ABERDEEN CITY COUNCIL
Comparative Audit of Participating Cities
SOCIO, ECONOMIC HISTORY
The City of Aberdeen is Scotland’s third largest city and the regional centre for the North East
of Scotland. It has a population of 210,000.
There is evidence of settlements around Aberdeen’s two rivers, the River Don and the River Dee
from 600 AD onwards, but how or why they came together as one settlement is unknown, both
settlements being separated by at least one of the rivers which would have been difficult and
dangerous to cross.
Interestingly, what we can surmise from Viking “sagas” is that a Norse chieftain called Eysteinn
recorded that in 1153 he reached the eastern shores of Scotland by ship to the town of
“Apardion” where for reasons best known to himself he “killed many people and wasted the
city”. By 1162 Viking leaders were holidaying in Apardion when Swein, one of the last Viking
leaders, seems to have spent a months holiday with the then King of Scots Malcolm IV
None of these tales can of course be recorded as historically accurate. However, what is known
is that the town was united and already operating successfully as a trading centre in the 12 th
century. It is historical fact that the City of Aberdeen was granted Royal Burgh status in 1179
thereby significantly increasing its ability to develop as a trading community. Initially the Burgh
consisted of self-appointed men from the few leading families in Aberdeen and these men
known as Burgesses were responsible for ensuring law and order and overseeing trading in the
Burgh area. As trade grew in the 16th and 17th centuries, so did the number of Burghs.
Aberdeen enjoyed a relatively powerful and prosperous position in Scotland as a Royal Burgh.
The establishment of Burghs was a significant event in the development of local government
and the Burghs could be said to be the forerunners of the Councils which now exist in Scotland.
In 1319 Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland gave the Burgh of Aberdeen ownership of the Lands
of the Burgh of Aberdeen. Parts of these lands have been sold prudently throughout the years
creating a Common Good Fund which comprises land and monies of around £24m which is used
for the benefit of the citizens of Aberdeen. You can see why Robert the Bruce is held in high
regard in Aberdeen.
Rapid industrial growth in Aberdeen began in the 18th and 19th centuries with the establishment
of textile mills and factories, paper making and brewing industries. Being on the coast, fishing
has always been a traditional vocation, however, in 1770 development of the harbour began and
the harbour area was transformed into a fishing port. In 1820 Aberdeen harbour was the
principle shipbuilding centre in Scotland.
Following the discovery of oil in the north east in the late 1950s early 60s, the City developed
rapidly as an oil capital through the 1970s and early 80s. The City remains so to this day. As
such, we are subject to the market forces faced by the oil industry. The international oil
companies who moved to Aberdeen and the whole range of supporting industries are a major
employer in Aberdeen (some 40,000 people are employed in this industry) and any impact on
the oil industry has a similar impact on employment as companies cut back or recruit to meet the
changing demand for oil.
In addition, whilst many oil related jobs are highly paid there is the resultant wide gap between
those in employment (particularly those employed by the main oil companies) and those who are
not. House prices rose sharply in the 1970s to late 1980s when Aberdeen prices were the second
highest in the UK after London and south east of England.
The growth of oil has arguably concealed and hastened the decline of the traditional industries
but local authorities and other partners have continued to work together on the maintenance and
development of new employment in areas such as:-
• Aberdeen City Council/Aberdeenshire Council
• Health Services
• Schools and Universities
Despite low unemployment Aberdeen does have some areas of severe deprivation. One in five
Aberdonians live in areas which are counted as amongst the poorest/most poverty stricken areas
of the country.
Aberdeen is a University town, with the Ancient University of Aberdeen established in 1500 and
the Robert Gordon University which was established in 1880 and awarded University status in
The City is also the cultural centre for the North East of Scotland with a theatre venue, the
Music Hall, an Exhibition and Conference Centre, an Art Gallery and a number of award
winning museums such as the Maritime Museum and the Old Toll Booth. It is widely renowned
for its parks and flowers and has won Britain in Bloom on a number of occasions.
As the City developed from its early beginnings, the need for administration grew beyond the
maintenance of law and order and trading. In 1795 the Aberdeen Police Act widened the powers
of the then Town Council to improving pavements and roads and supplying fresh water to those
living in Aberdeen. The subsequent Burgh Reform Acts of 1833 and 1834 widened powers
further and introduced a process of democratising local government by giving ratepayers (at that
time a very small number of the citizens) a right to vote.
