Liberal Democrats Call For Mass Testing To Enable Visits To Elderly & Vulnerable

Photo by Phillip Goldsberry on Unsplash

Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Alex Cole-Hamilton has today for the Scottish Government to explore using mass testing to enable people to safely visit elderly or vulnerable family members, in order to boost spirits during the lockdown.

Mr Cole-Hamilton said:

“One of the most difficult kinds of correspondence I get at the moment are from grandparents, desperate to see and to hold their grandkids. The same goes for a range of other meaningful relationships that have been parted by social distancing and shielding.

“Now that we are entering a phase of mass testing, the Government should consider introducing a scheme to allow families to visit vulnerable relatives, or those in other meaningful relationships.

“Such a scheme would involve registration, testing, a period of voluntary isolation and even re-testing to allow such a visit and physical contact to go ahead in safety on confirmation of a negative Covid status. Given there are suggestions that social distancing and some forms of shielding will have to continue for the foreseeable future, such a scheme would offer hope and comfort to so many people who may be starting to struggle.

“The Government have indicated their willingness to explore this as a possibility. They must now make it a reality.”

Sadly, More Care Home Deaths from COVID-19 in North East

Most people will have heard about the sad news earlier this week regarding the deaths of several residents of Kingswells Nursing Home from COVID-19. The latest press reports today claim that 39 lives have been lost in care homes in the North East, representing over a third of all COVID-19 related deaths in the area.

Local councillor Steve Delaney said, “My thoughts are with the families and friends of those who have lost loved ones and also with the dedicated staff who continue to provide excellent care at the home and who too, will feel the pain associated with this tragic loss”.

“COVID-19 is something we’ve never faced before and all public services are doing the very best they can under extremely challenging conditions”.

“However, I believe that families who have lost loved ones have the right to know what happened and those who still have relatives in our care homes are very much in need of reassurance, especially since they cannot presently visit their loved ones. Every single life lost matters, the numbers are of so much less significance than each and every individual taken before their time”.

“Following on from the Kingswells announcement earlier this week I have written to the Aberdeen City Health & Social Care Partnership asking for the cause of these deaths to be investigated so that any lessons learnt can be used to minimise the possibility of further outbreaks in care homes and for those findings to be made public”.

Sad News At Kingswells Nursing Home

I have just been informed of the deaths of a number of residents of Kingswells Nursing Home from COVID-19. The sadness this brings will be felt by so many.

My thoughts are with the families and friends of those who have lost loved ones and also with the dedicated staff who continue to provide excellent care at the home and who too, will feel the pain associated with this tragic loss.

What Is Shielding?

Shielding is a measure to protect people who are clinically at high risk from Coronavirus, by supporting them to self-isolate to minimise all interaction with others.

If you received a letter from NHS Scotland saying you have a condition that makes you at very high risk of severe illness from COVID-19, you’re strongly advised to shield yourself to reduce your chance of getting the virus.

People identified as needing to shield should:

  • not leave their homes
  • minimise all non-essential contact with other members of their household

This is to protect those who are at very high risk of severe illness from Coronavirus (COVID-19) from coming into contact with the virus.

More information about shielding is available here.

If think you should be shielding but have not yet received a letter regarding shielding, then you should contact your GP to confirm whether you should be shielding and, if necessary, arrange for registration with the support service.

Vouchers Issued For Those Entitled To Free School Meals

Following the closure of our schools on 27 March, pupils who were entitled to free school meals were still able to get these but had to attend school at lunchtime for these.

With effect from 6 April, supermarket vouchers will instead be issued to eligible families. These will be issued fortnightly and will also cover what should have been the Easter break. During this first week when vouchers are being sent out, school meals will continue to be provided at school as normal.

Lib Dem councillor for Kingswells, Sheddocksley, Summerhill said, “I’m sure families will appreciate the move to vouchers as it helps protect children by allowing for social distancing and avoids the need to travel to school daily at at time when we’re all much safer at home”.

Parents should automatically receive these vouchers by email or text. If you do not receive these next week or the school do not have your email or mobile number please call the Virtual School Helpline on 01224 523322.

Help For Communities

A new website and phoneline launched today, providing people all across Grampian with information on how to access social, practical and emotional support on Coronavirus (COVID-19).  

The new Assistance Hub goes live this morning, pulling together links to the latest advice from a range of partners including all three local authorities, Police, Health, Red Cross, volunteers and community information. It is a site for anyone in Aberdeen City, Aberdeenshire and Moray, with information for residents and businesses alike.   

The website address is www.GCAH.org.uk or call 0808 196 3384 (8am-8pm 7 days a week). The number will complement other helplines, including Aberdeen City Council’s Crisis Support Line, which was launched last week and can be reached directly on 0800 0304 713.

The website is full of links with up-to-date information. The main objective is as a focal point for information and assistance for anyone affected by coronavirus anywhere in Grampian. It is also a way for residents to offer their support which they can safely deliver in their communities. Staff are on the phone to provide callers with up to date information, or to link them up with the right person who can quickly answer questions.  Another important feature is that the site can be used to request help on behalf of someone else, allowing friends and neighbours to signpost to someone in need. 

Lib Dem councillor for Kingswells, Sheddocksley, Summerhill said, “There’s so many useful new websites popping up offering advice about the coronavirus, public services, the lockdown and much more, that people are getting confused about where to go to locate specific information”.

“The amount of work which has gone into Aberdeen City Council’s coronavirus page is commendable as it the Business Gateway, NHS Grampian’s dedicated resource and a number of others but now we need to join the dots so people can find what they need quickly and easily without having to check a dozen sites with the risk that they encounter misinformation amongst the wealth of fact based resources”.

