ABERDEEN CITY COUNCIL

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  Red and Blue TORIES team up

After winning 19 of the 45 seats in Aberdeen City Council on May 4, the SNP became easily the largest party in the city. However, it was blocked from assuming control by an unholy alliance of the two major British unionist parties -- now popularly known as the Red and Blue Tories.

Not for nothing has the Labour Party in Scotland earned its "Red Tories" sobriquet. The party has swung so far to the right that it is now virtually indistinguishable from the "blue" variety. The colour of their rosettes may be different, but the basic aims of these London-based parties are the same!  For the last ten years -- whether in the Scottish Parliament  or in the country's Council chambers -- Labour and the Conservatives have sung from the same hymn sheet and co-operated willingly on most subjects -- particularly in their manic opposition to the SNP, and a mutual desperation to prevent Scotland from progressing to independent statehood by any means possible.

Given that the outgoing Labour administration had been propped up by a handful of Blue Tories, it was no real surprise when the enlarged Conservative group chose to team up again with their depleted unionist pals. Anxious to somehow disassociate themselves from the sinking ship which is the "Scottish" Labour Party, their Granite City hopefuls opted to re-brand themselves as "Aberdeen Labour" in the election. Although they were hoping to continue using the label, all of their nine councillors are now technically Independents. On May 17, their national HQ ordered them not to go into alliance with the Conservative group -- then "suspended" their party membership when they went ahead anyway. On July 14, party bosses insisted: "There are currently no Labour councillors in Aberdeen" and are apparently trying to decide what to do next.

Callum McCaig, a former leader of the City Council, said: “This is absolutely shameful behaviour from Labour. They can no longer call themselves a party that supports public services, given their readiness to engage in an anti-democratic pact with a right-wing Tory Party obsessed with austerity and cuts. People in Aberdeen and in other parts of Scotland now know where Labour’s priorities lie. They obviously put jumping into bed with the Tories ahead of any principles they claim to have. The SNP won the local election in Aberdeen decisively, yet faces being locked out of office by a Labour Party that is now committed to cutting public services, in contrast to the SNP's progressive programme for improving the lives of people in the city." First Minister and SNP Leader Nicola Sturgeon added: "What a total shambles. Suspension doesn't change the fact that these councillors have used Labour votes to give Aberdeen a Tory Council."

SNP Group leader Stephen Flynn said: "The democratic will of the people of Aberdeen has been ignored. Over the last five years, we saw so many damaging projects in the city that drastically impacted upon the reputation of the Council. I was always wary of a unionist coalition against the SNP, and the latest shenanigans are 'the worst of the worst.' I think all Labour voters in Aberdeen will be wondering why they are still voting Labour. Tory voters must also be confused. The other parties were focused entirely on the issue of Scotland's independence, which is why they were not keen to enter into coalition with the SNP."

“I wanted to lead on local issues -- and they didn’t -- and that is their choice. The SNP put forward a very clear local manifesto and the others did not want to discuss it, for whatever reason. We were willing to go into a minority administration which would have worked for the city. We can see that the Labour Party has been rewarded for their allegiance with the Conservatives in this Council. Clearly, these people are all focused on themselves, instead of what’s best for Aberdeen. They put the constitution and their own self-interest before the people of the city."

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They gave us "MARISCHAL SQUARE"                                                                            

After the demolition of St. Nicholas House, Aberdonians were able to enjoy the uninterrupted view of two of the city's most iconic buildings. Alas, this was short-lived, as the historical ambience of Broad Street has now been completely destroyed.

The grossly over-developed (and likely to be underused) "leisure and retail" scheme consists of several large concrete-and-glass blocks (pictured) which completely envelop and hide the 16th century Provost Skene's House.  Broad Street has also not been widened to justify its grandiose renaming as "Marischal Square". A public hearing amounted to little more than a PR exercise, as it would not determine whether work on the project went ahead. Apparently, Finance Convener Willie Young had already clinched the £107million deal with the Muse developers!                 

