Nov 222016
 

marischalpicBy Suzanne Kelly.

While pondering whether to offer Aberdeen Press & Journal and the Evening Express a free base for one year in the controversial Marischal College office building, Aberdeen City Council has certainly been helping the paper financially as it spends £200,000 per annum on advertisements in the papers. 

A recent Freedom of Information request shows that the city council has advertised in Aberdeen Journals Ltd’s local papers to the tune of £626,500 over the last three years. 

This is a mean of £205,500 per year. 

The breakdown is as follows:

2016 – £199,818.78 (up to 25 October 2016)

2015 – £219,123.87

2014 – £197,513.68

The City explained:

“Unfortunately, we are unable to provide a breakdown of each expense. The types of expense that ACC would use Aberdeen Journals for would be, for example, Public Notices and Job Advertisements.”

The city also claims it would be too expensive to get a breakdown of what these ads are.

Aberdeenshire Council on the other hand spend a grand total of £6,998 on advertising with the two newspapers over the same three year period. When asked to check the figures, the Shire spokesperson confirmed this figure was all-inclusive.

The city declined to give a breakdown, stating there were a staggering 3,000 invoices for the time period, and the cost to them of collating the information was over £3,000.

There IS such a thing as free rent.

The City Council declines to answer whether it is planning to give free rent to the P&J or other future Marischal Square residents.

The City does advise:

“The discussions in relation to the proposals for the AJL terms have involved the advice of external property agents, the Council’s development partner and a number of Council officers.  The Council officers involved  were Head of Finance, Head of Land and Property Assets, and Asset Management Manager.” 

The P&J editor Damian Bates seems unsurprisingly keen to move to the building his papers previously called ‘controversial’. 

He commented in a recent article:

“It’s in no-one’s interests for it to sit empty and this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us to head back home; back into the city centre where we belong and where The Press and Journal started its amazing journey more than 270 years ago.

“We are now a multi-media business and this prospective move will provide a bright future for the Evening Express, P&J, Energy Voice and all our other products and sites. The council has been our landlord since approximately 1970 so nothing is going to change.”  

Some Free Advice on Free Rent, Expensive Advertising and Ethics.

Some notices must be published in newspapers for legal requirements. Job advertisements appear on the City Council’s website, which is free to access by anyone with a computer, and anyone with a library card can access computers for free. There is no excuse for cutting services while spending this kind of money on advertising.

Considering that jobs can be easily, freely posted on the city council’s website, and citizens are told that services and that citizens were told budget cuts have to be made, cutting down on advertising should have been a priority. In January Finance Committee Convener, Cllr Willie Young told the council’s advertising vehicle the Evening Express:

“It’s possible third sector organisations could see funding cut…We have to look at everything.”

Perhaps before any other services are cut, Aberdeen City Council might want to think twice about its advertising spend and giving new office space away for free, with the taxpayer picking up the tab.

According to the P&J, office space in Aberdeen commands a high price – or at least should do:

“…Aberdeen continues to lead the way for prime office rents, with Ryden reporting a current price of £32 per sq ft – higher than Glasgow’s £30 figure, with sites in Edinburgh and Dundee generating £28 and £15 respectively.” 

If the city could and should be making money out of the massive eyesore which could have been that civic square everyone in a position of power once Jonesed for (oh Sir Ian, where art thou? Why didn’t you want the civic square there? And I note that ‘Opportunity North East Limited’ has extended its accounting period so it won’t have to report at the end of this month now and has until the end of March 2017 – your comment welcome Sir Ian), and if the city has to ‘look at everything’ to find money – why should Aberdeen Journals Ltd. enjoy this largess?

Then again there is a small moral issue. For most of the rest of the UK, a newspaper has a duty to investigate with impartiality, serving as a check on government and a check on the powerful. As it stands, the P&J’s alliance to the editor’s wife’s boss Donald Trump is a dark stain.

Can the P&J really morally afford to be indebted to the city council it should be investigating, or has any pretence of journalism now left the building. We should be told.

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May 162014
 

Barney Crocket addresses rally Image credit John AberdeinBy Bob Smith.

Puir Barney he’s bin crockett
Fair stabbit in the back
Jist like yon Julius Caesar
Bi fowk fae his ain pack

“Et tu Willie” did Barney gasp?
Yer a worthless cheatin w-nk-r
Nae ony better than
A City o London banker

Seems they plottit his doonfa
Fin the chiel wis in The States
Jist shows fit fowk can dee
E’en tho ye thocht ‘em mates

A new leader o the Cooncil
Her name ‘tis Jenny Laing
Foo lang wull es quine laist
Afore back stabbin stairts again

Bit fa supplied the dagger
Aat in Barney’s back wis stuck?
It cwid hae bin ony Labourite
Fa wi Barney hid nae truck

If ony lessons can be learn’t
So future leaders can safe be
Is nae ti ging on a swanny
In yon “Land O The Free”

©Bob Smith “The Poetry Mannie” 2014
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Nov 232012
 

By Bob Smith.

