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Council / Valuation joint board progress

The valuation joint board's Lerwick office. © Google 2020

THE TUMULTUOUS times faced by the Orkney and Shetland valuation joint board may be nearing an end.

That is according to the progress it has made since receiving a damning audit report last year, resulting in resignations of staff and councillors.

During a meeting of the board this week, updates were given on progress dealing with issues pointed out in the past.

The board ran into trouble in the first half of last year over what was widely reported as a disagreement over a possible significant pay rise for its assessor, Dennis Stevenson.

However, these matters were discussed in private.

The issue is understood to have led to a spate of resignations with Orkney councillors John Ross Scott and Dr Stephen Clackson both resigning from the board, following on from the resignation of Shetland councillor Malcolm Bell earlier in 2020.

Three members of Shetland Islands Council staff, who held office bearer roles on the board, also resigned.

At the time, Dr Clackson wrote in his newsletter, that he had resigned “to maintain his personal and professional integrity.”

This led to auditor Deloitte looking into the situation and publishing its findings in January this year.

Its report mentions a number of stark criticisms including leadership of the board being “neither robust, nor effective”, that the performance of the board had fallen, and it was noted that there was a lack of clarity surrounding roles and responsibilities of board members and management.

The audit gave the board six targets to meet, four of which it now has.

However, two targets remain unmet and the board now expects to meet them at the end of December this year.

These are developing a medium-term financial plan and the board undertaking training.

Another recommendation was that the board consider adopting a workforce plan.

This was also discussed at a meeting of the board this week with a plan being approved by the board.

Within this plan, it was identified that there may be a problem with succession, as it was found that over 50 per cent of the body’s staff is over the age of 50.

The joint valuation board looks after property rates, council tax, and electoral registration in the two isles counties.

Despite mostly being made up of councillors and staff from Shetland Islands Council and Orkney Islands Council, the board is separate from both.

The valuation joint board has offices in both Kirkwall and Shetland and the staff and is paid by the local authorities.

By Orkney local democracy reporter Andrew Stewart