Round-up of the meeting of the full Aberdeenshire Council

Councillors came together for the final meeting of the current term of Aberdeenshire Council, to discuss a range of matters, including a review of the Community Council Scheme, setting new equality outcomes for the next four years, a Unison Ethical Care Charter and two planning applications for a business park at Balmacassie in Ellon, and a mixed-used development at Blackdog.

Councillors debated three notices of motion:

1. From Councillor Ross Cassie:-

“Aberdeenshire Council calls upon the UK Government to make fair transitional state pension arrangements for all women born on or after 6th April 1951, who have unfairly borne the burden of the increase to the State Pension Age (SPA) with lack of appropriate notification, so that women do not live in hardship due to pension changes they were not told about until it was too late to make alternative arrangements.

“Aberdeenshire Council also agrees that the Chief Executive shall write to the Prime Minister expressing the Council’s view that the UK Government reconsider transitional arrangements for all of those women affected.”
The notice of motion was seconded by Cllr Alison Evison who acknowledged the campaign by the Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) campaign, who were represented in the public gallery.
Cllr Jim Gifford put forward an amendment that the council ‘take no action’. He explained that the 1995 Act legislated for equal pension rights for men and women. He added that, at the time of the changes, women were given five years notice of the changes. He said that any changes would come at a cost, as people were living longer and leading healthier lives.
The amendment was seconded by Cllr Margot Stewart.
The motion was carried 48 to 12 with 3 no votes.

2. From Councillor McKail:-

“Council instructs the Chief Executive to write to the Royal Bank of Scotland expressing concern at the decision to close their bank branches at Westhill, Banchory and Stonehaven.
Closure of these three branches will be discriminatory against those who do not use digital banking which is likely to include large numbers of elderly people, for businesses which depend on the bank facilities as well as account holders who will experience difficulties in travelling to other bank branches outwith their area.

“Council also instructs the Chief Executive to request from the Royal Bank of Scotland reassurance that engagement with local business and personal customers will continue over the following months to ensure that adequate alternative arrangements are in place ahead of any closure.”
The motion was seconded by Cllr Wendy Agnew.
Following a debate during which the situation was widely discussed by councillors, the motion was unanimously approved.

3. From Councillor Richard Thomson:-

“Council notes with grave concern the decision by the UK Government to impose a two-child limit on receipt of child tax credits and the consequent application of a “rape clause”, whereby any mother seeking to claim child tax credits for more than 2 children will have to prove that one or more of those children was conceived as a result of rape or while in a coercive relationship.

“Council further notes the decision by our community partners in the Aberdeenshire Gender Based Violence Group, namely Grampian Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis Grampian, to refuse to help officials to implement this policy, as well as the severe criticism which the policy has encountered from other bodies such as One Parent Families Scotland.

“Council therefore mandates the Co-Leaders to write to the Prime Minister on behalf of Aberdeenshire Council to express on behalf of the Council its grave concern over this policy and its potential impact, and to request that urgent consideration be given by the UK Government to reversing this policy.”
The motion was seconded by Cllr Alison Evison who spoke about the council’s approach to equality and its partnership with women’s aid organisations and urged councillors to condemn the policy.
Cllr Jim Gifford moved an amendment that ‘the council take no action’. He said that the country had serious financial challenges and changes to the welfare system were required, including the cap on child benefits. However, he recognised the sensitivity of the issues and stressed the importance of dealing with such matters compassionately.
The amendment was seconded by Cllr Gillian Owen saying the rape exemption was an attempt to make a compassionate exemption to the changes to welfare benefits.
There was a lengthy and robust debate with a range of impassioned views expressed. The motion was supported 49 votes for 13 with 2 no votes.

Review of the Scheme of Community Councils

Director of Business Services Ritchie Johnson introduced the report, saying that feedback from the consultation had been built into the scheme. He stressed that it was about having a scheme in place to support the effective operation of community councils which, despite being supported by volunteers, still had a statutory role and the scheme needed to promote consistency.

