ABERDEEN CITY COUNCIL
Huge increase in BED-BLOCKING
Information provided by Aberdeen City Council has revealed that delayed discharges of patients from the city's hospitals have rocketed from two in 2011-12 to 34 in 2012-13.
"Bed-blocking" is another term used to describe a patient who remains in hospital for more than six weeks beyond the time that they are fit to be discharged, and is often caused by a local authority's failure to provide adequate care. The number of cases reported in Aberdeen has prompted Kevin Stewart to call for an investigation by Cabinet Secretary for Health & Wellbeing Alex Neil.
On October 2, the SNP MSP for Aberdeen Central said: "Delayed discharges are often a personal tragedy for the individuals concerned, and a hugely unnecessary drain on tight healthcare resources. It is an appalling situation when 34 patients with no medical requirement to remain in hospital have to wait in excess of six weeks before they can be discharged. This raises serious questions about the working arrangements between the Health Board and Aberdeen City Council. For any patient to stay in hospital a day longer than they need to can be heartbreaking and, in recent years, Aberdeen has taken great strides in reducing the number of delayed discharges."
"Aberdeen City Council’s own figures show a jump in cases of 1700%, which suggests that its services are failing to meet the needs of vulnerable people. This is something that I felt had to be brought to the attention of the Health Secretary, and it will be for him to determine if action needs to be taken to address the situation. Councils and NHS Boards should be working closely together as we move towards the integration of health and social care. However, these figures suggest that something has gone seriously wrong, and action must be taken to ensure that there is no repeat of this miserable performance."
BON ACCORD CARE was set up by Aberdeen City Council in July, to deliver a range of social care services in the city. Described as an "arms-length" Local Authority Trading Company (LATC), it is wholly-owned by the Council. Its creation was opposed by the Council's SNP Group.
Concerns were expressed by Kevin Stewart, MSP for Aberdeen Central, when it was revealed that the managing director would receive £90,000, and non-executive directors would be paid up to £500 a day. This is despite their posts being initially advertised as NON-PAID positions. Mr. Stewart said on July 17: "I understand that this additional expenditure was not accounted for in the business plan, and will blow a significant hole in the company’s meagre profit margin, significantly increasing the chances that this venture will end in tears. Bon Accord Care was set up to save the Council money, but instead of cutting waste it is duplicating bureaucracy. First, we have additional highly-paid managers put in post, and now we have directors being paid to do the job previously done perfectly adequately by councillors. The entire set-up is a shambles."
On October 21, Mr. Stewart condemned Aberdeen City Council for failing to be open and transparent about a shortage of carers in the city. He said: “The Labour-led local authority is presiding over a situation where delayed discharges have risen dramatically, where one of my constituents had 27 carers over a four-week period, and where many vulnerable people have no care at all. Yet the Council is unable to tell me how many carers they are short of, or the turnover rate for these jobs. Instead of tackling our city's care crisis, the administration is passing the pressure onto an already overstretched workforce. I have heard of one carer who had been required to drive over 45 miles in one day between appointments, while another had been expected to travel almost two miles on foot in just ten minutes.
"The Council has said that care staff are now employed by Bon Accord Care, and that I should contact them for this information. But it is the Council -- not Bon Accord Care -- that has the statutory responsibility to ensure that vulnerable people are getting the care that they need and deserve. The Council should be in a position to monitor if a shortage of carers is having an affect on the delivery of care. With a 1700% increase in delayed discharge cases in a year, an increase in the amount of people waiting for care packages, and an increase in complaints to elected members about inadequate care delivery, surely this should be a top priority area for the Council. Unfortunately, it seems that the move to Bon Accord Care has given the Council the opportunity to hide behind its local authority trading company when people are seeking answers."
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Labour U-turn on UNION TERRACE GARDENS
Is the Labour-controlled Aberdeen City Council about to do a U-turn on the redevelopment of Union Terrace Gardens? The revelation came after Sir Ian Wood (pictured) said he was still prepared to donate £50million towards any plan which would "transform" the city centre.
The retired businessman's offer came on August 21 -- one year after the Labour-led regime undemocratically rejected his initial offer to part-fund the redevelopment of the gardens. Obviously expressing more hope than expectation, Sir Ian said the money would be forthcoming if the Council could come up with a "transformational plan" before the end of the year. But he added: "I see no sign of the present administration even acknowledging this challenge, let alone facing up to it. We still strongly believe that Aberdeen city centre badly needs transformational development if it is to become a significant world energy city, and we will therefore try and keep funds available until the year-end, to see if the city council can come up with a project that will truly impact Aberdeen’s medium-term economic future."
