Feb 262021
 

It’s back to business for convicted sex-offender Aberdeen City Councillor Alan Donnelly. His suspension from his role as a councillor ends 3rd of March. Suzanne Kelly writes.

Alan Donnelly was convicted in December 2019 for a November 2018 sexual assault on a young male waiter while attending a civic function in his capacity as councillor

He was given interim suspensions on full pay before a Standards Commission for Scotland hearing was held which allowed him to continue as a councillor.

In November 2020, two years after the assault, Standards declared that a further four month suspension was all the stricture required.

Standards justified their decision saying Donnelly was cooperative, had no previous referral to Standards, and had not received a custodial sentence. The Standards hearing panel could have removed him had they chosen.

Donnelly’s first hearing date was postponed on health grounds His attempt to likewise put off his November 2020 hearing failed.

Perhaps not even Standards could justify another postponement on revelation that Donnelly had enjoyed several holidays while suspended.

In response to the hugely unpopular decision, a formal complaint was made to Ethics Standards in Public Life. Ethics’ role had been to issue a report to Standards before any hearing could be set.

The complainant asked:

  • Why did it take Ethics until June 2020, six months after Donnelly’s conviction, to issue a report?
  • Why did Ethics decide not to give the victim an opportunity to make a statement?
  • Does Ethics took sexual assault seriously?

Ethics found its officers acted properly. There is no avenue for appeal.

Ethics claims it had to determine whether Donnelly was perceived as being a councillor when attacking the young man at a social function.

Donnelly is expected at a crucial council budget meeting

Donnelly’s city council register of interests clearly reflected he attended in place of Councillor Lumsden.

Instead, Ethics waited weeks to hear what the venue managers thought.

ACC Councillor Jennifer Stewart was quoted in the local press saying the sexual assault ‘didn’t sound too bad’. The victim could have been approached for comment, but they were excluded from proceedings.

During its investigation, Ethics was so deluged with complaints about Donnelly it refused to hear anything further.
Had they not shut the public out, they might have learned of a 2001 incident.

While in an ACC social work post, Donnelly reportedly took a sex offender to a bar against rules and was disciplined for it. Standards might not have concluded Donnelly’s improper conduct was a ‘one off’ had this information been presented.

Apparently one sexual assault on its own is not deemed sufficient to stop someone serving as a councillor.

On the 10th of March, Donnelly is expected at a crucial council budget meeting. The meeting was originally set for March 3rd  – the final day of Donnelly’s period of suspension.

However, council business manager Ryan Houghton arranged a postponement, ostensibly relating to central government’s imminent budget announcement.

Donnelly is expected to vote with the reigning Labour/Tory coalition just as he did in 2020 in a meeting that took place the day before his suspension.

Donnelly was a Tory and part of said coalition until he went ‘independent’ coinciding with the sexual assault conviction.

The Labour councillors in this unholy alliance are suspended from the party for defying orders and aligning with Tories. To say that Aberdonians are looking forward to the May 2022 elections is an understatement.

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Feb 172021
 

Thanks to Ian Stuart Baird.

Residents in Torry, Aberdeen opposed to the possibility of St. Fittick’s Park being lost to development, have stepped up their activities by launching a website and announcing a photo competition to increase awareness of the threat to the precious green space at the heart of their community.

After the publication of the Proposed Local Development Plan (2022) in March and neighbour notifications had dropped through letterboxes in June, shocked residents realised the catastrophic potential of the proposed changes in the LDP.

A small informal group meeting on Zoom and Facebook realised that the fight for the park would be a long one. The group would need to become bigger, open to all and representing all views, so a steering committee – Friends of St Fittick’s – was formed.

The stated mission of the Friends of St Fittick’s Park  is to:

focus on ensuring the survival of St Fittick’s Park, and improve the engagement and experience the local people have with this fantastic natural space’.

Local people have been angered by the rezoning of the Green Space to an opportunity site (OP56) in the Local Development Plan where development as one of the sites in the Energy Transition Zone adjacent to Aberdeen South Harbour would be favoured.

A similar rezoning would apply to Doonies Farm, another valuable local resource.

They are worried that even more land might be threatened as the ETZ’s Feasibility Study identifies the southern section of Balnagask golf course as another potential ETZ site and the northern one as part of a proposed Energy Coast all round the Bay of Nigg.

Announcing the launch group member David Hunter said:

“This proposal is a slap in the face for the people of Torry. Aberdeen South Harbour has already deprived us of the Bay of Nigg but residents were promised that St. Fittick’s Park would be preserved.

“We support the concept of energy transition but destroying a complex wetland ecosystem and a green space which is at the heart of the local community is certainly not the way to go about it.”

As well as mitigating climate change as a carbon sink and a flood plain, St. Fittick’s Park provides the community with educational opportunities, a buffer between housing and the South Harbour, and benefits its physical and mental health.

By highlighting these current diverse roles and imagining future improved and new ones, the group, through its web site and with community engagement, is encouraging both locals and those in the wider Aberdeen community to realise what an enormous asset we have, and to do everything possible to protect and improve it.

A photo competition has been launched both to encourage more people to visit the park, and for the photos to capture the threatened essence of the space and share with others.

Prizes totalling £100 will be awarded, the entries later published on the website and, Covid-19 permitting, displayed in a public space.  Full details are on the website.

The Friends of St. Fittick’s Park are encouraging people to join the group and support them by raising awareness, letter-writing, fund-raising and generally helping to protect the Park now and in the future.

Dec 132020
 

A Night At The Museum Storybook Glen.

Continuing a tradition stretching back nine years, Aberdeen Voice presents Suzanne Kelly’s annual Christmas-time satire covering the vibrant and dynamic goings-on in The Deen, the shire and the wider world.

Angus was running late for his new job.

Courtesy of Universal Credit, the acclaimed petrochemical engineer was ‘retraining’ as a security guard. 

He was at a wooden bus stop waiting for his bus to Story Book Glen.  Nearby hung a poster – ‘Fatima’s Next Job Could Be in Cyber, Only She Doesn’t Know It Yet’ read the kindly, helpful advert, featuring a ballet dancer who obviously should give up her dancing to become a government computer spy.

If Angus got lucky, he too might be retrained in cyber.  But first, he had to prove himself to Universal Credit to get that £80 a week payment.  His bus arrived after an hour or so, and off he went.

It was getting dark as he got off the No. C-19 bus on the outskirts of The Deen; the city lights were coming on, showing how vibrant and dynamic the city looked.  From afar.

Wandering through the Maryculter streets he arrived at his work placement.  ‘WELCOME TO STORYBOOK GLEN – no dogs allowed’ read the sign at the entrance, where a man sat waiting for him.  There was a papier mache castle wall with an archway; it was as pretty and as well built as any of the Barratt Homes he’d been walking past.

The little old man, smelling a bit like Buckfast Angus thought, thrust a flashlight and some keys into his hands.

“Hullo!  Ye must be thon work experience loon, Aye? Weel, welcome tae Storybook Glen,” he said, gesticulating around him as the sun continued to sink. 

“Ere’s yer keys.”

The wizened old man led Angus to a little wooden hut; in it were a wooden chair by a solitary window, a tiny fridge, and a heater.  Before they went in, Angus looked around and in the distance he could see the figures of several nursery rhyme characters as the sun continued sinking, like the feeling in his stomach.

“Did ye tak yer passport like we tellt ye tae?” the man asked; he seemed a little tipsy.

“Sure, have it here.” Angus replied, assuming it was needed for tax or ID purposes.

“Good, good – keep it on ye fer noo.  Noo ye micht get some tresspassers; some n’eer do wells were through the ither year, paintin punk rock slogans on oor statues – caused a fair stooshie,” the man warned. 

“Aa ye hae tae dae is tak a walkie roon’ noo an again, an hit onyhin ye see o’er the heid wi yer flashy, ken?  And bide oot o’ trouble!”

‘What trouble could I possibly get into around here?,’ wondered Angus ‘this will be a boring but easy way to earn ma minimum hourly wage so I can pay my council tax off soon.’

The man thrust a paper bag with a bottle in it into Angus’ hand.

“Noo, fae time tae time ye micht hear some funny stuff gan on, aye, and see even funnier stuff” said the old man.

“Tak a scoof ‘o this an’ athin will be fine.  There’s some o’ ma homemade mushroom pate in tha fridge along with half a bottle o’ Fred Wilkinson’s Tullos Hill Red – help yersel.  Ahm awa noo; see ye in the mornin’ – if ye’re still aboot.” 

And laughing to himself, the little old man hobbled away through the fake castle entrance away from Storybook Glen and out of sight.

An owl hooted.  Angus looked in the bag at a bottle that read ‘Tactical Nuclear Penguin.’ ‘Ah fine; this job will be a breeze’ he thought, and with that he set himself down in the chair in the tiny guard’s booth.  He helped himself to the amazingly delicious homemade wine and pate, had a swig of Penguin, and started to doze off.

*                                        *                                         *                                          *

Angus woke with a start some hours later; the owl hooted.  He shivered and got up to turn on the space heater.  As he turned to go back to his chair, his eyes glanced at the window and he froze.

Looking back in on him were a pair of giant reptilian eyes.  He dared not move.

“Hullo!  Hullo!  Dinna be feart; Ah’m nae gan tae hurt naebody.”

Angus blinked, but when he looked again, the thing was still there, and was trying to open the door to the guard hut. 

It had a round face.  It looked like – but no it couldn’t be –

“Onywye. Fit Like?  Ah’m Barney” the thing said.  It stood in the threshold now; a giant lizard that looked like –

“You’re Barney.  Barney the -the-“ Angus stammered lost for words

“Dinosaur, aye, it’s often been said” said the beast with a chuckle an swish of its tail.

Grabbing Angus by the arm (Angus had just enough time to grab his flashlight and bottle) Barney took Angus out of the hut.  An eerie green glow illuminated Storybook Glen now, and Angus could see Barney was wearing a chain of office.

“You’re a talking dinosaur.  You’re Barney the dinosaur.  And – you’re purple – how is this possible?”

“Why am I purple?  Well, when ye start oot as Labour, but form a coalition with the Tories, the red and the blue get a bittie mixed up, and ye get purple.”

(Angus had actually meant how had a Barney the Dinosaur statue started walking and talking). 

“Weel ma loon, let ma lead ye doon the Storybook Glen gerden path and Ah’ll tell you aa ye need tae ken, and introduce ye to the rest o’ us.”

“Rest of you?” Angus repeated weakly as Barney led him away from the hut.

*                                        *                                         *                                          *

“Ye’re here on an affa special nicht” Barney said, elated.

“Ye ken, Storybook Glen Cooncil has won nae jist ane, but twa awards!  The hale o the Glen is celebratin’ the nicht!”

Angus was being led down the garden path.  Soon they came to a 6’ high wooden soldier which stood at tollhouse.

“HALT!  Who goes there?” Demanded the soldier; it had very red cheeks and a mop of blonde hair. 

“Passports out!  Non-Storybook Glen characters this way – take off your shoes, belt, coat, take any computers out of bags, only one flagon of mead per person do you have any cigarettes to declare –”

“Ah Boris, it’s me – Barney,”  the purple dinosaur laughed at the guard.

“We surely dinna hae tae go through aa that, div we?  This is ma new pal Angus, oor new security guard.”

“Well OK then,” said Boris.

“I’m a tough negotiator.” 

And Barney and Angus were waived past the checkpoint.

