What are friends for? Aberdeen City Council gives Aberdeen Journals Ltd three years rent free at Marischal Square. Suzanne Kelly reports.
A Freedom of Information request by Aberdeen Voice has revealed that Aberdeen City Council gave Aberdeen Journals Ltd the equivalent of three years free rent for Marischal Square.
The Information Commissioner’s office is investigating the city’s refusal to provide details, and in October it was revealed that the brand-new, taxpayer-supported project gifted AJL space for c 200 staff (with 19 free parking spaces) at virtually no cost whatsoever for the first three years.
The document reads in part:
“The tenant will benefit from an incentive package as follows: Equivalent to a rent free period 36 months.”
Aberdeen Journals Ltd is allowed to choose how it will use this benefit:
“… taken as rent free, surrender payment for the lease at Land [sic] Stracht or a capital payment or a combination of all three.”
The 19,000 square feet are charged (if AJL were paying that is) at £30 per annum or £570,210 per year. Over three years this comes to £1,710,630.
Other details to emerge from recent FOI requests by Aberdeen Voice include:
* ACC said:
“Marischal Square is managed by CBRE on behalf of ACC. This means that all invoices for rent are raised by CBRE and are payable to CBRE who then pay over rental income to ACC as it is received. We are therefore unable to provide any information on amounts billed and whether or not these have been paid in full.”
* The total rental income received via CBRE for Marischal Square to 30 September 2019 is £849,936.61.
* The Headline rent for Marischal Square is £30 per square foot.
* The city claimed at one point it had no idea about details of which entity paid how much rent. The City said:
“We are unable to provide you with information on rent ACC has collected from occupants, renters of Marischal Square including amount billed to occupants/ renters, and whether or not the sum invoiced for has been paid in full as it is not held by ACC.
“In order to comply with our obligations under the terms of Section 17 of the FOISA, we hereby gives notice that this information is not held by us.”
When the Information Commissioner concludes its report, Aberdeen Voice will update this story.
The Scottish Information Commissioner has agreed to investigate Aberdeen Voice’s complaint as Aberdeen City Council claims ‘it doesn’t know’ how much rent Aberdeen Journals Ltd pays for space in controversial Marischal Square.
Several parties have tried to obtain this information; and the information commissioner is investigating Suzanne Kelly’s formal complaint into the city’s recent refusal to disclose details.
According to an article published on Jan 27:
“Marischal Square.. is 75% let [after] just over two years… it is on track to achieve 100% occupancy later this year, defying critics who opposed the scheme and claimed it would become an expensive white elephant…”
Whichever Press & Journal hack wrote this piece praising Aberdeen City Council’s contentious (and ugly) Marischal Square development likely did so from the offices the paper got cheaply from…ACC.
You could be forgiven for thinking a newspaper should not take a free rent deal from a council it should be investigating (and there is plenty to look into), but the P&J and sister paper Evening Express did just that.
The £107 million Marischal project achieved the unthinkable: replacing a hideous 70s building with an even uglier office complex, while managing to immure the 16th c Provost Skene’s House inside a claustrophobic glass tomb. It ruins the setting for Marischal College across the road, as previously reported on by Piloti.
Other businesses thought to be enjoying sweetheart deals and free rent periods include multinationals with Chevron and EY set to move in. Why precisely such firms need to be subsidised is a mystery.
True to form, the city is releasing as little information as possible, however many FOI requests it receives.
It reluctantly admitted:
“Aberdeen Journals have been offered a rent-free period,”
and the current headline rent is £30 per square foot.
What dates the free rent covered, who agreed this deal and other details are ‘confidential’ according to the city. Despite public money being used to create the building and the public purse subsidising multinationals and newspapers, the city has clammed up. The Scottish Information Commissioner’s office is expected to investigate.
ACC insists only management company CBRE knows how much rent each company pays, and that ACC only gets the total figure of rent CBRE collects. CBRE are saying nothing.
We do know that:
“The total rental income received via CBRE for Marischal Square to 30 September 2019 is £849,936.61.”
