Minutes of Meeting of the Highland and Western Isle Valuation Joint Board held in the Council Offices, Sandwick Road, Stornoway on Tuesday, 12 August 2008 at 9.30 a.m.
Representing The Highland Council
Mrs H Carmichael
Mr J McGillivray
Mr L Fraser
Mr F D S Black
Ms M Smith
Mr P Cairns
Mr R Rowantree (by Video Conference)
Representing Western Isles Council
Mr M MacLeod
Officials in attendance:
Mr D Gillespie, Assessor and Electoral Registration Officer
Mr R Clark, Senior Audit Manager, Audit Scotland
Mr A Bernard, Treasurer’s Office
Miss J Maclennan, Clerk’s Office
Mrs H Carmichael in the Chair
1. Apologies for Absence
Apologies for absence were intimated on behalf of Mr J Gray, The Highland Council and Mr K Murray, Western Isles Council.
2. Minutes of Last Meeting
There had been circulated and were APPROVED Minutes of the Board Meeting of 30 April 2008.
3. Board Membership Update
The Board NOTED the following changes made by the Highland Council at its meeting on 1 August 2008 to its appointments to the Board:
Janet Campbell, formerly a Substantive Member of the Board, had stepped down and was now a Substitute Member
Robbie Rowantree had been appointed as a Substantive Member of the Board
Alan Torrance had stepped down as a Substitute Member of the Board
Richard Greene had been appointed as a Substitute Member of the Board
Graham Marsden had stepped down as a Substitute Member of the Board
4. Draft Annual Report 2007/08
There had been circulated Report No VAL-11-08 comprising the draft Annual Report for 2007/08 prepared by the Assessor and Electoral Registration Officer and incorporating the Performance Report. If the Board agreed to the Annual Report’s publication it was intended, as in previous years, to circulate it to all Highland and Western Isles Council Members, MPs and MSPs. It would also be published on the Department’s website.
The Board AGREED:-
i. subject to the inclusion of the Audited 2007/08 Accounts referred to
under item 5, the Report be published; and
ii. should any changes be necessary, it be remitted to the Assessor and
Electoral Registration Officer, in consultation with the Convener and Vice
Convener, to determine whether to proceed with publication of the
Annual Report or delay until after the next meeting of the Board.
5. Unaudited Accounts 2007/08
Following on from the preceding item, there had been circulated Report No VAL-12-08, comprising the Statement of Unaudited Accounts for financial year 2007/08. The Treasurer reported that the draft annual accounts had been submitted to the external auditor in advance of the due date of 30 June 2008.
In reporting an underspend of £0.111m, the Treasurer explained the main areas of variances and confirmed that the underspend would be returned to the Constituent Authorities on the basis of population. Regulations did not permit Valuation Boards to carry forward surpluses but, given that the majority of expenditure was of a revenue nature and therefore more predictable, it was not considered a major issue.
The Board AGREED that, once an unqualified report from the Auditor was received, the Audited Accounts be incorporated into the Annual Report and the Report published.
6. Statement on Internal Control and Annual Report 2007
There had been circulated Report No VAL-13-08 by the Interim Head of Audit and Risk Management, The Highland Council, comprising his Annual report for 2007/08. It included an assessment of the adequacy, reliability and effectiveness of the Board’s system of internal financial control and provided information for their Corporate Governance Assurance Statement.
The Board NOTED the report.
7. Internal Audit Reviews 2007/08
There had been circulated Report No VAL-14-08 by the Interim Head of Audit and Risk Management, The Highland Council, detailing the audit work which had been undertaken as part of the 2007/08 audit plan providing a copy of the audit review on the Valuation Roll, Council Tax List and Appeals System. The review found that the processes were managed efficiently and effectively.
Having congratulated the Assessor and his staff for receiving such a good review, the Board otherwise NOTED the Final Report.
