Sep 012011

Aberdeen Voice presents the fourth of a six-part tragedy by Jonathan Russell describing the shocking process of service closure for disabled people in Aberdeen – and asks what we can do to reverse the destruction.

A Comedy of Errors Meets MacBeth: Act II 

At the end of 2009 the axe fell on the Community Placement Team in two ways.

Firstly, a report had gone to Council, which agreed to the cutting of five staff from our team. (If you remember from the first article – the Social Work Inspection Report – the team actually had much better outcomes than the norm in Scotland in relation to employment). Yet the report said they would re-provision services for better outcomes.

Our concerns were not only about the actual cuts, but also about how management implemented the cuts. There were no attempts to help us through this process and (as touched upon in the Social Work Inspection report) the perceived culture was ‘macho’, ‘punitive’, ‘autocratic’ and ‘hectoring’. This culture created low morale and a feeling of hopelessness.

What followed was a series of meetings with the voluntary sector with the aim of setting up this ‘high outcome service’. However nothing came out of this process except wasted time and money, with the net result of no new services being developed or delivered as agreed by Council.

Once more public money was being wasted, and no new services – as were promised to the Council and by officials – were actually created. So rather than better outcomes, no outcomes were achieved at all. Time and money was wasted and this further demoralized staff on the front line. We also lost good committed staff through this process.

What should be of concern to the public is that the Council failed to hold the officials to account for their failures, which evidences an administration which can often be out of touch with what actually goes on at service level.

This resource was providing services at very little cost to the council

Secondly, the decision was made to move the Community Placement Team away from the Choices building. The Choices building had been especially built for disabled people and was a venue that people with disabilities saw as their own.

The other service that had been based in the Choices building was the Choices Respite Service; and clients became involved in a high profile campaign to re-instate the centre.

Management was not happy with being questioned in this way and wanted the whole disability service based in the building closed down.

Along with partners in the voluntary sector, we had put a proposal together which would have more than covered the costs of keeping Choices open. Higher management refused to discuss this, and the proposal was turned down.

These services could also have been used by the Physical Disability clients who had already lost services due to the closure of Choices Day Service: also for the Learning Disability clients who were going to lose their service through the closure of Burnside Day Centre.

As has often been the case, no logical thinking by officials within Aberdeen City Council was in evidence. The administration appeared out of contact and led by the officials.

The team was moved into an anonymous open plan office in the centre of town. This had major ramifications for the services we had developed with Access to Training and Employment, because we lost our especially adapted garden, which included especially designed and created raised beds and poly-tunnels.

The cost of the parking permits itself would have covered the cost of keeping Choices open.

Much of the work done in creating this horticultural complex was on a voluntary basis.  Over £100,000 worth of resources from oil firms and trusts was gathered at no cost to Social Work Services within Aberdeen City Council in the building of this gardening complex.

We had also planned to base Crafty Things at Choices, following the loss of premises due to the re-development of Beechwood School. This resource was providing services at very little cost to the council. But rather than saving money, the council was intent in purchasing more expensive services by spot purchasing service from the voluntary and private sectors.

As stated previously the Community Placement Team was moved into Kirkgate House – a large anonymous open plan office, which had restricted access for clients. Precious time and money was wasted, with staff having to go back and forward to car parks.  The cost of the parking permits itself would have covered the cost of keeping Choices open.

To deal with concerns raised in the Social Work inspectorate report a new Transitions team was set up.

This entailed taking on an extra Senior Social Worker. As well as the Senior, the team consisted of four social workers – only two of whom actually carried out work with transitions. The other two staff were involved in carrying out service reviews. In reality half the transitions work was still being carried out by the Community Placement Team.

To try and compensate for this we set up joint meetings between transitions staff in both teams. There was no interest in this from management; probably because they knew what was going to happen next.

  • Read what happened  next in the fifth part of this 6 part tragedy,  subtitled ‘A Comedy Of Errors Meets MacBeth: ActIII’ in Aberdeen Voice next week. 



Apr 222011

Aberdeen Voice is proud to present the following comic strip originally created by local artists Dave Smith and Graham Murdoch. The cartoon strip first appeared in an issue of the sorely missed Keltik Komix in the late 1980s. However, readers will find the subject matter not only topical, but uncannily familiar. It is very likely that the particular issue of Keltix Komix in question was funded by Aberdeen City Council  – for which we are extremely grateful.


Nov 122010

Members of Friends of UTG were shocked this week when they attended what they thought was a fairly low-profile council meeting to discuss ‘land use’ in the city.

Mike Shepherd told the Voice;

‘A friendly councillor told us about the Land Use forum being held in Aberdeen town house on Tuesday night. We went along with the vague idea that there might be some discussions relevant to the Union Terrace Gardens campaign. To our surprise it was a meeting to discuss council cuts over the next five years.