The start of that time period? ACC aren’t saying.
Exactly how much the building cost to build, how much in debt the cash-strapped city is, and what negative impact Marischal Square has on companies that were already desperate to rent existing office space remains a mystery for now. But, as the P&J reported in January 2020, the building is ‘an award-winning success’.
Things moved on a bit since the paper reported on what it once called a ‘controversial’ and ‘contentious’ project. Councillor Willie Young claimed it would cost millions not to proceed with the project, but the P&J reported on March 5 2015 that there was scope to cancel the plans as some protesters wanted.
What possibly could have changed the paper’s position?
Old Susannah rides back into Aberdeen, well, back onto Aberdeen Voice’s pages anyway, picking up where she left off, defining the terms that define the indescribable goings-on in the Deen and Shire. By Suzanne Kelly.
It’s been a while, but with all the exciting things going on in the dynamic and vibrant city of Aberdeen, I couldn’t stay away.
This column traditionally opens up with descriptions of what I’d been drinking and doing in BrewDog bars, so why not now? I’ve visited BrewDog Brighton (Drank my first Dog F – a rich, heady dark offering) and BrewDog Clerkenwell to enjoy Obzest – very citrusy and refreshing.
I never hid the fact I’m a shareholder. I’m glad I’m a shareholder. So are at least 100k other people.
I bring BrewDog up not just because I wish I were at the Flagship this minute, but because from the first time I owned shares and wrote about BrewDog, I told Aberdeen Voice’s readership.
To do otherwise would have been dishonest. And still we had complaints: I was writing about the biggest new thing in town, the UK’s fastest-growing drinks company started by two young men paying a living wage, making phenomenal brews, being politically active and irreverent.
No one ever has to pay to read Aberdeen Voice; and if you were a donor who didn’t like my offerings, then you could either stop donating or simply not read the bits you didn’t like.
If, however you were an Aberdeen Journals Ltd subscriber (there are still some apparently), you paid for years while being played – and not for small beer.
Damian Bates never told those buying the local rags he had a financial interest in Trump doing well in Scotland.
He kept quiet about his wife’s working for the toupèed toddler.
I sometimes wonder whether those who insisted I shouldn’t write about BrewDog ever insisted Damian shouldn’t be allowed to print dozens of pro-Trump advertorials and stories, while directly helping his family’s wallet?
Aberdeen Voice allowed my morally-indignant critics to have their say. Have you ever yet read a word in the P&J admitting this ethically challenged editor used the papers to firm up the Mrs.’s position under Trump? No, you never did.
Trump is a regular guy, as you’d find out if you buy a table
Tally ho! Northsound Radio is holding a business dinner – only £1250 per table at the 5 star Marcliffe Hotel and Spa (homophobic ‘jokes’ from the owner included at no extra charge).
Who got the huge honour of speaking? Why, Master Bates, who’ll tell the guests about his book and what Trump is really like (he hates fancy food).
It must be interesting to be a reporter who’s pals with a man whose hate speech has got reporters beaten and even killed. But Trump is a regular guy, as you’d find out if you buy a table.
This is nothing to do with Brexit, food shortages, rioting or the yellowhammer documents. I recommend a first aid kit, some BrewDog, and old unsold copies of the Evening Express for insulation and starting campfires.
Alas though! I’m upset for poor Prime Minister Johnson, who was slammed by the courts, ruling his closing Parliament was illegal. I’m so upset I can barely see through my tears. Now there’s a man who’d better get his emergency survival bag ready.
PS. I recommend Steve Coogan’s latest offering, Hot Air. One reason I wanted to see it was to see Declan Michael Laird. I’ve written about this young Scots actor in the past and things are starting to go, deservedly, extremely well for him.
The highlight as expected is Coogan’s soliloquy: he plays a cynical, manipulative right-wing DJ. In his speech he describes virtually all our current societal, governmental, media failings.
