Feb 242017
 

With thanks to Banffshire & Buchan Coast SNP.

Tory councillors in the North-east of Scotland have rejected plans to offer businesses rates relief for the second time in under a week – after the Tory-led Moray administration recently threw out an SNP amendment encouraging the Moray Council to follow Aberdeenshire’s lead in offering local business rates relief.

SNP councillors in Aberdeenshire last week passed a budget allocating £3 million for a local business rates relief scheme, to help those that have seen larger rates revaluations and are feeling the effects of the downturn in the north east economy.

SNP councillors in Moray had tabled an amendment to the Tory-led budget in Moray suggesting a similar scheme, but this was rejected by Tory councillors, including part-time-MSP-come-referee-come-councillor Douglas Ross.

On the same day as Ruth Davidson has reportedly stated that businesses are “staring down the barrel of a gun” due to changes to business rates, the actions of Tory councillors clearly demonstrated they are more interested in opportunistic soundbites rather than providing firms with meaningful support when they have the powers to do so.

Commenting, SNP MSP for Banffshire & Buchan Coast, Stewart Stevenson, said:

“This is quite astonishing from the Tory-led administration in Moray. They have not stopped criticising the Scottish Government for the changes to business rates, yet they refuse to use the powers that they have at a local level to provide firms with meaningful support.

“It is clear that Ruth Davidson’s Tories are only interested in scoring political points rather than actually providing any support to the businesses they have claimed to support in recent weeks.

“Voters across Moray and Aberdeenshire aren’t daft, and they’ll have seen Douglas Ross and others leading the chorus against changes to businesses rates, before he voted today to prevent businesses from receiving substantial support. Their opposition has been proven to be nothing more than crocodile tears.

“The Tories ought to be ashamed of themselves – and their actions won’t be forgotten by voters in Aberdeenshire, Moray and beyond when they go to the polls in May.”

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Feb 202017
 

With thanks to Banffshire & Buchan Coast SNP.

Aberdeenshire Council has refuted claims made by Tory MSP Peter Chapman that a new mental health service is excluding people, insisting that the new service will be equitable across Aberdeenshire and provides a more person centred service.

Following the awarding of the contract for a new ‘Mental Health – Pathways to Recovery’ service last year, Aberdeenshire Council has been working with provider SAMH as they roll out the new service across Aberdeenshire.

It was commissioned to provide a community-based mental health service and to promote the achievement of a mentally well and inclusive Aberdeenshire in which people who experience mental illness are enabled to recover and achieve their personal outcomes.

It provides more equitable services across north, central and south Aberdeenshire; to target service provision more appropriately to individual risk and need; and to support people who experience mental illness and help them enjoy mainstream activities alongside other members of the community.

Co-Leader of Aberdeenshire Council Cllr Richard Thomson said:

“It is simply not true to say people have fallen through a chasm and been forgotten about as has been claimed. Everyone who has registered with the new service has been contacted by SAMH and we continue to urge anyone who requires support to register with SAMH.

“If for any reason they do not want to register with SAMH they can contact our Community Mental Health Teams who will support them.

“We of course acknowledge that some existing services users remain anxious about the change of provider and new model of delivery, but there are many advantages of the new services which will be more personalised, more recovery focused, better linked to employability, accessible seven days per week, and is available across Aberdeenshire as a whole.”

Cllr Anne Allan (pictured), Chair of Aberdeenshire Council’s Communities Committee added:

“The new service is about helping people to recover and supporting them to achieve their outcomes. A buildings based service restricts the number of people who can access the service. If people cannot attend the building at the time it is open then they are excluded from the service.

“When developing our modified service specification we were made aware that many people especially in rural areas who wanted help were unable to access the previous service model. We now have a service which is accessible to all. I completely understand that people are nervous about change but I would urge them to speak to SAMH or Community Mental Health teams so we can support them on the road to their recovery.“

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Feb 072017
 

Photo courtesy of Aberdeenshire SNP.

With thanks to Aberdeenshire SNP.

Fears of another sell-out of the fishing industry grew this week with the publication of the UK Government’s White Paper on leaving the EU. 

Chairman of Aberdeenshire Council’s Fisheries Working Group and Fraserburgh SNP councillor Charles Buchan said the brief mention of fishing in the White Paper, which has only 75 pages, gave him great concern that the UK Government was gearing-up to repeat the sell-out of the fishing industry first perpetrated in the 1970s.

Commenting on the development, Cllr Charles Buchan (pictured) said:

“I’m very uneasy about what has been announced in the Tory Government’s White Paper and I know that the Prime Minister’s comment last week about Spanish fishermen has made many people in the industry fearful about what may be coming down the line.

“The bottom line here is that the UK is leaving the EU and I fully support efforts to make the best possible deal from that situation as we can.  The SNP has long-argued to leave the CFP and that will be extremely beneficial to the industry – it represents a “sea of opportunity” as the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation have said.

“What we don’t want or need is for that opportunity to be traded away by the Conservative Government as it did in 1972 because it thinks it can safely use fishing as a bargaining chip in its negotiations.  The pronouncements of the last few days from Westminster make me very fearful we are about to see history repeat itself and we must stop that from happening for the sake of our coastal communities.”

A Scottish Office memo dated 9 November 1970 famously said in relation to the negotiations being conducted by the then Conservative UK Government:

in the wider UK context, they [the fishermen] must be regarded as expendable“.

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Feb 022017
 

Banffshire & Buchan Coast MSP Stewart Stevenson

With thanks to Banffshire & Buchan Coast SNP.

Fish processors in the North East of Scotland would be disproportionately hammered by reckless Tory plans to slap a £1,000 levy on EU workers in the UK following a hard Brexit.

The seafood processing sector employs thousands of EU citizens,
with the workforce largely
concentrated at individual sites in the North East. 