Upwards of 7,000 people signed a petition to have the development halted. However, in a re-affirmation of its now familiar anti-democratic stance, the Labour-controlled Council's Petition Committee refused to accept it. Several hundred Aberdonians had earlier gathered in Broad Street to register their total opposition to the plans for the former St. Nicholas House site. The demonstrators were joined by Mr. Stewart, who said: "Aberdonians are angry and perplexed that this eyesore development has been allowed to proceed, and I have yet to find anyone -- apart from the councillors who voted for it -- who is in favour of it being built."

"People are aghast that the architectural jewels of Marischal College and Provost Skene’s House are to be once again completely dominated or hidden by four architectural monstrosities. People are also annoyed that the 'civic square', which was a sop to allow this horrendous development to go ahead, was dropped by the Council at the last minute." This latest project could land up being the latest in a series of planning disasters that Aberdeen Labour councils have blighted the city with over the last 60 years. A poll conducted by the Evening Express revealed the level of opposition to the Council's plans for Broad Street. The result was:  For - 462 (13%).  Against - 3,092 (87%).

 

And a huge DEBT

The strategy of Aberdeen City Council's previous Labour-Tory administration appeared to be "spend now -- pay later", after it was revealed that the unionist partners had saddled the city with a gargantuan long-term debt.

Currently, the city owes around £851million, but this is set to soar to £1.2 BILLION by 2019. The outgoing administration piled up the massive debt through a profligate programme of spending commitments, guarantees, underwriting and borrowing. To begin with, a £483million loan from the UK Treasury still has to be repaid. Then there is £370million raised on the bond market and £93.3million in mortgages. Added to this can be a long list of projects which still have to be paid for. They include the proposed Exhibition & Conference Centre in Bucksburn, the Energy From Waste facility at Tullos, the development of the "Berryden Corridor", an extension to the Art Gallery and upgrading of the Music Hall.      

SNP finance spokesman Cllr. Graham Dickson said future generations would have to pay dearly for Labour’s reckless profligacy. He commented: "The current administration has created an astronomical debt. The city will have to make tough decisions in years to come, because Labour and the Tories have amassed hundreds of millions of pounds of new debt over the last five years. We only supported the bond issue because it was a cheaper way of offsetting the debts incurred through traditional borrowing. These figures alone do not give the full picture of the commitments that the administration has made. Through mismanagement, it has also allowed projects to go over time, and millions of pounds over budget. The full cost to Aberdeen will be substantial in the coming years."

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Council leaves COSLA

The Labour-led Aberdeen City Council decided to leave the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) in 2015.

Ironically, the reason why three other Labour-led local authorities -- Glasgow, South Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire -- left the organisation was because funding was going to be reallocated to councils like Aberdeen! Other COSLA members were also pushing for new voting rules that would have weakened Labour’s grip on the Convention, but could have benefited the North-East and Aberdeen. On 3 December 2015, the SNP Group on Aberdeen City Council blasted the decision by the administration to leave COSLA. This would have the result of Aberdeen being locked out of Local Government finance discussions, and it would be now up to Glasgow City Council to negotiate for the city on matters of finance.

The SNP's Cllr. Jackie Dunbar commented: "Now we are starting to see the cost of Willie Young’s submissiveness to the will of Glasgow Labour. He has locked Aberdeen out of financial discussions, and has then compounded this by handing Glasgow the remit of finance for the four local authorities in their new group. Aberdeen should be working with all other councils to build consensus on council funding, but instead Aberdeen Labour has 'thrown the toys out the pram' and no longer has the access they once had. COSLA is still chaired by a Labour councillor, so all of the issues that Cllr. Young cites for leaving COSLA are clearly not accepted by own party colleagues. It is clear that Aberdeen Labour’s move to leave COSLA will be damaging for the city.”

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Power to cut BUSINESS RATES

In future, the country's 32 local authorities will be able to cut business rates, as a means of boosting economic activity in their areas.