I didn’t have any preconception of what Declan would be doing in this – but he’s wonderfully hilarious as a wealthy young Russian trustafarian living in Coogan’s uber-rich building. Hot Air is well worth your time.
Herewith some definitions
Exploitation: (Noun) Taking something of value from a source and profiting considerably more than the source does.
Friday was some kind of climate protest day, and I’m sick of the exploitation of children by adults who have selfish motives.
It’s awful to see young people who don’t understand the real world being manipulated to the point they care more about species extinctions, plastic entering the food chain, unprecedented climactic events -when they should care about clothes and getting rich.
How would you feel if your child went on some rally when they should be safe at school?
Or unless they were in a school where politicians entered at will without any permission or vetting, like when Alex Salmond descended on Bramble Brae Primary with his team.
Since that happened, Mr Salmond had sex abuse charges leveled at him. Just like his friend Donald Trump. No, no reason to get clearance people who want to wander into schools to take pictures.
Or there was the time a bunch of suits and Sarah Malone took photos of young people in their new Trump International football strips.
The shire told The Ferret’s Rob Edwards years ago the shirts were in line with policy (even though it really wasn’t true).
You might think that’s old news. However, the shire told me a different story recently: they now say the shirts were nothing to do with them after all, but a private group of parents organised it. Parents who were allowed to go into what certainly looks like school property and photograph students – with a couple of besuited men with them.
For marketing and promoting a private business. Owned by a man with US mob and Russian ties, accused of sexual crimes. That seems to be OK too.
In the same way the police release photos when trying to solve a crime, I want to know: who are these people? Does everyone in this photo have DBS clearance to be hanging around young people? Did they get permission to use this gym in their wonderful photos?
Aberdeenshire doesn’t care but I do.
Yes, keep the students in school; a day away to exchange ideas and support each other over their future is far less important than whether Sarah Malone wants a photoshoot or Salmond wants to boost a candidate.
Maybe Aberdeen Voice should just print up some t-shirts for the frisbee team, head to a school, and take photos of kids holding up AV shirts? I’m sure the shire would have no problem with that.
he does know his Nazi regalia, I’ll give him that
If young people have to be out of school for some ‘environmental’ reason, then it should be for something practical. Like planting marram grass to stabilizes Menie’s moving sand dune system.
The shire insisted the planting was approved by educational environmental bods. I found out that was not remotely true. But at least the photos of the kids planting the grass that ruined the dunes were lovely; I’d not be surprised to find the EE was selling prints for a tenner, as they do.
All this climate change talk is obscuring what’s really important in this life: how you look.
Sexy Dinesh Dsouza reckons Greta Thunberg’s braids mean she’s emulating an old Nazi poster of a child in braids (he does know his Nazi regalia, I’ll give him that). Somehow he objects to Danish student Greta looking Nordic – she should do something about that.
And those braids – so very traditional and childish; almost like she was a young person or something.
The teen certainly needs fashion advice too: there are so many exciting styles coming out of third world sweatshops (Ivanka can give some pointers here as she owns so many – speaking of pointers did you see her tasteful blue shirt worn t the UN?).
Perhaps anti-bullying champion Melania can serve as a role model too. I wonder where that jacket she wore on her way to visit caged refugee children got to, you know that one that said ‘I really don’t care do you?’ That would look so cool on Greta.
Finally, a bit more orange make up would put some colour in Greta’s cheeks too don’t you think – get rid of that ‘Nordic’ look? Trump could make a recommendation or two here I think. Kids today, eh?
Rent: (Noun or verb) A fee paid by a tenant to occupy real estate. Unless you’re the P&J renting from ACC.
It’s only taken about four months for ACC to partially answer my freedom of information request on what Aberdeen Journals Ltd is paying to be in Marischal Square. You know, I think they’re getting faster.
Why would anyone think that ACC was giving AJL a free ride or sweet deal on rent? Maybe it was the talk at the time, the odd article or two, or the fact Bates put out an email denying it was remotely possible.
