Sep 092016
 

Old Susannah’s takes account of how no one is accountable any more for their actions. By Suzanne Kelly

DictionaryA lovely week of great weather in the Deen has passed; if only we had some city centre concrete slabs we could have relaxed on instead of a suntrap in the form of a sunken, historic, green, grassy garden. Oh well.

BrewDog threw another of its Drink and Draw events; these are for people of all abilities, and are going down a storm. Lush helped raise awareness and funds this past weekend for excellent charity DAWGS.

This past week in the UK saw some of the great thinkers of our time explaining some of their great works.

A 63 year old man in Manchester is being unfairly persecuted for punching a 5 day old baby in a supermarket. The proud parents were holding the child up to show to some of their friends on the child’s first-ever day out, when the man came over and punched the child in the head.

For some reason security called the police and the child was hospitalised (apparently she is fine now). Inexplicably, the police wanted the man to explain.

“I thought it was a doll,” he said. 

The Manchester City doll-punching finals will be held next month, we hear.

Closer to home, Aberdeen City Council is once again the toast of the town.

Not content with giving us Marischal Square and giving the P&J free rent for a year (while we have homeless on the streets and empty, habitable council properties it should be noted – thanks Pete Leonard), they are making the streets safe. By safe, I mean they are covering those hazardous cobbled streets of the merchant quarter (if that’s what we’re calling the Green this week) with tar.

No more high-heel-related trips; no more boring historical ambiance. It was all going to be lovely – then the not in my back yard brigade demanded the cobbles should be restored.

If only there were someone in charge of making decisions about our Housing and Environment who could know what’s going on and what’s happening. But if you’re only going to pay someone about £112,000 a year plus expenses and a £20,000 a year pension contribution, you’re not going to find anyone but a selfless saint to take on the job and actually know what his department heads are up to (isn’t that right Pete Leonard?)

Well, autumn is on the way, and Old Susannah will be joining Aberdeen’s fashionistas to do some shopping. And where better to wear the latest fashions?

ESCALE FRANCE is a Union Street shop selling fox and racoon fur clothing. Nothing screams ‘I am ignorant, self-absorbed and don’t care about needless suffering’ than decorating yourself with the pelt of an animal that was caged, tortured, terrified and skinned, usually alive, sometimes after being clubbed to death.

SPECIAL OFFER: Visit Escale France, and for every OS reader who tells them to stuff their fur where there will be no danger of sunburn, I will buy you a free half pint of BrewDog. I am serious. Send me a photo of yourself in front of their shop with an anti-fur poster to Aberdeen Voice, and I will stand you to a drink (first 50 people).

It is a well-kept secret, but it is possible to be warm and good looking in 21st century Scotland without sewing together the skins of tortured dead animals, raised only for fur, to wear.

Whether it’s making money out of torturing animals, tarring over a medieval cobblestone street, selling Aberdeen taxpayer-owned land for a pittance, or punching infant girls, the people who engage in such activities always have excuses.

Just remember – you can do anything you like – as long as you have a good back up story. Here are some examples of today’s best excuses, great and small. Have you screwed up? Did you lie down on the job? Over your head and don’t know what’s going on? Here are some helpful examples of how great leaders cope.

Clerical Error: (Modern English compound noun) To make an unintentional administrative mistake, which might include making a typographical error, mis-filing documents.

Didn’t get obey the law on Data Protection? No idea there was one? Are you charged with No clue how to do anything but your nails? No worries! If you’ve not registered your multi-million pound, 6,000 person employing golf resort complex with the UK authorities and are in breach of some serious human rights – just tell them you made a clerical error.

If you’ve been filming all those tedious plebs, camera crews and residents for years but didn’t actually register your activities, just tell the authorities it was not your fault, but one of your thousands of employees made a mistake and didn’t file.

According to that leftie newspaper The Guardian, the Scottish Information Commissioner’s office said:

““The Data Protection Act requires every organisation that processes personal information to register with the ICO, unless it is exempt. Failure to do so is a criminal offence,” the commissioner’s office said last week. “We’ll be writing to the company, asking it to clarify how it is registered.”

The award-winning most beautiful golf course in the world ever told the Guardian:

“We take the security of our employees and guests’ personal data very seriously and comply with all aspects of the Data Protection Act. [sure you do – Old Suz] A clerical oversight has just been brought to our attention which is now being rectified.

“As a public facility open to all, Trump International has CCTV cameras located at its entrance and around the public buildings within the estate, for the safety and security of its members, guests and staff. [but not for the safety and security of ramblers like Rohan Beyts, filmed while on the course, obvs – Old Suz]

So, it’s all just a clerical error. The clerk in question forgot to register with the Information Commissioner, assuming they had the sense to know that if you put up security cameras you need to do so. It would be a harsh person indeed who disagrees with the Trump position this is a clerical error.

Far be it from Old Susannah to suggest this is yet another mistake in a catalogue of mistakes (planning, budgeting, forecasting, course design – remember when part of the course was washed away?…) which demonstrate the management shows that it is both out of its depth as to what is required for legal compliance, egotistical to the point they feel themselves above the law, and demonstrative of disdain for the rest of us.

Yes, just a clerical error.

Bonus example of clerical error: The Press & Journal has reported on how lovely the course is, and how tastefully decorated the Trump-crested MacLeod house is. It also reported on Rohan Beyts’ being arrested for allegedly urinating in the Marram grass – and being allegedly filmed on Malone-Bates’ orders.

However, I can’t find a record of Damian Bates’s P&J reporting on Mrs Sarah Malone-Bates’ failure to register the Trump resort with the Scottish Information Commissioner. This omission is most likely just a clerical error.

Road Repair: (Modern English Compound noun) act of ensuring street surfaces are safe.

You really have to hand it to the people responsible for road maintenance in The Granite City. For centuries a cobbled street surface at the Green managed to endure. It’s just wild speculation, but in the past, Old Susannah guesses that if a cobblestone got chipped or loose, either it was replaced or the area around it would have been fixed. How did those past craftsmen manage for the hundreds of years before ACC 2016 existed?

Yes, someone near the top of the food chain, possibly of course in Housing & Environment (would that be you Pete Leonard?) decided the thing to do was to tar over the cobbles. Now I prefer the romance of a tarred street in a historic area as much as the next gal, but apparently people complained, and the cobbles will be restored.

Why did the city suddenly decide to tar the road over? According to the BBC:

“Aberdeen City Council said the resurfacing on Windmill Brae was necessary because some of the stones had come loose. Concerns had been raised on safety grounds by local businesses.”

The BBC piece continues:

“However, the local authority said the work was below standard and the tar would be removed. A “permanent solution” is being sought.” 

Why fix a few loose stones when you can tar over history? You might think that since policy seems to be pothole repair is done on a patchwork spot by spot area (when it’s done at all), some due care might have been given to fixing whatever stones were loose.

It does get better though – this whole debacle shows just how responsive and caring our council is. Local businesses – not named, not coming forward – apparently have safety concerns about the cobbles. Naturally, whenever a business or a person expresses a concern or a wish, the city will immediately spring into action to fix the issue or respond to the request. Just like when 3,000 of us and three community councils asked the city to leave Tullos Hill alone, spare the deer and save money.

If you don’t recall, the head of Housing & Environment helped push the destruction of 36 deer and we now have neither deer nor thriving trees in the scheme our head called ‘cost neutral’ (but you were wrong on all counts, and it’s cost the taxpayer a five figure sum so far, hasn’t it Pete Leonard? Ever thought of going into a different line of work?) But I digress.

Yes, some businesses apparently had safety concerns. Answer: change the hundreds of years old cobblestone streets. I am on the edge of my seat to see what businesses come forward to say they wanted this, and to see what the ‘permanent solution’ would be.

So the next time you vandalise a historic structure by covering it with tar (why didn’t the workmen wonder at the stupidity of their task you might ask?), just say you were trying to please local businesses, and it was unsafe – but you’ll undo it anyway. Makes perfect sense here in the Deen.

Finally, while I am in two minds about including this in a satirical column, sometimes satire is a good response in place of fury. Here are some of Pete Leonard’s excuses for the Aberdeen Crematorium ash scandal. Despite industry bodies existing in the UK for decades, despite best practice standards being easily found on the internet, despite being the man ultimately in charge, Pete Leonard has his reasons for what happened on his watch.

Vacation: (English Noun) State of being away from work, perhaps involved in travel and/or leisure.

While the families who were denied the chance of personally disposing of the ashes of their offspring waited for answers, Leonard was on vacation.

Signed off Sick: (English compound noun) Non attendance at work due to illness.

Mr Leonard did not return from holiday; he is signed off ill.

No Excuse:

So many people seek power and money; I’ve lost track of the people who asked me to try and help with long-running Aberdeen City housing issues (some quite horrific). I’ve tried to make Pete Leonard see sense over the deer cull; he would not take any heed or even listen to the experts who were lined up to give free advice on how to control deer without culling.

Leonard did however deliberately stop the proposal put forward by a councillor to retain and enhance the meadow at Tullos and leave the deer alone – Leonard said leaving the land alone was ‘too costly’.

Housing & Environment always had a reason for delays, bad decisions, and stubbornness. I will, as stated, publish a crematorium review report, but I leave you with this sobering conclusion from the public-facing report (I am trying to get the ‘secret’ report released, you know – by contacting that Information Commissioner Malone hadn’t a clue about). Here is what the report said about the crematorium service, which fell under Leonard’s remit:

“this was a section of the City Council working in almost complete isolation without any strategic direction, development or quality control of the service, so far as it related to babies, infants and non-viable foetuses. There was little knowledge by Senior Management of the service provided to the families of these babies.

“There was insufficient interest taken or leadership shown by management” 

I am sorry if Mr Leonard is ill. I do however want him out of office, as I have done since first encountering him. I am far sorrier for all the people who should have had someone in this highly-paid senior management who actually gave a damn. The evidence over the years convinces me he never did.

Let’s not leave on this bitter note though. Just a few words of advice in summary.

1.  if you are going to run the world’s greatest golf course, there may well be some laws that apply – even to you.

2.  Fur belongs on the animals that bear it. The animals do not belong in cages. The fur trade is obscene.

3.  If you are the sort of person involved in the doll-punching scene, try to make sure you can tell the difference between a doll and a living, breathing infant. If not – consider asking for permission to punch someone’s doll/child before actually doing it.

Next week: hopefully a report on Leonard’s resignation, and more definitions. And – hopefully by then Aberdeen City Council will have offered Aberdeen Voice a free office space too – if they do it for the P&J, then they should do it for us too (nb – we’d turn it down because of things called journalistic ethics, principle, and the fact Marischal Square is nearly as unpopular with the pubic as the P&J has made itself.)

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Sep 092016
 

Suzanne Kelly looks back at a variety of City issues involving Peter Leonard, Director of Housing Environment and Infrastruccture. She concludes, while he is on sick leave following vacation, that in her opinion, it’s time for him to go.

marischalpicMany people in Aberdeen tend to think the councillors are to blame for all the many, many mistakes, flawed plans, waste of money, and bad decisions that take place.

The truth is that they only get to vote on reports put before them by officers, and officers can and do drive agenda and stop plans they don’t like. Staff too are controlled by the officers.

They are vilified for complaining or resorting to whistle-blowing when complaints to managers fail.

Aberdeen Voice is aware of more than one case of staff being micro-managed and having their work time scrutinized to the last minute. There are many people who, while worried about being discovered, want to talk about negative experiences with officers, and that includes Pete Leonard.

Head of Housing & Environment Pete Leonard has been implicated in a catalogue of bad decisions.