“My advice is simple, make the Advice Hub your homepage and you can’t go wrong. It links directly to all the other pages but offers much more besides, in a user friendly interface. Thanks to all the public sector partners in our area for this invaluable resource”.

Coronavirus Assistance

Housing, Welfare, Business & Financial Information All In One Place

Aberdeen City Council has set up links to information which will assist people and businesses who find themselves running into difficulties during the coronavirus outbreak. These difficulties may be health related, financial or indeed have arisen as a result of measures taken by local or national government to control the spread of this deadly virus.

Help For Individuals & Families

It is understood many people may be unfamiliar with the benefits system since the recent introduction of Universal Credit or they be unaware of the raft of additional support measures introduced by UK and Scottish Government to assist them and their families to get by during the enforced closure of their workplace.

With extra strain on household budgets, additional protection has been put into legislation to ensure you do not lose your home (be it council, housing associated, privately rented or mortgaged) and you don’t get your fuel supply cut off if you can’t pay. There’s also help available if you find yourself homeless.

There’s help for people who are in “at risk” groups are self isolating and have no family to support them. There’s also crisis loans and grants for those who have been hit hardest and are unable to get by in the short term.

Help For Businesses

Business can now apply for help to the Scottish Government Coronavirus Business Support Fund. The fund is administered by local authorities. Depending on the type and size of your business premises, you can apply for either a £10,000 grant or £25,000 grant.

Finally there’s a freephone Crisis Helpline for people who find themselves in urgent need.

This service is for crisis only. It is for those who are hardest hit by the coronavirus outbreak and unable to find the information they are looking for or unable to get help from their existing support networks, in these unprecedented times.

The telephone number 0800 0304 713 will be staffed initially from 8am-6pm Monday to Friday from Tuesday 24 March until further notice.

Members of the emergency helpline team are ready to provide welfare and financial advice and support, including what to do if you are struggling to get food or pay bills.

Local Councillor Steve Delaney said, “I commend council staff for putting this helpful resource together so quickly. The council’s switchboard is being inundated with calls and your waiting times are going to be lengthy if you do decide to call”

“Please use this online help page, which links into information on what assistance is available to you and how to access it, as your One Stop Shop. You will either find the information you need or be transferred to another site with more information. This page lets you access information much quicker than you would by trying to get help over the phone”.

All the information mentioned above, and much more, can be found on Aberdeen City Council’s updated Coronavirus Help Page

Council Frees Up Parking For NHS Staff

Aberdeen City Council has issued 200 free parking permits to NHS Grampian allowing key staff to park within the Foresterhill Controlled Parking Zone during the coronavirus outbreak. Permits will be prioritised and will allow holders to park in any parking bay within the zone, including residents only bays.

NHS Grampian has also lifted all parking restrictions on the Foresterhill site, with the exception of disabled parking bays, which will continue to be enforced to ensure people with disabilities can continue to park close enough to facilities. The restriction preventing NHS staff from using the multi-storey car park has been removed.

These measures have been put in place to ensure NHS staff can get to work and parked during the current pandemic

Necessary Changes To Ensure Delivery Of Essential Services

Aberdeen City Council is in the process of moving into resilience mode in order to ensure they have sufficient resources to tackle the coronavirus whilst protecting the most vital public services and our most vulnerable citizens.

This means that certain services we expect the council to deliver will be reduced or even stopped for a number of weeks, possibly months, to ensure essential core services can still be delivered. This has become necessary as a result of staff being sent home after displaying virus-like symptoms and others having to self-isolate for their own safety due to underlying health conditions, all in accordance with Scottish Government guidance.

The council’s statement reads as follows:-

The core services include gritting as road surface temperatures are still going to about 0C overnight, traffic coordination and traffic lights to assist emergency services, emergency repair work and health and safety maintenance to council homes and properties, collection of recycling and waste bins from households, ensuring a capacity of HGV-licensed drivers, crematorium and burial services, essential janitorial and school meal provision services, and essential health, environmental protection and trading standards services.

To ensure these core services can be carried out over the coming weeks, other work will be reduced or is stopped meantime. This includes planned road repairs (excluding emergency works), special refuse collections also known as bulky uplifts (excluding where there is a fire risk in multi storeys), communal recycling and waste bins, planned repair or maintenance works to council homes, and reduced grass cutting and gardening work. All libraries across the city have now closed.

While cremations will continue to take place, no new bookings for chapel services at Aberdeen Crematorium are being taken from Monday to help minimise the spread of coronavirus. There will only be City Council staff at the Aberdeen Crematorium building.

Kingswells, Sheddocksley councillor Steve Delaney said, “None of want to see council services reduced but, sadly, we need to face the reality of a national emergency situation and ensure that Aberdeen City Council have sufficient staff and resources to play their part in the work being done by all public sector partners, including NHS, Police, Fire Service and voluntary sector partners”.

“These measures will enable us to play our part in the fight against the coronavirus as well as ensuring our household bins are emptied and our key workers, our most vulnerable residents and those self isolating are all adequately supported”.

Coronavirus (COVID19) Latest Update On Council Buildings & Council Services

Message from Councillor Steve Delaney

The situation around the Coronavirus pandemic is evolving daily, if not hourly. I would advise everyone to take heed of the official advice coming from UK Government, Scottish Government and Aberdeen City Council, which will continue to evolve based upon the best evidence available.

Aberdeen City Council has had to shut down all public buildings with the exception of Marischal College (which is opening for reduced hours).Most council services are continuing to operate but this may be subject to change to ensure the most critical services can continue to run at all times.

For the latest information from Aberdeen City Council click HERE

Council Considers Stair Lifts For Sheltered Housing

Aberdeen City Council has agreed to seriously consider installing stair lifts in all sheltered housing blocks with upper floors.