8. Overview of Governance Arrangements
There had been circulated Report No VAL-15-08 by the Assessor and Electoral Registration Officer providing an overview of the purpose of the Assessor’s Department of the Highland and Western Isles Joint Valuation Board and describing aspects of its governance and management. In particular, an assessment had been made of the strategic risks to the organisation’s activities and these had been collated into a Risk Register.
Discussion took place surrounding the risks most likely to happen and which would have the greatest impact and Members were advised of the remedial action proposed.
Thereafter, the Board NOTED the report.
9. Report To Those Charged With Governance On The 2007/08 Audit
There had been circulated Report No VAL-16-08 by the Senior Audit Manager, Audit Scotland on the 2007/08 Audit. The balance sheet at 31 March 2008 did show an excess of liabilities over assets due to accrual of pension liabilities but the Joint Board had adopted a “going concern” basis for the preparation of the accounts as the Board was funded by contributions from Constituent Authorities which could be increased to meet future pension liabilities. He therefore anticipated that his Auditor’s Report would be unqualified.
The Board NOTED the report.
10. Monitoring of Retirements 2007/08
There had been circulated Report No VAL-17-08 by the Payroll and Pensions Manager, The Highland Council, which advised Members of the number of retirements in the year 2007/08 of the Highland and Western Isles Valuation Joint Board members of the Local Government Pension Scheme.
The Board NOTED that there had been one normal retirement of Highland and Western Isles Valuation Joint Board members of the Local Government Pension Scheme for the period to 31 March 2008 and that there had been no other retirements in the ill health, redundancy or efficiency categories.
11. Revenue Budget Monitoring Statement 2008/09
There had been circulated Report No VAL-18-08 comprising a statement and commentary by the Assessor and Electoral Registration Officer on Revenue Expenditure and Income for the period to 30 June 2008. The report showed actual net expenditure of £537,000 as against anticipated expenditure for the period of £608,000, representing an underspend of £71,000. However, it was pointed out that it was early in the financial year and the final outturn position at the year-end was expected to be on budget.
The Board NOTED the position.
12. Highland Council Cycle To Work Scheme
It was recalled that at its meeting on 12 September 2007, the Board agreed a procedure whereby the Department could enter into staff salary sacrifice Schemes to enable eligible employees to obtain certain benefits.
In this connection, the Board was informed that, having obtained the necessary approvals, the Department had entered into such a scheme to enable eligible employees to obtain bicycles through a government tax emption.
The Board HOMOLOGATED the action taken.
13. Departmental Report
There had been circulated Report No VAL-19-08 by the Assessor and Electoral Registration Officer advising on the current position of the main activities of the Department. Since the previous meeting of the Board, the Department had been concerned with concluding the processing of personal identifier information, the maintenance of the council tax list, clearance of rating appeals and preparation work for the 2010 rating valuation.
In particular, staffing remained an area of concern and the Assessor and Electoral Registration Officer detailed a number of circumstances which had given rise to significant pressures. In Inverness difficulties were being encountered in recruiting clerical staff and he hoped to investigate ways to address this with colleagues in The Highland Council’s Personnel Service.
Discussion also took place regarding the revaluation process and concern was expressed at the tactics and professionalism of some companies who sought to encourage property owners to use their services to appeal their valuations. In the past the activities of these companies had given rise to concern. The Board did not want to discourage anyone from appealing and it was felt that there was a need to publicise how easy it was for any individual property owner to appeal, direct to the Assessor, on-line and the availability of advice as to the appointment of agents available through the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and the Institute of Revenues, Rating and Valuation.
Following discussion, the Board NOTED the report and AGREED that:-
i. the Assessor and Electoral Registration Officer with the Board’s personnel
advisers a possible review of salaries and other possible solutions to the
difficulties encountered in the recruitment of suitable clerical staff, with an
update report to be provided to the next Board meeting; and
ii. the ease with which individuals could appeal their rating valuation be
publicised, at appropriate times, including notifying the Inverness City
Centre’s Business Improvement District and the Scottish Ratepayers
Association of the options available.
The meeting ended at 10.50 a.m.