Having just missed a chance to apologise to the public over the cremation scandal so he could holiday, he is now off sick. Reports suggest he will remain out of the office – until terms of his final severance package can be ironed out. Many find his continuing in his post is now untenable following the cremation report – and the public has not seen the report commissioned by the Chief Executive.

My long-running interaction with him over the destruction of the Tullos Hill is no secret. He insisted on deer slaughter: when established consultants offered free help, they were rejected.

The slaughter was called ‘abhorrent and absurd’ by the Scottish SPCA in the circumstances. The expensive, unsuccessful attempts to establish trees on the hill are his responsibility – he declared in formal reports the scheme would be cost neutral. (Tullos is a former waste dump with little topsoil; the government’s own departments have written that establishing trees there is unlikely. However, it’s made quite a bit of money for consultants, suppliers, and deer stalkers).

Leonard’s insistence to the Housing & Environment Committee that the Tree for Every Citizen Scheme would be ‘cost neutral’ has cost well into a five-figure sum (and caused more than 36 deer to be culled needlessly) and may result in further expense to taxpayers soon. A councillor’s proposal to keep the hill as a meadow with deer was quashed before it could be voted on: by  Pete Leonard.

One of many ponderous reports flogging the dubious benefits of the Muse development of Marischal Square bears Leonard’s name. On 2 March 2016 this report recommends against asking the public for any further input on Marischal Square because the public might experience ‘consultation fatigue’ and may result in a ‘negative customer experience’.

Heaven forbid. Customer experience didn’t attract the council’s attention when, despite 3,000 citizens and 3 community councils demanding the deer be spared were ignored.

The idea was to have a temporary place under the arches where people could buy coffee and snacks

As to consultation fatigue, I think more people would prefer the chance to have their say and risk ‘fatigue’ than winding up with the monstrous white elephant at Marischal – where the Press & Journal will now call HQ for one year free – courtesy of the taxpayer.

By the way, after suggesting ‘consultation fatigue’ was real, the report goes on to steamroll the reader with jargon about including citizens to ‘participate in the development, design, and decision making services [how does a citizen participate in a decision making service??] to promote civic pride, active citizenship and resilience.’

Leonard has, in effect, proposed not fatiguing us with consultations while wanting our participation. Sounds like quite a balancing act; no wonder ‘resilience’ is also suggested.

There are many Aberdeen Voice readers who have fought to get basic housing repairs, fought to have housing suitable to the needs of the elderly and disabled, or even to have safe, habitable places to live. Some suggest the head of Housing & Environment needed to have a more hands on approach.

Who scotched the Cafe 52 plan to have a self-sustaining cafe in Union Terrace Gardens?

The idea was to have a temporary place under the arches where people could buy coffee and snacks, the Bothwell family were going to pay all the set-up costs, and volunteers were going to run it, as I recall. I do recall that the profits were all going to be churned back into improving the gardens. The departed Maggie Bochel even recommended this go through, and several councillors as well as many members of the public supported the plan.

Is it possible that a city council officer stepped in to stop this simple plan, and if so why? This may be a small side issue, but hopefully by now the point has been made that directors and officers can, and do, guide how and what a councillor gets to vote on.

As such, we need directors who are competent, who are capable, who are without bias, and who are accountable.

Where does the city most fall down? In its management of communities, housing and (obviously) infrastructure.

Who has been the responsible Director for Communities, Housing & Infrastructure for years? Pete Leonard.

Pete Leonard chose not to attend the public meeting that took place last week

Leonard is on a salary adjacent to £112k per year, plus a generous pension contribution. If he is allowed to remain in post following the various reports (public facing and secret) into the scandal of Aberdeen’s crematorium operations, something is drastically wrong.

Bereaved parents were told for years there would be no ash following cremation of their deceased children. In fact, the crematorium, under Leonard’s remit, was mixing the remains of children with those of unrelated adults, and in effect lying to parents.  This went on for years.

Some of the parents impacted by this cruel deception are calling for those responsible to be let go. I join that call

Pete Leonard chose not to attend the public meeting that took place last week; he was on holiday. It was disappointing to the bereaved that he was not there; his non-attendance sent a strong message.

The report into the long-running contempt shown both to the deceased and bereaved and severe managerial failure can be found here. It makes damning reading. Here are some highlights:

A damning summary:

“There was no overall strategic management of the crematorium. Aberdeen City Council had significant challenges elsewhere. Pete Leonard, Director of Communities, Housing and Infrastructure since 2010, explained to the Investigation,

“…in terms of the focus of senior management attention, you focus on the things that you know need fixing and you focus on the things you know to improve and areas where you need to make savings and you’ve got to try and bring the public and elected members with you, that’s very much a focus.”

“It was clear during the Investigation that the current Environmental Manager, Steven Shaw and those above him [that would include Leonard – S Kelly] had remote and ad hoc involvement in the management of the crematorium or the staff. The Investigation was told by the current Crematorium Manager, Angus Beacom, that,

“…staff felt that, in their words, not mine, they had been somewhat neglected by senior management”

“Pete Leonard, Director of Communities Housing and Infrastructure told the Investigation,

“I guess I was fairly light touch in my management in terms of, I don’t think I had visited the site for some time.”

“Pete Leonard confirmed that the purchase of new cremators was an expensive capital project and that he “was more focused on keeping track of that“,

“I guess the crematorium for me was a case of things seem to be going ok so a light touch management was ok and I wasn’t really getting involved.

The crematorium, I guess, never really featured on my radar. I wish it had, but it never featured on my radar so it was kind of left alone.”

“The Head of Services, Mark Reilly, told the Investigation,

“…Now there was a gap between Steven (Shaw, Environmental Manager) and Derek Snow (Cremation Manager) that I didn’t particularly care for. I wanted to really look at the structure of Bereavement Services and crematoria and how that works and get one manager overseeing both.”

“The Investigation found that despite issues about infant cremation coming to public attention following the media coverage about Mortonhall Crematorium in December 2012, no changes in practice were instigated at Aberdeen until November 2013 and July 2014.

“Pete Leonard, Director of Communities Housing and Infrastructure, told this Investigation,

“And we had lots of conversations, so we’d be saying, well if some people are saying that they’re recovering ashes, how is that? Are they using different temperatures and all this? There’s a lot of speculation about ‘well, we’re not sure how they’re doing it, but they’re probably doing things like turning the ovens off at night and leaving the baby in to ‘slow cook‘ and do we really want to be doing that and what if the parents found out about that?‘ and there were issues being thrown in around emissions and if you turn the heating down then you might be breaking the emissions law. There didn’t seem to be any shared industry knowledge or best practice.”

“There was no evidence that any effort was made by anyone at Aberdeen City Council to clarify at exactly what age or stage ashes were available. The senior managers did not challenge what they were told despite the information emerging from Mortonhall Crematorium nor did they seek information from Seafield Crematorium, or even closer, Parkgrove Crematorium, to ascertain how these crematoria could have been obtaining ashes despite the Aberdeen position that none existed until the age of eighteen months to two years.

“Pete Leonard told the Investigation,

“Around about that time we received a letter from Sue Bruce (then Chief Executive of City of Edinburgh Council) with the scope of the inquiry that she had asked Dame Elish to perform and I had a conversation with Valerie Watts then Chief Executive of Aberdeen City Council. I said I’d been to see the crematorium team, they assure me everything is okay but I really think we need to get some objective people in to do an audit and investigation into some of the processes and ask them questions. That led PwC to do an investigation, which was very much process based. At the same time, myself and Mark Reilly went to visit the team, got more behind the scenes.

“I think not getting ashes had been for as long as they could remember. Certainly with the new cremators they didn’t. With the older ones I don’t think they did, but I think they said previously they may have done in the dim and distant past, there might have been something. I think they gave some examples there, but I can’t really recall.

I think it pretty much reflected what the guys said and looked at the records. On reflection I think we didn’t focus enough on behaviour. When subsequently things changed in terms of what people’s story was, my own reflection on myself was perhaps I could have been a bit more challenging around some behaviours.

I drew up the terms of reference for the report and cleared these with the Chief Executive but it was based on what Sue Bruce had sent through, it was very similar terms of reference.

I am asked if the auditors looked at records as opposed to wider processes. Yes, that was the case. I am asked if anyone was examining the actual operational processes of cremation itself. No there was not. I think the years picked for audit were aligned with the different types of cremators from what I can see. I think there were different changes to the record keeping and we kept records up to a certain date. I think somebody had written to say they’d had some issue around 2008 and that they received ashes so on the back of that, we said can you go further back and examine what the practice was then”

“Pete Leonard told the Investigation,

“Around about that time we received a letter from Sue Bruce (then Chief Executive of City of Edinburgh Council) with the scope of the inquiry that she had asked Dame Elish to perform and I had a conversation with Valerie Watts then Chief Executive of Aberdeen City Council. I said I’d been to see the crematorium team, they assure me everything is okay but I really think we need to get some objective people in to do an audit and investigation into some of the processes and ask them questions. That led PwC to do an investigation, which was very much process based. At the same time, myself and Mark Reilly went to visit the team, got more behind the scenes.

I think not getting ashes had been for as long as they could remember. Certainly with the new cremators they didn’t. With the older ones I don’t think they did, but I think they said previously they may have done in the dim and distant past, there might have been something. I think they gave some examples there, but I can’t really recall.

I think it pretty much reflected what the guys said and looked at the records. On reflection I think we didn’t focus enough on behaviour. When subsequently things changed in terms of what people’s story was, my own reflection on myself was perhaps I could have been a bit more challenging around some behaviours.

I drew up the terms of reference for the report and cleared these with the Chief Executive but it was based on what Sue Bruce had sent through, it was very similar terms of reference.

I am asked if the auditors looked at records as opposed to wider processes. Yes, that was the case. I am asked if anyone was examining the actual operational processes of cremation itself. No there was not. I think the years picked for audit were aligned with the different types of cremators from what I can see. I think there were different changes to the record keeping and we kept records up to a certain date. I think somebody had written to say they’d had some issue around 2008 and that they received ashes so on the back of that, we said can you go further back and examine what the practice was then”

“An audit by the company PwC LLP was duly commissioned and terms of reference agreed in March 2013. The auditors reported on 9 July 2013. This audit was limited in scope and did not look at the actual cremation operational processes but rather traced a sample of cremations to the supporting records and administrative process in respect of the cremation of stillborn babies and infants under the age of two.

“The audit report describes its work as to ‘undertake a data collection exercise and review the current procedures in operation to better inform the Council Officers’ understanding of arrangements and practices.’ The report was based on the documentation available but there is no indication of the Council seeking audit of the actual cremation working processes by a suitably qualified cremation industry expert or body such as the FBCA.

“Pete Leonard, Director, told the Investigation,

“There had been a conversation about use of trays and what have you and I was very nervous about health and safety and I guess I placed a lot of reliance on the internal audit which we scoped out in March and it reported in July 2013.”

“There was no evidence given to the Investigation that after the production of this audit report the Council challenged Derek Snow’s assertion that there were no ashes to be obtained from babies less than eighteen months old. At the very least the information provided by PwC should have alerted the Council to the inconsistency between their public position and what the audit disclosed from the past.

“There is no evidence of the contents of the report being probed or checked to ascertain the reason for the different outcomes in the sampled cases. This information should have been of particular interest given the Council’s public position that ashes did not exist for babies under eighteen months to two years.

“Derek Snow, the Crematorium Manager added,

“When I started in 1986 there was no written procedures or guidance for babies. As far as I know there’s still nothing like that at the moment.”