This initiative has come about as a result of a notice of motion by Lib Dem councillor Steve Delaney, following concerns raised with him towards the end of last year.

Steve said, “I raised this matter as a result of an unfortunate set of circumstances whereby a resident came home from hospital only to find she could not access her flat on the upper floor because the lift had broken down the day before.

“Whilst I commend the actions of staff from both the Housing team and Bon Accord Care, for their support and prompt action, the matter was eventually resolved with assistance from the Fire Service, which was less than ideal.

“Other residents with limited mobility on the upper floor of the sheltered complex had to miss out on social events in the building as well as medical appointments until the lift was fixed, but this took no less than five days.

“This is not the first time lifts have been out of order in sheltered blocks, but when someone who was newly discharged from hospital could not access the comfort and privacy of their own home it became clear that action was needed.  It is vital that as a responsible, caring local authority we address this matter in respect of the safety, amenity and dignity of our sheltered housing residents”.

Committee agreed unanimously to instruct officers to bring back information on likely costings for this proposal to the budget meeting on 5 March 2019.

Steve said, “I’m grateful for the recognition all councillors gave to this issue. Also their willingness to move the proposal on to the next stage so it can be properly considered as part of next month’s budget proposals”.

NHS Shuttle Bus

It was mentioned at the public meeting on 30th March that NHS Grampian would be running a shuttle bus directly between ARI and Kingswells at certain times of day to ensure NHS staff can get to and from work following the withdrawal of the X40.

There was a glimmer of hope that they may also allow local Kingswells residents to make use of the service. Local councillor Steve Delaney explored this possibility with NHS Grampian earlier in the week.

He said, “This is a temporary service put in place by NHS Grampian during the construction of their car park at ARI in order to fill the gap left by the withdrawal of the X40. It is in place until July and there’s currently no commitment beyond that date. Unfortunately they are unable to transport Kingswells residents on that service as it is only available to NHS badge holders, who will be required to show their ID badges”.

“In order to transport non-employees, they would need to register the route with the Traffic Commissioner and drivers would require specific licences. Sadly this is not an option for them on a short term service”.

“I would hope that Aberdeen City Council and NHS Grampian can work more closely towards finding a solution that works for both NHS employees living in Kingswells and indeed the wider population of Kingswells”.

Tipsy Teapot Shopping Night!

spot-red-teapot-graphic-art-cartoonA fun evening is being held at Sheddocksley Community Centre on 24th November from 7pm – 9pm. It has been organised by local mums for Olivia Wood, who is very bravely battling leukaemia.

There’s going to bea great selection of stalls run by local businesses from our area. All stall holders have donated prizes to the raffle and there’s a number of donations from other businesses too.

Why not come along to support a good cause and enjoy some great company?

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Communities, Housing & Infrastructure Meeting 1st November 2016

Town HouseThis committee has overall responsibility for Trading Standards, Bon Accord Care, Aberdeen Crematorium, Aberdeen Heat & Power, council housing, community centres, waste collections, environmental services, roads, pavements, street lighting and a whole lot more.

They also receive reports from the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service and Police Scotland and question senior officers. Their next meeting takes place on Tuesday 1st November at 14.00 at the Town House and is open to the public.

Notable items for discussion are a request for taxis to be permitted to use bus gates, a Police Scotland report on serious and organised crime, proposed changes to housing allocation policy, various road traffic orders (new and in progress), AWPR side road speed limits and this year’s winter maintenance programme.

This meeting is open to the public and the full agenda can be found here.

ARI Car Park Latest

_90484108_aricarparkIt has been confirmed that the long awaited construction works to build a multi-storey car park on the ARI site will commence on 24th October 2016. During this time there will be no visitor parking on site and very little staff parking. The construction works are expected to last until next summer. Although this will create difficulties for visitors getting to ARI, the underlying challenge is for NHS staff to get to and from work, especially those living at Kingswells and further afield.

NHS Grampian staff parking permit holders can show their permits to the bus driver allow them to travel free of charge on the X40 service during these works. However, this has been undermined by FirstAberdeen’s intention to withdraw the service from the end of this year. Local councillor Steve Delaney discussed matters with NHS Grampian earlier this week.

He said, “I was assured that NHS Grampian and FirstAberdeen are working together on this. They to meet on a weekly basis to review passenger numbers but First’s bottom line is that passenger numbers need to grow significantly. The position will be further reviewed in December as was previously advised to me by First’s Operations Manager. Needless to say, I will maintain regular contact with NHS Grampian as matters progress”.

“There is clearly a challenge for NHS Grampian to demonstrate an increase in passenger numbers, given the very tight timeline. We can all do our bit by using the bus more often and help boost the passenger numbers. Even if this only offers a reprieve until next summer, it would buy time to find a longer term solution for Kingswells. However, if increased passenger numbers were sustained, the threat may be lifted”.

“Personally I do not expect NHS staff on their own to be sufficient to give FirstAberdeen the passenger numbers they seek and I remain convinced of their determination to axe services to Kingswells. However, I would urge those of you who could use the X40 but don’t, to give it a try and help extend a lifeline to those in our community who would be hardest hit if it were withdrawn”.

Confusion Over X40 Role During ARI Car Park Construction

_90484108_aricarparkA number of Kingswells residents have contacted Liberal Democrat councillor Steve Delaney over the posting of a news item on NHS Grampian’s intranet last week regarding the construction of their new multi-storey car park.

During the construction period, which commences on 10th October, the existing patient car park will be closed as will the adjacent staff car park, which is being taken over by the construction team. As a result, there will be very little car parking, not just for patients and visitors, but also for staff. This will create significant difficulties for staff who live outwith the city or in areas with less frequent bus services, along with challenges for NHS Grampian if staff can’t get to work.