Beep!’  ‘Beep!’ 

“Bleeping ~&!!&! bleep!”

Barney and Angus were approaching what looked like 4 tiny yellow cars driving around in a circle.  Elves driving them were waving their fists, honking their horns and shouting at the other drivers.

“It’s a one wye system ya bamstick!”

“Ah’m only gan one way ya gluepot!” shouted another elf

An older elf was in her yellow car sobbing; 

“Ah jist wanted tae dae ma shoppin’; I canna go a bike or walk, ken?  Aa thon one wye signs hiv  me gan roon in circles fer oors!  Ah jis want tae ging hame!”

And sure enough, the little path they were on was covered with one-way signs, do not enter signs, and a sign which read ‘Storybook Glen Fun Beach next left. No left turn’.  Dotted around were wooden bus stops and 136 wooden benches.

Barney puffed out his Devonian-era chest and said:

“Storybook Glen may yet win anither award for this An’ aa. Ah’m richt prood. Ess is how we fecht the dreaded plague here in the Glen.  We canna hae fowk jis drivin intae toon an’ parkin’ cars tae ging intae shops; it’s nae safe. Abody should be on bikes.  An’ it’s only cost £1.76 million pieces o’ gold tae get it sortit oot.”

Angus took a swig.

“Do you ride a bicycle then?” asked Angus, feeling sure Barney could not manage such a feat – knowing there were many others who could not either.

“Oh aye, yer yer a funny guy, eh?” Barney replied nodding his head,

“Me on a bike? Are ye wise min? Ah’ve got ma ain Barneymobile wi’ a chauffeur.”

Barney pointed to a large marquee in the distance; it was lit up, as were its customers apparently; the shouting and carrying on could be heard faintly on the air.

“At’s far we’re heidin,” said Barney, dragging an unwilling Angus along,

“Jist one mair stop tae mak.”

Heading down the path, Angus could make out in the green glowing light which filled the glen one brick house, a wooden house, and a big pile of straw.

“That’s …. surely not?” Angus stammered, seeing three little pigs; two were patting a sobbing pig on the back.  Angus took another swig.

“Aye, yer richt enough. Come an’ meet some o’ ma constituents, The Three Little Pigs.” Barney replied, anticipating Angus’ question.

Wordlessly Barney and Angus now stood in front of the pigs.  The sobbing pig looked up at Angus

“Stewart Milne Home, eh?” Angus commiserated and the pigs nodded.

“Come on an’ hae a drink lads, it’ll gee ye up a bittie” Barney said to the pigs, who immediately perked up. 

And soon Angus, Barney and the three little perky pigs were heading to the giant marquee.

Angus could barely hear Barney, who was telling story after story, as a terrible din rose from the marquee, which Angus soon realised was a big beer tent.  A huge roar went up; Angus peered inside.

The place was filled with storybook characters brought to life; swigging flagons of ale, Jaegerbombs, and Buckfast.  There were banshees screeching; elves dancing on tables, screaming, laughing and hugging.   Above hung a sign saying ‘Welcome to the Seven Dwarves Incorporated Trades of Storybook Glen Annual beer tent – An Inspired idea’

Dwarves mixed with trolls and witches; in a corner sat Little Jack Horner, eating a Christmas pie.  Angus swore he’d never drink again as he took another swig of the Tactical Nuclear Penguin. 

Beer flowed, shouts were heard, everyone hugged one another.  Barney took Angus by the shoulder and they entered the crowded tent.  A witch at a table stopped them at the entrance.

“Good evening.  Do you have reservations?”

‘Quite a few’ thought Angus.

“No” answered Barney.

“Good – I hate all that red tape.” Answered the witch.

“Are you in a bubble?” she demanded.

“Course Ah am, Ah’m wi’ the Cooncil.”

Barney and the witch both laughed.

“Right then, have a great time, social distance or wear a mask if you feel like it, and hug the nearest strangers if there is a goal scored in the football match on the telly. 

“We canna stop ye daein ‘at can we, ken?” She said, forgetting herself and lapsing into her default Doric.

Passing it off as humour to hide her embarrassment, she continued in her adopted, more ‘professional’ tone:

“We close at the stroke of midnight, except if we don’t.  The big award ceremony celebration starts at 11”

“Come an’ meet some o’ ma fella cooncillors.” Barney said.

“Sit doon an’ A’ll get the drinks in – nah, dinna sit there –“ Barney said, grabbing Angus away from a tall bald man and plonking him in a chair next to a man in a suit. 

Angus was introduced to him as being Wee Willie Wilkie.

Angus took another swig of his Penguin.  And with that Barney started to make his way through the throng to the bar, using his tail to sweep the crowd out of his way.  Angus was left at the table.  ‘I am definitely asking for a pay rise’ he thought, taking another sip of Penguin.

“An then –” cackled the bald man,

“then when Ah wez on me holidays, Ah got them te gissies another suspension!” 

He leaned forward on the table, and the others laughed and nodded approvingly.

“An then…” he continued, hushing the approving chuckles of agreement.

“Then Ah got them te postpone the hearing fre a furtha month. Another month on the payroll!” 

He nodded confidently and the others smiled and cheered.

“What’s all that about?” asked Angus to no one in particular as the bald speaker polished off flagon after flagon of wine.

Wee Willie answered him.

“That’s Donnelly Wonnelly Puddin and Pies. He assaults the unwilling and always denies. 

“He gets away with lots of things – like taking sex offenders fer drinks in shady bars in STorrybook toon, and taking cash fer upgradin passengers tae first class on Thomas the Tank engine trips an keeping their gold. 

“Nothing touches him, he doesn’t even get his wrist slapped, and if he does get into trouble, the judges say ‘it’s just a one off’ or ‘it didn’t seem like an assault to me’, and away he goes on holidays. Unlike poor me.”

Angus felt revolted and was glad Barney stopped him from sitting next to Donnelly.  Donnelly Wonnelly continued:

“Aye man, but get this,” he threw back his head howling with laughter,

“then at the hearing the convener sez the assault wez ‘a one off!!’”

The whole table – except Angus – erupted in laughter and they clinked their glasses and toasted Donnely Wonnelly.

Wiping a tear of laughter from his eye, Donnelly addressed Wee Willie,

“Ahm sorry aald mate, Ah divvent mean te celebrate me victories when Ah knaa yee hev yer problems.  or should Ah syah ‘Wall te Wall’ problems!” 

Everyone at the table laughed again – except Wee Willie and Angus.  Willie shook his head and sighed.

“Well, at least the wall’s paid fre noo . Forst , Humpty Dumpty sat on it an had a fall, then Storm Gertie made it fall in.” Donnelly said.  

At that several eyes silently met each other around the table, almost as if they didn’t believe Gertie was responsible.

“Yes, go on, laugh if you must. But it was not as easy as you might think to remember whether I owned the wall, whether I didn’t own the wall, whether I owned the wall with the wife, whether the city owned the wall, or me or my da or-“  Willie stammered

“Aye,” interrupted Barney, who was back with drinks, plonking a steaming tankard of something or other in front of Angus. 

“Some of’ us drink tae ferget; but Wee Willie, you dinna need ony help at aa, div ye?  How’s the amnesia?  Cleared up noo?” 

A few at the table laughed; Willie blushed.

“Dinna worry yersel aboot it Willie; that’s aa fergotten”. 

“Handy though that ye didnae hae to pay 200,000 pieces o’ gold tae get it fixed.  But this ither business needs tae blaw ower, then ye can come back in aboot the body o’ the kirk.”

“What has to blow over, Barney?” asked Willie,

“You mean when I told the peasants we had to build Marischal Square Castle or that they would have to pay a billion pieces of eight in penalty?”

“Nah, nae thon” said Barney.

Ye mean that I’m in the Labour party but support the Tories?” asked Willie.

“Nah, ‘at’s nithin; hisna stopped the rest o’ us.” 

The table laughed.

“You mean when I didn’t know who owned that wall but I gave verbal permission for the repairs, that I sent and got emails aboot it using my council email and held meetings in my council office aboot it? 

“Maybe you mean when I accidentally leaked some information about yon Marischal Sq? Or-”

“No Willie – Abody likes to mix a wee bit o’ business wi’ council business” said Barney

“Ah mean this fortune cookie Covid-19 racist cairry on.  We hae tae hing fire til ‘at aa blaws ower.  Ahm thinkin we’ll get oor pals at Inspired tae dae some’hin in the Storybook Glen Press. Gie fowk some’hin else tae spik aboot.  Mibbee some good news aboot the ‘Inspired indoor Christmas fayre’. 

“We’ll hae thoosans o’ fowk come in aboot tae shop – and they’ll be gled we stopped them gan intae aa the wee shoppies.  Some’hin’ lik ‘at. But dinna worry Wee Willie; anither wikk or twa, and it’ll be aa business as usual again.”

Everyone at the table chatted to each other, growing increasingly drunk. Angus, who was feeling somewhat left out of the conversation, decided he really wanted to do the rest of his security guard rounds – and to get some fresh air out of the stifling, noisy, crowded tent. 

After he finished whatever was in his tankard that is.  Soon he was ready to go, but feeling somewhat worse for wear.

“Barney, ladies an gents; I really must go do my rounds” Angus said.

“Maybe I’ll be back here though before closing time.”

“Cinderella will arrive around 11pm; myek sure yee are heor fre tha – she’s got summat ta celebrate – we’ve won awards –  and that’s why so many of weh are oot the neet – though Ahm not heor in me official capacity, yee knaa” said Donnelly, and the table laughed.

Angus got up, wove his way out of the crowd, and found himself in the night air once more.  He had another hit of Penguin.  Somewhere an owl hooted.

*                                        *                                         *                                          *

Angus felt dazed; ‘Well, at least things can’t get any stranger’ he prematurely told himself as he wandered down a further path.

He heard a whirring noise, and stumbling towards it, found himself face to face with an imp hard at work on a spinning wheel.  On the creature’s left was a huge pile of sh*te and straw which he placed on the spinning wheel; on the right was a tiny pile of gold, falling from the wheel. There was also a giant pile of books.

“I’ll bet ye canna guess ma name!” The creature said in a smug, satisfied conceited manner.

“Err, yer Damian Bates, disgraced news editor who used his job to further his wife’s business aspirations.”

“”$!”%!!! ye little sh*te” said the outraged creature,

“I’ve rebranded!  I’m Trumplestiltskin!” said the thing angrily, spinning harder than ever.

Angus picked up a book; the cover read ‘Shirk in Scotland:  Thon Real Deal, Ken’; over it was a sticker saying ‘SALE NOW ON: ONLY 1 GROAT OR 2 EGGS’

“Ah’m a Spin Doctor!  If aince on a blue moon Shirk says or daes some’hin’ that could be taen the wrang wye,  it’s ma job tae spin his sh*te intae gold.

“Like, fan Shirk cages immigrant bairns -he micht be cooking them fer aa I ken- I spin for him an’ tell fowk that nasty trolls fae abroad are tryin tae sneak intae Storybook Glen. 

“Hiv ye nae read any o’ the stories I wrote aboot fit a topper o’ a boy Shirk is?  Did ye nae hear aboot thon time he rearranged some o’ his paintins in Turnberry Glen Castle? Amazin!  Fit a guy! 

“Anither time, he tellt me personally – he likes eatin ornery grub like hamberders and cofvefee!  Can ye believe Ah got these amazing insights!  I really ken the loon! He’s  ane o’ wer ain, ken? 

