Nov 252016
 

As the Aberdeen Press & Journal gets into the festive spirit by announcing on its front cover today that ‘there ain’t no sanity clause’ and it’s dangerous to encourage children to believe in him, Old Susannah aka Suzanne Kelly marvels at Damian Bate’s organ yet again, and how it has seized the spirit of good will with its attack on Father Christmas.

DictionaryAt this time of year, it’s important to realise how lucky we are, and to think of those who are less fortunate, who suffer, who are abused.

Imagine spending your days in a no-hope situation. A tyrant forces you to do things against your better nature. You are humiliated on a daily basis, and people openly laugh at what you are doing.

Let’s take a moment then and pause. We have our problems. We might have money and health worries. It’s freezing cold.

But at least we don’t have to write for the Press & Journal and Evening Express under Damian Bates and Sarah Malone Bates.

Some poor soul had to write the infamous ‘TRAITORS!’ article back in the early days of Trump’s planning campaign depicting councillors who dared to vote against the unprecedented Trump golf plans.

Some idealistic young thing who years ago dreamed of a career in journalism now takes orders to write articles praising Damian’s wife’s forays into running a 5 star resort (or is that 6 diamonds – as Turnip awarded himself a few years back?). Imagine the overpriced coffee, the clunky ‘temporary’ clubhouse where the invented ‘Trump family crest’* asserts itself on every piece of furniture, paper serviette and presumably loo roll too.

And you have to submit copy saying it’s fabulous.

While you are instructed to write yet another review of MacLeod House and its beautiful concrete fountain, all around you local writers are firing off Freedom of Information requests, digging into Companies House files, and uncovering stories which actually constitute investigative journalism while you try to find 250 words about why the chicken supreme is worth £40 per head, all the while ignoring the giant plaque staring at you through the clubhouse windows proclaiming that you are on the world’s largest sand dune system.

You might like to say something about this being a blatantly untrue fabrication – but you don’t really dare to do so.

At least you get paid for it. Rather like those girls around the harbour. At least they don’t have to put their name to their handiwork. And quite understandably, many of the AJL articles go without anyone claiming a byline.

santa-with-traumatised-children-creepy-santa-comAnd now this week one of you was handed an arcane, clearly deliberately provocative piece from two academics who believe perpetuating the Santa Claus fable is akin to child abuse. ‘Give me a front page story on Bad Santa’ Damian or one of his minions told you.

And you did it, didn’t you?

Did you care this angle has been done before? Was what you were going to bring to the argument so brilliant you didn’t care? Maybe you were happy to get away from Trump for a little, or you were happy to try and forget the real news stories in our area that a reporter would want to cover – Marischal Square and its genesis, who is linked to who in the curious companies Sir Ian Wood and others still keep afloat even though (theoretically) the Union Terrace Gardens parking lot scheme (for that was all it really was) is dead in the water.

Maybe you don’t want to think about the fact your newspaper (for lack of a better word) will soon need to metaphorically tug its forelock at the city council: what other newspaper would even remotely consider taking a free rent from a city council? Can you even keep track of the number of city council stories and dealings that should have been investigated by the local printed press?

No, you are now going to Google elves, Santa, and present your findings on the new throwaway theory Santa is Bad Santa. Someone else is going to look into Muse, Trump, Inspired, fraud inside the council, etc. etc. But not you or your fellow Aberdeen Journals writers.

And Result! Good for you!

The Facebook P&J page has hundreds of hits on this story. Of course most of them are ridiculing the fact your boss put this on the paper’s front cover, and some are angry that young children will see this and dissolve into tears – thus spoiling photoshoots for your next ‘adorable tot’ competition. Hits matter on Facebook to your boss – even if the paper is not exactly flying off the shelf. You may well put this into your cuttings book – another front page story for you.

At least it beats the brains out of having to type for the umpteenth time ‘breathe fresh life into the beating heart of the city’ and such. How do you breathe into a heart anyway?  How fast can you as an Evening Express reporter type the phrase ‘vibrant and dynamic?’ Do they pay you for the word much as some other professionals are paid by the hour?  I’ve always wondered.

Maybe someday they’ll give a Pulitzer for incisive, pithy front page stories about the Tooth Fairy’s negative psychological impact on children. Perhaps that brilliant headline your paper used when a young man was missing ‘search called off due to unforeseen circumstances’ about a no-show psychic should have received more acclaim – how the family must have laughed! But not today.

Just maybe your Father Christmas article will lead to bigger and better – there is no shortage of crackpot experts with degrees who write ridiculous papers to get noticed – not that the attack on the Santa belief wasn’t a serious, scholarly work. You’ll find them – or Damian will find them and tell you to write up an op ed. Can a piece about the Loch Ness Monster be that far off now? I guess we all aspire to something.

perhaps time for you to pick up an actual newspaper and see what other writers are doing

So, many of us who contribute to Aberdeen Voice will keep doing the work you’re too busy to do. We’ll keep revealing that despite Trump’s declarations to the contrary, he was definitely seeking compulsory purchase orders against his neighbours. That was an AV scoop, and it doesn’t seem you picked up on that.

Guess it didn’t have the gravitas a piece on the Easter Bunny will do when you write it.

We revealed the literally cozy relationship between the P&J and Trump International Golf Links Scotland. We found out how much money from the public purse was spent promoting the risible UTG project. Did you like looking at those lurid images of the ridiculous ramps arching over an impossible landscape of trees and open air theatre month after month?

You’ve gone all out to help the council (usually).  Remember the Evening Express story designed to lend creedence to the city’s plans for killing the Tullos Hill Deer?  The deer were going to be killed to plant trees on Tullos despite public outcry to just leave the hill, wildflower meadow and deer alone.  The trees aren’t growing, but the deer are dead.  Your paper helpfully announced ‘Two Deer Found Dead Ahead of Cull’ – implying the poor creatures needed to be culled for their own good.  Then I found out it was fully two years before the cull was proposed that the deer were found dead of unknown cause.  Your paper never did cover my story that deer had clearly been slaughtered in the Gramps – severed limbs were found.  The preposterous claim Ranger Talboys made was that the deer must have been killed somewhere else, then the poachers marched up two different hills to deposit the limbs.  I guess there wasn’t room for any of this as well as another review of MacLeod House.  The ‘cost-neutral’ tree scheme Peter Leonard of ACC forced on the taxpayer has now cost a five-figure sum – obviously that’s not newsworthy to Damian.

As I write, it’s nearly 6pm – knocking off time for you, or perhaps time for you to pick up an actual newspaper and see what other writers are doing. Does it bother you to read Monbiot, Rob Edwards, people who care about corruption, the environment, the threat Trump poses to world stability – or are you genuinely content writing about the latest P&J sponsored award show held at the AECC and who won a golden cabbage or whatever it is given out that helps generate advertising revenue and PR for your stable of publications?

From the rest of us, we feel sorry for you. It’s not news you’re writing. It’s not investigative journalism your paper offers as a norm. You are sucking up to your advertisers (remember when a certain diminutive housebuilder reportedly threatened to pull his advertising if you ever wrote a critical piece on him again? I do). The press should serve as a check and balance on the council; in the P&J’s case, the council’s cheques for ads total £200,000 a year, and press you into service.

Adios to ideals; to dreams of reporting and investigating, or choosing what stories to follow. The rest of us feel your shame, and we pity you. This has taken enough of your time though, and you will likely have a beautiful tot or beautiful bride layout to work on.

Some of us managed to believe (or half believe) the Santa Claus/Father Christmas mythology without it turning us into megalomaniacal would-be fascist dictators, preening newspaper editors whose Facebook page consists of a series of selfies and little else, or a woman in a job over her head who will do anything for money, however much that means swallowing racism, sexism and nationalism – just hypothetical examples of personality disorders, mind you.

I am very thankful. Thankful I am never going to work for you or those you serve.

STOP PRESS:  Be sure to take your children to Santa’s Grotto at the Trump International Golf Links Scotland; if you’re going to scar the offspring for life, do it somewhere where they know about great big men with odd hair promising lots of gifts to people who do what they are told to do (even if those gifts never materialise). A tenner a tyke.

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Sep 092016
 

Suzanne Kelly looks back at a variety of City issues involving Peter Leonard, Director of Housing Environment and Infrastruccture. She concludes, while he is on sick leave following vacation, that in her opinion, it’s time for him to go.

marischalpicMany people in Aberdeen tend to think the councillors are to blame for all the many, many mistakes, flawed plans, waste of money, and bad decisions that take place.

The truth is that they only get to vote on reports put before them by officers, and officers can and do drive agenda and stop plans they don’t like. Staff too are controlled by the officers.

They are vilified for complaining or resorting to whistle-blowing when complaints to managers fail.

Aberdeen Voice is aware of more than one case of staff being micro-managed and having their work time scrutinized to the last minute. There are many people who, while worried about being discovered, want to talk about negative experiences with officers, and that includes Pete Leonard.

Head of Housing & Environment Pete Leonard has been implicated in a catalogue of bad decisions.

Having just missed a chance to apologise to the public over the cremation scandal so he could holiday, he is now off sick. Reports suggest he will remain out of the office – until terms of his final severance package can be ironed out. Many find his continuing in his post is now untenable following the cremation report – and the public has not seen the report commissioned by the Chief Executive.

My long-running interaction with him over the destruction of the Tullos Hill is no secret. He insisted on deer slaughter: when established consultants offered free help, they were rejected.

