Oct 152016
 

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

DictionaryGreetings belatedly; sorry for the late-running of this service; I’ve been busy. For one thing – Result! TV Smith played Krakatoa on 8 October with Fred Wilkinson opening. Fred, or ‘Wilkinson’ as beloved LibDem Aileen HoMalone refers to him, played a lovely song about fashion called The Ghosts of Cable Street. I’m not really sure what it was about, but I think it had to do cable-knit jumpers and something about black shirts not being very popular at one time.

Fashions do have a way of coming around again, and I think there are more than a few blackshirt-lovers out there right now.

Smith played some old-fashioned, quaint ‘protest music’ – although heaven knows, we really have nothing to protest about, except maybe all those foreigners Amber Herd wanted named and shamed for taking British Jobs.

I wonder why she changed her mind? Could there be any link between the pound plunging to a new 31 year low, Brexit, and Amber’s anti-foreigner stance? I doubt it.

I am guilty of not being born in the UK. I am taking the unpaid job of some poor satirical British columnist who otherwise could be labouring for free. Yes, naming and shaming the companies that hire people from other countries seemed like the way forward. But I digress. Smith sang about modern poverty (no doubt caused by foreigners), state surveillance, and other such lefty concerns. Just as well we’ve nothing to protest about here in the Deen.

I understand Torry residents are planning a parade to celebrate all the jobs creation coming our way. We’re getting an incinerator – sorry – waste to energy plant! Result!

We’re going to get rid of the under-used Bay of Nigg so that cruise ships filled with rich visitors can stop by for a bet at Ladbroke’s and some Spar shopping. Result! Of course we’ll have to make a few sacrifices for creating these jobs.

A few protected wildlife species in the Bay, clean air (which we enjoy so greatly now thanks to the sewerage plant) and the wishes of local people – many of whom are foreign! – should not stand in the way of making the Harbour Board richer or getting a good old-fashioned British firm busy burning rubbish next to the school in Tullos. While the house prices here will plummet, a clear message is sent: Scotland is Open For Business.

We are open to taking American fracked gas; a great tanker sailed to Scotland filled with fracked gas, while some Americans in Pennsylvania begged Scotland not to take it.

If it will make us money, at least the considerable pollution will be happening far away – foreigners do have their uses. (The energy efficiency of creating fuel in the US leaving pollution in its wake and shipping resultant gas to Scotland is a little hard for me to understand, especially with gas here having been at considerably low prices for years. Still, if there’s money to be made, we can’t be seen to be closed can we?)

We’re also open for business at Marischal Square, where in keeping with the look of the city, Granite will be the main cladding material. That The Granite City is importing granite from China, where there are a few equal pay and workers’ rights issues is not an issue. We are Open For Business. The council says it’s not their business where the granite comes from – a huge comfort to the veritable slave labour that will be quarrying it.

John Forbes of Bon Accord Granite said:

“What people don’t understand is we haven’t built a major building out of north-east granite for the last 30 years, at least. It’s down to price. If I don’t supply Chinese granite, others will.” 

Thanks John for helping the project’s carbon footprint, Chinese workers’ rights, the government’s push to use UK labour forces – all while making a tidy profit. Nice one.

I get it – the position seems to be ‘if I don’t exploit unfair labour practices in China to supply material cheaply, someone else will’. Good code of ethics there then. So – foreigners = good source of labour to exploit as cheaply as possible – as long as the blighters don’t actually come to Old Blighty.

When the much-loved Marischal Square building is clad in Chinese granite, the much-loved Press & Journal is set to take a year’s free rent to grace us with its presence.

In order to figure out how this equates to being ‘Open for Business’ as opposed to, shall we say, giving the paper a bone so that it won’t unleash its investigative new hounds (if any left) onto juicy city council stories (not that there are any unless you count the cremation scandal, the Torry carve-up, Marischal Square..), Old Susannah lodged a freedom of information request.

We do know the key players at the Town House in this genius free rent scheme are the Head of Finance, Head of Land and Property Assets, Asset Management Manager. The city refuses to comment on these ‘commercial negotiations’ because:

“Release of the information at this stage would influence the negotiating position of parties wishing to occupy space in the development, to the obvious detriment of the Council’s commercial interests.

“Furthermore, disclosure of the requested information at this stage is likely to weaken ACC’s position in a competitive environment by revealing sensitive information of potential usefulness to competitors. ACC must maintain good working relationships with reputable companies to enable it to obtain value for money and so releasing commercially sensitive information could potentially damage ACC’s reputation with such third parties, dissuading the third parties from engaging with ACC.”

“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.” 

So if I understand correctly, the competition would get wind of us giving a years’ rent free in a new building to the press (normally expected to investigate just this kind of eventuality in some cities anyway), and they would give a better deal, or other people would want free rent like the P&J too.

Perhaps we should pay the P&J to grace the city centre, and breathing new life into the beating heart of the civic centre in a vibrant and dynamic manner.

The phrase ‘Value for Money’ worked its way into the FOI response. Older readers might remember when the previous administration sold property owned by the taxpayer for millions of pounds less than market value, and was investigated by Audit Scotland (the report was meant to be investigated by the police – but they didn’t do anything. When I asked for an update, it was explained the paperwork could not be found, and as it was only a few million pounds’ worth of potential fraud, it wasn’t really a big deal).

We also gifted Stewart Milne lots of land, at the same time he won a few sweet contracts totalling £10 million – he’d underbid the competition – possibly a feat made a bit easier by having a nice parcel of land as a handy asset. But again – I digress. Just as well though that the taxpayer isn’t propping up a hugely biased, outmoded pseudo-newspaper.

Not that there are any juicy city council stories of course, but in light of how the city’s officers are involved in a few slightly questionable activities, I set out to take a look at the register of officers’ interests. I was to meet someone from Legal and democratic services to take a look at the register. A few hours before the meeting, the legal team from the city decided that a FOI request was required.

Now in theory FOI requests should not have to be made to see information that is held – but they were apparently fearful that there might be ‘personal data’ in the register.

This register should be parallel to the register held on all the councillor’s interests and hospitality – which you can view right now on the website. It’s almost as if the officers had more power and influence than coucillors but surely not. The FOI service complains from time to time that it has too many requests to handle (which might be why it is late with a huge portion of responses).

If the other departments had this ‘transparency’ we’ve heard so much about, the FOI team wouldn’t have to suffer so greatly doing its job.

Democratic services? Transparency? Freedom of Information? Clearly not as important as being open for business. More on this soon.

While waiting for any of this information to ever get to me, liquid refreshment at BrewDog helps sustain me and pass the time. Old Dog (as I now call the Gallowgate bar, the first ever BrewDog bar) has been doing some wildly popular craft courses and a once-monthly fun event, Drink and Draw.

I have learned so very much from BrewDog. Did you know that it’s Robert Plant’s son Logan is behind the remarkable Beavertown Brewery? I hadn’t any idea. One of my favourite non-BD libations is Beavertown’s flavour packed Gamma Ray (American Pale Ale). And yes, I’m one of the 10,000 BrewDog shareholders, and still proud of it.

Finally, Anthony Baxter is making another film about ladies’ man Trump, although I can’t think of any recent news developments these past 12 months that would warrant any such documentary. However, the details are here for those who would like to chip in. Expected Aberdeen release 3 November at the Belmont. (And by way of disclosure, there is every chance I’ll be in it).

At this rate there won’t be time for definitions, so with no further hesitation, here are some career-related definitions for the wonderful people who bring so much to Aberdeen.

Spokeswoman: (Modern English noun) a female who undertakes public relations duties.

Sarah Malone has been enjoying a Trump salary these many years; this and husband Damian’s salary will no doubt be helping the Jimmy Choo purchase fund.

In order to get a paid gig dealing with the media as a spokeswoman for a multinational property developer, aspiring spokespersons would have to have style, flair, the ability to think quickly, analyse information and respond swiftly with tact and intelligence. This no doubt is why I toil for free. As a recent example illustrating the calibre of response such a professional spokeswoman would be expected to come up with, I offer the following recently issued by Sarah Malone-Bates, aka from now as Sarah Baloney:

“We have not seen the so-called film and have no interest in it.

“Anthony Baxter is not a credible journalist or filmmaker. He has no interest in the facts or the people of north east Scotland.

“He has propagated lies and nonsense about the company for years in an attempt to make a name for himself off the back of Trump.

“We operate a highly acclaimed, five-star golf resort and enjoy a great relationship with the local community and all of our neighbours with the exception of a few who have fought the project since its inception.”

Old Susannah can’t – however hard I try – write like this. For instance, if I had to use the compound-adjective ‘so-called’, I might have said ‘so-called journalist’. That would have opened up a debate on whether or not award-winning, acclaimed journalist Baxter is credible or not. Obviously we trust a Trump spokesperson’s word for what is and isn’t credible. However, ‘so-called film’ opens up the debate as to whether or not the film is a … film. I think even I could win that battle of wits with Sarah.

She is calling Baxter a liar – a daring PR move which of course could have legal consequences should Baxter want to sue Trump. I hope she’ll share the specific list of these lies with us; I promise I’ll ask for it.

As to that ‘great relationship with the local community’ – well, obviously that’s as true as anything else this professional, well-paid spokesperson said. Just because protestors raise Mexican flags, 580,000 people sign a petition against her boss coming here, the local university rescinded his honorary degree and he’s no longer a global Scot is no reason to think Mr Drumpf is in any way unpopular. And no doubt the relationship with this community is unshakeable…

Star: (modern English term) someone of celebrity status, admired and well-known.

Donald Trump is a star. How do I know? He said so in a conversation about the perks of stardom.

To attain star status, having superior genes is important; modestly Drumpf admits what we already know – that he has superior genes. Somewhere, in some obscure history lesson, I almost remember some other political figure being interested in genetic superiority. Perhaps it’s fashionable to talk about this again?

