’s statue of Atlas, Ice-skating rink and the Christmas Tree just demonstrate how stuck in boring tradition NYC really is; hardly anyone comes to see these things.  I’d like to see a few buildings levelled (maybe the Chrysler and Empire) and a gigantic concrete public square created – that’s clearly what’s needed to revitalise NY’s dull city centre.

London’s  Soho was absolutely packed with people, music venues, and restaurants.  Believe it or not, the local shops don’t all close at 6pm; some even close when they feel like it.  Trash collections are regular, and I found myself missing my overflowing Torry communal wheelie bin with its broken lid and binbags torn open by hungry birds.   There weren’t even any sofas dumped on the streets to sit on.

In a not very vibrant or dynamic tradition, the Geoffrey Museum had  its annual  display showing how households used to look in times past for Christmas.  This tedious attraction could have done so much better if a monolith had been built on its historic front lawn.

You’ll never believe me, but in London’s massive Richmond Park (again just wasted space filled with lots of grass and trees) there is actually a deer park.

I suppose the biggest disappointment in New York and London as compared to Aberdeen  is the scale of waste.  New York has its (comparatively) massive Central Park and there are long stretches of coastal lands on nearby Long Island.  No one’s proposed any football stadiums, giant forests on the dunes, or turning the place into a giant golf course resort.

London has more parks than you could count that are filled with little more than grass – which so bothers Councillor Stewart.  These parks  do allow food kiosks and restaurants, something our City is far too cool to allow in Union Terrace Gardens (well, at least not until we build something over it first).

New York has great sports teams, but it’s not following our lead.  The Rangers continue to play in the outdated Madison Square Gardens rather than building something new outside of Manhattan.  Mr Milne could teach them a thing or two.  It’s almost as if people were fond of their historic sports venue and wanted to keep using it.  I think they’re in denial – the thing doesn’t even glow in the dark.

Finally an old building has been sensitively restored for re-use as a Native American heritage museum.  Doubt that made much money for any new-build businesses.  Shame.

You’ll never believe me, but in London’s massive Richmond Park (again just wasted space filled with lots of grass and trees) there is actually a deer park.

  No, the deer are not there for people to have their dogs chase.  The deer I have to admit are sometimes culled – when absolutely necessary – after living a lifespan where they can eat, roam free, and live.
Note: They are not culled for reasons other than animal welfare.

No one is proposing to shoot them in order to turn their turf into a lumber-producing forest.  Some eccentrics actually go out of their way to come and see the deer, or ‘vermin’ as Neil Fletcher and others would call them.

London and New York should really take a page from Aberdeen’s book and do much much more building in their empty green spaces.  The funny thing is that people actually choose to live near such places and pay more money for the privilege.

My one regret is that I missed the Christmas event in Union Terrace Gardens which by all accounts was a perfect afternoon.  The children loved seeing their artwork displayed; they loved the vermin – sorry – deer which had been brought in as a special treat.  The music was spectacular and everyone had a vibrant and dynamic time.  So my compliments to the organisers –  the Bothwell family and their friends, and to those who supplied prizes – Lush and The Artist’s Pad on Castlegate in particular.

I was happy to have been one of the judges for the art competition which was a real pleasure if not a nearly impossible task.  Watch Aberdeen Voice for an upcoming display of the childrens’ artwork and the entries for the Aberdeen Voice Union Terrace Gardens art competition – as soon as I can scan the 300+ items that were entered, that is.

But at this rate there won’t be room for definitions, so here we go.

Blindspot: (compound noun; English) An area which cannot be perceived whether due to physical limitations or psychological ones.

Old Susannah begins to wonder if any of our local press realise that by 23 January the City must relinquish details to me of what land was sold to Stewart Milne companies and for how much money? If they are aware, they certainly don’t find this revelation worthy of any space in their pages.

When I was travelling I kept up with local news via the internet – there were fascinating pieces on weather, a bit of vandalism, some bits of petty crime, another local store closed, and football games were won and lost.  But no word on Aberdeen Council being criticised by Scotland’s Information Commissioner or on the looming disclosure of what property ACC sold to Stew at what price. Guess this just isn’t as interesting as all the other stuff.

  seems northern Scotland can get windy in winter.  Who’d have guessed?