The structure and powers of Local Government have changed many times in recent years and it
would probably serve no useful purpose to explain these in this paper. At present, however,
Aberdeen Council consists of 43 people elected to serve the Council, called Councillors. Local
Councillors are elected every four years, the last being in May 1999. The Councils political
representation consists of 22 Labour, 12 Liberal Democrat, 6 Conservatives and 3 Scottish
National Party Councillors. At present there is a majority of 1 to the Labour administration.
Elections are on a “first past the post” basis, not proportional representation and whilst
Councillors do not need to be members of a political party, all Aberdeen City Councillors are.
Each Councillor is appointed for a particular area of the City and is responsible for
approximately 3,800 electors or voters. After the elections every 4 years, the Council appoints a
Lord Provost of Aberdeen from amongst the newly elected Councillors. The post of Lord
Provost is a historic position and the postholder is the civic head of the City. The present Lord
Provost is Margaret Smith who is only the second woman to have held this position. There have
been a total of 290 Lord Provosts in the City of Aberdeen since the Town Council was first
established and the first Lord Provost appointed in 1272.
The Council is responsible for providing many services including:-
Education Mainly for children of school age, but there are also significant opportunities for
Social Care Including services for older people, such as residential homes, day-care, sheltered
housing, services for people with disabilities, support for children and families
such as child protection work, fostering and adopting, family centres, and pre-
school day centres, criminal justice services, such as supporting prisoners and
supervising people on probation.
& Recreation Such as providing libraries, managing and developing museums, galleries and
cultural venues such as the Theatre. Providing support for people to develop
their skills and participate in arts and sports, managing the Cities parks and open
spaces, managing sports centres and swimming pools.
Infrastructure Considering and approving or refusing planning applications for developments in
the City to private property and for major developments such as shopping centres,
housing etc. The Council must maintain roads and develop transportation
strategies to take account of vehicular traffic as well as cyclists and pedestrians.
Management The collection and disposal of waste in the City. The Council must develop
strategies to encourage people to minimise waste and to recycle.
Housing The Council owns and maintains a number of houses for rent in the City. The
rental is generally cheaper than the private market and because of demand and the
Council’s objective to make this housing available to those most in need, the
Council maintains a waiting list with a point system to decide on the allocation of
housing. The Council also has sheltered and very-sheltered housing complexes
for older people who require support to live in their own homes. In addition
grants and loans are provided to private home owners to improve their properties.
Councillors make decisions through our formal committee structure. A copy of the
Committee Map is attached as an appendix to this report. As well as the formal committee
structure there are a number of advisory forums established by the Council where the
membership includes Councillors, local citizens, representatives of public and private sector
agencies and voluntary and community organisations. These include:-
Ethnic Minority Forum
Disability Advisory Group
Community Safety Partnership
Aberdeen & Aberdeenshire Local Economic Forum
Development Women’s Forum
Youth Action Committee
In addition our Councillors are members of some 400 organisations in the City ranging from
large strategic partnerships to local neighbourhood groups. We are currently undertaking an
audit of all these organisations to see how the Council can improve the way it works with these
groups and partnerships in the future. This is a major project the processes of which and the
outcomes therefrom will be of interest to the DEMOS project. Aberdeen City Council will
report on progress to our DEMOS partners on an ongoing basis.
EXISTING ARRANGEMENTS FOR DE-CENTRALISED PARTICIPATION AND
The Council, in conjunction with other public authorities in the City of Aberdeen has always
developed working relationships with other public sector bodies such as the Police and the
Health Service, through establishing partnerships and working groups to consider areas of
mutual interest and in particular service provision. The Scottish Executive introduced the
concept of community planning to enforce this practice. It has been recognised by local
authorities throughout Scotland that there is a need for public agencies to work together and
each Council in Scotland is obliged to produce a Community Plan in conjunction with other
public sector organisations for its area. This concept will be enforced following the anticipated
enactment of legislation based on the Local Government Bill which is currently out for
Community Planning in Aberdeen is based on the idea that:-
“If all the organisations in Aberdeen that can make a difference
- listen to what local people say and want for their City
- agree on the priorities and targets for the next ten years to address these
- agree to tackle them together
- real and lasting improvements will be achieved for the City and for the people
who live here.”