O fit a stramash wis on twitter
Cooncillors made theirsels look feel
Tryin tae be affa clivver
Wi tweets fae chiel tae chiel

Awa an growe up is ma cry
Yer supposed tae be worthy o votes
An nae behaving like numpties
As tho ye war ill-trickit goats

Bit then again they’re cooncillors
Fit mair div we really expect
Aye sneerin an snarlin at each ither
An nae showin ony bliddy respect

Ye buggers – fowk did elect ye
Tae dee fit’s best fer us aa
Nae struttin aroon like bubblyjocks
Or cocks fa like tae craw

Aa  yer postins on twitter
Wis aneuch tae mak fowk greet
A wis remindit aboot a freen
Fa thinks only twits div “tweet”

©Bob Smith “The Poetry Mannie” 2012

 

 

 

 

Mar 222012
 

Old Susannah takes a humanoid angle on the Provost’s exit, the who’s who of deer cull councillors, alledged  cybercrime, the police box/granite web, and the Cameron and Clegg creatures.  By Suzanne Kelly 

 

Happy Friday everyone!  So much has been happening in our Vibrant ‘Deen it is hard to know where to start.

Bad news first I suppose:  with a heavy heart I must inform you that our Lord Provost will not be joining the council next year.  Soon his clothing allowance and civic car privileges will pass to another.

But which young pretender will take the crown, chain of office and supply of carriage clocks?

HoMalone, if she manages to get re-elected may stand some chance; she was  deemed the worthiest LibDem in the land.  And now that she leads the LibDems, I’m sure there’s no stopping her.

At least we’ll all get to go to Provost Stephen’s portrait unveiling party before the end comes. . .  guess his LibDem pals will have to find someone else to hitch rides with other than in the civic car at our expense.  Steve Delaney, who will contest the Lord Provost’s seat in the May, got a ride from the obliging taxpayer in the civic car as he was late for something or other.  We are too kind. I’d have given him a carriage clock as well, so he wouldn’t be late next time.  Perhaps he already has one?

A very silly rumour reaches Old Susannah; it can’t be true.  I hear that the virtuous ex-Councillor Richard Robertson, who quit the city council over the 3rd Don Crossing, wants to run in Torry/Ferryhill.  Now, as a Torry resident who’s been going to the community council meetings recently, I am not sure that someone who voted in favour of shooting our deer and against letting me and the Cove Community Chairman speak to the Housing & Environment Committee to try and save the deer is going to find many votes in this part of town.

In fact, if the people who we spoke to last Saturday in town while handing out flyers about the cull are anything to go by, then I doubt any of the following deer killers are going to get great receptions at the ballot box.

 One ambitious girl seems to have grown up with the Dalek as a role model.  Step forward Aileen Malone.

Remember these people; they are the ones to thank over the affairs on Tullos Hill:   John Corall, Jackie Dunbar, Neil ‘Fletch’ Fletcher (who sadly is leaving us anyway), Jim Noble, Richard Robertson, Wendy Stuart, Ian Yuill, and new LibDem Darling, HoMalone.  The deer’s friends?  Neil Cooney, Yvonne Allan, Norman Collie,  James Hunter,  Alan Milne and Willie Young.

Dr Who has another new companion this week;  I’ve been recalling all the frightening monsters, world-destroying creatures, and evil masterminds we’ve seen over the decades.  But never mind the city council and its advisors – on with some definitions….

Dalek   (noun) part human creature created by Davros, a Dalek is a single-minded creature, repeating the same phrases over and over again, in a robotic voice; most notably ‘Exterminate!’.  Daleks are not known for their ability to negotiate, only to destroy.

We all remember being terrified and trembling behind our sofas and forts made of cushions and blankets as the Daleks rolled across our TV screens crying ‘Exterminate!  Exterminate!’.   Most of us were afraid of these creatures, but one ambitious girl seems to have grown up with the Dalek as a role model.  Step forward Aileen Malone.

She will not negotiate a peaceful settlement with thousands of people who want to keep Tullos Hill as a meadow.  She operates a scorched earth policy (well, mostly scorched rock policy – I’ve been up there and seen where the trees are going to be planted before they die), and she is going to EXTERMINATE the deer which live there.

Can no one stop the march (well, glide) of this Dalek in its quest for world domination?   Like the Daleks in Dr Who, she is aided by one or two humanoids who should know better,  but don’t.

Cybermen:

 The Cybermen likewise terrified generations of children; they were humans which had been ‘upgraded’ – or rather turned into humanoid machines powered by remnants of human brains.  But the question for Aberdeen is:  has there or has there not been any Cyber-crime?

Just as time was running out for the referendum vote, along came Tom Smith (connected to the private Aberdeen City Gardens Trust entity – amongst other hats worn) with allegations of illegal cyber crime.  Had Cybermen hacked into his emails?  Were they intimidating him?

Well, we still don’t know.  He’s said nothing, and we wait patiently for the police’s statement on the matter.  Until we know otherwise, be on the lookout for cyber-crime – and cybermen.  If it turns out to be a case of ‘the boy who cried cybercrime’, Old Susannah will tell you all about it.

Regeneration:

The Doctor occasionally sacrificed one of his several incarnations; usually to save others or for a noble cause.  Councillor Robertson, having lost a life when he threw himself out of office over the Don crossing, is going to try to regenerate as a Torry/Ferryhill councillor.  Like the doctor, it will be best if he has amnesia, for his support of the deer-cull-for-tree-scheme will not add to his appeal in this (or indeed any other) part of town.