“Steven Shaw, the current Environmental Manager, said that it was clear to him that,

“we didn’t have written up simple guidelines. I pushed for them to write up the procedures.”

“Pete Leonard said,

“When we started speaking to the guys, it was very clear then that there were no practices which made me nervous. “

“Staff also had access to manufacturers’ manuals for the cremators they were using. Aberdeen City Council’s response noted in the 10 July 2013 PwC LLP internal audit report was that they would be formalising their written policy and would consider any findings that came from the Scottish Government’s review.

“However, when staff were interviewed by the Investigation in February 2015 there was still no formal written procedure, guidance, instruction or local training manual available to staff at Aberdeen Crematorium despite

  • the recommendations of Lord Bonomy in his report of May 2014,
  • the Mortonhall Investigation Report April 2014,
  • the PwC internal audit recommendation of July 2013,
  • interest expressed by the Scottish Parliament,
  • press and extensive media coverage of the issues surrounding the cremation of babies throughout the period 2012-2014.

“Neither did the receipt of an anonymous letter result in such action. This letter indicated that the reason baby ashes were not being returned to families at Aberdeen was because babies were being cremated alongside the coffins of unrelated adults. Members of staff were still working on drafting the crematorium’s first Operational Procedures Booklet in early 2015.

“It was put to Pete Leonard, Director, that Derek Snow had suggested that he was only really a manager when it suited his line managers to treat him as such, that he was given very little scope to manage and was not given the opportunity to attend training. Pete Leonard replied,

“I couldn’t really say. I am asked if he ever made a complaint to me about the way he was being managed. No not at all, he seemed to be happy in his work.”

“This is in stark contrast to what former Environmental Manager, Sandy Scott said about Derek Snow wanting to leave since 2006. Sandy Scott told the Investigation,

“Derek Snow did not want to be at the Council. He made it quite clear he wanted to leave and I did some investigating and spoke to my Head of Service but we felt we couldn’t let him go at that point. It was always a feature of our one to ones as he wanted to bring it up with me.”

“Pete Leonard, Director of Communities Housing and Infrastructure said,

“I guess I felt really let down and right from the word go, what we’d said to the guys was ‘we’re not going to judge you on what’s happened, when you’re in an industry and you follow historic practices, sometimes you might find yourself doing something that culture accepted before. Something which might look horrific but you’re caught up in the middle of that and you’re just doing what you’ve always been told.

“So this is about understanding what’s going on’. We had said, ‘if there’s anything, anything at all, now’s the time to get it out, you’ve got our full support’. We couldn’t have emphasised that more and so to then find out that the guys were lying and they’d been so convincing …I was bloody angry to be honest but really upset. Then I was really upset because of the impact on families.

“I’ve got young children myself and you can empathise. So then we had to move into trying to figure what happened and I wasn’t looking at punishing anybody, I just wanted to figure out what had been going on and we don’t really know. I mean, having gone through the experience of believing what they said before, to be honest, anything they said, I took with a pinch of salt.

“Could be true, it maybe isn’t true and there was no real way I got that mechanism to get to the truth. The investigation may have more success.”

“this was a section of the City Council working in almost complete isolation without any strategic direction, development or quality control of the service, so far as it related to babies, infants and non-viable foetuses. There was little knowledge by Senior Management of the service provided to the families of these babies.

“There was insufficient interest taken or leadership shown by management

“much of what was learned by Cremator Operators at Aberdeen was received wisdom from more experienced peers. The extraordinary belief that there would be no recovered ashes from babies up to the age of eighteen months or two years was contradicted by what was known to be recovered in many other crematoria as well as in Aberdeen itself in earlier years

“The cremation of babies along with unknown adults is an unethical and abhorrent practice which will offend the sensibilities of the wider community and cause great distress to those whose babies were cremated there. It will also cause profound concern to the next of kin of unrelated adults who may have collected and continue to retain ashes of loved ones cremated at Aberdeen which also contain the ashes of a baby or one or even several non-viable foetuses

“When obliged to consider this issue with the commencement of the Mortonhall Investigation and during the separate opportunity to explain their position to Lord Bonomy and his team the true picture at Aberdeen Crematorium was not disclosed. The Infant Cremation Commission was misled about the practices taking place.

“It was clear from the interviews of staff in early 2015 that despite the passage of time since the Mortonhall Report, the report of the Infant Cremation Commission and extensive media coverage of the circumstances at Mortonhall Crematorium that staff had not yet been properly briefed or briefed at all to allow them to have an accurate understanding of the physiology of the bones of foetuses, stillborn babies and infants.

8. The most senior level of management at Aberdeen must provide strong leadership and now take full responsibility for the effective management of the crematorium. It must also ensure that immediate and appropriate training takes place and that effective and ethical practices are maintained. This relates not only to a change of working practices but to an assurance that the culture of the organisation and the knowledge and understanding is such as to prevent any future abuse of the trust of those families who have placed the remains of their loved ones in their care.

10. As with other crematoria there was a total absence of any local written instruction or guidance. This remained the case even in 2015 after an audit report of 2013 which highlighted the lack of written procedure. This meant that the actual practices employed in the crematoria were not documented and available for inspection by normal quality assurance procedures. Had such written guidance been available it may have alerted Cremator Operators to the deviant nature of their practices.

11. By allowing the predicted outcome rather than the actual outcome to remain in the disposal column Aberdeen City Council created a situation where the inaccurate information was allowed to remain on the Register. Although the inaccuracy was identified no steps had been to correct the accuracy of the Register. This casual and careless approach to a statutory obligation is of considerable concern.”

My conclusions

There is contradiction about Leonard’s position in the Muse report (do we not consult people so as not to ‘fatigue’ them or do we involve them in the design, etc).

Leonard contradicts himself again in his testimony here.  At one stage we’re asked to think of him as being a father who’d be concerned about the families; and then we have the inexcusable on the appalling choice of words about ‘slow cooking babies’ and ‘what if the parents found out’. Either you are a caring, empathetic parent – or you use that kind of language and seek to keep your parent peers in the dark.

Claims that there was no way to find out about any industry best practice or operational standards are debunked within five minutes by anyone with internet access. A search would swiftly find  The Federation of Burial and Cremation Authorities(FBCA). This organisation told me:

“The Federation of Burial and Cremation Authorities(FBCA) represents all but two of the operational crematoria in Scotland and around 85% of crematoria in the whole of the UK.

The FBCA has existed since 1924 and represents the owners and operators of cemeteries and crematoria in the UK.

All members of the FBCA have to confirm that they operate in accordance with our Code of Cremation Practice on an annual basis.

The process of cremation is regulated by Sepa and there are parameters which have to be maintained throughout each and every cremation, whether adult or infant, however it is important that special measures are taken during the cremation of very young babies to ensure that the conditions within the cremator provide the best possible opportunity for the recovery of ashes at the completion of the process..

We provide the training and examination process used at the majority of crematoria in Scotland and we strive to ensure that Best Practice and the highest standards are met at all times. “
– email from R Powell of FBCA to S Kelly 5 September 2016

For someone with a director’s mandate covering the crematorium, ignorance of this easily-found knowledge is bad enough; it is compounded by the evident lack of interest in pro-actively seeking for it.

Changes were to have been made in documentation for procedures; this went un-remedied for years. Should the buck have stopped with Leonard?

The curtains are drawn:

It should be noted that there is a Customer Services Standards document – but it is being updated, and requests for a copy of the current one have gone unanswered.  Aberdeen Voice also made an appointment to view the Officers’ register of interests – and hours before the appointment the city cancelled on the grounds ‘personal data’ would be in the records.

The legal team decided that a Freedom of Information request would be needed, and that while councillors’ records are all electronically available, the records for officers and directors were off limits.

Let’s hope the wait to see the records won’t take too long (all FOI requests I have made to the city have been just to the deadline or have been late).

Enough:

I watched as the arrogance and assurances from Leonard led to the destruction of a herd of deer that had lived on Tullos for decades without needing any cull. I watched as he stubbornly refused free advice on non-lethal culling, refused to take on board the soil report saying that trees are unlikely to establish while approving hundreds of thousands of pounds on consultants, fencing, trees and deer hunters.

I watched as a friend whose stillborn child was told there would be no ashes to scatter after cremation some years ago. I worried as I helped arrange a cremation fairly recently as to what was going on.

I watched as the hated Muse project was foist upon a largely unwilling, certainly poorly consulted public – who will  now subsidise the Press & Journal with a year’s free rent.

I watched as parents were further disrespected by Leonard deciding not to face them at the crematorium public meeting as he chose to vacation instead.  I’ve listened to complaints of people with health issues in housing inadequate to their needs.

I’ve heard from people who waited months and months for simple housing repairs.  I’ve heard from people living in housing where anti social behaviour runs rampant because the city keeps no residential staff to ensure safety. I’ve heard from staff who have felt bullied under his regieme.

I now want to watch as Leonard leaves his post with as small a remuneration as legally possible, and leaves quickly.

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Aug 262016
 

In this week’s satirical offering from Suzanne Kelly aka Old Susannah, she delights in Aberdeen’s generosity to the Press & Journal, and is happy to brush aside any minor qualms there might be about use of taxpayer money, conflict of interests and ethics; she also spares a few words on an advert for a US gun festival – in Orlando – featuring a skeleton wielding a semi-automatic weapon…(Psst – any non-Aberdeen readers, you might want to skip directly to the last few paragraphs of this column, cheers).

DictionaryTally ho! Another week flies past in Aberdeen. The original BrewDog bar (Old Dog – Gallowgate as opposed to New Dog – Castlegate) have hung up some of my recent paintings and just hosted another successful, fun, packed Drink and Draw session. Their ‘Live Dead Pony’ – it’s the addition of live yeast to their popular brew Dead Pony Club makes it ‘live’ – has proven popular as well.
So for those who can’t stand this small shareholder (one of over 10,000) talking about Aberdeenshire’s most successful start-up company, please feel free to send in a diatribe as to why I shouldn’t be allowed to talk about things I like, even though I’ve disclosed my shareholding since the first mention.

Otherwise, the BrewDog team are looking for further artists’ work to hang, so get in touch at the Old Dog.

For those of you with bigger fish to fry, it’s been quite an interesting few weeks in the Granite City.

The crematorium ash scandal is not a suitable topic for satire, but it needs to be addressed.

The remark made by the man in charge, Peter Leonard, displays all the contempt you’d expect from the man’s previous form, but this belies far more callowness than even seasoned Leonard-watchers have come to expect. If you missed it, the BBC reports (and the council haven’t asked for a retraction which speaks volumes) Leonard saying to/in front of inspectors:

“we’re slow-cooking babies.”

How can anyone who lost an infant or child and was caught up in the crematorium scandal can be expected to work for, with, or have to communicate with this lizard? Why are we keeping him in his job?

My interest in the man goes back to his report which condemned the Tullos Hill deer to massive culling. He told the council the tree-planting scheme was completely cost neutral and would succeed – if we shot the deer and kept the weeds down. Lib Dem councillor Aileen ‘Ho’Malone was at the helm of the relevant committee which pushed the scheme through.

She’s just the sort of person you could convince to wipe out a meadow full of flowers and a herd of deer to plant trees on top of rocks and industrial waste where there is no topsoil.

‘A tree for every citizen’ they called it. They deliberately left the culling and the £43k penalty out of the initial public consultation (correspondence proves they knew a cull was planned – but they wanted to ‘manage’ the public which they knew would object. The city tried to deny the £43,800 penalty it paid for the previous failure, too – that’s what we call open government; but I digress).

Peter’s cost neutral scheme? Looks like it’s cost nearly half a million, with £100k alone going to the consultant Chris Piper.