Immigration Minister Robert Goodwill suggested that firms could be charged £1,000 each year for every EU worker they employ.

The anti-business plans have been labelled xenophobic by former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt who is one of the EU’s chief Brexit negotiators and even criticised by senior Tory Anna Soubry who blasted the proposals as a “tax on successful businesses”. 

Figures reveal that individual businesses could be stung particularly hard by the proposed tax. Buchan’s Macduff Shellfish, for example, has a workforce of around 500 people – with 79 per cent of them non-UK EU citizens. That would mean a £395,000 annual levy imposed by the Tory government on this single business.

Around 3,000 EU citizens work in the seafood processing sector alone – with thousands more in the wider food and drink industry. The misguided Tory attack on foreign workers would mean a multimillion pound bill imposed on businesses in the North East. 

Commenting, Banffshire & Buchan Coast MSP Stewart Stevenson (pictured) said:

“The Tories are moving further and further to the right at an alarming rate.

“Their plans to tax firms an excess based on the number of European workers they have on the books are discriminatory, deeply disturbing and potentially crippling in terms of business. 

“But sadly that comes with the territory of a hard Brexit, characterised by xenophobia and Tory politicians finally peeling back the mask to reveal a dangerous and divisive agenda. 

“In my constituency alone, firms could face charges up to half a million pounds just for having the ‘audacity’ to hire workers with the right set of skills who have chosen to make Scotland their home. Many firms would face the very real consequence of cutting jobs or even facing closure. 

“It’s incumbent upon Ruth Davidson to distance herself from these comments and to make the case to her bosses at Westminster that Scotland shouldn’t suffer as a result of a Tory hard Brexit led by the loony right-wingers in her own party. 

“Before and after the referendum last year she championed Scotland remaining in the single market. It’s time she proved she’s a politician of her word.” 

Further Info:

European and External Relations Committee – The EU referendum and its implications for Scotland – Written submission from Macduff Shellfish http://www.parliament.scot/S5_European/General%20Documents/CTEER_Macduff_Shellfish.pdf

–    “As well as being an important employer in and around Mintlaw (employing in excess of 350 people in the area, and a further 150 people across our other sites and fishing fleet)”
–    “Moreover, 79% of our employees originate from other European Member States. The European labour market is a vital resource to Macduff and our continued success will be dependent upon the future flow of European workers.”

BBC News – Minister hints at £1,000 fee for EU workers: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-38581873

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Jul 082016
 

Voice’s Old Susannah takes a look over the past week’s events in the ‘Deen and beyond. By Suzanne Kelly.

DictionaryHurrah! Result! We’re to leave Europe. Or maybe not – no one knows for certain what Scotland’s future looks like at this point, but isn’t it fun and a bit exciting?
And we might get either Michael Gove or Teresa May as the new PM! The Brexiteers Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson as so magnanimous in victory that they’ve scarpered.

You might compare their running away from the result they pushed for to insects running to hide when you turn over a stone, but I know that they’re just getting ready for some further selfless acts of heroism.

Another hero who shuns the limelight is former PM Tony Blair. With the Chilcot report released this week, you’d expect Tony to take the credit for the Iraq war. After all, he saved us from those Weapons of Mass Destruction. Thanks TB.

Looking at this week’s news, here are a few little facts you might enjoy:

When the dust settles a bit on Brexit, Old Susannah will revert with more facts – that’s if anyone’s saying anything factual at all. While Scotland voted to stay, the Brexiteers said that the EU was costing us £350 million a week which could be better spent on the NHS. Clearly that in no way meant that any money saved would be spent on the NHS, which of course is in fine shape anyway.

In far more important news, it was the Portsoy Traditional Boat Festival last weekend, and the weather was largely fine. The Black Isle Brewery was on hand, as was Dyce’s new brewer, Fierce. They have some delicious gear, I bought a lovely wheat beer and a coffee and vanilla concoction. In the meantime BrewDog’s launched a few Jackhammer Variants; Jackhammer being my favourite brew with off-the-scale bitterness.

Blackhammer is my favourite; I hope to see it around for a long, long time. BrewDog is also doing its bit for up-and-coming music and comedy talent; comedy troupe Wildly Unprepared have been doing their improve thing on Thursday nights in Underdog (the venue beneath BrewDog Castlegate). Hope to see you there.

One person though has managed to end years of The Malt Mill’s and Downstairs’ nurturing of fledgling bands. Someone moved to a flat near to the venue – a venue with ‘LIVE MUSIC’ in giant letters proclaiming that the Malt Mill, which looked like a bar with live music to the rest of us – and you’d never guess it – there was live music going on at night!

If only there had been some clue that a flat on a busy commercial road close to a long-running music venue and bar might not be quiet at night! Now Old Susannah understands that people need to play music for whatever reason, and I suppose there should be some allowance in society for that kind of thing in small doses.

It was always going to be the event of the year

Perhaps the venue should have just spent £100,000 from their petty cash and soundproofed the place. After all, if you put on live bands, that means you’re rolling in money.

Hopefully we’ll get something useful in place of The Malt Mill – like a mobile phone shop or Estate Agent. And from now on, let’s all be very, very quiet when we are out on the streets late at night.

Perhaps the hero who forced this closure could let us know when it’s convenient for the rest of us to make any noise on Holburn? I’d absolutely love to hear from you. My words of congratulations for your fighting for your individual right to quiet (rather than using ear plugs, moving, or just getting used to it) and successfully closing down a place for the rest of us to hear new bands are ready any time you want to hear them. I salute you.

Finally, we will all remember where we were when celebrity misogynist Donald J Trump flew into Menie this past week. It was always going to be glamorous with Sarah Malone in attendance. It was always going to be the event of the year with the Press & Journal present. But when Rupert Murdoch AND Jerry Hall flew in as well – what can Old Susannah say? Words cannot convey how exciting this was; it was like being a part of history in the making.