Perks of stardom include ‘just start kissing’ beautiful women ‘doing anything (to women)’ and ‘grabbing them by the pussy’. Oh those lucky, beautiful young women. Something in the nature of 1 in 5 American women can expect to be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.

And with that, I find the last satirical inclinations leaving me, and so I will sign off. Let’s hope nothing will dent that community appreciation Drumpf enjoys here in our little corner of Scotland.

Next week – more on other FOI requests, a look at the rosy future of Torry – and a DIY Investigating kit

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May 152015
 

If you hadn’t known there were consultations about Trump’s further plans for the Menie Estate, you were in good company. Few people found out about it in time to meet the deadlines to submit opinions to a pre-planning application lodged by the Trump organisation. Those who asked for information on the proposals which the legal notices offered were treated with less than timely and less than courteous regard. Suzanne Kelly reports.

trumpbrollypic2Donald Trump has always let his presence in Scotland be known.
There was the unprecedented way Holyrood intervened in the Menie Estate carve-up.

There was Trump’s attempts at wind farm derailment, with Trump famously declaring at a Holyrood hearing ‘I am the evidence’ against wind farms.

The man couldn’t fly into Aberdeen Airport without red carpets and escorts (cost to taxpayer for unprecedented police presence c. an estimated £2,000 per visit).

Issues of the local newspapers (presided over by Trump’s Scottish VP Sarah Malone Bates’ husband Damian Bates) normally carried glowing accounts of the course, the food, the allegedly tasteful décor, the concrete fountain at MacLeod House and/or advertisements of some sort.

But when it came to asking the public for their thoughts on going ahead with 850 homes, 1900 leisure units (whatever exactly that means) and a second golf course (with the first one hardly at capacity or even near it), the Trump organisation’s normally insatiable lust for publicity was positively flaccid.

What could have caused this sudden coyness? How were the people who found out about the pre-application consultations treated when they asked for details of the plans? What kind of information was available? Where did Aberdeenshire Council’s planning chiefs stand on the matter?

The legal notices advertising the plans appeared in the Evening Express on Monday 20 April. Unless someone were looking for a 40th birthday classified ad, a used pushbike, or a part time job delivering the Evening Express, chances are the back section of this local paper was not the place they’d turn to find legal notices on the most contentious planning development Scotland has ever seen.

But with Aberdeenshire Council’s blessing (after the fact and possibly before it – this is yet to be determined) two small, discreet advertisements announcing the pre-application consultations appeared in the back of the paper, and went largely unnoticed.

The people who did see these ads learned of the proposed 850 homes, 1900 leisure units and second 18 hole golf course. The ads made an invitation to either attend an open event at MacLeod House, or to obtain further information from Cameron McKenna’s Mr Jamie Hunter by email.

This particular exercise is not to be confused with the actual planning application; it is a small exercise, but an important one.

If there were no objections to the pre-planning application, and only positive comments were submitted, Trump would be able to claim a small but important victory over the opposition. Could it be that the Press & Journal and the Evening Express’ editor (married to Trump’s VP it should be remembered) decided this important news was not newsworthy – to keep the many opponents of the proposals in the dark?

By the time concerned local residents got wind of this pre-application consultation, it was nearly too late to make an objection by 5 May to the 18 hole golf course. But several people intended to do just that. Writing to Jamie Hunter for the ‘further information’ offered, they waited patiently to receive something. And waited.

clocktrumpfeatThe Clock Was Ticking

On the afternoon of 4 May, Hunter was sent an email requesting information on both proposals.

It was assumed that since the advertisements promised information would be forthcoming if requested that someone had bothered to prepare at least an outline of the proposals that could have been emailed swiftly and with very little administration needed.

Over 24 hours elapsed since information was requested, but no information or even a holding email arrived.

The Hunter Cornered

When chased on the last day for submissions for the required information in advance of the deadline, Jamie Hunter had enough. He fired off a rather angry email – but no information on the schemes.

His lack of attention to what should have been a simple matter of forwarding information by email became the subject of a complaint and he was one of the addressees on this complaint. Hunter’s answer displays what hardships and strains he was under; it was all just too much for one man to deal with (it would be interesting to learn how many emails and how many people he had to see to determine how arduous his task was).

He replied:

“I note that I was afforded 28 minutes to respond between your first and second emails yesterday.

“I was at that time consulting with the members of the public, residents and community councillors etc who appear to have seen the widespread national and local coverage in March as well as the adverts for the consultations themselves placed in the Aberdeen Journals more than two weeks ago.

“Obviously the purpose of consultation is to garner views from interested parties. The information you seek has in fact been open for consideration at the consultation events.

“The reason the telephone was not answered yesterday (twice within 26 minutes by your own timing) was because I was at the consultation event, as you will have known from the out of office notification. On the basis of your emails I assume you would prefer that I was available to respond to you on a near instantaneous basis rather than discussing the application with interested parties at the event.

“I would be grateful if you could advise which version of the public notice you are referring to which states that there were or would be ‘information packs’, given that so many of your requests for rejection etc are apparently dependent upon their existence. We are planning to send copies of the display boards from each of the events by .pdf as a copy has today been requested by one of the community councils.”

Happily for Hunter, if not so for the would-be commenters on the course, the 5th was a bank holiday, making the deadline somewhat ambiguous, and making it imperative to get something in.

Hunter’s position seems to be that because the information was at the consultation events then there was no need to comply with the ad’s offers to send information as well. Not everyone would have been able to make their way to Menie. Furthermore, one attendee at the event asked for written information, to be told words to the effect ‘there are no information packs per se’. So, not many points awarded for information sharing on this exercise.

As to Hunter’s conclusion that a ‘near instantaneous basis’ for response was being irrationally made, I think he’d find that in other arenas not answering emails within a day when a deadline was involved would be considered rather unprofessional; perhaps things are a bit more laid back at his firm Cameron McKenna.

Cameron McKenna were asked to comment on Hunter’s email; no response has yet been received. One will be sought, allowing of course a generous lapse of time so as not to pressurise any sensitive souls in the legal profession.

The response to Hunter reads in part:

“You were allowed a day to answer a simple email. My emails did not even get the courtesy of a holding email in return, and with your firm not answering its phone, with a deadline looming, 

“I am interested learn that your phones go unanswered by anyone else and don’t go to voicemail or an answering system of some sort if you are unavailable. This still does not explain the gap in replying to my email of at least one business day while the deadline approached.

“I am sorry if you are confused by my choice of language in requesting information from you; I assumed that as the legal notices attached advise readers to email you for information, that some form of briefing note/information pack/document/dossier/report had been created with the details of the planning applications in question, perhaps reflecting the public exhibition. 

“People have advised they attended the public exhibition and requested information in a paper format, only to be told that ‘no information packs were available per se’ – that is the genesis of my use of the expression ‘information pack’. I am sorry you were unable to deduce that I was after the ‘further’ information the legal notice told me I could obtain by emailing you. 

“I certainly hope that some form of information briefing note was created for the public – whatever you may wish to call it. Had I and at least one other person who emailed you (who likewise did not have a response from you) had such a document, then we would have been able to give detailed representations about the proposed development before the deadlines expired. 

“It is also unfortunate, in the eyes of the person who attended the exhibition that they could not take away any form of information to digest the proposals in depth and over time. 

“As the notices give virtually no specifics of the proposals, I would have thought being prepared with at least a general document/information pack/whatever pleases you to call it would have been a given, basic, common sense approach to adopt.

“Perhaps someone can explain whether or not there is a legal requirement to supply information when a legal notice tells me information will be available? 

“I am interested in how this consultation was managed by your firm. Are you saying you were the sole person responsible for answering any emails, letters and the only person at the consultation to talk to the public? Again, I would have still expected an answer before now to my email of (even allowing for the bank holiday). Were you greatly deluged with correspondence to answer? 

“Some organisations have assistants helping to answer phones, emails and letters; and some organisations use laptop computers so that people working on location have access to their emails. Some institutions also use voicemail, answering machines, or supply a general phone number to call rather than the extension of a person as obviously busy as you must be. 

“As to the notices’ claim that ‘written comments on the proposals are welcome’, this certainly seems at odds with my experience in receiving any reply, any useful information, or indeed a respectful reply as to the failure to supply information in a timely manner.” 

Another opponent wrote Hunter a holistic email, which read in part:

“I am sorry that I missed the small notice in the Evening Express on 20 April 2015, and therefore did not attend the public exhibition. Perhaps it was your intention that most people would be unaware? The Evening Express has a very small circulation in this area. Why was there no mention on the Trump International Golf Links page on Facebook, or in the Press and Journal which is much more widely read?

“When considering an planning application Aberdeenshire Council Planners do not normally allow reference to any other application. In this case, however, I do think cognisance should be taken of the performance of the Trump organisation with regard to the existing course. 

“Accounts lodged at Companies House detail the Trump resort losing £1.82 million for 2013, following a loss of £1.75 million for 2012. Reservations for rounds of golf are low. There is therefore no evidence of demand for a second golf course, the present one being underused. The golf course has not in any way delivered the promised jobs.” (Ms. M Murray)

It’s Not Over Until It’s Over

The deadline came and went. Don’t let that be the end of it. Anyone who feels they would like to have commented one way or the other should go ahead and do so anyway (or so I feel), writing to Jamie Hunter at Jamie.Hunter@cms-cmck.com; their local councillors (see www.writetothem.org ) and perhaps copying Aberdeenshire (try Elaine.brown@aberdeenshire.gov.uk ).

Tell them whether or not you feel this was a robust, transparent exercise. Tell them that you will be keeping an eye open for the actual planning application, and that you want to make a representation then.

The existing first golf course hardly delivering what it promised to do in terms of jobs or tourism. Trump is so adamantly against wind farms that he threatens to pull the plug on the development; this shows him to be rather less than constant. Furthermore, there is a case to be made that not all Trump developments the world over get completed as originally planned. Therefore does it really make sense to continue to destroy countryside for this project?

