Sunday, 8 October 2017

October 2017 – President’s log - a farewell from Ian!

Hello everyone,

Well, this is my last article as your President.  I am writing whilst at the Scottish Conference, in the wonderful town of Crieff, and I still have a number of events to attend in the last four weeks of my tenure, which makes it a very busy time for me. 

There is a very international feel to the events as I visit Scotland, Wales (to speak at a seminar in Cardiff), the Annual Conference and Performance Awards in Telford and a visit “across the pond” to speak with our Chief Executive David Magor and Paul McDermott at the International Association of Assessing Officers’ conference in Las Vegas. 

During the course of the year I have had the pleasure of visiting many Institute Associations, to welcome and be welcomed by members of fellow professional bodies. I must say a big thank you to everyone I have met for that welcome and the kindness shown to me and my family as we have toured the UK. 

It is a real pleasure to see how vibrant many Associations are, and indeed to witness the very different ways each of them goes about its business. There is of course no right and wrong way - as long as the Association is assisting its members and colleagues from our very varied professions we will continue to go from strength to strength.

I was recently asked what has been the highlight so far. This was a very difficult question and in reality one I couldn’t answer. To say there was a highlight would indicate to me that one was better than the all the other events and experiences I have had this year - in truth, they have all been wonderful experiences.

However, if I was pressed to pick something, it would have to be seeing the pass lists for our examinations and signing the successful candidates’ certificates. As many of you will know, I undertake a bit of teaching myself and run the courses up in the north-east. Whilst it gives me great pleasure to see students begin their studies and grow to the point where they pass their examinations, I also know that it is vital to the success of our Institute that we continue to offer a professional and knowledgeable organisation for our members and their employers, to ensure that whichever profession you are employed in - whether it be revenues, benefits, rating, valuation or collection - you are able to offer advice, support and speak with professional authority when required to do so.

As I have already mentioned in my articles, these are very difficult times for all those working in our industry, with reducing budgets and further changes.  A vibrant Institute is therefore vital. There is no doubt that as we experience further welfare reforms in the coming months, it is time that there was a wholesale change to both the rating and council tax regimes. Business rates are coming under more and more pressure as ratepayers become ever more disgruntled with the rates they are asked to pay and they look for more ways to avoid paying, in addition to the growing discontent for the appeal system. In addition, the government keep tinkering with the reliefs and discounts, which again cause more discontent with both ratepayers and those who administer the system.

This is of course also true of the council tax regime, which is now ridiculously out of date, with a system that was hurriedly brought in as a way of getting rid of the poll tax. A major overhaul is desperately needed.

During the course of my year we have lost a number of members of the institute who played a significant part in its success and diversity, the most recent loss being that of Pat Doherty. A tribute to Pat falls opposite this article, but I would simply like to add that he was not only a fellow member of the Institute, member of the council and Past President, but a personal a friend of mine. He always offered help and advice and he will be missed by all those who had the pleasure of knowing him.

As I come to the end of my time as President and the end of this article, I wish to again thank all those who have invited me this year and welcomed me so warmly.  Also, to those who have helped me get there on time, particularly David Magor, who has travelled to many of the events with me, and endured my jokes at his expense … and of course to my employers, County Durham Housing Group, who have supported me throughout my Presidency.  And, of course, to my family - Karen and Matthew - for both ably supporting me whenever they could, and holding the fort while I was away on my travels.

It just leaves me to hand over to your next President and to wish Gordon Heath all the best for his coming year. I am sure he not only will have a fantastic year, but will bring his customary knowledge and enthusiasm with him.  Good luck, Gordon!



Saturday, 26 August 2017

President’s log - September 2017

It is probably the quietest time of our year with annual billing over, the early recovery runs undertaken, the rush of new benefit claims following annual billing processed and, for this year, the initial interest in the revaluation also subsided. Many offices are quieter than normal, as many of us take our well-earned holidays.

Well, that’s the way it should be, but of course in the revenues and benefits world there is always something on the horizon. Many authorities, and any organisation involved in the provision of housing, are preparing for the rollout of the full service for Universal Credit.  Many are also of course fearful of the consequences of this on rental income and other payments such as council tax, utility bills and everyday living costs. 

The potential for families to go into debt, especially those who have always paid their way, is worrying, and of course it could well be the landlord or local council that they will turn to, to help them through a difficult period in their lives.

As I say, it should be the time of year when we take a breather, have a break and prepare for the next round of change or implementation of government policy.  However, this is not the case for those of you who work within the business rates arena in particular, as you grapple with the latest government idea of the discretionary rate reliefs for pubs, supporting small businesses and the local discretionary fund. This of course was announced in the Budget and included a pot of money amounting to £300m to help small businesses.