The release from NHS Grampian says, “As a result staff car parking will be significantly reduced until the expected project end date of July 2017″……

“Foresterhill Health Campus permit holders will be able to park and travel free on the X40 from the Bridge of Don and Kingswells Park & Ride”.

This statement appears to cut across First’s decision to axe the service from the end of 2016. As a result, Steve contacted FirstAberdeen’s Commercial Manager, Daniel Laird for comment.

In his response of 28th September Mr Laird said, “This message has been communicated in error by NHS Grampian. We have been involved in discussions with their estates team regarding potential transport arrangements during the car park works, but as of today, we have not entered into any agreement with them. I have requested a meeting later this week with the estates team and if an agreement is reached, this will be communicated.”

Steve said, “This is particularly unsettling for ARI staff and indeed for patients if staff are unable to get to work. This debacle suggest to me that either First have failed to communicate their intention to cease operation of the X40 to NHS Grampian, either that or they may be willing to stave off the axing of the service until next July”.

“If indeed they do reach an agreement, a stay of execution for the X40 would of course be welcomed. I have no idea as to how this would be funded. However, I would have grave concerns if this was happening as a result of cash strapped NHS resources being used to top up First Aberdeen’s coffers for the next few months, only for First then to walk away”.

New Heating System for Regensburg Court

Steve at RegensburgAberdeen City Council set up Aberdeen Heat & Power in 2002 to deliver combined heat and power solutions for hard to heat multi-storeys. The city now has a network of buildings linked directly to their combined heat and power infrastructure, complimented with several stand alone district heating systems. Where possible the Council also seeks to link public buildings into the CHP “grid” as larger scale initiatives are more economic to operate.

Three years ago local councillor Steve Delaney asked the Council to look at the inclusion of Regensburg Court in any future rollout. At that time the programme was fully committed to works elsewhere, though it was agreed this proposal would be given serious consideration. He also asked if Kingsford School could be included to improve the potential viability of any such a scheme.

On 27th August 2015 the Communities, Housing & Infrastructure Committee approved the inclusion of a district heating (stand alone) system for Regensburg Court in the next investment phase during 2016/2017. They are also looking at the feasibility of extending the initiative to include Kingsford School, as was initially requested. At committee, Steve also asked for the viability of connecting this new scheme to the existing district heating system at Mastrick Land with a view to eventually connecting directly into the combined heat and power “grid” at a future date. It was agreed this will be looked at further.

Steve said, “Combined heat and power along with district heating lifts tenants in hard to heat properties out of fuel poverty and assists us in meeting our carbon reduction targets. This will make a huge difference to heating bills at Regensburg Court. It’s been a long time coming, but I’m absolutely delighted and I know tenants will be too”.

Lewis Court Update

IMG_1560At long last work is due to re-start on building works at Lewis Court following the collapse of Muirfield in April this year. Since then the site has been abandoned with scaffolding still in place, abandoned paint pots and paint brushes, missing rain downpipes and the grounds unmaintained, with bushes and grass growing up over people’s windows.

Local councillor Steve Delaney, who has raised this repeatedly, brought the matter up at the Communities, Housing & Infrastructure Committee on 27th August 2012. He spoke of the shocking mess that people are surrounded by and called for works to be resumed as soon as possible, with the grounds being tidied up in advance of building works starting.

Steve said, “Lewis Court has become overgrown, like a jungle. It’s completely unacceptable expecting people to live in conditions such as these. The grounds have been neglected to such an extent that residents can’t even open their windows.Those who are not looking out at scaffolding or abandoned paint pots can’t see out at all for the height of the bushes or grass in front of their windows. This needs to be sorted out now”.

Assurances were given that building works are to resume on 14th September 2014 with the grounds being tidied up in advance as requested.

Housing Budget – Consensus Followed By Madness!

housesOn 17th December 2014 the Council agreed its Housing Revenue and Housing Capital Budgets for 2015/16. Revenue raised from Council house rents is legally restricted in its use to pay for expenditure directly related to managing, improving and renovating these properties and grounds belonging to the housing account as well as financing the cost of housing debt. It cannot be used for general council expenditure. All Non-Housing expenditure is managed through the General Fund, and this Budget will be debated in February.

In an unusual moment of consensus, councillors from across the political divide backed an officer proposed housing budget which saw rent increases pegged to 3.3% along with a programme of investment across the city. Liberal Democrat Housing Spokesman Steve Delaney discovered an error in the budget which would have seen £360,000 cut from the environmental improvements budget.

This funds crime prevention measures, bird proofing, area fencing, security doors, sound insulation, security lighting and numerous other estate management improvements in Council housing areas across the city which have been identified by Housing Officers. The proposed reduction had been a genuine error and Steve was thanked for spotting this by Labour’s Housing Convenor.

In his Budget speech Steve responded by saying, “I’d like to tribute to councillors across the chamber for their willingness in recent years to work together for the benefit of our tenants. We will not always agree, and we will have our differences from time to time, but we do all genuinely try to reach a consensus on issues that relate to the condition of our housing stock and the welfare of our tenants”.

Steve proposed just two changes additional changes, the first instructing a report to be drawn up setting out the next phase of the Combined Heat & Power initiative which connects multi-storeys and public buildings to a low cost communal system for heat and power. This was accepted unanimously.

Steve said,”We are delighted to see the continued roll out of over-cladding and other much needed upgrades to multis across the city. However we would also ask Council to instruct a report into the possible further expansion of the highly acclaimed Combined Heat & Power initiative in advance of the current programme coming to an end. We would support this initiative being expanded to include many more homes and public buildings in order to contribute towards the reduction of fuel poverty, reduce our carbon footprint and minimise fuel costs faced by the Council in respect of public buildings.