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Dec 312014
 

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

DictionaryTally ho, cheerio etc. ‘Tis the season of peace on earth, goodwill towards men and so on.

Well, it probably is the season of goodwill somewhere.

The North Koreans are apoplectic, the Pope is not happy, and most importantly, Aberdeen Inspired does not want anyone to question its operations, finances or plans.

Olive branches seem to be in short supply as does transparency. Alas!

Despite a well-thought out plan to hack Sony, North Korea’s dictator has failed to stop release of satirical film ‘The Interview‘. In the film fun-loving dictator Kim Jong-un was meant to have been assassinated.

As if. It’s not as if he were in any way unpopular; and he is kind to his dogs after all, feeding them frequently.

Of course he feeds his dogs people including the odd uncle or two, but at least Kim’s kind to animals.

There is a great tradition of lovely military parades in North Korea, and even if there’s nothing to eat, there is great emphasis on jobs creation, with a nuclear weapon programme we can all be proud of. Hacks into Sony’s systems revealed such bombshells as not all actors and actresses are well loved by studio execs, and not everyone likes everyone.

George Clooney stuck his nose in as he so often does this time to defend Sony, satire and free speech. Clooney is well known for standing up for Tibet, which as far as I can tell is just some rebellious part of China. He really should stick to acting. After all, we can’t have our celebrities getting involved in causes, even someone like Clooney who grew up in a family where journalism was valued and activism encouraged.

He now has a duty as a role model to be as good-looking and as bland as possible. I’m mostly surprised the North Koreans bothered to get involved; it’s not as if there is any power in a satirical movie, song or even column. Except the other week when the American right wing got upset by John Fogarty, Bruce Springsteen and David Grohl performing ‘Fortunate Son.’

The Pope made a speech with thinly veiled criticism of those who seek power, scheme, climb and plot. Maybe we should invite him here to Aberdeen so he can experience a society without toadying, crawling, and scheming; where merit trumps money, and virtue triumphs over value for money.

As to Aberdeen Inspired, I am certain now that this transparent organization will answer the questions I put to it (first in August) any day now.

I asked about its finances, how one director seemingly awarded a hefty pay increase without any checks to their spouse, and why measuring ‘footfall’ by recording our every move and our mobile phone signals is more important than data protection and our right to freedom. They of course have more important things to do I’ll grant, like deciding on the next bunting colour scheme.

Alas! For some reason not every retailer remains enchanted by the BiD programme. Even stranger, some of these retailers would like to opt out now that they’ve seen the reality as compared to the promised outcomes.

I’ll never forget this great success and neither should you

Thankfully, the scheme was arranged in such a way that one you sign up to BiD, you apparently can’t decide to leave. Kind of like the Hotel California, or like a salmon swimming into one of the gargantuan funnel nets near Montrose.

I’m as sure that Santa will arrive down the chimney with a case of BrewDog as I am that I’ll get answers from Inspired.

Aberdeen’s Christmas lights are lovely; I particularly enjoyed the Union Street lights. Giant deer are silhouetted against a red background. This commemoration of the Tullos Hill Deer Slaughter in our holiday festivities reminds us all of the many sacrifices Aileen ‘HoMalone’, Chris Piper, Ranger Talboys and Peter Leonard made to bring us our Tullos Hill Forest. As such it is most welcome.

Remember pretty soon that dense forest of towering trees on Tullos will be offsetting our C02 emissions, and in a hundred years or so will offset the energy required to plant the trees in the first place. I’ll never forget this great success and neither should you. There is still time to sign a petition asking the city to fully come clean on the costs – and to save any remaining deer that may be left.

Our experts who were so certain there were too many deer (and killed 34 or 35) are now less certain of the facts, and have no clue how many deer are left in the city.

Show your support for these pocket-lining, gun-happy, self-serving political opportunists – sorry – pillars of the community by asking them to explain: sign up here. (Any problems signing up, as many people have had – send me an email and I’ll help). There is a deadline; your signature will help if you live in our fair city.

It may be the season of good will, but alas! Someone’s stolen meat (again) this year in Aberdeenshire: turkey, beef, ham and so on. Had it been venison, we could have looked to HoMalone and co for leads.

Police are said to be looking for a wealthy suspect or suspects. After all, it is a universally acknowledged truth that poor people don’t know how to cook – or so Baroness Jenkins said. She’s right of course, but this position has unfairly got her into hot water with people saying her logic is half baked. Her reasoning is that poor people go to food banks because they don’t know how to cook.

Granted, the press gave her quite a roasting (not in the football sense of the word), and she found herself in a bit of a stew. If you’re like Baroness Jenkins you’ll have a firm hand on how to prepare a meal. For the rest of us, here is a seasonal recipe you might find useful.

1. Decide what you want to eat – pheasant, turkey, steak, etc.
2. Ring bell to summon staff.
3. Give instructions to your cook.
4. Have butler select appropriate wines
5. Have ghillie shoot and pluck pheasants, hopefully taking out any lingering birds of prey that may be haranguing other birds on the estate. If no phesants can be easily found, take one of the breeding pheasants you’ll have cooped up in a squalid shed and kill it instead. Have butler set table and ring bell when dinner is ready.

I hope that will help all the lazy miscreants who have been using those food banks. Merry Christmas Baroness Jenkins. If you’re out there, please do get in touch and I’ll take you to one of Aberdeen’s food banks and the Cyreneans so you can have a word in person with the culinary-challenged poor. I am sure they’d love a chance to chat with you and all.

But with all the commercialism, controversy, poor people and so on, we’re in danger of losing the real meaning of the holiday season.

Thankfully, NHS Grampian is on hand to remind us all why we celebrate. Having solved all of their problems in the boardroom, in the slightly dirty wards, their small economic woees and so on, they have given us a Christmas gift: they have put the Sex back into Sexmass. And with that, it’s time for some definitions.

The 12 Days of Sex-mas: (Modern Scottish NHS Noun) Video made to combine the obvious synergy of a Christian religious festival and safe sex.

Hark! I bring unto you great tidings of joy, etc. etc. NHS Grampian has decided that Christmas is the best vehicle for promoting safe sex. Why didn’t we think of this before? Joy to the World, a new sex ed video has come (as it were).

The P&J reported on this really cool, hip, seasonal video.

“”Inspired by the “necknominations” that dominated the internet earlier this year, NHS Grampian has taken to social media to raise awareness of sexual health.

“In a video rendering a rewrite of the traditional festive anthem, Twelve Days of Christmas, staff from sexual health clinics in Aberdeen have tried promote safe sex in a modern way. Penny Gillies, health improvement practitioner, said:

“We wanted to pass on the message in a fun way without being preachy.

“At this time of year it’s important to remember your sexual health and if you think you may be at risk you should seek advice.

“It’s not scary and all our staff are really friendly.” “

Old Susannah doesn’t actually see the link clearly between ‘necknominations’ and this tasteful, high-class video, but there you go. The video is nearly as cool as ‘necknominations’ and no doubt the kids will be down with this, man. You can tell right away from the quote from Gillies that this won’t at all be a patronising dumbed-down video at all.

Wondering whether or not there would be similar sex videos made for Jewish, Muslim and/or other faiths, NHS Grampian was asked to give further information. Questions about cost, whose decision it was to make this brilliant film, whether or not the NHS management thought that hijacking the holiday and replacing ‘Christ’ with ‘sex’ was a sensitive thing to do, etc. were submitted. Alas!

As Aberdeen Voice is only a blog, and not a classy, established newspaper, the NHS decided that it was smarter not to answer right away, but to make us wait 30+ days. Mind you, some of the wider press (not to mention some religious types) became interested, and eventually an NHS spokeswoman wrote back to me to say:

“The video has been incredibly well received and has generated a lot of postive feedback from both the public and the media alike.  It has been viewed well in excess of 5000 times so far. No complaints have been made. The video cost nothing to produce.”

That no one put their head above the parapet to complain may be related to the fact people don’t want the NHS angry at them. It is a marvel though that the NHS, where a Band-Aid can cost in excess of ten quid to supply and apply, can make a video with no cost. No materials, no staff time, no props and no processing were required. Now that’s what I call a Christmas – sorry – Sexmas – miracle.

Christmas sales: (English compound noun) – marketing based around the winter holiday season to increase profits.

Ever notice how the sales start earlier and earlier? Me neither. But let’s not forget that the NHS – the same people who brought us the 12 days of Sexmas – have been selling our patient data. Anonamised of course – so the data purchasers can’t tell who you are.

It’s just your postcode, age, medical history and funny cough that the pharmaceutical companies – and others – can buy.

And in the same way that Inspired promise that no one can ever match up your mobile phone number, image, time spent in a store and your credit card purchases from that time period to identify you, the NHS promises that no one will ever cross-reference your illness, age and post code to identify you. Yet another Christmas miracle.

But what we should remember is the generosity of NHS Grampian at this time of year: they decided not only to agree to selling our data – they were in full Christmas spirit when they literally gave our personal medical histories away.

By leaving confidential files in supermarkets, they’ve really made it easy to pick up a quick Christmas present. It’s good to know that despite a few minor concerns – patient welfare suffering, locum doctor bills going through the roof and so on, there is still time to leave presents around for people to find.

Before leaving the happy subject of NHS Grampian, let’s spend a moment considering Malcolm Loudon, the whistle blower who has left his post.

For some reason, Mr Loudon thought that the many problems within our local NHS were severe. I guess clean wards, morale, errors and administration problems are the kind of minor details nit-pickers like Loudon think need attention. Now if he’d only help make the SeXXXmas video or something, he’d have been a happier man.

I hope that whistle-blowers like Loudon eventually get everything they deserve. And that goes double for those who persecute people like him. Let’s forget all this nonsense about patient confidentiality, dirty instruments, malpractice and so on. After all, we can watch a funny video instead! Result!

Oil Summit: (Modern Aberdonian Noun) – A plan by Aberdeen City Council to save the world’s oil industry.

More Christmas miracles! Aberdeen City Council will hold an oil summit! This will be summit else!