TARDIS:  (noun) acronym standing for Time And Relative Dimension In Space – Dr Who’s time-travelling apparatus – normally taking the outward form of an old-fashioned police box; much bigger on the inside than on the outside.

Well, the TARDIS doesn’t have to be a police box, in fact other time lords used different kinds of TARDIS machines.  I think I have possibly located one.

Where in Aberdeen will we soon have something that is bigger on the inside than it is outside?  Why in the Granite Web, of course.

The architects have promised that we will magically have twice the green space we currently have in the garden now!  Surely this is Timelord technology.  Despite the potato-crisp shaped concrete web over the concrete indoor/outdoor theatre/skating rink, despite the required ventilation units and means of holding the granite web up, the new improved gardens will be double the size of the existing ones.

There will be all sorts of weird and (allegedly) wonderful underground areas which will be far bigger than the outer structure.  I think the plans have space for a lair for the Master, and some Silurians.  Yes, I see the Granite Web as a time-travelling icon – it is taking us back to the ‘60s and/or ‘70s –  and yet promises to take us proudly into the future.  This is time travel at its best – and possibly at its most expensive.

Dr Who and The State of Decay:  (noun, television show) Part of the Dr Who Saga in which a planet is dominated by bloodsucking vampires who have caused society to regress.

Old Susannah can’t think why this series (featuring the inimitable Tom Baker) has sprung to mind, but in this story, a small amount of greedy powerful  bloodsuckers have taken so much away from the existing society, that it has regressed to  a more primitive, poverty-stricken state than it had been in before power was seized by these vampires.

The blood-sucking creatures, Cameron and Clegg, have reduced the NHS to rubble, impoverished the old, got rid of any decent schools, and use the young as fodder for their own selfish ends.  One of the scariest parts of the Dr Who story so far.  Thankfully, the Doctor and Ramana eventually find a way to rid the planet of its tyrannical despots.

Next week:  (Hopefully) deer update, Milne update, Referendum update – and a cheerful look at Aberdeen City Council’s happiest publication – ‘Our Green Times’.

Mar 152012
 

With thanks to Suzanne Kelly.

A new cloud covers the controversial Union Terrace Gardens Referendum today, as a care home worker came forward with concerns about postal votes sent to a residential home.

The worker, who wishes to remain anonymous, approached Aberdeen Voice to say that over a dozen postal vote envelopes arrived at one residential home – but when the worker went to retrieve them a short time later – they were not where they had been left. No one at the residence seemed to know precisely what became of them.   The concern is whether or not the residents’ votes were properly distributed and managed.  The matter is still being looked into, and no allegation of wrong-doing has been made at this stage.

Aberdeen Voice’s Suzanne Kelly is researching further, and contacted the elections officer, and the other recognised campaigning organisations on the issue.

Kelly asked the elections officer for the marked Register to be checked with a view to how many care home residents returned votes, and whether there are any unusual voting patterns.  However, the elections officer’s position is that “it would be illegal for me to provide this in terms of the Representation of the People(Scotland) Regulations 2001.”  In an election relevant parties would normally  be able to view the marked Register.

Crawford Langley, the Elections Officer for the Union Terrace Gardens referendum vote, previously contacted the police over potential postal vote fraud in May 2005 when he was elections officer and a small number (between 6 and 12) of anomalies arose, where people appeared not to have received their postal vote forms.

Langley was quoted at the time as saying:

“We are talking about a very small number but, given the publicity elsewhere and the tight ship we run in elections in Aberdeen, it was sufficiently unusual that I needed to do something about it.”

The controversial referendum, which was over the future of Aberdeen’s Victorian Union Terrace Gardens, gave residents a choice to either ‘retain’ the gardens, or to endorse a £140 million pound scheme called the Granite Web. This entails the city obtaining a £70 million pound TIF loan, which will be matched by Sir Ian Wood / The Wood Family Trust (£50 million), £5 million from an anonymous donor, and another £15 from as-yet unnamed private sources. The TIF scheme is still in trial stages in Scotland.

many feel the media bombardment influenced the vote

The referendum was dogged by controversy. Official campaigning groups were entitled to place a 300 word essay into the voting pack, and had to adhere to strict expenditure limits.

The Green Party’s statement was not printed in full. Also controversial were the actions of a ‘secretive’ group (as described by a BiG Partnership employee) known as ‘Vote for the City Gardens Project.’ This federation of businessmen and women, who prefer to remain anonymous, are thought to have spent tens of thousand of pounds to promote the City Garden Project Granite Web.

Their glossy, A3 full colour brochure went to households in Aberdeenshire which were not eligible to vote as well as to City residents. The group also issued a four-page newspaper format item, and had several full-page spreads in the local press. Local radio stations broadcast pro City Garden Project commercials. None of the officially recognised campaigning groups would have been able to afford such a campaign, and many feel the media bombardment influenced the vote.

The materials produced by the group used projections by PriceWaterhouse Coopers to claim the scheme would create over 6,500 permanent jobs and mean £122 million to the local economy every year until 2023. Those who tried to contest these projections being used as fact found that the Vote for the City Gardens Project group was not accountable either to the elections officer or the Advertising Standards Agency. Other points of contention have been brought to the election officer’s notice as well.