“Ah’m ees best pal!  Lik Brithers! He took me tae farawa lands in a flying machine aince.

“Ah hae a Ferrari.  Ye needin a copy o’ ma book?  It’s chock-a-block wi smashin stories lik thon.  A could gie ye a signed copy fer jist one egg if –“

“Wait a minute” Angus interrupted “Just who is this Shirk guy?”

The imp was astonished and stopped his monologue.  Jaw dropping, he said:

“Well if ye dinna ken, jis follae the path on the richt.  Tak a far richt turn, an’ hud gan as far tae the richt as ye can. Ye’ll find Shirk.  He’s wi ma bonny wife richt noo – She’s ca’d ‘Fee-earner’.  Just tell them Ah sint ye! 

 “Then I ken ye’ll be back ta buy ma book!”

Angus, feeling a desire to be away from the imp, made his excuses and headed away down the right-leading path, taking one further swig of Penguin from the now half-full bottle.

After a time, Angus saw a clearing up ahead on the extreme right.  As he got closer, he heard bellowing- then a golf ball whizzed past his ears.

“ANOTHER HOLE IN ONE FOR ME, FEE-EARNER – I’M MAKING GOLF GREAT AGAIN!”

Angus reached the clearing. 

An enormous ogre stood in a golf swing pose. 

Its skin was bright orange with bright pink lips on a misshapen mouth.

White circles were around its beady black eyes.

It was as wide in the stomach as it was tall. 

Before Angus could recover himself, an ear-splitting shriek went out, and an ogress grabbed Angus by the arm.

“EEEEK!  FA ARE YOU?” the ogress shouted.

“FIT YE DAEIN HERE?  ARE YE FAE THE PAPERS?  THEY’RE AA OOT TAE GET ME AN SHIRK, KEN? AND IT’S NAE FAIR!” 

She had brown hair teased up into a ridiculous do, wore impossibly high heels, which kept sinking into the grass, and from her shoulder hung a banner which read ‘FACE OF THE GLEN – 2010.’

Angus found himself dragged in front of the Ogre, who wore a red baseball hat with the initials MSGGA.

“Look fit ah’ve foon, Shirk” she said to the golfing ogre.

“WHO IS THIS GUY?  WHADDYA WANT? AN AUTOGRAPH?  A MSGGA HAT? GONNA VOTE FOR ME AGAINST THOSE COMMIES?” it bellowed.

“Er, my name is Angus, and some guy named Trumplestiltskin told me I should come and say hello.”

“WHO? OH YOU MEAN FEE-EARNER’S HUSBAND, THAT WRITER GUY -WHAT’S-HIS-NAME.  HE BETTER BE SPINNING ME SOME GOLD.”

“Aye, too richt boss”, crooned the ogress, pointing to her oversized feet spilling out of her high-heels,

“Thon ‘Jimmy Choomaker and the Elves shoes’ dinna come cheap.”

Angus’ curiosity got the better of him, and taking a swig from the bottle in his tightly-clutched paper bag asked:

“Why de they call ye ‘Shirk’?”

“BEATS ME!” Bellowed the ogre, lining up another golfball

“SOME PEOPLE HAVE NO IDEA HOW HARD IT IS TO BE AN OGRE. SOMETIMES THEY EVEN WANT ME TO LISTEN TO SECURITY BRIEFINGS.  DON’T THEY KNOW I’M BUSY?  DID YOU WATCH FOX LAST NIGHT?”  he asked while swinging at the ball, which flew off into the sky,

“ANOTHER GREAT SHOT!  MAKE GOLF GREAT AGAIN!  MAKE STORYBOOK GLEN GREAT AGAIN!  MAKE ME A HAMBERDER FEE-EARNER!”

Angus felt a strong desire to get away, but what to his wondering eyes did appear but Santa Claus, a team of reindeer pulling his flying sled, which landed on the edges of the clearing.

Santa was not what Angus expected:  he was tall and thin, and looked a bit like Sir Ian. Santa approached.

“Shirk, wonderful to see you again, and you too Fee-earner.  I’ve got a few presents for you,” Santa said, pulling some brown envelopes out of his sack. 

“Ah, just look at all these trees, glens and glades.”  Santa smiled, waving his hand towards the trees and a sand bank.

“Isn’t it a pity” said Santa slowly,

“that the Sandman no longer has environmental protection on his sand dunes?  Who could have seen that coming?”

Fee-earner laughed.

“Between that ‘unfortunate’ loss of protection, my connections and your, errr, obvious charisma, this will all be Stewart Milne homes before you can say ‘Jack Swinney be Nimble’.”

“THANKS SANTA! THIS IS MUCH BETTER THAN THAT DIPLOMA THINGY YOU TRIED TO GIVE ME A FEW YEARS AGO.  DID YOU BRING ME ANY KFC?  HUNGRY!”

“Yes, well. I wanted to-” but before Santa could finish his thought, shots rang out from several directions. 

Donner and Blitzen fell over dead in their tracks.  Dasher was wounded.  Angus took a big sip.

“Daddy!  Daddy!  Daddy!” said a little donkey clutching an AK47, “Daddy I killed them!  I’m a hunter daddy, a big scary macho hunter!”

“JUNIOR, THAT’S NICE NOW RUN ALONG AND PLAY, DADDY’S BUSY.” Said Shirk as his son, the ass, who was visibly crestfallen, “NOW THERE’S A GOOD BOY, GO RUN ALONG AND MAYBE FIND SOME SHEEP YOU CAN SHOOT TOO.”

“I got one! Kill! I got one! A Tree for every citizen!  Kill!”  Another hunter emerged from the glen. She was a tiny little witch with a pointed hat.

“Damn those deer!  They eat plants!  Kill!  Kill!”

“JUNIOR, TAKE YOUR FRIEND AILEEN MALICE WITH YOU AND GO KILL STUFF SOMEWHERE ELSE, I’M BUSY”

Shirk dismissed the pair who wandered off together.  Soon other shots rang out as the pair disappeared into the trees.

“Don’t worry about those deer” said Santa coldly,

“No one is irreplaceable.  I’ll just be off now though, plenty of ‘gifts’ to be delivered at the Awards Ceremony, not least to the people behind the Storybook Glen incinerator and the Storybook Glen harbour expansion.  Shouldn’t we all be heading there now?”

And as everyone always obeys Santa, off they headed back to the beer tent.  Angus had some Penguin.

*                                       *                              *                                     *

Shirk, Fee-earner and Santa all headed back down the path towards the beer tent.  Angus followed behind.

“PSST!” Angus heard a voice,

“Come here fer a second”

Angus found himself face to face with three fish.  What three 2-metre-long fish were doing in this place he had no idea.

“Ye must be the new security guard” said the first fish.

“Ok, I’ll bite – who are you?” Angus asked.

“We’re the three fish. Naebody kens ower muckle aboot us, tho there’s mony a tail, maistly codswallop, but on a scale of 1 to 10 we dinna gie a dab” said the first fish, floating above the ground.

“Ye see we’re actually the legendary Black Fish.  Ye ken? – fish that were caught and landit, but nivver declared tae the Storybook Glen tax mannie.  A big ‘net profit’ ye micht surmise. There wis heaps o’ gold in that back in the day.”

“Still is” said the second fish.

“T’wis the Crookit Man fa steert thon up, Ah’m tellin ye.” said the third fish, which inexplicably wore a bowler hat. 

“Them fa land black fish ayewis say it’s by accident – but we ken it’s daen on porpoise.”

Angus, who found himself transported from Universal Credit minimum wage security guard to grown man talking to three giant hat-wearing talking fish who was about to catch up with ogres and Santa, found himself finally lost for words.  He had another swig from his bottle.

“Ye ken the story” said the first fish: “There was a crooked man, and he walked a crooked mile?  That guy.  Affa fishy indeed.”

“Need tae watch thon crooked mannie lik a hake” said the second fish “He’ll come bearing gifts an’ acting like yer best pal.  Ye’ll fa’ for him hook, line an’ sinker if ye dinna look oot.”

“Aye,” said the second fish, “he stitched ma mate up like a kipper.”

“What’s your names?” asked Angus.

“Ah’m Gil” said the first fish.

“And this is Finn, an’ Ray.”

“Well, thanks for the warning and all, but I think I need to go get a drink.”

“Sorry we canna jine ye.”said Finn.

“Gil drinks like a fish, an we’ve aa been barred.  Thinks he’s the life and sole o’ the party.”

“Always legless” said Ray,

“And Ah dinna like pubs; Ah aye feel oot o’ plaice – lik a fish oot o water.”

Angus, who feared he had a haddock coming on, had had enough. 

“Bye then chaps; I’d best get my skates on.  Bigger fish to fry.  Sea you later.”

“Whale meet again!” chimed the three fish.

And off Angus hurried to catch up with Shirk and his party, taking a quick sip from his bottle on the way.

*                                            *                                    *                                       *

The Seven Incorporated Dwarves tent was heaving.  A space had been cleared in the middle of the tent when Angus arrived.  His friend Barney sidled up to him and thrust a further tankard of drink into his hands.

“Been haein a fun wi Shirk an’ Suntie Claas Ah hear” smiled Barney, who was now clutching a brown envelope. 

In fact Santa was working the room, handing out brown envelopes large and small.  Just then, to Angus’ astonishment, Santa pulled off his beard, which had been a disguise, and his Santa hat.  He put on a tall, black hat, which was crooked.

“The crooked man” muttered Angus to himself.

“What wez tha, Angus?” asked Donnelly Wonnelly tucking something into his suit jacket pocket.

“Er nothing.  I-“

But Donnelly wasn’t listening and a sudden blast of trumpets made even the drunken revellers hush.

“Ladies, Gentlemen an’ Cooncillors” Barney addressed the room; he was now in a spotlight talking on a mic. 

“Here she comes noo; the fairest in aa the land:  Give it up fer SNOOOOW WHITE!”

A hush fell over the room as Snow White glided to the centre of the room.

‘She looks just like Melania Trump’ Angus thought, although he didn’t recognise her at first with so much clothes on.

“Ladeees and Gentlemen.  I am Snow White.  Whiter than White.  White Power.  Obama he had never been born – no birth certificate.  My husband Shirk is going to make Storybook Glen Great again!  Be best!”

Huge cheers rang out in the tent.  She continued, but it was clear she was a bit tipsy.  Suddenly as Shirk tried to take her hand, her mood changed abruptly.

“I really don’t care do you?  F Christmas!  Who gives a F about Christmas! I-“ Snow White growled, as she was suddenly being dragged away by footmen. 

“I have more to say!  I am brilliant like Shirk!  I have Epstein Visa!” she bellowed as they took her away.

Barney swiftly recovered the event. 

“OK, Movin richt along noo, here she is:  oor ain Cinderella, an’ AWARD-WINNING COUNCILLOR OF THE YEAR!  Welcome Jeanny Ling!”

The crowd shouted wildly and applauded as a pumpkin coach drawn by six hydrogen-powered cars pulled up next to Barney, who helped the beautiful award-winning Cinderella out.

“Well, this is the best thing that has ever, ever happened!” 

“I WON!  I won an award as best councillor!”

The crowds chanted ‘Jea-nny!  Jea-nny! Jea-nny!’ as she held the shining golden trophy aloft.