With Aberdeen city council lending its expertise to the oil price/employment crisis, a permanent solution is immanent. Expect crowd barriers to be erected around oil companies for starters. We can take the brilliant idea used on George Street’s closed down shops where we put up giant posters in the windows to make it look from far away as if it’s business as usual.

If we hang giant posters around any shut oil rigs or companies like we do elsewhere to make it look as if things are still running, that’s half the battle I’m sure.

Hopefully we’ll deploy a flotilla of fluroescent tabard wearing security guards to each oil company for health and safety. Perhaps we should outsource running of the oil industry to Inspired? After all, it’s amazing what a bit of bunting can do. Then again, the salary-rising policies apparently used by a certain Bid/Inspired bigwig to give her husband a pay rise might just work for our offshore energy industry as well.

And there we leave it for now. A happy 2015 to all; may your days be merry, bright, connected, vibrant, dynamic, smart and successful. And mind the crowd barriers.

On a personal note

This has been an interesting year; there have been disappointments such has having to battle and wait ages for information requests to come through.

The police don’t have to tell me anything more about the raid on George Copeland’s flat for instance – on a technicality I should have got right. The good news is that the police complaints commission have questions about how an empty flat was surrounded, eventually searched, and a man with health issues treated like a terrorist. The police will soon have to answer (I hope) questions on some other issues – more as and when.

I was honoured to have been of some small help to Anthony Baxter and Richard Phinney; thanks gentlemen for giving me a film credit. Here’s to them, the Menie residents, Tripping Up Trump and its supporters for standing up with dignity. Alex Salmond continues to refuse to visit the estate and see what his support of Trump has actually done.

Don’t worry though, other people in positions of power are very keen to come. For me though the best two stories I worked on are ones that won’t be published because after a little investigation, there were happy outcomes. Things like that make my day. I wish everyone a great New Year, and all I can say is Bring It On.

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Dec 132013
 

You might think that if someone came onto your land, damaged goods and removed property – and you had a video which could hold vital evidence, the police would want to look at the tape. You would be wrong, if you were called David Milne and living on the Menie Estate. On behalf of David Milne, Suzanne Kelly tried to find out why there was no follow up and why no one would so much as touch the videotape.

TrumpoliceAfter waiting several months for information requests and a Scottish Information Commissioner review, all we know is the information is too sensitive and too secret to reveal.

Put yourself in David Milne’s place. You’re living in a beautiful, protected environment; a sparsely populated coastal area north of Aberdeen. Then, Donald Trump arrives, with plans for a massive development (two golf courses, hundreds of homes, a clubhouse and hotel), and includes the homes and property of you and your neighbours in his development plan.

The national and local governments welcome Trump, and his promises, with open arms.

Next, the police create a special policy for policing the area; they claim to want to deter and detect crime at Menie. Security Guards then appear, randomly demanding identification from fellow residents. They spy on properties from their vans, and signs warning of CCTV recording go up.

Gates are erected and locked shut. One of your main access roads, formerly a well maintained dirt road is turned into an impassable rutted mess, undoubtedly due in part to construction vehicles. Months go by before it is repaired.

Next, Trump claims in the press that his property is being vandalised (which makes you wonder just why his security guards are watching the residents while vandals caused damage).

Police start to visit your neighbours, the Forbes Family, and eventually arrest Michael Forbes for taking property markers from land he is using and believes to be his – he is charged, but the case is later dropped.

Journalists you’ve met and have talked with are arrested and charged with ‘breach of the peace’. Their offence seems to have been asking the site manager when the residents can expect their water back on – it had been off for 7 days.

Photographer Alicia Bruce is dissuaded from making a police complaint although a violent-tempered Trump groundskeeper has threatened her and threatened to smash her camera.

In October 2010 someone has gone onto your property, caused damage, and removed property; someone who just might be linked to the Trump development – which soon erects a cheap fence and sends you the bill for it.  You have a video which shows some, or part of, the potentially criminal activity.

You report the matter to the police. Surely, given their area policing policy, they will be swiftly investigating, and bringing someone to justice.

Only, the police are letting the matter drop.

michael-and-policeWho decided the incident wasn’t worth following up? Why wouldn’t the police look at a video showing the possible criminal activity, if they were willing to charge Forbes with theft and journalists with breach of the peace? How can a petty removal and return of border flags be worth an arrest, and actual damage to your property not be important?

You want answers, and a freedom of information request is launched with Grampian Police.  The police then decide to answer some, but far from all of your questions.

You ask them to reconsider; you ask them for an internal review. You still don’t get the answers.

The next step is to approach the Scottish Information Commissioner’s office. Months go by, and one or two emails ask further clarifications of you.  Then the decision comes out.

There is some good news – information will (eventually) be released concerning correspondence on area incidents.  But the reasoning and procedures used to stop the police investigation are not forthcoming. This is pretty much the end of the line for most of your questions, and back to square one for other questions.

What the Commissioner Found (or didn’t find)

The decision the Information Commissioner came to can be found here. It is appreciated the law says that no information can be released which might reveal police procedure or might undermine public confidence in the police. However, several points arise when reading the decision.

1.  Right to reply while the investigation was live

Should there have been a right to comment on the Police Scotland representations when the decision was still in the draft stage?  In an investigation made by the Scottish Information Commissioner regarding Stewart Milne, there were regular updates, and opportunities to comment on Aberdeen City Council’s representations to the Commissioner.

If there hadn’t been this opportunity, the city’s claim the information was too expensive to get would have been allowed to stand – this claim was disproved by keeping the petitioner informed of the council’s claims, and allowing the petitioner to comment on them.

Other opportunities for involvement in the Commissioner’s investigation were reflected in passages such as:

“If you would like to make any further comment regarding the Council’s reliance on section 33(1)(b) of FOISA for this information then please feel free to. Any comments you make will be taken into consideration in reaching a decision on this case”.
http://www.itspublicknowledge.info/ApplicationsandDecisions/Decisions/2011/201100822.aspx

and

“In order for me to thoroughly investigate your case I would appreciate it if you could provide me with a submission as to why you consider that there is a public interest in disclosure of information.” (IBID)

2.  No info blackout?

Relevant information was found exempt from disclosure because it contained third party data.  Surely some form of redaction of this personal third party data might have been possible – local and national governments issue ‘redacted’ documents (documents with passages blocked out) all the time.

This suggestion could have been made to the Commissioner during the investigation. It might or might not have been acted on, but the case for redacting the ‘sensitive’ information could have been made.

3.  Public Image: Limited

With regard to the need to maintain ‘public confidence’, is it possible that the lack of transparency is exactly what is eroding confidence.  When it seems, in cases such as this one, that laws are being applied unevenly – particularly where there is a specified local policing strategy in place, you might think the police would be eager to explain apparent disparity.

4.  Investigation?  What investigation?

There are parts of the decision which call for almost line for line comment; below are some points (marked with letters in square brackets) and relevant comments.

In Points 19 through 25 of the Decision, it is established that the

[a]“…withheld information was held in files of investigations into allegations of criminal conduct which were carried out under the statutory obligations of the Police (Scotland) Act 1967″ and that the Commissioner accepts that the police

[b] “held the withheld information for the purpose of an investigation…” and therefore she

[c] “must conclude that the exemptions apply.”  The police claimed that:

[d] “disclosure of the requested information would entail releasing information gathered for the purposes of an investigation, which would involve details of investigatory processes and other issues considered as a matter of course during an investigation” and they also claimed

[e] “disclosure of the information would reveal processes showing how allegations are investigated which could prove useful to criminals and those intending committing a crime.”

[a,b] Had there been the opportunity to comment during the investigation, it would have been pointed out that no investigation took place – how could there have been an investigation when potentially crucial videotape evidence was not examined?  Therefore Police Scotland’s claim its data was “.. for the purposes of an investigation” looks just a bit shaky.

As they had written on 29 March 2013:-

“The solicitor gave advice to the officers dealing with the matter and based on his advice, they made the decision that the incident was not a criminal matter.”

[c] Perhaps the Information Commissioner would have still sided with the police, but there should have been a chance to throw reasonable doubt on their reason for withholding the information.

[d] It can be argued that the information the police had was not gathered for the purposes of an investigation; the evidence they have must be  largely what David Milne gave to them directly. This refusing potential evidence is a move which hopefully is without precedent.

The refusal leads to the question: Was a decision taken that the special policing policy invented expressly for the Menie Estate did not apply to David Milne but only to the developer? The policy was to:-

“Maximise safety; minimise disruption; facilitate lawful protest; deter, detect, detain and report those responsible for unlawful behaviour.”

Disclosure of the thinking behind the lack of investigation seems clearly to be in the public’s interest  – if laws are not being enforced and/or criminal activity is not being investigated, the public would have serious concern. At present, it certainly looks as if Justice decided to peek out from under her blindfold and engage in a bit of favouritism.

[e] It seems a bit of a stretch to claim that telling Milne why his vandalised property didn’t warrant proper investigation would jeopardise Police Scotland’s secret investigative procedures and help criminals.

At present, there are dozens of police documentaries and docu-dramas, from Crimewatch UK to several specific programmes which give a great deal of information on how the UK and Scottish police investigate (or do not investigate in this instance) criminal activity.

As well as a sizable list of crime documentary/procedural shows, there are books such as ‘The Police Procedural’ by George N Dove – which leaves little left to be revealed on points of police procedure.

Stating at Point 30 of the Commissioner’s decision that:

“it will not be in the public interest to disclose information if this would undermine the confidence of the public in that part of the justice system or the confidence of police officers gathering information for such investigations”

There was no investigation, so it is hard to see how this point of law is applicable in this situation. With all due respect, withholding information as to why this incident was not fully investigated is precisely what might erode public confidence in the police.

5.  Whodunnit?

At Point 36 of the Commissioner’s Decision it again becomes regrettable that there was no opportunity to comment on the draft decision before its release.  This point states

“… the decision not to pursue a prosecution was not made by their solicitor, but by the officers investigating the matter who considered that the incident was not a criminal matter.” 