How unfortunate then that a few spoilsports decided – I can’t imagine why – to hang up Mexican Flags near the course. It’s bad enough these people live close to the course in houses The Donald finds unattractive, but to add to the visual pollution – well, that was unforgiveable.

Perhaps not as unforgiveable as Trump’s people: cutting off residents’ water and electricity supplies, calling the police to arrest lawbiding journalists, blocking access for the disabled at various points on the estate, threatening a grandmother with eviction, stopping Michael Forbes from salmon fishing, or threatening to use compulsory purchase orders to steal homes – but it’s all a matter of perspective, isn’t it?

(NB – the residents decided not to stage a personal protest, but to just have the flags reminding the world of Trump’s bigotry towards Mexico and everyone who isn’t a white male billionaire. The massive amounts of news cover the flag protest generated in advance of the visit was remarkable. The brief, chaotic, rambling words of Trump to a few score of journos just didn’t cut it. With all of her professional qualifications i.e. being a former beauty queen, the polished, finely-tuned press call on the day was what I expected.).

But at this rate there won’t be any definitions, and I very much want to get back to that part of this column. By the way, this column will finish with No. 200. That will be quite enough for this format, but it doesn’t mean that I’ll take my eyes off The Granite City. Anyway, a few words – about trees and consultations in Aberdeen.

Consultation: (English noun) An exercise in which various experts and/or stakeholders are asked for their opinions and facts on a particular subject.

Peterculter Tree Cull consultation: (Aberdonian noun) An exercise in which various experts and/or stakeholders are asked for their opinions and facts on a particular subject, and the majority of people involved don’t get a look in. and facts are overlooked.

DSCN1516Secondly, the trees were old, and we’ve got enough old stuff around here anyway.

Then there was the fact that the trees were cutting down the amount of sunshine reaching one or two people in adjacent housing.

I for one know that if the sun’s not streaming in my Scottish windows 24/7 365/365, it can only mean the trees (not clouds, storms, snow, hailstones) are blocking the light.

Of course, some of the more intrepid people actually go outside when it’s sunny – but you can hardly do that if you’re living somewhere as dangerous as Peterculter.

So the city got back some responses from people who hated the trees, and cut them down.

Some councillors were very quick to defend this action too. Some councillors said that the trees were diseased and posed a hazard. That must have been a hell of a tree disease. On the one hand, it must have come up very quickly – or surely the city would have taken action before now.

On the other hand, it’s a pretty interesting kind of tree disease when instead of getting rid of the trees (or heaven forbid trying to treat it), you can decide what to do about the trees not by saying their diseased and cutting them, but by asking residents what they want done with the trees.

DSCN1513

One person at least tried unsuccessfully to get through to the relevant people at the city, but as we know, the city responds instantly to any and all queries.

Another funny thing is the city’s existing tree management policy. It seems to say that if it owns trees that are not close to a dwelling, they aren’t going to cut them down.

It’s not that I’m cynical, but I’d love to find out what the disease was that was so bad the trees had to come down but not bad enough that the residents’ opinions could have stopped it. For more info, see here.

Some people claim their responses to the consultation were unanswered. Would the city ever do that?

Tree for Every Citizen scheme: (Aberdonian noun) An exercise in which various experts and/or stakeholders are asked for their opinions only if they are from the SNH or stand to make lots of £££ from killing deer on the hill, or wear shoulder pads (Aileen ‘Ho’Malone), in which consultation existing plans to kill deer are deliberately left out, stopping the public from taking much interest, so their opinions can be ‘managed’ in the words of the SNH. 

No one objected to the proposal – until it was too late. Funny that they didn’t announce the cull when they mentioned the other operational details (rabbit fences).

Even funnier; they refused to listen to free advice from experts on how to have trees and deer. And now we have no deer and no trees. We do have a consultant who’s at least £100,000 better off. And ranger Ian Tallboys got an award from Princess Anne. Result!

The award-winning, manicured Tullos Hill forest will provide a cost-neutral lovely recreation area for city residents. Only that it’s cost a packet, cost the lives of 38 deer (give or take – the city’s record-keeping is so bad we don’t know), and the trees are in such poor shape we’ve been warned that we might have to give the government its grant money back.

That would be nothing new, the previous attempt to plant trees on this former garbage tip with very poor soil didn’t work, either – I wonder why – and cost us £43,800.

Sometimes there is no need to bother even with a token consultation, as the people of Bedford Road can tell you. If they didn’t read page 47 of the Evening Express, read community council notes and city papers – and magically deduce that a ‘bus gate’ meant they would not be allowed to drive on their street again, then it’s their tough luck.

No one thought it necessary to write to them to ask for opinions; although funnily enough, the Peterculter residents were written to about cutting down the trees (apparently 2 people said to cut them – and that was good enough for ACC).

You don’t have to consult the public over minor details like the Marischal Square project either. Just tell them an iconic, smart, forward looking building will breath new life, etc. etc. into the area, but the architects will respect the importance of Provost Skene’s house: then hope they won’t notice when the reality is nothing like the original promise.

In fact, the reality is so much better! We can barely see the provost’s house now, and I hear we might get a hamburger joint. AND – the Press & Journal are going to move in! The best loved, most cutting edge newspaper in the best-loved, most cutting edge building! Result! as they say.

Next week: Blair, Brexit, Boris

PS – An observation

I was walking through Torry one early evening, past where a small green space off Victoria Road has a small but pretty collection of flowers. A couple were there, possibly Eastern European. We said hello as I passed. They had a little girl. She was smiling from ear to ear, pointing at the flowers, and jumping up and down.

Completely devoid of any prejudice, mindless hatred, greed, or ill-will, she was just delighted to be with two obviously adoring parents, looking at beautiful flowers.

