Minutes of Meeting of the Highland and Western Isles Valuation Joint Board held in Committee Room 1, Council Headquarters, Glenurquhart Road, Inverness, on Wednesday, 23 November 2011 at 11.00 a.m.
Representing The Highland Council
Mrs H Carmichael
Mr J McGillivray
Mr P Cairns
Ms M Smith
Representing Western Isles Council
Mr M Macleod
Mr K Murray (by video conference)
Officials in attendance:
Mr D Gillespie, Assessor and Electoral Registration Officer
Mrs M Grigor, Treasurer’s Office
Mrs R Moir, Clerk’s Office
Mrs H Carmichael in the Chair
1. Apologies for Absence
Apologies for absence were intimated on behalf of Mr L Fraser, Mr S Black, Mr R Rowantree and Mr J Gray of the Highland Council.
2. Declarations of Interest
There were no declarations of interest.
3. Minutes of Meeting of 31 August 2011
There had been circulated and were APPROVED the Minutes of the Board Meeting of 31 August 2011.
4. Report on 2010/11 Audit
There had been circulated Report No VAL14/11, comprising the External Auditor’s Report on the 2010/11 Audit.
In speaking to the report, the Assessor and Electoral Registration Officer drew attention to the three action points in the Action Plan and the planned management action in each case:
•The Board’s governance arrangements would be reviewed in the course of 2012.
•Whilst any issues of concern facing the Board were regularly reported to Members, these would now be formally incorporated, as appropriate, in the Board’s Risk Register, which would be reported annually to Members.
•Complaints received, although not many in number, would be formally incorporated into the Annual Report.
In response to a query as to whether proposals under consultation on changes to the rating of empty properties could significantly increase the Department’s workload and could constitute a risk factor, the Assessor and Electoral Registration Officer confirmed that this did introduce some uncertainty. The Risk Register acknowledged a risk that resources available to the Department might not suffice to meet all its workload. The relevant proposals would permit local authorities to vary the discount on “long term empty” houses and to introduce a surcharge element in some cases.
Some concern was expressed as to the potential impact of such a regime on the owners of unoccupied rural properties, particularly in the Western Isles, and the potential to create hardship. It had to be recognised that a regime which, on the face of it, was intended to address underuse of urban properties could have a harmful effect in remote rural areas with a significant number of derelict or semi-derelict properties.
The Assessor and Electoral Registration Officer pointed out that, while he would have responsibility for maintaining the Council Tax list, the charging regime would be the responsibility of the respective Councils. He also confirmed that a measure of discretion was expected to be available to authorities, although clarity was still required on the final content of the scheme. However, it could be anticipated that the Department would have to deal with an increased appeals workload. He undertook to circulate a copy of the Scottish Government consultation document to all Members.
In response to further questions, the Assessor and Electoral Registration Officer confirmed that it appeared unlikely that the introduction of a replacement for the Council Tax regime would be arise before 2017, while the Treasurer’s representative confirmed that the Auditor’s comment on the Board’s going concern status with reference to its pension liabilities conformed with the usual approach taken on this issue, given that the Board was funded by the constituent local authorities.
After discussion, the Board NOTED the terms of the Auditor’s Report.
5. Revenue Budget Monitoring Statement 2011/12
There had been circulated Report No VAL15/11 comprising a statement and commentary by the Assessor and Electoral Registration Officer on Revenue Expenditure and Income for the period to 31 October 2011.
The Assessor and Electoral Registration Officer advised that Valuation Appeal Committee expenditure, an expense outwith the control of the Board but which it was obliged to meet, might be over budget at year end.
The Board NOTED the position.
6. Paternity Leave
At its meeting on 31 August 2011, the Board had noted that the outstanding audit action relating to the Department’s paternity policy had been delayed pending the updating/approval of the Highland Council’s policy, so that the latter could be adapted for the Board’s purposes.
In this regard there had been circulated Report No VAL 16/11 by the Assessor and Electoral Registration Officer comprising proposed Paternity Provision Guidance Notes together with copies of related application forms, adapted from the revised Highland Council documentation, in accordance with normal practice.
In response to questions, the Assessor and Electoral Registration Officer confirmed that he would continue to monitor Highland Council policy developments in this area; that he was able to call on Highland Council Human Resources advice when required; and that, on the wider front, the current pressures on the working environment were inevitably having an impact on departmental staff morale.
The Board AGREED to adopt the circulated policy guidance.
7. Departmental Report
There had been circulated Report No VAL17/11 by the Assessor and Electoral Registration Officer advising on the current position of the main activities of the Department.
In speaking to the report, the Assessor and Electoral Registration Officer confirmed that the recent annual electoral registration canvass had progressed well, despite the complication of a local government by-election during the same period, and advised that the detail and timing of the likely introduction of individual registration was still not clear. He reiterated his previous concerns in relation to the potential introduction of electronic on-line registration, in particular that the absence of a signature could create issues surrounding the validation of votes at the postal voting stage. It was also unlikely that electronic registration would achieve significant savings.
The Assessor and Electoral Registration Officer indicated that he would prefer to wait until any new system of individual registration, and the associated change in systems, had been put in place, then reconsider the electronic registration issue.
The Assessor and Electoral Registration Officer also highlighted the report’s comments in relation to Rating and Council Tax issues, and confirmed that discussions continued with Fujitsu on the printer refresh.
The Board NOTED the contents of the report.
The meeting closed at 12 noon.