Mr Phil Mills-Bishop, chair of Stonehaven & District Community Council spoke against the proposal. He said that the scheme was not all bad, but that many community councils had concerns and asked for further consideration. He said the drive for standardisation was not appropriate – that community councils had different needs and that the proposals to introduce minimum numbers of community council members would not work.

A range of questions were asked of officers regarding the scheme, including the proposal to include a cap on the number of community councillors, representation for wide geographic areas and funding arrangements.

Councillors agreed defer consideration of the Review of the Scheme for Establishment of Community Councils; instruct officers to re-establish the short term working group in order to facilitate a further six week period of consultation with community councils prior to bringing forward a further report to a future meeting of the Council to consider the outcomes of the consultation. 

Equalities Mainstreaming and Outcomes
Cllr Alison Evison introduced the report, highlighting the work that had been undertaken towards delivering the public sector equality duties. Cllr Graeme Clark seconded the report.
In agreeing the report, the new Equality Outcomes are as follows:
1: Safer and better decision making will be achieved as a result of being better informed of Equality & Diversity Matters

2: To promote a better understanding of the needs of people of different race and develop strategies which support them.

3: Develop a better understanding of the needs of people with a disability and develop and promote strategies which ensure access to Council services and which support them in education and employment

4: Develop a better understanding of the needs of LGBT people as employees and customers, develop and cascade strategies which minimise bullying and harassment in schools and the community. Achieve measurably reduced levels of prejudice and discrimination against the LGBT community.
5: Aberdeenshire Council’s recruitment is implemented with fairness and transparency and fully supports people with protected characteristics.

6: There will be a more inclusive culture whereby all employees understand and respect difference.

UNISON Ethical Care Charter

UNISON launched its Ethical Care Charter in October 2012, and invited all Public Sector Commissioners for Care at Home to sign up to the Charter. The over-riding aim of the Charter is to establish a minimum baseline for the safety, quality and dignity of care by ensuring employment conditions which do not routinely short-change clients; and ensure the recruitment and retention of a more stable workforce through more sustainable pay, conditions and training levels.

Cllr Anne Allan moved a motion to support the Charter, changing the recommendations to ask Unison to update their information, to ask officers to review and bring a paper back to full council in due course. Cllr Fiona McRae seconded the motion and the report was agreed.

 

Planning Permission in Principle – Mixed Use Development at Blackdog

 

Head of Planning, Robert Gray introduced the planning application which comprises a town
centre including Regional Food Hall, Retail, and Leisure; and Business and Industrial Uses
at Blackdog, Aberdeen. He advised that the Formartine Area Committee had unanimously supported the proposal.

Councillors asked questions about the floor space of the retail units, and measures in place for public transport and cycling. Responding to a question about impact on town centres, Mr Gray explained that this development would provide a showcase for local producers and the fishing industry.

Blackdog was described as a ‘gateway to Aberdeenshire’ and the design of the units was welcomed as innovative. It was noted as the first large-scale development in the Energetica corridor, along with all the low-carbon principles encapsulated by Energetica. Regeneration of the area was welcomed, as was the fact that the proposal was included within a masterplan.

A motion to support the application was made by Cllr Cryle Shand, and seconded by Cllr Jim Gifford which was agreed.

Planning Permission in Principle – Creation of a New Business Park at Balmacassie, Ellon.

The application had previously been discussed at full council in March 2017, but was deferred to allow officers to negotiate a set site for the provision of a Gypsy/Traveller
Transit site for the duration of the build out of the site.

The application seeks planning permission in principle for the development of a commercial/industrial development on land to the North of Ellon. The proposal consists of office space, general industrial, storage and distribution and ancillary uses which may include a hotel. The allocation also requires land to be made available for a Gypsy/Traveller Transit site.

Councillors discussed the application, recognising that this would provide much needed employment land in Ellon, and was a fantastic good news story.

The application was agreed.