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Present

Members

  • Kathryn Bishop, Chair
  • Dyfed Edwards, Deputy Chair
  • David Jones, Non-Executive
  • Jocelyn Davies, Non-Executive
  • Lakshmi Narain, Non-Executive
  • Martin Warren, Non-Executive
  • Dyfed Alsop, Chief Executive Officer
  • Sean Bradley, Chief Legal and Policy Officer 
  • Rebecca Godfrey, Chief Strategy Officer

Ymgynghorwyr (advisors)

  • Andrew Jeffreys, Director, Welsh Treasury
  • Catrin Millar, Head of Communications
  • Melissa Quignon-Finch, Head of HR
  • Teresa Platt, Chief Finance Officer
  • Jo Ryder, Chief of Staff
  • Sam Cairns, Head of Operations
  • Dave Matthews, Head of Policy

Presenting or attending

  • Head of Customer and Engagement
  • Digital Services Manager

Secretariat

  • Ceri Sullivan, Board Secretariat

Meeting opening

1. Welcome and introductions, conflicts of interest and apologies, minutes of the last meeting, matters arising

  1. The Chair welcomed Board members and ymgynghorwyr to the meeting. No conflicts of interest were raised.
     
  2. No apologies were received.
     
  3. The Board agreed that the minutes were an accurate account of what was discussed subject to one amendment. The outstanding actions were discussed, and it was agreed that four actions would remain open.
     
  4. The Chair noted that the revised Board Terms of Reference (ToR) and Standing Orders had recently been agreed by members. However, since then the Tîm Arwain (Leading Team), formerly the Executive Committee had revised its name. Therefore, the Board and Committees ToR would need to updated to reflect this. Members agreed these changes.
     
  5. Internal audit work had been carried out by Welsh Government’s (WG) Audit Team over the summer. Some minor observations had been made, which the CEO was required to respond to formally. These observations were no cause for concern, but the CEO requested the views of the Board, and agreed that a discussion would take place following the meeting.

    Information redacted (Footnote 1).
     
  6. The importance of digital security was noted, and it was suggested that it remain high on the Board’s agenda.  

Reports, approval and decisions

2. Chair report

  1. The Chair noted the Cabinet Secretary’s public announcement of his appointment of Dyfed Edwards as WRA Deputy Chair. The Board collectively extended their congratulations.
     
  2. The Board were informed that the Chair would meet with the Cabinet Secretary for the third of their quarterly meetings, and separately with the Permanent Secretary for the second quarterly WRA/Welsh Treasury (WT) partnership group meetings the following month.

3. Chief Executive report (organisational performance)

  1. The Chief Executive introduced the operational performance paper along with a few static slides illustrating performance data for the months of June, July and August.
     
  2. The Board were informed that the number of calls to the customer service desk had increased, particularly in August; this reflected the broader range of reasons for customer queries. The amount of tax collected for Land Transaction Tax (LTT) was broadly consistent with what was expected. Positive customer feedback continues to be received, it was suggested that feedback and associated anecdotes are shared with the Board at future meetings as items to celebrate.
     
  3. A discussion took place about the figures related to the number of paper returns, which had been broadly stable. The Board were informed that some work had already been undertaken to reduce the number of paper returns and, if necessary, the team would develop a strategy for further work.
     
  4. The Board noted that the average call duration time had been included in the report for information. Although the data was positive, members noted their previous agreement to focus on the quality of calls and query resolution rather than call duration. The Board were informed that work was underway to establish better measures on ensuring customers pay the right tax in the first instance.
     
  5. The Board agreed that, although it was still very early days, the figures displayed were positive and reflected the good work being done within the organisation. The Board suggested that it would be useful to look at performance data alongside the Corporate Plan and Charter to ensure the organisation is delivering against its commitments.
     
  6. The Board requested sight of a list of potential implications that could occur following Brexit. Members could consider these potential implications and determine if they were comfortable that the organisation was equipped to deal with them. It was also suggested that contact was made with WG about their intentions for waste management post-Brexit.
     
