Jan 162014
 

march2611picAberdeen Trades Union Council have expressed concerns at Police Scotland plans for Aberdeen HQ.

At its first meeting of 2014, delegates of Aberdeen Trades Union Council expressed grave concern at the lack of clarity regarding Police Scotland’s plans for Aberdeen.
Kevin Hutchens, an Executive Committee member and spokesperson for Aberdeen TUC stated:

“There is great concern that no public statement has been made confirming the future use of the Queen St offices of Police Scotland.

“It would be disastrous for many of our members who live and work in Aberdeen if these facilities are lost, especially on the back of the already announced Court Closures which are progressing at pace, with Stonehaven Court due to close at the end of May this year.

”We have particular concern for the many shopworkers, bus drivers and all other public sector workers who daily provide a service to the city.

“While call centres can provide a valuable service there is no real substitute for the face to face support a Police Officer at a community based public access front desk can provide.

“Needless to say it is also crucial that front line investigations of crime should also be pursued from the City Centre HQ.”

Kevin Hutchens went on to say:

“We are therefore calling on Police Scotland to confirm the long term future of the Aberdeen Queen Street HQ and all the services it provides there.”

For any further comment, Kevin Hutchens Unite delegate and ATUC Executive committee member can be contacted on 01569 763994 or 07948 555 066

Brian Carroll, Interim Secretary ATUC and PCS Union Branch Secretary can be contacted on 07826 890 342

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Nov 252013
 

With thanks to Aberdeen Women’s Alliance.

AWA Stall in Union Square3

Members of AWA at their stall in Union Square. L-R Sandra Macdonald, Dianne Drysdale, Norma Grant and Deidre Mitchell.

On Saturday, Aberdeen Women’s Alliance (AWA) marked the United Nation’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women by collecting donations for local charity, Rape and Abuse Support (RAS) in Union Square.

International Elimination of Violence Against Women Day is marked annually by AWA to raise awareness of the forms of violence that women locally and around the world are subject to.

By highlighting this particular day, AWA aim to draw attention to the scale and true nature of violence against women, most of which is hidden from public view.

Chair of AWA, Sandra Macdonald said:

“Recent figures from Police Scotland show that offences of domestic violence in Aberdeen have increased by 36 per cent and there has been a rise in reported sexual assaults. It is, therefore, vital that we all continue to raise awareness of violence against women and we were delighted that so many people took time out from their Christmas shopping to speak to us about these issues.

“Through the generous donations we received, we raised £189.90 which will support the excellent work that RAS do to inform the public of the nature and extent of sexual violence as well as broadening understanding of how appropriate responses can be developed to prevent it.”

RAS provides support and advocacy to female survivors of sexual violence, whether recent or historical, as well as challenging public attitudes towards rape through outreach work.

Oct 242013
 

UTG long - Credit: Mike ShepherdBy Bob Smith.

Widdie’s noo back,wi mair bliddy cack
The fifty million is back on the table
Bit only ye see, if wi him ye agree
Aat there’s only ae horse in the stable

John Halliday’s plan, seems nae aneuch gran
The gairdens they still wull be sunken
Is it his fear, aat fowk they drink beer
In the airches wi an attitude drunken?

The plans need transformin, afore the mannie is warmin
Tae ony ideas the chiel wid see fit
If it’s nae tae street livel, t’is the wark o the devil
Onything else Sir Ian sees as shit

The P&J it dis cry, compromise wi shud try
Nae chunce o ess cumin tae pass
Sir Ian his a goal, tae fill in the bowl
An smore the gairdens en masse

Widdie’s “olive brunch”, fin it cums tae the crunch
Is nithing the sort if ye think
An ultimatum mair like, an een wi shud spike
Tho the eyn gemme is noo at its brink

So fa’ll raise the bar, in ess oot an oot war?
Wull fifty million bi seen as a bribe?
An concrete wull flow, on the girss doon alow
On champagne Sir Ian wull imbibe

Can the gairdens survive, fowks hopes kept alive
Or micht it dee in a nest o vipers?
Wull siller win the day, in aa ess affray
Help’t oot bi some ither snipers?

© Bob Smith “The Poetry Mannie” 2013

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May 112013
 

With thanks to Brian Carroll.

Following on from the action which Public and Commercial Services ( PCS ) members took on Budget day, 20 March 2013, and on Tax Return Day on 5 and 8 April 2013, PCS branches in the Scottish devolved sector will be taking part in a 3 day rolling programme of action from Monday 13 May until Wednesday 15 May.