Willie Young of the Labour Party, who were an official campaigning organisation, had this to say:

“We really do need to see the mark register so we can prove to ourselves that the referendum was run correctly. In a democracy we need checks and balances and the Electoral Commission is clear that those involved in an election should be given access to the mark register. I am not suggesting anything is untoward, but it is our right to make sure that it isn’t. We are baffled by the stance taken by the counting officer”.

Suzanne Kelly commented:

“It is abundantly clear to me why my source wishes to stay anonymous. They are keen to continue in the job they love, and are all too aware of what can happen to a whistle-blower. This issue is still being investigated, but I thought bringing it to the election officer’s attention immediately was the right thing to do.  This is why we need to check the votes sent to all of our residential care homes – we must ensure no one has been exploited and no votes have gone astray. Were all the votes sent to the homes used, and if not, what percentage went unused? Did the vote split at the residential homes echo the nearly 50–50 split the total vote saw? If not, then further research will be needed.

There is at present no allegation of any wrong doing by any individual – but it is clear that we need to have the transparency we were always promised concerning Union Terrace Gardens, but which we so sadly lacked. We’ve seen redacted minutes – minutes where lines of text have been ‘blacked out’ to keep the public in the dark. Why should there be any secrecy over what is common good land?”

Kelly was chair of one of the recognised campaigning organisations (‘Democracy Watch’) and has been liaising with other campaigners; a number of issues remain over the referendum, and these will be reviewed soon.

Oct 132011
 

Old Susannah looks back at the week that was and wonders who’s up to what and why. By Suzanne Kelly.

Old Susannah is having trouble sleeping at the moment for several reasons. Firstly, there is the sheer excitement over the UTG design competition – which design will I fall in love with?  What will be built that will make the world beat a path to Aberdeen for coffee, baguettes and monorail rides? Will Paris, New York and Rome empty as people come to Union Square and the new UTG?
Secondly, I am worried about Ms Aileen ‘Homalone’ who has dropped out of the public eye, and refuses (to date) to answer questions about the finances needed for the phase 2 attempt to plant trees on Tullos, and the money to shoot those extremely hungry deer.  It looks as if there isn’t any money, but no one’s talking to the public just now.

I did email to say ‘C’mon Aileen’ – and she replied that ‘an officer (if not a gentleman) would get back to me’.

I gently reminded Homalone that she had at least a little responsibility for the scheme to rid Tullos of vermin deer and plant 89,000 trees where trees had failed before, as she’d taken a wee bit of the public relations credit for this great scheme to begin with.  I expect as soon as she turns her razor-sharp mind to the task of analysing all the facts and figures regarding the tree planting, deer and slaughter, she’ll revert to me asap.

I don’t think I’ll hold my breath though.

You may recall the deer are under the death sentence because we must be cheap when using ‘the public purse,’ and Aileen being a good Lib Dem can’t stand any waste of public money.  Quite right.

No such restrictions apply to buying crucial carriage clocks and expensive pens from the Common Good Fund.  

If you are in Inverness, you have to apply to use the common good fund there, and a committee decides if your charity should get a bit of the fund. They seem to have helped quite a number of deserving causes, and the application procedure is the same for the rich and the poor, believe it or not.  It is not quite as easy to get a handle on who has their fingers on Aberdeen’s CGF sporran strings. But I digress – again.

Thirdly, I can’t sleep now that I know it’s OK to shoot small mammals and birds on Tullos Hill whenever you want – you just need a permit and the right kind of gun. I am amazed that no one’s been shot there yet. I am also amazed that people still like to hunt living things, but I guess I need to acknowledge that the law allows this.

So do keep walking on Tullos, but keep in mind bullets can travel long distances, and wear your bright clothes and your bulletproof vest.  And for goodness sake, don’t wear any of those novelty deer antler headbands.

Vermin:

(noun) 1. insects such as lice, ticks or fleas (or the more fashionable bedbugs plaguing New York at present) which can lead to infestations. 2. birds and mammals that eat other animals / game. 3. animals which are after the same food as people or domestic animals (How dare they!).

The police sent me some detailed answers about the gunman spotted on Tullos Hill in early September after I did one of my little FOI requests.  The hunter would not legally have been after the roe deer – but the police made it clear that such ‘sportspeople’ are allowed to shoot ‘vermin’. The police definition of what constitutes vermin seems to include deer. So the next time you and a roe deer are trying to nibble the same 2,000 trees, just kill it – as long as you have a permit and are using the right kind of bullets and rifle.  Result!

But if the deer aren’t after the same quarter-pounder you want, and the squirrels (red, black, grey – I don’t discriminate) aren’t after your chocolate shake – then are they really vermin? The vermin label put on these wild animals justifies the gamekeeper poisoning the birds of prey, the snare-setter (snares are still legal for some reason) who kills indiscriminately, and the council targeting the Tullos Hill deer.

Speaking of the council (well some of them anyway), I’d best move to another definition before someone comes gunning for me.  And for some reason, a related word comes to mind now that I’ve mentioned our City Council.

Parasite:

(noun – English ) an insect or other creature which feeds off of a host animal to the host’s detriment. 