I wondered whether it was too much to ask that we stop hurting our kids by pouring our prejudices and poisons into them. Will this girl be one of the 5 who will eventually be sexually assaulted? Will she encounter kids at school who are mean to her – because their parents taught them to hate people who are ‘foreign’ or ‘different’?

Will she be encouraged to study whatever she wants to study – science, art, languages, history – or will the system channel her into ‘girlish’ activities or will well-meaning people make her study things which lead to well-paying jobs while forsaking arts and philosophy? If she were a Muslim/black/Native American/Asian child, what kinds of barriers, doors and hatred would she be experiencing before long.

I wondered, is it too much to ask that with all the problems we’ve left for the next generation that we can at the very least manage not to fill these little people with hatred and just be nice to them instead? The answer, sadly, is that it probably will be too much to ask. I hope she remembers how happy, free and innocent she was that night. I wish she could live like that always – if she and her peers could, then there’s a chance we could have another world and a far better one.

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Jun 102014
 

With thanks to Kenneth J Hutchison, Parliamentary Assistant to Dr Eilidh Whiteford MP

MP in Strichen 2

MP Dr Eilidh Whiteford in Strichen

In the last Queen’s Speech before the referendum, Banff and Buchan MP Dr Eilidh Whiteford has criticised the absence of new powers for Scotland that the pro-union political parties have been offering.

Last week, the Conservatives published the Strathclyde Report, promising that Air Passenger Duty could be quickly devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

However in the ConDem coalition Government’s program announced yesterday, no bills were announced which would see new powers devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

Dr Whiteford commented:

“The absence of any mention of Scotland by any of the Westminster parties is extraordinary. There has been much talk of what powers they might consider devolving to Scotland but once again they have bottled it – making promises but completely failing to follow through.

“The Conservatives have admitted that Air Passenger Duty could be easily and quickly devolved – but there was no mention of that in the legislative agenda. How can we believe any of their promises on more powers for Scotland?

“In September we have the opportunity to take Scotland’s future in Scotland’s hands by voting yes. This Queen’s Speech – where Scotland is completely absent and does not even feature as an after-thought – should be a wake-up call that our interests will only be served by having the decisions that affect Scotland being made in Scotland.”

For more information, contact Paul Robertson, Tel: 077020 18 444 or 01779 822 023

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Apr 252014
 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA By Bob Smith.

Trust in oor politishuns
Is noo a bittie low
Self servin leein buggers
Is fit some polls div show

Even in auld Scotia
Ess thocht is jist as bad
Some fowk o aa ages
Think Salmond a “Jack-the-lad”

Noo Eck’s a superb orator
As politishun nae sae gweed
Coortin yon Rupert Murdoch
So’s SNP’s thochts he wull us feed

It’s nae fer the first time
“Wee Eck”  his bin accused
O haen some secret meetins
An his poseeshun he’s abused

Some say he uses bluster
In Parlimint at Holyrood
Instead o answerin a question
Aboot the asker he’s fair rude

A freen o myn the ither day
His opeenion he did gie
Aboot politishuns in oor kwintra
He wisna complimentary

“Wee Eck” he thocht average
Nicola Sturgeon wis nae eese
Johann Lamont she wis useless
Aboot Ruth Davidson jist said Jeez

A’m nae a political animal
Een’s as bad’s the ither
Bi they fer independence
Or fer  “Better Tigither”

Fin it cams ti September
Wull it bi hairt or heid?
Wull it cum doon ti believin
Fitivver shite they us feed?

So fit wye wull I vote
Wull it bi aye or no?
A dinna believe ony bugger
A’ll jist bide wi the status quo

 ©Bob Smith “The Poetry Mannie”2014
Image: The Houses of Parliament, seen across Westminster Bridge.
Released into the public domain by Adrian Pingstone.

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Oct 182013
 

Old Susannah, aka Suzanne Kelly, gets to grips with her greens this week, with the never-ending Union Terrace Gardens saga, GM crops and various vegetables – including Eric Pickles – all vying for news coverage this past week.

Dictionary

Another vibrant and dynamic, connectivity-laden, smart, successful Scottish week passes in Aberdeen.

The weather is taking a turn for the cooler at night, and I’m starting to throw old unread copies of the Evening Express (is there any other kind?) onto the fire at night (living without central heating has its charms).

Alas, I’ve been down in London and missed many events here, including Thrashist Regime, who I’m told were so lively the staid Lemon Tree staff were freaking out at all the rule infractions the band committed.

London was wonderful, but the Londoners seem to think they can manage without one central square smack in the geographical centre of town.  Somehow they carry on, in a city which is more like a series of different villages, each with its own ‘green/living/vibrant/dynamic’ heart, as our Evening Express reporters would put it.

Why, they haven’t even drawn up a map to show what is the Civic Zone or the Merchant Quarter, like we’ve done.  London clearly needs a transformational project – if only one man with a horrific – sorry terrific vision would come along, put money on London’s table (well theoretical money anyway) and tell Boris Johnson what to build and where to build it, London would start to thrive.

Thankfully, we have Sir Ian Wood.

Looking at aerial maps of London, huge great green open spaces abound.  Some call these parks/wildlife reserves/wetland centres/leisure spaces. Some people hold that these green spaces help give London a decent air quality, encourage wildlife, provide leisure space – even decrease stress levels and improve fitness.

Such spaces are, at least to the more sophisticated billionaire and ACSEF member, development opportunities. Oddly, London chooses to build in its disused brownfield rather than ‘transforming’ its green areas. Thankfully, we’re not falling for that stuff here. (I did hear a rumour that Hampstead Heath was going to be lowered to ground level for greater accessibility and connectivity. Watch this space).

Trafalgar Square remains a focal point, but it is far too small.

That will make London and Moscow take note.

