Royal Bank of Scotland branch closure talks

Since the news last week that Royal Bank of Scotland were to close a number of branches, including Westhill, I have had many residents contact me. The issues being raised include the effect on footfall to other businesses in Westhill, customers wishing to retain face-to-face contact and the loss of excellent, knowledgeable staff. The loss of business banking is also a concern.

I was able to catch up today with a senior member of staff at RBS and go over some of the issues.

Royal Bank of Scotland are signed up to the “Access to Banking Protocol” published by the Department of Business, Innovation & Skills to provide guidelines for banks that are closing branches.

The guidelines states that while ensuring customers are treated fairly, decisions on branch closures are ultimately commercial decisions for banks to take. By the time customers like us are aware of an upcoming closure, the decision has already been made and affected staff and other key stakeholders will have been advised.

I was assured today that RBS have written to all their account holders. A number of issues have been addressed for alternative ways to bank and these include:

  • retaining the free ATMs at the shopping centre
  • partnership arrangements with the Post Office branch next door to enable business customers to pay in, withdraw and access coinage
  • setting up a mobile bank service

There will be further consultation with the community about the best location/day for a mobile bank to visit. I have asked if the senior member of staff would facilitate a local public meeting to go over customer concerns in detail and I will update you once this is confirmed. I note from the other locations which benefit from a mobile bank service such as Echt and Kintore that they get a 20 minute slot. It is important that RBS look at the size of the population of Westhill and allocate a longer time slot here. RBS is open to suggestions for sites suitable for the mobile bank to operate from taking in to account wifi access and land ownership.

I understand there will be help in the local branch for customers to set up online banking before the branch closes. This is great, but many customers just want to deal with humans and do not trust online banking. Apart from that, many rural residents do not have good access to broadband, so we must make sure that all these issues are addressed and our more vulnerable residents have suitable alternative banking arrangements in place before October.

I will update again as soon as I get confirmation of any public meeting. If you would be interested in attending a public meeting, please get in touch and I will add your name to my file.

 

 

 

WANTED: Your views on how Aberdeenshire budget is spent

Each year, Aberdeenshire Council carries out a consultation on budget plans.

It is an essential part of local democracy, ensuring that the voice of communities comes through in any and all budget setting decisions.

This year, we have launched a brand new approach, in order to try to simplify and illustrate the challenges faced.

In place of traditional surveys and written text, the team have developed a suite of infographics, each of which paints a different picture of a different part of council budget setting. For example, there is a section on the pressures that councils are under, one which focuses on council tax, and one which lays out some of the future opportunities.

Attached to each infographic is a short set of questions, in some cases just two questions, to give people the opportunity to make their voices heard.

The engagement process is open now and will close at the start of January, giving enough time for the results to be passed to councillors who, in turn, will use them to inform their decision making for the coming financial year.

Highlights:

  • All the infographics and associated questions can be found at www.aberdeenshire.gov.uk/budgetengagement
  • Surveys are all open now and will close on 3rd January.
  • Reports will be submitted to elected members in January to give them time to consider all views in time for the budget setting in February.
  • The 7 topics are as follows: Pressures on our services; Investing in our communities; Increasing efficiency; Identifying savings; Council Tax; Income generation; The future of sports and cultural services in Aberdeenshire

The new approach has been taken to allow people have their views on as many topics as they feel passionate about. So views on all seven areas are being sought, however those with a particularly strong opinion on a particular subject can ensure that they get that message across loud and clear.

The infographics themselves are also being issued for use in community forums and discussions right across Aberdeenshire, to make sure everyone gets the chance to participate.

Council Co-leader Cllr Richard Thomson said: “It is important for us to embark upon our budget setting discussions with our eyes open. To get a feel for what people in our communities want and need from us, and to make sure they feel empowered to know what they can do for themselves. We want to maintain high quality public services while at the same time making sure we are as efficient as possible. We also want to minimise the impact any reductions have on residents and service-users.

“The views you share will help us as we come together as a council to debate how to make the best use of the funding available to us, and we value the feedback.”

Co-leader Cllr Alison Evison said: “Aberdeenshire Council is embarking upon a year of change and challenge. Local elections coming up will change not only priorities but faces around the chamber. Some significant projects will be delivered this year and others will be progressed. Ensuring we have had robust and extensive consultation will play a part in everything that we do.

“I encourage people across Aberdeenshire to let us know what their views are and look forward to getting the results.”

All the infographics and attached questions can be found at www.aberdeenshire.gov.uk/budgetengagement

 

Councillors agree to consultation on future delivery of Sport and Culture

A consultation which will ask members of the public for their views on the concept of a charitable trust delivering sport and cultural services on behalf of Aberdeenshire Council will take place in December following discussions by councillors today.

At the meeting of Full Council, Aberdeenshire councillors were asked to consider a series of options for the future delivery of those services, including:

Outsourcing the delivery of the services to a private company;

  • The creation of a public-private partnership;
  • Continuation of the status quo;
  • An enhanced version of the status quo, through which the services would continue to be directly delivered by the council;
  • The creation of a charitable trust, wholly owned by the council

Councillors agreed that the creation of a trust is their preferred option for further consideration and that public consultation on the principle of a trust delivering the services should take place next month as part of the council’s budget engagement process.

The results of the consultation will inform a further decision by councillors in January as to whether a detailed business case for a charitable trust should be developed.

Co-Leader of Aberdeenshire Council, Cllr Alison Evison, said: “Today we have agreed that officers should continue to explore the idea of a charitable trust to deliver sports and cultural services in Aberdeenshire and come back to us with more information on how it might operate.