So, Leonard sits in his highly-paid post having been out with his estimates by half a million pounds of taxpayer money, and having insulted everyone with his ash scandal remark, and has not been bounced out of office. Blame the elected officials for bad decisions if you must – but it’s the officers like Leonard who create the reports the councillors have to vote on. Has he stuffed up one too many times?

Any member of staff who’d blundered like he has would have been disciplined and/or let go. Maybe the powers that be will keep him in place. By many accounts, should Mr Leonard be sent packing, there are a fair few staff who will not shed any tears.

Apologies for the lack of humour to this point, but that needed to be said.

Perhaps a few words on the happy event everyone’s talking about will change the mood. It’s not just that the Marischal Square building project is proving to be a breath-taking beauty (I hear people gasp when they look at it). It’s even better than that: everyone’s favourite newspaper, The Press and Journal, is to grace the building with its presence. Better still: the paper won’t have to pay any rent for a whole year. Result!

I’m thinking of starting a petition so that they’ll never have to pay any rent ever. After all, we’re supposed to be trying to attract smart, successful, vibrant, dynamic, forward-looking businesses to the beating heart of Aberdeen.

What better way to cheer us all up each morning than the sight of Damian Bates rounding Broad Street in his Maserati after dropping Sarah Malone off to her job as Trump’s spokesperson? I can barely wait! And with that, it’s time for some timely definitions.

Limousine Bull: (Proper Scottish Noun) – a Torry-based artists collective which had education, training, exhibition services for people in the south of the city. Closed for lack of £10,000.

These art types; just can’t balance the books. Perhaps if they had gone on one of the city’s cultural (?) ‘speed dating’ events they could have begged the rich for funding and kept going.

Alas, the city’s uber-rich wanted to build granite ramps and parking spaces; spending money on an actual arts and education service for the less advantaged was never going to get a look-in. And thus it was that after years of having a small warehouse space with studios for artists, Limousine Bull had to close. As their website reported:

“When we discovered ACC had given details of a new round of funding, with applications to be submitted just 6 weeks after our rejection notice, we put together a greatly revised funding proposal and were due to apply for just £1,700 of the £10,000 available to our category.

“On the day and almost exact time of the deadline for this, Carrie messaged the rest of us on the committee, saying she had decided not to submit the application, as she thought ACC’s demands upon applicants were too strict to follow for such a small amount of funding.” – LB website

Perhaps the people who wonder why we couldn’t win the ‘city of culture’ accolade (or is that poisoned chalice – cities that have won have often found themselves in debt afterwards) might think that getting rid of small groups like this might have made us look smarter and more successful to the judges. The people who submitted our exciting CoC bid had no use for Limousine Bull – they wanted to have ‘Gigs on Rigs’ instead.

How exciting that could have been– flying rock bands to play to offshore oil installations where, er, the footage would have been beamed back to shore. Only the worst kind of philistine would have asked ‘why not just have them play on shore?’. What musician wouldn’t rather do survival training, fly to an alcohol-free oil rig in the chilly North Sea than play a few sets in nightclubs and hotels? But I digress.

Back to Limousine Bull – Old Susannah’s not surprised it went under; after all £10,000 is a lot of money (about one fifth of the amount we had to pay back to central government for the first Tree for Every Citizen failure on Tullos. Or, about one 14,000th of the cost of the granite web. But I digress again). Maybe someone in ACC is offering Limousine Bull a chance to resurrect itself rent-free at Marischal Square?

If so, I’ve not heard of it yet. And funnily enough, for some reason Aberdeen Voice’s invitation to a rent-free office suite at the taxpayer’s expense hasn’t come in the post just yet.

Ethics: (archaic term) Morality, knowledge of right and wrong.

We all know what ethics are (well, you do if you’re not in ACSEF … or whatever it is called this week) – the sense of a common morality that would stop a man making crass remarks about deceased children. It’s that sense of right and wrong that would stop people in power from crushing the weak while, for instance, using public resources to subsidise a newspaper thereby gaining control and advantage.

Many companies have ethics policies governing what freebies, advantages, and hospitality can be accepted without compromising the company. If as an employee you are going to accept a gift or hospitality, say a hamper of food or a few bottles of wine, most companies would expect you to declare it or decline it.

You see, accepting something might put you in a position where you would be indebted to the person giving you a gift. If one company were to offer another company something valuable these days – a weekend at a hotel, a trip, or say a year’s free rent for your business in a brand new suite of offices: you’d be expected by your code of ethics to turn it down.

Otherwise you would be either asked to do something in return for the largess, or even if you weren’t asked to do so, there would be an expectation of a ‘quid pro quo’ situation. In other words, there is no free lunch. And for that matter, there are also laws about using public money unethically, laws about public institutions ensuring ‘value for money’ is sought, and avoiding conflict of interests.

Then again, that kind of thing never hampers the truly creative Aberdeen spirit.

I come back to my friend Peter Leonard again. While the deer cull protest raged (several community councils, thousands of residents, the Scottish SPCA all objecting to the plan), an article appeared in the Evening Express:

“TWO DEER FOUND DEAD AHEAD OF CULL”. 

This story was planted by someone in ACC, although surprisingly, no investigation was held to find out who the ‘leak’ was. The intrepid reporter either didn’t ask, or omitted to say when the dead deer were actually found: and it emerged (after AV asked about it) that the deer were found dead two years before the cull.

The city’s insinuation that to stop deer from suffering starvation or possible accidents was not to supply more grazing land and erect fences – but to stop their lives being blighted by taking their lives away. But, shall we say, some readers found the absence of that little gap of several years somewhat misleading. To some people, this little episode might seem ethically bankrupt. However, I’m sure nothing misleading has been printed before or since by AJL.

I’d never insinuate that an organisation like the ACC would or could ever corrupt an organisation like the P&J – how could it? Sadly, other observers have made a few unfortunate remarks about the free rent offer. I think some of these people need shaming:

“If this if it goes ahead, (and all the hall markers suggest it will) it can but only be seen for what it appears to be – a covenant between the ACC and the P&J/EE. So where now lies objectivity, impartiality, indeed freedom to report and print news on anything that objects to the working of their landlord?”
– A MacDonald

“Don’t they realise that the continuing fall in readership is due to their biased approach to local stories in aberdeen. lets remember too that they are not a local paper anymore but another D. C. Thomson, Dundee rag. I for one cancelled my evening express as soon as it was made public that they were in talks to secure office space in Willies folly and i would suggest that others do the same”
– C Duguid

“Many readers were of the impression that the Press and Journal supported the opposition to the Muse development as evidenced by the publication of numerous stories relating to the opposition to Marischal Square and the scores of letters from the public over the past couple of years… It therefore case as quite a shock to many to learn that Aberdeen Journals themselves are to take up office space in Marischal Square.

“Many of your readers saw that as a betrayal…. Surely any deal that did not deliver the projected returns on the council’s investment would be seen as a failure by the council to secure its financial position and deliver on the promise of sustainable rental profits to fund essential public services.”
– a Mr W Skidmore, who is waiting patiently for this letter to be printed in the P & Poo (an affectionate term I’m told). I trust he isn’t holding his breath.

I hope these people will feel suitably ashamed at their negative words, which strike at the very beating heart of the civic district of the Granite City. It’s always sad for Old Susannah to see such cynical, suspicious minds at work criticising our beloved institutions which have done so much for us.

Perhaps the honesty, integrity and wisdom the council is known for will eventually rub off on such harsh critics. I’m sure we’re only talking a few hundred thousand pounds anyway, and it’s not as if there’s anything better to do with the money.

Conflict of interest: (English compound noun) an unethical condition wherein a person or entity owes allegiance to two opposing forces.

Can the P&J continue to claim the moral high ground it has rightly held these many years if it is now Aberdeen City’s bitch – sorry — tenant?

Perhaps we should mention a potential conflict of interest that’s been brought up on social media. For some reason, there are people who see something wrong with Aberdeen Journals Limited taking a year’s free rent in Marischal College from Aberdeen City Council.

I’m trying to figure out why this bothers some people. Sure, the P&J might in the past have called the development ‘controversial’ in its articles: that just shows that they’re not afraid of standing up to the city council!

I’m sure that fighting spirit, and love of investigation we love in the P&J won’t be compromised just because they will have had their bacon saved by ACC. What an insinuation! I think by now the values the P&J have are clear to us all. And, they win awards so we can tell they’re great.

No, I for one don’t think we will see any change to their usual ethical standards. Where would you be without the tiny tots baby competition? Without photos of the Menie Golf course and MacLeod House to look at every day?

An aside….

orlando ad for gun eventI’m sometimes asked, ‘don’t you miss America?’

There are things I don’t miss. I think the whole machinery that’s created a school to prison pipeline for the disadvantaged and minorities (where police brutality runs riot in schools) stinks. I hate the system that allows mega pharmaceuticals to ruin people’s lives for fat profit margins and where drugs and care can be priced out of the reach of those most in need.

I hate it that a woman can take a device like a medi pen, raise its cost through the roof, and pay herself an 18 million dollar bonus.

I hate it that the alleged founding principle of individuals having a right to ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ is not as fought for as the right to have a well-trained militia which has been torqued into the invented ‘rights’ of anyone to have a semi-automatic weapon.

There are many things I love about my country of birth: the majority of people, the land, the wildlife, the pre-existing culture and our potential. However, we’ve decimated the original inhabitants, the native Americans – and yet now they are leading the fight against our corporate greed. Native Peoples are campaigning on horseback and on foot in the face of the fury of the government and its armies over pipelines which can only devastate the environment.

This is a country where people who were brought in chains on slave ships can eventually see their descendants become professors, leaders, successes in all areas and icons.

We’ve seen heroes like the late great Mohammed Ali and Jesse Hagopian, an educational reformer who was teargassed on a peaceful protest, but still pursues his dream of fair education for all nonetheless.

It’s a country where ancestors like mine came fleeing from famine to find signs in New York’s windows and doors reading ‘no blacks, no Irish and no dogs’ and yet in a few generations, one such Irish catholic descendant became a president.

This is a country where a young American boy of Japanese ancestry can be imprisoned without due course or rights in an internment camp in World War II and somehow still come out of the experience with a wicked sense of humour to emerge as a voice for tolerance and forgiveness.

There is natural beauty (cross your fingers) and biodiversity.

There are also people who will take that right to have a well-armed militia, and exploit it until we have bloodbaths like the recent slaughter in Orlando. And why?

Ultimately to make money for the gun manufacturers. Gun manufacturers do not care who gets killed. Statistically we know that you are more likely to have an accidental shooting at a home with a gun in it rather than your successfully shooting a would be burglar.

The image above belongs to the Orlando Weekly, which sees nothing wrong in advertising a semi-automatic shooting event … with an image of a skeleton. Now, I’m possibly not the most sensitive person in the world, but I see something very wrong in printing an ad like this to a city which is still mourning.

So America, as dearly as I love some things about you, please start worrying more about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and less about this supposed right to have guns. You are locking up people for collecting their own rainwater, for growing herbs – such as ginseng – and you are criminalising people who want to pursue a different life/liberty/happiness than the status quo. That’s not what was meant to be.

Look at this ad. Does this say responsible, sober gun ownership and respect for life to you – or is this nearly the lowest appeal to base nature (save the videos with bikini clad girls firing automatic weapons) and lack of empathy for the dead of Orlando (and the wider country) that can be imagined?

If not for the likes of those who emerged from hardships in the US, I’d despair completely.

