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MODERNISING THE VALUATION OFFICE AGENCY

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The paymaster general, Dawn Primarolo, has today announced the ...
The paymaster general, Dawn Primarolo, has today announced the

publication of the report of the five yearly review of the Valuation

Office Agency (VOA).

The report recommends that the VOA lead the modernisation of the

rating valuation system to move it away from the current culture of

using appeals to arrive at acceptable valuations.

Specifically, the report recommends that the VOA adopt a 'right first

time' approach by

* improving the quality of the information on which it bases

valuations for rating and council tax

* standardising its valuation procedures

* involving ratepayers and council taxpayers in valuations at an

earlier stage and keeping them better informed so that there is a

greater acceptance that valuations are right and fewer appeals

* increasing the range of services that it offers through the

Internet to include appeals against council tax bandings and

returns of information by ratepayers

The report also recommends that the VOA remain as an executive agency

of the Inland Revenue, with improved arrangements for its governance

and management. A revised Framework Document for the VOA reflecting

these recommendations will be published later this year.

The review of the VOA was carried out in parallel with the DETR review of revaluation and took account of the work of that review. The report

of the DETR review, and the government's proposals for taking forward

the conclusions of that review, will be contained in a Local

Government Finance Green Paper to be published shortly.

DETAILS

1. The review of the VOA commenced on 1 November 1999.

2. Following an examination of the 'prior options' the review

concluded that

* although the VOA should not be abolished or privatised, it

should keep under review options for contracting out some

functions,

* there are opportunities to improve the service to customers

through greater partnership between the VOA and other government

agencies, and

* the VOA should remain as an executive agency of the Inland

Revenue.

3. The review recommended improvements to the arrangements for

sponsoring and managing the VOA, including closer involvement by

the DETR and the National Assembly for Wales as key stakeholders

of the VOA. These improvements will be reflected in a new

Framework Document for the VOA to be published later this year.

4. Following an evaluation of the VOA's performance in providing

services to its customers the review concluded that

* the VOA has achieved very significant financial efficiency gains

and restructuring of its organisation over the last five years,

* its performance in delivering its valuation services was mixed

in the four years ended 31 March 1999 while it introduced this

programme of savings and restructuring, but it turned in an

impressive performance last year,

* it has a sound technological base and is actively developing

means of doing business electronically with its customers, which

should be taken further,

* the routine reliance on appeals to arrive at acceptable rating

and council tax valuations gives rise to uncertainty and excess

costs both for ratepayers and council taxpayers and for

government,

* there is a need to modernise the rating and council tax

valuation systems to deliver greater efficiency and a better

service by improving the quality of the information on which

valuations are based, using more standardised procedures and

involving and informing ratepayers and council taxpayers more.

5. The review therefore made a number of recommendations for

improvements to

* the VOA's arrangements for obtaining and recording information,

including better powers to enforce the submission of information

by ratepayers,

* the VOA's procedures for making valuations, and

* the way valuations are presented and explained to customers and

a greater focus on seeking their agreement to valuations.

6. The report of the review of the VOA is available on the Inland

Revenue's web site at www.inlandrevenue.gov.uk or on the VOA's web

site at www.voa.gov.uk

NOTES

1. The VOA is an executive agency of the Inland Revenue.

The agency was set up under the Next Steps initiative on

30 September 1991.

2. The VOA values land and buildings for a variety of purposes and

for a wide range of public sector clients in England, Wales and

Scotland. Its main functions are

* valuing property in England and Wales for the purposes of rates

and council tax,

* valuing property in England, Wales and Scotland for the purposes

of taxes administered by the Inland Revenue,

* providing a range of valuation and estate surveying services to

other government departments and public bodies in England, Wales

and Scotland.

3. The VOA has just under 4,000 permanent staff employed in a

network of 85 offices throughout England, Wales and Scotland.

It is self-funding, recovering the cost of the work it undertakes

through charges to its clients. Its income in the year ended

31 March 2000 was #160 million.

4. Like all Next Steps agencies, the VOA is subject to periodic

review, normally every five years. These reviews

* examine the 'prior options' (namely, abolition, privatisation

and contracting out),

* where agency status is reaffirmed, consider whether any

revisions are required to the agency's Framework Document, and

* evaluate the agency's performance.

5. The DETR's review of revaluation considered how the system for

revaluing properties for non-domestic rates could be improved to

deliver greater certainty, stability and simplicity, while

maintaining an appropriate level of fairness. The review group

involved the VOA and other government departments, the National

Assembly for Wales, local government and business representatives.

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