'Out of touch': Council's budget process slammed as questions raised over delayed assessments
Updated: May 2
Impact assessments for Woodside and Kaimhill libraries were not completed until three weeks after Council voted to cut funding, documents indicate
By Josh Pizzuto-Pomaco
Campaigners protest outside the historic Woodside Library last month.
Aberdeen City Council failed to include Kaimhill and Woodside Libraries in an integrated impact assessment ahead of a vote to cut their funding on 1 March, documents reviewed by The Gaudie suggest.
Integrated impact assessments, which consider the effects of Council proposals on the rights of affected communities and their citizens, are an important aspect of ensuring compliance with the 2010 Equality Act.
First impact assessment did not include Woodside and Kaimhill:
The Gaudie has reviewed two versions of an 'Stage 1' integrated impact assessment entitled 'Review of city-wide provision of libraries.'
Version 1 considers the socio-economic impact of closing four libraries: Cults, Cornhill, Ferryhill, and Northfield. The other two libraries, Woodside and Kaimhill, are not mentioned.
The report is dated 5 December 2022 and is signed by Derek McGowan, the Council's then-Chief Officer for Early Intervention and Community Empowerment. Edinburgh City Council announced that McGowan would be joining their Senior Leadership Team just ten days later.
A second version of the assessment is dated 24 March, more than three weeks after the Council voted to close all six libraries. According to this version, the original assessment had been 'reviewed as a result of [the] budget process' and was amended to include Woodside and Kaimhill Libraries. The report was signed by Jacqui McKenzie, the Council's current Chief Officer for Early Intervention and Community Empowerment.
Other than the addition of the two libraries, the reports are practically identical. Both assessments found that library closures would have an 'low impact' on the rights of children, disabled individuals, the elderly, and pregnant women. Furthermore, both reports concluded that a full impact assessment, or a 'Stage 2' report, was not necessary.
Council Officers claimed that all impact assesments were completed before budget vote:
During an emergency meeting called by opposition councillors last Monday, Councillor
Deena Tissera asked Council solicitor Alan Thomson if each of the affected communities had been assessed prior to the budget vote. Thomson responded, telling Tissera: 'My understanding is that an integrated impact assessment was done for this decision.'
Responding to another question by Tissera about the circulation of the impact assesments among councillors, Chief Officer for Finance Jonathan Belford added: 'In accordance with the Council's budget pack process and the report being issued, all the integrated impact assesments were released on the 24th... of February to all councillors.'
It is unclear if Thomson and Belford were aware of the 24 March assessment when answering Councillor Tissera's questions. Regardless, its existence appears to question their assertions that all impact assesments were completed ahead of 1 March.
The Gaudie reached out to the Council's press office on Friday, asking for clarification about when the impact assessments were completed. As of Tuesday evening, The Gaudie had yet to receive a response from the relevant services. This article will be updated with their response.
Politicians and residents hit back at administration's 'fast and loose' budget process:
Local and national politicians alike have condemned the Council's failure to complete the assessments prior to the budget vote.
Councillor Tissera, who represents Hilton/Woodside/Stockethill ward, where Woodside Library is located, told The Gaudie:
'It is extremely worrying that a public organisation such as Aberdeen City Council can be so offensive in bringing forward Integrated Assessment forms for two of our now defunct libraries after the budget has happened. There is no doubt that councillors did not have all of the facts when it came to making decisions about Woodside and Kaimhill libraries simply because impact statements were not produced...'
Tissera labelled the report's findings as 'nonsensical,' and said that the Council's decision to close the libraries would lead to 'disadvantaged families' missing out on essential services.
Similarly, Greens MSP for North East Scotland and Woodside resident Maggie Chapman labelled the Council's process as 'fast and loose.' She told The Gaudie:
'It is quite shocking that the Council has acted with such scant regard for its Public Sector Equality duties as provided for in the Equality Act 2010. Taking decisions that we know will have a disproportionate negative impact on marginalised communities without first undertaking a comprehensive Equalities Impact Assessment is playing fast and loose with the duties the Council has to advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations in communities.
Chapman continued, stating that the Council 'clearly doesn't care about many of the people it should be there to serve.'
'It simply is not good enough to undertake an assessment after the decisions have been made,' she went on to say. '... The chances of producing an assessment that calls into question the decisions after the event are very slim. This seems to just be another way that the Council is willing to abuse the power it has over communities.'
A Woodside resident and library user added: '[This] was a really disempowering move for the council to make, in my opinion. It flies in the face of the council’s own community empowerment strategy. It shows how completely out of touch they are with certain areas of the city. It has, on a personal level, completely dismantled my trust in the local government.'
The Gaudie also asked representatives of the SNP and Liberal Democrat administration if they were aware of the missing impact assessments when voting for the cuts, but had not received an official response as of Tuesday evening.
Campaingers are pressing forward with legal action:
A spokesperson for campaign group Save Aberdeen Libraries told The Gaudie: 'We have been made aware of the impact assessment since its publication on Twitter, and we will be continuing to pursue legal advice regarding the closure of the libraries.'
On Monday evening, Glasgow-based Govan Law Centre tweeted that campaigners representing the six libraries and Bucksburn Swimming Pool had engaged the services of their Public Interest Litigation Unit, signaling that legal action could be on the horizon.