Jan 272017
 

By Duncan Harley.

When a concerned Alford resident reported sighting two abandoned otter pups, Keith and Pauline Marley of Ellon based North East Wildlife & Animal Rescue Centre immediately agreed to take the orphaned mammals under their wing.

Weighing in at just 1kg upon arrival, the first task was to provide food.

Fully grown adult otters weigh around 10kg.

“Juveniles need to eat fifteen percent of their bodyweight daily in order to thrive” says Keith.

“Luckily, a local fish-merchant donated four boxes of cod to us when the cubs arrived. They have a voracious appetite though. In the first two weeks they ate over half of the donation.

“We have already identified a release site” 

Keith estimates that the siblings could be released back into the wild by July 2017.

Prior to release the youngsters will need to learn how to swim and how to hunt for food.

“We plan to use cat toys on strings to teach aquatic hunting skills. It’s likely to be quite a messy procedure” jokes Keith.

The search is on for funding to create a dedicated enclosure and outdoor pond for the pair.

The registered charity welcomes both volunteers and donations. Contact: www.thenewarc.org

Words © Duncan Harley. Image © New Arc

First published in the December 2016 edition of Leopard Magazine.

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Oct 282011
 

Old Susannah reflects on what’s been going on, who’s got designs on our City, who’s doing what out of the goodness of their heart, and wonders if there’s enough ‘connectivity’ yet.  By Suzanne Kelly.

It was another busy week in the Granite City. Have been busy decorating cupcakes with Sweet Lily Adams (it’s a hard life), and trying out new Jo Malone perfumes (I love their Gardenia cologne, and the orange blossom candle is my favourite).

NB: Jo Malone has absolutely nothing to do with Ho Malone, although the idea of Aileen and I having champagne and canapés together of an evening is an enticing prospect.
She is meant to email me back about the financials for the deer cull (we might not have enough money to kill stuff you see– or it could be a bluff).

Once she does write back, I’ll suggest that the two of us go out for drinks and dinner. Watch this space.

I actually went to some shopping malls without being accosted by guards, and I tried to avoid looking at the six design finalists more than was absolutely necessary. It was truly a car crash of an exhibition:  I had to force myself to look, and then in horror could not look away again.  Whatever the organisers say, not everyone at the show is convinced by the scheme or any of the designs by a long way.

The show has had a profound impact on me as has the TIF application – I think of these things and unavoidably burst out laughing.  You have to hand it to these people  – the emperor has no clothes on, but thinks it all looks fantastic.  If you are free on 1st November, The Moorings is hosting its own alternative design competition – details on Facebook, where the alternatives are far more popular than the official site.

For some reason when I was back at the Academy shopping centre for the first time since my last little visit, my mind turned to the old Benny Hill show.

The other week when the guards were chasing me round the Academy and St Nicks (for taking photos), I could practically hear the Benny Hill theme tune in my head.  If you remember, the wealthy, ageing Benny Hill surrounded himself with pretty blondes, and promised everyone that they would be generously remembered in his will. In the end, almost no one inherited a cent.

What on earth made me think of a rich, older man making promises to leave money to lots of people (including blonde actresses) I couldn’t tell you. The mind works in funny ways.  I must have got something stuck in my craw.

Obviously it was not as vibrant as being in a shopping mall, but I took my turn on Tullos Hill Monday night (yes, we are keeping a watch on the hill – if you want to get involved, get in touch) and saw a solitary deer on two occasions. 

It was obviously vermin, as it was peacefully doing nothing.  I am sure this little vegetarian would have eaten thousands of trees of a single evening.  A well-meaning man had a dog off a lead – the dog chased said deer away.  The man saw nothing wrong with this, saying his (fairly small) dog would not be able to catch the deer.  True, but not quite the point though is it?

Please let your dog run free if it will respond when you call it back.  If not, well, then don’t.  Wild creatures can be petrified in these circumstances.  In the past week and a bit we’ve a child badly bitten by a dog, a dog attacking another dog, and a charming man using his dog to attack police.  It’s just as well we got rid of dog licensing, isn’t it?

But onwards with a few definitions.