However, Steve’s second proposal was defeated by Labour, SNP and Tory councillors in a hugely bizarre turn of events. He was proposing asking the UK and Scottish Governments to co-operate with each other in advance of the official transfer of new powers to allow the equivalent of Housing Benefit to be paid directly to landlords under the new Universal Credit regime.

By way of background, it had been decided that the housing element of the forthcoming Universal Credit (equivalent to the current Housing Benefit) could no longer be paid directly to councils and housing associations. Instead it would be paid directly to tenants who must then pay their own rent. The biggest fear is that due to competing demands on very limited household budgets, a significant number of tenants will fall into rent arrears. This is what happened with the introduction of the Poll Tax and councils are still collecting debts from over 20 years ago. Less revenue to councils and housing association results in less investment in existing housing stock and fewer new builds, possibly also leading to higher rents.

The Smith Commission on Devolution has proposed giving the Scottish Government discretion in this matter to continue direct payment of the housing element of Universal Credit to landlords in Scotland. This is a position councils and housing associations have been advocating in order to protect the interests of current and future tenants. However, this power will not come into force for 12-18 months pending the implementation of the forthcoming Scotland Act, so there will be a period of unnecessary exposure to this risk.

Steve said, “I expected nothing less from the Tories, but was gobsmacked to see Labour and the SNP opposing a measured proposal which could have helped keep rent arrears in check whilst also taking some of the financial pressures off people unfortunate enough to find themselves out of work. When rent arrears go through the roof as a result of this folly, the blame will clearly lie at the doors of those who walked away when they could have tried to do something about it. I’m not sure if it’s ignorance of the facts or if there’s hidden political agendas here. Regardless, this decision is no less than pure lunacy!”

Tougher Regulation of Private Landlords

housesLiberal Democrat Housing Spokesman Steve Delaney has been pressing Aberdeen City Council to impose tough sanctions on private landlords who fail to register the properties they own. This is a matter he has raised regularly at committee since he was elected in 2012, continually pressing for tougher sanctions against those who choose to ignore the legislation.

The registration of private landlords was first introduced in 2004 and further guidance issued in 2009. As part of the process, premises are inspected and complaints can be investigated. The legislation seeks to introduce an element of regulation which seeks to protect tenants, but there are a minority of landlords who either fail to register or allow their registrations to lapse and drag out the process.

Steve said, “Most private landlords are decent people who abide by the legislation, but for those who do not, Aberdeen can not be seen to be a soft touch”.

Under the legislation, Councils can impose a late registration fee of £110. If this is not complied with, following due process, a Rent Penalty Notice can be served, which effectively results in all rent derived from the property being forfeited. The ultimate sanction is of course prosecution as it is illegal to lease a property without joining the landlord registration scheme.

Steve said, “The Council has to date been reluctant to make use of the sanctions it has at its disposals and has only recently embarked upon a trial of these. After much debate and a full analysis of the situation, officers have now come up with a policy which is fair to decent landlords but tough on those who choose to play the system. It’s been a long time coming, but I’m delighted to see Aberdeen City Council fully utilising the powers at its disposal”.

Countesswells Development Approved

CountesswellsAt its meeting on 8th October 2010 Aberdeen City Council approved the Countesswells Development. The proposal will see over 3,000 new homes to the south side of the A944 between the roundabout at the end of the Lang Stracht (where it meets the A944) and the Kingswells roundabout. For avoidance of doubt, the proposals refers to the large orange blob in the centre of the above map.

Local councillor Steve Delaney spoke in the debate. He expressed no specific concerns over the development within its own boundaries and said that much thought had gone into the layout, open space and town centre. His primary concerns related to the traffic impact arising from the development.

The junction with the Lang Stracht is to receive a major upgrade which will address current pinch point and increase capacity and throughput but Steve’s concern related to the funnel effect as most of this additional traffic would head down the Lang Stracht, which is ill-equipped to cope.

He said, “This proposal is aimed at getting the traffic out of Countesswells, but it fails to adequately address capacity issues elsewhere on the network. The Lang Stracht is already nose to tail during the morning peak. Unless we take drastic action, such a dualing the Lang Stracht, we will see residents in Summerhill and Sheddocksley struggle to get to work”.

The developer’s own figures suggest 82% of peak time movements will be northwards and the bulk will go down Lang Stracht as it’s the easiest and most direct connection, with some traffic also heading down the B1119 Hazlehead road leading to Queens Road. Steve described the peak time traffic from 3000 new homes as “significant” and in addition to the 750 homes planned for Maidencraig and phases 2-4 of Prime Four.

Steve continued, “Only junction improvements being considered for the Lang Stracht. I was filled with horror to read about “potential contributions” towards mitigation on Lang Stracht. Why only potential?”

“This is not sustainable development. Key infrastructure requirements are being ignored as is so often the case. Are we to gridlock whole communities in the name of progress or does Aberdeen deserve better?”

Unaffordable Housing For Summerhill Site

summerhillAberdeen City Council has approved plans to develop the former Summerhill Academy site for housing developed using the mid market rent model, which results in rents being set mid way between Council rents and the private rental market.

It was agreed after considerable debate and division that the preferred option was for 100% mid market rent with no provision of housing at social rent levels on the Summerhill site to address the needs of families on council and housing association waiting lists.

The report before councillors was brought as a result of an instruction from the August meeting, but this tight timescales has resulted in normal procedures being bypassed and councillors being provided with an outline business plan rather than a detailed one.

