Thursday, 24 December 2015

Happy Christmas from the President!

Happy Christmas to everyone and I truly hope that you are not reading this any time soon. If you are - please stop.    It will wait - go and do something frivolous - enjoy yourself!

It’s just after 6pm now on Christmas Eve and I have completed all my preparations.  This is well ahead of my previous efforts.  Now it’s only the cooking left to be done.  So I think a wee glass of vino is in order.

Since my last update, my liver has taken a hammering at two Scottish events the Scottish Benefits and Welfare Reform Conference and the Scottish Association President's, Joan Hewton’s, Christmas Reception in Edinburgh.   The conference was as ever both interesting and challenging.  Challenging intellectually but also a test of stamina: who’s last in the bar and will they make it to hear speakers later that morning?     I don’t know who the last in the bar was because I’m a lightweight.   No benefits conference can go by without mention of John Cunningham so hear I go.   John is a great supporter of the Institute in Scotland.    He is always the first to ask questions of speakers and if he doesn’t agree with the answer offered he will pursue it further.   He is also a great musician who entertained us with his fine guitar playing in the bar following the Conference Dinner.

Joan’s reception was another excellent event and I thank her very much for inviting me.  

One big disappointment for me is that I missed seeing one of my heroes at Crieff; as Billy Bragg was also staying at the Hydro.  This week's Christmas music has been interspersed with some classic noise pollution "Talking with the Taxman about Poetry"; Levi Stubbs’ Tears can it get more heart rending?

Well I suppose I could drone on about the budgetary pressures facing local authorities, the revaluation in 2017, how council’s will cope with welfare reform etc. but I think we could all do with some respite from these topics for the next few days.  I am however grateful that I am not personally affected by the need to claim welfare benefits and so the only part of the above which I will think about are those less fortunate than I am over this Christmas break. 

The many disciplines that the institute covers generally have one thing in common the desire of members to work hard and do well.   For the next few days at least please take a break; think about other things.   I do accept those of you with screaming children may welcome some discourse on the revaluation.   I would instead suggest that you marvel at how well Leicester City have performed. Premiership leaders at Christmas!  And the Jambos third in the SPL, all is well in sporting world this week. 

Having got that off my chest there is now only one thing left for me to say I hope you will all have a wonderful Christmas and a great New Year when it arrives.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

December update from the President

So what did we all think on 25 November?    Well my take on matter is in line with my usual miserable outlook:  be careful what you wish for or at the very least be precise.   George Osborne's Autumn Statement appears to have delivered what local government has asked for, ad nauseam, over a very long period of time.    Local authorities will have greater control over support for the homeless and the most vulnerable.   Will they have they funding though and perhaps more crucially will the local community BE willing to pick up the tab?

Anyway on to more joyous issues since my last blog, I have been to a number of events.    I attended the Scottish Tribunals & Administrative Justice Advisory Committee (STAJAC) in Edinburgh along with my Scottish Association President, Joan Hewton and Association colleague Paula Doherty.    A very interesting event where there were presentations addressing the launch of “Mapping of Administrative Justice in Scotland” and “Making decisions fairly” reports.   Sadly, the COSLA representative was unable to attend to give a local authority perspective of the latter report.

From there it was on to Manchester on 17 November to attend and speak at the Local Authority Civil Enforcement Forum (LACEF) annual conference this year running in parallel with Collections, Debt Sale & Purchase Conference (CDSP).    A really interesting event and which ran very smoothly thanks in no small part to the organisational abilities of Freddie Dawkins of LACEF and Claire Davison of Credit.    I would wish to thank Barrie Minney the Chair of LACEF for his company and sharing some of his extensive knowledge of debt collection with me.    Barrie’s work in operating the knowledge hub is of immense use to local councils primarily in England and Wales.   Barrie tells me that it his wish to get more Scottish members and certainly there are definitely areas of best practice that can be shared regardless of borders. There was a wealth of excellent and knowledgeable speakers, even allowing for my participation and it would be unfair to pick any one speaker out; but I am going to. So thanks to Tim Savill of Coventry City Council for telling me that when Lady Godiva paraded through the streets of Coventry, in protest to high taxes her husband had set, no one was supposed to look, but one person did; his name was Tom, hence “Peeping Tom”.   I never knew that before.

There was an award night as part of the CDSP event and I was fortunate to be the guest of Alan Wood of Whyte & Co.   On the same table were Clive Jones and his team from Luton Borough Council; who were wonderful company and that was even before they became winners of the LACEF Public Sector Collections Team of the Year; well done Luton.