The action will be taken as follows:-

Monday 13 May

Justice Sector (All day) Registers of Scotland (pm only)
Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (all day)
Registers of Scotland (pm only)
Scottish Courts Service (all day)
Scottish Prison Service (all day)

Tuesday 14 May

Registers of Scotland (am only) Culture Sector branches (pm only)
Creative Scotland (pm only)
Historic Scotland (pm only)
National Galleries of Scotland (pm only)
National Library of Scotland (pm only)
National Museums of Scotland (pm only)
Registers of Scotland (am only)
VisitScotland (pm only)

Wednesday 15 May

Culture Sector Branches (am only)
Scottish Government, Scottish Parliament and related public bodies (all day)
Architecture and Design Scotland – all day
Audit Scotland – all day
Creative Scotland – (am only)
Highlands and Islands Airports – all day
Highlands and Islands Enterprise – all day
Historic Scotland – (am only)
National Galleries of Scotland (am only)
National Library of Scotland (am only)
National Museums of Scotland (am only)
Risk Management Authority – all day
Scotland’s Commission for Children and Young People – all day
Scottish Enterprise – all day
Scottish Government – all day
Scottish Natural Heritage – all day
Scottish Parliament – all day
Scottish Public Services Ombudsman – all day
Skills Development Scotland – all day
Sportscotland – all day
Visit Scotland – (am only)

This covers a multitude of workplaces over different days. This Branch, Scottish Courts Branch, is part of the Justice Sector and will be taking action All Day Monday 13 May 2013 and Picket Lines will be in place in all major court locations from around 7am to 10am and members will be taking action in all courts.

This is action to defend our Pay, our Pensions, our T&C’s, jobs and services.

We are requesting that the Government enter into National Negotiation around these issues and for a fair settlement to be arrived at.

The Government Refuses to talk, so we are walking !

Apr 222013
 

With thanks to Brian Carroll.

The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) have called on Justice minister Kenny McAskill to reject the recommendations of the Scottish Court Service (SCS) to close courts across Scotland as part of a cost cutting exercise.

The union, which represents staff in the courts service, has been actively campaigning for the retention of access to justice in the communities affected across Scotland, including a substantial response to the SCS consultation and evidence submitted to the Scottish Parliament.

Lynn Henderson, PCS Scottish Secretary said:

“The Scottish Courts Service and the minister claim that no one will lose their job because of these closures but some staff stand to lose substantial sums of money if their court closes.  

“The Justice Secretary must ensure that the guarantee of no compulsory redundancy is met and that staff are not forced to give up their job if their court closes and their job is relocated.”

Brian Carroll, Secretary of the PCS Scottish Courts Branch said:

“The closure of 10 Sheriff Courts, the proposal to consolidate sheriff and jury trials and high court business will mean vast areas of the country will be left with no courts to deal with anything but minor criminal cases.  

“This will affect not only the accused, but also witnesses, jurors and victims of crime.  These proposals will also affect all those who wish to use the civil courts and who wish to apply for adoptions and commissary applications.

“We are extremely disappointed that Ministers appear to have accepted the recommendations made by the Scottish Courts Service without examining the full impact of the permanent removal of sheriff courts from communities across Scotland.  

“It will mean staff and users of the courts will have to travel substantial distances to attend and will reduce the access to justice for all users.”

Apr 122013
 

As more vital services continue to be closed or cut back, the Courts too are under pressure.  Brian Carroll of the PCS Scottish Courts Branch explains.

Brian Carroll, Branch Secretary of the PCS Scottish Courts Branch, expressed  extreme disappointment that the Scottish Courts Service is pressing ahead with its proposal to close courts across Scotland:-

“Despite the substantial opposition and number of negative responses to the consultation, proposals have survived almost totally intact.  We are sure that this decision will be greeted with dismay, not just by our members who will be affected, but also within the communities they serve.

“It is our opinion that these proposals are about fitting the delivery of justice into a reduced budget and nothing to do with modernisation or with the proposed justice reforms that are under consultation presently. The introduction of any reforms is not reliant on the closure of courts.”

Lynn Henderson PCS Scottish secretary said:-

“This is a bitter blow to our members in those courts threatened with closure as well as to the public, as yet another in a long line of public services suffers from the ravages of the cuts agenda.

“PCS will continue to work unstintingly to ensure that the interests of those members affected are protected. We will also campaign vigorously against these proposals on behalf of our members and to ensure proper access to justice for all the people of Scotland.”

Dec 272012
 

With thanks to Brian Carroll.

The Public and Commercial Services Union Scotland (PCS)  has expressed opposition to plans for closing local courts across Scotland.