Charitable:

(adjective) generous, unselfish, giving behaviour.

Many of us here at Aberdeen Voice help out our favourite charities and causes when we can. But our efforts are quite second rate when compared to the heroic, unselfish, self-sacrifice practiced by some of the City Council’s officers. Step forward Mr Gerry Brough and Ms Jan Falconer.

These two have been working in part on a voluntary basis to make sure that we get something built in boring old UTG.  It is very generous of their employer, Aberdeen City Council to allow them to toil away on the garden project.

It was Jan who spoke to the Torry Community Council about UTG some months ago (Gordon MacIntosh had a dinner to go to instead of seeing Torry), and she promised everything would be spelled out and transparent.

I am convinced she is right – everyone on the City Gardens Project and associated companies has everything perfectly clear. And once the diggers move in, the rest of us will see what’s happening too.  Here is a statement from a report, spelling out how she works:-

 “I have only recently started in this project and the work I have undertaken other than attending meetings is administrative. My hourly rate exclusive of on-costs is £26. I work an average of 50 hours per week making an average of 200 per 4 weeks I work while I am contracted to 148 hours (37 hrs per week). I regard all other administrative and desk-based tasks as taking place during this 11  additional unpaid weekly hours (52 hours per 4 weeks less 8 hours for a flexi-day leaving 11 hrs per week)–which represents a cost saving of £2288 since working on this project from 2 February 2011. (i.e. 11 hours x 8 weeks @ 26 per hour = £3,120). Outwith this is Community Meetings to which I attended the Torry Community Council Meeting for 3 hours in my own time representing an additional saving of £78. This is my choice as I wish the project to be a success whilst following the Council’s instruction”.

Again, the real philanthropist is Sir Ian Wood, without whose promise of putting something into his will, we would not be where we are today.  (Hmm – who’s supplying the office space, light/heat, printers, consumables for all these extra hours?  What is the EU working time directive?  Just curious.)

Mr Brough has occasionally become a wee bit heated when discussing the whole situation, and has written to some local opponents of the new gardens that they are just jealous of Ian.   Here is an example of Gerry’s unselfish nature, hidden behind the sometimes less-than-genteel facade:-

“My hourly rate, excluding on-costs, is £46. However, I work an average of 55 hours per week. Therefore, I would regard all other administrative and desk-based tasks relating to the City garden project as taking place during the 17.5 additional unpaid weekly hours that I work for the council – which represents a cost saving of £20,125 since 6 October 2010 (i.e. 17.5 hours x 25 weeks @ £46 per hour = . £20,125). Indeed, it would be possible to claim that all City Garden work is effectively more than made up for by this additional no-cost time input. Consequently, it can be argued that any input to the City Garden Project is effectively on a voluntary basis, at no cost to the council”.

Bargain!  Only £46  per hour, and he’s willing to work extra at that rate!  I am impressed!  In fact, the amazing report that these quotes come from can be found at:

…. it has some real gems – like the fact they see no legal problems with getting the land and only 10 Freedom of Information Requests had to be dealt with.  You will be amazed as you read this; please be my guest.

While you and I could never hope to equal these giants of giving, who expect nothing in return for their efforts (not even a private sector job or promotion of some kind I am sure), I will take a moment to say that many local charities for people and animals need your help now.  Check out Voluntary Services, Contact the Elderly, Willows, New Arc  just for starters.

They are all in need of money, goods and if you’ve none of those to spare, they need your time.  Obviously you won’t get a carpark named after you, but you might wind up chatting to great people on a Contact the Elderly event, help out with animals, or do one of a hundred other things worth doing.  If you can, then please do get in touch.

Neutrality:

(adjective) impartiality, indifference,

Aberdeen City will not – so some claim – spend a single penny on anything to do with the City Garden Project.  Its officers might be volunteering their time and sitting on boards, companies and committees about changing our dreary Union Terrace Gardens from something Victorian to something 1950s – but it won’t cost us.

The people in Aberdeen who brought us the BiD funding are completely neutral and indifferent to whether or not the City Gardens Project borrows 70 million (probably a wee bit more – say 100 million) through TIF Funding.