As from 31 October 2015, Councils were able to reduce rates bills based on any criteria they chose -- such as the type of property, its location, occupation or activity. Deputy FM and Finance Secretary John Swinney said: "We have already set up a strong platform nationally, by delivering the most competitive business taxation in the UK. For example, the Small Business Bonus Scheme alone reduces or removes business rates for more than 96,000 properties. In contrast to English local authorities, our Councils will be able to retain all the business rates they collect. They will also be able to use their local knowledge to attract new investment into town centres, and help create vibrant communities where people want to live, socialise and do business."

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon commented: "This is an additional power to allow Councils to decide if they want to set a lower rate as part of an effort to generate more economic activity in their area. It is an important power to be given to local authorities, and it is part of our effort to de-centralise and devolve power to local communities. We want power to lie as close to people as possible, and this is an illustration of putting that into practice." The announcement was welcomed by local government organisation COSLA, the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, the Scottish Retail Consortium and the Federation of Small Businesses. Jackie Dunbar, the SNP Group Leader on Aberdeen City Council, said the administration should immediately steer this additional funding source into the much-needed revitalising of Union Street. 

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Council's CARE COMPANY in financial trouble

A care company, which Aberdeen City Council established in July 2013, incurred an £8.2million loss.

Bon Accord Care was set up by the Labour-controlled Council 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. With about 800 staff, it was given the responsibility for Council-owned residential homes, day centres, rehabilitation facilities and care services for sheltered housing. Its creation had been opposed by the SNP Group on the Council. Concerns had been expressed by Kevin Stewart, the MSP for Aberdeen Central, when it was revealed that the company's 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. On 17 July 2013, Mr. Stewart said: "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."

Three months later, Mr. Stewart condemned the 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. The Council has told me 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. Unfortunately, it seems that the move has given the Council the opportunity to hide behind its local authority trading company when people are seeking answers." 

On 25 August 2015, Mr. Stewart, who is the convener of the Scottish Parliament's Local Government & Regeneration Committee, said: “It’s quite clear that Bon Accord Care is in a precarious position, and the Council needs to ensure that the people in Aberdeen who require care are given the best possible. I’m not convinced that is the case when an organisation is in such a poor financial position. I think it was daft to transfer it in the first place, and that the Council should take social care back in-house.”

 

Give CARERS the Living Wage

Social care in Aberdeen is in crisis. There is a shortage of skilled carers, due to the high cost of living and the low wages offered.

All councils are required to assess a disabled person's care needs. Some can afford to pay for their own carer.  When Aberdeen City Council judges an individual to be too poor to pay for their own care, they are then asked to top-up the low wages of a Council-appointed carer. Direct Payment rates of pay are currently limited to £7.50 per hour.

On 24 July 2015, Callum McCaig -- former Council Leader and now the SNP MP for Aberdeen South -- called on the Labour-led adminstration to give the city's hard-working carers the Living Wage. Despite this increasing year-on-year, Aberdeen's carers haven't received an equivalent pay rise. Mr McCaig said: “When I was the Leader of Aberdeen City Council, we provided people with enough funds to hire a carer at £7.50 per hour. This was when the Living Wage stood at £7.20. It has since  risen to £7.45, then £7.65, and now stands at £7.85 an hour. However, under Labour's watch, Aberdeen City Council still expects the disabled to find carers paid at £7.50.

Disabled Aberdonians are suffering enough under the Tory Government's austerity agenda without Aberdeen City Council adding to their hardship. Too many people are having to plug this funding gap by cutting the number of hours of care they get. I agree with Council Leader Jenny Laing when she said that the Living Wage 'helps to increase staff motivation and retention'. But it is time Aberdeen's carers were helped as well, and I call on the Council to reinstate their Living Wage rate." 

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City Centre MASTERPLAN

The Labour-Tory Aberdeen City Council finally came up with a "masterplan" for the city centre -- three years after it failed to approve any scheme for upgrading Union Terrace Gardens.

On 24 June 2015, the full Council approved a £750,000, 95-page blueprint produced by the BDP planning consultants company.   Although the SNP Group was generally in favour of its implementation, it warned that a huge effort and political will would be required to bring all of the plans to fruition in the scheduled 20 years. As had been pointed out before: the practicality of closing off part of Union Street to all vehicular traffic was still obviously open to question.

