Mar 022017
 

With thanks to Guy Ingerson.

This weekend Scotland learned that the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, and possible future contender for Labour leader, thinks the Scottish Independence movement is on par with the rise of far-right nationalism across Europe and the election of Donald Trump.

While the war of words in both the press and social media raged on, Aberdeen Greens grappled with being lumped in with the likes of the BNP.

Aberdeen Branch Co-Convenor and candidate for George St/Harbour ward Guy Ingerson said:

“Waking up of a morning to see Sadiq Khan compare pro-independence parties like ours with Donald Trump was frankly baffling and enraging. We Greens have been leading the fight against Trump and people like him since our inception. We seek to build bridges between communities, not burn them.

We call for Aberdeen Council and Labour leader Cllr Jenny Laing to clarify if she agrees with Sadiq Khan? Does she really thing pro-independence voters are bigots?”

Branch Co-Convenor and prominent independence campaigner Myshele Haywood said

“The vast majority of the independence movement has been internationalist and opposed to racism. We want an independent Scotland in order to be an example to world of what a sustainable and socially just society can look like. The movements Sadiq Khan is comparing us to are the polar opposite.”

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Feb 192012
 

TIF – doesn’t this American innovation in borrowing just sound fantastic?  You get to ‘unlock’ money, re-develop an area, and money comes flooding in.  What could be wrong with that?  Karin Flavill looks across the pond to the home of the junk bond and bad mortgages, and doesn’t like what she sees.

While arguments rage over the future of Union Terrace Gardens, there’s consensus about one thing.  Tax Increment Funding is a somewhat difficult concept to get to grips with.  Not because the basic definition is complex.

TIF funds development by borrowing against future business tax gains arising as a consequence of that development.   New developments mean new business rates.  The local authority keeps a portion of those business rates (from businesses that wouldn’t have moved into the area but for the development) to repay the loan.

The complexity arises in assessing how this mechanism can be applied in a manner that avoids various potential pitfalls.  TIF is still very much in the experimental stages in the UK, so we lack a domestic reference point to understand how well the process is likely to work from start to finish.

When business is attracted from one area to another by a TIF funded development, it may be at the expense of another area.  This is known as “displacement”.   The area benefiting from TIF is pleased to lure business away with its spanking new TIF-funded development.  The region losing out wants some protection against financial detriment.

The TIF scheme provides that tax increment coming at the expense of another region can’t be retained by the local authority to make TIF repayments.  Like other NDRs, those increments must be sent to Central Government who will pool them with other funds then redistribute the funds equitably among regions.

Rather than being a tool to give cities a competitive edge and win City of Culture status for celebrated developments (the vision currently being promoted in CGP supporters’ referendum campaigns), TIF was first developed in the US as a means of helping regions to improve their most blighted areas.    Gradual shifts away from this philosophy, and increasingly creative ways of arguing blight, have led to many states in the US tightening up legislation to prevent TIF from being awarded except where genuine blight is demonstrated.

Chicago is often cited as example of the TIF scheme being misused to benefit the areas that least need it.  In August last year, a report was released outlining areas for improvement in the operation of TIF in that city.  The report highlighted problems regarding the monitoring of TIF expenditure.

Taxpayers had not been afforded easy access to information that would help them understand the TIF process or to evaluate the performance of the investment.   This reduced transparency of the process.

  although the initial cost proposed was $224.3 million, ultimately the park cost $482.4 million

The harder it is for the ordinary citizen to understand the TIF process and to evaluate the success of the development it funds, the greater the potential for corruption and abuse of the process by those who do understand it, and who can make it work to their own advantage.

That some will seek and gain an advantage through cronyism is an unfortunate element of life from which no city is immune.

In the 1990s, Chicago Mayor Daley (no relation to Arthur) developed a strong attachment to a project that would come to be known as Millennium Park.  A 16-acre landscape situated over an underground parking structure, it was built on top of Railroad tracks in an existing park called Grant Park.  The architect involved was Frank Gehry who had won international acclaim for the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.  The Chicago Tribune enthused that:

“The most celebrated architect in the world may soon have a chance to bring Chicago into the 21st Century”.