Lib Dem Housing spokesman Steve Delaney said, “I did not believe that we should be considering a proposal without a full detailed business plan which takes account of deliverability of all possible options for this site. We also needed a detailed analysis of projected school rolls and plans to mitigate any capacity issues but this too was unavailable”.

“I also had considerable concerns about the 100% provision of mid market rent which will do nothing to help low paid working families living in overcrowded conditions, something I was somewhat bemused to see being proposed by Labour councillors”.

In the normal course of events, due process dictates that a full technical business case should be completed and presented to the Corporate Asset Group and then considered by the Corporate Management Team. An officer recommendation is then be made and reported to the relevant committee. It was acknowledged this process was not followed in this particular case due to time constraints.

Steve also raised questions about the capacity of the Lang Stracht and how additional traffic could be accommodated, also how Hazlehead Academy could cope with additional pupils arising from these proposals. He requested further proposals be brought forward to a future meeting incorporating a mix of tenures with emphasis on including housing at social rent levels.

He continued, “Make no bones about it, mid-market rent is usually allocated on a first come first served basis, unlike social housing, so anyone who can afford the rent can apply. This would not exclude those who can afford to buy but may choose to rent”.

“There is no guarantee that these house will go to newly qualified nurses, teachers and other key workers who would otherwise struggle with private rent levels. This proposal does nothing to address the skills shortages we face as a city. Clearly this decision is a slap in the face to low paid families in Aberdeen as Labour instead build housing for those on modest incomes. This is not affordable housing and they should hang their heads in shame”.

“Surely there has to be a way that we can assist key workers without robbing those in greatest housing need of their only hope of living in a home that’s affordable to them. I even suggested we all get together to look at a possible way forward on the key workers issue working cross party, and that too was rejected. I’m deeply disappointed by this”.

Council Backs Unaffordable Housing Initiative

Town HouseAberdeen City Council today further progressed its plans to build 2430 new homes over the next 5 years. Of the eight sites, identified six are wholly owned by the Council and will form the basis of the Council’s contribution this project by way of land value, with external organisations being asked to bid for the new build housing contract. The initiative is being trumpeted as “affordable” housing, but is it really affordable for people on our Council waiting lists?

The Council aims to deliver across these sites a mix of 20% of homes at social rent (Council or Housing Association rent levels) with the remaining 80% split between Low Cost Home Ownership (where the purchaser pays a percentage of the market value based on their income but never owns outright), Mid Market Rent (set at approximately half way between social rent and private rent) and homes for outright sale.

Liberal Democrat Housing Spokesman Steve Delaney proposed the split be 60% at social rent and 40% between low cost home ownership and Mid Market Rent with no outright sales. He said, “Whilst I agree a split is needed, we need to redress the balance towards social rent. Mid Market Rent and Low Cost Home Ownership are indeed required to address the shortage of housing for key workers who cannot afford a full mortgage or private rent. These include doctors, nurses and teachers amongst other professions where it is becoming harder to attract people to Aberdeen due to inflated house prices”.

“However these tenures do nothing to help the thousands of low paid hard working families on our waiting lists, most of whom could not afford the higher rents or the mortgage payments. This proposal does not seek to build homes for those in greatest housing need”.

Steve continued, “The Lib Dem Group are entirely on board for delivering 2430 affordable homes but what was proposed is not affordable to those who need them most. The Council is not just selling off the family silver, but rather giving it away! When public land is earmarked for housing it should be used primarily for the provision of social housing. As for building homes for outright sale at a discounted prices, this is not something the Council should be doing”.

Labour, SNP, Tory and Independent councillors choose not to heed Steve’s concerns and instead to proceed with the proposal as originally presented, throwing away the opportunity to build an extra 1000 properties which would have been affordable for everyone.

* Aberdeen City Council Housing Budget * 18 – 21% Increase In Heat With Rent Charge For Sheltered Housing Tenants

Steve at Lewis CourtOn Wednesday 18th December 2013 Lib Dem Housing Spokesman Steve Delaney presented his first Housing Budget, after all Parties had agreed common proposals last year.

It was a prudent budget but one that set out to ensure completion of the Scottish Housing Quality Standard for all Council owned properties by 2015, made provision to mitigate the negative effects of Welfare Reform and kept rent increases to a minimum amount without affecting the longer term viability of the programme which delivers the repairs, maintenance and upgrades to our properties.

The proposals detailed £43 million of capital expenditure, funded almost by new borrowing and from money raised through rental income. It also supported the use of receipts from “right to buy” sales being used towards repayment of housing debt.

There had been a level of political census on Housing Budgets for a number of years and Steve was hoping this would continue, but regrettably there was one sticking point on which the other Parties would not budge. This related to increases in fuel charges to properties in which people pay for their heating along with their rent. These properties are usually multi storeys, sheltered or amenity housing.

Steve told fellow councillors, “Rising energy bills is something that affects us all, but especially those households who are already living in fuel poverty and those who are in danger of slipping into this category. The recent astronomical rises in consumer energy prices shows how out of control this industry is and demonstrates their lack of responsibility towards their already hard pressed customers.

“As the vast majority of 1 bedroom flats which have heat with rent are in sheltered or amenity housing, the 18% – 21% increase proposed for these properties is going to hit some of our most vulnerable tenants, many of who may already be struggling with the rising cost of living.

“The Liberal Democrat Group propose that we ask officers to report back to the February Budget Meeting on how best to mitigate the effects of the heat with rent charge across the board, but with particular emphasis on assisting those in sheltered and amenity properties”.

The Liberal Democrat Budget was rejected by 38 votes to 4, as Labour, SNP, Conservative and independent councillors all voted to increase charges for those who pay for their heating with their rent by up to £156 per annum.

