Apr 062012

A report on the UTG referendum was discussed at a meeting of full council on Wednesday with a view to it being approved before being sent to the Scottish Government. Friends of Union Terrace Gardens chairman Mike Shepherd was permitted to give a deputation. Aberden voice presents Mike’s deputation in full.

“I was allowed to give a deputation here in January when I said that the FoUTG would agree to take part in a referendum if it was fair.

We agreed to the referendum in spite of the shameful behaviour of this council in ignoring the result of the public consultation two years ago. We agreed for two reasons.

First, we saw the CGP as a juggernaut pushed through relentlessly by business and a friendly council. There were only two options to stop this; either through the referendum or legal action. We chose the referendum.

Secondly, we chose this route through public spirit. We were only too aware of the poisonous attitudes building on both sides of the issue. Aberdeen was at war with itself. A fair referendum was the only way of killing this beast.

I also told the council that the referendum would have to be fair because implicit in taking part was that we accepted the final result, whatever it was. This was said in good faith.


We do not accept the result. The process was flawed. Internet and phone voting should not have been allowed as without signatures, this was open to fraud. The Green party have also asked me to complain about their shortened message in the information pack that was sent out.

The City Garden Project supporters were allowed to spend tens of thousands of pounds on PR, newspapers, leaflets and radio ads. This money spent on advertising bought a marginal result for the referendum.

The ads were often misleading and in some instances blatantly so. We were told of a bogus £182M investment, consisting of a bogus £15M of private investment and a bogus £20M Art Gallery grant which didn’t exist. One misleading ad is under investigation by the Advertising Standards Authority.

This council also misled the public. The claim that a new park could create 6,500 jobs was utterly ludicrous. They did not explain the risks of borrowing through TIF properly, even when Audit Scotland expressed their concerns about the long term implications for the Council’s finances.

You are £618M in debt, you cannot afford the risk on further borrowing.

The council were partial to one side of the referendum. The ACGT were allowed to show a video in the Art Gallery, council property, yet we were excluded until after several days of complaint on the matter.

This was a dishonest referendum. The public were misled right up the City Garden path. The council should vote to ignore the result. Furthermore, this report should not be passed onto the Scottish Government as suggested. The proposal to spend valuable investment and infrastructure money on something as trivial as a new park is a disgrace.

We do not accept the result of the referendum and we intend to carry on campaigning to save Union Terrace Gardens. Thank you.”

Evening Express report here.  http://www.eveningexpress.co.uk/Article.aspx

Dec 012011

By Bob Smith.

Here comes the Retail Festival
Cooched in glossy Christmas cheer
Spen spen spen the shops cry oot
Their merchandisin moves up a gear

Maun we owerspen at Christmas
On presents aat leave us skint?
Mony fowk are left in debt
So aat shops can mak a mint

Christmas time itsel a fear
His lost it’s freenly glow
Fowk tryin to see faa can hae
The dearest presents on show

A sma present ti faimly members
There is nae hairm in iss
Bit keepin up wi the Joneses
Is some fowks idea o bliss

Hunners o poonds they are spent
On presents fer aa yer freens
Kids yammerin fer the latest
Toy or game shown on TV screens

Hotels an restaurants filled ti the brim
Yet their prices are ower the tap
Faan wull aa iss madness eyn
An prices wull stairt ti drap

Faimly Christmases used ti be
A time ti visit an hae a blether
Yet ti sit aroon the table
Nooadays fowk they dinna bither

The festivities noo a fear
Hiv naething ti dee wi the 25th
It’s aa ti dee wi consumerism
Spenin dosh on expeensive gifts

In case ye think a’m a scrooge
Tak time ti stop an think
Fit’s the purpose o aa iss spenin
Ither than bringin ye ti debt’s brink

It’s time fer a revolution
A time ti say stuff yer stuff
Resist the aa empowerin persuasion
Pit the retailers in a huff

Celebrate Christmas? Of coorse we shud
Yet think fit shud be deen
Raither than buy a material gift
Jist present yersel as a freen

©Bob Smith “The Poetry Mannie”
Image Credit: © Sergey Sundikov | Dreamstime.com

Sep 162011

By Bob Smith.