The slaughter was called ‘abhorrent and absurd’ by the Scottish SPCA in the circumstances. The expensive, unsuccessful attempts to establish trees on the hill are his responsibility – he declared in formal reports the scheme would be cost neutral. (Tullos is a former waste dump with little topsoil; the government’s own departments have written that establishing trees there is unlikely. However, it’s made quite a bit of money for consultants, suppliers, and deer stalkers).

Leonard’s insistence to the Housing & Environment Committee that the Tree for Every Citizen Scheme would be ‘cost neutral’ has cost well into a five-figure sum (and caused more than 36 deer to be culled needlessly) and may result in further expense to taxpayers soon. A councillor’s proposal to keep the hill as a meadow with deer was quashed before it could be voted on: by  Pete Leonard.

One of many ponderous reports flogging the dubious benefits of the Muse development of Marischal Square bears Leonard’s name. On 2 March 2016 this report recommends against asking the public for any further input on Marischal Square because the public might experience ‘consultation fatigue’ and may result in a ‘negative customer experience’.

Heaven forbid. Customer experience didn’t attract the council’s attention when, despite 3,000 citizens and 3 community councils demanding the deer be spared were ignored.

The idea was to have a temporary place under the arches where people could buy coffee and snacks

As to consultation fatigue, I think more people would prefer the chance to have their say and risk ‘fatigue’ than winding up with the monstrous white elephant at Marischal – where the Press & Journal will now call HQ for one year free – courtesy of the taxpayer.

By the way, after suggesting ‘consultation fatigue’ was real, the report goes on to steamroll the reader with jargon about including citizens to ‘participate in the development, design, and decision making services [how does a citizen participate in a decision making service??] to promote civic pride, active citizenship and resilience.’

Leonard has, in effect, proposed not fatiguing us with consultations while wanting our participation. Sounds like quite a balancing act; no wonder ‘resilience’ is also suggested.

There are many Aberdeen Voice readers who have fought to get basic housing repairs, fought to have housing suitable to the needs of the elderly and disabled, or even to have safe, habitable places to live. Some suggest the head of Housing & Environment needed to have a more hands on approach.

Who scotched the Cafe 52 plan to have a self-sustaining cafe in Union Terrace Gardens?

The idea was to have a temporary place under the arches where people could buy coffee and snacks, the Bothwell family were going to pay all the set-up costs, and volunteers were going to run it, as I recall. I do recall that the profits were all going to be churned back into improving the gardens. The departed Maggie Bochel even recommended this go through, and several councillors as well as many members of the public supported the plan.

Is it possible that a city council officer stepped in to stop this simple plan, and if so why? This may be a small side issue, but hopefully by now the point has been made that directors and officers can, and do, guide how and what a councillor gets to vote on.

As such, we need directors who are competent, who are capable, who are without bias, and who are accountable.

Where does the city most fall down? In its management of communities, housing and (obviously) infrastructure.

Who has been the responsible Director for Communities, Housing & Infrastructure for years? Pete Leonard.

Pete Leonard chose not to attend the public meeting that took place last week

Leonard is on a salary adjacent to £112k per year, plus a generous pension contribution. If he is allowed to remain in post following the various reports (public facing and secret) into the scandal of Aberdeen’s crematorium operations, something is drastically wrong.

Bereaved parents were told for years there would be no ash following cremation of their deceased children. In fact, the crematorium, under Leonard’s remit, was mixing the remains of children with those of unrelated adults, and in effect lying to parents.  This went on for years.

Some of the parents impacted by this cruel deception are calling for those responsible to be let go. I join that call

Pete Leonard chose not to attend the public meeting that took place last week; he was on holiday. It was disappointing to the bereaved that he was not there; his non-attendance sent a strong message.

The report into the long-running contempt shown both to the deceased and bereaved and severe managerial failure can be found here. It makes damning reading. Here are some highlights:

A damning summary:

“There was no overall strategic management of the crematorium. Aberdeen City Council had significant challenges elsewhere. Pete Leonard, Director of Communities, Housing and Infrastructure since 2010, explained to the Investigation,

“…in terms of the focus of senior management attention, you focus on the things that you know need fixing and you focus on the things you know to improve and areas where you need to make savings and you’ve got to try and bring the public and elected members with you, that’s very much a focus.”

“It was clear during the Investigation that the current Environmental Manager, Steven Shaw and those above him [that would include Leonard – S Kelly] had remote and ad hoc involvement in the management of the crematorium or the staff. The Investigation was told by the current Crematorium Manager, Angus Beacom, that,

“…staff felt that, in their words, not mine, they had been somewhat neglected by senior management”

“Pete Leonard, Director of Communities Housing and Infrastructure told the Investigation,

“I guess I was fairly light touch in my management in terms of, I don’t think I had visited the site for some time.”

“Pete Leonard confirmed that the purchase of new cremators was an expensive capital project and that he “was more focused on keeping track of that“,

“I guess the crematorium for me was a case of things seem to be going ok so a light touch management was ok and I wasn’t really getting involved.

The crematorium, I guess, never really featured on my radar. I wish it had, but it never featured on my radar so it was kind of left alone.”

“The Head of Services, Mark Reilly, told the Investigation,

“…Now there was a gap between Steven (Shaw, Environmental Manager) and Derek Snow (Cremation Manager) that I didn’t particularly care for. I wanted to really look at the structure of Bereavement Services and crematoria and how that works and get one manager overseeing both.”

“The Investigation found that despite issues about infant cremation coming to public attention following the media coverage about Mortonhall Crematorium in December 2012, no changes in practice were instigated at Aberdeen until November 2013 and July 2014.

“Pete Leonard, Director of Communities Housing and Infrastructure, told this Investigation,

“And we had lots of conversations, so we’d be saying, well if some people are saying that they’re recovering ashes, how is that? Are they using different temperatures and all this? There’s a lot of speculation about ‘well, we’re not sure how they’re doing it, but they’re probably doing things like turning the ovens off at night and leaving the baby in to ‘slow cook‘ and do we really want to be doing that and what if the parents found out about that?‘ and there were issues being thrown in around emissions and if you turn the heating down then you might be breaking the emissions law. There didn’t seem to be any shared industry knowledge or best practice.”

“There was no evidence that any effort was made by anyone at Aberdeen City Council to clarify at exactly what age or stage ashes were available. The senior managers did not challenge what they were told despite the information emerging from Mortonhall Crematorium nor did they seek information from Seafield Crematorium, or even closer, Parkgrove Crematorium, to ascertain how these crematoria could have been obtaining ashes despite the Aberdeen position that none existed until the age of eighteen months to two years.

“Pete Leonard told the Investigation,

“Around about that time we received a letter from Sue Bruce (then Chief Executive of City of Edinburgh Council) with the scope of the inquiry that she had asked Dame Elish to perform and I had a conversation with Valerie Watts then Chief Executive of Aberdeen City Council. I said I’d been to see the crematorium team, they assure me everything is okay but I really think we need to get some objective people in to do an audit and investigation into some of the processes and ask them questions. That led PwC to do an investigation, which was very much process based. At the same time, myself and Mark Reilly went to visit the team, got more behind the scenes.

“I think not getting ashes had been for as long as they could remember. Certainly with the new cremators they didn’t. With the older ones I don’t think they did, but I think they said previously they may have done in the dim and distant past, there might have been something. I think they gave some examples there, but I can’t really recall.

I think it pretty much reflected what the guys said and looked at the records. On reflection I think we didn’t focus enough on behaviour. When subsequently things changed in terms of what people’s story was, my own reflection on myself was perhaps I could have been a bit more challenging around some behaviours.

I drew up the terms of reference for the report and cleared these with the Chief Executive but it was based on what Sue Bruce had sent through, it was very similar terms of reference.

I am asked if the auditors looked at records as opposed to wider processes. Yes, that was the case. I am asked if anyone was examining the actual operational processes of cremation itself. No there was not. I think the years picked for audit were aligned with the different types of cremators from what I can see. I think there were different changes to the record keeping and we kept records up to a certain date. I think somebody had written to say they’d had some issue around 2008 and that they received ashes so on the back of that, we said can you go further back and examine what the practice was then”

“Pete Leonard told the Investigation,

“Around about that time we received a letter from Sue Bruce (then Chief Executive of City of Edinburgh Council) with the scope of the inquiry that she had asked Dame Elish to perform and I had a conversation with Valerie Watts then Chief Executive of Aberdeen City Council. I said I’d been to see the crematorium team, they assure me everything is okay but I really think we need to get some objective people in to do an audit and investigation into some of the processes and ask them questions. That led PwC to do an investigation, which was very much process based. At the same time, myself and Mark Reilly went to visit the team, got more behind the scenes.

I think not getting ashes had been for as long as they could remember. Certainly with the new cremators they didn’t. With the older ones I don’t think they did, but I think they said previously they may have done in the dim and distant past, there might have been something. I think they gave some examples there, but I can’t really recall.

I think it pretty much reflected what the guys said and looked at the records. On reflection I think we didn’t focus enough on behaviour. When subsequently things changed in terms of what people’s story was, my own reflection on myself was perhaps I could have been a bit more challenging around some behaviours.

I drew up the terms of reference for the report and cleared these with the Chief Executive but it was based on what Sue Bruce had sent through, it was very similar terms of reference.