The editor of the Orlando Weekly is Graham Jarrett. At first he tried to claim he was forced to print the ad; it was pointed out that no one can force a news publication to take an ad. We’re waiting to hear what you are going to say and do next Mr Jarrett.

(Want to fight against this kind of gun happy propaganda? On Facebook seek out and join One Pulse, a closed pressure group with the fanciful aim of making people want to stop shooting other people. I’m honoured and happy to be a member).

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Jul 082016
 

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

DictionaryHurrah! Result! We’re to leave Europe. Or maybe not – no one knows for certain what Scotland’s future looks like at this point, but isn’t it fun and a bit exciting?
And we might get either Michael Gove or Teresa May as the new PM! The Brexiteers Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson as so magnanimous in victory that they’ve scarpered.

You might compare their running away from the result they pushed for to insects running to hide when you turn over a stone, but I know that they’re just getting ready for some further selfless acts of heroism.

Another hero who shuns the limelight is former PM Tony Blair. With the Chilcot report released this week, you’d expect Tony to take the credit for the Iraq war. After all, he saved us from those Weapons of Mass Destruction. Thanks TB.

Looking at this week’s news, here are a few little facts you might enjoy:

When the dust settles a bit on Brexit, Old Susannah will revert with more facts – that’s if anyone’s saying anything factual at all. While Scotland voted to stay, the Brexiteers said that the EU was costing us £350 million a week which could be better spent on the NHS. Clearly that in no way meant that any money saved would be spent on the NHS, which of course is in fine shape anyway.

In far more important news, it was the Portsoy Traditional Boat Festival last weekend, and the weather was largely fine. The Black Isle Brewery was on hand, as was Dyce’s new brewer, Fierce. They have some delicious gear, I bought a lovely wheat beer and a coffee and vanilla concoction. In the meantime BrewDog’s launched a few Jackhammer Variants; Jackhammer being my favourite brew with off-the-scale bitterness.

Blackhammer is my favourite; I hope to see it around for a long, long time. BrewDog is also doing its bit for up-and-coming music and comedy talent; comedy troupe Wildly Unprepared have been doing their improve thing on Thursday nights in Underdog (the venue beneath BrewDog Castlegate). Hope to see you there.

One person though has managed to end years of The Malt Mill’s and Downstairs’ nurturing of fledgling bands. Someone moved to a flat near to the venue – a venue with ‘LIVE MUSIC’ in giant letters proclaiming that the Malt Mill, which looked like a bar with live music to the rest of us – and you’d never guess it – there was live music going on at night!

If only there had been some clue that a flat on a busy commercial road close to a long-running music venue and bar might not be quiet at night! Now Old Susannah understands that people need to play music for whatever reason, and I suppose there should be some allowance in society for that kind of thing in small doses.

It was always going to be the event of the year

Perhaps the venue should have just spent £100,000 from their petty cash and soundproofed the place. After all, if you put on live bands, that means you’re rolling in money.

Hopefully we’ll get something useful in place of The Malt Mill – like a mobile phone shop or Estate Agent. And from now on, let’s all be very, very quiet when we are out on the streets late at night.

Perhaps the hero who forced this closure could let us know when it’s convenient for the rest of us to make any noise on Holburn? I’d absolutely love to hear from you. My words of congratulations for your fighting for your individual right to quiet (rather than using ear plugs, moving, or just getting used to it) and successfully closing down a place for the rest of us to hear new bands are ready any time you want to hear them. I salute you.

Finally, we will all remember where we were when celebrity misogynist Donald J Trump flew into Menie this past week. It was always going to be glamorous with Sarah Malone in attendance. It was always going to be the event of the year with the Press & Journal present. But when Rupert Murdoch AND Jerry Hall flew in as well – what can Old Susannah say? Words cannot convey how exciting this was; it was like being a part of history in the making.

How unfortunate then that a few spoilsports decided – I can’t imagine why – to hang up Mexican Flags near the course. It’s bad enough these people live close to the course in houses The Donald finds unattractive, but to add to the visual pollution – well, that was unforgiveable.

Perhaps not as unforgiveable as Trump’s people: cutting off residents’ water and electricity supplies, calling the police to arrest lawbiding journalists, blocking access for the disabled at various points on the estate, threatening a grandmother with eviction, stopping Michael Forbes from salmon fishing, or threatening to use compulsory purchase orders to steal homes – but it’s all a matter of perspective, isn’t it?

(NB – the residents decided not to stage a personal protest, but to just have the flags reminding the world of Trump’s bigotry towards Mexico and everyone who isn’t a white male billionaire. The massive amounts of news cover the flag protest generated in advance of the visit was remarkable. The brief, chaotic, rambling words of Trump to a few score of journos just didn’t cut it. With all of her professional qualifications i.e. being a former beauty queen, the polished, finely-tuned press call on the day was what I expected.).

But at this rate there won’t be any definitions, and I very much want to get back to that part of this column. By the way, this column will finish with No. 200. That will be quite enough for this format, but it doesn’t mean that I’ll take my eyes off The Granite City. Anyway, a few words – about trees and consultations in Aberdeen.

Consultation: (English noun) An exercise in which various experts and/or stakeholders are asked for their opinions and facts on a particular subject.

Peterculter Tree Cull consultation: (Aberdonian noun) An exercise in which various experts and/or stakeholders are asked for their opinions and facts on a particular subject, and the majority of people involved don’t get a look in. and facts are overlooked.

DSCN1516Secondly, the trees were old, and we’ve got enough old stuff around here anyway.

Then there was the fact that the trees were cutting down the amount of sunshine reaching one or two people in adjacent housing.

I for one know that if the sun’s not streaming in my Scottish windows 24/7 365/365, it can only mean the trees (not clouds, storms, snow, hailstones) are blocking the light.

Of course, some of the more intrepid people actually go outside when it’s sunny – but you can hardly do that if you’re living somewhere as dangerous as Peterculter.

So the city got back some responses from people who hated the trees, and cut them down.

Some councillors were very quick to defend this action too. Some councillors said that the trees were diseased and posed a hazard. That must have been a hell of a tree disease. On the one hand, it must have come up very quickly – or surely the city would have taken action before now.

On the other hand, it’s a pretty interesting kind of tree disease when instead of getting rid of the trees (or heaven forbid trying to treat it), you can decide what to do about the trees not by saying their diseased and cutting them, but by asking residents what they want done with the trees.

DSCN1513

One person at least tried unsuccessfully to get through to the relevant people at the city, but as we know, the city responds instantly to any and all queries.

Another funny thing is the city’s existing tree management policy. It seems to say that if it owns trees that are not close to a dwelling, they aren’t going to cut them down.

It’s not that I’m cynical, but I’d love to find out what the disease was that was so bad the trees had to come down but not bad enough that the residents’ opinions could have stopped it. For more info, see here.

Some people claim their responses to the consultation were unanswered. Would the city ever do that?

Tree for Every Citizen scheme: (Aberdonian noun) An exercise in which various experts and/or stakeholders are asked for their opinions only if they are from the SNH or stand to make lots of £££ from killing deer on the hill, or wear shoulder pads (Aileen ‘Ho’Malone), in which consultation existing plans to kill deer are deliberately left out, stopping the public from taking much interest, so their opinions can be ‘managed’ in the words of the SNH. 

No one objected to the proposal – until it was too late. Funny that they didn’t announce the cull when they mentioned the other operational details (rabbit fences).

Even funnier; they refused to listen to free advice from experts on how to have trees and deer. And now we have no deer and no trees. We do have a consultant who’s at least £100,000 better off. And ranger Ian Tallboys got an award from Princess Anne. Result!

The award-winning, manicured Tullos Hill forest will provide a cost-neutral lovely recreation area for city residents. Only that it’s cost a packet, cost the lives of 38 deer (give or take – the city’s record-keeping is so bad we don’t know), and the trees are in such poor shape we’ve been warned that we might have to give the government its grant money back.

That would be nothing new, the previous attempt to plant trees on this former garbage tip with very poor soil didn’t work, either – I wonder why – and cost us £43,800.

Sometimes there is no need to bother even with a token consultation, as the people of Bedford Road can tell you. If they didn’t read page 47 of the Evening Express, read community council notes and city papers – and magically deduce that a ‘bus gate’ meant they would not be allowed to drive on their street again, then it’s their tough luck.

No one thought it necessary to write to them to ask for opinions; although funnily enough, the Peterculter residents were written to about cutting down the trees (apparently 2 people said to cut them – and that was good enough for ACC).

You don’t have to consult the public over minor details like the Marischal Square project either. Just tell them an iconic, smart, forward looking building will breath new life, etc. etc. into the area, but the architects will respect the importance of Provost Skene’s house: then hope they won’t notice when the reality is nothing like the original promise.

In fact, the reality is so much better! We can barely see the provost’s house now, and I hear we might get a hamburger joint. AND – the Press & Journal are going to move in! The best loved, most cutting edge newspaper in the best-loved, most cutting edge building! Result! as they say.

Next week: Blair, Brexit, Boris

PS – An observation

I was walking through Torry one early evening, past where a small green space off Victoria Road has a small but pretty collection of flowers. A couple were there, possibly Eastern European. We said hello as I passed. They had a little girl. She was smiling from ear to ear, pointing at the flowers, and jumping up and down.

Completely devoid of any prejudice, mindless hatred, greed, or ill-will, she was just delighted to be with two obviously adoring parents, looking at beautiful flowers.

I wondered whether it was too much to ask that we stop hurting our kids by pouring our prejudices and poisons into them. Will this girl be one of the 5 who will eventually be sexually assaulted? Will she encounter kids at school who are mean to her – because their parents taught them to hate people who are ‘foreign’ or ‘different’?

Will she be encouraged to study whatever she wants to study – science, art, languages, history – or will the system channel her into ‘girlish’ activities or will well-meaning people make her study things which lead to well-paying jobs while forsaking arts and philosophy? If she were a Muslim/black/Native American/Asian child, what kinds of barriers, doors and hatred would she be experiencing before long.

I wondered, is it too much to ask that with all the problems we’ve left for the next generation that we can at the very least manage not to fill these little people with hatred and just be nice to them instead? The answer, sadly, is that it probably will be too much to ask. I hope she remembers how happy, free and innocent she was that night. I wish she could live like that always – if she and her peers could, then there’s a chance we could have another world and a far better one.

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May 022016
 

Suzanne Kelly visits Tullos Hill – years after the Tree For Every Citizen scheme saw its herd of deer destroyed to protect tree saplings, though the destruction was never going to guarantee successful tree growth. It’s not just the deer that have been destroyed. Story and photographs by Suzanne Kelly.

DSC00908If you visited Tullos before the city and its expensive consultant Jamie Piper got their hands on it, you would have found an area rich in wildlife including deer. Gorse provided habitat for deer, small mammals and birds. A huge portion of the gorse is gone – and so is the wildlife.

Paths have been excessively widened – you can now easily drive a SUV down them – and that meant further loss of habitat and path side plants and fungi.

Other councils in the UK are worried about damage to their wildlife sites; Staffordshire has a report warning of the damage caused by the tactics Aberdeen employs.

You can’t see the forest – but not because of the trees:

It’s one of the few reasonably clement days we’ve had in a while when I visit Tullos. On my walk to the entrance I am struck by how much the area has been transformed by the Wood Group building. We lost the land, houses were torn down, and we must have lot part of Tullos Hill if we lost the approach to the hill.

The city says that this path was narrow and difficult – or words to that effect. The path was far more like what you would find in an area that wanted to give habitat to wildlife rather than to make comfy recreational access at the expense of wildlife habitat. I think of the people who lived in the caravan park who would feed the deer. The people and the deer are gone now, and the Wood Group building and its parking facility tower over the cairn. This is progress.