Here’s two findings from my FOI: I’m sure this all sound as legit and believable to you as it does to me:
“Aberdeen City Council personnel, Chief Executive, Elected Officials and staff have NOT accepted any discounts, hospitality, gifts, favours from Aberdeen Journals Ltd and its companies for the period 1 January 2017 through the present day (Sept 19).”
So for nearly two years, not a soul at ACC took so much as a free lunch, newspaper, paperweight, pen, calendar, theatre tickets, dinner for three years and nine months. Wonder at the fact-checking here.
The Council wrote:
“The headline rent paid per square metre paid by AJL at Marischal Square is £322.92.”
And just exactly what is headline rent?
Headline Rent: (Compound noun) Rent paid under a lease after the end of any rent free or reduced rent periods. It is an artificially inflated rent which ignores the rent-free period or any other concessions given by the landlord to the tenant in return for a higher headline rate.
So.. from the definition, we can conclude AJL got some kind of a sweet deal for at least a while.
Who would have guessed – and what was it exactly? (I’m on it).
By the way, looking at city centre commercial rents on large properties the £332.92 per square metre per annum hardly looks like an inflated rate at all – it looks average.
If the city says this figures is a headline rent it means AJL was definitely paying less than the average going rate for a brand new building. And of course, there is nothing unethical about a newspaper cozying up to government, just because the press is supposed to serve as a check on government.
Someone needs to tell Damian Bates.
When the move was still being discussed, he sent an email:
“.. it is not correct to suggest there is any ‘state aid’ around any potential deal…” (But there was – otherwise no headline rent).
He continued in this July 2016 email:
“… we have not sought nor will we be seeking anything with the council subsidizing our lease…”
Whether they asked for it or not – looks like they got it. Here’s to Aberdeen: home of the world’s most generous taxpayers.
But why be upset? It’s not as if your tax money has been used to support Scotland’s most pro-Trump mainstream news vehicle. It’s not as if that newspaper took money off you every time you wanted a P&J or EE to line the canary’s cage, while hiding Bates’ personal financial link to Trump?
If you ever have awkward questions about the city’s dealings (maybe while you’re wondering why they’re charging you £30 a year now for green waste), you can just call the local press with your scoop. They’ll be right on it I’m sure.
PS. the City has recently taken out a few more million plus pound loans. Result!
Math quiz: Select an answer from (A) through (D):
If AJL has 19,000 square feet (which is 1765.15 square metres) and is now paying £322.92 per square metre (presumably per annum) and paid a lower figure previously, then:
(A) the cost is £570,000 per year; (B) aren’t we taxpayers generous; (C) they got a very good deal initially to be paying headline rent that is around the city average – did the taxpayer get left holding the bag again; or (D) all of the above.
The bottom line? We can rely on the City to get best value for taxpayer money and to be transparent with its taxpayers, and on AJL papers for unbiased, investigative reporting. Well at least to the same standards we’ve become accustomed to.
I have much more to say, so there’ll be a further column or ten – that’s either good or bad news depending on your perspective. But I see the word count increasing, and with it the editor’s patience decreasing. More soon.
Comments enabled – see comments box below. Note, all comments will be moderated.
Well away from the main commercial centre of Aberdeen, nestled in a lane just off Old Aberdeen’s High Street on the University campus, is beCyCle, a low-key community project dedicated to encouraging citizens to cycle. Voice’s David Innes popped in for a look and chatted with Benedict Poetz of beCyCle.
Benedikt is a member of beCyCle but explains that there is little formality.
“I just came along, took a bike out, got interested and continued participating. Now I help out here as much as I can.
“For example I built the work benches as a project with some other people.
“As a volunteer, I help maintain the workshop and help people out with repairs. I also repair my own bike, a hand-built lightweight Carlton from the 1980s.
“We get some funding from the University and from the Student Association. We get donations, but the most important thing is that we get bikes to fix. Today, for example, we picked up thirteen bikes from Cults and someone came past and dropped off another five bikes.”
These are not sold off for beCyCle funds as you might expect.