A quick visit home to Edinburgh where a whirlwind of washing, ironing and shoe polishing took place; as the saying goes a “man’s work is never done” and then it was off back down south.   This time it was the East Midlands Association Dinner Dance at the truly impressive Casa Hotel.   An excellent event and, an opportunity for me to catch up with friends colleagues from the time when I worked in the East Midlands.   It was attended by no less than four past national Presidents, Messrs Magor, Traynor, Chapman and Stewart (I am told my speech was hours shorter than yours of last year Kevin!).    I also met up with former colleague and fellow attendee at a Buzzcocks concert the East Midlands President, Ivan Carvath.    Despite everything I tried to teach Ivan he has done very well for himself.   Good to catch up with my old boss Alan Lemmon who as ever saw me off the at the bar; I still cannot keep up with him.

I would like to thank the East Midlands Association and in particular Andrew Solley, Association Secretary, for their hospitality and I can confirm that I have successfully repatriated the bottle of Malt that they were kind enough to present to me.

Next stop for me was the RAF Club in Piccadilly another fantastic building where I attended RICS Rating Diploma lunch.   The Rating Diploma exam certificates were presented it and proved to be a very successful time for the VOA who almost cornered the market.   Potentially a tough time ahead then for private practitioners when facing the highly trained VOA staff in the Tribunals to determine the 2017 revaluation appeals.    Which brings me to the after dinner speaker my friend and former colleague from Tribunal Service days Tony Masella, the Chief Executive of the Valuation Tribunal Service, as ever an entertaining and  amusing speaker.

Having been back to Leicester to see my Mum, son and some friends,  I indulged fully in enjoying the fantastic curries that the city has to offer.   Could be getting to be a threat to Glasgow any day soon.   In fact, Leicester was “buzzing”  -  things are definitely on the up.    Jamie Vardy scores again and I cannot get used to the term “table topping clash” when Leicester’s games are mentioned.    A real turn around for the city but what has caused it?   Well, it can only be one thing finding Richard III in a council car park!    So all you council officers feeling down trodden and in despair get your excavators out and start digging.    It worked for Leicester.

Had the great pleasure yesterday of catching up with my pal Ian Alcorn, one of Scotland’s most knowledgeable Housing Benefit practitioners.   His real skill is in knowing how to apply legislation to gain the best possible results for customers. 

So what “noise pollution” (thanks for that Anne Marie) am I listening to today?   Well it’s the disturbed genius of the late Warren Zevon, an hour or so more of “Splendid Isolation “before I head off to Crieff for the Scottish Benefits Conference.

That just leaves me to say - come on you Jambos and Foxes.
Luton BC prize winners
Barrie Minney (Lacef Chair) and Clive Jones (Revenues and Commercial Services Manager, Luton BC)
Ball room "sky" ceiling at RAF Club

Sunday, 15 November 2015

From the President - 15th November

Following the incidents in Paris I feel it is inappropriate for me to be my usual flippant self. I am sure all of our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and loved ones of those who have lost their lives or been injured in Friday’s attacks.

Since my last update, I have attended two events as IRRV President and I would simply like to thank the Rating Surveyors Association together with their President Robert Brown for their hospitality on 5 November 2015.    David Magor and I were invited as guests to the RSA Annual Dinner held at the Royal Horseguards Hotel in London; a beautiful setting and a wonderful event.

On Friday I attended the annual luncheon of the the Association of Chief Estates Surveyors and Property Managers in the Public Sector (ACES) held at the City Chambers in Edinburgh.   I would like to thank ACES for their kind invitation and wish their new President Jeremy Pilgrim a successful year in office. 

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Darcy - the President's new companion!

The new companion is a rescue dog called Darcy.    Darcy was in Edinburgh Cat & Dogs' home for some months.   It appears she was a bit too lively for many. She is two years old and has a heart murmur.

Originally she is from Spain and has a penchant for siestas, playing with balls and seeks out sunshine (too bad on that one). 

I think she may also be a Barcelona fan as she perks up when Lionel Messi is mentioned.

Update from Jim - 3rd November 2015 ...

Kevin Stewart warned me that not much happens in the first few weeks of an IRRV presidency except that you have to start planning out things for the rest of your presidency as there are lots of invites to various events to cover over the rest of the year.    Oh yes and I still have to do my own work.    Please make no mistake though I am genuinely humbled by becoming President and I hope to give it my best possible efforts throughout.    I want to visit all of the associations and meet as many members as possible. 