Councillor Aileen Malone promised Aberdeen that shooting the deer, clearing the gorse, (while giving Piper £100,000 plus expenses now a five figure sum at last glance) would give us a forest. The Liberal Democrats had the twee-sounding ‘Tree For Every Citizen’ scheme as its election pledge last time around; some laugh at the fact the only pledge they did uphold was the one everyone asked them not to – killing deer to plant trees on a rubbish tip unlikely to sustain trees.

DSC00903This was my first visit to the Hill in a while; in particular I wanted to see how the trees and weeds were doing. I was struck by how wide the paths are – clearly the intention is to turn a former wildlife area into someone’s idea of a suburban recreation area suitable for vehicles.

There is the bench. There are the parking lot signs with their cheery squirrel and trees.

There is something prematurely self-congratulatory and smug about these items which is very much removed from the reality of what the hill looks like and its use for wildlife at present.

I did see one bit of wildlife – a bee was on a gorse flower. Gorse flowers year long providing food to bees; most of us seem to understand the importance of providing food for bees, which are under a variety of threats, not least loss of habitat like this. Pesticides were used on Tullos; finding a specific record of who was paid what to use which chemicals is not a simple task. Fungi which used to appear alongside the narrower paths have not been seen (at least by me) these past few seasons since the clearing and culling began.

No, I didn’t see any trace of a deer or any small mammals on the hill. There was barely any bird song, either. Some 10 years ago several species of bird were to be found; some of which were increasingly rare in the wild. I don’t’ see them nesting in this area again in numbers any time soon.

The pictures do show some trees have grown. There are also fairly new tree guards – far taller than any used previously. We were once told tree guards had ‘negative visual impact’ so we were not going to use them when we could kill the deer to stop them browsing the young trees instead. Where there are trees that have grown taller, even in the light wind on the day of the visit, they could be seen moving considerably in the breeze.

Experts previously told the city that trees which do establish will be subject to wind toss – there just simply is not good rooting material on this former waste tip – the roots won’t be sufficiently anchored to stop strong winds blowing the trees over.

how-do-you-blame-a-deer-for-this-30-april-2016-skelly2Some trees have no growth at all, despite being in intact tree guards – no deer has damaged them. On the other hand weeds choke many of the trees around and inside of the tree guards.

The city has already been warned that the job they did is not good enough for the funding received. It may not be too much longer before we see Aberdeen City hand back another tranche of money to the government for failing to grow trees on the rubbish tip of Tullos Hill.

As the old saying goes, ‘insanity is doing the same thing over and over, but expecting different outcomes’. The City planted here before. Weeds killed the trees which did not thrive in the poor soil conditions.

The City blamed deer, and instead of using non-lethal methods (tree guards, fencing, choosing plants deer would not eat), The City slaughtered over 40 animals, then planted trees again. The trees are being killed by weeds, the trees are not thriving in the poor soil conditions.

The only people thriving from this sad state of affairs are those seeking to build their reputations (despite the actual facts) by proclaiming this to be a success – them, and the ones pocketing money for expertise (?), fencing (which originally we said we could not afford), herbicides and trees.

As part of the money he earned, Jamie Piper branded the thousands of citizens who signed a petition against the scheme and the 4 community council objectors as ‘a small but vociferous minority’. Who but a small and vociferous minority now says the hill is better off than before? No one other than those who gained say that the hill looks better now and is home to more wildlife.

There is no forest, and all the signs are there won’t be one. The city may have erected a new parking lot with signs to the ‘diamond woods’ – but calling Tullos a wood is hardly trades-description accurate.

DSC00891A View from the Cairn – of Wood Group’s new HQ:

Tullos had its paths widened.

The city also seems to have surrendered an access point and a large area adjacent to one of the three ancient cairns for the footprint of the Wood Group’s new HQ (a building and car park that by all accounts are underused).

The car park looms over the cairn, and the remaining wildlife is hardly going to benefit from the air pollution resulting from the construction and the uses (even if minimal) of the new parking.

What did the City say about losing the parking and the access?

“It would appear that in recent years the Council failed to maintain the car park and that the previous owners of the land (before Argon bought the site last year) have restricted access in order to stop unauthorised encampments from occupying the land. This has resulted in the car park falling into disrepair and access to the hill becoming overgrown, although it was still possible to walk from the car park onto the hill.

Whilst the proposed office building could be constructed and site laid out with the existing public car park remaining in place, Argon expressed a desire to have the car park removed, in order to allow more extensive landscaping to be provided around the development.”
– email to Cllr N Cooney of April 2014

So, we couldn’t maintain one parking lot on land gifted to us, directly adjacent to the Hill’s entrance – land coincidentally useful for this development. However, the city is confident it will be able to maintain the new parking lot.

near the entrance to the hill 30 april 2016 skellyAs to the quality of landscaping referred to in the email; other than having the Wood Group building and its parking making a negative impact on Tullos and the cairn, it’s hard to see what landscaping they are talking about.

As an aside, the email in question admits that air quality on Wellington Road falls short of desired standards.

A new building and its parking will hardly help improve things.

A few changes, none for the better:

More trees have been planted; some of the new guards dwarf the previous tree guards. This is likely the result of a recent warning from the government to ACC that the trees aren’t sufficient either in number or condition, and there is a chance the grant may have to be returned. I wonder how much this new work has cost.

Not content with the area cleared for the tree scheme, gorse clearance continues apace. It is as if there were some pressing need to get rid of this important plant when the reality is they cannot control the trees they have planted – perhaps watching the gorse grow effortlessly is an affront to the egos involved.

gorse destruction 30 april 2016 skellyOverall the effect is one of dead and dying gorse separated from empty tree guards, all surrounded by weeds. It is as if a man balding in patches were desperately trying to implant new hair – then again, I’ve been concerned lately with the Trump campaign – and this is probably where that image came from.

If you go down to the woods today, you won’t be going to Tullos. Bring back the deer.

Remember – the people who insisted this was cost neutral and must go ahead are Liberal Democrat Aileen Malone and the rest of her party: are you going to vote Lib Dem this year? NB – the price of this ‘cost neutral’ scheme so far (less any new planting) is estimated at £600,000 – and no officer or supporter has been called to account for this remarkable mismanagement to date.

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Oct 012015
 

This is an article submitted to SHMU for inclusion in their publication, Torry’s Vision. SHMU, or Station House Media Unit is a charity as well as a limited company, largely funded by the taxpayer. They purport to want articles from people living in Torry. They didn’t want this one. However, almost every issue of Torry’s Vision has glowing reports from the city’s rangers on how wonderfully things are going on Tullos Hill. Dissent seems to be off the menu at SHMU.

No final explanation was ever given for the refusal of this article.

First it was too long; I shortened it. Next they suggested it could be included as a letter. I explained that letters hardly have the same weight as articles. Then they wanted me to contact every organisation and person mentioned. Clearly the city, Aileen Malone, etc. would not be forthcoming with permission or statements to me on the deer cull and the enormous financial cost of their ‘cost neutral’ scheme.

Imagine if other magazines and newspapers had to contact the people they wrote about? Nothing negative would ever be published.

I sent footnotes to every claim I made. I told them they could cut the sentence about HoMalone (as she is known). No one ever explained why they didn’t print this, but had room for a full page story on a SHMU party, or half a page about household tips. SHMU’s representative was sent all of the links and/or prints of all documents used to support the article’s claims.

These can now be found here, along with a great deal of other relevant information on the deer cull and Tree scheme. They also said that this article needed to be more interesting to the people of Torry. Perhaps if any Torry residents past or present could kindly weigh in to say if this piece is at least as relevant to then as SHMU’s barbeque, that would be helpful. One more point: the City took months to release the finances: they were incomplete. By Suzanne Kelly

darkdeerpicA petition to examine issues surrounding the scheme and Aberdeen’s Tullos Hill in particular gained sufficient public support for the city’s Petitions Committee to address the issues.

The committee met the petitioners on 21 April.
Text of their petition can be found here.

In May of 2011, campaigners wanted the deer spared and for Tullos Hill to be left as a meadow and the roe deer to be allowed to remain.

Campaigners argued that the flowers and the gorse were important habitat and should not have been removed.

The hill is a former industrial and domestic rubbish dumping ground with serious soil pollution issues. When the public found out there would be a deer cull, thousands signed petitions and several community councils objected as well. STV reported that 80% of the city opposed the scheme. The convener of the Housing & Environment Committee, Liberal Democrat Aileen Malone, demanded that the public come up with £225,000 for fencing – or the deer would be shot.

Animal welfare charities and organisations were alarmed at this unprecedented demand, and people were urged not to give into the demand. Free of charge services were offered to show the city how to grow the trees using non-lethal methods – these were dismissed out of hand. A spokesperson for the Scottish SPCA referred to the culling of the deer for the tree scheme as ‘abhorrent and absurd.’

The public were initially told the tree planting would be at no cost to them. However, a Freedom of Information request revealed that an expert C J Piper, was paid £72,212 for services to the tree-planting scheme (FOI letter EIR-13-0110 – A Tree for Every Citizen response from Aberdeen City to S Kelly of Thu, 14 Feb 2013 9:39).

Other expenses include fencing, the cost of having the deer shot, and a previous failed planting on the same hill which saw the taxpayers returning £43,800 to Scottish Natural Heritage (letter from Forestry Commission Scotland to Aberdeen City Council 2March 2011). The campaigners want to know what all of the expenses are, both historic and ongoing.

John Robins of Animal Concern said:

“Aberdeen City Council have all but wiped out a perfectly healthy herd of deer which had existed for generations on a piece of rough land which has never been suitable for anything else. Tullos Hill evolved into its own natural habitat and should have been valued and protected for what it was and not destroyed to fit in with the grandiose plans of petty politicians.

“It is extremely unlikely that any new woodland will survive on Tullos Hill,” – (John Robins of Animal Concern in email to S Kelly of Fri, 3 Apr 2015 2:05) .

Suzanne Kelly, who has written several articles for Aberdeen Voice and a report, continued:

“There may be very few deer left in the entire city according to a recent SNH count. We want to know how much tax money has gone on this scheme, we want no further culling, and we want the city to seek assurances from the SNH that we won’t see another £43,800 bill coming our way: the trees are covered by weeds in many places, no matter how many awards have been dished out.”

Torry resident Earl Solomon added:

“I don’t agree with killing the deer. I think it’s disgusting”

The city council will consider its deer control issues again in October. It voluntarily has culled the 46 deer to grow trees, saying they are sticking to Scottish Natural Heritage guidelines. These guidelines are just that – guidance and not legally binding. Other local authorities such as Glasgow decided not to kill their deer.

More information on the costs of the Tree for Every Citizen scheme will be released shortly. It is important to see how much this scheme has actually cost Aberdeen’s taxpayers.

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Aug 252015
 

Suzanne Kelly has been one of the main campaigners who tried to stop the Tullos Hill Deer Cull and who tried to stop the city wasting money planting trees on Tullos Hill. When hundreds of Aberdeen taxpayers signed a petition, the city’s Petitions Committee heard Kelly speak – and among other things agreed to release the entire Tree for Every Citizen scheme’s costs. Seventeen weeks went by – and what was finally released leaves much to be desired. Suzanne Kelly explains.

darkdeerpic

Still in the dark regarding deer numbers, road accident figures and financial details.

After weeks of chasing, reminding, and waiting, Aberdeen City finally released what was meant to be the complete financial costs of the ‘Tree for Every Citizen’ scheme. One fact is incontrovertible: This was never going to be a ‘cost neutral’ project.