Let’s consider bloodsuckers, worms, leeches and ticks. These are some of the parasitic vermin infesting your city council. You do have the right ammo to despatch them – or at least you will come May elections with your vote. The parasites in question feed of resources such as The Common Good Fund, Council Taxes and all-expense paid hospitality.

Like a swarm of locusts, they descend on areas such as the AECC and the Beach Ballroom if so much as a free sandwich can be had.  Parasites such as these are notoriously thirsty, and can empty cases of drink in nanoseconds.

Do not get too close to such creatures – they may well carry disease.  Do instead hide your money (offshore if possible), and guard any green spaces, which these parasites can easily destroy if not kept in check.

“Cultural” spaces:

(noun, English Modern) a wholly new concept of “space” where “Cultural” “events” can take place.  Not to be confused with existing businesses or arenas and spaces they have for cultural events.

If it’s not hard enough for me to get any sleep with everything else going on, the Evening Express told us on 8 October that there is a ‘plan’ to attract ‘top performers (!)’ to Aberdeen.  This brand-new idea, never before attempted, would see the ‘proposed new park over (?!!) Union Terrace Gardens’ filled with “cultural” spaces.  (By the way, the quotes around the word “cultural” appear in the Evening Express piece on this subject, so I’d better leave them in).

“Culture” of course is something that we people not in ACC, ACSEF, or SEG can’t really appreciate or understand.  ( Remember – Stewart  Spence, stalwart of the Marcliffe wrote to the P&J last week to call people opposed to these great new plans ‘NIMBYS and luddites’.  Who can argue with him?).

The AECC – long propped up by the taxpayer – and the Lemon Tree (likewise on a taxpayer sub) have never attempted to bring Top Performers here before.  Likewise none of the independently-owned  bars and clubs (not supported by taxpayers by the way) have tried this either.  Some years ago I got my hopes very high about Top Performers coming here, but in the end, Geri Haliwell had to pull out of doing the AECC.

Now in another guise, Scottish Enterprise might not really be permitted to shell out large amounts of taxpayer cash to create “cultural” spaces if these new inventions borne of taxpayer money would compete with already-existing public funded and/or private spaces. 

But the story with UTG is different somehow – kind of like when Scottish Enterprise took the money the Arts Council had earmarked for Peacock (who had wanted to , er, create a “cultural” space in UTG first).  Hmm – I must remember to soon define ‘intellectual property’, ‘copyright’, ‘lawsuit’ and ‘moral rights’.

I for one am happy to subsidise the AECC directly and indirectly (the City Council somehow needs to rent large amounts of office space at the AECC despite its large roster of properties) as well as subsidise the other city-owned venues AND find some 140 million towards yet another “cultural” space under/in/over  Union Terrace Gardens.  And if the private sector of the music/entertainment industry in Aberdeen can’t compete, then that’s just showbusiness.

We are in a democracy after all – the richest amongst us get to either be on boards or appoint boards to do what they want done with public spaces – all in the name of “culture”. 

If we don’t ‘get it’, then we are indeed the NIMBYS and luddites Spency thinks we all are.  I shall remember his words when I next book a dinner or a hotel.

Those who oppose the UTG project (not that it is defined yet – not even Old Susannah could do that if the city can’t) will be laughing out of the other side of their faces when I’m having a large latte before Toto opens up for Geri Haliwell near the monorail at the Wood memorial car park “cultural” space centre.  So there.  Gives those luddites something to think about doesn’t it?

I have to digress again – it is because some of us can’t understand how wonderful the whole project is that we oppose it.  It is all crystal clear, but here is a little helpful guide as to who’s doing what about our “culture” space / UTG project.  Here is my little luddites guide to the simple way things work

1.  Locum Consultants – apparently a part of the Collier Group – have been hired to ‘find uses’ for ‘some kind of performance and exhibition space’ created by the UTG project.  Appointed (by whom I don’t know).

(By the way I can find a ‘Locum Consultants’ in Surrey and a ‘Collier International’ in Manchester.  Unless there are companies with those names in Scotland, I guess no one here was up to the job of filling the “cultural” space.  I could be wrong, I could be right).

2.  The Aberdeen City Gardens Trust (ACGT) – works on ‘how to use “cultural” spaces inside (?!!) the proposed new park over Union Terrace  Gardens’.  Unelected.  (This seems to be a “Private, Limited by guarantee, no share capital, use of  ‘Limited’ exemption” kind of an affair – which makes sense as the Taxpayer is paying for it at least in part, and it will be involved in the future of a public asset.  Result!)  Or in words a child could understand – taken from the website:  http://thecitygardenproject.com/news

“Aberdeen City Gardens Trust has been set up, under the auspices of the City Garden Project management board, as a special purpose vehicle to channel funding for the project and deliver key activities within the project plan. The Trust will operate using best practice procurement procedures and will be accountable for the delivery of activities to project management board.

“The Trust will also receive £375,000 of Scottish Enterprise funding from its available funds for major infrastructure projects.