The park has certainly won many admirers worldwide and is, in many ways, an excellent model for what the City Garden supporters are hoping that project will become.   Properties in the immediate surrounds have become very fashionable and have increased significantly in value.

For others there has been a hefty price tag.  For example, although the initial cost proposed was $224.3 million, ultimately the park cost $482.4 million.  The park has come at a very high price to Chicago residents in terms of cuts to funding of public services and job cuts that were necessitated by the cost of the park.  Salt is rubbed into the wound, on occasion, when the park is closed to the public so that corporate functions may be held there.

During and after the building of the park, Mayor Daley was frequently criticised for alleged cronyism in the awarding of contracts.   Other areas of the city continued to deteriorate, while their inhabitants observed the increasing wealth and prosperity of those parts of the city that benefited from TIF funded schemes.
Areas that never suffered from true blight in the first place, but which were a focus of interest for developers, politicians, owners of business premises and others who could make the TIF scheme work for them.

In some ways it’s puzzling that we, supposedly a far more socialist nation than the US, are applying a model of TIF so similar to that model which states in the US have been increasingly trying to move away from by drafting legislation that aims to help TIF function in accordance with its original aims.

There has always been a tendency for conservatives to condemn the poor for their reliance on state sponsored welfare, but in recent years have people started questioning more vigorously the exploitation of taxpayer financed schemes by the some of the biggest players in business (players who have traditionally, but not always accurately, been lauded for their self-sufficiency).

TIF deserves close attention for its potential to increase this problem.  Failure to know, or care about, the original philosophy of TIF leaves us less alert to its potential for misuse that could worsen existing inequalities in our society.

The UK version of TIF springs from recommendations in a 2008 report by PWC and Core Group Cities for an alternative method of funding developments in core group cities (the 8 largest regional cities in England).   The report is here.  

It begins with commentary on the economic successes of the core group cities, and highlights continuing problems relating to unemployment and deprivation in some neighbourhoods.    It states an aim to “rejuvenate communities, provide new employment opportunities and stimulate further economic growth.”

  Promoters of the CGP dismiss the possibility of serious overspending as scaremongering

The report then discusses the increasing political emphasis on a devolved approach to economic  development .   A defining aspect of TIF is that it permits local authorities greater autonomy in the matter of funding developments once they have been granted the TIF loan.

For this to happen, they must submit a detailed business plan to the SFT who make recommendations to central government regarding feasibility.

PWC, having been involved in the UK version of TIF from its conception, is ideally positioned  to assist local authorities with the preparation and submission of their business plans.  Finance and Resources Committee meeting minutes from September 2010 discuss PWC’s remit in preparing a TIF business plan for approval by the SFT.  The minutes refer to several important city projects the Council would wish to progress, whether or not the City Garden project went ahead.
See: https://docs.google.com …committees.aberdeencity …pwc+tif+business+plan

“The terms of PWC’s assignment make it clear that they are required to produce a business case that ensures zero financial risk for the Council.”

The Council states that it will make no financial contribution to the City Garden Project.  The development must be funded wholly by private contributions and by the TIF loan and completed within the budget.

Promoters of the CGP dismiss the possibility of serious overspending as scaremongering.  Chicago’s Millennium Park experience demonstrates, however, how this can and does happen.   As a response to such concerns, Sir Ian Wood has pledged an extra £35 million.   It’s not clear what will happen if the cost exceeds this.

Despite ACC’s insistence that PWC present a business case involving zero risk to the Council, the draft business case completed in January of this year contains no such promise.  It focuses on minimising risk and balancing the risks involved in carrying out the project against the risks involved in doing nothing.

Outlining the need to attract investment and talented professionals to Aberdeen to assure future prosperity, the plan refers particularly to the energy industry.  Due to the oil and gas industry being regarded as the primary targets for investment in Aberdeen, and Aberdeen’s existing status as the main centre in Scotland for this industry, PWC anticipate displacement being low (10%).   A low anticipated displacement figure is essential for arguing the likely success of a business plan.