“The quality of the debate we have had so far gives me confidence that we are now on the right path, a path which could open up huge opportunities to sustain jobs and services.

“This path must include discussions with staff as well as public consultation and I’m pleased to see both happening.”

Co-Leader, Cllr Richard Thomson, said: “We know that alternative ways of delivering services have worked successfully elsewhere and it is time for us to consider why we aren’t doing it as well.

“The public consultation will help inform us when we meet again in January to decide whether to proceed to a more detailed, full business case for the creation of a charitable trust.

“We’ll be looking for views from sports and community groups, as well as individual residents who have both used and have never used our sports and cultural services.

“Our budget engagement will begin next month and will be promoted across Aberdeenshire so that is your chance to have your say.”

 

Echt residents want their say on future of public toilets

toilet

Liberal Democrat councillor for Westhill and District, Iris Walker, is backing residents in Echt to have their say on the future of public toilets in the village. She is concerned over the implementation of the authority’s new public toilet strategy. The strategy replaced a previous document that was agreed back in 2008 and outlines how the council will manage the 81 public conveniences across Aberdeenshire, identifying opportunities to find alternative ways of delivering the service such as comfort partnerships. The Echt public toilet is earmarked by the council for closure.

Councillor Walker said “Councillors agreed that a review was necessary but that any closures should be fully discussed with the communities involved. It may be that communities have ideas on how to run them or local businesses may want to consider working in partnership with the council to provide alternative facilities. We emphasised that this must happen and it is very disappointing that the administration of Aberdeenshire Council has allowed this to go ahead without consulting the residents and staff affected.”

Residents feel that the public toilets in Echt are used much more than the council say they are. Football spectators, lorry drivers and bus parties use the facility on a regular basis.

Landscape improvements for Ward 13 welcomed

denman park

At the Garioch Area Committee today, councillors approved the Area Landscape Maintenance and Capital Programme 2016/17. Westhill and District featured heavily in the programme and it was good to see projects which residents and groups had asked for directly being included.

Echt will see alignment of a path in the village’s burial ground and Midmar churchyard gets a spruce up. Work in Sauchen includes quarry dust path installation behind Bennachie Gardens and removal of metal tree guards.

In Westhill, the Denman Park will see anti-slip material being installed on the wooden bridge, an extension to the wildflower area and repairs to the car park surface.

A programme of works on trees on Brimmond Drive is also included. I know that Landscape staff have been working very hard to produce a strategic plan for trees in Westhill and this budget line will start to take some of that work forward.

There will be visual landscape improvements along the A944 from the Aberdeen entrance to Westhill after developers’ contributions were secured from a previous Arnhall planning application. Westhill & Elrick Community Council will be consulted before work here starts.

A section of palisade fencing in Kirkton of Skene will be replaced and a section of the playing fields will be planted up with trees. The wildlife area at The Terrace in Dunecht will have trees planted up. Drainage work as well as goalpost repairs/renewal at Lyne of Skene is also in the schedule of works.

Which council services are important to you?

Aberdeenshire Council 2

Aberdeenshire Council is engaging with residents, service users, community groups and staff about its budget for 2016/2017. Public sector funding is reducing across the country, and we need to live within our means. This means we have to consider delivering services differently in a way that will make us more efficient. As a result, some services may reduce, whilst others services may become a higher priority for us. Aberdeenshire Council still has a budget of £530m to spend. Seeking views is very important in helping us to decide what our priorities should be, how the community is willing to see service changes which will save money and how best to spend the remaining budget. This process will help to inform the decisions made by Aberdeenshire councillors in setting a balanced budget which will ensure that the council continues to deliver a range of valued local services to communities, highlight the Administration’s emerging priorities and reduce overall spending for 2016/17 by £18million.

Click here to complete our survey, which should take around 10 minutes. http://bit.ly/BudgetHelpUsHelpYou

 

What are your priorities for community learning in Aberdeenshire?

The Aberdeenshire Learning Communities Partnership (ALCP) would like feedback on the first Aberdeenshire Community Learning and development (CLD) Plan which they have produced. The partnership is a strategic group for agencies who deliver community learning and community development services across Aberdeenshire.

The plan does not seek to capture all of the CLD that is being delivered across Aberdeenshire, instead focussing on four improvement priorities. The Partnership would like to hear what you think about these priorities and also if you can identify any particular CLD needs which are not currently being met in Aberdeenshire.

The Scottish Government has identified two main priorities for CLD.

  • Improved life chances for people of all ages through learning, personal development and active citizenship.
  • Stronger, more resilient, supportive, influential and inclusive communities.

A summary of the plan and the four improvement priorities is attached here.CLD Plan exec summary

To complete the survey please click here. Closing date is 9th August.

Improvements for Westhill

Improvements to Westhill Academy and Westhill Swimming Pool – following on from last month’s area committee, new windows for the academy and replacement of the air conditioning unit at the pool have now been included in the Planned Maintenance 2015-2018, albeit in the latter years of the plan. I know the parent council and school staff have been raising the issue of the condition of the windows for a long time. At the time the draft Planned Maintenance report came to councillors, I queried why Garioch area, including Westhill fared badly in terms of spending compared to other areas in Aberdeenshire and why the windows at Westhill Academy were not on the plan along with other schools. The service responded by advising they would replace single glazed windows first but agreed that Westhill could be included, subject to approval of P&R Committee. I am delighted that this was approved. Good news for our swimmers when they finally get their improvements as well!