“Cllr John Stewart, chairman of the City Garden Project management board, said: “The fact that Aberdeen City Council is making no revenue contribution to the project means it is necessary to be imaginative in the way in which non-council finance levered into the project is managed. The creation of the Trust presents us with an ideal solution. Equally, it will allow for contracting of the required services involved in the next steps and for the project to progress to the design competition stage and complete the business case for the TIF application. Through the TIF we will be to access funding not otherwise available to invest in the art gallery and the St Nicholas House site, enhancing and reinvigorating our city centre.”

“The founding directors of the Trust are Tom Smith and Colin Crosby who will be joined by Directors from Aberdeen City Council and others involved in the project in due course”.

3.  The City Gardens Monitoring Group – exists to hide its doings and to  decide that the public should not vote on the option of leaving the gardens as they are in the current design competition for the 6 finalists (chosen by an unelected group and guaranteed loads of dosh for getting this far).  The Group redacted its minutes to the point you had no idea who was in it (unless you cut and pasted the redacted text and found none other than Aileen Malone was involved).  Unelected.

But for those of you still not clear, here is an excerpt of who’s who and who’s doing what where from our City’s very own website:  http://www.aberdeencity.gov.uk/

“The membership of the Project Monitoring Group comprises Councillors Malone (Chair), Boulton, McDonald, Kirsty West, Wisely, Young and Yuill.

“For reference, the membership of the City Garden Project Management Board comprises Councillor John Stewart (Chair), Councillor Callum McCaig and Valerie Watts, ACC; Tom Smith and Colin Crosby, ACSEF; Jennifer Craw, the Wood Family Trust; Bob Collier, Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce; John Michie, Aberdeen City Centre Association; Lavina Massie, the Aberdeen City Alliance, Maggie McGinlay, Scottish Enterprise and Paul Harris, Gray’s School of Art.

“The membership of the Project Implementation Team comprises Tom Smith (Chair), Colin Crosby and John Michie, ACSEF; Gerry Brough, Hugh Murdoch and Patricia Cassidy, ACC; Jennifer Craw, the Wood Family Trust; Maggie McGinlay, Scottish Enterprise; Derick Murray, Nestrans; Audrey Laidlaw, Network Rail and Iain Munro, Creative Scotland”.

This diverse membership of people with no vested interests in the project going ahead or not will reassure us all.  But somehow, I still can’t get any sleep.

4.  Malcolm Reading – a design consultancy which shortlisted the winning entries in the design competiton, an amazing feat, as there was and is no design brief in existence approved by ACC.  What Malcolm Reading will earn is unknown; how exactly it was appointed is also a mystery to me.

5.  The BIG Partnership – a PR consultancy which tells us how great it all is going to be.  I don’t know how they were appointed or what they will earn. (not to be confused with ‘The Big Sleep’.)  STOP PRESS:  The BIG Partnership has recently announced a new client:  The Wood Family Trust.

6.  ACSEF – A board of business people and city officials who, well, do what they like.  Includes one impartial Mr S Milne.  Known for issuing warning as to dire consequences for Aberdeen if we don’t build on the garden.  ACSEF is an invention of ACC, and funded at least in part by the public purse which we are all so keen to use sparingly.

7.  Genus Loci – a document produced supporting ideas for the Garden’s future as long as these don’t include a garden for the future.  Famous for proposing the monorail idea.

8.  Scottish Enterprise – a quango, unelected, on a mere £750 million or so per year which holds meetings, and supplies members to sit on the board of ACSEF, and who gave the world Jennifer Craw, now on the Wood Family Trust.  Which of course has a seat or seats on the secretive City Gardens Monitoring Group – or was it the Aberdeen City Gardens Trust.  Unelected and expensive.

9.  Wood Family Trust – er, apparently the wood family and/or friends who want to get rid of the wood in the gardens apparently, for “cultural” spaces.  Apparently not elected.  This Trust has possibly one or two overlapping areas with some of these other groups,  maybe.

10.  Project Implementation Team – are on hand to implement the project whether or not the public want them to.

Now that you see how simple it all is, I trust that there will be no more whining about the expense of paying all these companies off, signing a lease for a few thousand years for the gardens, or whinging about issues of ‘transparency’.

As that little Meerkat person on TV would say, ‘Simples’.

I was going to define ‘Impartiality’ this week as well, and how it relates to TIF, BID, and so on.  However, I now have a headache for some reason, and there is a knock on my door which may be the sherrif coming for my furniture.  ‘Impartiality’ it is for next week then.  And ‘Old Boys’ Network’, ‘Nepotism’ and ‘Greed’.

Good night all.

Jun 032011
 

Voice’s Old Susannah shares with readers an recent email exchange with a prominent Aberdeen City councillor which has raised many more questions than answers.

A long, long time ago people learned about reasoned debate, how to structure logical arguments, and what the difference was between the rational and irrational.

Then again, some of us must have skipped school that day.

Let me share a recent chain of emails between me and Councillor Neil Fletcher with you. It started as a correspondence on the subject of the Tullos Hill Roe deer, and turned into something else.

First let’s just review how our elder statesmen – our experienced, mature elected officials – have handled the whole deer cull and tree issue. At first, we were happy: a tree for every citizen was an election pledge of the Liberal Democrats.

There were no worries, no costs, no deer cull – just trees. The tree planting phase 2 consultation passed with barely a word; after all, the consultation only said we might have to move some rabbits – deer didn’t get a look in.