“Ah micht nae be Labour richt noo, but Ah’m an AWARD WINNER!” Jeanny told her admirers,

“Aye, thon prestigious, fee-charging, private thinktank, the LGIU decidit to mak me – ME! The top cooncillor!”

Barney handed her a bouquet of flowers; Angus thought he saw a bulging brown envelope inside of it.

“Tae show oor gratitude, Ahm hopin ma fella Storybook Glen cooncillors will be a-signing up fer some o’ the LGIU’s braw workshops – there’s a bargain course ‘how to deal with difficult people’  for jist 540 pieces o’ eight.  Some o’ ye micht need ‘at if yev hid ony doins wi Donnelly Wonnelly or Wee Willie!”

The crowd guffawed except Wee Willie, who was busy live-tweeting the event, pretending not to notice the slight.

Angus started to have his doubts about the integrity of his new-found pals.

Jeanny continued: 

“Ah hope ye’ve aa got yer memberships; maybe cometime ye’ll win an AWARD as weel – jis think foo happy the peasants will feel aboot ‘at  – or think they feel, Ah should say.  Costs Storybook Toon Cooncil next tae ni’hin for the annual membership fees – but we canna tell ye foo muckle.”

“And this prestigious LGIU award is sponsored by CCLA.  And fit’s the CCLA?” Jeanny trilled,

“A charitable investment fund!   AND..” she waited for cheers to die down.

“Last year CCLA had a turnower o’ 33 million gold coins!”

The applause was thunderous; streamers and balloons fell from the sky.   Brown envelopes were flying like confetti.  The Crooked Man had left the Santa suit he’d been wearing across a table; he was now talking to a few men in suits.

Angus felt a touch on his arm.  It was the witch from the table at the doorway.

“Here dearie,” she crooned,

“Ye look a wee bit peaky.  I’ve something tae mak ye feel better.”

“Is it a magic potion?” Angus asked.

“Well, dearie in a wye it is” and she pressed a small but thick brown envelope into his hand. 

“Time ye wis back doon tae yer guardhoose.”

She snapped her fingers.

*                                      *                          *                                          *

“Huzzaat?”

With a jolt Angus was awake.  The sun was coming up.

Next to him on the desk was the now-empty dish of home-made mushroom pate and the empty wine bottle. There was still a slug of Penguin left.

“You wakkint?”

The old man who’d helped him last night was knocking on the window of the guard hut; his face was beaming. 

“Ony bother last nicht?”

Angus took a few moments to recover his senses. 

“Err, all fine last night, nothing to report.”

“Smashin,” said the man with a twinkle in his eye.

“Morn’s nicht again then, Aye?”

“Err.. sure” said Angus, gathering his things. 

“Mind if I take the rest of this Penguin with me?  I’ll bring you some ‘Sink the Bismarck’ tomorrow.”

“Ach, ‘at would be affa good o’ ye”. said the man patting Angus on the shoulder.

“Ah think me an’ you’s gan tae get on jist rare.”  

Angus turned to leave and was walking away when the old man caught his arm. 

“Ye fergot this, pal.” said the old man, and he thrust a brown envelope at Angus, who swiftly put it in his inside pocket.

Angus took a further swig from the bottle, patted the envelope through his jacket and headed to find the bus back home.  Somewhere a sleepy owl hooted.

*                                      *                          *                                          *

From Aberdeen Voice, Old Susannah, and the fictitious, unrelated to any plaice, place, person or persons, Storybook Glen and its fake inhabitants – MERRY CHRISTMAS, HAPPY 2021, and Good Health!  Wear a mask.

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Mar 212020
 

Three former Torry community councillors have lodged a complaint against Depute Lord Provost Jennifer Stewart with The Commission for Ethical Standards in Public Life. By Suzanne Kelly (one of the three).

The Commission for Ethical Standards in Public Life received a complaint from Bee Kerr, Renee Slater and Suzanne Kelly against Councillor Jennifer Stewart.
They have asked the Commission to investigate, and if appropriate, censure or suspend Jennifer Stewart on account of her behaviour following Councillor Alan Donnelly’s sexual assault of a person at a civic function.

Councillor Donnelly, who has represented Torry and Ferryhill in the past, was placed on the sex offenders register by the Aberdeen Sheriff Court. The court found him guilty of sexually assaulting a waiter.

The offence occurred while Donnelly was at a civic function in his capacity as councillor.

Donnelly tried to deny events; the court said he should be ashamed. He refused to step down despite his criminal act being a clear violation of the Code of Conduct for councillors.

Renee Slater launched a petition demanding Donnelly resign, which was signed by over 700 people.

The Standards Commissioner’s office announced his suspension one day after he voted on a crucial budget during a stormy council session, to the benefit of the council’s majority group. If he doesn’t resign, he will face a public trial.

Prior to this vote, Cllr Stewart took to radio and commented that the sexual assault didn’t sound serious.

She said:

“I would wonder if it was an attack. To me an attack is a much more physical and aggressive thing, but sentence has been passed.”

Her remarks infuriated many including councillors, residents and people connected to victim support groups.

The signatories to the complaint and experts they spoke to feel it is hard enough to cope as a victim of an assault; it is harder still to report it.  Getting to trial is stressful, and many trials end with no conviction.

It is arguably harder for a man to be a victim of sexual assault given some societal attitudes. Elected officials should not use their office to question the judgment of the courts and to add to the burden of the victim, who has had to endure the harmful insult by way of the Depute Lord Provost suggesting the assault was not serious.

It is quite probable, the complainers feel, that future sex assault victims who are aware of Stewart’s widely-reported remarks may be reluctant to come forward fearing she may weigh in to judge them too.

Undoubtedly, her comments on the assault would not have been published had she not been the Depute Lord Provost. She has not responded to a request for comment.

In press coverage almost immediately following her remarks, she accused both the SNP and Liberal Democrats of contributing to her confessed mental health problems through bullying and intimidation.

She named no names; the Liberal Democrats denied any such wrongdoing, and the SNP wished her recovery.

The complainants know the Ethics Commissioner will look into her remarks, which, as they stand, smear the entire opposition with serious accusations of breaking the Code of Conduct – accusations they cannot counter as they are not levelled at any one person or persons.

The Evening Express have been asked to explain how they verified her later claims of mental health problems caused by the SNP and Liberal Democrats; 5 days on, we still await their response

Anyone who wishes to add their name to the complaint or lodge a complaint against a councillor can contact the Commission here: info@ethicalstandards.org.uk

Sep 242018
 

By Suzanne Kelly.

While the Spanish construction giant may be shelling out pennies to local groups, its workers have come forward with yet more alarming footage, photos and tales of safety regulations flaunted.
A further worker has come forward to say they were dismissed after wanting to register an incident in the accident log.

Aberdeen Voice has seen images of the injury to the employee who had a cut and bruise at least 8” in diameter they say they got on site.

One worker from the site said:

“It’s usual they get away with murder. Majority of workers are agency so they’re scared to say anything and I don’t blame them as that’s exactly what happened with me. I report accident and was sacked .”

The ex-employee’s word is more than supported by copious quantities of video and photographs from diverse sources. These show site operations such as scaffolding work, scaffolding erection and working in enclosed spaces being carried out with scant – if any – regard for safety.

These images cannot be shared without compromising the anonymity of those who witnesses incidents such as people in enclosed spaces with no means of exit in case of a problem, scaffolding poorly constructed, people working at height without harnesses or safety railings in place, loose and rusted scaffolding.

A scaffolding platform is seen to bend when stood on in one video. Another video shows workers inside a pit they are lining with oil. The risk of slips is evident; there is no visible means of them leaving – or as one said in the video:

“How the f*ck are we supposed to get out?”

Aberdeen Voice told the HSE’s press arm there were serious safety concerns about work in progress; we were told to go through standard form-filling channels.

This is hardly possible not having access to required data as well as our need to keep sources confidential.

Workers on site who are involved are reluctant to approach the HSE for fear of losing their current job and of future blacklisting.

We consulted an experienced safety rep who has years of field work who, after watching some of our footage, responded:

  “…they should be reviewing their working practices”

Our safety expert says they have seen much worse on some sites. Then again, this is a flagship Scottish Government project that is costing the taxpayer millions: safety should be paramount, and perhaps the government should lead by example on their projects.

With regard to the pit being sprayed with oil, we showed our expert footage where a ladder was visible; there was later footage with no means of escape from the pit.

Our Safety rep said:

“The application of whatever it is should be done from elevated position. Again it’s not clear if there’s anyone supervising the task and any work done in a confined space should be done with adequate supervision.”

With regard to some of the scaffolding photos, a safety representative we consulted said:

“The platform in the last picture doesn’t look to be in good condition. You can see rust around the welded joints and the strap* would indicate that the bar in middle is not secure.”

 A man broke his leg on site last December. A further man said he was told not to complain about scaffolding concerns and just get on with it. One person who was let go earlier this year said they felt they were dismissed for airing a number of safety and environmental concerns.

When numerous safety issues are allowed to go unchecked, where there is a culture of secrecy (‘don’t talk to the press or to anyone about your work’) and where accidents are not being logged, there is a high potential for the probability of a serious injury.

Let’s hope Dragados are taking things more seriously than they seem to be, and that some of the HSE visits will have had some impact (though workers say that HSE advice eg on scaffolding was ignored as soon as the HSE rep left the site).

Dragados had been approached to comment on the fact we had been given material showing unsafe practices; they declined to respond.

Two of those we spoke to who had been on site said they would not be surprised if a serious accident happened.

It is understood some senior staff have left the project, and that things like toolbox talks before operations are not routinely happening. Or to sum up, as one source told Aberdeen Voice:

“It’s a complete joke.”

* A different person says this is not a strap but a piece of frost blanket used to mitigate a concrete problem.

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Feb 222018
 

A three-year, £350m Aberdeen Harbour expansion project chalked up a broken leg and a serious head injury in the first two months of construction. By Suzanne Kelly

Spanish firm Dragados is contracted to deepen and industrialise the Bay of Nigg, and is keen to keep a lid on its mounting problems.

According to one contractor: 
“Everybody is told at the beginning, ‘There is a group of people against the project

“We encourage you not to talk with these people in any manner, social media included.'”

Despite frequent verbal threats to would-be whistle-blowers, mounting injuries and near-misses are encouraging people to speak out.

One worker described the lead-up to the broken leg:

“On 6 December 2017 an Eastern European broke his leg when a supervisor for Dragados – with no risk assessment, no toolbox talk – instructed a forklift driver to move steel ten meters long (a practice which is frowned upon by others more experienced).”

While the steel was being moved it either hit or fell on the injured party who was rushed to hospital.

The injured man left the UK and is said to have been paid a hefty settlement.

Another person was hospitalised after someone opened the door of a lorry into their head.

One source said:

“I’d say 90% of the workforce don’t know what’s to be done as there are no plans in place.”

They claim safety material is not routinely translated for non-English speakers.

“Some of the management’s English is that poor they don’t understand certain documents.”

The HSE confirmed only one of these two accidents was reported (they would not confirm which incident this was, but they requested materials and are investigating).

One whistle-blower said:

“Dragados are now contemplating sub-contracting out most of the work as they will be unable to complete it; they simply do not have the safety systems in place.”

Javier Buron, Community Engagement Officer, Aberdeen Public Relations and Communications for Dragados SA UK & Ireland, had no idea whether he could even release the company’s Health and Safety Policy – something most companies publicise widely and are proud of.

Mr Buron promised to send a statement, but did not express concern on behalf of Dragados for the injured.