This is proved by the BiD people sending out a very smart draft letter for businesses to send.  Here are some extracts from the text that an Aberdeen City employee is sending to local businesses (text in blue is mine):

“I have been asked by ACSEF (to) highlight [sic] that additional support is also required from local businesses to ensure that Aberdeen City can access TIF funding”. 

Well, that’s neutral enough for me.

“We would be grateful if you could consider writing to Barry White, Chief Executive, Scottish Futures Trust, 11-15 Thistle Street, Edinburgh EH2 1DF in support of Aberdeen City Council’s TIF (Tax Incremental Financing) submission” 

Aberdeen City is only asking businesses to write to the Scottish Futures people; it’s not biased at all.

“The TIF being proposed by Aberdeen City Council would unlock up to £80 million to deliver a range of city centre improvements as part of the city centre masterplan. At the heart of the city centre regeneration is the City Garden Project, which has already secured a commitment of £55 million of private sector investment with a further £15 million planned.”

Nothing wrong with a little unlocking, I say.  Who can argue with this factual paragraph?  Yes, sounds quite impartial to me.

“TIF is an invaluable and innovative tool for stimulating greater investment and regeneration, achieving major city centre transformation, and retaining and attracting existing and new business investment. It is therefore vital for Aberdeen to be selected as one of Scotland’s six remaining TIF pilot projects” 

Yes, they are saying TIF is great and it is vital for Aberdeen to get TIF, but I’m sure they really are as neutral as they first claimed.

“We hope that you will demonstrate your support for the Aberdeen TIF submission by making it clear that the Scottish Government needs to demonstrate its support for Aberdeen City and Shire by investing in the regeneration of Aberdeen city centre which, unlike Scotland’s other major cities, has received little or no public infrastructure investment over the last fifty years.”  

Yes, it is only fair that Aberdeen gets its own tram fiasco by having a big infrastructure project.  I do seem to remember that Audit Scotland thought things were so messed up here that we weren’t supposed to do anything big for a while.  But you can’t fault the City’s claim of neutrality just because they are asking businesses to beg for TIF.

Some of you out there might be starting to doubt whether or not the Aberdeen City BiD people are neutral when it comes to the City Garden Project getting TIF funding.  This excerpt from a letter from a Bid Bod should end any doubt:

 “Aberdeen BID is entirely neutral with regard to the City Garden project …”

So yes, Aberdeen City Council and its BiD people are neutral, they are just keeping businesses in the loop, and giving them a letter of support to sign so we can borrow somewhere between 70 million and 100 million (depends who you ask, really) for your great-grandchildren to pay off for building Teletubbyland. Neutrality to match the volunteer work, you might think.

It might sound like it’s asking for help from businesses getting TIF, but they have said they are  impartial so that’s that.

One tiny part of this impartial letter requires a little more study:

I draw your attention to what might be a typo (or a Freudian slip) in this letter which I found amusing (underlining is mine)

“ACSEF is a public private sector partnership that seeks to grow the economy and enhance its quality of life through a joined-up approach. With the private sector standing shoulder to shoulder with the private sector, ACSEF has facilitated, influenced and delivered a variety of major projects that are helping the region and Scotland to meet its growth targets”

Is the private sector going to stand shoulder to shoulder with itself – or is that exactly what the creation of ACSEF with taxpayer money has created and what we should be grateful for?  Answers on a form letter, please.

Just to show that I too understand neutrality, here is a link to a letter you can send to Barry White.

Tell him you don’t want a giant worm or a monolith that will cost someone, somewhere down the line tens of millions – if not one hundred million pounds.  Tell Barry the designs are awful, and the city needs to attract people with excellent schools, great medical facilities, safe, clean streets, and support services for those who need them.

No one is going to live in our city because it has more parking, more offices or a few giant concrete ramps where once 400 year-old trees once stood.  Use this letter as it is; customise it, or send your own to :  Barry.White@scottishfuturestrust.org.uk

Next week:

The  mystery of the uncomprehending Chief Executive, and the Case of the Missing Postcards in which Valerie Watts only receives 35 of the hundreds of anti-cull postcards created – over 60 of which were hand delivered by Old Susannah to a security guard who commented ‘loads came in’ that week – and the week before.  Where are the missing postcards?  Did deer eat them?  Answers on a postcard please – or get one of the remaining postcards and send it to the City – pop into Lush for your card – and some very nice ‘candy cane’ soap.