I am asked if the auditors looked at records as opposed to wider processes. Yes, that was the case. I am asked if anyone was examining the actual operational processes of cremation itself. No there was not. I think the years picked for audit were aligned with the different types of cremators from what I can see. I think there were different changes to the record keeping and we kept records up to a certain date. I think somebody had written to say they’d had some issue around 2008 and that they received ashes so on the back of that, we said can you go further back and examine what the practice was then”

“An audit by the company PwC LLP was duly commissioned and terms of reference agreed in March 2013. The auditors reported on 9 July 2013. This audit was limited in scope and did not look at the actual cremation operational processes but rather traced a sample of cremations to the supporting records and administrative process in respect of the cremation of stillborn babies and infants under the age of two.

“The audit report describes its work as to ‘undertake a data collection exercise and review the current procedures in operation to better inform the Council Officers’ understanding of arrangements and practices.’ The report was based on the documentation available but there is no indication of the Council seeking audit of the actual cremation working processes by a suitably qualified cremation industry expert or body such as the FBCA.

“Pete Leonard, Director, told the Investigation,

“There had been a conversation about use of trays and what have you and I was very nervous about health and safety and I guess I placed a lot of reliance on the internal audit which we scoped out in March and it reported in July 2013.”

“There was no evidence given to the Investigation that after the production of this audit report the Council challenged Derek Snow’s assertion that there were no ashes to be obtained from babies less than eighteen months old. At the very least the information provided by PwC should have alerted the Council to the inconsistency between their public position and what the audit disclosed from the past.

“There is no evidence of the contents of the report being probed or checked to ascertain the reason for the different outcomes in the sampled cases. This information should have been of particular interest given the Council’s public position that ashes did not exist for babies under eighteen months to two years.

“Derek Snow, the Crematorium Manager added,

“When I started in 1986 there was no written procedures or guidance for babies. As far as I know there’s still nothing like that at the moment.”

“Steven Shaw, the current Environmental Manager, said that it was clear to him that,

“we didn’t have written up simple guidelines. I pushed for them to write up the procedures.”

“Pete Leonard said,

“When we started speaking to the guys, it was very clear then that there were no practices which made me nervous. “

“Staff also had access to manufacturers’ manuals for the cremators they were using. Aberdeen City Council’s response noted in the 10 July 2013 PwC LLP internal audit report was that they would be formalising their written policy and would consider any findings that came from the Scottish Government’s review.

“However, when staff were interviewed by the Investigation in February 2015 there was still no formal written procedure, guidance, instruction or local training manual available to staff at Aberdeen Crematorium despite

  • the recommendations of Lord Bonomy in his report of May 2014,
  • the Mortonhall Investigation Report April 2014,
  • the PwC internal audit recommendation of July 2013,
  • interest expressed by the Scottish Parliament,
  • press and extensive media coverage of the issues surrounding the cremation of babies throughout the period 2012-2014.

“Neither did the receipt of an anonymous letter result in such action. This letter indicated that the reason baby ashes were not being returned to families at Aberdeen was because babies were being cremated alongside the coffins of unrelated adults. Members of staff were still working on drafting the crematorium’s first Operational Procedures Booklet in early 2015.

“It was put to Pete Leonard, Director, that Derek Snow had suggested that he was only really a manager when it suited his line managers to treat him as such, that he was given very little scope to manage and was not given the opportunity to attend training. Pete Leonard replied,

“I couldn’t really say. I am asked if he ever made a complaint to me about the way he was being managed. No not at all, he seemed to be happy in his work.”

“This is in stark contrast to what former Environmental Manager, Sandy Scott said about Derek Snow wanting to leave since 2006. Sandy Scott told the Investigation,

“Derek Snow did not want to be at the Council. He made it quite clear he wanted to leave and I did some investigating and spoke to my Head of Service but we felt we couldn’t let him go at that point. It was always a feature of our one to ones as he wanted to bring it up with me.”

“Pete Leonard, Director of Communities Housing and Infrastructure said,

“I guess I felt really let down and right from the word go, what we’d said to the guys was ‘we’re not going to judge you on what’s happened, when you’re in an industry and you follow historic practices, sometimes you might find yourself doing something that culture accepted before. Something which might look horrific but you’re caught up in the middle of that and you’re just doing what you’ve always been told.

“So this is about understanding what’s going on’. We had said, ‘if there’s anything, anything at all, now’s the time to get it out, you’ve got our full support’. We couldn’t have emphasised that more and so to then find out that the guys were lying and they’d been so convincing …I was bloody angry to be honest but really upset. Then I was really upset because of the impact on families.

“I’ve got young children myself and you can empathise. So then we had to move into trying to figure what happened and I wasn’t looking at punishing anybody, I just wanted to figure out what had been going on and we don’t really know. I mean, having gone through the experience of believing what they said before, to be honest, anything they said, I took with a pinch of salt.

“Could be true, it maybe isn’t true and there was no real way I got that mechanism to get to the truth. The investigation may have more success.”

“this was a section of the City Council working in almost complete isolation without any strategic direction, development or quality control of the service, so far as it related to babies, infants and non-viable foetuses. There was little knowledge by Senior Management of the service provided to the families of these babies.

“There was insufficient interest taken or leadership shown by management

“much of what was learned by Cremator Operators at Aberdeen was received wisdom from more experienced peers. The extraordinary belief that there would be no recovered ashes from babies up to the age of eighteen months or two years was contradicted by what was known to be recovered in many other crematoria as well as in Aberdeen itself in earlier years

“The cremation of babies along with unknown adults is an unethical and abhorrent practice which will offend the sensibilities of the wider community and cause great distress to those whose babies were cremated there. It will also cause profound concern to the next of kin of unrelated adults who may have collected and continue to retain ashes of loved ones cremated at Aberdeen which also contain the ashes of a baby or one or even several non-viable foetuses

“When obliged to consider this issue with the commencement of the Mortonhall Investigation and during the separate opportunity to explain their position to Lord Bonomy and his team the true picture at Aberdeen Crematorium was not disclosed. The Infant Cremation Commission was misled about the practices taking place.

“It was clear from the interviews of staff in early 2015 that despite the passage of time since the Mortonhall Report, the report of the Infant Cremation Commission and extensive media coverage of the circumstances at Mortonhall Crematorium that staff had not yet been properly briefed or briefed at all to allow them to have an accurate understanding of the physiology of the bones of foetuses, stillborn babies and infants.

8. The most senior level of management at Aberdeen must provide strong leadership and now take full responsibility for the effective management of the crematorium. It must also ensure that immediate and appropriate training takes place and that effective and ethical practices are maintained. This relates not only to a change of working practices but to an assurance that the culture of the organisation and the knowledge and understanding is such as to prevent any future abuse of the trust of those families who have placed the remains of their loved ones in their care.

10. As with other crematoria there was a total absence of any local written instruction or guidance. This remained the case even in 2015 after an audit report of 2013 which highlighted the lack of written procedure. This meant that the actual practices employed in the crematoria were not documented and available for inspection by normal quality assurance procedures. Had such written guidance been available it may have alerted Cremator Operators to the deviant nature of their practices.

11. By allowing the predicted outcome rather than the actual outcome to remain in the disposal column Aberdeen City Council created a situation where the inaccurate information was allowed to remain on the Register. Although the inaccuracy was identified no steps had been to correct the accuracy of the Register. This casual and careless approach to a statutory obligation is of considerable concern.”

My conclusions

There is contradiction about Leonard’s position in the Muse report (do we not consult people so as not to ‘fatigue’ them or do we involve them in the design, etc).

Leonard contradicts himself again in his testimony here.  At one stage we’re asked to think of him as being a father who’d be concerned about the families; and then we have the inexcusable on the appalling choice of words about ‘slow cooking babies’ and ‘what if the parents found out’. Either you are a caring, empathetic parent – or you use that kind of language and seek to keep your parent peers in the dark.

Claims that there was no way to find out about any industry best practice or operational standards are debunked within five minutes by anyone with internet access. A search would swiftly find  The Federation of Burial and Cremation Authorities(FBCA). This organisation told me:

“The Federation of Burial and Cremation Authorities(FBCA) represents all but two of the operational crematoria in Scotland and around 85% of crematoria in the whole of the UK.

The FBCA has existed since 1924 and represents the owners and operators of cemeteries and crematoria in the UK.

All members of the FBCA have to confirm that they operate in accordance with our Code of Cremation Practice on an annual basis.

The process of cremation is regulated by Sepa and there are parameters which have to be maintained throughout each and every cremation, whether adult or infant, however it is important that special measures are taken during the cremation of very young babies to ensure that the conditions within the cremator provide the best possible opportunity for the recovery of ashes at the completion of the process..

We provide the training and examination process used at the majority of crematoria in Scotland and we strive to ensure that Best Practice and the highest standards are met at all times. “
– email from R Powell of FBCA to S Kelly 5 September 2016

For someone with a director’s mandate covering the crematorium, ignorance of this easily-found knowledge is bad enough; it is compounded by the evident lack of interest in pro-actively seeking for it.

Changes were to have been made in documentation for procedures; this went un-remedied for years. Should the buck have stopped with Leonard?

The curtains are drawn:

It should be noted that there is a Customer Services Standards document – but it is being updated, and requests for a copy of the current one have gone unanswered.  Aberdeen Voice also made an appointment to view the Officers’ register of interests – and hours before the appointment the city cancelled on the grounds ‘personal data’ would be in the records.