Still, by 23 January the City is meant to supply me with the info on Milne I requested a year and a month ago.

Let’s see who publishes the next development besides Aberdeen Voice.

I also read Private Eye when I was away (although I usually find it far too critical of our elected officials and millionaires), and a small item reminded me that the National Union of Journalists was ‘de-recognised’ by the Press and Journal and its sister, the Evening Express.

A cynical person might think the owners of these papers want to keep a tight rein on any reporter who goes ‘off message’ and writes anything too critical of their largest advertising revenue sources.  I just think the P&J management don’t want their staff to have to have the hassle of Union membership when they are so perfectly well remunerated.

Is there really any bias towards the powerful forces in the  City?  Just as  a matter of interest, a colour advertisement in the Evening Express supporting the ‘phase 2 tree for every citizen’ scheme cost the city c. £145.  A similar sized colour ad by those opposed to the tree planting and related deer cull cost over £700 (with 2 reprints in the Citizen).  Just thought you might like to know.

Festive Decorations: (noun) holiday-themed lights, banners, etc.

Well, the City’s outdone itself this year.   From 21st November 2011 to the 5th January 2011, Aberdeen City Centre was festooned with festive lighting and decoration.  Of course some of the lights came down almost as soon as they went up; seems northern Scotland can get windy in winter.  Who’d have guessed?  (Note – this historic pattern of high winds will of course be no object to planting trees on Tullos Hill, even if a Forestry report says wind is a problem there).

  I have my own theories about what the giant, over-sized, totally out-of-proportion red balls symbolised

According to the City’s website ‘Other communities around the City also take part with their own festive lighting on lamp-posts.  Aberdeen’s main thoroughfare (Union Street) is the centre piece with 11 cross street lighting all with a Christmas theme.’

I was surprised that Christmas was the theme for the beautiful lights on Union Street – I’d have thought the City was supposed to be non-denominational.  But I saw the light.  The decorations on Union Street show pictures of presents, toys and sweets – and buying stuff like that is the true meaning of Christmas after all.

I have my own theories about what the giant, over-sized, totally out-of-proportion red balls symbolised, but perhaps I’ll keep that to myself.  I look forward to watching them fall down again next year.

Jargon: (noun) vocabulary which is not recognised in the mainstream, is hard to decipher, and which may be deliberately exclusionary.

Next week I intend to look at upcoming budget/financial actions our fair city may be taking.  Believe it or not, I am not always convinced their financial skills are as good as you might think.  If anyone can help me decipher  the following paragraph which I found on the ACC website, then please get in touch:-

“There are also other projects currently active that will produce efficiencies for all Services, i.e. ICT infrastructure and connectivity, procurement revisions, etc. The ICT infrastructure and connectivity work is delivered solely by Service Design and Development and therefore is not included  in the above listing. The projects listed above all fall into the category of technology enabling making change happen.”

It sound absolutely wonderful, but I haven’t a clue what it means.  It’s from an older document covering finance and budget.

Is it  possible that a lack of straight-talking is confusing issues?  No, I thought not.  I guess I’m just not ‘falling into the category of technology enabling making change happen’ as naturally as everyone else must be doing.

Final thought:  Children in Need:
Spare a thought to those who don’t have the things they need this season.  Take the case of Stewart M.

Stewart, aged fifty-something years, will not have a happy holiday season (or any kind of happy season) without some help.  A mere 7.8 million pounds will give him the toy football stadium he wants.  Next year he may also buy some toy players to go in the toy stadium if it’s not all been thrown out of the pram.  Please give generously.

Another Final thought:  Electoral Roll:
Live in Aberdeen?  Want to vote on the future of Union Terrace Gardens?  Make sure you are registered to vote before 10 January.  IF you are not on the electoral role, follow this link and register:  http://www.grampian-vjb.gov.uk/clients/GVJB/flexviews/core/assets/pdf/er/voterregistrationform.pdf

 

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