Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Jim's Journals for October 2016

This article appears in the October 2016 'Insight' – Jim’s Journals - Insight presents a special feature commemorating yet another successful year of Presidential duties, as Jim McCafferty signs off  :

Dear reader,

So here it is - my last offering before I hand this slot over to incoming President Ian Ferguson. It has been an honour and privilege to be your President this year.    It has been really great meeting so many Institute members and hearing what they are doing.    Across all the disciplines that make up the IRRV, I have seen some great innovations and fantastic customer care in terms of service delivery. I have also eaten some fantastic meals, listened to some great music, witnessed some audacious dance moves and, let’s not deny, seen some prodigious intakes of alcohol!    I thought Scotland and the north of England had that last one in the bag until I witnessed the dedication to shown by the South Eastern Association - I was in my bed before 2.30 am and they were only warming up – 5am and some of them were still in the bar to make breakfast a few hours later … phew!

Being President was certainly not something that I envisaged when I first entered the Rates Office at Leicester City Council in November 1976.    I doubt anyone else there at that time thought any different. I try not to think back to what I looked like in 1976 as I might mourn the passing of my ginger hair - or would I? No, the real reason is that the mid 1970s was an era when great crimes were committed in the name of fashion - soft perms, Oxford bags, flares, horrible checks … I am feeling queasy just thinking about it. Thank goodness for punk!

Anyway, since my last note, what’s been going on?   Well, I have attended a number of Performance Awards Inspections, been to some shows in Edinburgh during the Festival, and attended the International Association of Assessing Officers (IAAO) Conference in Tampa and the twin Commonwealth Heads of Valuation Agencies (CHOVA) and IRRV Scottish Conferences in Crieff. Oh yes - I have managed to do some work as well. It has been a very busy time of it.    There is too much for me to go through in detail. 

The 82nd IAAO Conference took place in Tampa at the end of August.    It was a fantastic event and I gave a joint presentation with David Magor on local taxation in the various parts of the UK and the challenges we all face.    The general approach for presentations in the UK is that questions come at the end - not so in Tampa, so that brought its own challenges!    It became clear that many tax collection problems are universal and what is clear to me is that in the USA model, the local property tax is clear and the areas on which it is spent are also very clear.    A delegate from Texas summed his view of local taxation in the UK as that we have become too concerned with the question of affordability and destroyed clarity with an overabundance of reliefs, discounts and rebates.   His view being that these should be dealt with separately outwith the property tax.    He further expounded his view was that if this is not done, the taxpayer loses sight of the purpose of the tax.  

I would say that the IAAO Conference is a “full on” event both in terms of wide ranging papers that range throughout a full working day, including working lunches but also great evening events. I heard some great covers bands, including one that put Devo’s “Whip it”, The Proclaimers “500 Miles”, A Flock of Seagulls “I Ran” and Tom Petty’s “Refugee” in the same set, doing them all justice.     I heard some great Miles Davis inspired jazz and a young duo go through a range of Americana music. All that and the good music played on radio - a little while since I heard A Tribe Called Quest’s “I left My Wallet in El Segundo” - excellent. As excellent as the music and radio was, “free” TV was tragic and anyone who has problems with “free to view” TV in the UK should realise how lucky we are.

I also have had to re-define my assessment of what torrential rain looks and feels like - thanks to Hurricane Hermine for that. Hermine also gave me an interesting flight from Tampa to New York and caused me to stay in and around JFK airport for about 40 hours longer than I anticipated! 

On my return to Scotland I read with interest a report in The Herald which commented on a letter to the Finance Secretary, Derek Mackay, requesting the reversal of a business rate supplement increase. Fair enough as a request, but there is no mention of the purpose of the tax itself, or indeed the wider consequences of a tax reduction. Maybe my new Texan friend has a point - have we drifted too far away from understanding the purpose of local property taxes?

On to the Scottish Conference, which was held together with the CHOVA Conference at Crieff.  More about this in November’s Insight.  It was an enjoyable time which started with a pre-conference trip to the Glenturret whisky distillery.    This was an excellent event indeed!  
The nature of the IRRV President’s timetable is that in the last few weeks of the term there are a number of events that take place almost back to back, so if I seem a bit out of it at Telford that is my excuse.

It just remains to thank you that have read my meanderings.    I appreciate the kind comments made to me. I would like to thank all those who have supported me this year, including Claire Hall and Peter Blakey of BT Lancashire Services and my friends in Edinburgh who have kept an eye on my flat when I’ve been away.    My final comment is to wish my friend Ian Ferguson all the best in his year as President.    I know his knowledge, expertise and enthusiasm will make him a great President.


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