 

Sep 092011
 

Old Susannah watches the latest developments in the ‘Deen and the wider world and feels like a deer caught in headlights.  Here is this week’s look at what’s happening where and who’s doing what to whom. By Suzanne Kelly.

This Saturday is Open Doors day; I urge you to get out and visit sites in Aberdeen normally closed to the public.  (I will try and get to Marischal College – but I will also be whale-watching at Torry Battery with local expert Ian Hay at 10:30).

From noon Old Susannah will be at Marks & Spencer collecting signatures on postcards to highlight the plight of our Tullos Hill Deer. The postcards are free and will be sent to the City; please come see me.  The design is a powerful one, I think you’ll agree.

Old Susannah spent last week in France and Italy. I wandered around small towns and capital cities, and was struck at the lack of concrete, shopping malls, and ‘connectivity’.  Small, intimate spaces were around every corner – but you actually were better off walking from place to place. 

Not a single monorail was in sight either.  Small, local shops were busy with locals and tourists – there was no choice but to buy individualistic, hand-made items in most of the places I visited.  Streets were tree-lined; parks filled with interesting plants, and the pavements were amazingly clean.  Even the smallest of towns had rich programmes for retired/elderly people.

I even came across a programme to teach dog owners the importance of keeping their animals under control and cleaning up after them.   Don’t worry – nothing like this will happen here.

Sad to say I missed this year’s Offshore Europe. 

While historically a few firms hire attractive fashion models to talk to prospective clients about North Sea joint venture economics and showcase the latest in directional drilling techniques and so on, this year it seems one firm took things a bit further.  I am told swimsuit models were window dressing for one of the stands.

Perhaps this bathing-suit theme was something to do with subsea operations or ‘diving’ of some sort or other.  Whatever happened to the old-fashioned practice of giving OE visitors lots to drink? In any case, it is a good thing we have more women involved in the oil business, and the presence of glamour models should by no means be seen as a cheap publicity stunt or a large backwards step for equality.

In a happy development, the baby gull that I rescued (with a co-worker’s help) made a complete recovery at New Arc Animal Sanctuary, and will be released soon, along with a Fulmar and some ducklings. Keith at New Arc has his hands full, and is still looking for volunteers and donations.  New Arc will shortly open a charity shop in Banff, and will want your unwanted quality goods (new and used) to sell.  Get in touch with New Arc at  thenewarc1@aol.com

I realise not everyone loves birds and gulls – I’ve not forgotten Mervyn New, who happily blasted baby gulls with a gun (at his work no less).  But it seems a contributor to Aberdeen’s newest free newspaper, Aberdeen City Life, isn’t fond of them, either.

‘Fona’ McKinnon writes in City Life about the ‘Terrorists From the Sky.’  Er, they are birds and not quite terrorists; some people might object to the comparison in this run-up to the anniversary of 9/11.  Best not to feed them (terrorists I mean) in town, but it’s definitely best not to blast them with guns either.  Old Susannah wishes City Life all the best, and  is glad there is another hard copy newspaper in town.

Finally, a tired, old, Aberdeen institution has had a much-needed facelift (no, not you Kate).  Aberdeen City’s website has been re-vamped, and looks absolutely vibrant and dynamic.  (More on its contents in a minute).

Time for some timely Deen definitions.

Family Business

(modern  English compound noun) An organisation or enterprise staffed, organised and managed mainly by members of one family.

Much has been said lately about the excesses of the UK’s MPs when it comes to  claiming expenses.   Gone are the days of flipping second homes, flipping padded expenses and flipping new luxury bird houses in moats for the flipping MPs.

Much has also been said about the MPs using unpaid interns.  The interns work for free, and more often than not are people who don’t need to work for money; often internships are given out to the well connected.  But one area where the MP is still free to do as they please concerns hiring family.

