Welcome

Hi there. I’m Heidi Soulsby and I was elected as a Deputy for SE District in Guernsey’s general election in April 2012. I am Deputy Minister of the Health and Social Services Department, Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee and member of the Constitutional Investigation Committee. I am also on other cross-departmental working groups. Until December 2014, and as a consequence of my election to the Health and Social Services Department Board, I was a member of the Commerce and Employment Board and Vice Chairman of the Scrutiny Committee.

Welcome to my website. Here you can hear about my life in the States and other matters, as well as sending me feedback and your ideas.

 

Constitutional Investigation Committee

I was a member of the Constitutional Investigation Committee, that looked into increasing Guernsey’s power in terms of the passing of laws and ratification of treaties. It was a fascinating committee to be on and I learned a lot about the history of Guernsey’s relationship with the Crown as well as the constitutions of other Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories.

I believe we got the balance right. What we were trying to do was be evolutionary, not revolutionary. The approach was very much along the lines of ‘well it works very well now but we need to firm things up in case things go awry again’.

In simple terms, we said that the Lieutenant Governor should be able to sign off our laws, rather than them having to be considered by the Privy Council in the UK and that Guernsey should have the power to enter into treaties itself. This received unaminous approval of the States. The fun now starts as we begin our dialogue with the UK.

The policy letter from the Constitutional Investigation Committee may prove to be one of the most important in terms of the independence of the Island of Guernsey for many years and I am proud to have been a part of it.

 

Planning covenants – amendment

At the January 2016 States meeting I laid an amendment against a policy letter which was supposed to be about land use classes and tidying up the use class ordinance. However, within that policy letter was a proposition to rescind a resolution of 2007 that restricted the use of planning covenants. There are real concerns over their use and it was inappropriate to have placed this proposition in that report. My amendment looked to avoid that and only to consider rescinding once the local housing market review was published. In the end the amendment was drawn 22:22, but members went on to throw out the proposition, which was just the result I wanted. By laying the amendment it highlighted the issue and served its purpose by ensuring the status quo was maintained until the States has decided the policy on planning covenants.

 

This is a very simple amendment and merely retains the current situation. Indeed the situation we have been in for the last 5 years. Having considered the implications, I consider the current proposition to rescind the resolution of 2007 to be dangerous and that could create unintended consequences.

I should make it clear that I support the rest of this policy letter . The bit that relates to the title: ‘A review of the Land Planning and Development (use classes) Ordinance 2007.’

Proposition 2 is nothing to do with amending that Ordinance. It relates to a resolution of the States in 2007 arising from a policy letter on Planning Covenants.

Given the significant concerns expressed at the planning enquiry over the use of planning covenants and the fact that it is yet to be decided by the States, why choose now to rescind a resolution? I have spoken to a senior planning officer in the Department and Deputy Luxon and myself have also been given extensive background information from the law officers before deciding to lay this amendment. I thank them for their time. But nothing we have heard answers why the present situation, which has existed for some time, needs to change now.

 

The argument in support of proposition 2 seems to be, well, since 2011 we have the SLUP  which gives a strategic direction and everything is going to change with the new Island Development Plan, so let’s rescind the resolution of 2007 as it could cause confusion.

 

However, this is jumping the gun and will only create more confusion and I will explain why.

In 2007, the States debated a policy letter on planning covenants and in that letter it stated that, ‘It is important that any such system is introduced with caution in order to avoid any unintended consequences and the pitfalls experienced elsewhere and to ensure it is tailored to local circumstances. It went on to say ‘the wide application of planning covenants would place a heavy demand on staff resources to establish associated policy documents, guidance notes and appeal procedures and thereafter to operate and update complex systems of quotas and appraisals and to deal with appeals.

It was because of these concerns that the then States decided that planning covenants should be restricted to Housing Target Areas.

Now, 4 years later the SLUP comes along and it states that ‘Appropriate levels of provision of social and/or specialised housing on large general market site ‘may be required’ through the use of planning condition or covenant and established through a specified mechanism.  Now we have the Land Planning and Development (Planning Convenants) Ordinance 2011, which states that planning covenants can be used for social and affordable housing, but there is nothing yet in place setting out any other mechanisms.

As it says in the SLUP ‘a mechanism for assessing the appropriate circumstances for

triggering the inclusion of social and/or specialised housing will be clearly set out

within the Development Plan.’ Yes, the draft IDP set out that planning covenant should apply to all developments of 5 units or above, but it is just that, draft.

