‘Appalling … Bullying’ – Charities Attack Cash Crisis Council

VOLUNTARY organisations yesterday launched a scathing attack on the politicians and officials who run Aberdeen City Council.

On the final day of a hearing by the accounts watchdog into the authority’s “precarious” financial plight, charities united in condemning the council for losing the confidence and trust of the people of the city.

They claimed the ruling Liberal Democrat and SNP administration was guilty of failing to negotiate, consult or communicate with key agencies amid an atmosphere of mistrust and a “bullying” culture.

And Paul Hannan, the head of one leading city charity, said: “We want change – change away from the many bad practices that blight Aberdeen City Council.”

Mr Hannan was giving evidence on the second day of a hearing by the Accounts Commission, chaired by John Baillie, into the council’s finances. He is chief executive of the Cyrenians, a charity for the homeless, which is one of the voluntary-sector organisations hit by the council’s £27 million spending cuts.

Mr Hannan told the hearing: “The senior officials and councillors have been given every opportunity over the last few years to address important issues. They have not done so and there is no evidence that they can or will do so in the future.

“They have failed the people of Aberdeen.”

He said: “There is considerable anecdotal evidence of managers padding out their budgets to safeguard against cuts, of there being inappropriate financial controls in place, of workers being asked to do things they consider illegal and of money just being wasted.

“This council does not consult. It does not manage effectively. It overspends but reduces funding to commissioned services who stick within their budgets. How can the general public trust them?”

And he went on: “Voluntary- sector organisations have expressed the view that they did not want to complain too much or too publicly, as they felt that they would be dealt with more harshly if they took such a stance. ACC are viewed as bullies, and I have complained formally about bullying.

“Things are getting worse, not better, with this council. They cannot possibly improve what they are doing. The way that Aberdeen City Council has dealt with the Cyrenians and those who rely upon it for meeting their vital needs has been appalling.”

His claims were backed by Rhonda Kelly, the chief executive of the Aberdeen Council of Voluntary Organisations. She said that almost 75 per cent of the charities under the Acvo umbrella would be directly hit by the funding cuts.

She said there was no communication and a lack of consistency in the council’s dealings with the voluntary sector.

And Ms Kelly claimed: “Organisations are being passed on to officer after officer with an apparent unwillingness to pass on information or, even worse, with each officer telling organisations something slightly different, leading to confusion, mistrust and frustration.”

The accusations of bullying were denied by the city council.

And Councillor Kate Dean, the leader of the administration, told the commission at the conclusion of the inquiry: “The council needs to come together to work through these difficulties. I hope this can be done, but I would say that it will require a change of heart and a change of attitude from some members of the council.

“I believe that our budget, while it has not been an easy one, is part of the solution, rather than part of the problem,” she added.