When chased for lines for publication Mr Buron said:

“We cannot issue any of these documents [no documents were requested].

“It is [for] internal use. It is illegal to share it.”

His posting to this multi-million-pound project is something of a leap; his Linked-In profile gives his previous experience as working for Aberdeen’s International Youth Festival (which is about to lose its £100k yearly council funding).

There seems to be as haphazard an approach to supply management as there is to safety and public relations.

Several sources claim 40 tonnes of non-specification stone was imported from Norway, only to be rejected as inferior.

Dragados now has to get rid of the stone and make up the financial loss.

Disenchanted workers are watching to see how this plays out while scratching their heads as to how Dragados became the preferred bidder in the first place.

Work is due to complete in 2020. No one working on site believes this is possible.

The impact of this expansion on the dwindling number of salmon, sea birds and cetaceans is another matter which doesn’t seem to have troubled Scottish environmental authorities sufficiently to make them object; time will tell the impact on wildlife.

Sceptical locals are promised cruise ships will dock. Whether well-heeled travellers will disembark to spend money in Torry’s pubs, betting shops and off-licenses is doubted.

As one source summed it up:

“It’s a complete joke.”

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Dec 232017
 

This is an attempt at satire. Any resemblance to a person living, dead or somewhere in between; competent or wholly incompetent; greedy or otherwise is purely and yugely coincidental. By Suzanne Kelly.

It was a cold November rain that fell on the glistening, gleaming, sparkly, shiny granite stone of the Granite City.

The rain even dared to fall on the city council’s Town House and Marischal College.

Inside said Town House, a vulnerable Willie Wonky was clearing out his desk. It was late at night and unusually he felt tired and emotional.

And indeed angry – too angry even to throw out a few enlightening tweets to his many admirers – though being agitated had never stopped him before.

“It was only a fence, a wall, pathways…” Willie thought to himself; he was feeling rather hard done by.

“What about everything Dean for instance got away with?”

He had been forced from his office and his post on the City Council unceremoniously.

He felt that the science-based evidence against him was insignificant – after all, there was Pete Leonard, the man responsible for the crematorium scandal, and on a lesser note, he had formally reported that the Tullos Hill deer should be wiped out to create a forest – cost neutral no less – when he already had a letter telling him it wasn’t possible to have a forest on the hill, a former rubbish-tip.

The man was soundly hated by 99.9% of his staff – yet got months of gardening leave with full pay and a golden parachute.

“If only the public knew how much we gave Leonard.” Wonky muttered to himself.

He opened his desk and began taking out the files, deciding which to keep and which to leave behind – or destroy.

‘City Garden Project’ was by far the largest folder in his desk.

“Humpf” Wonky thought

“What a load of old cobblers. F me that was a stupid idea – ramps going up to a steep height only to descend to the other side. So much for the excuse of ‘accessibility’ being the reason to turn the gardens into a parking lot with astroturf. You’d have to be a mountain goat to get up or down those f-ing arches. So much for anyone in a wheelchair.

“Anne Begg easily accessed the gardens as they are . The idea of spending £180 million on this drivel and expecting people to fly in from all over the world to walk up and down a ramp or sit in an outdoor theatre – an outdoor theatre no less – to shop at Next and Boots; old Ian Wood must have thought we were out of our minds.”

Willie pulled this thick file out of the drawer and unceremoniously heaved it on his desk.

Rifling through the file drawer was considerably easier with the bulk of the Union Terrace Gardens out of the way.

“Oh look, the Stewart Milne Stadium plan.” Willie snorted derisively.

This huge white elephant was going to be great for everyone, especially one Stewart Milne.

File after file Wonky pulled out of his desk, from cabinets; dust was flying. Outside the rain intensified and the wind howled.

With each passing file he found – ‘Tree for Every Citizen feasibility study’ (by the man who gained £100k if it went ahead), ‘Art Gallery renovation costings’ (a work of sheer fantasy Wonky thought to himself with a sneer), ‘Donald Trump impact study – benefits for Aberdeen City, by VisitScotland’, ‘Invitation to Trump’s doctorate celebration’; ‘Benefits for Torry of having a breaking yard and incinerator’ – dozens of reports, papers, invitations and so on were piling high on Wonky’s desk now.

The wind moaned louder and the windows rattled, but Willie ploughed on.

‘Gerry Brough – curriculum vitae and list of academic credentials’; Wonky laughed aloud as he found this file; Brough was the bully who shouted down all opposition to the Garden project and stopped the public having a vote on just fixing the gardens up.

“F this wind and rain.” Willie thought as he turned on his computer – well, it was still his for a day or maybe two, as he decided to have some Netflix and chill.

The computer warmed up, and the next thing Willie heard was an old familiar voice

“Ahn tae all me friends – comrades – I should say – This is Alex Salmond, welcoming you to another instalment of McRussian TV. Have I ever told ye about the time I was doon te Balmoral and was singing with Prince –“

“F that!” shouted Wonky at his computer and closed the tab for the Alex Salmond show,

“how the f did that get on my computer?”

He opened an new tab and waited for Amazon videos to load up; he swiped haphazardly at the screen and hit the Christmas movies button.

Willie unlatched the window; as rainy and windy as it was, he had unaccountably become clammy, hot and excitable.

When he crossed the room to return to his desk, he could see there was a big box still on top of the cabinet, a yuge box.

“F that, I’d better see what the F’s in that F-ing thing.” Willie said, his anger growing.

A random Christmas movie whirred into life on his laptop; ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ had started. He could hear it play in the background.

Pushing his swivel chair close to the cabinet, Willie stepped onto its seat, reached for the huge cardboard box high on the shelf and started to pull it towards him. At that moment several things happened all at once.

The wind suddenly gusted, blowing the windows wide opened. This caused the papers in the room and on his desk to spring to sudden life and swirl through the air.

“Waa F!” Willie thought as this sudden commotion caused him to lose his footing and the chair started to wheel away. Alas, he had not lost his grip on the giant box.

The box Willie had grabbed slid off the shelf, knocking him straight between the eyes, causing him to wince and howl in pain as he fell backwards. Then to cap things off, a long-forgotten trophy ‘Aberdeen – best employer in Scotland’ made of faux granite and cheap metal clonked Wonky straight on the head. Down and out he went.

#          #          #

A voice in Wonky’s head was saying: “Congratulations! You’re the final winner of the Aberdeen Art Gallery renovation lottery Golden Ticket contest!”

“What the F?” Willie thought, then he opened his eyes. He was in a vast crowd in front of the Aberdeen Art Gallery.

Crowds cheered. There was a podium on which were about 8 of the most ridiculous-looking people Willy had ever seen. The man who congratulated him was a tall, thin man of about 70.

The man, dressed in a top hat, tails and with a big bow tie kept speaking.

“I better cut down on my order” thought Wonky as he was helped to his feet.

The oddly dressed man was addressing the crowd:

“Friends, thank you for buying the 7 million Aberdeen Art Gallery refurbishment tickets in a single afternoon! We will have the art gallery back opened in no time – say 3 to 5 years! Result!”

The frenzied crowd roared with its approval.

The man fixed his top hat, adjusted his satin waistcoat, and continued:

“The art gallery lottery promised there would be six winners whose golden tickets would get them an amazing prize! More about that in a moment. We’ve raised £7 million pounds! Hooray us!”

The crowd cheered some more.

“We’re going to raise even more money through some – ah efficiencies! We’re going to stop the Youth Festival – that’ll save £100k! No more kids wandering around town in the summer! No need to thank me or your councillors!”

The crowd were delirious with joy.

“Back to the Art Gallery Golden ticket winners” said Ian Wood – for it was he,

“These lucky people are the winners who will get the once-in-a-lifetime chance to come inside Marischal College and see where all the great ideas you love are dreamed up!”

There was more cheering, as you’d expect.

“The final winner is Willie Wonky here, who won the final golden ticket when he bought his Art Gallery lottery ticket. He too has won this vibrant and dynamic look behind the scenes at Marischal.”

“The other winners are Donnie Trump from America, who loves watching television and playing with guns; He is with his lovely assistant and spokesperson Sarah Malone Bates!”

Again with the crowds cheering.

“We also have Professor Bill Ritchie, former Head of Housing Peter Leonard, and… Stewart Milne!”

The crowd was delirious by now with joy.

“And friends” continued Sir Ian, bowing and tipping his top hat,

“Before I take the lucky winners on the tour of the dream factory that is Marischal College, I just want you to know it is pure coincidence that most of the people who have won are friends of mine – but then again – who isn’t?”

The crowds cheered more furiously than ever, as the lucky winners – Donald Trump, Sarah Malone, Willie Wonky (who was still feeling groggy and confused), Professor Bill Ritchie, Peter Leonard and Stewart Milne all stepped away from the crowds and past the statue of Sir Robert The Bruce towards a revolving door which would lead into the magical Marischal College building, where the magic happens.

Willie looked at the statue. For an instant he thought the horse snorted and Sir Robert bowed his head to expose a tear, but the fancy lasted only a moment.

Here we are! All pack in now! And Sir Ian stepped into the revolving door.

The other guests did their best to cosy up to him.

“Easy Stewart, if you get any closer you’ll be behind me.” chuckled Sir Ian.

Willie didn’t see why they all had to crowd into the same section of the revolving door, but no one else complained; they just looked adoringly at Sir Ian.

“ARGH!” shouted Willie – “What the F-’”

“-No need to worry my boy, it’s just one of the Troompa Loompas who run Marischal College.” Smiled Sir Ian Wood.

“But it’s hideous! Why is its hair that colour and doesn’t it own a comb or a mirror! Why is its skin bright orange? Is it human?” said Willie, pointing

“That’s my reflection you’re pointing at pal.” Said Donnie Trump angrily

“I’ll be tweeting about this, mark my words!”

“No, that other hideous thing!” said Wonky, pointing to another orange skinned creature that looked only half human.

“Ah, that’s Valerie Watts, the old Chief Executive. She’s been stuck in this revolving door for years now, one executive appointment after another, going around in circles.” Said Sir Ian.

“Stick with me everyone, you’re on the ride of your lives!” Ian said, as the real Troompa Loompas, orange skinned minions with frizzy white hair started to make the revolving door spin faster and faster.

The revolving door was jam packed, the Troompa Loompa s made it go faster and faster.

Willie Wonky could see shapes as the revolving door spun round – there were flowers, birds, meadows of grass, gorse and birds. The elevator slowed, and out the occupants all spilled onto Tullos Hill.

A deer ambled past. A quick gunshot rang out, and the deer fell dead.

“Isn’t it beautiful?!” asked Sir Ian. Wonky looked at the dead deer, but noticed Ian was pointing at a parking lot by a new building.

“Wood House and its new parking lot!” Sir Ian sighed.

“I’d like to thank you Pete Leonard for helping me. Aside from the unfortunate crematorium debacle – which we won’t talk of .” Wonky said, noticing the obsequious yet bullying Leonard had coughed,

“if not for how you handled the Tullos situation, I might not have got that parking lot made.”

“I have to hand it to you Pete. You knew there was no chance of growing a ‘Tree for every Citizen’ forest on this hill – it’s a rubbish heap, and you were sent a letter proving it. But, on you went – and here’s the genius thing – you told everyone in a report it was – cost neutral! Brilliant!”

Everyone laughed and clapped. The deer made a further spasm. Gunshots echoed all around.