For a scheme which officer Peter Leonard promised again and again was ‘cost neutral,’ waiting from the end of April through the end of August was excessive.

All of the costs are meant to be kept in electronic form.

A previous Freedom of Information disclosure from December 2011 came comparatively quickly in the form of an excel spreadsheet.

The city has had a government soil report for years advising that establishing trees on the hill – once an industrial and domestic waste tip – is unlikely. The soil is almost non-existent, and because of the rocky structure of the hill and the waste, trees that do grow (not that there is much sign of growth) are likely to simply topple over – according to the Forestry Commission.

It was immediately apparent that not all was right. A previous and well documented £43,800 payment to the central government was missing. This was for the previous TFEC phase failure on Tullos. Getting the then Chief Executive Valerie Watts to admit to this costly failure was problematic (see previous Aberdeen Voice articles).

The £43,800 seems not to be recorded in the August release of costs anywhere.

That was not the only cost missing from the information supplied.

In June 2010, according to the previous FOI disclosure, some £30,000 was paid too Bryan Massie and identified as ‘Granite City Forest Phase 1’ / weed control. The two entries relevant to this cost supplied before have now disappeared.

The expenditure of public funds is meant to be controlled and responsibly managed. When convener of the Housing & Environment Committee responsible for this scheme and the deer cull, Aileen Malone, famously demanded the public stump up £225,000 for fencing or the deer would be killed, charities told people not to give in to this ‘blackmail’ or a dangerous precedent would be set. The cost for fencing on the hill seems – with the information received – to be around £40,000.

The scheme that was to be cost-neutral may have cost taxpayers some £600,000 pound so far – with no forest on Tullos. And no deer.

The excel workbook contains a page for income. The Scottish Government seems to have been rather generous. Or should that be the Scottish taxpayer.

The ‘other expenditure’ worksheet the City released contains two invoices for which little description but the word ‘other’ has been supplied. In many instances no suppliers are named.

The big financial winner of the scheme is arguably consultant Chris Piper of C J Piper, taking away approximately £100,000 for being the architect of the deer slaughter and the tree planting. The planting cost some £200,000. It is unclear whether this lucrative contract was put out to tender or not: no cost for any tender exercises whatsoever appear on the financial information supplied. If there was no tender exercise, then the city should explain how it skirted procurement protocol.

Killing the deer cost the taxpayer some £14,000 pounds for 2012 and 2013. No information was supplied for 2014. It is believed that the herd had gone several decades without the need for hunters to control their numbers. (It should also be remembered that the remains of some 4 poached animals were found last January on Tullos).

A complaint as to the poor quality of the information released was made, and as told the city officer responsible to go back and think again. It was also suggested that an upcoming council debate on future deer management set for October should be deferred until the public are given the full picture of this scheme, have had a chance to react, and a chance to contact their councillors.

If the information on cost had come out in a timely fashion, that might have been different. One might wonder whether the delayed, incomplete information could have been a stalling tactic to give campaigners and residents little time to input their thoughts into the October discussion.

The council officer, Steven Shaw, Environmental Manager, who supplied the excel workbook wrote:

“Before I send it to you I have asked officers to have a check through to ensure that there is nothing missing and information included that perhaps shouldn’t be.”

As to the request to delay the October discussion on deer management Shaw wrote:

“With regards to the deer management report, it is not for you to decide when the report will be presented to committee. The service continues to work towards October’s committee for presentation of the report.”

The decision to defer or not should be a matter for the councillors to decide, not Shaw, particularly in light of the circumstances of the TFEC finances.

Shaw is also keen to establish how many deer cause accidents. He also provided a spreadsheet describing when deer bodies were found or when they were involved in accidents. The factors causing deer to move would have included the loss of habitat on Tullos – huge swathes of gorse (essential for a variety of wildlife) were removed for the trees. Greenbelt was lost across the city for a variety of other building projects as well, forcing wildlife to leave areas no longer habitable.

The number of incidents of deer being found dead, removed from roads, or involved in accidents is 47. Most of the descriptions supplied do not indicate what the cause of death was. The incidents are at a variety of locations and span 2014 and 2015 to date. Without information on whether the deer were involved in motor vehicle accidents, poached like the 5 deer killed last year by poachers in the Gramps, this data is very broad and inconclusive.

But it does show deer should be protected. If Shaw/ the pro-hunting league are trying to sell the idea of killing all the city’s deer on the basis that they are found dead, the public may not exactly embrace that logic – especially when espoused by the very people who destroyed their habitat in the first place, using the logic that when the forest becomes established, the deer would have a place to live.

The public have had quite enough of this kind of thinking, and comments on social media reflect that conclusion. The city seems to be sticking to the guidelines put out by the SNH which allow only a handful of deer on land that used to support much larger populations; these guidelines are merely that, and are considered to be very controversial by landowners, animal welfare groups and even some gamekeepers.

We await the number of accidents caused by weather conditions, alcohol and bicycles from Police Scotland. We are confident it will dwarf the deer figure. We point to the need to preserve what little biodiversity remains in the south of the city, and we have long campaigned for signs to warn motorists of deer crossing areas, as is done in other localities where there are deer.

When correct and complete information is made available, it will be released. For the 2011 FOI response and this August submission from Steve Shaw, visit http://suzannekelly.yolasite.com/

May 012015
 

deer6featBy Suzanne Kelly

On Tuesday 21 April I represented the Save the Tullos Hill Deer group at Aberdeen City Council’s Petitions Committee. The petitioners had several requests; the results were mixed. Here are the results of that meeting.

With the mandate of hundreds of Aberdeen residents, and the backing of people from Aberdeenshire and beyond, a 10 minute presentation was delivered to the City’s Petitions Committee.

The issues that the petition put to the Committee were:

  1. To immediately stop culling (deer numbers may be very low based on the last SNH count)
  2. To explain how having 3-4 deer on Tullos can possibly mean a healthy gene pool
  3. To work with the police to stop further poaching (at least 5 animals were killed on Tullos and Kincorth hills in January 2014 – although Ranger Talboys wrote in an email they were probably killed elsewhere, and the poachers for some reason took the remains up the hills in question – a rather unlikely scenario, one which may show him to be biased and perhaps a bit out of touch)
  4. To erect deer crossing signs – there virtually are none in the city
  5. To disclose all costs associated with the Tree for Every Citizen Scheme and deer culling for the past 8 years

http://committees.aberdeencity.gov.uk/mgEPetitionDisplay.aspx?Id=13

A copy of the presentation made to the city can be found here:  http://suzannekelly.yolasite.com/

Culling to Continue / no clear explanation on deer gene pool

Sadly the culling will go on – at least until a review of deer issues are made in October. But with such strong, well-funded lobbyists in favour of deer culling, unless there is a public outcry, there is little hope but that Aberdeen will stick to the controversial SNH guidelines. Where we had dozens of deer in the gorse and meadow of Tullos, the SNH now want somewhere between 3 and 4 animals while the trees grow (if they do grow – which would take decades) to about 6 animals.

Animal welfare experts, landowners and gamekeepers all disagree with the SNH over culling quantities, as have cities such as Glasgow, which are being lobbied to accept the guidelines and cull. The election run-up is a good time to contact your elected officials and candidates on these issues. The Tree for Every Citizen scheme was a Liberal Democrat election campaign promise; it was meant to be cost neutral, a score on which it has failed.

Signage to increase

Another small victory is that the city seems willing now to erect signs warning where there are likely to be deer crossing.  Shaw said there is no pattern to where the 40 deer accidents he claimed happened last year are. Given that there is so much building taking place in Aberdeen’s former greenbelt, this is not a huge surprise.

However common sense will hopefully prevail, and at appropriate places motorists can be warned deer are in the area where no such warnings exist at present.  There are fewer accidents when drivers are warned of potential risks as opposed to when they are not; this is basic logic. When I last lobbied for this, the city’s astonishing reply was that ‘people don’t pay attention to signs’.

This has hardly stopped the city erecting dozens of signs of every kind all over the roads advertising all manner of events. The number of accidents caused by drunk drivers, speed, speed inappropriate to weather conditions, etc. in our are far, far dwarves the number of deer-related accidents: looking after the safety of motorists and our remaining wildlife should be a priority, the price for which should not be paid by the wildlife.

Poaching

The committee seemed interested in the poaching aspect; hopefully something will be done to protect our deer populations.

Costs to be Revealed

In a considerable victory, the committee agreed with the petitioners that all of the costs associated with the Tree for Every Citizen Scheme will be revealed. Aberdeen Voice uncovered some £169,000 expenses associated with Tullos Hill alone – and yet city officer Peter Leonard promised the Housing & Environment Committee this was to be ‘cost neutral’. Leonard should have also had sight of a letter that puts the plan’s success into question.

Having made my presentation which can be found here, it was over to a city officer to speak.  I had absolutely no right to reply at the meeting.  Here is what the officer said, and what I’d say in response.

Officer Steve Shaw:  The scheme is an award winning success

Rather than ranger Ian Talboys addressing the committee, Steve Shaw did. He spoke of 40 accidents over the past year involving deer – some where drivers apparently merely ‘nicked’ or ‘bumped’ an animal and then reported this to the police. Some were collisions. A humane response might be to erect the signs that I have been calling for, rather to call for killing our deer.

There are also devices that can deter deer from crossing roads. Then again, this is a city council whose ranger considered shooting two young deer who got trapped in a Tullos fence – rather than opening the gate. I would have liked to tell the committee about that.

Weeds surround tree guards where there were once flowers and gorse; at 3 years old, there is no substantial sign of growth. Yet this scheme won awards – as Steve Shaw was proud to announce in his counter to my speech.

Talboys was presented one such award despite the clear visual devastation on the hill from its former state. This award he won was given by the Woodlands Trust.  Does the Woodland trust work closely with the SNH who is pushing its deer cull guidelines and wants powers to make them mandatory on public and private land?

Those behind the scheme

Ranger Ian Talboys was present with city officer Steve Shaw.  Talboys is a name that will be familiar to anyone who’s followed the ‘Tree for Every Citizen’ scheme; he’s a strong advocate of deer culling, and belongs to the Lowlands Deer Network, which lobbies local governments to try and encourage deer culling. It is funded in part by Scottish Natural Heritage, who favoured the scheme to turn Tullos from a meadow environment suitable for deer into the current condition it is in.

Shaw didn’t mention the group by name, and other pro-culling groups may well be involved. Considering SNH found £100,000 to give to such groups in 2014, it is no wonder that the pressure to cull is on.

The fight is still very much on to protect our wildlife, our wild places, and taxpayer money.

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Mar 172015
 

At the end of March a petition asking for answers about Tullos Hill will close. Anyone interested in finding out how their tax money is being used, anyone interested in saving the city’s remaining roe deer population, and anyone who wants to ensure further money isn’t wasted is urged to sign now. Suzanne Kelly updates Aberdeen Voice on the petition that the ‘Save The Tullos Hill Deer’ group created at the end of 2014.

roe-deer-fawn-picTime is running out for a petition which could force the city to release information on its costly Tree For Every Citizen scheme and which may help save the city’s remaining roe deer from further culling.

The petition can be found here.

Anyone resident in Aberdeen who is on the electoral role can sign. Signatories have to register with Aberdeen City via the link on the petition page.

Many people have reported problems with the city’s electronic system – anyone who wants help in registering can email sgvk27@aol.com.

Aberdeen residents may recall the Liberal Democrats’ election pledge two elections back: A Tree For Every Citizen. Who could object to such a scheme, especially as it was not going to cost the Aberdeen taxpayer any money?