  PWC appears to anticipate investment by that industry increasing in Aberdeen, alongside the increasing depletion of oil and gas reserves

Work is expected to be completed over a 5 year period beginning this year, with TIF borrowing being carried out in stages (the first draw down taking place in 2014).  The proposed development is expected to create approximately 2 million square feet of commercial space and to speed up the development of a further 1.4 million square feet of commercial space.

The CCRS (City Centre Regeneration Scheme) predicts 6,500 new jobs resulting from the development.  It should be noted, though, that that figure is a “by 2039” prediction.

The business plan states:

“Oil and gas reserves will run out over time, perhaps 30 years, and Aberdeen is looking ahead. It knows it needs to adapt its industrial base and re-examine how it creates wealth and prosperity.   Aberdeen is confident it can do so.”

This project is to be completed in 2017, and its success relies significantly on a very low displacement figure of 10%.  In presenting this figure PWC relies on the oil and gas industry, already present in Aberdeen (and therefore not being taken from other areas) being the main sources of increased investment in Aberdeen.   Confusingly, PWC appears to anticipate investment by that industry increasing in Aberdeen, alongside the increasing depletion of oil and gas reserves in the North Sea.

Perhaps in anticipation of confusion about this assertion, much is made of the possibilities relating to renewable energy – an industry Aberdeen must embrace and develop expertise in, regardless of Donald Trump’s views.  The question is whether developments in other areas area will not only compensate for the steadily diminishing presence of the oil industry, but expand to the point where the business plan can work as anticipated.

Regarding the City Garden proposed as a replacement for UTG, the report comments…

“While there is no direct benefit the fact that the City Gardens Project becomes a reality and underpins the CCRS will benefit Aberdeen’s wider population and business community.”

During a recent BBC Scotland debate, campaigner Mike Shepherd (a geologist with years of experience in, and expert knowledge of, the energy sector) was shouted down and jeered at by pro CGP hecklers.  The latter have tended to define opponents of the City Garden Project as tree-huggers and luddites who will be crushed by the wheels of change.   UTG has also been described, throughout the debate, as a dangerous area…despite police reports indicating far lower crime levels in UTG than in surrounding street level areas.

The debate has often been an acrimonious one, featuring conflicts of various kinds.  Already the TIF pilot scheme in the UK form originally advocated by PWC has brought deep divisions to Aberdeen.  It seems set to be promoting a cheerfully unapologetic attitude, amongst some in our community, with regard to social exclusion.

A popularly cited reason for getting rid of UTG is that this will also rid the city centre of people with drug and alcohol related problems.   Presumably, relegating them to more blighted areas that would, were TIF being applied in a manner consistent with its original aims, be the areas actually benefiting from this scheme.

 

Aug 242011
 

Aberdeen’s Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament group has held a memorial service marking 66 years since the nuclear attacks on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War Two. Philip Sim attended the annual event and brings us the following account.

There was a healthy turnout at the event on the banks of the River Dee, where speakers and spectators alike braved the pouring rain and swirling winds.

The service included speeches from a range of political and community groups, including SNP MSP Maureen Watt, Nathan Morrison of the Labour Student’s Association, Gordon Maloney of the Aberdeen University Student’s Association, and Clive Kempe of the Green Party.

Hiroshima Memorial on the River Dee from Philip Sim on Vimeo.

Messages of support were read out from Tomihisa Taue, the mayor of Nagasaki, Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, and Aberdeen North MP Frank Doran. Poems and songs were recited, all conveying the same broad anti-nuclear message.

After a minute’s silence, the group lit two hundred peace lanterns, one for each thousand people killed in the nuclear attacks on Japan in 1945, and floated them down the River Dee as the sun went down.

CND rallies were also hosted in Dundee, Ayr and Paisley, while people gathered to hear speeches in Edinburgh’s Princes Street Gardens and Glasgow’s west end.

Aug 012011
 

With Thanks to Dave Watt and Aberdeen CND.

