Memorandum by the Public and Commercial
PCS, the Public and Commercial Services Union,
welcomes the opportunity to provide a submission to the Treasury
sub-committee inquiry into the work of the Valuation Office Agency
(VOA). PCS is a modern and progressive Trade Union, representing
some 250,000 members across the civil service and related areas
of commerce. Of these, nearly 3,000 work in the administrative,
technical and managerial grades within the VOA. As the union that
represents nearly 75 per cent of the staff who work for the VOA,
the PCS is uniquely qualified to comment on the past performance
and future of the agency.
Ability of our members;
the PCS role as "Partners";
Changes since 1995 and the PCS view on:
the real costs of productivity.
Current work practices and the PCS view on:
the impact of "centralised processing";
the need for investment.
Encouraging new challenges:
maintaining the council tax base;
a progressive council tax.
PCS IN THE
1. PCS members in VOA have proved themselves
capable of adapting very quickly to the demands of a fast changing
business environment, and have demonstrated by way of the outcome
of the "Private Sector Experiment", that they are more
than a match for their counterparts in the outside arena.
2. It is also our belief that PCS members should
have a key role in delivering "Better and joined up Government".
Our members are part of a highly skilled and well trained work
force, which stands ready to take on any new challenges which
Government may ask the agency to carry out, such as: reform of
the council tax system, a fairer method for determining water
charging, or other new areas of work to which the agency has hitherto
been denied the opportunity to compete.
3. PCS also plays a positive pro-active role
in all aspects of the agency's business operational, and strategic
planning activities, and we fully support the agency's current
attempt to achieve "Investors in People status." We
have also recently agreed improved machinery for consultation
with agency management, based on the concept of "partnership
and progress". It is our aim, wherever possible, to work
in partnership with VOA management to deliver an effective and
efficient service to the public.
THE 1995 REVIEW
4. Since the last five yearly review, the VOA
has undergone massive operational and organisational changes and
witnessed a radical change to its culture. While the PCS recognises
the need for a modern organisation to continually seek greater
efficiency, we believe that the unrealistic and rigorous target
of 30 per cent savings over a five year period has been achieved
at too high a price.
5. This is reflected in the ongoing debate between
the agency board and PCS over the staffing profiles in the agency.
This largely centres around the current imbalance between senior
qualified grades and technical and administrative staff. PCS believes
that a more cost effective service could be provided to the agency's
clients and to taxpayers if a more realistic view was taken about
how the work of the agency is undertaken and the added value that
could be achieved with the correct ratio between qualified caseworkers,
technicians, managers and support staff.
6. The PCS hopes that the current joint review
of pay, performance management and grading, will help to resolve
this long standing problem which in previous years has not been
helped by the use of large numbers of "fixed term" staff.
It is also hoped that the review will provide an opportunity to
consider a radical review of competency based job descriptions
and grading profiles. This can bring immense benefits to our clients
and taxpayers as well as the members that we represent.
7. Turning to the organisational changes that
have taken place since 1995, these have resulted in a dramatic
decline in the use of permanent staff as can be seen from the
comparative table below. This has created immense pressure on
the VOA and those working within it, as they have coped with the
increasing demands of taxpayers and the operational impact of
|Year||VOA Staff in post|
8. Although these figures need to be qualified in terms of
the resources needed in 1991-92 for the preparation for the introduction
of Council Tax, and those deployed upon the 1995 Revaluation,
the massive reduction since then has caused severe pressure on
the agency to produce what Government, the agency's clients and
the taxpayer at large have demanded of it.
9. It is to the great credit of agency staff that they have
delivered increasingly higher productivity outputs despite these
pressures. For despite the negotiated settlement on the introduction
of the new Group Structure, the swingeing reductions in the number
of network offices has resulted in an increase in expenditure
on travel and subsistence costs. It has also reduced the opportunity
for "face to face contact" with the public, who are
often loathe and indeed unable, to travel to an office to seek
the resolution of an appeal or a general enquiry.
10. PCS hopes that these effects can partly be offset by
major improvements in customer service, the continual quest for
"chartermark awards" and the introduction of a new telephone
network. But it is our belief that so much more could have been
achieved if a longer term view had been taken by previous incumbents
of the top posts within the agency management board.
11. The agency has invested heavily in new information technology.
PCS applauds the efforts of our specialist members in assisting
the VOA to achieve government recognition of the system which
underpins the new Group structure.
12. However, the introduction of Group structure has had
a major effect on how the agency undertakes its work practices.
The move to centralised processing of appeals against the 1995
Rating list was perhaps among the most controversial of these.
And it is this, along with the reduction in the use of proven
managers in each of the Agency's network locations, which has
caused a good deal of anxiety and disappointment amongst our membership.
13. The impact of this has yet to be fully evaluated, but
PCS believes that the centralisation of processing and registration
procedures has not yet produced the promised rewards of improved
career development for support grade staff, many of whom are expected
to remain with the agency for some time and provide the bedrock
for the future.
14. We therefore believe that more now needs to be done to
build upon the successes of the agency by way of "seedcorn"
recruitment and training programmes of the basic recruitment grades.
Such initiatives, which will require relatively low investment,
will pay for themselves many time over in terms of their contribution
towards a better trained and well motivated work force.
15. PCS welcomes the challenges that are likely to flow from
the "modernising government" white paper. Our members
in the VOA have been frustrated at the way in which "next
steps" broke the Civil Service down into silos, which is
contrary to the principles of "joined up government."
They are frustrated by the missed opportunities to provide a joined
16. For instance there is talk of spending upwards of £5
billion to provide water meters, yet the council tax provides
a progressive and satisfactory alternative. The staff of the VOA
would relish the opportunity to help provide that alternative
by ensuring that the council tax base is properly maintained.
A union sponsored review of this is enclosed.
17. Additionally, a forthcoming piece of research by PCS
and the New Policy Institute concludes that a relatively low cost,
re-banding and re-multiplying exercise, could make council tax
substantially more progressive.
18. We encourage these developments and very much see them
as opportunities, not threats. We want to meet them in partnership
with management and Government.
19. Meanwhile, PCS is confident that the efforts of its members
within the VOA will help contribute to the important and immediate
task of producing a robust and high quality product in the form
of Revaluation 2000. That we expect them to do, says much for
the determination of our members to see the agency thrive.
20. We hope that the Treasury sub committee will find the
foregoing to be of assistance to their work. We have tried to
focus this brief submission directly on the areas being covered
by the inquiry, but are willing to supplement this orally if the
committee should so desire.
21. PCS believe that the valuation Office Agency is a respected
and influential organisation in the property field, which has
consistently surpassed the required standards of impartiality,
integrity and fairness. it is our joint aim alongside that of
the agency Board, for the VOA to be the Public sector's preferred
choice for the provision of valuation advice, and for the organisation
to continue to provide value for money in the services it provides
to the state.