Minutes of Meeting of the Highland and Western Isles Valuation Joint Board held in Committee Room 1, Council Headquarters, Glenurquhart Road, Inverness, on Thursday 5 January 2012 at 11.00 a.m.
Representing The Highland Council
Mrs H Carmichael
Mr S Black
Mr P Cairns
Mr L Fraser
Mr J McGillivray (By Video Conference)
Mr R Rowantree
Ms M Smith
Representing Comhairle nan Eilean Siar
Mr K Murray (By Video Conference/Tele Conference)
Officials in attendance:
Mr D Gillespie, Assessor and Electoral Registration Officer
Mrs M Grigor, Treasurer’s Office
Ms A Macrae, Clerk’s Office
Mrs H Carmichael in the Chair
1. Apology for Absence
An apology for absence was intimated on behalf of Mr M Macleod, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.
2. Minutes of Meeting of 23 November 2011
There had been circulated and APPROVED the Minutes of the Board Meeting of 23 November 2011.
3. Revenue Budget Monitoring Statement 2011/12
There was circulated, for noting, Report No VAL1/12 dated 20 December 2011 comprising a statement and commentary by the Assessor and Electoral Registration Officer on Revenue Expenditure and Income for the period to 30 November 2011. The report showed actual net expenditure of £1.623m as against anticipated expenditure for the period of £1.756m. The report advised that an overspend was predicted on the Valuation Appeal Committee expenses, noting that expenditure under this heading was outwith the control of the Board and therefore it was difficult to predict a year end outturn. However if expenditure for the last four months of the year was incurred at the same rate, a final outturn of around £50k could be estimated which would equate to an overall £20k overspend. The report indicated that it was expected this would be mainly compensated for by savings in staffing costs due to staff turnover and vacancies.
Following discussion the Board NOTED the report and AGREED the proposed management action to closely monitor all expenditure in an attempt to find compensatory savings to bring the final outturn in on budget.
4. Revenue Budget 2012/13
There was circulated a letter dated 21 December 2011 by the Assessor and Electoral Registration Officer to the Convener comprising the draft estimates of expenditure and income for 2012/13 and a draft requisitions statement prepared jointly by the Assessor and Electoral Registration Officer and the Treasurer.
In presenting the report the Assessor and Electoral Registration Officer advised that the proposed draft budget was the product of largely flat staffing costs and a minimal increase in supply costs, except in the area of postal charges, and that overall an increase of £40,000 was being proposed on the previous year’s budget.
In regard to postal charges he reported that significant increases were being proposed by the Royal Mail, subject to the approval of the Regulator. The £40,000 increase in the draft budget over 2011/12 was a middle estimate in the range being considered by the Regulator. If the increase was less then the funds would not be spent. He cautioned that the apparent long term intention to increase postal charges combined with the introduction of individual registration would result in at least a doubling of postal charges by 2015. However he advised that given the issues and uncertainties surrounding the new individual registration regime pending publication of the relevant legislation and regulations, the full impact on postal charges could not be quantified at present.
In discussion it was suggested that there was an opportunity for the Board to contribute to the consultation in regard to the proposals to increase mail charges.
The Assessor and Electoral Registration Officer continued that while the postal charges associated with the election were met by the Central Government, any increase in postal costs associated with electoral registration would have to be met by the Board. He suggested that the expectation that the Board would have to absorb the additional postal charges expected over the next few years to meet its statutory obligations should be questioned as a matter of principle.
Thereafter the Assessor and Electoral Registration Officer responded to further points indicating that there would be an opportunity to review the rental charges for office accommodation on the expiry of the relevant leases and in the light of the Scottish government’s decision on the future of council tax; advising that the cost associated with doorstep canvassing was included in the budget under ‘staff costs’ and that a varied approach was adopted using both permanent and temporary staff to minimise costs.
In summing up on the proposed budget he indicated that as an alternative, if the Board was unwilling to provide the additional funds then it might be necessary to find savings elsewhere with an inevitable impact on service at a time of high workloads.
It was also relevant to consider using the reserves available to the Board, currently standing at £81,000. However, these reserves had been set aside for possible use in future spend to save initiatives and as a matter of good practice against unanticipated expenditure arising. In addition, it was confirmed that in consultation with the Board’s Personnel Adviser an equalities assessment of the Department’s staff would be undertaken in the next financial year, the provisional advice being that the assessment should utilise the Council’s modernised pay scales. He explained that currently it was unknown what impact the assessment would have on the budget.
Following further discussion on the various elements of the budget the Board APPROVED:-
i. the revenue budget for 2012/13 as detailed in the report; and
ii. the requisitions to be levied on each of the Constituent Authorities.
5. Departmental Report
There was circulated Report No VAL3/11 by the Assessor and Electoral Registration Officer advising on the current position of the main activities of the Department in regard to electoral registration, rating, and Council tax.
Responding to questions the Assessor and Electoral Registration Officer advised that while the Electoral Commission’s study on the level of under registration in the UK suggested that as at December 2010 the completeness of the registers was 85-87% of the eligible population. He advised that the position in the Highlands was better, the rate being above 95% which he explained was largely due to the more favourable demographic characteristics of the area.
In discussion, Members referred to opportunities to promote registration, particularly amongst the younger generation, through local media and the use of social networking sites. The Assessor and Electoral Registration Officer explained that following the annual canvass, education records were checked and young persons not registered were reminded individually and via their parents that they could now register and were provided with application forms. He also noted that the Electoral Commission would be circulating a brochure on the subject to each individual household in respect of the forthcoming local government elections indicating how to check on registration and explaining the voting system. He was aware also of proposals in the pipeline and under trial at a national level to develop the use of social media/mobile phones/internet use which could potentially revolutionise the channels for registration in future.
A further point was raised in discussion regarding the opportunities to review the valuation of non-domestic properties to reflect the economic downturn and the timescales that would apply, specific reference being made to Inverness town centre and whether the number of vacant properties was an indicator that valuations were too high. The point was also made that some businesses were locked into existing leases the value of which did not reflect the current economic climate.
The Assessor and Electoral Registration Officer advised that currently there was no evidence available to suggest that values should be reduced, noting that the Department actively monitored the situation particularly in regard to new rents. He advised that if evidence of decreasing rents became available then the position would be reviewed and a balanced approach taken. He indicated that ultimately ratepayers could use the appeals process to pursue their case and seek to have values adjusted if they were dissatisfied with the Assessor’s valuation.
Responding to further questions in regard to the impact of large out of town developments on small businesses in town centres, he indicated that the Scottish Government set the rate poundage for out of town developments and indeed all rateable properties as a distinct exercise. The funds raised were then fed back to local authorities using the allocation arrangements that were agreed with local authorities and COSLA from time to time. He also confirmed that the Scottish Government was bringing forward legislation to increase the amount of rates payable in respect of vacant properties.
The Board NOTED the report and AGREED that the Electoral Commission’s study on the issue of under-registration throughout the UK be circulated electronically to Members of the Board.
6. Schedule of Meetings 2012
The Board APPROVED the following schedule of meetings for 2012, taking account of the forthcoming elections, all meetings to be held at the Highland Council Headquarters, Inverness commencing at 11am:
Tuesday 3 April 2012
Thursday 21 June 2012
Wednesday 29 August 2012
Wednesday 21 November 2012
The meeting closed at 12:20pm.