 

We are awaiting the Planning Inspector’s report and the Plan to come to the States. Whilst SLUP may be supportive of not having HTAs, we await the final decision of the States and the new Island Development Plan before knowing what the new world is going to be.

So, the effect of proposition 2 could be to create just more confusion.

 

 

The SLUP also states that, rather than setting prescriptive target levels for social and/or specialised housing, it will instead be for the Housing Department in conjunction with the Environment Department to determine and inform the Development Plan through the analysis of existing relevant data sources. ‘

 

I don’t think I need to remind members that in September last year we had the Housing present a policy letter setting targets which it wished to place on such housing, in contravention of the SLUP.  A proposal that was rejected in favour of the commissioning of an objective Housing Needs Survey that will inform the departments as to need and the States agreed at that same meeting to an independent broad-based review of the local housing market, which should also inform the benefits or otherwise of planning covenants.

 

 

We haven’t got those now and in their place we have a vacuum so if proposition 2 is passed planning covenants could be imposed unnecessarily. This won’t mean affordable homes won’t be built of course given the number of recent applications by the GHA and of course planning covenants are not needed for States owned land.

 

The SLUP is 5 years old and based on a 10 year old report whose assumptions have since been discredited by experiences elsewhere so how can it be assumed, which the proposition does, that the draft IDP will remain unchanged in respect of planning covenants?

So, why rescind the resolution, before the States has agreed how it wishes planning covenants to operate in the future or has had proper review into the effect of planning covenants in the current market?

The construction industry is in a fragile state at the moment. There are real concerns about how planning covenants may be extended in the future. Proposition 2 has already created unease, especially as it has been seen to be have slipped in under the radar without consultation. It is not essential that we support it now and it should not be supported now until we have the evidence to determine the extent to which planning covenants should be used in the future.

To avoid unintended consequences and to avoid confusion, I request members to support this amendment.

Reciprocal Health Agreement

I was a signatory to the requete calling for the re-introduction of the reciprocal health agreement (RHA). It is clear many people believe it should be brought back and I was of the same opinion. Having done so, it resulted in work being undertaken to establish the possible cost and the likelihood of Guernsey being able to negotiate an RHA. It became obvious from soundings taken from the Ministry of Health in the UK that it was very unlikely that we would achieve one as the UK Government was looking to end the RHAs it had against a background of economic austerity. It has cut the number down from over 40 to 17 in recent years.

If we did manage to obtain some sort of RHA, the cover would not be very comprehensive and nothing like the one that existed before 2009. Indeed, from the research I have done it is clear that the RHAs for Jersey and the Isle of Man are of little value and it is quite possible that even these will be ended in the near future.

Of immediate concern is the fact that the UK has increased tariffs for overseas visitors by 50%, which affects Guernsey people directly and HSSD is beginning to be charged by some hospitals. We therefore need to focus our attention on reversing that, as well as following up on an amendment I supported in December 2015, looking at an insurance scheme for Guernsey people travelling to the UK, which would achieve the same purpose as an RHA for local people.

I am pleased I signed the requete, and it may be that a form of RHA may be brought in as a result of the work being undertaken, but ultimately, if the requete had been passed it would have raised expectations unreasonably and that is why I could not support it.

Route des Blanches planning application

I was delighted that the application to develop on the field at Route des Blanches in St Martin was refused on 16 December 2015. This was nothing to do with not wanting to see new developments in the Parish, but the fact that this was the wrong place. This was a case of trying to get permission before the new Island Development Plan got approved as it would clearly have been refused, being outside the Local Centre of St Martin and a greenfield site.

The site in question comprises prime agricultural land. In fact, it is Grade I soil, the best quality on the entire island. The Housing Department are intent on building wherever they can to justify an outdated, flawed and failing policy. What we need is a new policy that takes account of the circumstances of today, not 12 years ago.

That is why I was so pleased that my amendment, instructing Housing and Treasury & Resources Departments to undertake an independent broad- based review of the local housing market was passed by the States earlier this year. You can read more about that in my earlier posts.

The open planning meeting demonstrated the inconsistencies in current planning policies and how a new plan is needed sooner rather than later.

Well done to all those who were part of the campaign against the development and who spoke at the open planning meeting.

Same-sex marriage

I was delighted that the States voted for same-sex marriage in December 2015. My speech is below.