The fitfa’s up in yon Union Square
Aboot iss news I dinna really care
Wi material wealth I’ll hae nae truck
Fae me thae malls winna mak a faist buck

Tho’ fowk can spend ony wye they wint
At times a think their brains hiv got tint
Fair fleein aboot fae here ti there
Iss lemming like steer is hard ti square

Shoppies are placies I dinna like ti dally
So’s aa their spiel I dinna hae ti swally
A buy fit a wint then oot the door
Syne “faar ye gyaan” ma wife’ll roar

Some fowk o coorse wid bide aa day
Gyaan in blonde an cumin oot grey
They’re in the malls for aat lang
Peerin at windas throwe the thrang

Fashions noo are fair aa the rage
Ye maun hae the richt gear fitivver yer age
Wifies in ticht troosers wi erses richt fat
Some mannies ye winner fit the hell they’re at

Shoptill ye drap iss aa the malls cry
Even thingies nae nott they wint ye ti buy
Jist shove it aa on ti aat wee plastic card
Hiv some fowk’s brains aa turned ti lard?

Shoppin it wid seem is a national obsession
It’s aa aboot spendin an gettin possession
O as muckle stuff yer hairt dis desire
Afore oot yer body yer last breath dis expire

Aa the stuff fit ye’ve githered
Efter the money ye’ve shelled oot
A doot eence yer deid an beeriet
A fair puckle micht be chucked oot

©Bob Smith “The Poetry Mannie” 2011
Image Credit: © Brent Wong | Dreamstime.com

Sep 162011

Voice’s David Innes’ benchmark indicator of biographical literature quality is more or less, “Would I have a pint with this guy?” It was with some interest and not a little thirst that he approached the latest revelations from inside government, written by the man who achieved heady high office as President of the University of Aberdeen’s Student Representative Council in the mid-1970s and then went on to reputedly greater things.

Tabloid is a newspaper shape, although the term is now universally used to describe populist low-rent journalism. Not here at Voice where your screen size delineates layout and low-rent isn’t our way.
Tabloids’ views on Back From The Brink have been almost prurient in their seizing on the Darling-Brown relationship as their focus for summarising the book’s content and offering review.
Whilst this is interesting, and is probably welcome relief from the views of Debbie from Doncaster, 22, 38-22-36, on monetary policy within the Eurozone and its effect on Greek public expenditure, far more interesting is Darling’s take on the events and decisions forced upon him during his tenure in No 11, as the economic crisis of 2007 threatened to destroy global financial systems.

The former Chancellor’s view is that the Financial Services Authority (FSA) failed due to its never having had to deal with a financial crisis, as the regulatory system had only ever had to operate in good times.

When the chill economic breeze blew over the North Atlantic and the unregulated mortgage free-for-all was found not only to have been the preserve of US financial institutions, the UK banking system clammed up, investors panicked and the reliance on UK financial service companies for 25% of UK tax revenue was shown up for the short-term folly that it was. Not before those responsible had lined their own pockets, of course.

As banks pleaded poverty and our mortgages and pensions were put at risk, these self-same bankers, previously vocal in their demands to be left alone, free from governmental intervention, queued up at the Treasury door, looking for a bail-out, courtesy of Mr and Mrs Joseph Soap of Gullible-At-Sea, also demanding that the “toxic assets” (those’ll be debts which will never be paid, then) be taken on by taxpayers whilst the banks continued to rake off the top line from profit-making accounts.

It is to his credit that the Chancellor extracted significant pounds of flesh from these banks in charges for the liquidity handout they received.

Here’s a very interesting fact to ponder next time you’re trying to have a cheque cleared through our banking system, where processes move at the pace of traffic in King Street on a rainy Thursday night, the week before Christmas – $6bn was reputedly taken from the UK Lehman Brothers’ UK operation on a Friday evening so that it could be in the US operation’s empty coffers on the Monday morning. As the author observes, this

“demonstrates…how quickly money can be moved from one jurisdiction to another”.

Of course, when it suits the usurers.