At some 12,000 square metres for a population that’s around 8 million, it’s clear they are out of step with our Aberdonian city square project, otherwise known as the thing that wouldn’t die. Our much needed outdoor square will, if Sir Ian gets his way, be larger than Moscow’s Red Square.

Perhaps Aberdeen’s quangos, committees and elite have more in common with Moscow than London, come to think on it.

The City Square/Granite Web/Garden Project is proof that reincarnation is real; the thing just keeps coming back under new names, with increasingly beautiful, workable, desirable details.  Our broken heart (aka Union Terrace Gardens) could have had a new beating heart (copyright Evening Express), dwarfing both Trafalgar and Red Squares, for our population which is around, er, a quarter of a million people.

That will make London and Moscow take note.

You have to hand it to Sir Ian Wood (or so he thinks); he is persistent.  If half the goings-on I hear of were true for his retinue, finding time for any granite web project flogging would be nigh on impossible.

Aside from London’s museums, I saw the amazing Deborah Bonham and band at the Half Moon in Putney; I hope that someone is working on getting them an Aberdeen date…

Returning from London to the Deen, I eagerly bought the first P&J I could find, and started to catch up on the news; learning that former top cop Ian Paterson has just been found guilty of sexually harassing and assaulting several women over time.  Looking back over old news stories, council records and so on, I find he was involved not only with the AVCO but also with groups working with young and vulnerable people.  How wonderful.

Old Susannah remembers first moving to the Deen, and reading stories about old people being neglected, abused and mistreated in residential homes.  There was even a home that had a broken lift for weeks – leaving people stranded and unable to get outside (I’ll bet it was a jolly adventure and fun for them, rather than a hardship).

Some might find his behaviour sleazy, contemptible, inexcusable, predatory and degrading

Naively I wanted to do my part, and I called my nearest residential home, asking how I could volunteer / help.  ‘Oh, no, you have to get all kinds of clearance and be security checked’ was the response I got; I was definitely discouraged from taking it further.  Fair enough – leave the volunteer work to the professionals, I thought.

All the while, some people were allowed access to vulnerable, young and old people because they were important – like Paterson.

Kindly, Patting Paterson would ‘comfort’ women – whether they wanted him to or not – by touching them where he had no business touching them. Sounds very comforting indeed.  Then again, he only did this for a few years to a score of women. If those around him knew about this, they were quite right to leave it be, so he could continue ‘comforting’ others.

Some might find his behaviour sleazy, contemptible, inexcusable, predatory and degrading, but you can’t argue with a policeman, or indeed an ex-policeman, can you?

Old Susannah wonders now just who his friends/colleagues were (kerb crawling ex-councillors perhaps like Gordon Leslie?). Who knew what of his activities? What work was he presiding over as Chief Superintendent, or as chief executive of Aberdeen Council of Voluntary Organisations?

Could his actions and decision-making have been compromised at any time? Could he have been coerced or influenced by people who knew what he was doing? Was he around when the police were tasked by Audit Scotland to look into the dodgy property dealings uncovered in 2008?

Thankfully, we don’t need to bother with any such questions, because it’s all in the past.  The police could find no wrong-doing on the former council’s part, for instance when we sold land for peanuts, ripping off the taxpayer, and keeping very shoddy records.  Who knows what could be unravelled, but I’ll certainly not be pulling at that loose piece of yarn on the jumper, will I?

Time for some definitions (and a shot of BrewDog’s Watt Dickie) after thinking over this week’s news.  Note to self – I must try some ‘Hello my name is Sonja’, a new addition to the ‘Hello’ BrewDog collection.  And to Messrs Dickie & Watt, and all at the BrewDog Aberdeen Bar, a Happy Third Birthday.

Garden Salad: (modern English compound noun) – A dish comprising leafy and other vegetables, or a recipe for same.

Take one small, perfectly formed natural hollow, fill with trees, greens and flowers. Add greed, a pinch of desperation for immortality, and lashings of ego. Add in various vegetables (Tom Smith, Ian Wood, Stewart Milne, etc.) and toss.  Add a few hundred inches of column spaces, revoltingly poor architectural grandiosity, and unintelligible drawings.

Garnish lavishly with hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayer money (for consultants, PR, etc.). Serve with a side helping of indigestible financial sauce. Add £50 million pounds; remove; add again; remove. This dish can be served again and again. And again. Keep serving until someone, somewhere swallows. Best eaten out of Sir Ian’s hands.

Yes, he’s at it again.  We can’t keep our only city centre green space, despite having so much unused brownfield, because Wood wants it.

Barney Crockett has promised that if the garden is raised, it will not be for parking spaces – which are what was wanted by the ACSEF/Wood mob in the first place.  If you have any opinions on this, please let your elected councillors know, lest they then turn around and say no one ever got in touch with them.

Let your council know how great a glass pyramid will be, or how ruining the back side of Belmont Street’s businesses which overlook the park will somehow add to connectivity.  Tell your councillor how destroying our only natural wind break, getting rid of the few city centre trees we have will mean to your sense of transformation.

Pickles: (English noun) A sour, bitter, bloated vegetable, preserved in brine.

Eric Pickles. Where does one even start with this one man’s accomplishments?  He’s been in the news again lately, and like me, I’m sure you relish reading about him. I love to ketchup with his doings, even if some people find Pickles unpalatable.

MP Pickles claimed expenses for a second home so he wouldn’t have to commute the massive 37 mile trek from his first home to Westminster.  (I wonder if Pickles’ second home is close to the Gherkin?) This may have seemed a bit greedy to some, but for Eric to have to travel so far to get to work just wouldn’t have been right.

If he was tired in the House of Commons, he might not be able to cut the mustard. He also needed at least £300 in cleaning expenses, which he kindly repaid when asked to, at the height of the MPs expense scandal.