Family members serve as secretaries, assistants and office managers.  The Independent Newspaper’s sister paper ‘i’ reports that the taxpayer is shelling out a few million pounds annually for the 130 or so MPs’ family members. I  am sure it must be a hardship working for mum or dad; the interviewing process must be rigorous.

I guess the jobs are  all advertised widely, and a number of candidates are shortlisted before junior  gets the job.

Closer  to home, I note that many of our elected City Council officials still have time  to run Aberdeen along world-class lines while still keeping a hand in their own  family businesses.  Some work as  assistants for family plumbing or electrical businesses.  Old Susannah knows it’s possible to do more than one job at once, but has always been confused by one little detail. 

Some of these councillors list on their  council web pages that they work for a family business – but when I look at the official register of interests, I can’t find where that work is actually  listed.  Are they working for free?  Possibly – they are all quite selfless souls.  Even so, I believe such work is  meant to be on the official register of interests.

I am still trying to get to grips with what is/is not put on the registers, and aside from one rather terse email to me from the City (which took months for them to compose), I’m just not there yet.

Of course if any of these family business companies were doing any work for the City, the relevant councillors would bow out of any relevant meetings, and there would be complete transparency.  I am sure that everything is above  board.  I just can’t find it in writing, that’s all.

‘Open Data Initiative’

(Aberdeen modern phrase) 

Just when you thought the  City had completely shown its hand and come clean about deer, trees, expenses, garden projects, planning, and selling land at less than market value – along comes:  the ‘Open Data Initiative’.  I mentioned the swish new website layout (I have to admit – it is an improvement), well one of the new-look site’s great successes is the Open Data Initiative.

I  can practically feel the suspense building, and almost hear people asking aloud “What is the Open Data Initiative”! Without any further ado – here you go:-

Open data is about increased transparency, about sharing the information we hold with the wider community to build useful applications.

We’re always looking for new ways of making it as easy as possible for developers and website owners to access and present data held by us in ways that they want – allowing you to remix, mashup and share data easily.

Use the links to the right to navigate to our various datasets available.  We’ll be adding more datasets soon, as well as pointers to online tools for making use of this data.

 http://www.aberdeencity.gov.uk/open_data/open_data_home.asp

I am confident the City knows about data ‘mashup’; I would in fact swear to this.  Well, what possible data are they now freeing up for us to mash and re-organise?  

Will they tell me how much they are paying the deer ‘expert’? 
Will they (finally) say how much land they sold at less than market value? 
Will they let me know if any companies doing building maintenance at council properties are Councillors’ family businesses?

Brace yourself:  if you go to the Statistics page link on the Open Data page.
(http://www.aberdeencity.gov.uk/open_data/statistics.asp)
You will find everything you might want to know.  About how many hits the City’s website gets per month, the population figures, and the expenditure on something called the  ‘Accord’ Card.

These are the very things I’d put on a Statistics page if I ran a city that was millions in the red.  I was dying to know how many visitors the City’s web page had in August 2010 – the answer was (of course) 214,000.  I guess that’s all of our questions answered now.

With our debt level in mind (and not being 100% certain a carpark and mall in UTG will save us from ruin), I followed a link to the February finance meeting documents.  With our newly-launched ‘Open Data’ initiative in place, surely the City will be open with its – I mean our  – finances, I thought.

Not all data is for the public of course. For instance, I was relieved to find that about half the information the Finance Committee discussed in February last year is off limits.  Have a look for yourself if you like: 
http://committees.aberdeencity.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=146&MId=1925&Ver=4

You’ll see that many documents are withheld as they are tip top secret, must never be released, and are commercially sensitive. And thank goodness.  It’s hard to get any privacy sometimes; so I’m glad to know that privacy is respected by our City’s officials.

However, I noted that an item from this Finance meeting about ‘Managed Data Centre and Virtual Desktop Environment’ was deemed secret.
If we have an ‘open data’ policy I guess it’s reasonable to withhold information from the public on the ‘Managed Data Centre and Virtual Desktop Environment ’ –  I’m just not sure why.