This brings up two important issues.

Firstly, there is a large contradiction in what was originally released by the police and the Information Commissioner’s conclusion. The Commissioner has been advised at some point in her investigation that it was police officers who decided the matter was not a criminal one. However, on 29 March the police wrote in a letter:-

“ The solicitor gave advice to the officers dealing with the matter and based on his advice, they made the decision that the incident was not a criminal matter.”

This again reinforces that there was no investigation – so the reasons given for not releasing the desired information because it was the subject of an investigation is something of a Catch 22. It would be very interesting to know if it was on the solicitor’s advice or on the police’s own judgment that the video was refused.

6.  Policy

As previously raised, the police invented a specific, Menie-based strategy. The following question had been put to Police Scotland in the original request:-

“…in Spring 2009, following the announcement of a number of strategic economic and infrastructure developments, Grampian Police established a short life Critical Incident Preparation Group (CIPG).

“… a generic, local strategy, relevant to Menie Estate (was) developed. This has been determined as; Maximise safety; minimise disruption; facilitate lawful protest; deter, detect, detain and report those responsible for unlawful behaviour.”

In light of this stated policy, do the police consider that its handling of the incident at the Milne property in October 2010 fits in with the strategy of ‘…detect, detain, and report those responsible for unlawful behaviour’? If the policy was not applied to the trespass, theft and damage at the Milne property, then whose decision was it that the policy did not apply?

In any event, it seems clear that the police do not want to explain why this policy was not used to protect Mr Milne.

Later on, as Trump operatives moved onto land that was subject of a civil dispute, police enabled Trump’s employees to take the law into their own hands, enter disputed areas and even cause property damage, while helpless Forbes was told he couldn’t do anything to stop it.

In that case it is possible the police were not correctly applying law and arguably going against their own invented local code for most of these incidents. As the saying goes, “there is one law for the rich, and another for the poor”.

8.  Of No Interest (?)

At Point 24 the Decision notes the Police claim “there was no significant wider public interest”. This is simply untrue, not least because of the outcry at the treatment meted out to Menie resident Michael Forbes, who was initially charged with theft for taking marker flags out of his field, which he then handed over.

The arrests of journalists Anthony Baxter and Richard Phinney also throw light on what confidence in the police the public may have, and certainly these incidents show there is local, national and international interest in policing at Menie.  Point 24 should not have been allowed to stand without my right to reply as applicant.

9.  Contradiction?

David Milne had also accomplished the impressive feat of getting some 19,500 people to sign a petition to Holyrood asking for a public inquiry into the goings-on at Menie. This was, unsurprisingly, turned down: the Petitions Committee’s procedure was to ask the agencies in the firing line if they wanted to be investigated. To a one, they said no.

This lack of transparency regarding the Milne property vandalism brings back the spectre of the aborted public inquiry: at present we’re being told information can’t be released, but at the time the inquiry was possible, the police wrote that there was nothing left to disclose.

Despite that claim to the Petitions Committee, there certainly seems to be fair amount of information regarding Mr Milne’s case which the police haven’t, and won’t disclose after all.

This rather raises some interesting questions about the accuracy of the police representation to the Petitions Committee, which reads in part:-

“Police Scotland remain completely neutral on all matters concerning the development of the Menie Project with our focus remaining on ensuring that officers approach their duties with integrity, fairness and respect for all parties involved, and only taking action where appropriate to address behaviour which breaches the criminal law. 

“It is our position that all officers involved in the policing response connected with this development have carried out their duties in an impartial and transparent manner.”

Some people beg to differ.

Flaw and Order

At the heart of the refusal to supply information there is the carte blanche, the all-encompassing get out clause for FOI requests put to the police:  it seems releasing this kind of information just might “undermine the confidence of the public in that part of the justice system.”

Recent restructuring of Scotland’s regional police forces into Police Scotland spelled the end of Grampian Police. This had to be a good thing; the local police force didn’t exactly have an untarnished recent past. Its former top policeman Ian Patterson is going to prison for sex offences.

Two officers of what was the Northern Constabulary were recently convicted of a bizarre, wholly unlawful abuse of two troubled teenage girls, taken from their care home to a remote farm, frightened and forced to walk without shoes through horse manure.

But it was a new low for the police force of Grampian and Scotland when the documentary ‘you’ve been trumped’ captured the moment that Baxter and Phinney were abruptly, roughly – and to any rational person’s judgment – unjustly arrested at the Menie Estate. The arrest shocked the world, and the documentary showing life at Menie has travelled the world, winning awards.

The Police Scotland reorganisation was meant to improve the police’s operations and public image, but scepticism continues.

Judging from the response David Milne had to a freedom of information request, this scepticism, if not mistrust and lack of confidence in Police Scotland, may be around for a good long while yet.

In an article on 23 November 2013, the Herald raises some doubts:-

“One national force, it was argued, would not just save on costs, but would also improve accountability. This has not transpired, at least on the evidence of a refusal by Police Scotland and the Scottish Government to release details of the KPIs being used by the new force. As we reported this week, both bodies rejected our Freedom of Information request on the topic.” 
http://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/herald-view/police-accountability-at-important-junction.22755317

The Herald wasn’t able to obtain information on how the police operate, and so largely it proved for Milne.

Yet the Information Commissioner has partially sided with Milne. He will not be getting all of the information (or indeed much of the facts sought), but he will be receiving – in January – further details about police cautions issued at Menie.

The police decided that when asked for information ‘since 2010’ they could merely give information from 2011, even though the original information request told the police to ask questions if they were not sure what was meant.  This information will be of some use, but it won’t really address the big picture.

If the idea is to maintain confidence in Police Scotland, perhaps accountability and transparency (as the Sunday Herald article suggests) would be a good start.

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Jan 032013
 

By Angus Macmillan.

Conservationists and nurseries have been quick to claim that the spores of chalara fraxinea, which is the fungus causing Ash Dieback, could have blown over from mainland Europe but are very quiet about their role in planting diseased trees from the same source.

They have known for around six years that Ash Dieback was widespread in Europe but are now blaming government for not introducing a ban earlier in the hope they will be compensated or get grants for replanting from the hard pressed public purse.

Considering the vague media references to where the diseased plantings took place and what organisations owned the woodlands, I decided to make a Freedom of Information request to the Forestry Commission to reveal this information in detail.

They replied saying, they were not prepared to release this information at this time and that, whilst it might be of interest to the public, it was not in the public interest to divulge locations and owner organisations as it could deter other owners from reporting the disease. The Forestry Commission obviously has a poor opinion of those who plant trees and possibly quite rightly so.

Following a newspaper report that the Woodland Trust “is one of Britain’s biggest importers of ash” – and they call them “native” trees – had at least two infected properties, I emailed them to ask how many of their woodlands had Ash Dieback. Unsurprisingly, they didn’t reply.

So there we have it. Up to 80 million ash trees are at risk from disease but the Forestry Commission is quite prepared to protect its tree-planting buddies from criticism, in what must be one of the most scandalous environmental introductions from abroad by those who have been advocating the destruction of “alien” populations of both flora and fauna for years.

And it’s not in the public interest to reveal who they are?

The “con” in conservation is truly exposed.

Further reading –  The_Rise_and_Fall_of_Biotic_Nativeness_- A_Historical_Perspective

Oct 182012
 

Voice’s Old Susannah looks back on the week that was, complete with Zeppelins, BrewDogs, and a bad smell coming not from the Torry sewage plant, but a whiff of scandal from Edinburgh. By  Suzanne Kelly

Tally  Ho!  By the time you read this, I’ll have been to the Led Zeppelin film ‘Celebration Day’ at the Belmont.  Am counting the minutes.  Another major highlight of this week was  BrewDog Aberdeen’s second birthday party.  I celebrated with great people, great beers, food and a lovely cake.  Happy Birthday to Brew.

I also took in a bread-making course at Nick Nairn Cookery school; it was a great course, not least because of the lovely breads I got to take home (including the tutor’s lovely white loaf).

On the down side of this week, a dog has disappeared from its garden on Holburn Street.  Grampian police downplayed earlier Facebook posts warning of potential dog thieves in our area. 

The police issued a Facebook post about a week ago, saying dog-napping worries were just rumour-mongering, and several FB posters chimed in to ridicule the people worried about potential thefts.

The cops categorically claimed no such thing was going on. Fast-forward to 16 October, and a dog has mysteriously disappeared from its back garden in Holburn Street.

Unless the small dog, not tall enough on its hind legs to reach the lock, undid the lock, went away, and decided never to return again for food or shelter, it looks like theft is a possibility.  However, the police refuse to treat this as a theft.  There is no evidence you see.

Perhaps they had expected a smoking gun, guys in striped shirts wearing masks holding bags of swag?  I wonder whether they even checked the gate for fingerprints – they certainly could have done so.  The moral is – keep an eye on your pets as much as possible, and report anything like thefts or suspicions straight away to the Scottish SPCA – and/or email stop.dogfights@yahoo.co.uk.  PS – dogs, cats, handbags, Led Zeppelin CDs , etc. are not safe left alone in cars for any length of time, either.

Common Good Aberdeen reached its financial target of £15K for a children’s play area in Union Terrace Gardens with ease, expect a play area in UTG sometime soon, hopefully with a volunteer-run, cafe, too (with all profits going directly on UTG).  No one could object to putting a play area in a city centre park, could they?

But perhaps best of all this week was sharing joyful commuting stories with fellow bus travellers.  To a man we’re all thrilled to bits at the reduction in routes.  We are of course waiting for the corresponding reduction in bus fares, which must be just ‘round the corner‘.  How wonderful that the No. 21 bus is no more, just as those wonderful Milne homes are going up in Cove.