Among the main recommendations were:-- to pedestrianise half of Union Street and most of Upperkirkgate; to turn Castlegate into "the city's main civic square"; to build two new footbridges -- between Belmont Street and Union Terrace, and over the River Dee to Torry; to eventually demolish the Trinity Centre, and provide a new "gateway" between Union Street and the railway station; to "revamp" the St. Nicholas Centre; to "redevelop" the Town House extension and the Police HQ, and convert Queen Street into "Queen's Square". Other schemes put forward in the masterplan included a "global energy hub", a new “urban relief road” around the city centre, the creation of an airport rail link and new train stations in the city’s suburbs.

Doubts have been cast over Aberdeen City Council's ability to push through its masterplan. On July 10, the economic analyst Tony Mackay said there was no evidence to back up the report's claims that 5,000 jobs would be created, and that Aberdeen's  gross annual income would increase by £280million. There was "no publicly available explanation"  for these figures, and the large number of projects proposed would likely lead to a "pick and mix" approach rather than an integrated strategy.

The results of a public opinion poll on the masterplan, carried out by the Press & Journal in June, were as follows: "Can't see it happening in my lifetime" -- 59.1%. "May happen. Something has to be done eventually" --  25.3%. "The Council will deliver it this time" -- 15.6%. 

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Government's FUNDING for Aberdeen increased

The Scottish Government's funding for the city of Aberdeen has been increased.

The Local Government Finance Order, agreed by the Scottish Parliament on 12 March 2015, delivers an additional £107million to local authorities – and shows that the budget allocated to Aberdeen Council has risen from £327.9 million in 2014-15 to £337.9million in 2015-16. The package includes measures to continue the Council Tax freeze for another year, maintain teacher numbers at 2014-15 levels, mitigate the effects of the UK Government's Bedroom Tax and to provide free school meals for children in P1-3.

Maureen Watt, the SNP MSP for Aberdeen South & North Kincardine, commented: “This latest funding boost from the Scottish Government will be welcomed by people in Aberdeen, and is another example of its commitment to investing in our vital public services. The SNP is providing a fair deal for local government and is delivering on key policies which will  benefit local people – from the Council Tax freeze, which is protecting family budgets during tough economic times, to free school meals to give our youngest pupils the best possible start in life."

“This funding will also see the number of teachers in Aberdeen maintained at current levels, and will provide many Aberdonians with protection against the imposition of Westminster’s Bedroom Tax. The Scottish Government will continue to work alongside its partners in local government to deliver the best possible deal for people in Scotland, and to protect our public services as much as possible from the austerity agenda being imposed by Westminster.”

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CONFERENCE CENTRE moving                                                                                                    

The Aberdeen Exhibition & Conference Centre (AECC) at Bridge of Don has been earmarked for closure by Aberdeen City Council.

The AECC opened in 1985, and is estimated to benefit the Aberdeen and NE economies by around £100million annually. Its  main buildings were considerably redeveloped and expanded in April 2003, with the addition of a viewing tower. Although £18million had been spent on the expansion, the main arena was later considered to be too small to cater for large pop concerts.

Late in 2012, the centre's managing director announced plans to find £20million to rebuild on the same site. However, on 17 October 2013, Finance Convener Willie Young said that his Council now wanted to build a £200million replacement venue in Dyce. Apparently, sites in the new D2 and ABZ business parks near Aberdeen International Airport were originally considered. But now land to the south-east, next to Aberdeen University's Rowett Research Institute, seems to be the front runner. The Council says it plans to approach the Scottish Government for funding towards its construction, and hopes to have it opened by 2017. In the event of its closure, it has been revealed that there are plans to demolish the distinctive ten-year-old buildings on the Bridge of Don site.  It is still not clear what will be done to clear the old centre's considerable accumulated debt.