But the good news is now you can see the reasons why you can’t see the items on the agenda.   And that, I suppose, is ‘Open Data’.

On that note I feel the need for a Brewdog coming on.  I will say here and now I bought a few shares in Brewdog, so please consider that my interest in Brewdog to be declared.  I bought the shares, the T-shirt, and the beers.  Why?  Because they are great.
If I had a family business, I’d like it to be Brewdog, I do declare.

– Next week:  ‘Police and Thieves’

Jul 152011
 

New Arc’s Keith Marley talks to the Aberdeen Voice about New Arc’s activities and ways the public can get involved.

While some of Aberdeen’s great and good are spending their time and our money getting their portraits painted and throwing parties to celebrate the great occasion, the entire spectrum of people and animal charities are suffering cuts, and it will get worse.
There is no time like now to get involved with a charity of your choice, and The North East Wildlife & Animal Rescue Centre, better known as The New Arc would like your help.

The Northeast of Scotland has an abundance of wildlife and domesticated animals – but very few resources to cope with abused, injured and/or abandoned animals.  Willows in New Pitsligo is one, and the New Arc in Ellon is another.

Keith Marley from New Arc attended the Tullos Hill picnic in June arranged by Fred Wilkinson of Aberdeen Voice.  He entertained many of us with tales of rescued animals of all kinds.  He had once been called to a council flat – only to find it overrun with dogs, rabbits, cats, a parrot and the animal to be taken into care:  a very large pig.  He had to smuggle it out in a blanket to try and avoid embarrassment for its former owners; it was squealing, and kids on the crowded street asked what it was, and he said it was a sick dog.

Unfortunately not many of his stories are amusing.  People who are feeling the economic pinch are abandoning animals – some most cruelly.  A recent news story was that of a cat left in a locked box on the side of the road.  It would have surely been killed or starved to death in its small cage if not for a very eagle-eyed and caring passer-by.   The people who did this are still being sought by the Scottish SPCA.  Just as a reminder – animal cruelty and abandonment are completely illegal (as well as unacceptable to any thinking person)

Animal abandonments are increasing; the cost of driving out to rescue animals has risen with the cost of fuel, and the cost of feeding the hungry mouths at New Arc has risen as well.  Animal charities are in a lose/lose situation at the moment.

Keith would love volunteers to contact The New Arc; he would also love donations.  And ideally, he
would like people to get involved with fundraising:-

“We are asking for volunteers to form a fund raising group – Friends of The New Arc. FONA Ideally
we would like 2 groups, one based in Aberdeen and one covering the rural areas.

“The responsibilities of the fund raising groups will be to raise awareness of the work we do here
and generate fundraising ideas and assist in the coordination, management and implementation of those ideas into reality.

“If you feel this is something you could assist with either by sitting on the committee or by
volunteering your time to assist in carrying out the activities then please contact us by phone on 0796 2253867 or by e-mail at thenewarc1@aol.com

The New Arc will not destroy healthy animals; it seeks to rehome animals where possible or return to the wild as appropriate.  They are, unfortunately unable to take dogs, and at the moment cannot take any more cats.  They have a good number of animals which need homes, so if you can offer a suitable home to one, please do get in touch.

There are many animals which need to stay at the shelter for the rest of their lives – these animals desperately need sponsors.  New Arc also features a lost/found pet section on their website.  The website also offers useful tips as to how to assess and react to an animal in the wild.

There is no government funding – New Arc runs on volunteers and donations:  all monies donated go directly on maintaining the sanctuary and caring for the animals.  Here is a video of New Arc in action:-

Most young wild animals will have a parent or parents somewhere nearby; it is almost always best to leave a young wild animal alone – if you touch it, the odds are the parents will abandon it.  What might seem like an injured or abandoned wild animal to you or me may just be a fledgling.

If you do encounter an injured animal, there is also good guidance on what to do.  The New Arc seem to take calls ‘round the clock; I once needed Keith’s help and despite having a hospital appointment on the same day, he showed up to assess the problem I reported as soon as he could.

Please do visit the website at:  http://www.thenewarc.org/  and if you can help the New Arc, then please get in touch.