“Pete, I like your spirit. You not only got rid of these deer, the migration of which was also a stumbling block for other projects – more of that soon – but you let the land donated to the city fall into such disrepair that the private owners took it back. If there’s now coincidentally a parking lot I need for my beautiful new building, then I thank you.

“And all that money paid to the consultants – what was that guy’s name – Chris Piper? Then well done you” Sir Ian said pinching and shaking Peter’s cheek.

“I hope if any crumbs fell off that table, you swept them up Pete.”

As the group surveyed the parking lot, the now barren hill save for a few dying saplings in tiny tree guards, a group of the Troompa Loompas marched into the scene.

As the Troompa Loompas gathered the group together to go to the next destination, they broke into song.

Troompa Loompa doopity dee
If you are wise you’ll listen to me
If Ian Wood wants a new parking lot
Wildlife and habitat don’t matter a jot

Let the land he needs fall into disuse
So he can get it – use any excuse
Kill a few deer and ignore the public outcry
Peter Leonard, you’re our kind of guy

You lied to the public
You lied to the public
You can live in luxury too
Like Sir Ian and Helen doopity do.

As they were getting ready to leave the hill, Willie was sure he saw Sir Ian give Pete a bag marked ‘swag’. The deer’s tiny back leg gave its final twitch.

“And now if you’ll all pile onto this magic bus” said Sir Ian as the Troompa Loompas helped the guests get on a Number 3 Stagecoach.

All the while Willy Wonky felt something was wonky.

The next stop is Loirston Loch! Where I’ve got a surprise for my friend Stewart!

“Sir Ian,” asked Sarah Malone-Bates.

“That’s like great an’ all, like, but it will take ages in this traffic?”

She pointed to the gridlocked cars on Wellington Road.

“I have a nail appointment at 5, Botox at 8, then my colonic at….” She droned on

Willie started to ask whether the new Wood building with its full parking lot was a good idea for this already congested road (which was and still is one of Scotland’s most over-polluted Roads) but a Troompa Loompa shot him a dirty look.

“It will take us no time to get to Loirston, isn’t that right Stewart?” said Sir Ian with a wink.

The doughy, sweaty kitchen fitter Stewart Milne nodded emphatically:

“Yes, anything you say Sir Ian, you look wonderful today. Yes, that’s right. In my plan to build a new stadium on top of Loirston Loch, we told the public and the planners that you could get to Loirston Loch by bus from the centre of town when a football match was on in 15 minutes.”

“Fifteen minutes? It takes that longer than that to get to Torry as it is.” Willie thought as the last of the entourage climbed on the magic No. 3 bus which sped off and to Willie’s amazement flew through the air over the gridlocked cars.

Before the group knew it, the Troompa Loompas were helping them off the bus and out onto a construction site near a lake. Not a bird could be seen or heard amid the rising girders and hum of machinery.

“Well Stewart my dear friend” started Sir Ian

“We might not have got you that football stadium at Loirston you wanted – yet – but look at all these houses and businesses going up! More office space! Just what we need!”

Willie looked around, and noticed he was standing on a faded, splintered wooden sign that said: ‘The City of Aberdeen recognises the importance of Loirston Lake both to wildlife…. A first view of our city… agree it should never be built on…’

“But Sir Ian, er, don’t we already have a glut of office space? asked Willie Wonky, whose head was hurting and spinning now.

We can’t even fill the new Marischal Square, even though it does have a giant leopard statue in it?”

The looks of the rest of the assembly were of scorn and derision, but Sir Ian said:

“My boy, Willie – when I say ‘we’ need office space – I mean WE. The construction industry, Scottish Enterprise – we have to keep building stuff so we have work to do and can brag about new buildings.

“Then there’s all the – ah – associated benefits – consulting work, subcontracting… We definitely need this building. Who’s going to let a few threatened species of birds stand in our way?”

Everyone laughed and Willie smiled weakly.

Stewart Milne toddled forward, and hugged Sir Ian – although this amounted to hugging him by the waist given the height differential.

“I’ve got a wee something for you in your Swiss account Stewart, see you at the next ACSEF meeting after this tour’s over.” Said Sir Ian winking again

“You mean the next First meeting don’t you, Sir Ian; we changed the name and the logo – remember?” asked Stewart Milne?

“Whatever.” Said Sir Ian.

And the Troompa Loompas again broke out into song, which was beginning to wear thin thought Willie.

Troompa Loompa doopity doo
I have another conundrum for you
What good’s a loch and a birdie or two
When there’s money to be made for you-know-who?

If a bird can’t earn enough to feather its nest
Making it clear off is definitely best
More office space is what we all really need
A ‘Smart successful Scotland’ well, and maybe some greed

You can live in luxury too
Like Sir Ian and Helen doopity do.

The group were ushered awa from the lock, and Sarah humpfed as her 6” Jimmy Blahnik dolphin-hide heels sank into the grass.

A helicopter was waiting for them marked Scottish Enterprise

“All aboard, and I’ll show you places where Aberdeen city and Shire have made several dreams come true!” said a jubilant Sir Ian Wood

“Who’s the pilot?” asked Sarah, who looked a little green with envy at the tall blond woman.

“Everyone, this is Jennifer Claw.” Said Sir Ian with a wink to the pilot.

“She’s got a degree in nutrition and the cutest little dimples when she – ah – smiles. So, as she had a degree in nutrition or something, so I made her the head of Scottish Enterprise Grampian and put her on the board of my Wood Family Trust – is it holding £25 million now? I forget.”

“Jennifer’s also on the Robert Gordon University board – no need to thank me just now Jennie darling – and– look you can see it down there as we fly over!” said Sir Ian, distracting everyone away from Jennifer who had blown him a kiss by pointing out the sprawling campus

“And that’s the Sir Ian Wood building” he said as all the assembled marvelled and clapped.

Except for Willie. Willie was beginning to sense a link to all these Aberdeen City Council projects, and he wasn’t sure he liked it.

“So, where’s Lady Helen today Sir Ian?” Willie asked. You could have heard a pin drop.

“Ah, she’s off playing tennis; her ball control’s improved, and her strokes are decidedly better.” Sir Ian said as he mopped his brow with a hugely oversized hanky.

“We’re not going to stop in, but look over to your right as we fly up the Aberdeen Coast – that’s Torry and Nigg, near where we were at Tullos – isn’t it beautiful?”

Sir Ian gesticulated towards the coast south of the city centre which the copter was now flying over.

All Willy saw was a plume of smoke, lots of lorries, barbed wire and a huge construction project on the bay of Nigg.

“The people there are so lucky Aberdeen City and its Harbour Board helped come up with these huge improvements” said Sir Ian – “well, with a little help from Scottish Enterprise and ACSEF.”

Again all those aboard laughed and clapped.

“Hey, isn’t this the same helicopter youse guys paid me to fly in to the Menie Estate in when I came over looking for a place for a golf course?” asked Donnie Trump.

“The very same.” Sir Ian replied.

“The wonderful, important golf course at Menie, the wonderful, important cruise line for Torry – does everyone know who we have to thank for these developments?”

Professor Bill Ritchie gave his head a jaunty tilt and a little shake of false modesty.

“Oh, I’m just happy to help my friends Donnie and of course you Sir Ian.” The professor started,

“I was once on the board of the East Grampian Coastal partnership. I used to think we needed a public marina, wildlife habitat, and a place to educate young people for maritime careers. But (he said looking at Sir Ian) I changed my way of thinking.

“I was proud to be helpful to you too Donnie when you wanted your golf course. I said it was easy to build 900 homes, a hotel, 2 golf courses and a country club – as well as living quarters for the lackeys – without harming the environment or the protected sites. I’m so happy to have been proven right.”

Professor Ritchie’s chest puffed out, he was filled with self-satisfied pride and almost everyone on the chopper applauded him.

“F me not another F-ing song” thought Willie as those Troompy looking hobbits geared up for another verse.

Troompa Loompa doopity da
If you’ve no scruples you’re sure to go fa
What does an expert get whose opinions for hire?
Consultancy cash from SE, ACSEF and Aspire

Using his titles to feather his nest
Swearing to everyone that he knows best
Just don’t talk to reporters
Don’t talk to reporters

You can live in luxury too
Like Sir Ian and Helen doopity do.

Willie Wonky was starting to get fed up with his golden ticket tour of all the magical things Aberdeen City was making happen. And that bloody singing.

Willie asked:

“Professor, weren’t you supposed to lead an environmental monitoring group with Sarah to protect wildlife, and isn’t it true that since the monitoring fell apart you won’t answer any questions from the press about your role?”

He immediately sensed he had overstepped the mark with this question; for a moment a shadow passed Sir Ian’s face and Sarah wrinkled her expensive nose. The professor scurried away and didn’t say a word for the rest of the trip. Donnie was turning blue in the face.

Sarah spoke.

“Oh, we did that, but it was too cold for me to go outside in my Prada, and besides, it’s the world’s greatest golf course on the world’s largest sand dunes.”

At her words Donnie Trump calmed down a bit, his face returning to its orange hue.

“Sarah’s right” started Sir Ian;

“She’s smart as a whip. Why everything’s fine and just how we want it. Sarah’s so smart I had one of my little groups invite her to give a talk, isn’t that right honey?” he asked her.

“Sure, it was fun too,” Sarah Malone-Bates said, “I got to give a talk called “’The Bigger the Vision, the Bigger the Opposition,” and the event – held at the Sir Ian Wood building of course at RGU where Woody – I mean Sir Ian – runs things. I must thank whoever wrote that speech for me sometime.”

Sarah continued to list her accomplishments, how she was whisked out of the Gordon Highlanders Museum to be Trump’s first ever Scottish Executive Vice President, how good she was at moisturising and accessorising, and how much her husband, coincidentally who used to edit the local newspaper, loved her [surely some mistake? – editor].

Willie audibly groaned as the Troompa Loompas circled Sarah Malone, whose shoulder pads were a marvel to behold, as he knew another song was coming; he felt he was going to be sick.

Troompa Loompa doopity de
I have another puzzle for ye
What’s more important than designer clothes,
Having the right hair and a beautiful nose?

Attracting the right man, obviously
Especially if that man has lots of money
She’s the Face of Aberdeen
She’s the Face of Aberdeen

What do you get when you tell lots of lies
If you are Sarah then you get a pay rise
Trading your looks in for cash is her solution
So what if other people think it’s prostitution?

(Sarah’s a Vice President)

You can live in luxury too
Like Sir Ian and Helen doopity do.

Willie Wonky’s brain was putting together all the puzzle pieces from the day, and was starting not to like the picture they were forming.

But on the copter flew, and just before they started to land on a helipad with a giant letter T, Donnie Trump exclaimed:

“There they are, the world’s largest sand dunes! I even made a plaque, didn’t we Sarah Malone honey, to say so! Biggest! Bestest! Yugest!”

A tumbleweed blew past as the rotor blades slowed, and out the lucky Aberdeen Art Gallery golden ticket winners scrambled into the freezing air.

“Anyone for 18 holes?” bellowed Donnie in the freezing winds as the rest of the group ran for the shelter of the clubhouse.

Once inside this building on an empty parking lot, Sarah snapped her fingers, and waiters and waitresses appeared with bottles of whisky and glasses.

“Trump whisky – £50 a glass or £500 for a bottle. £250 a bottle if signed by Donnie.” She hawked.

“Later Sarah Dear” said Sir Ian, adjusting his top hat and billowy bow tie.