The legal team decided that a Freedom of Information request would be needed, and that while councillors’ records are all electronically available, the records for officers and directors were off limits.

Let’s hope the wait to see the records won’t take too long (all FOI requests I have made to the city have been just to the deadline or have been late).

Enough:

I watched as the arrogance and assurances from Leonard led to the destruction of a herd of deer that had lived on Tullos for decades without needing any cull. I watched as he stubbornly refused free advice on non-lethal culling, refused to take on board the soil report saying that trees are unlikely to establish while approving hundreds of thousands of pounds on consultants, fencing, trees and deer hunters.

I watched as a friend whose stillborn child was told there would be no ashes to scatter after cremation some years ago. I worried as I helped arrange a cremation fairly recently as to what was going on.

I watched as the hated Muse project was foist upon a largely unwilling, certainly poorly consulted public – who will  now subsidise the Press & Journal with a year’s free rent.

I watched as parents were further disrespected by Leonard deciding not to face them at the crematorium public meeting as he chose to vacation instead.  I’ve listened to complaints of people with health issues in housing inadequate to their needs.

I’ve heard from people who waited months and months for simple housing repairs.  I’ve heard from people living in housing where anti social behaviour runs rampant because the city keeps no residential staff to ensure safety. I’ve heard from staff who have felt bullied under his regieme.

I now want to watch as Leonard leaves his post with as small a remuneration as legally possible, and leaves quickly.

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Aug 042016
 

With thanks to Gwyneth Hinton, Joint Vice-Chair, Aberdeen and District Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament

HiroshimaOn Saturday August 6th, Aberdeen and District CND are holding a gathering to commemorate Hiroshima Day. It will take place in Union Terrace Gardens in Aberdeen at 2.00pm.
The rules of the garden do not allow us to have organised speakers but we shall have two minutes silence at 2.30 pm when, weather permitting we shall lie down.

We encourage you to come along with your family and remember the families who died on that day in 1945.

Bring flowers and candles so that we can make a peace symbol.

Come along with musical instruments to play appropriate music and a picnic so that you can sit awhile afterwards.

For further information please email gwyneth.hinton@googlemail.com

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Oct 082015
 

With thanks to Paul Smith, Managing Director, Citrus Mix.

Amanda Parer giant rabbits (1) The arrival of one of the world’s most eye-catching art installations will help underline Aberdeen’s credentials as a cultural hub, according to the organisation which has secured the acclaimed display for the city.
Aberdeen Inspired has worked closely with artist Amanda Parer to enable the striking public light installation Intrude to be brought to the north-east.

The mesmerising work will be unveiled in December in Union Terrace Gardens as part of this year’s expanded Winter Festival. It will serve as a precursor to SPECTRA, the increasingly popular Aberdeen festival of light.

Intrude has been showcased in high profile festivals across the globe – with New York, Paris, London and Sydney all included on an impressive list of host cities.

The installation features a collection of giant inflatable illuminated rabbits which stand up to seven-metres tall.

Gary Craig, chief executive of Aberdeen Inspired, said:

“Amanda Parer has earned wonderful reviews for Intrude, which is a truly stunning piece of work and one which has won international acclaim.

“Aberdeen Inspired has worked hard to bring this installation to the city centre and we’re delighted to be preparing to welcome Amanda and Intrude to what we feel will be a stunning setting. It will bring a real sense of fantasy and intrigue to the heart of an area that will be a hive of activity during the festive period.”

Amanda Parer said:

“The whole idea of having these giant pieces on display is that they don’t fit in. It is a playful art work that evokes fantasy and wonder. It has been designed to give the sense that five giant glowing white rabbits have just hopped in and intruded on a given environment, in this case the Aberdeen’s wonderful Union Terrace Gardens.

“With this art work people find a wonder associated with similar childhood events such as Christmas. Yes, there is a dark element to the work, as with many childhood stories. An element of darkness is required to show the light and my rabbits do glow so very brightly. 

“I am very much looking forward to bringing Intrude to the north-east of Scotland this winter and I thank Aberdeen Inspired for asking me to present my installation and Aberdeen City Council for having us.”

The arrival of Intrude is part of a packed Winter Festival programme, which will also feature the new Aberdeen Christmas Village on Union Terrace. Aberdeen Inspired, Aberdeen City Council and amusement specialists Codona’s are working together to bring the village concept to life from November 25 to January 3.

Gary Craig added:

“Aberdeen Inspired is striving to make the city a more vibrant, attractive and appealing place to visit, live and work in. Art is an incredibly powerful way of doing that and particularly when it is an installation as vivid and as high profile as the one Amanda Parer has created. To be able to bring this as a free outdoor exhibition to a north-east audience is tremendous.

“Of course art of any type has the power to spark debate and divide opinion, but we have been incredibly encouraged by the excitement which is already building. In recent years SPECTRA has brought a real buzz to the city centre and captured the imagination of thousands of people. We view the arrival of Intrude as the perfect way to set the scene for what I’m sure will be another successful festival of light.

“In the past Aberdeen has been criticised for its commitment to the arts. In my view that is unfair – there is a very healthy cultural scene which can grow and thrive with the right support. Aberdeen Inspired has an important role to play in that and we are prepared to continue to invest to bring the best, most captivating and thought provoking work to our city centre.”

Aberdeen Inspired is the banner under which the Aberdeen BID (Business Improvement District) operates. It is a business-led initiative within the city centre in which levy payers within the BID zone contribute. Proceeds are used to fund projects designed to improve the business district. Further information on the work of Aberdeen Inspired is available at www.aberdeeninspired.com

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Dec 192014
 

RinkRomance1 With thanks to Phil Moar, Citrus Mix.

An Aberdeen couple brought extra sparkle to a city ice rink with a unique marriage proposal.

Kyle Wilson produced a dazzling diamond as he popped the question to his surprised girlfriend Grace Brodie at the rink in Union Terrace Gardens.

Dressed in disguise as Spiderman, Kyle skated towards his very own Mary Jane, and only revealed his true identity when he went down on one knee.

Using cards to share memories of their time together, the proposal marked the culmination of two months of planning after the 23-year-old store manager decided the city centre attraction would be the perfect location.

The newly engaged couple met each other on a blind date set up by Grace’s mother, who knew Kyle through a work connection, in August last year.

Kyle said:

“I knew Grace’s mother through work and we got to know each other quite well. She thought I would be well suited to her daughter so that is how our meeting came about. Everything just went from there, and we went on holiday to Blackpool a few months later, which has great memories for us. We got to know each other quite quickly and it has all been natural.

“I knew when I first met her that she was the one I wanted to be with and the more I got to know her the more I realised that I wanted to be with her for the rest of my life. When I heard the ice rink was coming back I knew that would be the perfect place to ask her, and everything went from there.”

After receiving permission from Grace’s family to propose, Kyle arranged for the couple to take to the ice-rink, which forms part of a programme of Christmas events devised by business organisation Aberdeen Inspired, on Wednesday afternoon.

“I planned it all and even borrowed a ring from her jewellery box to make sure I bought the right size for her. I think it will have come as a surprise to her. She knew that she was going to the ice rink, but just thought that it would be a normal day. My knees were trembling when I asked her. I am just so pleased it all went well.” he added.

Grace, a 23-year-old mental health nurse, said:

“I was absolutely shocked because I never expected anything like that. I didn’t suspect anything at all. I had seen Spiderman on the ice already skating with people, but I assumed he was there to entertain everyone .I arrived at the rink wondering where Kyle was but the organiser told me he was away to the toilet and told me to go onto the ice.

“I went onto the rink and said to the organiser that I had wanted Kyle to hold my hand to help me, and he said that Spiderman would look after me. Even then I didn’t click. I only knew something was going on when he started skating towards me and then I thought it was something Kyle would do.

“The messages he showed were special as it was the story of our time together. It has all been so surreal and the reaction from everyone at the rink was amazing. They all clapped and cheered us, it was absolutely lovely.”

Gary Craig, chief executive of Aberdeen Inspired, said:

“We are delighted that we were able to play a part in this romantic gesture. It is a great feel good story at this special time of the year and we wish Kyle and Grace all the best for their future together.”

The rink is open from noon to 8pm each day between now and January 4. Admission costs £3 per person, including skate hire, with the entire entry fee being donated by Aberdeen Inspired to The ARCHIE Foundation, the official charity of the Royal Aberdeen Children’s Hospital.

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Sep 132012
 

By Suzanne Kelly. 

‘Undemocratic!’ is the cry coming from various people in Government and some Aberdeen residents concerning the death of the granite web scheme.

The truth is that democracy took a beating in the way the referendum campaign was waged, in the secrecy over the TIF ranking the scheme received, and in the statements made by ministers who should know they were overstepping their bounds.

For those who really care about ‘Democracy’ and how it has been chipped at by those insistent that the web goes ahead, here is an overview of some newly emerged issues.

  • TIF Application:  Information Wrongfully Withheld

Last Sunday 9 September, the  Sunday Herald  carried two articles pertinent to how undemocratically the granite web has been pushed.  The first piece by Steven Vass was entitled FOI Victory Over Aberdeen Project’.  Vass explains that the Scottish Government and the Scottish Futures Trust have been criticised by the Information Commissioner.  These two organisations are refusing to release information on Aberdeen’s TIF bid, in particular how it was ranked against other projects. 

TIF is meant to be used for deprived areas.  Our city centre needs improvement, and a good place to start would be practical assistance to local businesses which now must compete with multinationals in our shopping malls (which have far more financial power than the little guy does). 