First Minister Alex Salmond said that the renewed offer was a "wake-up call for Aberdeen City Council to get real”. He added: "I don't know of a single council in the world that has effectively refused millions of pounds of investment”! The SNP Group's Enterprise, Planning & Infrastructure spokesman Cllr. John Corall said: "This city needs to progress and needs transforming in the city centre. Sir Ian is offering an olive branch with £50million at the other end of it, and it seems like this administration is refusing to meet him to even discuss the possibility of finding common ground. To reject the offer once is ungracious; to reject it twice is dereliction of duty."
On August 29, the SNP gave its support to an imaginative plan (pictured) for the gardens which has been produced by John Halliday, of the architectural partnership of Halliday Fraser & Munro. This envisages the covering over of Denburn Road and the railway line, but retaining most of the existing gardens. A civic square would be built above the railway station, which would have its main entrance moved to Union Street. SNP group leader Callum McCaig said: “We were obviously in favour of the City Garden Project. We felt that it would have delivered an exciting transformation, and obviously had the mandate from the people. The most important thing is that we deliver a real, vibrant beating heart in the city centre. I think this has got a real possibility of achieving that.”
As fumbling and indecisive as ever, the Labour council leader declared that the original plan to redevelop Union Terrace Gardens was "dead", and did not consider it necessary to contact Sir Ian Wood until some time after his "do-something-soon" regime had unveiled its strategic infrastructure proposals. Most people would agree that it will be almost impossible to envisage any transformation of the city centre which will not involve some changes to the Denburn valley and the adjacent gardens. So it was both surprising and encouraging when, on October 21, the Council announced that it had "earmarked £20million to help to transform the city centre", and that it was looking favourably on the Halliday plan. The SNP has insisted that talks with Sir Ian need to start immediately, so that his contribution can be incorporated into funding for the new scheme. There is a strong possibility that TIF (Tax Increment Financing) would also be forthcoming from the Scottish Government.
Bringing back the TRAMS?
Many fondly remember Aberdeen trams which were scrapped in 1955. The Labour-led Aberdeen City Council wants to re-introduce them to city streets, but at what cost?
On October 23, the Council said it would be a good idea to have trams running from Aberdeen International Airport to Cove, in the south of the city, via Aberdeen harbour. Although the administration hopes that the Scottish Government will invest in the scheme, the prospects for that happening don't look good. The Government strenuously opposed the re-introduction of trams to Edinburgh because it foresaw the cost of the project escalating out of control. They were proved absolutely correct. The capital only succeeded in completing half of its planned route, and even that didn't prevent the enterprise ending up £300million over budget.
SNP group leader Callum McCaig said: “This is an absolute non-starter, and I am astounded that any Aberdeen city councillor should be suggesting we should be operating trams in Aberdeen. It’s a totally pie-in-the sky idea. Anyone who has been in Edinburgh in the last six years will know the chaos the trams have caused -- yet our Labour administration thinks this is a good idea. The cost of Edinburgh’s system was supposed to be £500million for a complete line and ended up running into nearly £1billion for half a line!”
He added: “On paper, trams may seem to be a good idea. But the astronomical costs of the Edinburgh project reveal there are major hurdles to be overcome before you can even think about such a scheme, and that is not something Aberdeen should be wanting to inflict on its council tax payers. The Council should not even consider wasting taxpayers' money on a feasibility study, which always cost a huge amount. You could be talking about spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on an exercise that tells you something you already know -- that trams are a non-starter in Aberdeen.”
On November 21, Maureen Watt, MSP for Aberdeen South & North Kincardine, in a Parliamentary question, asked the Minister for Transport & Veterans Keith Brown if Aberdeen City Council had contacted the Scottish Government about funding for preparatory work or a feasibility study to be carried out in relation to the introduction of trams in the city. The Minister said that the study would be purely an Aberdeen City Council initiative and that Scottish Government priorities are set out in the Strategic Transport Projects Review (STPR) and Infrastructure Investment Plan.
Ms. Watt commented: “I am grateful for the Minister’s comments. Aberdeen City Council’s proposal to conduct a feasibility study into the possible introduction of trams is simply kite-flying, as the Labour-led administration has no strategic vision for the City. Given the fiasco that happened in Edinburgh over trams, and the ongoing work on the AWPR and the introduction of hydrogen buses in Aberdeen, it would be wiser to wait and see the impact of these three projects before committing scarce taxpayers' money to this request."