  7. The Board were informed of future engagement events. Members noted the organisation’s success in communications and stakeholder engagement during the go-live period and in its first six month of operations. The importance of ensuring this momentum continues was emphasised.

4. Financial performance

Information redacted (Footnote 1).

5. Director Welsh Treasury report

  1. The Director, Welsh Treasury (WT) provided an update on recent and future activity. The Board were reminded of key events that had taken place since they last met, one of which was a 10 years of Fiscal Devolution event that took place in July. Contributions had been made by WRA staff and Chair, who had presented an item at the event.
     
  2. The Welsh Government budget would be published on 2 October and would include spending plans and a tax policy report. A revised forecast for LDT and LTT would be published, which would take into account the first quarter statistical releases.
     
  3. WT would provide the Board with information on Welsh Rate of Income Tax (WRIT) at their briefing session in October. The Board were informed that HRMC plan to send letters to all customers whom they regard as liable to pay WRIT to inform them of the changes; the communications team had been working with WT to ensure the right messages were in place for customers.
     
  4. WT have been working with HMT on tax policy, with some good collaboration on matters such as plastics tax, for example.

6. Board strategy away day outputs

  1. Outputs from Board discussions at their Strategy Away in June had been circulated prior to the meeting. The Chair noted that the purpose of the item was to inform the Board of progress and next steps.
     
  2. Risk - The Risk Appetite statement was developing well and would be considered by the Audit and Risk Assurance Committee (ARAC) at their meeting the following week. A number of risk appetite ratings options have been developed to provide options for the Board.

  3. Stakeholder - The Team were in the process of developing communication and engagement plans for the top 15 stakeholders, as identified at the away-day.

  4. Culture - An item would be presented to the Board in December, at which point the results of the Civil Service People Survey would also be available for consideration. The results should provide a quantitative overview of how staff view various aspects of WRA. By the end of the financial year, the WRA would have a full complement of staff, and the organisation would then be in a position to assess its culture and ways of working by including both new and existing members of staff in that process.  

  5. Purpose - An extensive discussion took place around the WRA’s purpose. Some examples of purpose statements were presented for consideration. The statements had been drafted following comments made at the away-day and from various conversation with key stakeholders and partners. Some suggestions were made on the wording used in the examples, in particular to emphasise that the organisation’s purpose is not limited to tax.

  6. The Board stressed the importance of encapsulating our purpose, particularly since this would inform the 3 year Corporate Plan. It was agreed that some reworked versions would be circulated outside of the meeting, before being brought back to the Board for agreement at in October.

7. Debt collection and enforcement 

  1. The Board were informed that since their last discussion, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance had endorsed the WRA’s strategic principles on debt. In practice, the WRA had been successful in resolving most late payments of tax through early engagement with the taxpayer and representatives before a penalty falls due, and this approach had been welcomed. Acknowledging that a very small number of taxpayers may, however, simply refuse to pay, the Board were asked to take decisions on the proposed approach to debt enforcement. Members were asked to agree the following:
     
    1. Principle that the WRA will, wherever possible, seek a face-to-face meeting with the taxpayer prior to initiating debt enforcement action
    2. The use of external bailiffs in limited circumstances to support the debt enforcement process (a procurement exercise will follow to identify a suitable provider)
    3. Exploring the option to procure external legal support in preparing and undertaking court proceedings to enforce debt
       
  2. An extensive discussion took place and members were in agreement with the three recommendations. The Board acknowledge that different types of debt could occur as a result of different circumstances. Members stressed the importance of ensuring that the WRA’s approach to debt has taken those circumstances into consideration and reflects the organisation’s culture. Members also asked that care be taken when procuring the services of an enforcement agent to align the service with the WRA’s values.
     
  3. The Board noted that the decision on whether a customer cannot or will not pay the tax is determined by WRA staff and the importance of staff taking care when exercising this judgement. The Board requested sight of the governance around these key decisions.