Saturday the 6th of August sees the 66th anniversary of the dropping of the world’s first atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima on August the 6th in 1945.

Aberdeen CND will be holding a commemoration of the event at the River Dee on the evening of the 6th.

Previous years have seen an increasing amount of attendees at this event with representatives from political parties, faith groups and members of the public.

We will release 200 peace lanterns on the River Dee to commemorate the 200,000 men, women and children who died. There will also be short contributions from persons representing Student organisations, Trade Unions, Faith Groups and Civic leaders. 

All are welcome at the event and messages of support have so far been received from the Mayor of Nagasaki (see below), Scotland’s First Minister and local MP Kevin Stewart.

CITY OF NAGASAKI
Message from the Mayor

“Today I would like to say a few words on behalf of the people of Nagasaki for Hiroshima/Nagasaki  Memorial Ceremony being held in Aberdeen.

“I would first like to extend my appreciation for the people of Aberdeen and their continued participation and support in lasting peace activities.

“At 11.02am on August 9, 1945 Nagasaki was devastated by a single atomic bomb. With 74,000 people killed instantly in the explosion and a further 75,000 who suffered injuries, Nagasaki fell into ruin. Those who narrowly escaped death were dealt terrible incurable physical and psychological wounds caused by the after effects of the radiation that they suffer from even today, 66 years later.

 “Through the Hiroshima/Nagasaki Memorial Ceremony, I hope many people of Aberdeen can deepen their general understanding of the inhumanity of nuclear weapons and help us work towards realizing a world free of nuclear weapons and everlasting peace.

“In closing, I would like to extend my best wishes for the success of this event and for the good health of all the people who are gathered here today.”  – Tomihisa Taue, Mayor of Nagasaki.


Date: Saturday 6th August 2011, at 8.30pm

Venue:  the Fisherman’s Hut on the River Dee
(by Riverside drive – See map)

CND campaigns to stop any future mass destructions! We call on the Government to:
  • Scrap the Trident nuclear system. 
  • Cancel plans for the next generation nuclear weapons
  • Work for international nuclear disarmament

For further details contact:   www.banthebomb.org/AbCND  or telephone:   0787-904-6779

Jun 182011
 

With thanks to Mike Shepherd.

Peter Williamson was kidnapped as a child in Aberdeen harbour and taken to the American Colonies where he was sold as a slave.

On gaining his freedom, he was kidnapped by the Indians, living with them and eventually escaping from them. He then spent three years in the British Army fighting against the French and the Indians, only to be captured again, this time by the French.

As part of a prisoner exchange he was repatriated to Britain in 1757.

In Plymouth he was released from the army with a purse of six shillings.  This was enough to get to him to York, by which time he was penniless.

He managed to persuade some local businessmen to publish his book, titled  The Life and Curious Adventures of Peter Williamson, Who was Carried off from Aberdeen and Sold for a Slave. This sold very well and gave him enough money to return to Aberdeen in June 1758, fifteen years after being kidnapped.

He had several hundred copies of his book with him, some of which he managed to sell on the streets of Aberdeen. The book eventually came to the notice of Councillors and merchantmen in the city, and although nobody was named, they did not like what they read. The Procurator Fiscal lodged a complaint with the Provost and Magistrates, stating:

“that by this scurrilous and infamous libel … the corporation of the City of Aberdeen, and whole members whereof, were highly hurt and prejudged; and therefore that the Pursuer (Peter Williamson) ought to be exemplary punished in his person and goods; and that the said pamphlet, and whole copies thereof, ought to be seized and publicly burnt.”

A warrant was issued for his arrest. He was taken from his lodgings and brought before a Magistrate at the courthouse. Peter was asked to repudiate publicly everything he had said concerning the merchants of Aberdeen. Until he agreed, he was to be imprisoned and his books seized. After a short time in the Tolbooth (a jail in the Aberdeen Town House), he was bailed and stood for trial. On being found guilty, he was told to lodge a document with the court confessing to the falsity of the book and to pay a ten shilling fine, otherwise he would be imprisoned. This he reluctantly agreed to, leaving Aberdeen and moving to Edinburgh.