We are not, however, a deprived area; businesses are continuing to set up shop here, our housing prices are good, and our standard of living has on the whole been found to rank highly in the UK. 

So why can’t we find out more about the TIF application?  Is it possible that our TIF application was one of the lower-scoring ones? (It was ,after all, soundly criticised by an independent accountant.)  If it was not a high-scorer, then was it given priority unfairly over other projects? 

In the interests of democracy, whatever side of the debate you are on, you have to agree that withholding critical information which could help evaluate the facts is undoubtedly undemocratic.  The information Commissioner has concluded as much , and hopefully on 22 October the truth of the situation will be revealed.  Either that, or the Government and the SFT will appeal to the Court of Session. 

It will be interesting to find out who was involved in this non-compliance with the democratic principle of Freedom of Information, and to find out what they have to hide.  It will be interesting as well to see if the Government refuses the Information Commissioner’s decision and lodges a Court of Session appeal.  

There is legislation saying this information should be supplied, and yet it is being withheld against the Information Commissioner’s decision. Verdict:  Undemocratic

  • Above the Law?  How BiG Partnership and an Anonymous Group of Businessmen Seized the Airwaves with Propaganda

The other article in the Sunday Herald brings us to an even more serious issue.  This article, entitled ‘How to get ahead in the race to the White House…by advertising’ explains how voters are bombarded with election propaganda and how important it is to spend on adverts.  It also brings us to the decision just released by OFCOM against the radio advertising that took place during the referendum.

The Herald article explains the vast sums spent on TV and radio ads to try to secure election victories in the US.  The article quotes Erika Fowler, the associate professor running the Wesleyan Media Project:

“  Campaigns are not going for efficiency, they are going for moderate voters in the centre who have not made up their minds.  There are going to be many, many people tuning out the messages, but in a competitive election cycle, you really are going for that last one or two percentage points.  So the parties and the interest groups… are going to do whatever it takes to get a competitive advantage.”

And as the article says,

“That means spending money…”

The American spin doctors and PR firms know, as do their UK counterparts, that advertising works.  And OFCOM, the communications regulator, knows it as well.  It exists to prevent the public being misled, and it has come down hard against the aggressive saturation campaign and adverts placed by The BiG Partnership on  behalf of the anonymous VFTCGP members- what do they have to hide?

As a referendum campaigner who had to obey stringent rules and spending limits, I was astounded that an unelected and anonymous group, ‘Vote for the City Gardens Project’ were allowed to place a huge volume of radio and print advertising.  Not only did they have a degree of media saturation which I couldn’t have hoped for – but the contents of their ads were misleading.  Why do I say that?  Here are two direct quotes from the ads and my comments on each:-

1.  Quote:  “I’m voting yes because of the £182 million of investment to the city centre – and it’s all coming from grants and private donations so it won’t cost the taxpayer a penny.”

“The City Garden Project won’t cost you a penny, it will be paid for through private donations and business rates.”

http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/binaries/enforcement/broadcast-bulletins/obb213/obb213.pdf – see Pages 6 and 7

Comment As demonstrated by invoices paid by the City Council, taxpayer money has ALREADY been spent on this project for advertising, PR and ‘stakeholder engagement’ in the region of at least £200,000.  What is galling is that the BiG Partnership, working closely with ACSEF would have known this.  In fact, it is still a mystery what agency or agencies carried out the PR, advertising and photography:  was BiG a recipient of taxpayer money?  If so, how democratic or ethical was this agency acting when it submitted these ads for broadcast?

2.  Quote:  “It will create twice as much green space in the City Centre.”  (reference as above)

Comment We have a green park – when I say green, there is a deep, rich fertile layer of soil supporting wildlife and ancient trees. (Democracy fans note – there are trees and species in this park which are protected by UK and EU law, even though the past administration allowed fireworks displays in the gardens). 

If you build underground structures and have a layer of topsoil over them, you won’t have the same environmental quality as we do now. 

If you chop the trees down, and build a 5,000 seat outdoor theatre on formerly rich soil, then there is absolutely no way that you are going to double the amount of green space. 

Layers of turf over the concrete theatre’s roof and making similar turf-clad structures does not mean you can claim you are doubling genuine green space. 

By the way, the idea of building an outdoor theatre in Aberdeen makes very little sense indeed weather-wise.  Building a theatre in front of where a theatre already exists raises questions about the ‘non-displacement’ concept – rules are  supposed to prohibit using public resources to build something that will compete with or take away from an existing business – but this is being conveniently overlooked. 

Aside from my opinions on the accuracy of these ads – Aberdonian citizens were bombarded with over 200 ads on Northsound 1 and 2, and Original 106 played ads over 100 times  between 16 and 29 February.  ( In contrast, Mike Shepherd had one ad played a total of 26 times).

The point is that if so much as one person heard these hundreds of ads, assumed they were true (after all, the trusted radio stations continued to run them) and voted for the web based on these spurious claims (no cost to the taxpayer, double (??) the green space magically created), then the commercials and the big money behind them unduly influenced the referendum result.

What really beggars belief is the behaviour of the BiG Partnership.

They were involved with ACSEF to push the web scheme.  They know that invoices were paid by the taxpayer for consultation, PR, ‘stakeholder engagement’, photos and the like (even including a photo for about £150 meant to show how ‘inaccessible’ the gardens are). 

They knew that the web was already costing the taxpayer money, yet they were involved with creating and placing advertisements on radio saying the taxpayer wouldn’t pay a penny.  Whatever your position on the web is, don’t  you agree this is unethical?

  People would have been influenced by hundreds of ads

BiG also appear to have placed these ads apparently without getting full advice and clearance.  Reading OFCOM’s decision, it is easy to conclude the ads would not have been deemed acceptable had clearance been asked for in advance.

How does an organisation as big and experienced as BiG explain itself to the regulator?  This is what they said:-

“Northsound told us that this organisation was set up by a group of private individuals who supported the re-development project. They were not a formally constituted organisation, the Licensee said, and had “no legal status”. This advertiser appointed The BIG Partnership, a public relations consultancy, to run and manage its campaign.

“The BIG Partnership made the following comments through the Licensee:

“This campaign was set up a by a group of private individuals who wanted to see the project go ahead. They were not a formally constituted organisation. They have no legal status. They got together and appointed The BIG Partnership to run and manage the campaign and they provided funds for that campaign. The City Garden Project, as part of the wider city centre regeneration scheme, will be funded by private donations and a TIF scheme whereby Aberdeen City Council borrows money to pay for the regeneration and uses the new business rates generated by new business across the city as a result of the regeneration to pay back the loan. It will not be financed by Aberdeen City Council’s annual revenue budget and therefore not have an impact on local council tax payers or on the delivery of public services. The group behind the campaign is not political. The campaign aimed to influence the outcome of the referendum by communicating the facts and the benefits of the project to the public. The objectors to the project also ran similar advertisements.”

If there is even a single person  who voted for the project based on these radio ads, which should never have been aired, or has a friend or relative who was taken in by these ads, then they should come forward now and say so.  (Write to me if you wish; I can keep your details anonymous if you prefer  sgvk27@aol.com)

An anonymous group of people, via an experienced agency,  placed ads which should never have been aired .  The ads contain spurious claims, but at the time the regulatory bodies were unable to intervene.  The regulator has found the ads in breach of code. 

We need to know who the VFTCGP members were to see whether there were any conflicts of interest.  People would have been influenced by hundreds of ads, the contents of which could not be contested at the time. 

Whatever side of the issue you are on, if you care about law, democracy and fairness, you must admit these ads should not have aired and would have influenced the voters who heard them.  Verdict:  Extraordinarily Undemocratic

( Note –  BiG has not answered questions on this issue at the time of going to press. )

  • Local Newspaper Coverage:  Lacking and Slanted

Unfortunately our local hard copy tabloids, the Press & Journal and its sister, the Evening Express, are clearly in favour of the web going ahead. 

Their coverage in the past has seemed one-sided.  However, they have chosen to exclude the news item about the information Commissioner’s verdict re. the TIF details.  They have covered other Information Commission decisions in the past, and this one certainly has local importance. 

More importantly, at the time of writing, no local tabloid has mentioned the OFCOM decision, and instead have run pieces critical of the Labour administration.  The BBC and the Herald have decided these two stories were newsworthy enough to be published.  The local press did not find room for them, but do have articles on a new chocolate shop opening in the mall, and a photo of a black swan. 

Note –  The local press has not answered questions on this issue at the time of going to press.

Is it possible that our papers are slanting coverage to please their advertisers?  It just might be possible.  Verdict:  Newspapers can take any side of an issue they want; that is democracy.  However, do you want a paper that gives you one side of an issue, or one that covers all ground?

  • Democracy:  Labouring the Point

This is a good time to discuss Labour and Democracy.  When the referendum was announced, Labour said at the outset it did not agree with holding it, and explained they were already legally representing their constituents.  They also pointed out that the referendum was not a legal vote that had to be adhered to; it was in law always just a consultation (like the one we had before which rejected the city square). 

Labour told the people that if elected, they would scrap the City Gardens Project, which by the way was still in its infancy.  Some people seem to feel the web was a done deal.  It had not had TIF approval yet – it lacks details (we don’t have anything other than fanciful artist drawings which ignore necessary architectural and safety features which would make the thing look far different from the concept art), and it had to go through planning.