However, as it includes a local scheme, there is a lot to do in designing a scheme and consulting on it, which wasn’t helped when the government promptly decided to hold a General Election!  Many local authorities are only now going out to consultation on their local scheme. It is therefore very annoying, and worrying, when local authorities receive letters from Marcus Jones effectively berating local authorities for not having a scheme in place. Either relations between his department and local government are at a very low point or he doesn’t fully understand the requirements and the potential for challenge of a local scheme. 

The weather has been pretty miserable over the past couple of weeks, but we were fortunate to have fine weather for the national IRRV golf competition, organised by Bob Trahern at Nuneaton Golf Club. We had more players and sponsors than we have had for quite some time and many players were able to take the time to catch up with friends and colleagues from around the country.  Whilst it was an excellent day all round, it didn't all go to plan for every player, as the photo (right) testifies.  In light of this success, I am looking to hold a golf competition at Oswestry Golf Club on the Monday before our Annual Conference in early October - look out for details.



Wednesday, 2 August 2017

President’s log - August 2017

Hello readers,

There have been many headlines over the past few weeks, including the dreadful events in Manchester and London and the political upheaval of the government losing its majority. The impact of all these and other events, of course, has an impact on local government and the services we provide.   

Many of the services and personnel delivering them have quite rightly received the praise they deserve, as people put their own lives in danger to help others. In addition to the immediate response, there is often a great deal of help required for many months - even years - following these events and local government is at the forefront of delivering these services. These often include our own revenues, benefits and advice services, as we ensure our residents receive the financial assistance to which they are entitled, with discounts/exemptions identified and delivered, and appropriate payment plans negotiated. 

Unfortunately, whilst these events get the attention to which they are entitled, once again politicians think that local government can be an easy hit, for example as Vince Cable comes out and criticises the collection rates for council tax and business rates, concentrating on the uncollected monies rather than the collection rates for these taxes. 

During 2016/17, local authorities in England collected £26b compared to £22b in 2012/13. Whilst the collection rate understandably went down in 2013/14, owing to the introduction of the local council tax support schemes, the collection rate now is not far off the rates achieved in 2012/13.  In Wales, the story is the same, with local authorities achieving the highest ever collection rate, at 97.4%.  And in Scotland, In-year collection rates have improved steadily from 87.2% in 1998/99 to 93.8% in 2006/07 and now 95.8% in 2016/17.

These collection rates are set against the continuation of austerity and reducing staff num-bers, as budgets are cut and in England the poorest in our society have to make a contri-bution towards their council tax bill.

Wouldn’t it be easier if the politicians came out and congratulated revenues and benefits staff for the incredible job they do in delivering the most efficient tax system in the world, at the same time ensuring our residents receive the benefits to which they are entitled?  I’m not sure how we can reverse this particular thought process!


Since my last article, I have been extremely busy undertaking presidential duties and have been to many parts of Great Britain, including visits to Scotland (the Revenues Symposium) and to the Wales Conference in LLandrindod Wells. I thank everyone for the warm welcome I receive everywhere I go. 

I have a small number of events to attend over the next couple of weeks before there is a lull in activity during August as the holiday period reaches its climax… which point I hope you all have the holiday and rest you undoubtedly deserve! 



Thursday, 1 June 2017

President’s log - June 2017

Hi there everyone,

I am pretty sure many of you reading this will be starting to think of your well deserved summer holidays. Just goes to show just how quickly my year as your President is going!

The last few weeks have been very enjoyable but also very different - social events, repre-senting the Institute on an international level, looking forward to the future and ensuring our Institute remains vibrant and relevant.

The three social events were varied and enjoyable, the first being a lunch I hosted in London for the Presidents of kindred Institutes. This was a very informal affair, with no speeches or presentations - just an opportunity to get to know each other and discuss the issues that impact us all.

The second was an event I had been looking forward to - the Lancashire and Cheshire Association dinner. This was particularly enjoyable as it was the members of the Lancashire and Cheshire branch, as they were then, who took me under their wing as a young student and helped me both through my exams, introducing me to many of the events and people of the Institute. The help and kindness shown to me then has carried me throughout my career and I still look back on my time as a member of the “branch” with great affection.

The most recent social event was as a guest of North East CIPFA, at their dinner in New-castle. The evening was a success and again gave me the opportunity to meet up with friends I hadn't seen in a number of years. In fact, speaking to one old friend we reckoned it had been nearly 30 years since we last had a drink together!

I was also really pleased to represent the Institute at the latest TEGoVA (The European Group of Valuers’ Associations) conference, which was held in Belgrade, a really interesting city. I think we can all take pride in the way our Institute is revered by the European and North American valuation professions.  This was borne out when our very own Roger Messenger was re-elected as the organisation’s Vice Chairman for the next three years.  Congratulations to Roger!