Aberdeen City’s Community Plan is a unified plan for the whole City based on consultation with
the citizens of Aberdeen and through joint working by public, private and voluntary sector
The organisations which came together to form the Aberdeen Community Plan are:-
Aberdeen City Council
Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce
Aberdeen Council Voluntary Organisations
Aberdeen Trades Council
Aberdeen Friends of the Earth
Scottish Enterprise Grampian
Grampian Health Board
The University of Aberdeen
Grampian Fire Brigade.
In developing the Community Plan the community planning partners sought people’s
views on what they believed would make Aberdeen a better place in which to live, study or
spend leisure time.
Based on the results of the consultations, fourteen City Challenges were identified which local
people said they would want our community planning to address. These are:-
Transport and Connections
Land Use and the Environment
A Clean City
Prosperity and Jobs
Arts, Sports and Heritage
Health and Social Care
Leading the City
Management Arrangements for De-centralisation
Aberdeen City Council is restructuring its management and operational structures by replacing
the existing eleven Departments with service areas, each with a Corporate Director. These areas
- Learning and Leisure (Arts, Sports, Recreation, Parks, Libraries, Schools and
- Community Services (Housing and Social Work)
- City Development (Planning, Strategic Development, Economic Development)
- Environment and Infrastructure (Roads, Environment and Consumer Protection and
For the purpose of service delivery Aberdeen will be divided into three areas (North, South and
Central). Each area will also have its own Corporate Director for Neighbourhood Services
responsible for a multi-disciplinary team to deliver joined-up services to local people.
One of the main reasons for the Council’s decision to re-organise was the desire to improve
local people’s experience of using Council services. The Council knows that people want
- are easy to use and easy to find out about
- are delivered where and when they are needed without unnecessary delay
- are responsive to their needs
- make the best use of the resources available.
Intended benefits to citizens of organisational change include -
“Joined-up services with multi-disciplinary teams and themed groupings
replacement of individual departments should mean that barrier creating will cease to exist.
faster more comprehensive responses to local issues
less or no passing the buck between Departments, with multi-disciplinary issues addressed
jointly within the team and not moved around parts of the Council
making the Council more accessible, placing more employees in community locations,
creating designated teams within specific parts of the City to enable people to know where
and how to have their concerns and queries dealt with
making communication with the Council easier and faster with dedicated employees
responsible for all aspects of service delivery within a given set of neighbourhoods and
ensuring local people know how to get in touch with them
more opportunities to influence change in the community, the development of more
community capacity building and a focus on neighbourhood teams in communities with
more involvement with local residents should not only create greater opportunities to share
views but enhance the ability of community groups to influence and effect change
Council and partner agencies working in partnership locally to provide:-
- more effective action on community issues
- opportunities to access non-Council and Council services simultaneously
- savings accruing from change and local budgets for local needs
- access to better quality information.
All of this will be supported at community level by an emphasis on community involvement and
revising the way organisations consult citizens on issues affecting them. Participation
guidelines are being developed and should inform the way neighbourhood teams engage
with citizens and work with groups to increase their ability to network, take action
themselves, and engage with the Council and its elected members to address local
In order to support communities at a neighbourhood level the Council is developing plans to
address the needs and aspirations of the people in each neighbourhood. This process has just
started and challenges include how to involve people in the planning process in a meaningful
and rewarding way as well as considering what decisions can be taken at a neighbourhood level
and how resources might be allocated. The experience of our DEMOS partners are likely to
greatly assist us in developing this planning process.
Since Local Government in Scotland was last re-organised in 1996 the new Aberdeen City
Council committed itself to working towards “the extension of local democracy”. Over the past
five years this kind of development has been uneven. We can identify an overall increase in
citizens consultation, some Council Departments have built up experience of using a range of
public involvement methods (service users panels, focus groups, surveys, conferences etc.) and
there have been a number of corporate exercises such as annual Council budget consultation and
a large scale community planning exercise. But on the other hand opportunities for public
participation are not consistently offered and sometimes when they are there are shortcomings in
the methods used.
More recently we have been working to co-ordinate and promote our approach by
developing a Council-wide Strengthening Local Democracy Strategy. This has resulted in
the development of Participation Guidelines which should guide Council and public sector
agencies to think very carefully about the purpose, type, nature and feedback of each
Participation exercises can fall into four categories such as:-
- providing information,
- joint decision making
- community empowerment.
