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!