  I’m wondering  exactly what kind of ‘independence’ Alex is actually offering

It must have been my imagination (and the imaginations of a few dozen other people), but it seemed as if quite a number of scheduled buses (no. 3s, 1s, etc) didn’t actually materialise when they should have.  I got to learn a few more new words from fellow travellers while waiting for a No. 1 bus on Monday evening.

In the wider Scottish environment, this was the week that Cameron and Salmond signed up to a yes/no referendum (wish we’d done so over the gardens –  but never mind).  Alex smiled from the covers of most newspapers this past week, and he told the press:-

 “I didn’t want to look too triumphant.” 

Don’t worry about that, Alex, you didn’t.

In fact, Alex is starting to look like a man with Ninety-Nine Problems.

Old Susannah is looking at some of these minor worries.  All things considered, I’m wondering  exactly what kind of ‘independence’ Alex is actually offering.  For openers, once you consider some of Alex’s  pals, you come to one inescapable question:  How independent exactly is Alex himself?

Is he offering Scots independence or perhaps a form of government that is just a little bit older?

Feudalism: (Eng. noun) – A system of governance/land steward ship prevalent in the middle ages in Europe where a small minority of wealthy property holders wielded power over those with less money, and a great gap existed between the haves and have-nots.

Believe it or not, it was not only the English who were oppressing the Scottish people throughout history, many Scottish nobles did so, too.  Clan warfare, theft, battles, treachery, wife-stealing, drunkenness, cruelty – these are not just part of the daily grind at Holyrood.  Indeed, there were many forms of Scot on Scot violence in the bad old days, too.

In the feudal societies of the past, a rich man owned everything in his territory and all those below him fell in line in accordance with his wishes.  If this ‘lord’ (or sometimes the noble was given the title ‘Sir’, as in ‘Sir Ian Wood’) wanted a castle, a bit of land, or say a granite web, his lackeys ensured he got what he wanted by hook or crook, or compulsory purchase order or by an arm’s length management company or Aberdeen City Gardens Trust.

Thankfully, the days of the rich man dictating the future of the land to the common man are gone.

Alex Salmond will ensure that no rich men can possibly dictate policy, seize land (or public parks), bend Quangos to their will, shield their gold from the taxman via offshore schemes, etc.  No, Alex won’t in any way favour the rich or help them gain unfair advantage.

If he did do so, say for a Murdoch (to whom he seems to have offered his services at one point), a Wood (whose web he favoured) or a Trump (who got permission to ruin the only moveable sand dune system on the UK mainland), then we would not have a free republic.  We would have feudalism.

Intervention: (Eng. noun) to take action in a situation to try and prevent an undesirable outcome.  Interventions can be legal or not.  In Scottish politics – usually not.

When Aberdeenshire Council said no to Donald Trump, Alex’s Government weighed in and  said ‘we’re open for business; c’mon over’.  Thanks for the intervention!

But now it looks as if when Scottish Futures Trust (SFT) didn’t give the beautiful, sparkly granite web the thumbs up, Alex intervened again.

The cat is out of the bag, the chickens have come home to roost, and so on.  No doubt with the best interests of Aberdonians at heart, Alex seems to have put the £140 million web into position to get TIF funding.  Where would we have been without him?

This little intervention raises just one or two questions.  Firstly, I wonder what first attracted politician Alex Salmond to Billionaire tycoon Sir Ian Wood and his Wood-Wide-Web?

How could Scottish Futures Trust (SFT) criticised Wood’s wonderful web?  Well, for openers here is how it scored ( click on table to enlarge ):-


http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Government/Finance/18232/FOI/TIFScoring

“…further detail / clarity could have been added in relation to:

  • The potential level of private sector activity created (in terms of NDR creation) and its likelihood
  • The underlying enabling nature of the assets themselves – i.e. why are these the right assets
  • The potential level of retail activity in comparison to the overall activity enabled by the TIF
  • The rationale for the redline
  • The key milestones of the project
  • The consideration of risk and risks beyond those detailed in the submission”
    http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Government/Finance/18232/FOI/TIFComments

The SFT/Government fought tooth and nail (whatever that means) against Steve Vass of the Herald getting this information made public.  For one thing, the SFT claimed people weren’t smart enough to understand their findings.  Quite right.  They argued people would not understand  that Scottish Futures Trust and its reports were only meant to guide the Government, which was then free to ignore the report and do whatever it chose to do.  Funny, this method of government consultation seems perfectly obvious to me.

You are of course as surprised and disappointed as I am that our web didn’t get higher scores.  It’s hard to imagine SFT deciding there were some financial and risk elements.

We should have sent them some of those lovely glossy brochures from Vote for the City Gardens Trust –  you know, the ones that promised 6,500 permanent jobs and £122 million flowing into Aberdeen every year if we got us a web.  That would have swung the balance.

Some  voters may well wonder why this SFT  information wasn’t  shared in advance of any referendum vote.  I’m sure it was for our own good and not to confuse us with facts.  However, if you  are angry we had a referendum with crucial facts withheld deliberately, Go Ask Alex.  Just drop him a line to find out who was playing at what, and why anyone thought we weren’t clever enough to understand a short report.

  No doubt Alex is confident that an independent Scotland will demand a granite web

Perhaps this is all too complicated for us non-Government mortals after all.  I’m so confused I’m thinking the Government wanted a trial run of the referendum system to see what the pros and cons were in advance of the Independence Referendum.

The pros?  You can put anything you want to in a glossy brochure, true or not as long as you remain anonymous.  Result!   You can also hide the voting record from any scrutiny, as was done in Aberdeen.

The Cons?  I think there were plenty of ‘cons’ involved, don’t  you?  In fact, I’m fighting the urge to list the cons by name.

You could also be forgiven for wondering  why the SFT report was prepared in the first place, if the Government had its own ideas about what should or shouldn’t be given a TIF loan.  (Old Susannah heard an unconfirmed rumour that Alex told Sir Ian to ‘leave his money on the table’ for a year.  No doubt Alex is confident that an independent Scotland will demand a granite web.  We could put it on the back of the new Scottish Banknotes).

So, Alex is going to try not to look too triumphant.  If it helps, Alex, just think back to some of your finer moments:-

  • Testifying to the Leveson Inquiry – Alex claimed the Observer had hacked his banking account in 1999 (no evidence was found) – almost as if he were trying to deflect attention from the revelation that Mr Salmond’s adviser (Aberdein) – had agreed that the first minister would call Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt “whenever we need him to” on Murdoch’s behalf.
  • intervening in Aberdeenshire planning permission and giving Trump carte blanche to bulldoze the SSI, make life a misery for the existing residents, and run the area with heavy-handed security
  • Asking Donald Trump to back the return of Megrahi to Libya
  • Spending c. £48,000 to go to the premier of the film ‘Brave’ with an entourage
  • Claiming a sum adjacent to £1,800 per week for food and drink (four year period May 2007 onward)
  • Meddling in the future of the Granite Web, and elevating it over other areas’ projects
  • Cutting money to charities while allowing unelected quangos to thrive…..

It might not amount to quite 99 problems, Alex, but you’re getting there.  Give it a week.

Teflon: (mod Eng.noun) a non-stick coating often applied to pots and pans.

Bill Clinton lurched from sex scandal to Whitewater financial scandal and back to sex scandal again, yet he escaped relatively unscathed.  People called him ‘the Teflon President’:  nothing stuck to him.

Not that our First Minister would ever do anything untoward of course, but it is almost like he’s using deflection techniques – sorry to even think it!  Just because he showed up at Leveson with counter claims that he had been hacked when he was there to testify as to his relationship with Murdoch is no reason to think he’s a slippery character.

In fact I’ve  written to Salmond to ask for his comments on some of these little trifling issues.  As soon as he answers, I’ll let you know.  Until then, just keep waving the Saltire, chant ‘Freedom!’ and believe everything you’re being promised.  Would Alex ever steer you wrong?

Just one little thing to remember:  sooner or later that non-stick pan stops working, and it gets thrown out.

Next week:  A wee update on council finances, and an old FOI of mine updated.

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Oct 182012
 

By Mike Shepherd.

The City Garden Project is effectively dead and although Sir Ian Wood has left his offer of £50 million investment on the table for another year, his project is now unlikely to go ahead.

The final blow came with the publication of a Freedom of Information (FOI) request that showed that politicians in the Scottish government had tampered with the rankings of TIF (Tax Increment Funding) applications made by Scottish councils.

The Aberdeen TIF was ranked a lowly tenth out of sixteen, but was then moved into the top six – a placing that would qualify the project for government sanction.

This furtive move has finally destroyed whatever credibility was left for the City Garden as a TIF project and the FOI documents also reveal the Aberdeen business case as dubious.

So, while it is unlikely that there will be any future attempt to bulldoze through a City Garden Project TIF, if there is, it will be shouted down as foul play.

Additionally, councils elsewhere in Scotland are hacked off with the Scottish government as the TIF ranking process was supposed to be objective – as befits a process allocating multi-million pound infrastructure spending in Scotland – but wasn’t.

The message is clear – Union Terrace Gardens have been saved!

There is an unreal air about this as I’m not sure many people really believe that the park has survived, yet it has.  There are several factors that have led to a lack of belief, let alone euphoria, on the issue.

The relentless juggernaut of the City Garden Project has been rolling for almost four years, supported by the rich and powerful, together with local and national governments and the Aberdeen press.  So the fact that it appears to have just ‘evaporated’ overnight seems incredible, but that’s exactly what has happened.

The August 22nd council vote rejected the City Garden Project and the current council administration are determined to stick to the decision.

This is the power of participative democracy in action.  An interest group tried to boss through the project by all means possible and met up with the checks and balances of a democracy that we should all be extremely thankful for.

We now move forward with a future for Union Terrace Gardens. The status quo is not an option.

The Gardens need tender loving care to restore them to their former glory and to get them back to a fully functioning park.  It won’t take much to kick this off, but it does need to be done.

This was the theme at the AGM of the Friends of Union Terrace Gardens held in the Belmont Cinema last Saturday.