One of the reasons he’s rated so highly is his love of the countryside, as development opportunity anyway. As Secretary of State, he refused to call in controversial plans which saw a vast swathe of historic Dover and an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty turned into a housing development / complex.

Area residents found Pickles jarring.

If the refusal to listen to a public demand sounds familiar to anyone in the Balmedie area, another quote from this particular debacle may ring bells with Union Terrace Gardens watchers: defenders of the plan said “This is about building for the future; unlocking the economic potential of our heritage assets.”  – the tone of which somehow seems familiar to me.
http://pickles_public_inquiry_into_controversial_development

You can’t help but wonder if Pickles and his supporters would find a spiritual home in city and shire.

teenagers at the Kendall House home in Gravesend were restrained with huge doses of tranquillisers

He was also instrumental in getting rid of greenbelt in Yorkshire, Liverpool and other formerly boring areas in favour of skyscrapers and parking lots- and a gas plant in Tewkesbury where the objections were virtually unanimous.  We do need a man of his vision here.

But in his latest pickle, Eric told a woman with health issues, who had severe side effects to ‘increase her medication’ as he wisely disputed her story of residential care home forced drugging. His friend (yes, I didn’t know he had any either) told the BBC that Pickles “was giving her a frank piece of advice in private. It wasn’t meant in any way to offend or insult her”. 

What a nice guy.  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-24324556

The BBC story goes on to say “An investigation… claimed that teenagers at the Kendall House home in Gravesend were restrained with huge doses of tranquillisers and other drugs… 10 girls who were heavily sedated while living at the care home during the 1970s and 1980s went on to have children with a range of birth defects.”  – Doesn’t sound like much of a big deal to me; perhaps upping her medication was just Eric’s fatherly, well-meant advice.  With Pickles around, there is never a dill moment.

Golden Rice: (Modern English noun) A genetically modified, patented rice variety.

Are you one of those people who are unsure about GM foods – not certain that Monsanto should be able to splice genetic material from arctic fish into strawberries, own entire strains of food, seek a monopoly on existing seed businesses, charge farmers each season for food crops rather than farmers being able to store and use their own seed?

Are you unsure about environmental and health aspects of newly-nascent GM plants entering our food chain? Do you have ethical qualms about the third world being indebted to Monsanto forever for using GM food?  Maybe you’re not convinced farmers should be sued for theft when GM pollen gets into their own crops (as happened in Canada)?

Then Minister Owen Paterson knows what you are: wicked.

Paterson said as much to the BBC; quite rightly too.  The proliferation of GM food into our environment is nothing to fear at all, no more so than when the pesticide DDT came into wide use, and was hailed by the Patersons of the day. Of course, traces of the deadly stuff can now be found in EVERY living organism in the planet, but there you go; no harm done.

There may have been the occasional reason to harbour doubts about scientific advancements, but Science is always right, and technological advances are not made for profit, but for the betterment of the world in every instance.  The odd nuclear accident, Thalidomide birth defects, tranquilisers with deadly side effects such as Halcyon – that sort of thing doesn’t happen anymore, well hardly ever.

Don’t question, don’t worry, don’t object – doing so is wicked.  Where would we be without the guiding moral compass of Paterson and his ilk?

You wicked people should be ashamed; Paterson also says it is your fault people are starving in the third world, and golden rice will solve everything.  That’s you told, then.  And here I was thinking centuries of colonialism, civil war, disease, violence and draught were to blame.

Next week:  A look at recent Trump news including his classy new roadside sign and 2012 accounts; a glance at Stewart Milne-related news, and more definitions.

Confidential to anyone who is feeling old:  In passing, someone in their mid 50s told me they were old. First of all, I was Old Susannah way before anyone else decided to be old. Secondly, don’t be old if you don’t want to be old. One of the most youthful people I’ll ever meet was Les Paul (the guitarist and innovator).

I had the extreme pleasure of watching him play many times. There was nothing like it; the music he made; the passion for what he was doing all kept him at a mental age of perhaps 21. He’d joke; he always smiled; he had a twinkle in his eye, and he loved every moment. (And I wish I could see and hear him again). Did he have pains, aches, heartache, problems the same as the rest of us? Absolutely. He just chose to be young.

I hope to be as young as he was one of these days. Anyone who’s reading this at a computer/phone, in a warm building with food in their stomach is pretty lucky compared to most of the rest of the world, something too easily forgotten. If you have some kind of talent or gift, you have much more reason to lighten up.

Refuse to be jaded. Carpe Diem. Do something new. Go somewhere you’ve never been. Go on an adventure. Start something. I can promise you, you can stay young in heart and mind if you want to. As they say, ‘this is not a dress rehearsal’.

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May 132013
 

Voice’s Old Susannah takes a look over the past week’s events in the ‘Deen and beyond. By Suzanne Kelly.

Apologies for the late arrival of this service; it’s been a busy week.

John Aberdein, author of works including Strip the Willow, was in town, and I am pleased to have been able to spend some time with him.

We met at the May Day March, where a surprisingly large number of people attended.

You almost got a sense that people weren’t all that happy with the way central government is bringing us economic prosperity.

There were some interesting speeches on issues such as the bedroom tax, health assessments, inflation, loss of workers’ rights, forced employment, austerity, exploiting young workers, service cuts and closures, and other trivialities. 

For some reason I could only see Labour councillors around.

I’d hoped some of our Conservative and LibDem councillors would be on hand to dispel the Labour propaganda; they could have for instance given back-up for the Department of Work & Pensions’ claim that one in four people on sickness benefit is fit for work.  I’d have also appreciated their reassurances that everything is fine and that ‘we’re all in it together’.

I keep meaning to ask a ConDem councillor exactly what ‘it’ is that we’re all in together?  Economic prosperity?  Fair taxes and a fair society?  A bed of roses?  I’d love to ask for instance Councillor Gillian Owen what ‘it’ is, but alas!  She’s not going to be communicating with me.