Examples of this practice within the Council over the past five years include:-
• Bon-Accord - the Council’s Newspaper
• Council/Committee papers
• With Community Councils and development of a Community Councils protocol.
• The establishment of Service Users Panels, for example:-
Sports Facilities Users
• The development of new policies through consultative documents and public
meetings, for example:-
The Youth Strategy
Voluntary Sector Policy
Joint Decision Making
• Through the development of Partnerships such as:-
The Great Northern Partnership (a social inclusion partnership in
The Bridge of Don Partnership, and
The Childcare Partnership
• Through supporting and funding, community self-help groups.
• The establishment of Tenant Participation Groups and the Community Council
• Development of Consultative Forums that can develop their own agendas such as
the Ethnic Minority Forum, the Youth Action Committee, Disability Advisory
• Devolved powers to Community Education Management Committees and
Community Centres to manage their own facilities.
As previously indicated the Council will be required to work together with its partner agencies
in terms of the community planning agenda when the Local Government Bill is enacted.
Other legislation has been developed based upon the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child
such as the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 (right to have a say in the services children receive),
Human Rights Act 1998 (right for children to have a voice, Freedom of Association, etc.) and
the Standards in Schools Act 2000 (children’s rights to education, to have a say in education
plans and to consult children and parents on the school development plans). The planning
legislation requires consultation on both the local and the Structure plan. Legislation in respect
of Road Traffic Orders require consultation with local and affected residents.
CURRENT PRACTICE AND INNOVATION
1. The Strengthening Local Democracy Strategy
the Council has developed a strategy document in consultation with members of the
Council, officers of the Council and its community planning partners, community groups
and citizens. The main aim of this strategy is:-
“To strengthen local democracy to enable citizens to be active, informed and
- bringing Council decision making closer to citizens and
- supporting citizens to have more influence in decision making.”
The outcomes which we are trying to achieve are to:-
- Create active communities which entertain, provide local services, facilitate self
help, advise on service provision and contribute to local community-wide
• Develop informed communities which have access to clear, relevant
information about the community, services available to it and plans and proposals
for the future.
• Encourage involved communities which have a capacity to develop a
community agenda, co-ordinate community groups, facilitate community
initiatives, represent a wide range of views in the local community, engage with
elected representatives and local authorities, work in partnership with service
providers, external agencies, etc. and link with and collaborate with other
communities in Aberdeen, in Scotland and across the globe.
The strategy has developed an action plan which includes a number of initiatives
(1) The development of a Citizens Panel and the Virtual Citizens Panel
(2) The development of the Young Person’s Website
(3) Looking at methods of increasing voter turnout
(4) The development of participation guidelines
(5) The development of community capacity building and support
A number of innovative examples of consultation and involvement already exist
(A) Planning for Real events - these events enable groups of people to meet together
to develop a vision of what they want to see happen in relation to a particular
area, focussing on considering actions needed to bring the vision about. This
technique has been used on a number of occasions to bring together people in a
specific geographical area or people from a particular community of interest, for
(B) Open space events - this technique creates a framework from which participants
create their own programme of discussions around a central theme. It is a
flexible method and can cope with a very large number of people. The organisers
main role is to create the time and space for the event to take place and to arrange
a facilitator with a “hands-off” approach. What occurs on the day is in the hands
of the participants. An open space event was arranged by the Council in
conjunction with Grampian Police to consult children and young people. All the
participants set the agenda and discussed the areas of interest which they had
chosen. Around 120 young people participated and priority concerns identified
were racism and domestic abuse.
(C) Road Traffic Orders - The Council undertakes a major consultation exercise
when it plans to introduce Road Traffic Orders. These orders can be used to
introduce parking restrictions and safer traffic movement proposals. The
consultation takes the form of one to one meetings, group discussions and public
meetings and at each stage it is made very clear to the participants the nature of
the proposals and the influence that they are being offered. For example it is
rarely the case that the order would be abandoned, however, it is very often the
case that the proposals will be amended to reflect the issues raised by the local
residents or communities.
(4) There are many other examples of consultative practice some of which have been
referred to earlier in this report.