The AGM marked a pivotal moment for the Friends group as it signifies the transition from a campaign phase to one where we can adopt a protective and proactive role for Union Terrace Gardens.  This role will be similar to that adopted by the Friends of Duthie Park in which the council manage the day to day running of Duthie Park while the Friends act to raise funds – they have raised several million pounds – and make improvements to the park.

In my last speech as chairman I announced that we have been asked by the council administration to make a proposal outlining what we would like to see happen in the park.  This would be much more than a wish list.  We would intend the programme to advise on the improvements and features that the park needs, together with indicative costs and a strategy for fund raising.

We held a general discussion amongst our membership as to what they thought was needed to improve the park and, unsurprisingly, better toilets and easier access came top of the list with everything else being open to further discussion.

I did not stand for re-election as Chair as I felt that someone with a less divisive reputation needs to take the group forward in its new role.  I also need a break, as the past few years have been somewhat hectic, although I will stay on the committee.

We have a new chairwoman, Robin McIntosh, who is the perfect choice as she is an expert on facilitation skills.  Skills that she will get the chance to use to best advantage before long.

In her closing message at the AGM Robin said:

“We want to make it clear that the future of the Gardens is in the community’s hands, that the decisions we are going to make will be to please the people.  These are exciting times for Friends of UTG and I am looking forward to a year of progress; big and small.  The city centre’s green heart deserves to be loved and used, and we are going to help to do this.”

The people of Aberdeen have saved Union Terrace Gardens.  This is only the beginning.  We can now go forward and restore our park to its full glory.  A park that is the pride of Aberdeen!

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Jul 062012
 

Disillusioned and dissatisfied with the speed, quality and transparency (for lack of a better word), Suzanne Kelly sums up her dealings with Aberdeen City’s FOI officers.

In 2007 I made my first Freedom of Information request to Aberdeen City Council.  This concerned travellers’ sites (the city had the brainstorm of telling travellers to go to the Torry  Battery – I pointed out that it was an Ancient Monument which the City was supposed to safeguard).

I received a reasonable answer in a reasonable timeframe.

However, it seems as if FOI request handling is far from straightforward of late.

I have been given information late on several occasions.  I have been refused information which I should have been given (as the Information Commissioner later agreed).  I have been given contradictory information. I have even, in my opinion, had disingenuous interpretations made of straightforward requests.    A few examples will illustrate the types of failings I believe need to be addressed.

1.  How many deer were shot on Tullos Hill?

Initially the first figure of deer shot was 22.  This was later changed to 23.  The figures continue to change.  An email of 22 June 2012 from the FOI Office implies 33 shots were fired.  Yet this same reply came with a copy of a handwritten notebook, in which 35 deer were listed as  killed.

Still another document sent at the same time shows 34 deer were killed.  Even though the last animal was -we are told- killed on 9 May, June FOI requests said 23 deer were killed.

This hardly seems like accurate information management to me.

2.  CJ Piper & Co. –  A mystery to ACC

‘CJ Piper & Co.’ is an entity connected to the tree scheme and the cull.  This company co-wrote a report with ACC on the tree scheme – recommending the destruction of 22 deer this year.  ACC paid CJ Piper & Co. at least £44,000.  However, there is no ‘CJ Piper & Co’ listed with Companies House.  There may be very simple explanations for this.  Whatever the explanation, we are not likely to get details anytime soon.

The FOI officer advised me:

“ACC is unable to provide you with information on ‘C J Piper & Co’, including  whether or not this is a registered company, … as it is not held by ACC. “

Precisely how Aberdeen City can spend public money and make payments to a company without holding its details may be of interest to the Information Commissioner as well as Audit Scotland.   It must have been extremely difficult to write a report with this mysterious firm, but ACC managed it.

There is of course the assumption that Chris Piper (a known forestry expert) is the main force behind this company, but the public should have the right to know this company’s details and whether there are any other directors/shareholders.

Should someone being paid to plant trees be the same person who writes a report recommending deer should be slaughtered in order to plant trees when they stand to gain financially from the contents of the report? The relevant issues will be looked at in the next Aberdeen Voice.

3.  How much has the Tree for Every Citizen and deer cull cost? 

I have received two spreadsheets under FOI legislation on this question.  The  latest spreadsheet was meant to show all the incoming and outgoing money on the deer cull and tree scheme.  But it raised more issues than it answered, including:

  • Thirteen lines of 32 line items are classed as ‘unknown concerning ‘ – this is unacceptable
  • Who are ‘Highland Estate Services’  – did they carry out the cull?  How did they and other contractors win work on this project?
  • What exactly are the ‘interdepartmental charges’ on Line 15 for £3000?
  • Where do the accounts show  the £43,800 returned to the Forestry Commission?  Accounting for this returned grant, it would seem ACC spent £167,512 minimum on the tree scheme and cull to date
  • Where are any entries to reflect all the deer fencing that was put up, or the £480 per week site clearance charges that went on over several months?
  • One of the few income streams coming in would have been the deer carcasses which were sold to a game meat dealer.  Where is an entry in the books showing how much money the City made from destroying this herd of deer?

4.  Correspondence between ACC and the Scottish SPCA – Someone is hugely mistaken

A story in the Evening Express recently claime 2 deer were found dead ‘ahead’ of the cull (the story appeared in 2012; the deer died of unknown causes in…2010).   The ‘news’ item quoted heavily from a letter ACC sent to the Scottish SPCA.

I asked for copies of letters to and from ACC and the Scottish SPCA (which told me there were a handful of letters on the Tullos topic).

However, Aberdeen FOI office says:

“… ACC holds a high volume of correspondence with the SSPCA relating to Tullos Hill. As such, it has proven to be quite difficult in identifying the particular letter to which you refer.  … it [FOI office]  is not aware of ACC supplying a copy of any letter to the Evening Express.”

So, not only do the City’s FOI people contradict the Scottish SPCA over the quantity of correspondence, but the ACC FOI office also cannot find a letter from ACC to the Scottish SPCA, quoted heavily in a news story (a copy of which I sent with my request).

At this point I can be forgiven for asking whether there is an political pressure at work on the FOI team concerning the cull.

5.  Q:  ‘Who or which agency performed site clearing work at Tullos?’

My question could not have been more straightforward; I asked ‘who or which agency’ performed site clearing work at Tullos (work which was worth apparently £480 per week).  The answer I first got smacked of sarcasm:  ‘a private contractor’.   Somehow, I had already managed to deduce that myself.   Sarcasm is fine in creative writing, but I question its place in a FOI response.

I wrote back:

“…the name of the company / companies involved should be specified.  This should please include their Company Registration Number by which they are listed in Companies House – if not listed, then please specify”

The FOI officer replied:

 “ACC is unable to provide you with the name of the private contractor (a sole trader).  ACC considers this information to be excepted under Regulation 11(2) and Regulation 10(5)(f) of the EIRS.  Please refer to the attached exception notices”

Perhaps they should have just said they were refusing to answer the question in the first place.   I am not completely certain that a sole trader should be called ‘CJ Piper AND COMPANY’, either.

Private entity  or not, the person/company was paid with public money, and we should know who is connected with it, how it was appointed, and what other work it has done.

6.  Is the use of a present tense verb reason enough to deny that a debt existed?

Rumour reached me that the failure of the first planting had cost the taxpayer about £44,000.  I asked the FOI office:

“Is it true that Aberdeen City Council owes a sum for previous, failed planting? “

The answer came:

“No money is owed by Aberdeen City Council to any agency or organisation for the previous planting.”

When I obtained a SNH letter proving £43,800 debt for the previous failed planting indeed existed,  the Chief Executive Watts denied the £43,800 had anything to do with my FOI request.  The Chief Executive indicated the £43,800 for the failed tree planting on Tullos Hill had nothing to do with the current scheme.

In the first place, it certainly has every relevance to the phase 2 tree planting.  In the second, my question did not say anything about phase 2 – just a ‘previous failed planting’.

The FOI people also defended their answer, writing  that since the debt had been paid, it no longer existed – and therefore they considered my question was not relevant.  The debt was paid in March; I asked my question in May.

I may be alone, but I see a connection between the £43,800 repaid for the previous failed planting and the £44,000 I asked about for a previous failed planting, irrespective of my  use of past or present tense verb in  my question, it was abundantly clear what information I had wanted.

7.  FOI 10703 The Tree scheme won’t cost us anything

I asked a ‘non-factual’ question, and wondered how the FOI office would cope.   I did get an interesting reply.

I asked,

“ Why is the ‘a tree for every citizen’ project something that must be adhered to so precisely?”

The reply came:

“Elected members made a commitment in their Vibrant Dynamic and Forward Looking statement … to plant a tree for every citizen to support the ongoing development and improvement of the quality and quantity of public open space in the City.  Officers have been challenged to deliver this commitment.  

“Aberdeen has a relatively small area of woodland cover (8.8%) as a percentage of its total area.  ….   Woodland recognised to offer a range of benefits for human well-being, creating a pleasant environment for people to live and work in, as well as being of great biodiversity value. 

“Creating these woodlands … will deliver on all these points, with the additional benefit of being created at no cost to the City Council due to the levels of external funding being obtained to deliver the project.  This demonstrates that the Tree for Every Citizen is not taking resources from other services within the City.”

I have to wonder how this answers ‘why’ we must adhere precisely to a scheme which condemned the existing meadowland ecological system.  is the above answer a factual, quantifiable piece of information – or is it political waffle?  The FOI did not attribute their answer.

8.  Marischal College – on time and under budget?  Where’s the proof?

Back when the idea of gutting Marischal College to create offices (too small for the  Council’s needs) first emerged, people were telling me that the costings for alternative projects had been done very hastily and all alternatives were dropped quickly in favour of the Marischal plan.

My FOI ENQ 7172 uncovered that ACC spent £20K on consultants to look at the Marischal project.  However while I found out that costings on alternatives were done, I can’t see them .

I had asked:

“What were the costings done on the alternatives to Marischal College development?”