“No one’s here, aren’t there supposed to be golfers – what’s going on?” asked Willie; everyone smiled at him.

The room started to spin as he sipped one of those whiskies.

“We don’t want anyone here.” said Sir Ian quietly, the others faces started to look mean and contorted.

Willie Wonky stumbled and fell into a chair – a chair with a big Donald Trump crest on it. The other winners, the Troompa Loompas leaned in closer.

Willie felt quite ill now, as these ghastly, grotesque faces sneered at him and laughed. Sir Ian spoke.

“We don’t want anyone here; never did. Another few years of tax write offs in the USA for Trump – if he doesn’t get impeached or jailed yet – no offence Donnie, but you’re not quite as subtle as you should be sometimes – and then it’ll be sold off. Donnie – we’ll talk about that international charity US tax break later.

“It will go to housing – we’ll all see to that. And what housing developer is favoured in this neck of the woods? That would be my good friend Stewart Milne.

“And what organisation would get involved with such a huge or if you will ‘yuge’ undertaking? Why Scottish Enterprise of course. I may have retired, but after decades as head of the thing, don’t you think I still have my claws still in it one way or the other?

“Think of the construction jobs, the consultancies, the money to be made. And Willie, the granite web is making a comeback; do you think I give up that easily? And when the idea was being promoted so hard, ask yourself two questions – who stood to benefit is one.

“Stewart owned the adjacent Triple Kirks, and he needed parking; we could have got that for him, but it’s not all over yet. The other thing to ask yourself – what did the public miss while we were distracting them with a design consultation vote when we already knew what design we wanted – the ludicrous web design.  And they fell for it.

“We have Donald Trump in charge of the USA; over here he will be allowed to do as he pleases.

And while tens – hundreds of millions are moving through Scottish Enterprise, land deals – like when the city sold that land to you Stewart for a peppercorn, and while public land is snapped up – we’ll get people to focus on other things.

“Either we’ll threaten to take away what little arts provision they and their children get, or the more mean-spirited ones will be convinced that people from abroad are taking their land, money and jobs – not you Donnie though” Ian winked, any previous trace of gentility gone from his features.

“While we’re at it, there’s one more item on the agenda for your tour Willie Wonky – we’re going to look at the City of Culture Bid.

“All aboard the helicopter for gigs on oil rigs! How much public money and time did that nonsense soak up? Well, here’s Rita Stephen to tell you all about it!

“Remember Willie – whether it’s a football stadium, a parking lot, a breaking yard, Trump’s golf course – and his honorary degree from the University I own that has a building with my name on it – you now know who’s behind everything in this town. Nothing, I mean nothing goes on in this town without my say so.

“I said as much to people before, and I’m telling you now.”

Oor Willie whined as, while his eyes fluttered open and closed, the Troompa Loompas broke into one last verse of their song:

Troompa Loompa doopity do
I have final question for you
Who in Aberdeen is behind everything
That is environmentally damaging?

ACSEF, First, RGU and SE.
As the saying goes, ‘follow the money’
Sir Ian is behind it
Sir Ian is behind it

You can live in luxury to
Just do what Sir Ian Wood –

tells

you

to!

#          #          #

Willie’s eyes had glazed over; the other golden ticket winners’ laughs had turned to a huge roar of noise, and he fluttered his eyes.

As if he hadn’t been through enough, standing over him was… Rita Stephen

“NOOO!” shouted Willie,

“Anything but the City of Culture bid! – Anything!”

“Willie, are ye alright mon?” She said.

“I was just going to re-write the symphony for orchestra, ship’s horns and horses that was part of me great City of Culture bid tonight, when I saw yer door open.

“I’d seen you passed oot and thought it was the usual, but I noted the gash on yer heid.”

His eyes focused and leaning over him was Rita Stephen, the woman behind among other things the City of Culture bid that made Aberdeen the laughing stock of the western hemisphere – again.

“AIEEEEE” Willie screamed, and sprinted out of the office, leaving all of his paperwork behind.

He didn’t stop running until he was safely locked in his house and under his covers.

The sun was shining. Willie woke up as the phone rang.

He remembered with a sudden start his horrible nightmare. He shook his head violently from side to side and answered the phone.

“Hi Willie, well, you’ve been gone long enough; what’s it been, a few days now? Fancy being deputy Lord Provost?”

Willie thought of all the corruption he knew about; he thought of all the pieces that had fallen so neatly into place in his fevered dream. He took a deep breath.

“Sounds great Barney; I’ll be over in a few hours. I’ll want a bigger office with a view mind.”

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May 252017
 

By Ian Baird.

Every time a report is written about the Harbour Board’s expansion plans into the Bay of Nigg, there is invariably a reference to a Scottish Enterprise report which justified the project in economic terms, along the lines of, ‘An independent study, commissioned by Scottish Enterprise, estimates that the development will generate an additional £1 billion per annum to the economy by 2035 and will create an additional 7,000 equivalent jobs.’
But that Report was written in December 2013, three and a half years ago and therefore pre-dating the current prolonged oil downturn.

Before finally committing to the project in December when a contract was agreed with Dragados, surely in the light of what is acknowledged to be a significantly changed trading environment, the assumptions and projections made in the Biggar Report should have been reviewed?

Had this been done with any vigour, it is difficult not to come to the conclusion that the business case for £350+ million development no longer stands up to scrutiny and proceeding with the development on that basis cannot be justified.

Let’s look at some aspects of the Report from the perspective of 2017.

1) Harbour Capacity: One of the most compelling arguments emanating from the Harbour Board as justification for the expansion was that the harbour was working at or near full capacity. The argument was echoed in the Report which stated:

“It is clear additional capacity is required to retain activity in the oil and gas sector in Scotland.  If this capacity is not developed, then there is a risk that new and existing demand will be lost to Norway. Capacity constraints at the Harbour are also likely to hinder existing and potential users from developing new market opportunities in areas such as renewable energy, decommissioning, passenger ferries and cruise liners.”

As the construction of the expansion begins, is the existing harbour still running at or near full capacity? The Report noted that arrivals to the port in 2012 numbered in excess of 8,100. Based on the Board’s statements we have to assume this figure is close to maximum capacity. By 2014 arrivals were very similar at 7,937, but in 2015 they dropped to 7,428 and then precipitously to 6,462 in 2016 (unpublished).

That’s more than a 20% drop in traffic activity from the 2012 high to 2016. In short, the harbour is no longer working at or near to full capacity. Of course, had the arrivals levelled off at around the 8,000 mark, it could be legitimately argued that capacity issues were inhibiting expansion but with a 20% drop in activity it is clear that this is quite simply a downturn in business.

To update, the first 4 months of 2017 are no better than the equivalent period last year; and so just as the heavy plant moves in to the Bay, annual arrivals are around 1600 fewer per year than when ‘at or near maximum capacity’.

When challenged about declining arrivals at the 2016 AGM, Chief Executive Colin Parker argued lost business because of larger vessels being unable to enter the harbour were the main cause of the decline. This seems a curious statement given that vessels as large as 20,000 tonnes have used the harbour and yet the average gross tonnage is only about 4,000 tonnes. Two of the largest ships using the harbour are the passenger ferries plying to the Orkney and Shetland Isles. They each have a gross tonnage of 11, 720.

How many arrivals were there of vessels with a gross tonnage of over 10,000 tonnes, other than the ferries, using the port in a year? In 2015, only 21 out of 7,428, or .002%; in 2016, ever fewer at 11. Apart from the ferries, the upper 50% of the tonnage capacity range (10,000 to 20,000 tonnes) is virtually unused.

Where is the evidence that lack of size capacity is inhibiting business?

Fig. 1: The Harbour Board claims the existing harbour is too small for larger vessels. This graph shows that, apart from passenger and freight ferries running to the Northern Isles, the upper end of the tonnage capacity range from 7000 tonnes upward is barely utilised by oil-related, cargo or other vessels.

2) The new market opportunities identified in the Reportrenewable energy, decommissioning, passenger ferries and cruise liners – are central in the projections of increasing traffic to the expanded facility. How well does potential success in these markets stand up to scrutiny from today’s perspective? Let us look at each in turn:

Renewable Energy: Despite initial enthusiasm for chasing business in this market, the Harbour Board has been very quiet about prospects in this sector since the Report’s publication.

There has probably been a belated recognition that weaknesses in the local infrastructure (inadequate roads network for heavy and wide loads, lack of fabrication facilities) and being close to neither centres of turbine and blade manufacture nor to the offshore areas identified as potential for offshore wind arrays, means that there are no specific advantages, and several disadvantages, for suppliers of renewable energy components considering using Aberdeen as a transport base.

Biggar suggests a need for creating industry clusters around key infrastructure investment locations, and that one such cluster should incorporate the supply chain for offshore renewables by developing the land beside Nigg Bay as a marine renewable cluster in Aberdeen City and Shire.

Fine words, but despite the fact that construction of the harbour expansion is under way, there seems little action towards this suggested initiative and there seems inadequate land available to develop a suitably well-equipped cluster as proposed.

Decommissioning: Although the total decommissioning market is huge, Aberdeen’s potential to handle significant elements of it will again be limited by onshore infrastructural weaknesses and by the lack of deep-water berthing. Since the Report was published, many other ports in Scotland, North-east England and Norway have signalled their determination to secure a share of the decommissioning market.

Many, such as Dundee, Cromarty, Kirkwall and Scapa Flow are already well ahead in extending infrastructure and capacity. In what will be a highly competitive scramble for work, it is difficult to see Aberdeen, coming late into the game with improved facilities in 2020, attracting any more than relatively minor contracts.

Ferries: Apart from its inclusion in the Report as one of the potential markets for the expanded port, no evidence or research is offered to substantiate the sector as a potential market. The Northern Isles are the only destinations with a regular ferry service to Aberdeen. The existing ferries are large and, although running near to full capacity at peak holiday periods, for much of the year they are running well below.

At current passenger and freight usage levels, larger ferries plying those routes would not be cost-effective. NorthLink have not identified any need, nor expressed any interest, in introducing larger ferries to Kirkwall and Lerwick.

Cruise Ships: The Report predicts that up to 40 cruise ships could be attracted to the new harbour each year but there are quite a number of qualifications to that figure:

“If a new harbour is built and [if] improvements are made to surrounding roads infrastructure then this may make the harbour a more attractive destination for visiting ships. For example road improvements may make it easier for coaches to access to the quayside, which would make it easier for cruise companies to organise excursions for passengers. The additional space may even make it possible to create dedicated visitor reception facilities. [My emphasis]”

The projection of 40 cruise ships per annum is therefore very speculative. While it is true that the average size of cruise ships is rising, ruling out many of them from the opportunity of docking in the existing harbour, it does not follow that a sufficiently large harbour will attract those larger ships. A bigger swimming pool doesn’t necessarily mean more (or larger) swimmers, perhaps just more space per swimmer.

If we compare the new harbour with, for example, Shetland’s port at Lerwick, which is projected to attract 80 cruise ships in 2018, there must be some doubt about its attractiveness as a destination, requiring as it will a bus journey with views (and possibly smells) of a sewage works, possibly an incinerator, Altens industrial estate and a complex onward route to get to either Aberdeen city centre or to Deeside.

In fact, all of the Report’s projections of future economic gains are qualified by the recognition that for their predictions to be realised it would be necessary ‘to upgrade the roads infrastructure in the surrounding area’.