Labour explained what was wrong with the referendum before it started, and vociferously objected to all the abuses that went on during the campaign.  They asked to be elected with scrapping the CGP as a main campaign plank:  they did what they were elected to do  Verdict:  Democratic

  • SNP Sniping

It is very interesting to see in today’s Press and Journal our Scottish Government minister for planning,  Derek MacKay, speaking out against Labour over the web – which is a planning issue.  There are guidelines which direct him not to make such statements, but he seems to be ignoring them.

Is a minister involved with planning overstepping his remit and going contrary to Scottish Ministerial Code?  Seems like it.  Verdict:  Out of Order
http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2011/12/01141452/9

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Sep 072012
 

Voice’s Old Susannah looks at events over yet another vibrant and dynamic week in the ‘Deen. By Suzanne Kelly.

Tally Ho!  I hope everyone’s had another exciting week in  Aberdeen.

The Science Festival has kicked off, attracting visitors, scientists and lecturers from around the world.
It is most kind of them to visit Aberdeen– we have a garden that’s not at street level and we don’t have a web – we should be most grateful to them.

We should be grateful to BP as well, which is investing £100 million in the area.

Old Susannah discovered beer cocktails at BrewDog this past week.  They are gorgeous, and very enjoyable in these trying times.

I am amazed BrewDog chose to open its brilliant bar and factory in our area when we didn’t go for the granite web.  It’s almost as if the gardens were not a factor in their plans.

The more cynical among us wonder:  Would businesses really prefer operating here if we were £92 million in debt and had a giant city centre construction zone for at least a year?  If you listen to the SNP, some LibDems (funny, HoMalone doesn’t seem to be the charismatic leader we all thought she was) and ACSEF, then the answer is yes.

The petition to ask Sir Ian to spend his wealth to Africa instead of the web is now one week old.  Please do visit, read, and hopefully sign at www.gopetition.com/sir-ian-send-your-£50M-to-africa-as-promised   No doubt the mainstream press will take the story of this petition up any day now.  After all, our local papers wrote about the MASS demonstration planned by pro CGP activists when the figure was around 200.  Guess the Wood petition is about to be massive, too.

And massive and genuine thanks to Lush shops throughout Scotland; last weekend they raised hundreds of pounds to benefit Willows Animal Sanctuary.

Finally, Morris the Monkey has a new pal in Si the Seagull, new mascot for AFC.  Word has it that the fans are not necessarily impressed by this development, but I’ll wait and hear what Si himself has to say when he starts working for BiG and promoting the web.

On with a few definitions.

Union Terrace Effect: (modern English phrase, attributed to F. Wilkinson) – scheme in which powers that be allow a building, park or structure to decay deliberately, until such time as there is an outcry for a new replacement to be built- which is what the desired outcome was to begin with. 

Old Susannah heard this term recently, but can’t think of a single historic building, museum, school, terrace gardens or Tullos Hill that would fit this definition of something left to rot so it could be sold off / developed.  If I think of anything, I will let you know.

The Itemiser: (mod Eng noun) a portable particle scanner which can detect microscopic traces of a variety of substances.

We will all be safer soon!  Result!

traces of the drug (cocaine) can be found on any bank note

First, we are considering building a giant ‘state of the art’  prison soon – yet another construction job coming our way!  Secondly, the police now have a portable scanner which can find particles on a microscopic level of things like cannabis (!) and hard drugs.

They plan to go from bar to bar and search people here and there, for traces of drugs.  Anyone who’s been in contact with these substances (except for politicians, the wealthy, successful creative types, celebrities, etc) will be thrown in jail – where tons more drugs and interesting career training opportunities will freely available.

There is just one flaw in this cunning plan of searching citizens for microscopic evidence of crime, and that is this little fact:  90%+ of all paper money in circulation in the United Kingdom has traces of cocaine and/or heroin on it.

Old Susannah can’t begin to imagine how or why that should be – but next time you buy something in a bar, use coins rather than folding money – or it might just be off to jail with you.

The Daily Mail was one of the many news media that reported the presence of drugs on currency; it wrote:-

“A senior analyst at the FSS, the largest provider of forensic services in the UK on behalf of police forces, says traces of the drug (cocaine) can be found on any bank note regardless of its geographical location.

It takes just two weeks for a new note to pick up the drug… “

Read more: http://www.dailymail/Every-British-bank-note-contaminated

So to sum up, anyone with traces of drugs on them is either:  a)  a drug fiend who should be locked up, and/or b)  someone who has £5, £10, £20 or £50 pound notes on them.  We will all be safer if these types are all locked up.

If anyone’s worried about any bothersome civil rights issues over this type of presumed guilt / mandatory search, infringement of freedom, they could always organise a protest.

Witty Kevin Stewart is making a stir once again.

Except that Gordon McIntosh is proposing to the Council that we get rid of such things as protests, or at best only allow them in the Castlegate, where any crowds can easily be kettled.  Thanks, Gordon.

Anyone suggesting his latest report (which also recommends charging groups for holding events in parks as well as banning protests) is over-stepping his remit will be locked up.

King Midas: (ancient Greek mythological figure).  Midas was magically transformed so that everything he touched turned to gold.

Witty Kevin Stewart is making a stir once again.  Back in the day, he told the people in care homes, schools, Choices, etc. that we all had to be ‘reasonable’.  Then he cut their services off and closed their schools.

ACSEF was of course allowed to flourish, city real estate was sold at bargain basement prices, and we wrote off millions of pounds in bad debts.  Reasonable indeed.

Kevin had a wonderfully clever sound bite this week, aimed at Aberdeen City Council’s web-rejecters.  For the benefit of those who have stopped reading it, the P&J wrote:

“MSP Kevin Stewart claimed the administration had an “inverse Midas touch” hindering future private investment in the city.”

As mentioned before, I guess someone forgot to tell BrewDog, BP and a host of other businesses about the hindering future private investment in the city.  But as painful as it is to correct him, I feel I must remind Kev the moral of the Midas story.

King Midas was not a bad man per se; but he loved wealth and lived for gold.  So far, so good – if you’re an ACSEF member.

Kevin Stewart forgot part of the legend when making his brilliant comment

As a reward for his kindness to a Satyr, he was granted a wish – he wished that everything he touched would turn to gold.  At first very happy to be surrounded by his new wealth, Midas soon learnt that he could not eat, as his food turned to gold.  Then he touched his daughter, and she turned to gold as well.

Kevin Stewart forgot part of the legend when making his brilliant comment.  Midas realised his folly in thinking gold and wealth was more important than the environment, living creatures and of course his own daughter.

Midas was cured of his lust for gold, and once cured of the Midas Touch too, he retired to the countryside to enjoy nature. It was almost as if something in life was more important than wealth creation.  Ultimately, the moral of the Midas tale is that the environment and people are more important than gold.  How backward-looking is that?

I’m sure that this ending of the story would horrify our average Chamber of Commerce member, who would gladly have brought their golden daughter to a pawn shop to flog as scrap metal.

In an uncharacteristic slip, neither Kevin nor our local press found time to mention that Kev was on the City Gardens Project Management Board when writing about Labour having the Midas touch in reverse.

Some people might think his connection to the project is relevant to his attack on Labour, but that would just be jumping to the conclusion that a person on a board of a project would want the project to go ahead.   (And that would be as silly as assuming someone in a football supporter’s club might be biased towards the football team).

You might expect this service-axing champion of the people to advise fiscal restraint now until we truly got on our feet again.  You might even think he’d advise restoring some services ahead of web weaving.

No, Kev would prefer us to borrow £92 million on this real estate speculation which he supported as a board member.  (Note – I suppose I should just call it ‘TIF Funding’ like the professional reporters do; if you call it ‘funding’ rather than a ‘loan’, it sounds better and safer, doesn’t it?)

Amnesia: (noun; medical term) forgetfulness; loss of memory.

Isolated pockets of amnesia have hit our business community, press and government.

these ‘industry chiefs’ and our press forgot how rosy things looked earlier this year in a moment of mass forgetfulness.

Kevin forgot to flag up his direct involvement in the CGP project when he criticised Labour for cutting the web.  We’re told by ACSEF, pro CGP politicians, the Evening Express and the Press & Journal that the future is all gloom and doom, and no businesses will come here without the web.

They say we’re ‘closed for business’, we’re ‘frightened’, we’re ‘embarrassing’.  (It’s not that we’re being environmentally-friendly, economically prudent or aesthetically intelligent – no, we’re in the wrong if we don’t want the golden web).

And yet as recently as February of this year things looked so much better.  This is what the Press & Journal had to say back then:-

“Aberdeen is in prime position to help drag the UK economy out of recession, experts revealed today.

“The city has more start-up businesses than anywhere else in Scotland and will suffer fewer public sector job losses than anywhere else in Britain, says a new report.

“Aberdeen was named as one of five cities which Cities Outlook 2012 said was well-placed to aid recovery from the current economic gloom.

“Last night industry chiefs said the Granite City was an ideal location for new firms to flourish.”

I guess that is only true if we have a web though.  Either that or these ‘industry chiefs’ and our press forgot how rosy things looked earlier this year in a moment of mass forgetfulness.

We’re also being told by the guardians of accuracy, PriceWaterhouse Cooper that we need to attract 122,000 people to work in Aberdeen’s energy sector in the next ten years.  Funny, the £71,000+  they earned from web-related consultancy doesn’t get much of a press mention either – yet more amnesia, I think.