FOI Answer:

“ACC are of the opinion that… because the Copyright and Patents Act 1988 forbids Aberdeen City Council from copying the cost analysis on the Marischal Project without the owners consent. … ACC is not obliged under the terms of the FOISA to provide you with the information requested. “

How can ACC have paid consultants to look at costings – and the taxpayer not be allowed to know what the results are because of ‘copyright’ ?  Certainly copyright is meant to stop people profiting from the writings of other people, not to prevent the public finding out how its money could have been spent.

#                              #                              #

We are asked to have sympathy for the FOI staff and are told many of the requests they receive are ‘frivolous.’  However, the purpose of this Freedom of Information office  is to fulfil Aberdeen’s legal duties under Freedom of Information Legislation.

I haven’t counted up how many emails I received from the FOI office apologising for lateness in replying to me (all FOIs are meant to be answered within a certain time frame).  Let’s suffice it to say at least 50% of my requests are answered late.

There is also the matter of a judgment from the Information Commissioner against Aberdeen.  A FOI request concerning Stewart Milne group companies of mine went largely unanswered by the Council, which said the law was against the information coming out.  The information Commissioner had a different take, and eventually  five  errors were identified in how ACC FOI staff handled my questions were identified.

If we want FOI responses  to be accurate, swiftly delivered and comprehensive, then this department needs immediate overhauling.  I will be asking Councillors and the Information  Commissioner  to investigate further.

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Jan 272012
 

Aberdeen Youth Council’s former head Sean Press resigned because of ‘a conflict of interest’, citing his involvement with ACSEF the ‘pro-business and development body [which] is fully supportive of the City Garden Project’ per the Press & Journal.  Now Aberdeen City Youth Council, the official voice of young people in the city, has spoken out against the proposed development of Union Terrace Gardens, describing the plans as “unwanted” and “potentially devastating to young people”.

17 year-old office-bearer, Kenneth Watt, comments on the decision:
“It’s not normal for the Youth Council to speak out against the Council like we are doing. However, the decisions made have the potential to be devastating to our generation, and generations to come and we are genuinely worried about the prospect of the City Gardens Project going ahead.”

As a result, the group has registered to submit 300 words in the voter registration pack.

The group also criticised the City Council in its involvement of young people in the decision-making process, after they discovered that only 113 young people from just two schools were consulted with. In the Youth Council’s own consultation 98% of 14-25 year-olds were in favour of retaining the Gardens.

The financial security of the City Gardens Project (CGP) concerns the Youth Council. The Aberdeen City Youth Council (ACYC) are worried by the lack of a plan to cover the possible failure of the risky Tax Increment Funding scheme. After multiple requests for detailed financial information from councillors on the monitoring board were ignored, the group became very apprehensive over the CGP’s feasibility.

Kenneth Watt, an office-bearer in the ACYC says that:

“Young People have been hit hard by spending cuts to key services already; the prospect of facing more in the future is a risk the Council can’t afford to take.”

“Young people need to be listened to and have their questions answered. We’re the ones that will have to foot the bill when the £96million loan can’t be repaid.”

One of the main sufferers of cuts to public services is Aberdeen’s youth. Northfield has the highest rate of child poverty in the north-east of Scotland and the Council cannot commit to such a financially unstable project when they are closing key services to the youth in many areas.

“It is ridiculous for the Council to commit to a £96million loan when vital community services – such as the Mastrick Young People’s Project – are being cut left, right and centre.”

It was claimed that the CGP would reduce crime rates in the city, which young people are frequently blamed for. Both final designs for the CGP have direct access from Belmont Street and Union Street, home to many pubs and clubs. A £170million project of this nature will not cure the violence and crime that Aberdeen faces.

“Voters need to think seriously about the long-term aspect of the City Gardens Project and the financial burden it could easily leave for generations of Aberdonians to come.”

“Union Terrace Gardens is a space that is unique to our city. Our parents have loved the Gardens, we love the Gardens, and – if retained – our children will love the Gardens too.”

 

Jan 192012
 

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

Dancing in the streets is assured today, for tomorrow we will be dancing on the concrete ramps!  (hopefully without falling off of them).  Rejoice!  Result!  The lovely ramp / Teletubbies design has been selected (just in the nick of time for the Referendum, mind) to ‘transform’ Union Terrace Gardens.

Old Susannah has been laid low by a cold/cough, so no outings of  late to Brewdog or anywhere really.  This has given me plenty of time to catch up on my leisure reading, so I’ve now read tons of minutes, board reports, registers of interest and so on.   But I’ll soon celebrate this good news with a brewdog or two.

I was so glad to have bought the Evening Express on the 17th; it had taken its own 50-person poll and guess what?  Yes, 59% of people polled want to ‘transform’ the gardens!  Fantastic!  Perhaps we should just knock the Referendum on the head now and go with those results.

To those few remaining NIMUTGs / NIMBYs / Luddites out there who think the vibrant and dynamic scheme to put concrete ramps over Union Terrace Gardens is nothing but the old boy network flexing its muscles to give some of the more hard-up members work, money and real estate, I say no.  There is no conspiracy.  There is nothing untoward going on.  (Can I have a directorship now?)

If anything looks funny, be it overlapping interests and board memberships, coincidental office block developments in the area, or what have you, here are some useful definitions to allay any fears.  Rest assured – in a few short years when you’re looking over your plastic hedge in the Monorail Café as the band plays in the Dr Bochel outdoor auditorium, you’ll look back and be glad that your tax money was well spent in convincing people what’s really important.

The Gardens dominate the news and the definitions this week as well.

City Garden Project Minutes: (compound noun) a series of documents charting the apolitical, beneficial, transparent proceedings of the Project team appointees.

We’ve already seen that there is no overlap between the City, Chamber of Commerce, BiD,  a couple of multi-millionaires and some council officials.  Here’s a little quote from the September City Gardens Project Implementation Team which shows as much:-

“Agreed that it would be helpful if ACSEF and Aberdeen Grampian Chamber of Commerce could provide supportive letters to the key decision makers within the Scottish Futures Trust.  The web link to the submission to be forwarded to ACSEF, the Chamber and BID”.

and now to illustrate the total independence of the Implementation Team, let’s put some names in brackets for the organisations listed above of people connected to the City Gardens Project as well:

“Agreed that it would be helpful if ACSEF(John Michie, Jennifer Craw, Colin Crosby, Tom Smith, Callum McCaig) and Aberdeen Grampian Chamber of Commerce (John Michie, Colin Crosby) could provide supportive letters to the key decision makers within the Scottish Futures Trust.  The web link to the submission to be forwarded to ACSEF, the Chamber and BID (Callum McCaig, John Michie – Chair)”.

It’s going to be a hard slog for these people to get themselves on side, don’t you agree?  Or perhaps that’s what’s meant by ‘having a word with yourself.’

For a more complete de-bunking of any lingering doubts, have a look at this little link, showing the members of some of our homegrown organisations.  http://oldsusannahsjournal.yolasite.com/

Overlap: Adjective – for two or more items to share similar components, area or characteristics.

If you have looked at the spread sheet on the above link, you will see there is just a touch of overlap.  Believe it or not, there are people who are involved in a quango here, a committee there – and all of them relating in some way to the desire to improve Union Terrace Gardens.

That nice Mr Michie gets around quite a bit, as do Messrs Collier and Crosby.  Never before have so few done so much in so many organisations against the wishes of so many.  Referendum or no, I think this lot are unstoppable.

Bad Timing: (Eng Phrase) events which in some way conflict with each other or subvert other events.

This will be a tough one to explain, so here is a wee example.  The deadline for registering a group for the Union Terrace Gardens Referendum was 13 January – so far, so good.  The deadline for these groups to submit a 300 word statement as to why people should vote for or against Teletubby land – sorry the dynamic ramp system which will turn Aberdeen into Barcelona– is 20th January at 5pm.  The Referendum is a month away.

Still so far, so good.  Then we come to next week. On 25th January the full council is going to vote on a report about the Gardens project – the report has various clauses which seem to indicate this thing might cost the City money after all – who would have guessed it??? But by then it will be too late for any of the statements going in the Referendum voting pack to be altered.

On 25 January it will also be too early to know what the referendum result will be – but the city is still going to vote on some very crucial items.  Why you might ask is this happening now? Why would the city want to do this before the referendum and before the new council is elected in May – only a few  months away?

It couldn’t possibly be so that any potential voters see the City voting to go ahead and decide that voting in the referendum (which is not binding of course) is pointless.  It is not to discourage, dispirit or mislead – obviously not.  I think this haste all just has to do with saving time.  I did ask this question of the council – and they’ve told me not to worry my old head about it.  Fair enough then.

PS ….

I am currently less than pleased that the City cannot (or will not) provide me with a list of property that the Mortification Board is responsible for – the FOI folk have told me to come down and look through the archives.  I still can’t believe Councillor West (leader of the Morticians – sorry Mortification Board) doesn’t have this info.

However – I am happy with him on this one score, and I thought  it worth sharing.  So, here are some extracts from old minutes from the City Garden Project Monitoring Board – cast your mind back to August – this is what was being said…

“Councillor Yuill asked Mr Brough to confirm whether there would be a ‘no action’ option on the card. Mr Brough replied that there would NOT be a ‘no action’ option at this stage because the feedback was part of a tendering process to select the best of six designs. Once the best design has been selected, other parties, such as the Council, may wish to determine whether the status quo was preferable to the chosen design. However the Project Management Board do not see this as their role. Their job is simply to come up with the best possible design for a proposed City Garden Project.

Councillor West asked that it be noted that every week the councillors of the Monitoring group have asked for the ‘no action’ option to be part of the public display and this has been passed on to the Management Board by Mr Brough. The Councillors stated that they were very disappointed that this was still not an option”.

You might ask yourself who is driving this project.  It’s not the citizens.  It’s not the councillors.  The answer just might lie on my spread sheet.

Next week – A Milne special issue, some Trump gossip, and more.