Then March arrived and Cllr. Aileen Malone’s Housing & Environment Committee comes up with a new promise: give us £225,000 by 10 May or we promise to start shooting deer. No one knew about a cull before then; animal charities and sensible people were outraged, and most of us pledged not to give in to this blackmail. Protests and petitions were launched, but nothing would sway the Lib Dems. Democratic debate was stifled – at least until 26 May when the Cults, Bieldside and Milltimber Community Council let the issue be discussed.
See: https://aberdeenvoice.com/2011/05/you’re-shooting-yourself-in-the-foot-cults-cc-tells-malone/

Coming out of these discussions we learnt directly from the horse’s mouth (as it were) that unless the trees all reach a certain height in 2 years, the City has to pay back the grant money!

So there it is at the end of May – the most important factor in whether or not to plant trees on an arson target.

I wonder whether someone should have mentioned this just a wee bit earlier? Then we could have all laughed away any thought of Tullos Hill being suitable for the trees. The Council and its ‘experts’ don’t seem concerned about arson – the deer might nibble the trees, making them shorter – and you and I would have to stump up for the tree stumps. Tree planting – best to leaf it out, I think. But the Lib Dems are now out on a limb, as they are now saying in effect ‘well, we did ask for quarter of a million, but we have to shoot the deer anyway’.

What kind of people can come up with such disorganised, illogical, constantly shifting set of priorities? Old Susannah is on hand to answer that question.

I think Ms. Malone has shown us the kind of person she is: trustworthy, open, sensible and not at all stubborn. But what of our other guiding lights on the Council? How are they handling the pressure to stick to their moral high ground faced with ‘people like me?’

Let’s look at some correspondence between me and Mr Cool, aka Cllr. Neil Fletcher. I’d been copying him on email and occasionally writing directly to him. I’m not so sure he kens the difference.

Here are three emails:-

1. Neil Fletcher’s response to an email from myself (he is only on my email as a ‘CC’ not as addressee:

Dear Ms Kelly
I’m afraid we will simply not agree on this issue.
I see the culling of deer as a necessary, if unpleasant, measure to control a
species of animal in a non-natural environment, which has no natural predators. (I)
I believe that a cull is preferable to allowing the deer numbers in any area to

control themselves by starvation.
Culls happen all the time in Scotland, including Aberdeen, and I’m disappointed
that on this occasion, what is a widely accepted measure of animal control, is
being used to oppose the largest re-forrestation project the City has ever seen.

Additionally, this project is at practically no cost to the tax-payer. (II)
As you are not a constituent of mine, I do not intend to continue any further
correspondence with you on this matter.
Yours sincerely
Neil Fletcher

2. My reply to the above, sent on the morning of Sunday 29 May:

Good morning Mr Fletcher

Firstly the email was merely copied to you; you were not an addressee. I was doing so merely as a courtesy – and in the slim hope that as a Liberal Democrat you will realise that, in the words of the Cults Community Council leader ‘you do not have the people with you’ over this Tullos Hill affair.

Still thank you for your reply. It is regrettable that you are either unwilling or unable to separate the general, wide-ranging of culling from the specific Tullos Hill situation – a stable population of deer are to be decimated to turn their ecosystem into a forest – in an arson hotspot. Whether or not culling is required on a larger picture, a whole host of animal charities, no less the Scottish SPCA are condemning the plan to kill the Tullos Hill deer to transform Tullos Hill into a forest from an open, windswept meadow.

You still seem able to grasp that in terms of transparency, democratic process and duplicity, the handling of this situation is unacceptable.

I do have one unrelated question for you Councillor – is your Register of Interests up-to-date and correct? I only ask as a. you had absolutely no hospitality entries for the whole of 2010, and b. someone had told me – obviously they must be wrong – that you might have been involved in some way in a business which was doing some work for the City Council.

You list no directorships under ‘Section 3 Contracts’ (which for some reason has sub points numbered from 4.15). I am happy to accept that you had no hospitality in 2010 and have absolutely no connection whatsoever to a business or consultancy which is/was doing any business with the Council if you confirm this is true. Again, if the Register is completely correct on these two points, then I thank you in advance for clarifying that for me.

Yours sincerely

Suzanne Kelly

3.  And then – Cllr. Fletcher to me this past Sunday evening:-

Dear Ms Kelly

My register of interests is correct.

I admire your logic. He doesn’t agree with me, so he must be corrupt and I’ll
get him. (III)

I now avoid anything that I can that would require registering an interest.
Precisely because of emails like yours. (IV)

I used to go to various events to represent the Council, and when these were
registered, people like you pointed fingers. (V)

The Lord Provost now has trouble getting Councillors to go to such things, but
as I’d rather be in the pub or community centre with my mates than attend a
stuffy evening with a bunch of strangers, its a great excuse not to go. (VI)
As regards your allegations about me not registering a previous business

interest, I haven’t spoke to that gentleman for over 2 years, so it’s unlikely
I’d have anything to declare now. (VII)

Interestingly, Cllr Willie Young, who publicised my perfectly legitimate
interest in the hope that folk like you would jump to certain conclusions,
recently sold Oakbank School to that property developer at a price significantly
lower than it is worth with the housing that will be build there. He is also a
property developer himself. (VIII)

However, the Labour Group, whilst initially supporting the need for a cull, have
done a few somersaults to appear to be backing you now. So I doubt you’d be
interested raising doubts about his honesty. (IX)

Neil Fletcher

For the record, I have omitted nothing. I was being polite, but it looks as if I have hit a nerve or opened an old wound which I truly didn’t know existed – until just recently that is.