“We rent them out, but for free. BeCyCle’s for everyone, but mostly it’s university students who’ll take out a bike for six months or a year against a deposit of £40 – £60 which is returned to them when we get the bike back. All our services are free.”
All types of bike?
“Yes, whatever is donated, but mostly they’re hybrid type mountain bikes.”
“The idea is that volunteers are here to help people fix their own bikes, giving advice and a bit of tuition. Volunteers provide the tools, knowledge and advice and encourage people to do repairs themselves. It’s free and open for everyone in the community, not only students. We don’t offer any services, we just provide the space and help for people working on bikes. All the volunteers have a bit of knowledge, so between us we always manage to repair them.
“We’re here because the University has given us the space, rent-free – or for the symbolic one pound rental – and some funding. It was an empty shell, so we built the benches and painted it. We pay our own electricity bills and so on, but we don’t need too much money. We have no commercial sponsors.”
Do you buy parts and sell them on cheaply or do people have to supply their own?
“We get spares donated quite often, but some parts like cables and stuff like WD40 we buy in bulk from the money the University donates to us.”
There were around a dozen young people coming and going during the visit, but does it get quieter during the holiday period?
“It’s the beginning of summer, so this is about it for the moment.”
There’s a tangible community ethos about beCyCle.
“It provides a space for people to repair their bikes and exchange bike ideas and knowledge. The lending scheme makes bikes freely available for the community, to encourage cycling. We’re trying to get the wider community involved by making it more open to everyone, even beyond Old Aberdeen. We’d like to have some joint programmes, for example bike maintenance projects, with local community centres and have open days to encourage such projects.”
How many bikes does beCyCle have and manage?
“We’re never quite sure. At the moment we have maybe 100 bikes here with perhaps another 100 or 200 on loan, so a rough estimate of 300-400 bikes in circulation. We try to keep track but it gets difficult, although we are now using a laptop, spreadsheet and pictures of the bikes to improve this.”
Cycling continues to gain popularity as a healthy, quick, cheap and planet-friendly mode of transport. BeCyCle’s efforts are to be applauded in encouraging would-be cyclists to try it out affordably. If you like the sound of that, they’ll be delighted to hear from you.
Voice has learned that Aberdeen’s allotment holders may well be close to resolving their long- running dispute with Aberdeen City Council. The swingeing increases imposed in the Council’s 2008 and 2009 budgets have added 152% to bills in a 12 month period for some gardeners. With thanks to Frank Taylor.
Readers may recall that Finance Minister John Swinney confirmed to local MSP Dr Nanette Milne that a local authority would not be entitled to collect rent under regulations which had not been formally confirmed by Scottish Ministers in terms of the Allotment (Scotland) Act 1892.
Regulations made under this provision have no legal effect without ministerial confirmation.
Aberdeen City Council maintained that legally it can to choose whether or not to make regulations for its allotments. Allotment holders do not dispute this, but when the Council claims it has chosen not to make regulations, allotment holders do dispute this.
The allotment holders feel that irrespective of what the Council says it has chosen to do, it has in fact made regulations, but by choosing not to have them confirmed by ministers, the Council has no legal right to enforce these.
The dispute is now at the Sheriff Court as the Council has raised proceedings against Frank Taylor, secretary of Bucksburn Allotments Association. Mr Taylor eventually lost patience with the Council, withheld the rent for his allotments and challenged the Council to raise proceedings against him for recovery of rent and possession to allow the Court to clarify the issues.
Mr taylor told Voice that he did not encourage the Council to raise proceedings against him ‘without a great deal of thought and soul-searching’. There are extremely serious consequences for him should the Court find against him. He may have to surrender possession of his allotments and be found liable for the Council’s costs as well as his own.
He is, however, extremely confident in the merits of his arguments.
The term ‘regulations’ is not defined in the allotments legislation and it is a well-established legal principle in such circumstances, that an undefined word shall be interpreted according to its normal and ordinary meaning.
‘Regulation’ is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as ‘a rule or directive made and maintained by an authority’. Aberdeen City Council is a local authority. So, has ACC made any rules for the management of its allotments?