Sir, before I begin I think I should say that I believe it is important that we respect all sides on this debate. Those who wish things to remain as they are, those seeking a halfway house for same sex couples and those, like me, who believe we should seek equality. For me this has been one of the easiest decisions I’ve had to make over the last few years.

We must be tolerant of others’ views, even if we don’t agree with them. It is a long slippery slope to the bottom when we don’t. We only have to witness recent global events and see how intolerance has led to unimaginable acts of barbarity, fear and terror. That is what I have kept reminding myself when reading some of the emails I have received against the proposals in this policy letter. Because it has been very difficult for me to understand why some do not believe LGBT people should have equal rights as equal members of our society. They pay their taxes too after all.

But I can understand how much harder it may be for the older members of our society. Over the last 50 years, since I was born and Deputy Paint was married, my parent’s generation have experienced massive societal changes. For some it has been very difficult to move with them. Change can be frightening as we all know, fear of the unknown and where it places you in that new world. We have to respect those we disagree with, although I have to say I have struggled with the content of some of the emails I have received.

We hear how this goes beyond the original requete in 2006 that instructed Policy Council to look at civil partnerships. But that was 9 years ago, life has moved on and I suspect all those who signed the requete back then would support same-sex marriage today.

The overriding theme from those opposed to this policy letter is it will redefine marriage. In fact after a while it was possible to work out those pro and anti, just by the heading. Pro said gay, same-sex marriage, the antis – redefinition of marriage. It was all in the word.

Well, if you ask my husband he’d probably say marriage isn’t a word, it’s a sentence.

But those who do not want equality say that marriage has meant the same thing since the dawn of time. BUT this is completely wrong of course.

When the United States Supreme Court recognized a constitutional right to marriage in June this year,  Justice Anthony Kennedy stated, “this view of marriage as timeless and unchanging was contradicted by an abundance of scholarly work. “The history of marriage is one of both continuity and change.”

For centuries most people didn’t get married at all and marriage was for the aristocracy bothered about passing on their property and riches and wanting an heir and a spare.

Today marriage in our society, is about love. Finding a life partner who will be with you, care for you and love you through good times and bad times. It’s not about property, it’s not about procreation. It’s about love. And finding a soul mate is not exclusive to heterosexual couples.

No one owns the copyright to the word marriage.

I have been lucky enough to have been happily married for 26 years. You’ll have to ask my husband whether he thinks the same. Anyhow,  I believe everyone in an equally loving relationship, should have the same opportunity and have their relationship recognised in law in exactly the same way.

 

Finally I should just to comment about what has really heartened me throughout the lead up to this debate and that is the level of engagement from the younger members of our society and listening to their views.  They have LGBT friends who are just that, friends. And why can’t they have the same rights as everyone else? We owe it to them.

 

In 1967, in a ruling which overturned bans on inter-racial marriage in the US, the judge Earl Warren stated

“The freedom to marry has long been recognised as one of the vital personal rights, essential  to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free man.” I would add woman to that but otherwise, that is my belief too and anyone else who believes that should support this policy letter.

And in the end that’s why we need to support this policy letter today, for my children’s generation. To enable all of them to have the opportunity of happiness.

Biodiversity

I made the following speech on the biodiversity strategy in December 2015

 

Sir, I have to say I did struggle early on with the funding request for this strategy.  However, I do believe States should be fulfilling its commitment to the environmental strand of the States Strategic Plan.

Members won’t need reminding that the SSP says the government of guernsey aims to ‘Protect and improve the Island’s environment, unique cultural identity and rich heritage.’ And it says that this requires, ‘Policies which protect the natural environment and its biodiversity by accounting for the wider impacts that human activity has on it.’

Clearly, this strategy meets the SSP aims. How can we not support it?

My main concern about the cost, something Deputy Trott I know will consider is just lost in the roundings, was the potential creation of another civil service post. I understand from the Minister that this may not be the case. My preference would be a 2 year contract, in order that the action plans can be put in place and then for the role to be revisited. However, I appreciate this may not be practicable.

Funding for the environment falls woefully short. I have before now expressed my concerns over such lakc of funding principally in respect of  coastal defences. I am convinced that we will live to regret the decades of underinvestment in that area and the result will mean very difficult decisions are going ot have to be made.

Money is often not spent until it is too late. The result is a false economy.