Labour’s Blueprint Offers Nothing New

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Aberdeen’s Labour led Council has unveiled their blueprint for the city’s future growth and prosperity.

18 months on from forming an alliance of Labour, Tory and Independent councillors to run the city, their plans for Aberdeen have turned out to be no more than a damp squib.

Liberal Democrat councillor Steve Delaney said, “Pulling all the Council’s infrastructure projects together into one report is useful, but, with few exceptions, that’s all this is. Most of what’s in the report is already agreed, much of which was either started by the last Administration or is being delivered by external partner organisations”.

“I was able to count almost 40 pre-existing initiatives, which leaves me searching desperately for the Administration’s wonderful new ideas. They clearly have no ideas of their own so all we got was a collection of pre-existing projects rolled into one document”

“Looking specifically at Housing, during a recession, ideally we’d be building many more affordable houses to stimulate the economy and cater for the increasing number of people who now need affordable homes. In reality, the opposite is happening with less affordable homes being built than in recent years. The Administration’s plans to divert resources into mid market rent and houses for sale will do little to reduce our waiting lists and help those in greatest need”.

“Turning towards City Centre Regeneration, the £20 million allocated won’t scratch the surface of what’s needed. Already agreed renovations to the Art Gallery and Music Hall will eat up much of this allocation, given that this is not new money. The scope for doing much else just isn’t there. Let’s be clear, we will see nothing transformational happen in the lifetime of this Council”.

Labour Led Council Backs Halting Sites

Howes RoadAberdeen City Council has decided to build a halting site for travellers on Howes Road opposite Heathryburn School, beside the replacement for the Raeden Centre, in an area earmarked for housing in the Local Plan and a stone’s throw away from an established community. The Liberal Democrats opposed the proposal.

Local councillor Steve Delaney said, “The Liberal Democrat Group feel that imposing halting sites on established communities is not the answer. It has the potential to severely impact on the quality of life of people living there if things do go wrong, and this is not something I believe this Council should be doing”.

“Travellers by the very nature of their lifestyle don’t want to be told where to pitch, so I’m somewhat sceptical that we can ensure such sites would be used. Imposing halting sites on settled communities and telling travellers where they will go, is failing to recognise the expectations of either community As a result, the creation of halting sites which might not be used may well amount to no more than flushing public money down the toilet”.

He also raised concerns that a site with capacity for 10 caravans, as is proposed, won’t solve the problem of unauthorised encampments. He said that Police will not move travellers on unless there’s somewhere for them to go.

He continued, “As soon as the site is full, we’re back to the Courts for evictions, so expected financial savings will be minimal. Unless we ring the city with multiple sites, we will be unable to prevent unauthorised encampments. If multiple sites are the Council’s intention, they risk attracting an even greater number of travellers to the city and the capacity issue will be further compounded”.

For avoidance of doubt, the Springhill Road site (old Council depot next to Eric Hendrie Park) is no longer under consideration, but the chosen site is just a few hundred yards down the road.

More Bickering Over Haudagain Upgrade

Haudagain_sThe need to address traffic congestion at the Haudagain is of major concern to everyone but it is turning into a political football between Labour and the SNP, with attacks firing across the bows from the Labour led Council and the SNP Scottish Government with increasing regularity, none of which is helping the situation.

Labour want to speed up the decanting of residents in the area which needs to be demolished for the road improvements. New housing is due to be built nearby, but will not be ready within the Council’s revised timescale. The SNP Scottish Government insists construction can’t begin until the Western Peripheral Route has been opened. Whether or not such works could be done in advance of the WPR but following completion of the Third Don Crossing is a question which remains unanswered.

Steve Delaney said, “The upgrade to the junction needs to be done as soon as possible, but shouting for it to be done quicker sort of misses the point. If we carry out works prior to necessary infrastructure being in place, traffic will gridlock during the works. Clearly a modicum of commonsense is needed here. There is also a need to accept that even if families in the affected area could be re-housed sooner, the upgrade won’t happen any faster as these works are the responsibility of the Scottish Government and they will run to their own timetable, like it or not”.

“If we progress along Labour’s chosen route have no doubts about it, the need to re-house 325 families in advance of new housing being built, can only be done by suspending the housing waiting lists and that means a longer wait for people in housing need, many of whom have already been waiting a considerable amount of time for an offer”.

“What we need is a pragmatic solution with Aberdeen City Council and the Scottish Government working together to deliver a real solution as soon as possible rather than the sound bite mentality which delivers nothing. My real concern is that works get delayed beyond currently envisaged timescales as a result of all this bickering”.

Mixed Feelings On New Anti-Social Behaviour Policy

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Aberdeen City Council has just adopted a revised policy for dealing with anti-social neighbours. Local councillor and Lib Dem Housing Spokesman, Steve Delaney, welcomed the updated policy which has been designed to tackle this blight on our communities. Steve was involved in the decision to extend the operational times of the anti-social behaviour unit during a previous Council term and both the policy and the unit itself have evolved in recent years to offer strong support to those experiencing such problems.

Steve said, “This latest revision sets out timescales and expected actions, gives a commitment for the Council to take firm action, seeks to ensure the Council’s actions are consistent, identifies key agencies for partnership working and considers the impact of anti-social behaviour on victims. In this respect it represents a major step forward but I do have some concerns”.

The Housing Scotland Act allows for tenants to be placed on a Scottish Short Secure Tenancy (6 month tenancy renewable for up to two years) following the granting of an ASBO, which allows for a faster eviction process to be used if the ASBO is breached. Aberdeen City Council does not routinely use this facility though it is acknowledged as an option. This was one of the concerns Steve raised at Committee as he felt it should be used in every case. He also proposed that where a tenant had been evicted for anti-social behaviour, the incoming tenant should be vetted to ensure that they did not have a pre-existing record of anti-social behaviour elsewhere. He felt that failure to do so could expose neighbours to a revolving door of anti-social neighbours.