There is a lot of good work going on out there and yet it has becoming commonplace to knock all that goes on in our worlds whether that’s revenues, benefits or valuation. I want to hear of the good work that is going on in all the association areas.   There is much to be proud of out there.    This is not supposed to be an entirely serious blog so I will I get on with the randomness of some of the thoughts that cross my mind. 

This week things have kicked off in earnest though. I was in London at HQ to chair the Council meetings that took place yesterday.    Really great to see David Magor back; he is clearly not fully recovered yet as he thinks his beloved Watford will beat Leicester.    I think Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez et al will something to say about that; but we shall see.  Monday was a day when travel was difficult with widespread fog in the Midlands and south of England.   So it was off to Edinburgh Airport for a flight to Luton and then the Thameslink to St Pancras; London Luton Airport aye that’ll be right: I wouldn’t fancy walking it.

On Thursday I will be back off down to London for a Dinner hosted by the Rating Surveyors' Association; should be interesting.    Was looking at my London A-Z circa 1988, when I did some work in the big city.     Time I bought a new one; things have changed considerably and that’s not just me; I had ginger hair back then.    Talking of which, a recent study has concluded red haired people are more sensitive to pain than others.    Come on, the rest of you knew that already; you’ve seen how we act to sunlight.    Anyway I digress.

What else has happened?    Well who would have thought that the House of Lords would feel so strongly about a work based benefit?    I’m sure Messrs Cameron and Osborne will not bear a grudge on that one.    Well at least not beyond the end of the next Ice Age.   The issue now is who will meet the costs of any transitional arrangements to cover the Tax Credit changes.    All will be revealed in the Autumn Statement ... can’t wait.

And as I look out the window as a grey fog comes down (for it is our turn now; when do we get a shot of the big orange thing in the sky?) my mind turns to the imminent release of the Commission on Local Taxation’s report.     There will be lots more on that in the next few months and beyond.

Then there was the outbreak of generosity by the UK and Scottish Governments towards businesses. For England it will all sort itself out by 2020 or thereabouts.   In Scotland it’s happened already - 31 October 2015.    Only issue is that the cost falls fully on councils and as I am sure Directors of Finance will be advising there is no budget in place for the current year and we haven’t got a policy (no that last one will be the fault of the Revenues Manager). 

Finally, loosely on the work front, how is it going in secret squirrel land with UC Digital?   Come on you tell us after all it may help people to plan for the future.   Tell us something, tell us anything just don’t tell us it’s on budget and it’s on time. 

Anyway the fog and the darkness roll in and I have distance learning assignment to read and mark. 

Whilst writing this I have been listening to the music of one of the greatest bands ever, The Clash.    A slight mood change is required now The Stone Roses, I think.

Finally I am flipping hopeless at predicting football results but here goes:

Leicester 2 Watford 1
Hearts 2 Hamilton 0

All the best

PS Informal photo from Annual Conference below!

Monday, 12 October 2015

A few informal photos of the President!

Here's a few informal photographs of Jim!
Jim at Annual Conference - with colleagues!
Anne Marie chauffeurs the President!
On Match of the Day - err, perhaps not!
President by the seaside!

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Jim becomes IRRV President

Jim became IRRV President on Thursday during the IRRV Annual Conference's Performance Awards Dinner in Telford :
You can see the winners' videos from the performance awards night here

Friday, 9 October 2015

Welcome from Jim!

Jim is President of the Institute of Revenues, Rating and Valuation (IRRV) for 2015-16. 

He is also a former President of the IRRV Scottish Association. He is a member of the IRRV’s Benefits and Revenues Faculty Boards. 

He is also a member of the IRRV National Council. He lectures in Benefits Administration and Revenues Management for IRRV for the Certificate and Diploma level examinations.   He is also the author of distance learning material for NDR Law and Administration in Scotland. 

Jim has worked for a number of councils both in Scotland and England over a 37 year career. He also worked for the Valuation Tribunal Service in England. The experience of working for an appellate body gives him a unique insight for a Revenues and Benefits practitioner.

Prior to becoming an independent consultant, in August 2012, Jim worked for West Lothian Council as Revenues and Benefits Manager during a time when they achieved year on year continuous improvements and were recognised for this success in national awards. In August 2011 Jim also became Corporate Procurement Manager at West Lothian.

This blog will keep you updated with Jim's various activities as President from October 2015 onwards.
Jim pictured with IRRV President 2014-15 President Kevin Stewart