It is to Darling’s credit that much of the technical content is made easy to understand, even to economic illiterates like your reviewer. He is also very clear on timescales, forensically-sharp on the decision-making processes and pays suitable tribute to a Treasury team worked to exhaustion putting measures in place to prevent meltdown.

He stints neither from taking credit for saving the banking sector – and by definition everything else in the economy – from collapse, nor shies away from admitting where errors were made.

Among those errors was the Prime Minister’s approach to the 2010 General Election. His “Tory cuts v Labour investment” was a line easily seen through, a false promise which the electorate didn’t buy. Darling’s view, over-ruled, was that voters could be persuaded that whilst cuts were to be made, they would accept that they did not need to be made to the degree and on the timescale gleefully endorsed and seized upon zealously by public sector-despising Tories and their Lib Dem patsies.

As sometimes sweet relief from the incessant round of IMF, G7 and G20 meetings, Spending Review speeches, Budget statements and Treasury late-night sessions, Darling writes affectionately about his family, the social and charitable aspect of life in No 11 and of his bolt hole in the Hebrides. He comes across as mild-mannered, thoughtful, loyal and reliable. He describes himself as “managerial”. That’s a fair self-assessment.

Of course, this insider account is one-sided, although credible. It will be interesting as others’ takes on the financial crisis are published and comparisons can be made.

So, would I have a pint with the former Chancellor? Yes, without a doubt, if only to point out that “the late Tommy Docherty” referred to on page 119, is very much alive.

Your round Alistair, just don’t put it on expenses.

Back From The brink. 1000 Days at No. 11
Alistair Darling
Atlantic Books.
ISBN 9 780 85789 279 9


Dec 182010

By Cllr Martin Ford, Aberdeenshire Council

Last week a key decider of Aberdeenshire Council’s 2011/12 revenue budget became known – the level of grant support the Council will be getting from the Scottish Government.

It is important to remember that Scottish councils depend on the Scottish Government for the vast bulk – around 80 per cent – of the money they need to meet the cost of providing public services.

An overall cut in its funding for local government next year of 2.6 per cent has been promised by the Scottish Government provided councils agree to a Council Tax freeze and other measures – otherwise the cut in grant funding for councils is to be 6.4 per cent.

Aberdeenshire Council has already decided that it will freeze the Council Tax and meet the other terms set by the Scottish Government as conditions for a smaller cut in its grant (see: Council Tax Freeze and Many Cuts Decided, Aberdeen Voice, 26 November 2010).

By enforcing a Council Tax freeze, the Scottish Government has removed from councils any real say over the total amount they have to spend.

In fact, within the overall 2.6 per cent reduction in funding for councils, Aberdeenshire Council has done relatively well. It will receive funding of £427 million from the Scottish Government towards the running costs of council services in the financial year 2011/12.
This is a cut of 1.9 per cent in cash terms – not as bad as expected and not as bad as the 2.6 per cent average reduction in funding councils are facing.

A 1.9 per cent cut in cash terms, though, is a cut of more than 5 per cent in real terms – once inflation and other increases in costs are taken into account. This is a severe cut.

Moreover, as a result of the formula used to distribute funding amongst councils, Aberdeenshire is still receiving a much lower grant per head of population than most councils do. Aberdeenshire Council receives more than 12.5 per cent less than the average amount of funding provided to councils per head of population. And unlike many councils, Aberdeenshire also has to cope with the budgetary pressures that result from having a growing population.

Aberdeenshire Council’s Liberal Democrat/Conservative administration voted through budget cuts and savings totalling almost £27 million at the November full council meeting. Efficiencies and cuts were approved right across the range of public services provided by the Council.

However, the extent of further spending reductions – beyond the £27 million of cuts and savings already voted through – required to achieve a balanced revenue budget for 2011/12 could not be worked out until the Council’s grant settlement became known. The 1.9 per cent cut in the Council’s funding from the Scottish Government means additional savings totalling around £3.5 million will now have to be found.

Council finance officers are still seeking clarification from the Scottish Government regarding some of the conditions that the Council has to comply with in order to avoid the threatened funding cut of 6.4 per cent. There is therefore still some uncertainty about the full financial implications of what the Council will have to do in order to have its funding cut by 1.9 per cent.