Before being granted tenancy, Aberdeen allotment holders are required to indicate their acceptance of a list of conditions in the Council’s ‘Conditions of Let’ letter. Mr Taylor has provided us with a copy and points out that ‘rule’ is a synonym of ‘Condition’ in the Oxford Thesaurus of English.
That seems to put the issue beyond doubt, especially since the Council in its own Condition 9, refers to that condition as ‘a rule’.
To reinforce his views, Mr Taylor says it is evident that the conditions imposed upon him are used to
Set the rent payable in terms of the contract and the date on which the initial rent is payable
Make a direction as to when the rent shall be reviewed and the dates on which future rents shall be payable
Govern the circumstances under which the landlord is entitled to resume possession
Direct who shall be entitled to assess compensation to a tenant on outgo and restrict the right of any other person to input into that process
Direct how the tenancy may be terminated by a tenant
Restrict the entitlement of a tenant to transfer the tenancy
Limit the use to which a tenant may put an allotment and restrict him/her from keeping livestock
Regulate the dimensions and type of hut that a tenant may seek to erect and control where it may be situated
Direct that a tenant may be removed if he does not achieve the required standard of husbandry.
The terms used – ‘manage’, ‘administer’, ‘set’, ‘govern’, ‘restrict’, ‘limit’, ‘direct’ and ‘control’ – are all synonyms of ‘regulate’. There is no doubt that every condition in the Conditions of Let letters regulates, or has the effect of regulating, matters pertaining to the management and administration of allotments owned and let by a local authority.
So has Aberdeen City Council made regulations for its allotments? Has the Council made a regulation by setting a rent? Will a Court disagree with Mr Taylor? He is confident of winning the case..
The Council’s Court Action has been founded on Conditions or an alleged breach thereof. If the Court decides that these Conditions are Regulations, then the local authority’s Court Action will automatically fail.
Deliberately resisting the attraction of the undoubtedly arcane and twisted plots of this year’s Broons annual, David Innes evaluates Maggie Craig’s take on exciting revolutionary times on Clydeside a century ago.
When Lenin appointed John MacLean, perhaps Red Clydeside’s most-revered socialist son, Soviet Consul for Scotland in 1918, the reputation of Glasgow and its industrial satellite towns as the most likely crucible of any UK workers’ revolution was sealed.
In the aftermath of Bloody Friday in January 1919, the militia, backed up by tanks was in George Square, the Riot Act had been read to an assembly of tens of thousands of working people and Scotland’s own socialist revolution seemed inevitable.
When The Clyde Ran Red faithfully documents these tumultuous events which took place in what must have been life-enhancing times, but Maggie Craig achieves much more than re-documenting tales and phenomena well-known to historians and socialists.
In what might be regarded as a primer for the more in-depth and heavy duty histories and biographies listed in her book’s bibliography, she chronicles forty years of the people’s history through the experiences of those closely involved and those affected by events which showed that change was possible if the determination of the people was present and stout, resolute leadership given.
Not only are the iconic heroes of the struggle – Maxton, Muirhead, Kirkwood, Shinwell, Johnston and others – celebrated for their unstinting efforts as leaders in the battle for liberty, equality and fraternity, the lesser-known local heroes of rent strikes and trade disputes are also lauded. The little victories against oppression and exploitation, the author illustrates, are just as vital in changing lives as headline-grabbing larger scale changes.
There is obvious pride in her own Clydeside roots as Craig relates the day-to-day realities of struggles, defeats and wins for working people, describing the Singer dispute, the building, moth-balling and eventual launch of Cunard’s Queen Mary and the Nazis’ terrifying and murderous Clydebank Blitz in 1941.
Whilst these histories are well-known, the author brings new life to their re-telling from the perspective of residents, citizens and workers directly involved and affected.
Craig’s previous form as a novelist, with seven previous publications in this genre, is obvious and welcome as When The Clyde Ran Red is an immensely-readable social history of headily-exciting times and fiery, determined human spirit.