In a ceremony watched by the Dean of the Guild, the Town Clerk, the Procurator Fiscal and the Baillies, the offending pages were sliced from 350 of Williamson’s books and publicly burnt at the Mercat Cross by the town hangman.  The remaining pages were never returned.

In Edinburgh, Peter contacted a lawyer and started planning for a legal challenge. He opened a coffee shop which became frequented by the Edinburgh legal fraternity and he started to teach himself Scots law. The year 1760 saw the  start  of an extended phase of courtroom battles against his persecutors in Aberdeen. In 1762, he was successful in getting the result of the Aberdeen trial reversed and was awarded costs and a £100 in damages.

The results of his investigations had revealed the names of the businessmen behind his kidnapping. These were Captain Robert Ragg, Walter Cochrane (the Aberdeen Town Clerk Depute), Baillie William Fordyce, Baillie William Smith, Baillie Alexander Mitchell, and Alexander Gordon, all local merchants with a share in the ship, Planter.

Further litigation ensued. Witnesses were found and they were mainly men who as boys had managed to escape kidnapping. The father of a boy who had sailed with Peter Williamson to the Americas testified. He said that while the Planter had been moored at Torry, his son had returned to him and refused to go back. He claimed that Captain Ragg and others involved had spoken again and again with him in the street, warning him that he would be sent to the Tolbooth if he didn’t send his son back to the ship. The boy went back.

The main incriminating evidence was the so-called “kidnapping book”. This was a ledger detailing all the expenses of the slave-ship venture. It mentioned Peter Williamson by name and included entries such as:

“To one pair of stockings to Peter Williamson, six pence; To five days of diet, one shilling and three pence.”

One entry read:

“To the man who brought Peter Williamson, one shilling and six pence.”

Eventually in 1768 the case was proved. Peter was awarded damages of £200 plus 100 guineas costs.

Child slavery was endemic in Aberdeen and elsewhere in the 1700s. The plantations in the American colonies were desperate for labour. The Book of Bon Accord (Robertson 1839) records that:

“The inhabitants of the neighbourhood dared not send their children into town, and even trembled lest they should be snatched away from their homes. For in all parts of the country emissaries were abroad, in the dead of night children were taken by force from the beds where they slept; and the remote valleys of the Highlands, fifty miles distant from the city, were infested by ruffians who hunted their prey as beasts of the chase.”

Skelton (2004) mentions that it was estimated that 600 boys and girls were abducted and sold for slavery between 1740 and 1760 in Aberdeen and the North-east. On the voyage alone that took Peter Williamson, there were 69 youngsters on board.

A BBC website accompanying a radio series on the history of the British Empire fills in some background from the period:

“Most accounts of British slaving date from the 16th century with the shipping of Africans to the Spanish Main. But less discussed is what happened to English and Scots eight, nine and ten year-olds in places like Aberdeen, London and Bristol. Many from those places were sold for forced labour in the colonies.

London gangs would capture youngsters, put them in the hold of a ship moored in the Thames and when the hold was full, set sail for America. Many authorities encouraged the trade. In the early 17th century authorities wanted rid of the waifs, strays, young thieves and vandals in their towns and cities. The British were starting to settle in Virginia. So that’s where the children went.

This was a time when it was common enough in Britain to have small children as cheap, or unpaid labour. In 1618 one hundred children were officially transported to Virginia. So pleased were the planters with the young labour that the then Lord Mayor, Sir William Cockayne, received an immediate order from the colony “to send another ship load.”
See: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/history/empire/episodes/episode_36.shtml

Sources:

*Joseph Robertson: “The Book of Bon Accord”. Aberdeen 1839.
*Douglas Skelton: “Indian Peter. The extraordinary life and adventures of Peter Williamson”. Edinburgh, 2004.
*Peter Williamson “The Life and Curious Adventures of Peter Williamson, Who was Carried off from Aberdeen and Sold for a Slave”. York, 1757.

Read the full story here: The Life and Curious Adventures of Peter Williamson