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Council / External audit shows progress being made by valuation joint board

THE PROGRESS being made by the Orkney and Shetland Valuation Joint Board (VJB) is “heartening”, according to its chair – but he has warned that the members cannot become complacent.

At a meeting on Tuesday chairman and Shetland councillor Stephen Leask also alluded to the tumultuous state the board had found itself in previously.

Following the presentation of a positive audit of the board’s governance by auditors Deloitte LLP, Leask gave praise for the progress that had been made.

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

He said: “The words used by [the auditors] are very heartening to hear with regards to what we know happened previously.

“We can see progress being made. But, I don’t think we can be complacent. We have to completely move forward as a board.

“I have full confidence we can do that because of the talents we have on board.”

The audit report showed that progress has been made on a number of issues that had plagued the VJB.

Notably, the external auditors said governance was no longer being classed as a “major concern” or a “significant risk”.

Deloitte is happy that the nine recommendations they made had either been dealt with or were being dealt with.

It also said it was happy with the board’s development of a medium-term financial plan and workforce plan.

Although, these plans would leave a funding gap of between £93,000 and £100,000.

Deloitte was also pleased with other areas which had been judged risks.

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Leask said he was encouraged with how often the words “happy” or “pleased” appeared in Deloitte’s report.

The VJB’s chairman’s positive comments came after similar words from Orkney councillor John Ross Scott.

He said:” We’re making progress and I’m glad about that. After all we’ve been through. It’s a very upbeat report.”

This is certainly a change in tone from back in 2020. At that time, Scott’s name was among six resignations from the board.

This was brought about due to actions taken to find a new assessor, as the previous assessor headed for retirement.

Without an assessor, the board would have been unable to carry out its function – looking after the valuation roll and the council tax valuation lists for the two council areas.

The actions taken resulted in a consultant depute assessor having their hourly rate of pay increase 400 per cent over five years.

When all was said and done, these actions resulted in a damning audit from Deloitte, which said the VJB leadership had overstepped its authority and behaved “unlawfully.”

Leask took up the chairmanship of the Orkney and Shetland Valuation Joint Board following May’s election.

Report contributed by Orkney’s local democracy reporter Andrew Stewart

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