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A new chapter for Orkney and Shetland’s embattled Valuation Joint Board?

Darryl Rae and Stephen Leask
Darryl Rae and Stephen Leask

The new leader of the Orkney and Shetland Valuation Joint Board says he hopes a line can be drawn under the mistakes of the past.

Shetland councillor Stephen Leask was elected convener of the board at the first meeting since May’s council elections.

Orkney councillor Dr Stephen Clackson makes up the leadership team with him.

Notably, Dr Clackson was among three councillors who resigned from the VJB during the last council term.

This relates back to actions taken to keep the board’s previous assessor in his job and allow the body to continue carrying out its vital functions.

The board’s past

The previous assessor Dennis Stevenson had been due to retire. The board’s leaders had taken actions to attract a new assessor while keeping Mr Stevenson in his post and giving him a pay rise in line with the job being advertised.

These actions and the way they were carried out were found to have gone without proper scrutiny.

Much of the details around this had remained private until an Accounts Commission report was published in March.

The end results of this were some truly bruising audit reports, which pointed out that the board’s leadership team had “overstepped their authority” and even acted “unlawfully.”

Much has been done to resolve the situation.

For example, today’s meeting, held in Orkney’s council chamber, included a review of the board’s constitution.

The board’s new assessor Darryl Rae was also in attendance.

Improvements made by VJB but more still to be done

However, it’s not completely out of the woods. Mr Rae pointed out that it is still undergoing ” a period of unprecedented change” in terms of staff and its systems.

The new roster of board members, which has retained a few previous members, were again faced with reading the VJB’s past mistakes, in an Accounts Commission annual audit report.

Mr Leask was a substitute member for the board during the last council term. So he is more than familiar with the situation it found itself in.

Speaking after this week’s meeting, he said was asked how he feels about taking on the convener role after such a tumultuous period.

He said: “We have a new board, new members, new assessors in position and we’re in a really good state. I feel we need to move forward together as a group.

“We can see the whole valuation joint board working together in a more progressive manner, in future.

‘We must draw a line under the past’

“I’m very honoured to be given the role by the members and I’m very pleased and privileged to become the convener.”

Asked what that road forward looks like, he added: “What we must do is draw a line under the past. We have to move forward.

“This is an opportunity to look at the past, look at the mistakes and actually learn from them.

“We have to look at how we can be progressive. It’s very important that we build up morale for the board and the officials.

“It’s important that we can move forward with a positive attitude and learn from those mistakes of the past. “

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