8. Third party software integration

  1. The provision of an Application Programming Interface (API) to third party software suppliers had been discussed by the Board previously. The Board had asked the team to undertake further work to determine customer need. It was agreed that the team would bring the decision back to the Board once they had three months of operational data to inform an analysis. Since then the team have been researching the benefits of providing this service, its demand and associated cost.
     
  2. The team were unable to obtain the specific demand for an API in Wales. With 97% take up of the LTT online service there appears to be little demand from customers. Development of this functionality would have some operational benefit, although this is low. The estimated development and running cost together with the apparently low external demand suggest that this is not an area for investment now. The Board requested the team keep this under review as operational experience may suggest a different decision in future.
     
  3. The commercial aspects of developing the software were discussed and it was suggested that a future discussion would be useful.

Board discussion

9. Welsh language update

  1. The Board were informed of a development related to Welsh Language statutory requirements. In June 2018 the Minister for the Welsh Language, Eluned Morgan, confirmed that no further standards would be presented for organisations until a new Bill for the Welsh language was operational.~
     
  2. Prior to the Welsh Language (Wales) Measure 2011, the Welsh Language Act 1993 required public bodies to produce a language scheme outlining the services they would provide in Welsh. Earlier this month the Welsh Language Commissioners Officer agreed to reinforce this process on public bodies. The Commissioners office are yet to write to organisations about these changes. However, the organisation has been informed that an informal notice would be sent to the WRA.
     
  3. Staff had already begun to prepare a Welsh Language Strategy and a Welsh Language Steering group had been established to oversee this work. However, since then the team had been advised by the Commissioner’s office that a scheme has more status and is the preferred format. The WRA would be assigned an officer of the Commissioner’s office to oversee the development of a scheme and ensure its compliance with statutory guidelines.
     
  4. The Board suggested staff await correspondence and instruction from the Commissioner’s office to fully understand what is required under the scheme. Members recognised that work had already begun and for that reason, suggested the team explore whether they could continue to develop a Strategy instead of a scheme.

10. Tîm Arwain

  1. The Board were informed that Tîm Arwain, formerly the Executive Committee or ExCom had a team away-day in July to consider how they work together and how they could become a high-performing team to lead the WRA. There were two key observations from this session:
     
    • the group felt more work was needed for before they worked together as a ‘team’, rather than a collection of team leads representing their areas of the business. This was  understandable, given how relatively new the team was
    • the group aimed to operate as the WRA’s leadership team, and to be seen as such – rather than simply a committee who met once per month
       
  2. During their away-day, the group made a number of personal and collective commitments including revising how it worked together to best lead the WRA. This had resulted in a change to its name, Terms of Reference, meeting modes and a commitment to new ways of working.
     
  3. It was suggested that the Tîm Arwain consider publishing the membership of their leadership team for customer information.

11. Board performance review process

  1. The Chair proposed a process for the Board’s performance review due to take place over the following months. The review is proposed to take place in three stages, two of which might run in parallel:
     
    1. A short anonymous online survey against agreed criteria
    2. Individual interviews with each Board member undertaken by an external advisor/viewer
    3. A one-day Board workshop to consider the results and plan next steps
       
  2. The Chair noted that at the next Board meeting, members would be joined by the first Staff Elected Member (SEM). It was suggested that the ymgynghorwyr be included in stage 1 and the SEM in stage 3.
     
  3. The Board were content with the proposed approach and were asked to share any thoughts with the Chair outside of the meeting. Questions for the online survey would be circulated to members for comment and agreement.

12. Any other business

  1. The Board were informed that the communications plan had been discussed and agreed by the Tîm Arwain the previous week. It would be circulated to the Board for discussion and agreement outside of the meeting.

13. Forward look

  1. The Board were content with the agenda for its next meeting.

14. Meeting review

Information redacted (Footnote 1).

[1] There are certain circumstances where it is not appropriate to share all of the information contained within the Board minutes, for example, where it contains personal or commercial data or relates to the formulation of government policy etc. or the effective conduct of public affairs. In such circumstances, the information has been redacted and the text is marked clearly that this has been the case.

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