A report by Audit Scotland into the Orkney and Shetland Valuation Joint Board (VJB) highlights significant concerns in relation to governance and transparency.
The Board accepts and is committed to addressing these urgent issues, with some improvement action having already been taken. There is, however, a clear need for improvements in governance and decision making.
The Accounts Commission found the processes used to manage the contracts and pay awards for the Assessor and Depute Assessor to be seriously flawed. Decisions taken were unlawful or not supported by the appropriate procedures.
A decision to extend and enhance the contract of the Assessor – the most senior member of staff at the VJB – was taken at a meeting that wasn’t properly convened, rendering the Board’s decision unlawful. The process to confirm decisions made was flawed. Recruitment difficulties also led to the VJB appointing a Depute Assessor on a consultancy basis. The Depute Assessor’s hourly rate of pay increased by 400% over a five-year period. The increases were subject to neither appropriate scrutiny nor challenge.
The Board is committed to addressing these issues, with steps taken to make improvements. But decisions taken have resulted in increased costs, additional work, risked reputational damage and undermined confidence decisions made provided value for money.
William Moyes, Chair of the Accounts Commission said,
“The flaws and weaknesses in decision making at this Valuation Joint Board are serious. We welcome the commitment and progress made to address these significant concerns. Following May’s local government elections, we expect effective training and development to be in place, enabling board members to fulfil their responsibilities.
“That these serious issues have been picked up in the Annual Audit Report demonstrates the robustness of this process. We would strongly encourage lessons to be learned by other public bodies, particularly joint boards.”
What is the Orkney & Shetland Joint Valuation Board?
The Orkney & Shetland Joint Valuation Board is responsible for appointing the Assessor for Orkney and Shetland, an independent statutory official responsible for the preparation and maintenance of the Valuation Roll and the Council Tax Valuation List.
The Assessor has also been appointed as Electoral Registration Officer for both Orkney and Shetland and is, therefore, also responsible for the preparation and maintenance of the Register of Electors.
The three main documents produced by the Assessor and Electoral Registration Officer are as follows –
The Valuation Roll sets out the rateable values of all non-domestic properties. The valuations are used by the local authorities as the base for collecting non-domestic rates.
The Council Tax Valuation List shows the council tax valuation band of every dwelling and is used by the local authorities as a base for determining and collecting Council Tax.
The Electoral Register lists the names of all persons entitled to vote at the various parliamentary and local elections.
Assessors are independent officials rather than officers of the authorities which appointed and employ them.
The purpose of this independent status is to ensure that valuations are seen to be free from political influence or interference and is essential to the performance of the assessor’s statutory duties which can involve situations where the interests of the local authority and the ratepayer may conflict.