We are now embarking on a £350 million development, not only in the absence of any such planned upgrade, but with the economics of the North Sea oil industry considerably changed for the worse, and with technological changes and innovations which lessen Aberdeen’s ability to attract certain kinds of business (for example the commissioning of the Pioneering Spirit vessel which can lift and transport complete platform topsides of up to 48,000 tonnes to a limited number of deep-water berths).

There is no doubt that on the completion of the new harbour, some additional types and sizes of vessels will visit the port.

The question is: will they do so in sufficient numbers and frequency to justify a £360 million investment and the permanent loss of a valuable amenity to the local community?

To fulfil the expectations of the Biggar Report, harbour activity not only has to regain the current 20% loss of traffic but has to utilise to near capacity the additional 25% berthing the expansion will enable. That’s 45% above current activity.

Given that the mainstay of the harbour is oil-related business and that it is not contested that it is an industry in decline, there must be a huge question mark over the prediction that in Year 20 of the Report’s projections the net economic impact of Aberdeen Harbour in the City and Shire will be 12,350 jobs and £1.8 billion GVA (Gross Value Added).

The questions are these therefore. What re-evaluation of the Biggar Report was undertaken prior to the final decision to proceed with the expansion into the Bay of Nigg? Is anyone from the Harbour Board, Biggar Economics or Scottish Enterprise prepared to stand by the projections in the 2013 Report? If not, on what basis is the project proceeding?

Sources: Economic impact of Aberdeen Harbour Nigg Bay Development – A final report to Scottish Enterprise, Biggar Economics, December 2013

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Apr 202017
 

With thanks to Aberdeen/Shire Greens.

After famously standing a mannequin in the 2012 Aberdeen local elections, Renée Slater is back as a candidate in her own right, standing in the Torry & Ferryhill ward for the Scottish Green Party.

The mannequin, Helena Torry, emerged as an activist figurehead in 2010 in campaigns against the destruction of Union Terrace Gardens, and soon became popular in anti-austerity protests.

As Renée witnessed the effects of cuts to services for disabled people and young people, she wanted to bring these issues into the spotlight and challenge the antagonistic political climate with humour.

In the 2012 council elections, she registered Helena as a candidate to represent ‘the voice of the silent majority.’

When authorities realised that Helena was not a real person, Renée was arrested. She was held until a prisoner exchange took place, and Helena was locked up for a year. The story was covered across the UK, and further afield [links below]. After Renée’s acquittal, Helena continued to support local causes, including the campaign for Scottish Independence.

Renée has been involved in local politics and activism for more than 40 years, and she joined the Scottish Greens in 2014. In standing for Aberdeen City Council in 2017, she hopes to help address issues across the city, from housing and jobs to local pollution and public health.

After years of bitter conflict between Labour and the SNP, Renée and other Green candidates want to bridge the divide and work constructively across parties.

Renée said,

“I’m concerned about inter-party bickering. It’s time we pulled together for all the people of Aberdeen. It’s time to make a change.”

Links:

BBC Report: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9WRFl9jvOCw
Daily Politics: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mJEL56CMOzc
ITV: http://www.itv.com/news/2012-04-20/mannequin-removed-from-scottish-elections/
BBC News: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-north-east-orkney-shetland-20970395
Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/04/20/shop-dummy-for-councillor-aberdeenshire_n_1440348.html
The Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/woman-arrested-after-entering-mannequin-into-council-elections-7665476.html
Other: https://lenathehyena.wordpress.com/tag/helena-torry/

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Apr 132017
 

Port of Malaga. Photo by Daniel Bichler.

By Ian Baird.

When in December Aberdeen Harbour Board’s Chairman Alistair MacKenzie signed the contract with Dragados’ representative in Scotland – Daniel Paunero Alonso – to build the harbour’s £350 million expansion into the Bay of Nigg, it was the culmination of an an idea which had been conceived six years earlier.

Against stiff local opposition, with multiple planning and maritime applications to overcome, and complex loan agreements to negotiate, Chief Executive Colin Parker, the Chairman, and his fellow Board members must have breathed a huge sigh of relief when finally reaching the stage where building could commence.

But Daniel Alonso would have had a smile on his lips too. He had helped secure a huge contract for his firm in his operating region of Scotland.

Three years earlier, Daniel’s star wasn’t shining so brightly. In October 2013 in his then capacity of Manager of Dragados in Spain, together with Sanchez Domines, President of Dragados’ parent company Sando, he was summoned to testify as a defendant in a tribunal case in Malaga. The pair’s presence was required to answer allegations of irregularities in projects undertaken by the two companies at the Port of Malaga in 2008.

The Port was claiming losses amounting to a total of €5.3 million as a result of work carried out which subsequently proved not to be done to specification. The prosecution in the case, which is still ongoing after 5 years of investigation, is demanding a total of 26 years of imprisonment for 5 directors and engineers of the two companies for the crimes of document falsification, embezzlement and fraud.

Is this important as far as the Harbour Board is concerned?

Well, it may be the end of the planning and approval stage, but it’s only the beginning of what will be, at a minimum, three years of construction. Entrusting Dragados with this major project should mean that the Harbour Board has exercised due diligence in satisfying itself that the company has a sufficiently impressive record to give them confidence that the construction will be completed on time, on budget and to the required specification.

Is it possible that in their haste to ensure that planning, financial and contractual matters all fell into place, the Harbour Board, inexperienced in awarding such a large contract and struggling to raise the necessary finance, were overly hasty in agreeing a deal with Dragados, lured by the most attractive tender price to the exclusion of other considerations?

Had the Harbour Board investigated the details of the problems in Malaga, they would have found that there were two projects that ran into problems after their completion.

what happened in Malaga should, at the very least, have sounded a warning bell or two

The first was at the South cruise ship mooring in the Port which had been built in a joint venture between Sando and Dragados. Following a slight collision with the mooring by a cruise ship in 2008, an investigation into the damage to the pier established that fewer, and thinner, pilings had been used in its construction than had been specified.

In this case a State General Inspection concluded that the discrepancy in value between what was paid for by the Port and what was built by the two companies amounted to €1.8 million.

The second project which ran into trouble at the Port was at container dock no. 9. This was also a joint venture with Sando, but in this case Dragados was the leading partner.

After a particular vessel was unable to access the dock, it was discovered that the excavated depth of the mooring was less than had been specified and, additionally, that debris had been dumped in it. In this case the discrepancy between what was charged for by the companies and what was delivered was estimated at €3.6 million.

In addition to these very specific problems with a failure to build to specifications, there were also in both cases significant cost hikes.

The budget estimate for building the South mooring was €8 million but eventually cost €12.21 million – 50% over budget; the budget estimate for container dock 9 was €28.2 million but eventually cost €35.9 million – 25% over budget.

From the perspective of Aberdeen Harbour Board what happened in Malaga should, at the very least, have sounded a warning bell or two. Of course it is true that Dragados have been involved as contractors in many major projects without landing in court as in this highlighted case. But globally their record of completing projects on time and on budget where they are a major contractor on very large projects is very patchy [1].

By giving Dragados the major responsibility for a £350 million (budgeted) project (almost 10 times as much as the budgets for the two Malaga projects combined), has the Board considered a) the likelihood and b) the implications, of a cost increase and/or a delayed completion time?

Let’s say there was a 20% increase in costs and a 30% increase in construction time. Can the Board finance, for example, a £420 million project which takes four years to build instead of three?

Even if they can, will future business be able to service the loan or will the cruise ship and decommissioning markets prove to be elusive in the face of aggressive competition and a possible severe economic downturn? The combination of a cost escalation, a delayed completion date and a continuation of the oil downturn in the North Sea could prove to be a fatal combination for the Harbour Board’s ambitions.

if the Bay is to be lost it should at least be for very tangible benefits for Aberdeen

This article does not accuse Daniel Alonso of being complicit or having any knowledge of the failings in the two projects in Malaga and perhaps not too much should be read into the fact that he is now in Scotland rather than managing the company’s home territory.

But it seems extraordinary that with so much at stake, the Harbour Board is totally reliant on a company which has proved in the past that its management team failed to ensure adherence to specifications on two major harbour projects and exceeded budgeted costs so spectacularly.

Historically, one of the benefits to local communities of Trust Ports has been that no profits are dispensed to shareholders. That has meant that all profits have been re-invested in port improvements to help increase traffic and enhance local economic activity, as indeed has been the case with Aberdeen Harbour Trust until now.

But the absence of shareholders can have an adverse effect when projects that require external financing are considered. Because there is no financial risk to any individual Board Member or employee, the Board is in a position to back projects knowing that it is risk-free from their own personal perspective. That same phenomenon was responsible for the reckless trading by bankers prior to the 2008 crash.

If this project fails badly, either because of delays, escalating costs, unpredicted market conditions, or a combination of all three, the individuals who currently comprise the Board and the Executive will quietly retire (Chief Executive Colin Parker has already announced his imminent retirement), leaving a badly crippled Trust Port to recover from a gamble which didn’t pay off.

The residents of Torry who opposed the harbour development in the Bay of Nigg did so because of the loss of the Bay as an amenity, and the resulting general degradation of the local environment through increased traffic and pollution.

Whether the harbour would ultimately prove a commercial success or not has not been a major consideration. But now that it appears about to become a reality, I’m sure the concensus will be that if the Bay is to be lost it should at least be for very tangible benefits for Aberdeen and the wider community.

It would be a cruel blow indeed if the Bay was sacrificed for a speculative project which ultimately proves under-utilised and a financial millstone to the Harbour Board, and the Bay of Nigg is destroyed for no useful gain.

Notes:

  1. To cite just three examples, Dragados USA is 3 years behind schedule and $223 million over budget in a tunnel-boring project in Seattle; the company was removed from the Florida Department of Transportation’s list of qualified contractors because of project delays and other problems, it being stated that on some projects they “have a variety of materials and workmanship issues that will have to be addressed before FDOT will accept the work.”; and Los Angeles Metro Agency refused to give a major contract to Dragados, despite being the cheapest bidder, because they considered they had a high probability of exposing the agency to cost overruns and project delays,

Sources:

Dársena Case’ by Marta Sánchez Esparza / Malaga, El Mundo,  23/10/2013
http://www.elmundo.es/elmundo/2013/10/13/andalucia_malaga/1381659778.html

Article, by Agustin Rivera, El Confidencial, 5/10/2013
http://www.elconfidencial.com/espana/andalucia/2013-10-05/el-presidente-de-sando-imputado-por-el-agujero-del-puerto-de-malaga_37380/

Article by S. Sánchez, Málaga, Málaga Hoy , 16/10/2013
http://www.malagahoy.es/malaga/presidente-Sando-descarga-tecnicos-puerto_0_743925794.html

‘Sacramento sewer contractor faced delays, minority hiring violations’ The Sacramento Bee, June 4, 2016
http://www.sacbee.com/news/investigations/the-public-eye/article81843937.html

‘Beleaguered Seattle tunnel project facing $223M cost overrun, 3-year delay’, Construction Dive, July 25, 2016
http://www.constructiondive.com/news/beleaguered-seattle-tunnel-project-facing-223m-cost-overrun-3-year-delay/423164/

‘The prosecution asks for 26 years of imprisonment for five people responsible for port works’, Ignacio San Martin, La Cadena SER, 16 November 2016 http://cadenaser.com/emisora/2016/11/18/ser_malaga/1479473619_856001.html

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