Present were various members of the council executive representing enterprise, planning and infrastructure (but not social services).

Options for budget cuts have already been published elsewhere. Nevertheless, it was still a shock to hear about them from council officials themselves in what proved to be a very gloomy meeting.

The intention is to cut the council budget by 10% over years 1 and 2, and then by another 10% over the period years 3 to 5, totalling £127 Million.  Here are some of the things that were said at the meeting.

–         There is no legal obligation for the council to fund parks, open spaces, street lighting or public toilets.

–         There is an option to close all 9 public toilets in Aberdeen. One possibility being considered is to pay commercial properties to allow the public to use their toilets.

–         The level of street cleaning may be reduced.

–         An option is that once a council cemetery becomes full, not to maintain them and turn them into a wild life area.

–         Reduce school crossing patrols, perhaps using them in the morning only and not at dinner time or the afternoon.

–         Reduce expenditure on bus shelters.

–         Car parking charges to increase every second year.

The council are looking for consultation on the cuts. In an angry exchange, it was mentioned that it was difficult to take the council seriously on this after the City Square debacle. The council executive assured everybody that they were serious about listening to the public.

Some suggestions were made in the discussion that followed. The council fund ACSEF by £230,000 a year, a figure confirmed at the meeting, and they could easily afford to fund themselves. It appears that there is a three-way agreement between Aberdeen council, Aberdeenshire council and Scottish Enterprise to fund ACSEF and the next review of this agreement is over a year away. Nevertheless, cutting funding to ACSEF is an option that has been considered.

Another idea was to put a moratorium on further council borrowing, particularly as a large part of the revenue budget services the debt. We were told that this wasn’t a practical idea as certain departments required unavoidable investment.

One ACSEF supporter at the meeting replied to this that the city needed better infrastructure like approach roads, only to get the caustic reply that what was the point of better access to a city where there were no parks, no public toilets and the cemeteries were wild life areas.

Although no decisions have been made re. cuts, there is no doubt that the standard of public service in Aberdeen is going to decrease substantially over the next five years. Given the irony of an almost bankrupt council in a rich oil town, JK Galbraiths dictum of private affluence and  public squalor side by side will become painfully obvious before long. ‘

Nov 052010

By Richard Pelling.

Golden Square.  Sounds quite exotic doesn’t it ? Despite being a classical granite square just off Union Street in Aberdeen, all is not well in Golden Square as we witness yet another chapter in the shameful transition of Aberdeen from Granite City to Grabbit City.

So what’s the deal this time I hear you ask ?

Well, let us begin by having a wee neb at the Aberdeen City Centre Development Framework and see what it says about this Golden Square (Section 3.6.6 of the document).

“the classical character of the Square has been destroyed with an over dominance of parking. Golden Square should be developed into a space that focuses on pedestrian movement and activity, celebrating the statue of George 5th * whilst balancing the needs of vehicular movement”

[* the statue is of George, 5th Duke of Gordon ].

Sounds good … the framework looks like it sets out to swing the balance in favour of the pedestrian in a city centre that is severely lacking in public open space, but wait, there’s more.

“Better use of Golden Square could be achieved by (among other things)


Removing cars from the central space


Introducing greenery, formal planting and seating into the central space”

Sounds really nice … Now bear in mind that this City Centre Development Framework is “live” and part of the material from the Aberdeen Local Development Plan with feedback invited by 5pm on 17th December 2010.

The document, available on-line, is credited to the Enterprise, Planning and Infrastructure Committee of Aberdeen City Council (ACC) – remember the name.

we see from this report that Aberdeen City Council has coveted this car park for a while and has evidently made considerable effort to secure it

Two sides to the tale

Now you would think that the major issue here is that the “central space” in the square is currently used, not as a commercial car park, but as a charity car park by the Aberdeen branch of the Royal British Legion for raising money – through donations – to help ex-servicemen.

A dilemma indeed. It would be a real shame to see the ex-servicemen and their chosen charities lose their revenue, but it would be nice to have the central bit of the square back with a focus on the pedestrian and creating some new public open space with seating in the city centre – especially at a time when the City Council are intent on destroying nearby Union Terrace Gardens, the much loved green heart of Aberdeen.

But …this is Aberdeen.

Oh yes, but this is Aberdeen and things always get more complex.

Now while the Aberdeen Local Development Plan is still a live consultation process, Aberdeen City Council has annexed the ex-servicemen’s charity car park not for creation of a new central square with grass and seats but … wait for it … for a car park! Since Monday 18th October, the Council have imposed their own parking regime on the square at the Council’s commercial rates – far higher than the donations that the ex-servicemen asked for.