On 16 July 2013, Kevin Stewart, the SNP MSP for Aberdeen Central, said he had received confirmation from the Council's chief executive that the Bridge of Don venue's deficit still stood -- more than a year after the Labour-led regime had announced its intention to have it written off.  Mr. Stewart commented: "Shortly after taking office (in May 2012), Barney Crockett announced with great fanfare that he was writing off the AECC's £28million debt, which had accumulated under previous Labour administrations. At the time he was unable to say how this would be done, or where the money would come from.  Since this initial announcement, Mr. Crockett has repeated the assertion that he has written off the debt ---  demonstrating either an alarming degree of ignorance or a wilful desire to mislead the public."

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SNP pressure brings new DON BRIDGE

In February 2011, Aberdeen City Council approved plans for a £15.3million bridge to span the River Don between Grandholm and Tillydrone. The SNP-Lib. Dem. administration rightly considered that a new crossing was urgently required to ease the gridlock at the Persley Bridge/Haudagain junction and lessen the volume of traffic on Ellon Road and King Street.

For reasons best known to themselves, the Labour group did not consider a Third Don Crossing was necessary, and this opposition was maintained in the party's manifesto for the May 2012 local elections. Mounting concern and impatience over procrastination by the Labour-controlled Council led the SNP group to request a special Council meeting to discuss the vitally important bridge. To avert defeat on the issue, the administration arranged for the meeting to be held on a Saturday, knowing that this was totally impracticable. Incredibly, they then demanded that the SNP "apologise" for the previous administration spending £1.7million on the necessary preliminary planning for the crossing, between Grandholm and Gordon's Mills Road!

A major defeat for the Labour group took place at a meeting of the full Council on 19 December 2012. The vote was 24-19 in favour of proceeding with the proposed route and bridge site, and calling for a report on the most efficient options that would allow work to begin "as quickly as possible". As consistent proponents of the Tillydrone-Grandholm crossing, all 15 SNP councillors voted to begin construction. Still doggedly clinging to their now familiar "do nothing" policy, Labour continued to oppose yet another vital infrastructure project for the city. Councillors narrowly voted in favour of progressing with the plans at a full Council meeting on 6 March 2013. Despite this, there has been a considerable delay in work to start on the bridge and its associated roadworks. It took over a year from the go-ahead before tenders were sought for the construction. Even then, actual work was not expected to begin until July or August 2014. Displaying considerable optimism, the Labour-controlled Council said that it was still hoped to have the bridge open by the end of next year. 

Kevin Stewart, the SNP MSP for Aberdeen Central, commented: "The Third Don Crossing is one-third of the trinity needed to solve Aberdeen's congestion problem. With the Scottish Government pressing ahead with the AWPR, and re-development of the Haudagain junction to follow soon after, it is gratifying to hear the Council reaffirm that the final piece of the puzzle will fall into place. This is great news, and it will be to the benefit of the city as a whole." On 8 March 2013, Mr. Stewart wrote to Aberdeen City Council Chief Executive, Valerie Watts, asking for the Council to consider what action it could take to reduce the impact that the new bridge will have upon the communities that lie along its route.

He said:  "Aberdeen City Council has agreed to pursue construction of the Third Don Crossing as a stand-alone project. The major concerns that have been raised with me relate to road safety and pollution. Significant care and attention was paid to the safety concerns in the design of the new bridge, but I feel that there is more that can be done to minimise emissions from vehicles. One solution would be to bar heavy goods vehicles from using the route. Another way of reducing  pollution would be to use the new hydrogen buses that are being paid for in partnership between the Council, the Scottish Government and the EU. These buses have zero harmful emissions, and as such would be perfect for this new route. For the good of the city, the Council eventually made the right decision regarding the Third Don Crossing, I now hope that, for the good of the affected communities, it will look seriously at this constructive suggestion."

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ABERDEEN is Scotland's 3rd largest city, and the regional capital of the North-East.

The current population is 228,990 (2014 est.)  It is known as the Granite City, the Silver City and the Oil Capital of Europe.

               

 

 

 

All three of the city's Scottish Parliamentary constituencies are represented by SNP MSPs. 

See the regular updates on the Aberdeen CENTRAL, Aberdeen DONSIDE and Aberdeen SOUTH (& North Kincardine) pages.

In addition, the ABERDEEN NORTH Westminster seat is held by the SNP.  For regular updates, go to the UK PARLIAMENT page.