Aberdeen Voice investigations have since proved this innocent-sounding scheme was costly in terms of money and in the much-loved Tullos Hill roe deer population, which had existed in the meadowlands of Tullos for decades before the scheme was rolled out. No one was told that the majority of the trees were destined for meadowland on Tullos Hill (itself an industrial and domestic waste dumping area which had evolved into fields supporting insects, plants, birds and small animals).

No one was told that a previous scheme had seen Aberdeen’s taxpayers penalised £43,800 for the failure of the previous attempt to grow trees on the hill, either. Another fact which was not included in the public consultation was the city and Scottish Natural Heritage had already decided that to implement the scheme, they were going to kill most of the existing roe deer.

These deer had not previously been seen as a problem; they were simply small animals living 6-7 years, greatly enjoyed by tourists and locals alike.

Further background on the Tree For Every Citizen Scheme can be found by using Aberdeen Voice’s line search facility.

The scheme went ahead, and the trees planted are in many (if not all) areas on Tullos overshadowed by weeds which will likely kill them. Some three dozen roe deer were slaughtered – while people were allowed to roam on the hill — as a hired hunter shot them. The city’s risk matrix didn’t think that the residents using the hill for walking, bicycling or riding motorbikes were in any danger of running into a stray bullet.

The petition took months for the city to approve its wording. It had an initial deadline which was extended when it emerged that people who lived outwith the city or who were not on the electoral roll had been allowed to sign.  The city has allowed extra time for people to come forward to sign.

The petition asks for assurances that no further deer will be shot until at a minimum the actual population is known – there may be as few as 19 animals left in the city’s remaining, shrinking green belt pockets according to Scottish Natural Heritage Figures. Deer were killed to plant trees which may never thrive.

The city will be asked to disclose exactly how much money has been spent on the scheme to date; Aberdeen Voice has figures showing that the main consultant, Chris Piper, has received in excess of £50,000 for his services to date. Tens of thousands of pounds seem to have been spent on fencing. How much money the city spent on cleaning toxic chemicals from the soil and removing debris is unknown.

The petition also wants the city to ask for a guarantee from Scottish Natural Heritage / The Forestry Commission that the taxpayer will not be expected to hand over another £48,000 should this current tree-planting scheme fail – which some believe it is destined to do.

Anyone who wants answers or who wants to protect the remaining deer is urged to sign before the end of March.

STOP PRESS: Some new information has come to light in relation to the Tree For Every Citizen Scheme. Aberdeen Voice will report soon.

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

Aug 262014
 

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

DictionaryTally Ho! There is much ado in the Granite City; Friday is the Public Meeting concerning the future of the former St Nicholas House site.

Of course the beautiful, iconic, vibrant, dynamic creative glass-box office and retail development is a foregone conclusion; it will go ahead. It may take a chunk or two out of property that is part of the Lord Provost’s House, but at least we’ll have new places to shop.

As I say, whatever speakers say in their 10 minutes of allotted time, nothing will change; the plans are unchangeable.

Then again, it was a meant to be set in stone that the land at Loirston Loch was to be kept pristine green and serene as a wildlife habitat. It’s now being surrounded by more urban sprawl.

Old Susannah was allowed 10 minutes to come in and speak about the plans for the former St Nicholas site, but as the plans are made, somehow I don’t think I’ll speak after all.

You could be forgiven for thinking that planning in Aberdeen is a ratchet which can only be torqued in favour of developers’ wishes and construction projects, and never towards conservation, clean air and green space. But there you go.

On the other hand, it may be worth showing up to this meeting, for surely some people will be speaking of the crucial need for a civic square. Sir Ian Wood will doubtless remind us of his passion for a civic square. Aberdeen City Gardens Trust and ACSEF affiliate Tom Smith will surely be leading the charge to demand we take this opportunity to  make the public gathering space that he desperately wanted the ACGT to manage.

Stewart Milne will renew his impassioned, selfless case for a city square or granite web as well, which clearly had nothing to do with his then need for parking spaces for Triple Kirks (also now to be a glass box office complex). Perhaps this is an unfair comparison for me to make; after all Union Terrace Gardens is bigger than the area now under consideration.

I’m sure it is a complete coincidence that UTG is common good land worth a small packet and that ACSEF, Wood and the ACGT were so keen to get their hands on it. I guess we need a civic square (whatever that is) an outdoor theatre (great in winter no doubt) and so on – but only if they’re to be built on top of open, green spaces owned by the people.

It’s not as if I think the city’s officers don’t listen to the public or formulate plans and carry them out no matter what. But considering the deer cull and tree planting at Tullos, I could be forgiven for thinking so.

On a less contentious note, I saw the amazing, singular Jeremy Paxman in his Edinburgh Festival premier. For some reason he was acting nice; guess it was all part of the show for clearly he must be scathing and sarcastic all the time. The tickets had sold out quickly for some reason or other.

At one point he explained why he wasn’t always nice and kind to elected officials. Apparently, there are some elected officials who are dishonest, inept, bumbling, self-serving and dishonest. I’d never have thought it. At least we’re safe from that kind of thing in the Deen.

Clearly we don’t always appreciate the saintly self-sacrificing nature of our elected officials, experts and public figures.  Perhaps a few timely definitions may help engender more respect from us for our betters.

But first:  a competition.  A bottle of BrewDog to the first correct answer pulled from the hat on Friday:-

Q1. Garden Talk: Match the person to the quote

  1. wanted  “to create a hub, a focal point for future generations, which will draw together the retail and cultural aspects of the city.”
  2. 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 [voting to keep the gardens as they were and improve them] was still not an option.”
  3. “This [Granite Web] ingenious and inspiring design for Aberdeen’s key public space gives the city a new social landscape but one rooted in its extraordinarily rich heritage and natural assets.”
  4. “Right enough, there have been more people in the gardens recently but they seem to go in to have their photograph taken and wave placards, rather than to play draughts or spot trains as they did many years ago.”
  5. “there would NOT be a ‘no action’ option [to vote to leave the gardens alone ]at this stage because the feedback was part of a tendering process to select the best of six designs [allowing the public to reject the scheme would, of course, saved the taxpayer tens of thousands of pounds and a divisive referendum.  no one outside of private company ACTG has seen all of the votes or been allowed to count the votes against the scheme cast]”

a) Morris the Monkey – fictional character used by BiG Partnership to promote building in UTG (presumably either no one else wanted the job, or a fictional character was all they could afford to explain the benefits of a £140 million pound granite spaghetti junction).

b) Sir Ian Wood the Monkey (Scottish Enterprise, Wood Group, Wood Family Trust).

c) Sir Duncan Rice the Monkey – chair of this, that and the other and the design committee.

d) Gerry Brough the Monkey – long-gone ACC employee gently persuading us to have a granite web (and nothing but a granite web) known for his gentle temper and soft words.  Missed by no one.

e) Councillor West.

Q2. How many times over the years has First Minister Alex Salmond visited the Menie Estate residents to hear concerns living under Donald Trump’s stewardship of the estate?

a) 10
b) 20
c) 0
d) 0 – but he will accept an invitation to visit and will come to see Anthony Baxter’s and Richard Phinney’s new film ‘A Dangerous Game’ on 5 September in Aberdeen

Q3. Mixed bag:  match the number to the fact

  1. 5,847
  2. 7
  3. 1,378
  4. £50,000,000
  5. £50,000,000
  6. more than 16,000
  7. £15,000,000 approximately
  8. 65,000

a)  Approximate amount of money sitting in The Wood Family Trust to be used for charitable works (eventually).

b)  Number of people signing David Milne’s petition asking for an investigation held into propriety and handling of planning permission granted to Donald Trump at the Menie Estate.

c)   Number of people who voted for the granite web during the UTG design consultation.

d)  Amount of money shielded by tax from certain oil giant’s empire’s offshore payroll scheme.

e)  Sum of money pledged by Sir Ian Wood to create Granite Web.

f)   Number of people in Scotland reliant on food banks according to one charity.

g)  Number of people who voted for the winter garden design during the UTG design consultation.

h)   Number of people who turned down David Milne’s petition on Trump

Q4. How much oil do we have left?

a)  24bn barrels of oil could be recovered – First Minister Alex Salmond.

b)  12 – 24 billion barrels of oil potential  – Sir Ian Wood, report of February 2014.

c)  ‘Sir Ian claimed there are about 15bn to 16.5bn barrels of recoverable oil left, and that the figure from the White Paper is 45% to 60% too high’. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-28867487

d)  “hard-pushed” to extract 15bn barrels – Melfort Campbell.

e)  no one really knows for certain – everyone else.

And now time for one brief but poignant definition

Suffering (English gerund) the state of being in pain, discomfort, hardship

Never let it be said that Old Susannah turns a blind eye to the hardships faced by some of our older people, and the forces that conspire to break up families.  With today’s economic problems, some men are having to slave long, hard hours and travel extensively to keep their families together.  I am of course thinking about our depute Lord Provost John Reynolds, his wife and family. And so are you.

It all started innocently enough; some spoilsports were questioning the necessity of some of the wee trips the depute was going to make. Well, quite rightly Mrs depute Lord Provost wrote a letter to the Press & Journal. Standing by her man, she explained:

“I am his wife of  nearly 45 years [you can feel the pain], I have supported his work as a councillor and kept quiet when things have been said that upsets us as a family.

“Your piece has changed all that and I will not sit back and let you make it appear he is going off on ‘cooncil jaunts’. ..During his years as Lord Provost, 70 hours weeks became the norm… John was asked to take on the role of promoting Aberdeen and its oil-related industries abroad because he is passionate about the city and everything it has to offer.”

Alas! One of his upcoming trips to the US to go to a conference was booked on the assumption the conference was yearly, not biannual. But it’s going ahead anyway, so we can demonstrate ‘we’re open for business’ according to Jenny Laing, Council Leader. Reynolds said

“because it was approved there was still business to be done in Louisiana, doors that can be opened for Aberdeen businesses particularly, but also bringing Louisiana companies with their technology over to Aberdeen.”

One killjoy, Cllr Yuill said:

“we should remove this visit on the basis that the committee agreed to it based on inaccurate information.” 

I’m sure any private sector business wouldn’t mind finding out its employees were jetting out to non-existent events without any disciplinary action being taken. And if a person booking travel at taxpayer expense doesn’t have time to check out whether the conference actually exists that they’re booking someone to travel to, that’s pretty understandable as well.

It’s not as if the council has never taken decisions based on inaccurate information before, is it?

In my part of the world, the private sector has to watch costs. Bring in business? Private companies  send out literature and presentations are made in teleconferences. Touting for business on spec? The internet is cheaper and just that little bit more environmentally friendly. It’s just that little bit easier to spend taxpayer money isn’t it?

We are assuredly open for business. Perhaps the depute Lord Provost will find our next Donald Trump on one of his jaunts, or another businessman determined to take the small boats off the tiny harbour in Cove. I can’t wait.

But while Reynolds is looking for business in America, it’s just a shame that his family life has had to suffer. The drinks receptions, the public events, the hospitality – all very wearing after a bit don’t you know.

Perhaps we should not have forced him into being a councillor, being a depute / Lord Provost. So if you’re a nurse working double shifts, an oil rig worker, in the police, fire department or in teaching, just think how comparatively lucky you have it. Perhaps if things get rougher, you’ll see a few of our hard-done by councillors on your next visit to the food bank.

Next week: A new version of who’s who in the city and shire – what councillors are in what quangos and groups; what businessmen have cosy links to what politicians, and more.

  • Comments enabled – see comments box below. Note, all comments will be moderated.

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