I could conceivably have done or written something upsetting, but I now have the anxiety of waiting until Christmas time to see whether or not she’ll be sending me a card.

Rather than only offering definitions this week, I thought a portrait of Councillor Owen might make a refreshing and pleasant change, together with some related timely terms.

Councillor Gillian Owen: (Proper noun; name of an elected official in Aberdeenshire)

Conservative Party Councillor for Ellon & District, Aberdeenshire Council. Chair of the Council’s Chair of Aberdeenshire Council’s Scrutiny and Audit Committee

Councillor Gillian Owen is a multitalented woman, serving her ward and its constituents, overseeing the Scrutiny and Audit Committee, and, er. working at Snappy Snaps now and then.

Alas!  I seem to have offended the lady; I’ve no idea how that could be.  Some weeks ago, a number of Aberdeenshire residents gave me permission to write to their councillors on their behalf.  Oddly enough, some residents don’t think their elected officials are taking them and their views seriously enough.

clearly she wanted me to call instead, as she sent her mobile number

When I wrote to councillors, some were slightly hostile; some were slightly helpful, and some simply didn’t write back to me or their constituents (they probably get so much fan mail that they don’t really have time to answer it all).

But Cllr Owen’s modest replies warmed my heart and the hearts of those voters who’d asked me to write to her in the first place.

When first contacted about her friend Donald Trump’s development and its slight tendency to occasionally deviate from the plan, she wrote:-

“As previously requested remove this email. I do not wish to receive emails from you.”

I did try to remove the email, but I didn’t have much luck.  She said she didn’t want to receive emails from me; clearly she wanted me to call instead, as she sent her mobile number.

I thought I’d clarify why I was writing, and sent this:-

“Reminder Councillor:  I am writing at the behest of your constituents – shall I tell them you do not want to hear from them?  Thank you for clarifying//END”

To which Gillian Owing-Trump-A-Favour replied:-

‘NO I JUST WANT TO HEAR FROM THEM NOT YOU.’-

Which was rather thoughtful; full caps are so much easier for Old Susannah to read.  Her constituents who’d asked me to write were touched by this warm exchange; no doubt these words deserve a wider audience.

Scrutiny and Audit Committee: (compound proper noun) A group within Aberdeenshire Council looking into issues including:-

  • “Residents and Employee Surveys;
  • “Internal and external audit reports;
  • ” Issues raised by residents, local community groups and external organisations…”

Residents of course already know how deeply their councillors care about their concerns.  It is reassuring Cllr Owen is at the helm, helping to decide what issues raised by residents will be scrutinised and audited.

As David Milne’s petition going before Holyrood on 14 May has nearly 19,000 signatories demanding a public inquiry into the handling of the post-approval developments at Trump Scotland, Gillian will doubtless prioritise this issue for her constituents.  I’d ask her to confirm this myself, but she’s not going to answer.

If any readers living in the Shire would like her committee to look at issues of policing, security, environment, rights of access, adherence to the Outdoor Access Code and so on at the Menie Estate, she can be contacted at Cllr.G.Owen@aberdeenshire.gov.uk  – just tell her Old Susannah sent you.

‘And what are the values of this committee?’ I practically hear people asking.  They are:-

“Open, Transparent, Investigative, Deliberative, Evidence-based, Accountable, Responsive, Inclusive, Influencing, Flexible, Proactive, Non-partisan and Outward Looking.”

How important indeed it is to be open, transparent, accountable and responsive is reflected in so many things councillors do.  As an aide to that transparency and openness, electors have the right to know more about their councillors.  One way this noble aim is accomplished is via the Register of Interests.

Register of Interests: (compound noun) A detailed record, legally required, showing the outside interests (paid and unpaid), hospitality received and other activities of councillors so that any potential conflicts of interest can be identified and compromising situations avoided.

Codes of ethics and standards are hardly necessary for our elected officials; I for one am happy to take it on good faith that they are all working without any thought of reward other than their salaries and that they would not compromise themselves by taking inappropriate hospitality.

For instance First Minister Alex Salmond is still feeling the heat for meeting with Donald Trump while planning issues were being discussed.  At least I guess he must have recorded the hospitality on his register of interests’ entry.  Not doing so would be rather naughty indeed.  I do get the feeling that any future dinners are somewhat unlikely.

“The Register is accurate as at today’s date [April 25 2013]”  – an Aberdeenshire council employee confirmed to me recently.  I had asked for clarification, as amazingly, Councillor Owen’s record did not show any remuneration, shares, election expenses, or gifts and hospitality.

Many are impressed by this saintly abstention from gifts and hospitality; it contrasts greatly with the record of old City councillor Kate Dean [Who she?  Ed], who had managed to get to a heck of a lot of events indeed.  No, our Councillor Owen is too busy to write to me or for any socialising or gift-getting.  Canonisation cannot be far off.

Newsletter: (noun) A means, printed or electronic, of updating people on current events, news, etc.

One thing Councillor Owen does have time for is keeping us all updated on the latest news.  Her newsletter can normally be found here (I have randomly chosen a lovely story link from the site):-

http://gillianowen.yourcllr.com/2012/07/11/gillian-visits-the-trump-international-golf-links/.

But alas!  This newsletter website was down last night.  Happily it is back up and running now, for I foresee an increased interest in it.

Just in case the site is not working when any Aberdeen Voice readers try to access it I’m certain that Cllr Owen-us-an-explanation will be more than happy for me to share this lovely photo, which I managed to save as a screenshot from her newsletter some time ago:-

It’s amazing what can happen when two world-class celebrities get together; I don’t know about you, but I simply adore this image.