From the Press & Journal (15th October)

“Local Authority to get benefit of facility that raised cash for ex-soldiers”

A bit of delving and we see from this report that Aberdeen City Council has coveted this car park for a while and has evidently made considerable effort to secure it … why ? Is it perhaps, to quote the report that :

“There will be a setting up cost of £20,000 which could be funded from the Non-Housing Capital programme for machines, signing etc. The anticipated revenue income from the car park over the period of a full year is estimated at £160,000.”

one wonders what the public will think of the councillors who took the ex-serviceman’s charity car park away

Apparently the council will give the Royal British Legion some share of the money but this will reduce on a sliding scale to zero over a few years.

When I read this next bit of the council minutes I wasn’t moved to comment, I was near enough moved to tears :

“RBL (Aberdeen Branch) uses the monies received from the car parking donations towards charitable contributions to other organisations and to support local ex-servicemen and their families. Recent examples of supported organisations are: Erskine Homes, Gurkha Welfare Trust, local Salvation Army, Air, Army and Sea Cadets, local RNLI, Gordon Highlander Association. The RBL also provide assistance to local ex-servicemen and women, make home and hospital visits and provide a small bereavement grant to families on the death of one of its members.”

But… this is Aberdeen

Oh yes and this being Aberdeen, … lets take another look at the P&J

“Councillor Kate Dean, Head of the Enterprise, Planning and Infrastructure committee which decided to take over the car park, defended the decision.”

Hold on … that wouldn’t be the same Enterprise, Planning and Infrastructure Committee that are credited with the Aberdeen City Centre Development Framework (dated August 2010) and which forms part of a live consultation with feedback invited by 17th December 2010 ?

You know, the one where it says

“Better use of Golden Square could be achieved by (among other things)


Removing cars from the central space


Introducing greenery, formal planting and seating into the central space”

Is this Aberdeen Local Development Plan consultation set to be just another sham consultation that eats up public funds and delivers feedback that the council ignore and do what they wanted to do anyway?

So soon after a survey of citizens (initiated by the council) indicated that the recent actions of Aberdeen City Councillors had damaged public trust in democracy one wonders what the public will think of the councillors who took the ex-serviceman’s charity car park away … just a month before Remembrance Sunday.

We will remember them.


Oct 152010

By B&B.

It would appear that once again Aberdeen City Council is wasting a significant amount of tax payers money  introducing ‘CONTROLLED PARKING ZONES’ in quiet residential streets around Old Aberdeen, many of which have no parking problems whatsoever.

Under the plan residents will have to pay up to £120 per vehicle per annum for the privilege of parking in their own street. The Council, however, rejected the claim that this is a money-making scheme, stating that it will indeed be a costly commitment in the long term with the associated expenditure on parking meters, road markings, maintenance, and so on.

In effect admitting that it will be a further drain on scarce resources for years to come.

So, why is the Council introducing this scheme which no-one in the area seems to want? EVERY single written objection by residents has been systematically rejected. (See *2)

The University is building a new library on its existing car park and is funding the implementation of the new controlled parking area, affecting many of the surrounding residential streets, to the tune of £600,000. ( See *1) This action is to ‘compensate’ for its failure to provide adequate parking on its own land.

Could it be that the Uni figured that our cash strapped Council would jump at the offer of a short-term pay-off, and that this would be cheaper than incorporating an underground car park in the design of the building?

Also, should the situation get worse in years to come, that would then be the Council’s and the local residents’ problem. They’re not daft, these University chaps!

The residential streets around the University – such as the one pictured here DURING the University term – are QUIET during the day, because many residents drive to work, leaving plenty of capacity for daytime on-street parking. During the evening, however, the streets become busier with parked cars as naturally, that’s when local residents return from work. Most residents will have no option other than to purchase a parking permit, yet still may not have any guaranteed parking spaces at the very times of day they need them.

Now let us turn our attention to the streets themselves, there are several potholes, the pavements are made unsightly and dangerous with overgrown tree roots. Some of the surrounding streets have been need of repair work for some time.

There is a strong case for the introduction of speed bumps on our street. Many vehicles drive at dangerously excessive speeds near the entrance to the childrens’ play park on Sunnyside Road, despite the street being in a 20mph zone. A serious – potentially fatal – accident is waiting to happen here.

So, is the Council making plans to introduce traffic calming measures and warning signs? No. It is simply pressing on with its plans to erect parking meters, parking restriction signs, road markings etc., none of which will make our streets safer, and none of which is wanted by local residents.

The library building is now well under way. The Uni’s parking capacity, therefore, has long since been reduced.

Yet, with the new term started, there is no evidence of any increase in demand for parking in the new CPZ streets in our area around the Uni nor any evidence of the congestion or disruption predicted by the Council.

*1 Source$$ADocPackPublic.pdf page 285

*2 Source$$ADocPackPublic.pdf page 307