The Chairman of Scilly's Council has laid out the practical steps in place to resolve the IT and finance issues relating to the payment of Council tax and water rates.
His comments at Tuesday's (July 10th) meeting followed the submission of a Question under Standing Order 14.3, a mechanism in the Standing Orders of Council to allow Members to ask a question that demands a full response from the person it was addressed to.
The question, submitted in written form and signed by Councillors Dan Marcus, Jonathan Smith and Avril Mumford, read:
To the Chairman,
The inter authority agreement between the Council of the Isles of Scilly and Cornwall Council offers both parties many opportunities. Unfortunately, since the ‘switch on’ of the Finance and ICT systems in March 2018 we have seen serious IT problems affecting both staff and members, with knock on impacts for the public and partners.
Whilst most of these issues have been resolved, problems remain. Most importantly, due to issues around the collection of Council Tax and water and sewerage rates, we are aware of the poor perception of the new systems, and therefore the agreement, held by this group of Members and, more importantly, the public.
In order to build up public confidence, could the Chairman please:
- Ensure that there is appropriate policy to ensure no resident endures financial hardship due to the issues described above.
- Discover what the current collection rate of Council Tax and Water rates is and if there will be any shortfall in revenues this year.
- Describe the practical steps that are being taken to ensure the resolution of issues and the ownership of the project as a whole within the Council of the Isles of Scilly.'
In the subsequent discussion, Cllrs Smith and Mumford related some of the issues that islanders have had with the phone line for paying Council tax, including a resident of St Mary’s who waited 45 minutes and could not get an answer. Chairman Robert Francis said he understood that the phone line is now working.
In his answer to the Question's third point, he said that practical steps being undertaken are: 1) Reminders are being sent out on a timely basis to identify where they may be issues of either true hardship or misunderstanding over changes to the process. Staff will work with residents on both issues and stop any financial hardships; 2) A form to elect to pay Council Tax by Direct Debit will be put on the Council's website; 3) A member of the Council Tax team from Cornwall will visit the islands to offer a drop-in surgery to residents wanting to discuss issues face to face; 4) Council tax and water rate collection performance will be reported to Full Council quarterly; and 5) that the Chairman can take up performance issues directly with colleagues providing the delegated services, which he said he will do.
Vice-chair Fran Grottick also revealed that she and Cllr Francis had visited Lloyds Bank manager Dave Stone, who was "very helpful" and gave his view of where some of the problems may have originated.