The union which represents staff of the Scottish Courts Service outlined their opposition in its response to the SCS consultation on plans to close 11 sheriff courts across Scotland.

PCS welcomes the £10 million increase in spending on maintenance of courts announced in the Autumn Statement by the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Finance.

Brian Carroll, PCS Scottish Courts Service Branch Secretary said

“We have today submitted our response to the consultation on future court structures. PCS along with solicitors and other interest groups oppose the closure of 11 sheriff courts which seriously threatens the public access to justice, particularly in rural areas.”

Lynn Henderson, PCS Scottish Secretary said

“Following years of underspending many court buildings are in a sorry state. But this cannot be used as an excuse for closing courts. An extra £10 million investment can make a difference to the courts estate, but it does not address the £57 million backlog.  

“PCS seeks proper investment in vital public services and access to justice across Scotland.”

More about PCS.

The Public & Commercial Services Union represents over 280,000 members in the civil and public services and in the privatised commercial sector, over 30,000 of which are in Scotland. It is the 5th largest trade union affiliated to the TUC and STUC. The general secretary is Mark Serwotka and the president is Janice Godrich – on Twitter @janicegodrich. The Scottish Secretary is Lynn Henderson.

If you require any further information please contact Joy Dunn, Parliamentary, Campaigns, Media and Research Officer contact mobile 07707 311 589 email joy@pcs..org.uk

Oct 262012
 

Trade union and community organisation members from the North-East join a demonstration against austerity.  With thanks to Brian Carroll, Chair/ President of Aberdeen Trades Union Council

Over 10,000 demonstrators gathered in George Square in Glasgow, from 10 o’clock onwards last Saturday morning to send out a message to the Government –

“ Stop what you’re doing or the economy will implode!
“Stop messing with our pay, pensions, terms and conditions!
“Invest in the future of our country and start investing for jobs, services, protecting those most in need – the youth of today!”

That is what is needed for a fair, just, equal, modern and diverse society and that is what Government should be delivering on.

This was a day which saw the people of Britain join people in Greece, Portugal, Spain, Italy and France in saying ‘NO’ to austerity.

The demonstrators then marched through the centre of Glasgowto a Rally on Glasgow Green where speaker after speaker gave the message –

“Give us Investment NOT austerity!  Austerity isn’t working!”

All major Unions, community organisations, activists and the general public were represented on the march, as was “Youth Fight for Jobs”, intrepid youngsters who had marched to Glasgow from Stirling

Aberdeen and the North East were well represented with union members from all the major trade unions as well as community organisations and local activists who travelled to Glasgow to be part of this event

It was a great day with PCS (Public and Commercial Services Union) Scottish Secretary, Lynn Henderson stating at the rally, to huge cheers and applause from the crowd:

“Let’s start the fightback, right here right now.  

“Come together, stand together, fight together and together we will win!”

Sep 272012
 

The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) today criticised proposals for court closures.  Lynn Henderson, Scottish Secretary & National Officer for Northern Ireland, Public and Commercial Services Union issued a statement to Aberdeen Voice.

The Scottish Court Service announced today a consultation on Future Court Structures that could lead to centralisation of some functions and cuts in provision and local access, shutting local courts across Scotland.  Staff were informed on Friday 21 September of the process of the consultation.

Immediately following the staff announcement, PCS Scottish Court Service Branch Chair, Brian Carroll, said:

“Our members are clearly concerned. The Union will carefully consider the contents of this consultation and will make a full and detailed response.  Our main concern will be of course to protect the interest of all members affected by these proposals. 

“However it is not just staff who will feel the impact of courts closing. The centralisation of High Court functions and Sheriff and Jury trials, cuts in JP Court provision, and the closure of almost a quarter of the country’s Sheriff Courts will be felt by all those who wish to, or are compelled to, engage with the courts system.”

PCS Scottish Secretary, Lynn Henderson said:

“There can be little doubt that the reasons behind these proposals are part and parcel of the swingeing cuts in public sector budgets which will disproportionately affect the poor and vulnerable of our society. PCS maintains that a properly resourced and funded justice system is a cornerstone of our democracy and that is what the people of Scotland need and deserve.” 

Sep 132012
 

By Suzanne Kelly. 

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

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

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

  • TIF Application:  Information Wrongfully Withheld

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And as the article says,

“That means spending money…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  People would have been influenced by hundreds of ads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Local Newspaper Coverage:  Lacking and Slanted

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

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

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

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

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

  • Democracy:  Labouring the Point

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

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

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

  • SNP Sniping

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

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

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