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Council / Commission welcomes progress to overcome ‘serious flaws’ at valuation joint board

SCOTLAND’s public spending watchdog has stopped short of making any recommendations to the Orkney and Shetland Valuation Joint Board (VJB) after serious flaws in governance and transparency came to light.

Instead the Audit Commission has welcomed the commitment and progress that has already been made by the board to resolve the issues highlighted in a report by the controller of audit.

Anthony Clark’s report into the failings at the public body that looks after council tax valuations and electoral registration was presented to a public meeting of the commission earlier this month.

In its findings, published today (Tuesday), the commission said it also expects better training for those serving on the board, and added that it will continue to monitor progress.

During its investigation 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 was not 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 per cent over a five-year period. The increases were subject to neither appropriate scrutiny nor challenge.

Chair of the Accounts Commission William Moyes 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.”