So while it is now clear that the Council will have to find additional savings of close to £3.5 million, the exact amount still cannot be calculated.

In total, Aberdeenshire Council will have to cut approximately £30.5 million of spending to balance its revenue budget for 2011/12.

That is going to have a serious impact on Council services and on some service users.

The Council is responsible for deciding exactly what it will cut.
However, it has been put in a position where the total saving required has been decided for it – and for that the Scottish Government must take responsibility.

Nov 152010

By Cllr Martin Ford, Aberdeenshire Council

Next February, councils will set their revenue budgets for the financial year 2011/12. It looks certain that the funding councils receive from government will be reduced, leaving councils with no choice but to make painful cuts to a wide range of public services.

Aberdeenshire Council will be no different from other councils in the difficult decisions it will have to take.

The Council’s revenue budget – the budget that pays for the running costs of Council services – is currently £550 million. Around 20 per cent of that comes from the Council Tax, the Council offsets the cost of some services by charging users, but the vast bulk of the Council’s funding comes, in one form or another, from the Scottish Government. Even before the Council Tax freeze, the Council only had control over a small proportion of its income. Now, effectively, the amount the Council has to spend on services is fixed by the grant funding it receives from government. If the Council is given less, it will have to cut its spending accordingly.

One problem for the Council is that, only three months before setting its budget, it still does not know what size of spending cut it will have to make.

Aberdeenshire may have to make savings of anything from £25 to £40 million next year. It could even be more, or less, than that range. Until the Scottish Government makes its decisions, the Council is having to plan for a variety of scenarios.

The position will become clearer when the Scottish Government’s draft budget for 2011/12 is published on Wednesday. The Council will probably have to wait until close to Christmas before it finds out exactly what level of funding it will receive from the Scottish Government next year.

I have been a councillor for eleven years. Setting the Council’s revenue budget is always challenging. There is never enough money to fund all the services the Council would ideally provide. The cost of providing services goes up every year due to price increases (especially, in recent years, for electricity and heating), staff salaries and, in some key areas, more people needing the service. For most of the last ten years, though, the Council has received additional funding from government, but not usually enough to fully cover the increased cost of keeping services running as before.

For the first time in my experience, the Council’s overall budget is set to shrink

Arriving at a balanced budget for the following year required some spending to be cut and savings made even though there was to be a rise in the Council’s total spending.

This year will be different. For the first time in my experience, the Council’s overall budget is set to shrink. Savings (or cuts) will have to be found to offset all the rises in costs since last year, and the Council will have to cut spending to match the reduction in income from government grant. Since the Council has been seeking savings every year already, there are no (or very few) easy options for achieving this.

Personally, I will want to support measures that as far as possible protect education and social services, reduce the Council’s carbon emissions and which accord with sound financial management.

There are a few savings that I think the Council should not find it too difficult to agree. One example is funding for unadopted roads.

The Council will struggle to adequately fund the maintenance of public roads, a clear council responsibility. It can’t afford to contribute towards the cost of maintaning or improving roads it is not responsible for that provide access across private land.

Ending funding contributions to unadopted roads would save the Council £300,000 – a worthwhile saving but only a small fraction of the savings the Council needs to make.

Raising additional tax revenue from those who can afford to pay would be a good start

I hope the Council will use the budget process to acknowledge that it cannot afford what it would have to pay if the Western Peripheral Route was built.

Unfortunately, however, it is difficult to see how the Council will be able to balance its budget without making cuts in education and social work. These are the services which account for the bulk of the Council’s spending. The education budget alone accounts for nearly half of what the Council spends each year.

Cutting education or social work is the last thing I want to do – but the Council cannot spend money it does not have.

It is also true that the UK budget deficit cannot be ignored – reducing it is essential – but there are alternatives to the draconian cuts in public services and welfare the Liberal Democrat/Conservative coalition government has chosen. Raising additional tax revenue from those who can afford to pay would be a good start. The Scottish Government too could use its powers over taxation to reduce the scale of the cuts if it wanted to.

Given the scale of the likely cuts, I believe asking some people to contribute a bit more towards the cost of public services would have been a far better and fairer option.