However, arguably the most important event was the meeting of the national Council, where a number of discussions took place on the future of the Institute. We are only a small organisation, and unfortunately the current climate means that our number and therefore our income is reducing. We are not alone in this situation, as many of our compatriot Institutions are experiencing the same issues.

Therefore, it is imperative that we address these issues and formulate a plan going forward, so that we ensure that we have an Institute that is as strong, relevant and as highly thought of as it is today. These discussions are continuing and we plan to bring proposals before you at the Telford Annual Conference in October.  I look forward to reporting on our conclusions.



Saturday, 6 May 2017

President's Log - May 2017

Dear reader,

It’s that time of year where everyone feels better as the days get longer and warmer - even here in the north-east!  The lambs are in the fields and daffodils are blooming. 

That said, the stresses and strains of year end and annual billing certainly put a damper on the “feel good” factor. For some it will probably feel even worse, as the next phase of welfare reform kicks in and the poorest in our society see further cuts hit their pockets.

In years gone by, I was a member of Round Table, an organisation which does a lot for its local community in terms of raising money for local charities. Whilst this is a commendable attribute, another main aim is fellowship and helping to develop its members by undertaking tasks they might not otherwise do, such as public speaking, chairing meetings and organising the events.  

One of the highlights of the year for the Warwickshire area is a weekend away called “High Tiddle”. This is basically a group of men going away for the weekend, undertaking a hike to over 2000 feet, where they play Tiddly Winks and walk back down again!  The purpose of Tiddly Winks? Simple - the winners organise the following year’s event! I was invited onto this year’s walk, as it was my old Table that had won the previous year and organised it this year.  It was great to meet up with old friends and to meet a few new ones as we worked our way up and down the mountain and, of course, a few bars.

The weekend had me thinking about all the things that I had done as a member of Table, including travelling to Germany, Holland and South Africa to meet up with Tablers from those countries.

Many members of our Institute ask me what they get for their money when they pay their subscriptions, besides a monthly magazine. I try to explain that it does many things, such as keeping the professionalism of their vocation, giving them the opportunity to train and develop through our courses, representation at government level and the opportunity to meet with others who work just as hard in the same field of work in difficult environments - and of course to learn from others.

It seemed to me as I walked along in the beautiful dales that lovely sunny day in March that members of the two organisations are not dissimilar in many ways. They are like minded, have similar goals and harbour a desire to do well. But it also seemed to me that those who get involved in their respective organisation tend to get more from it than those who don’t. So perhaps the answer to those who ask the question, “what does the Institute/organisation do for me?” should be “what can you do for your Institute/organisation?” It is easy to get involved with the Institute at a local level and I urge you to do so - you will be very welcome.  It’s true in life that the more you put in, the more you get out.

Yours, Ian  

Monday, 3 April 2017

President's log - April 2017

April 2017 Insight – President’s log

Dear reader,

Welcome to my latest contribution as my year progresses.  There is not too much to report since my last article, as it has been relatively quiet on the Presidential front and I as write this article I have not travelled or visited any more Associations or attended any other gatherings. 

There was one duty which I had to perform, however, which was probably one of the most pleasing I will undertake during my year as President - to sit and sign all the certificates for the successful students from the December examinations.  As I’ve mentioned before, I am extremely keen on membership and qualifications for our Institute, and to sign so many certificates was a real joy, especially as many of them were from the north-east!  Well done and congratulations to all those who passed in December - hopefully I will get to meet you as I travel the country and visit your Associations.

There is unfortunately a down side to this story. Many of the students who pass our exam-inations very quickly let their membership lapse, particularly when they have to pay their own subscriptions. It is in my view very shortsighted of employers to see so many of them no longer paying these subscriptions once a student has qualified. 

Having spent so much resource, in time and money, and then not to continue to support the professionalism of staff and their continuing professional development seems a little negative.  As staff numbers reduce and those with extensive experience leave, it seems to me to be even more important that those left behind should be professionally qualified, motivated and supported in their ongoing professional journey.

I realise for many that the subscription renewal notices come at a bad time of year and everyone is having to pull in their financial belts, but having strived so hard to gain the qualification it is well worth having a look at what membership of the Institute can do for you.

Certainly, if you go along to your local Association and meet with others who work in the same arena and have the same issues, you will not only meet folk who are similarly minded but also those who are able to help with the problems we all face each day at work. Hopefully you would also follow me in meeting friends who last a lifetime.

I would also encourage the Associations to reach out to those who have recently qualified, invite them along to the next meeting or seminar, showing them that membership can be of real benefit, both on a personal as well as a professional level.