When I asked about a consultancy, I was referring to some new piece of information a source had suggested might be true. It is time to look into some of his wilder statements. In the emails above I have added Roman numerals in places, and would comment as follows:-

(I) Cllr. Fletcher keeps going to the general statement ‘culls are needed / culls happen’.

This has nothing to do with killing the Tullos Hill deer to turn their ecosystem into a forest. I have been to the Hill; I have no idea what Fletcher means when he says the deer live in an ‘unnatural’ environment. The laws of physics apply on Tullos Hill, and plants were growing. It seemed to be an oxygen/nitrogen atmosphere. No, the deer have no natural predators on the hill (except arsonists). Fact: Roe Deer bucks rarely exceed 5 years, does 6 to 7 years.

(II) Cllr. Fletcher says this tree-planting is at ‘practically no cost to the taxpayer.

If the trees reach a certain height that is true. If you don’t count the cost of a minimum £2,000 annually to kill 8 or 9 of the 30 deer (Council quote – other quotes are higher) for at least 3-5 years. And if the arsonists burn enough trees – we return all the grant money. Money of course does not grow on trees (however you protect them). The grant money is coming from the public purse. Hands up who knows how the money gets into the public purse in the first place.

(III) Cllr Fletcher is annoyed. The Register of Interests is a mandatory document all councillors have to keep accurate, up-to-date, and public (have a look – his is here – http://committees.aberdeencity.gov.uk/mgConvert2PDF.aspx?ID=150&T=6 )

I don’t know where to start as to the accuracy of the document and its contents. Its first page says it was updated in January 2011. On the last few pages there is an unsigned space for signature for Jan MacEachran (democratic services) and Neil – the dates for their non-existent signatures are 2007. Cllr. Fletcherl’s record shows he attended not a single solitary event in 2010 for the council or as hospitality. He did get to dozens of events in 2009 – I was merely wondering if the absence of 2010 was another error in the document.

The numbering is interesting. Item No. 3 – concerning Contracts – is sub-numbered starting with no. 4.15. Not how we do it where I work. Hmm.

(IV) Cllr. Fletcher says he is avoiding going to events.

Well, he did avoid going to any events he’d have to register in 2010. He’s lost this reluctance now – the document was prepared (apparently) in January 2011. The last two hospitality entries are for January 2011 – a cruise on a ship, and an evening at an arts centre. I do note that barely a single event – even those where the ticket price would have been printed on the ticket – is shown.  If the average price of a ticket at AECC is £20, and he is getting at least two tickets or more a time, he is a lucky man.

(V) ‘People like me’ Cllr. Fletcher writes.

I would quite like to have a description of ‘people like me’ from Mr Fletcher. I doubt he would like to be stereotyped.

(VI) Ah, yes: pity the poor councillor who’d rather be in the pub with his mates.

Instead, he was forced in 2009 to represent his constituents at approximately 20 events – mainly concerts at the AECC. Official regulations say that councillors should not accept a large number of invites/tickets from one source (like the AECC), These dull events included Eddie Izzard, Neil Young, Britain’s Got Talent, Gladys Knight, Kasabian, Proclaimers, Simple Minds….. the sound you can hear is my heart going out to him.

(VII) ‘That gentleman’ – What gentleman? I wondered what on earth he was talking about – it wasn’t the story I was trying to follow up on.

So –it was time for a bit of research. It seems that some time ago, shortly after being elected, Cllr. Fletcher set up a company and did a wee bit of consultancy work (for about £7,000) for Carlton Rock. There was talk of this not being declared during a potentially related council vote. Nothing came of it – but it made headlines. But this story came out of left field for me. If I thought that was out of the blue, there was more to come.

(VIII) Well. The last thing I expected in my dealings with Neil Fletcher was for him to bring up Cllr. Willie Young. It was something of a shock I must say. What I did to raise Cllr. Young is beyond me.

(IX) It looks as if Neil Fletcher is implying that Labour councillors are wrong to have changed their minds over the tree situation.

I can’t find a single record of Labour councillors saying ‘we need to kill the Tullos Deer’ – it looked as if they were trying to find an alternative, even when the blackmail money was first mooted. If Labour is going back on the idea of the tree planting – it may be for two reasons. One – the overwhelming evidence now out in the open that the plan is deeply, deeply flawed – and that relevant material was not made public until after the consultation closed.

The other reason is they may be sensitive to the thousands who have signed petitions and sent letters begging for the cull to be averted and humane deer control methods to be used – and expressing the view that Tullos Hill is not the best location for tree planting. If Labour have indeed ‘done somersaults’ and are on the side of the people – I fail to see what’s wrong with that.

Sorry to have been so long-winded – but this is information Aberdeen voters and citizens should be made party to.

When the results of my complaint about Councillor Fletcher’s email are made known – I will write on this subject again.