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Council / Leask appointed convener as Valuation Joint Board seeks to open new chapter

Newly elected convener of the Orkney and Shetland valuation joint board Stephen Leask (right) with Darryl Rae, the board's assessor and electoral registration officer. Photo: Andrew Stewart

THE NEW leader of the Orkney and Shetland Valuation Joint Board (VJB) says he hopes a line can be drawn under the mistakes of the past, as the board held its first meeting since May’s council elections.

On Thursday, Lerwick North and Bressay councillor Stephen Leask was elected convener of the board, and Orkney councillor Dr Stephen Clackson will join him as vice convener.

Dr Clackson was among three councillors who resigned from the VJB during the last council term.

This relates back to actions taken to keep the board’s previous assessor in his job and allow the body to continue carrying out its functions, including offering the previous assessor a pay rise without proper scrutiny.

Much of the details around this had remained private until a bruising Accounts Commission report was published in March which found the board’s leadership to have “overstepped their authority” and even acted “unlawfully.”

Much has been done to resolve the situation, but the board is not out of the woods yet.

The new assessor Darryl Rae said the board was still undergoing a “period of unprecedented change” in terms of staff and its systems.

The board, which is made up of councillors from both local authorities, looks after the valuation roll and the council tax valuation lists for the two council areas. It is also responsible for the maintenance of the Register of Electors.

Speaking after Thursday’s meeting, Leask said he was asked how he feels about taking on the convener role after such a tumultuous period.

“We have a new board, new members, new assessors in position and we’re in a really good state. I feel we need to move forward together as a group,” he said.

“We can see the whole valuation joint board working together in a more progressive manner, in future.

“I’m very honoured to be given the role by the members and I’m very pleased and privileged to become the convener.”

Asked what that road forward looks like, he added: “What we must do is draw a line under the past. We have to move forward.

“This is an opportunity to look at the past, look at the mistakes and actually learn from them.”

Report contributed by Orkney’s local democracy reporter Andrew Stewart