So amnesia-wise – Kevin and the press forgot to mention his involvement with the CGP when he attacked Labour; PwC forgot to mention in the press the money it made over the web so far when supporting it, and the media forgot its reports earlier this year as to what a great future Aberdeen has.

Do I think these people and institutions are possibly dishonest, scheming, colluding, corrupt or greedy?  Certainly not – I just think they have selective amnesia.

Additionally, BrewDog and BP forgot that the city cannot survive without the Granite Web when they committed to the area.  Yes, amnesia is at epidemic proportions.

And there we shall leave it until next week.

PS  very best wishes to Declan Michael Laird for his film premier; have a great time tomorrow night and a good trip back to LA. 

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Aug 312012
 

Voice’s Old Susannah looks at events over the the last week … and once again, what a week it’s been in the ‘Deen. By Suzanne Kelly.

Vibrant and dynamic adjectives are being used to describe the Labour, Lib Dems and Independents who voted against the beloved web.

Conspiracy theorists say that these ungrateful refusenicks have brought civilisation to an end, even that they secretly scheme to bring the monolith design for the gardens back.

Such villainy!  It is hard to believe that some LibDems were not swayed by the powerful, intellectual charismatic persuasion powers of Aileen Malone.  But they weren’t.

Old Susannah failed to make it to the 28 August Housing & Environment Committee; alas I missed the debate on the deer.

Pete Leonard’s reports on the tree for every citizen and deer cull say the whole thing is ( a) finished, and ( b) a success.  Result!  Funny how something can look like a ‘cost-neutral’, complete success to someone, and yet seem like a shambolic, environmentally unsound, unwanted, exorbitant, barbaric disaster to the rest of us.

As I wasn’t there, I missed the chance to see former Convener Aileen Malone show up to defend her scheme and those who implemented it for her; I’m sure her speech to the new H&E Committee was as moving as her speech during the Union Terrace Gardens debate.

On that occasion she said how important it was for councillors to listen to the people.

During the deer cull she embodied this tenet by ‘accidentally’ deleting emails protesting the cull, ignoring 3 community councils which implored her to stop the cull, and taking delivery of a 2,500 signature petition against the cull.

Oh, HoMalone listened all right. She just chose not to pay any attention to what she heard.  I say that I missed her defence of the scheme at the H&E Committee – but even though I was not there, she – being a person of honour and principle must have put in an appearance rather than leaving Leonard hung out to dry.

Any shirking would have been cowardly and an admission of ineptitude.

We will be toasting Neil Cooney with several brewdogs; he has said there will be no further culls simply to plant trees.  Perhaps he will be able to resurrect the scheme of keeping Tullos Hill meadow as, er, a meadow, even if Pete Leonard says that is more expensive than trees, tree guards, deer fencing, mechanical diggers, gorse stripping, and pesticide spraying for a few years.

I guess Pete and I went to different accounting lessons.

we have to deal with an awful lot of garbage here in Aberdeen

The dust is not settling very well on the granite web, which has been toppled.  What a shame.  Rather than us having shiny walkways in the sky to enjoy rain, snow or shine, to walk up and down on, to fall off, it looked for a moment as if all that lovely £50 million was going to be wasted helping people in Africa.

To put things in perspective, we have to deal with an awful lot of garbage here in Aberdeen:  vacant and decaying properties acting as beacons for arsonists; closed shops, litter that never gets cleared, social problems and services slashed by the previous administration.

The relatively simpler problems which pose minor irritations in Africa include famine, infant mortality from disease and hunger; kidnapped children beaten into soldiers, civil wars, a plague of AIDS, illiteracy and so on.

When I learnt the web was not going to be built, I remembered Sir Ian’s words as told to the Press & Journal:

“Sir Ian Wood said last night that projects in Africa would benefit from the £50million he has offered toAberdeen– should the City Garden Project be rejected” – Press & Journal, 11/02/2012

How wonderful!  I wondered if there was going to be an African granite web, perhaps with some fir tree bosque and underground parking – that would cheer the starving multitude a little.  But like the web, this promise seemed almost too good to be true.

But then something unforeseen happened – something which has never happened before:  Sir Ian changed his mind.

No – Sir Ian is going to leave the money on the table for a year in Aberdeen.  Fine.  It’s his money (if he actually has all this in liquid assets he is a lucky man indeed).  Perhaps it’s time to turn to the dictionary for some assistance with the relevant issues.

Life Expectancy: (compound noun; English) – Statistical figure showing the mean for a group of people or living things to determine the typical time span from birth until death.

Old Susannah wondered which group of people needed £50,000,000 more – Aberdonians to turn their only city centre (common good land) garden into a giant web with an outdoor theatre next to a theatre?  Or Africans for food, shelter, education and healthcare.

Just for the record, the UK’s average life expectancy is about 80.5 years.  If, however,  you are in parts of Africa, this can be slightly lower – say about  56.5 years if you’re born in Niger,  50.6 years in Chad, 46.2 in Rwanda and give or take a few days you get 43.5 years to live if you’re born in Zimbabwe. Figures are not available yet on the life-extending benefits of granite webs.

We live longer in the West; that’s why we need more places to shop and more theatres to entertain us.

A town of Aberdeen’s size and stature can hardly be expected to get by with a Music Hall, an AECC, a HMT, a Lemon Tree and a dozen private music venues (plus concerts now and then at Pittodrie) – no, we need to build an outdoor theatre in front of HMT while we subsidise the operation of the other publicly-owned theatres.  Simples.

On the other hand, if you are likely to be killed in some form of tribal gun battle, die in childbirth, or die as either a starving infant or a child soldier, you don’t really need as many different diversions for your leisure time.

So, in a year Sir Ian may send his £50 million to Africa, if Aberdeen hasn’t begged him to put up the web, repenting of last week’s decision to just fix what we have for less than the £140 million web. Africa will just have to wait and see.  And if a few million people have an extra year of hardships, then so be it.

Petition: (Eng.verb) to entreat, often formally with writing and backing of others, for a desired outcome.

I can’t help but notice how many different petitions have been started since the City cruelly turned down the chance to borrow £92,000,000 to build a bosque and a sensory hippy trail thingy (no, I don’t get it either – ask Paul at Gray’s  School of Art).

There are petitions demanding Labour resign, petitions denouncing Barney Crockett and others, petitions saying the granite web was the marvel of the age.  Even Kevin Stewart, last seen explaining why our vulnerable and disabled had to suffer services cuts, has come out of the woodwork and made a very clever motion in the Scottish Parliament.

I was involved in petitions to save the Tullos deer and save Union Terrace Gardens.  This confused some people who called me a tree-hugger, and were baffled that  I didn’t want 89,000 trees on Tullos Hill if it meant destroying what was already there.

But now I have a new petition.  Do have a look, and if you agree, please feel free to sign and to share.
petitions/sir-ian-wood-send-your-£50-million-to-africa

Dummies:

Dummies are being used to guard parking spaces in Old Meldrum; evidence suggests this scheme probably originated in the higher levels of ACC management.

The dummies are thought to be on secondment at the highest levels of the Housing Directorate.  I am asked to point out that any resemblance between the dummies in Oldmeldrum and any former city councillors is purely coincidental.  And obvious.

Next week:  more definitions.

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Aug 312012
 

The City Garden Project is dead. It’s difficult to believe after all these years, but despite some horrendous death throws and twitches, the beast has been slain. Mike Shepherd looks back at the good things and the bad things that emerged from this experience.

BAD: Businessmen tried to impose their will over the rest of Aberdeen.
GOOD: The people of Aberdeen fought back and won.

Aberdeen had in recent years drifted politically into a  situation where big business interests were exerting too much control for the good of a pluralistic society.

It is shocking that economic policy for the region has been devolved to mainly business interests largely beyond political control (ACSEF).

The UTG decision shows that the people of Aberdeen can still exert a brake on the rampant will of businessmen who think they can do what they want, even to the extent of taking over a public park.

BAD: The local press proved less to be the watchdog of the community and more the poodle of big business.
GOOD:  Aberdeen Voice was formed and the internet became a forum for those who disagree with the local newsprint’s version of ‘consensus’.

Freedom of Information releases show how much of our tax money ACSEF have spent on public relations, largely channelled through the local newsprint.  However, the days whereby the Aberdeen media creates the message and controls the consensus are slipping away.  The ‘editorial column’ has now lost all credibility and the free exchange of opinion and information is passing to community pages on the internet.

BAD: Public consultations and referenda have now proved to be totally worthless.
GOOD: We still have the ballot box.

The first public consultation was effectively run as a marketing exercise and was ignored because it returned the wrong result as far as ACSEF and a section of the business community were concerned. The later public referendum was run with good intentions but business interests left nothing to chance and spent their way to a totally one-sided campaign.  Both episodes did nothing to reduce rampant cynicism amongst the disaffected. However, the results of the democratic ballot through council elections could not be ignored or swayed by one-sided campaign spending.

BAD:  National politicians sided with power and wealth against the interests of the public.
GOOD: You can still punish them for the abuse of political control through the ballot box.

The involvement of senior Scottish Government politicians in a local dispute over a public park was despicable.   Sectional party interests look to have been involved in an attempt to curry favour with wealth,  power and influence in the Aberdeen area. The politician’s willingness to get involved in a divisive local issue despite potential fallout from the electorate suggests that over-riding political objectives at a national scale were at stake.  That potential fallout from the electorate happened.