Lib Dem colleague Jennifer Stewart also raised concerns that the policy was too prescriptive in specifying what did not constitute anti-social behaviour. The policy stated that everyday living noise such as people walking across a wooden floor, doors banging, people using washing machines, children bullying each other, revving engines etc; are not to be classed as anti-social behaviour. Steve and Jennifer both felt that such behaviour could become anti-social not as one offs, but where the behaviour was deliberate and sustained.

Steve said, “This is a good policy which could have been so much stronger if our concerns had been taken on board. I’m disappointed that others did not see the value in being tougher on anti-social tenants and in being less prescriptive on what type of behaviour the Council will not take action on”.

The Council’s revised Anti-Social Behaviour Policy is available online.

More Details Needed On Sheltered Housing Changes

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Aberdeen City is moving away from offering only the Sheltered Housing option to senior citizens requiring a level of support. In future there will be Amenity, Amenity Plus, Sheltered and Very Sheltered on offer. There is broad support cross party for a range of options to be offered, though local councillor Steve Delaney has had some concerns about the lack of consultation with existing tenants in affected blocks prior to these decisions having been taken.

Within our area Regensburg Court will change to Amenity with Lewis Court, Taransay Court and Gray Court either remaining as Sheltered or changing to Very Sheltered. Elsewhere in the city some Sheltered Multis are to lose their sheltered status and return to mainstream housing.

Steve, who is Lib Dem Housing Spokesman, said, “Now that the decision has been taken, the Lib Dems will scrutinise and question the detailed implementation to ensure tenants’ interests are protected during this period of change. We are not opposed to giving people choices, it just needs to be done in a sensitive manner and the Council needs to listen to their tenants and address any concerns they may have”.

Assurances have already been given that nobody will have to move house and nobody will lose out on the level of service they require. If someone initially requires an Amenity service but then needs a Sheltered service at a later date, the intention would be to upgrade their support, not expect them to move home. The changes will not happen overnight, but it’s important people are aware. The detail of how a flexible needs package such as this could be delivered, is still being developed.

Steve asked Committee to bring forward a new allocation policy for blocks which are changing to Amenity or Mainstream. He raised concerns that vacancies should be allocated sensitively to avoid lifestyle clashes. There was also a question over whether existing tenants who wanted to move (accepting that nobody would be asked to move) would have priority over new applicants. It was agreed that a new policy would be drafted for approval at a future meeting.

Please note that these proposals do not affect the delivery of homecare services as these are delivered on the basis of need and will continue to be offered to eligible residents, regardless of where they live.

“Serious Concerns” Over Bon Accord Care

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Aberdeen City Council has decided to set up a Local Authority Trading Company (LATC) to deliver care services to elderley and disabled citizens. It will be known as Bon Accord Care and will manage residential care homes, day care provision, care at home, housing support in sheltered accommodation, rehabilitation and other services for adults on behalf of the Council. It will be a separate company but will be wholly owned by the Council. The aim is to offer additional services to people which local authorities are not ordinarily permitted to offer. It is hoped that any surpluses generated from such additional trading activities will help to support existing social care services at a time when budgets and under pressure and the elderly population is increasing.

In December 2012 the Liberal Democrats asked the Labour led Administration for a delay in the establishment of the company to allow for more information on how it would operate and a possible revision to the make up of its Board. The proposals came back to the Council on 6th March with none of the company’s legal documents available for scrutiny, a senior member of staff already having been appointed and a recommendation to exclude councillors from the Board. The Liberal Democrats voted against implementing the LATC, citing serious concerns over public accountability and financial viability.

Deputy Group Leader Steve Delaney raised a number of concerns about the financial viability of the company at the meeting, from which public and press were excluded. He also expressed concern that with no councillors on the Board, serving instead on an advisory “Stakeholder Group”, the Council would have little or no direct control over services it provides to elderly and vulnerable people. He remained to be convinced as to the value of progressing the LATC following the publishing of the Scottish Government’s proposals to integrate adult health and social care services, where some of the services proposed for transfer to the LATC would be part of a joint body with NHS Grampian. He said it was right to have considered the LATC as an initiative but the “world had changed” since the idea was first mooted and it no longer offered the same opportunities but now came with a higher risk of failure.

Steve, who has held (and continues to hold) senior positions on a number of highly successful Boards, said that in his experience public bodies which fail inevitably do so as a result of poor governance structures and/or weak unchallenging boards. He referred to the advisory “Stakeholder Group” set up to monitor the LATC’s activities as being no more than a “toothless tiger”.

Commenting on the Lib Dem position he said, “For us this is about providing the best possible service to elderly and vulnerable citizens and if the LATC fails that test, then we shouldn’t be doing it. My serious worry is that the business case just doesn’t stack up and if this venture fails, as I fear it it may well, it will impact upon the level of service the Council can provide to people who need them”.

Bon Accord Care will be the first organisation of its type in Scotland. Several LATCs already exist in England and there have been some high profile failures amongst their number, which was of concern to a number of elected members, given that the only way out if this happens is to either reduce costs (and services) to clients or to bring the service back in-house with a financial bailout that impacts upon all Council services.

Steve added, “Neither myself nor my colleagues will play any part in an organisation which exposes the Council to considerable financial risk and more importantly puts at risk the services we currently deliver to our most vulnerable citizens. Our participation would lend legitimacy to this folly and we just can’t do that”.