Woeful timing as VOA plans to cut offices and staff across UK
Pressure is piling up at the Valuation Office Agency as it announces plans to cut the number of its offices from 52 to around 26.
It seems a strange time to make the announcement when dissatisfaction with the VOA’s service is rising and the Check Challenge Appeal process has yet to bed in properly.
Add to that its plans to cut 1,000 staff – more than 25% of its workforce – in the next three years and you seriously must question the future of the VOA in its present form.
The North West will get to retain its Manchester and Liverpool offices but over the Pennines, Sheffield, Halifax and Huddersfield will all lose their VOA presence. Scotland will have just four and two in Wales.
My sympathies lie with the VOA staff who are being hit all sides at the moment with more than 200,000 outstanding business rate appeals on their books. With the new Check, Challenge, Appeal system also encountering all kinds of teething issues, it is hard to see this number decreasing any time soon.
You can only imagine how bad morale is among VOA staff with job cuts, relocations or horrendous commutes now firmly on their horizon. And all this is happening at a time when it has been reported that almost 90% of 847 respondents who have tried the new system stated they were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with it.
Obviously, the age of austerity is alive and kicking within the VOA walls, but I fear the agency will grind to a halt as we head towards the next revaluation, along with the hundreds of thousands of outstanding appeals, unless someone can come up with a strategy that has more than just cost-cutting at its heart.
There wasn’t much pre-Christmas cheer on the business rates front from the Chancellor’s Spending Review, unless you count a miniscule concession.
UK airports are to receive new financial support after ministers finally succumbed to months of pleading from the sector.
Calls are mounting for the supermarket giants to hand back their business rates windfall after seeing profits leap during lockdown.