BAD:  Aberdeen Council turned over wagging paws in the air at the behest of business interests.
GOOD: We are on their case.

Of all the shockers perpetrated by our Council, the worst was to allow the proposed developers of the City Garden Project, a limited company, to influence the business case for Council borrowing of millions of pounds for the project.  To show how bad this is: under normal circumstances an “allegation” like this would have provoked outrage and perhaps lawyer’s letters; but this is not an allegation; it is all there in black and white in the council’s report.  We are now alert to the knowledge that our council can do these things. They will be watched like a hawk.

BAD: The political powers have stopped bothering with building consensus over big planning issues where conflict could arise.
GOOD: The might is right approach has failed miserably.

A big lesson from the recent history of political decisions in Aberdeen –  Involve everybody and make sure that all opinions are heard and considered seriously. If you don’t do this, expect a political quagmire of horrendous proportions – UTG, the bypass, Loirston, etc, etc. It doesn’t matter who is right or wrong, you have to do this properly and thoroughly

GOOD: A public park, Union Terrace Gardens, has been kept as a public amenity.
GOOD:  They will think twice before ever trying that again.

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Aug 242012
 

Voice’s Old Susannah looks at events over the the last week … and what a week it’s been in the ‘Deen. By Suzanne Kelly.

‘SHATTERED!’ roars the Press & Journal headline following the council’s decision on Wednesday not to pursue a £92 million pound loan to build the Granite Web.  There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth; most of the wailing stemming from Jennifer Craw’s insistence on putting her feet on the back of the seat in front of her as she sat in the public gallery.

What was agreed was the madcap idea of trying to fix the Gardens and our existing facilities.  Surely if that sort of thing worked, people would already be doing it. No, a Granite Web was the only thing that was going to save our town’s economy.

We are apparently doomed to being a ghost town.  Unfortunately no one’s told this to the many companies moving into the area.  Shame.

Without further ado, here are some definitions relevant to this week’s news stories…

Online Bullying: (mod. Eng. noun) the use of electronic media to harass, intimidate or ridicule.

Those on the losing side are quite rightly using Facebook and email to hound, vilify and harass those who voted for the modest independent compromise motion. There has been a Facebook page set up calling Barney Crocket ‘The man who killed democracy’.

Absolutely. He got elected, did what he said he and his party were going to do, and reminded everyone why the referendum was a sham won by a slim margin in favour of those who saturated the public with lovely brochures and endless radio ads.

The content of these ads promised the earth, billions of pounds of income, and 6,500 new jobs. Sadly, some people remained a little sceptical that these were achievable, even though the P&J said they were.

The official campaign organisations didn’t spend as much so they couldn’t win; just because the guidelines told them what their limits were for spending and ad content, there was no reason they couldn’t compete fairly with the wishes of a billionaire and a multimillionaire.

But back to this Facebook page. All those people are queuing up to smear Crockett and his like-minded councillors; well, fair enough.

It was almost as if he were trying to lump all the opposition together and tar them with a very sinister brush.

Obviously the page in question is not in any way connected to the BiG partnership or any of its student interns, Jake the Ghost, or Morris the Monkey – for that would be playing fast and loose with Facebook and PR professional association rules. And that just wouldn’t happen – except for the time that it did, of course, during the referendum.

The important thing for us Aberdonians to remember about online bullying is when it is or is not a good thing. It is perfectly acceptable to use social media and emails to hound people like Crockett and Boulton, who clearly don’t care that businesses are departing Aberdeen in droves and the four horsemen of the apocalypse have been seen near Tillydrone.

But when someone rich and important like Tom Smith is subject to online bullying, then it is a matter for the police. Unfortunately when Tom went to the press, something he now says he didn’t want to do, he mixed online bullying together with people having online conversations which didn’t involve him, as well as with the very illegal crime of computer hacking, which carries a potential jail sentence.

As we since learnt, there was no crime committed, even though he told us there was in a Press & Journal front page article days before the referendum.  It was almost as if he were trying to lump all the opposition together and tar them with a very sinister brush.

How exactly this timid soul was forced to go public with his story remains a mystery. Was he bullied into it?  Anyone with knowledge of the media handling would be welcome to explain it to me.  But as it stands, it seems like Tom was rather left with his foot in his mouth, or something like that.

Olive Branch: (Eng. noun) an offering of peace or conciliation, usually offered after an argument or an altercation.

I’m afraid that a Mr K Flavill has much to answer for. He had the bad humour not to accept the olive branch which was kindly offered to him by the City Gardens Trust supporters, post-referendum. The headline ‘Olive Branch brushed aside’ painted this villainous arts sector worker in his true colours.

However, as the definition of ‘online bullying’ above clearly proves, there are circumstances in which something can either be desirable or not.

Since the City Council has agreed on a measure which will save the Gardens, improve the Gardens, save the businesses on the back of Belmont Street, improve the Lemon Tree and other features of the city’s cultural portfolio, an olive branch is clearly inappropriate.

I do hope no one will suggest that the Granite Web’s supporters should accept an olive branch and work to improve what needs improving, if that is possible without a Web and a £92,000,000 debt.  An olive branch in such circumstances can’t be an option.

Sensory Soundscape: (noun, very very modern English) {NOTE:  definition known only to Prof. Paul Harris of Gray’s School of Art}

Well, along with not getting our bosque, we will not be getting the ‘Sensory Soundscape’ that Prof. Harris spoke of lovingly in his address, as he put in his deposition in favour of the Web.

He was involved for 18 months with the project as well as the ‘cultural working group’. He spoke to us all about the Web giving us an ‘all-embracing sensory experience’, as well as ‘seamless connectivity’ to boot. And we don’t get to have our ‘sound trails’ either. Obviously you can’t have ‘sound trails’ without a ‘sensory soundscape’.

Old Susannah is now done with her excellent diet, although I could really shed another pound or two, but thank you to all at Temple Aesthetics.

Why am I telling you this?  Because as soon as I can get out from under my mounds of UTG-related research papers, I will be heading for my own personal sensory soundscape and sound trails:  YES – I am heading back to BrewDog Aberdeen just as soon as I can manage.

Soundgarden will probably be providing the sensory soundscape as I get a pint of either ‘Dead Pony Club’ or ‘Hello my name is Ingrid’, God willing. You want an all-embracing sensory experience? Brewdog will fix you up on that score AND still give you change from £140 million.

Irony: (Eng. noun).  A  concept of humour which Americans cannot understand. 

Sadly, being American-born I have little sense of irony, and arguably even less sense of satire. However, friends suggest two examples to try and help me.

The first concerns a writer called ‘O Henry’. One of his short stories involved a poor newlywed couple trying to get gifts for each other for Christmas. The wife sells her hair to buy a pocket-watch chain for her husband. Meanwhile, he has sold his watch to get her a set of beautiful hairbrushes.

The second example I am given comes from our very own HoMalone. When the deer cull was first suggested as the only possible way in which the non-existent, arbitrary trees were going to thrive on wind-and arson-swept Tullos Hill, Malone wisely turned cold-hearted ( uncharacteristically of course) and refused to listen to the thousands of petition-signers and the three community councils that told her in no uncertain terms not to kill the deer.

She also prevented myself and Andy Findlayson (now a Councillor) from speaking about the deer to the Housing & Environment Committee which she chaired.   Her reason for not listening to the people was on the important point (or some say technicality) that she had a verbal report on the deer at the meeting, and not a written one.

Yesterday as I sat in the gallery, I listened to Aileen Malone say how important it was to listen to the people and to give them what they wanted.

Perhaps I will eventually learn the definition of irony.  Maybe Councillor Findlayson will have some thoughts on the subject too.

Fudge: 1.  (noun Eng.) a delicious, sweet, rich concoction. 2. (verb, Mod Eng) to try and obscure the truth, evade,  or move the goalposts in some way.

Senior Statesman Callum McCaig accused the Motion to forget TIF, and just fix what we have with far less borrowing, of being a fudge. Surely nothing would ever be ‘fudged’ by the Web devotees?

Aside from changing their minds and not letting the public say no to the whole scheme when the consultation was live, and aside from disregarding the public choice of garden design, I’m sure that’s true.

There was also the little matter of hiding the actual companies who received tens of thousands of pounds from PR and advertising work on the Web by billing the City via the Chamber of  Commerce. No fudge here.

Except for blanking out details from the Garden Project committees’ meetings, apart from hiding the identities of those who spent a fortune on the secretive, unofficial pro-Web campaign – some of whom stood to gain if the thing went through – no fudge going on at all.

Final word of thanks.

None of these long months of fighting to keep our only green city centre space would have been possible but for this one man. This man’s actions brought us 18 months of bitter conflict, and he deserves all of our thanks. Thank you indeed former Provost Peter Stephen.

If you hadn’t used your tie-breaking vote to go against the tradition of keeping to the status quo in tie breaks, we would not have spent hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money pounds on committees, PR, advertising, design shows, ‘stakeholder events’ and so on.

When people today complain that democracy has been killed, it’s good that your conscience is clear. You may or may not have taken a late-night visit from a few rich people before the original vote, but hey, I’m sure you would have been as open to any of us paying you an evening call to discuss the city’s future, too.

Next week:  An Old Susannah column with improved connectivity, forward-looking and dynamic, wholly democratic and transparent, offering value for money and stakeholder engagement, complete with a total sensory soundtrail experience.  Or maybe just a few more definitions.

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