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