This is text of the story in case it can’t be accessed on line for some reason:-

“I had the pleasure today to see at first had the new Trump International Golf Links at Menie. I must say it was a marvellous sight and a fantastic golf course.  I have supported this development since it came before the Area committee five years ago and have always believed that it will provide the North East with a superb facility and a legacy which will grow and one day I hope will host The Open.  Enjoy a couple of the photos that I took today!”  

Thank you Gillian, we will enjoy the rest of those photos indeed. (I fear my odds of getting my copy of the Owen-Trump photograph signed are somewhat low; if any readers who are getting glossy prints made of this great picture autographed could ask for a spare signed copy one for me, I’d be most grateful.  I might however just run down to Snappy Snaps to get some blow-ups made.  I suppose Gillian got her copies made there; I wonder if there was an employee discount.)

Let’s hope it was a very very quick visit or our Councillor would have been tempted to have a coffee, tea, or meal – and as we know, the prices for a bite at the temporary clubhouse are slightly more expensive than a Big Mac Meal.

Obviously, any hospitality taken in July at the world’s greatest golf course would have shown up on the gifts register, particularly as Owen-Trump-A-Lunch seems likely to have voting power which could benefit her friend and ours, Donald.   Again if anyone wanted to bring any issues to the attention of Cllr Owen for scrutiny, please see her email address above.

While I am at it, another useful website address just happens to be at hand; this is for Standards Commission Scotland   http://www.standardscommissionscotland.org.uk/ .  If you have for any reason any issues of potential conflict of interests, incomplete register of interest entries and so on, the Standards Commission might be a good website to visit.

Next week:  A look at some recent Freedom of Information requests, and possibly some more on ethics, conflict of interest, gifts, hospitality and so on

PS:  All the best to David Milne tomorrow as he attends Holyrood trying to get a much-needed public inquiry into the catalogue of disasters that ensued following planning permission going to Trump at Menie.  At last count there were over 19,000 people wanting answers as to how the planners, councillors, police, environmental advisory group MEMAG, the countryside access officers and so on acted.   Holyrood has to agree to this inquiry.

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May 092013
 

By Suzanne Kelly. 

This year’s Mayday March in Aberdeen impressed everyone with a sizeable turnout.

Some 500 people marched down Union Street to the Castlegate, where speeches were delivered by Trade Union representatives, politicians, and local activists.

Unison, Aberdeen Trade Unions  Council, UCATT, CWU, PCS, EIS, Aberdeen Against Austerity and campaign group ‘Save Bramble Brae School’ were among those represented.

Len Ironside, Barney Crockett, Willie Young, Dame Anne Begg and Lewis MacDonald were among the marchers, as was local writer John Aberdein.

It was hardly surprising the turnout was so high. Severe budget cuts, austerity measures, economic uncertainty, bizarre taxes (i.e. bedroom tax) and arcane health checks on benefit claimants imposed by the ruling Conservative-Liberal Democrat government (which is also creating tax loopholes for the wealthy): there was no shortage of reasons to march.

The speeches were arguably the most important part of the day.

Barney Crockett, Aberdeen City Council Leader welcomed everyone.

Dame Anne Begg spoke of many labour issues – there are those who want jobs and cannot find them; young people are being given low (if any) wages, people are forced to take jobs they are unsuited to in order to retain benefits, and people with special needs and different abilities have problems finding employers who are willing to make it easier for them to work.

As to ATOS and other companies giving such assessments, Anne commented that government health agents should be there to help us, not to make us feel ill.

Ian Tasker of STUC reminded all that the Conservatives had wanted to do away with the tradition of Mayday being a holiday and a celebration of workers completely; Cameron had feebly suggested moving this ancient, worldwide tradition to November – hardly a conducive time to get people together for marches and outdoor rallies.

Speakers highlighted virtually all of the issues facing workers at this time when wages are not increasing nearly enough to meet inflation and increasing (and increasingly bizarre and punitive) taxes.

Aberdeen Against Austerity members wrote a speech, delivered by member Jill.   Jill went for a positive approach to the current situation; saying:-

“Everyone here cares enough to march down Union Street on a Saturday morning.  What we need to do is harness this energy and focus it on dealing with the problem we face today.

“The problem is not corporate tax avoidance.

“The problem is not even the Con-Dem government.

“The problem is much bigger than that!

“The problem is that we live in a world where profit comes before people.

“A world where the price of a T-shirt is £5, but the cost is the lives of 500 Bangladeshi workers.  The problem is that we live in a world where corporations have more power than half the countries.  The problem is our whole capitalist system.

“So what can we do about it?

“First, we can change the way we think.

“We need to challenge the myth that austerity is the answer to the nation’s economic problems. Austerity measures are simply a deepening of the neo-liberal experiment that got us here in the first place. The drive to cut welfare and privatise our services is purely ideological- the free market economy loved so by Margaret Thatcher and expanded by Tony Blair.

“We must also challenge the current strategy of demonising benefit claimants and immigrants. It is a cynical ploy by the establishment to deflect criticism away from themselves…. Through small personal actions we can start to change the world:

“Sign an online petition. Write to your MP. Tell them you don’t want to pay to bail out banks just so that they can continue to make profits for their shareholders!

“Join a credit union.  Boycott companies who do bad things.  Better still, opt out of the consumer culture which exists only to fill the offshore bank accounts of people like Philip Green.

“If we look at the cost of an item in human and environmental terms we might start to say no to the automatic phone upgrade or yet another pair of cheap trainers made by a child on the other side of the world. We can change the way we think and take small personal actions but we can also join together and reclaim democracy. Then we can really start to make a change.”

The speeches concluded, and everyone was treated to a celebration in Union Terrace Gardens. Even the sun eventually showed up.

Children enjoyed face painting and comedy from Wildly Unprepared; all enjoyed food from Café 52, music from a variety of acts, and the Guarana  Street Drummers, who had led the march.

Things are changing fast economically, socially and politically with amazing speed at present;  it remains to be seen where will we be next year.

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