2. The Modernising Government Agenda
The Council, as indicated previously is committed to changing its management structures
to support a neighbourhood service approach. Furthermore the Council has a number of
projects in the process of development which would demonstrate support for citizens
(1) The Council Website
(2) The development of an Accord Card which would be a smart card for citizens to
be made available to every resident in the city. The card could be used (a) as an
entitlement card to gain access to Council facilities such as libraries and sports
facilities, schools and educational courses, to claim concessions and discounts, to
access school meals, to gain access to buildings or information, etc. and (b) as an
electronic purse to be used in place of cash in vending machines, on buses and for
other payments. The pilot project is now complete and the Scottish Executive
has taken a keen interest in the scheme. Discussion are underway with a view
to the smart card becoming a model for other local authorities to adopt.
(3) A Strategic Partnership - The Council is currently undertaking a tender process
to enter into a long term partnership with a strategic partner. The company
chosen will assist the Council to:-
• establish new and better ways of planning and service provision which
would make a real difference to the lives of Aberdeen citizens
• invest a significant amount of capital to make these changes
The Strategic Partners’ role will be to help the Council to achieve its aims of:-
• creating a more flexible organisation that is able to respond to changing
• providing a consistently high quality service
• transforming the organisational culture to better support a citizen centred
• providing citizens with a choice of ways of contacting the Council, for
example the Customer Service Centre, the Internet, etc. which are
designed to meet citizens needs and expectations.
The Strategic Partner will work closely with the Council to:-
• review the way that services are planned and provided
• identify ways of improving services
• implement the improvements - whether that means introducing new
techniques, making radical changes to the way that people work, or
developing customer focused solutions to particular problems.
(4) The Data Sharing Project - The Council is working towards establishing
Aberdeen City’s first data sharing partnership with organisations like the health
service and the police. Currently information is shared between organisations on
a limited basis but this proposal envisages the creation of “city intelligence”
where information can be brought together, analysed and presented in a
(5) The DEMOS Project, namely:-
(a) The Citizens Panel - where a group of around 1500 to 2000 citizens agree
to join a panel for the city of Aberdeen. The Panellist will receive
training and regular information from the Council and the Council’s
partners. In this case the Council’s partners will be the public sector
providers who are responsible for working with the Council to prepare a
community plan, ie:-
- the Police Force
- the Fire Brigade
- the Enterprise Company
- the Health Service
- Aberdeen Council for Voluntary Organisations
- Communities Scotland
The Panel will receive regular questionnaires on new service proposals,
how services are performing and proposed changes to service provision.
The members of the Panel will be drawn from all areas of the city and will
include representatives from ethnic groups, young people and old people,
(b) The Virtual Citizens Panel - This is a Citizens Panel on the web/internet.
The Panel will get the same information as the formal Citizens Panel and
anyone who gains access to the website can use it and fill in the Citizens
Panel questionnaires provided they give us information about their
location, ethnic group, sex, age, etc.
We are hoping that this will give us information about who we can
interact with over the website, who is using the internet and what
type/groups of people prefer this method and perhaps more importantly
who we are missing out or not reaching in using this method.
(c) The Young Persons Website - Progress has already been made to establish
a Young Person Website in Aberdeen and this project aims to greatly
enhance the site. The aim of the project is to provide up-to-date
information on services, events, news, reviews and current issues being
discussed by young people and to link the site to other useful sites for
young people relating to job searches, training and educational
opportunities and health information.
The site will be promoted to and used by the Council and its partners to consult
with young people and to inform young people of decisions which affect their
(6) The Council’s Modernisation Government Fund Bid - This is a bid to the
Scottish Office for funding to support the Council’s modernising programme.
The Council successfully achieved funding in the first round of bids which
helped to establish the data sharing project and the Accord Card. This bid aims
to build on the success of the earlier bid and includes a number of projects
(a) Further development of the Accord Card.
(b) Improved targeting of local services through the data sharing project.
(c) Support for the establishment of the Strategic Partnership.
(d) Development of a Learning with Care Programme whereby all
children who are in the care of the Council’s Social Work Department
will have access to PCs.
(e) Cultural Change Programme whereby Council employees will be
trained and supported to develop a “Can Do” philosophy offering
employees the opportunity to have access to and to be trained in relevant
(f) Citizens Skill and Participation Programme - The development of a
community training plan to give citizens the skills required to be able to
understand and use new methods of service delivery, to encourage the
concept of civic pride amongst citizens and to enable citizens to be
informed through access to skills, training, consultation and web based