The same goes for biodiversity. The cost of reintroducing species is far higher than protecting what we have, or are we happy to see the end of the unique and rich natural heritage of this Island. We hear so much about how, from an economic and social point of view Guernsey is losing its identity, are we happy for this to be true from an environmental perspective too?

I’m not and that is why I support this policy letter.

Sunday trading – December 2015

The debate in December 2015 arose out of an amendment laid against the legislation, which itself arose out of the States agreeing to complete deregulation earlier in the year. Debate at that time has been shortened as a result of a successful guillotine from Deputy Kuttelwascher. I didn’t have the opportunity to speak then, but did so during the December debate. My speech is below.

Sir,

Before I start I should declare that I have an interest in this debate as a part owner of a business that runs both a Shop and Tearoom, which both open on a Sunday. And great for your Christmas shopping needs may I say.

I didn’t get to speak when Sunday Trading was debated because of the guillotine. But I was still happy to vote for it at the time as I thought everything that could be said has been said and I’ve heard nothing new today that would make me change my mind. I would just like to make a few points in response to some of the comments made not just today but in the original debate.

I have to say that 2 years ago I was uncertain about whether total deregulation was the way to go. I was probably more in the camp of tidying up the laws. However, having seen the ridiculous amount of legislation and administration that is needed to maintain a system that current retailers are working around, I have become convinced that we should ditch it altogether.

How daft is it that certain businesses have built premises just small enough to allow them to open on a Sunday? Why can one business rake in money on one day a week because others can’t open?

On that note  I do recall Deputy Gillson’s speaking during the last debate about those people who lived near shops and who welcomed the fact that Sunday gave them a bit of peace. Well, I can tell you, that for those people living next door to a certain food store in St Martin, quite the opposite is the case, where it is the busiest day of the week by far. In fact it is not just the immediate neighbours, with standing traffic down the Merriennes that day.

Virtually all the emails I have received against deregulation focus on Guernsey’s way of life changing irredeemably. Well, why, if there are so many businesses that can open on a Sunday now but don’t? Why will the fact that just a few more shops can open change life as we know it forever? It won’t. And if people don’t want to shop on a Sunday, they definitely won’t. The amti-lobby believe a floodgate will open. It won’t. It won’t because Guernsey is different.

The point is this is not really about Sunday trading, it is Sunday opening. Just because you open your shop, it doesn’t mean that you will see any customers. If the customers don’t come, the shops won’t open. But that’s the point. Why should Government interfere? This should be a decision between retailers and their customers.

The argument that small shops will be forced to open is non-sensical given that there are already shops that open now and compete with those that aren’t.

Just why is the retail sector the only industry on the island that is prevented from opening on a Sunday by law? No other business on Guernsey is restricted in this way? There are  huge numbers of businesses who choose not to work on a Sunday. The pertinent word here is choose.  No one stops the lawyers, accountants, fund administrators from working on a Sunday to meet deadlines on the Monday. If a service can be provided and charged on a Sunday, why not physical goods?

Is it government’s job to tell specific businesses when they can open their shop? You can buy a packet of crisps from a pub on a Sunday, why not a supermarket?

By supporting this amendment we are really only putting off the inevitable. It will come back . And honestly, don’t we have more important issues to deal with in this Assembly? Of course we do – issue of population, housing, economic development, public sector reform that will have far more impact on the people of this Island.

So please don’t support this amendment. Now is the time for deregulation, just think about it, we are getting rid of unnecessary laws, not creating more of them – how refreshing is that?!

St Andrew’s School Liaison Group

Following the decision to close St Andrew’s Primary School I was invited to join the group acting as a liaison between the parents, teachers and pupils of St Andrew and the Education Department.

Things were frosty at the start, probably understandably given how raw everyone felt about the closure. However, everyone acted in a very constructive way to ensure that children experienced as smooth a transition to their new schools as possible. Much credit should go to Sarah Barrett and Charles Swainston for the hard work they did on the group.

Following the closure of the school in July 2015, the group was disbanded in December after its last meeting. It is hoped that in the near future the building can reopen and continue to be at the heart of the community. I still believe the decision to close the school was wrong, but hopefully the group helped to make the inevitable as smooth a process as possible.

SRC – 3rd Policy Letter – SMC powers

I was delighted that an amendment I laid against the policy letter, seeking to extend the powers of the new Scrutiny Management Committee to agents of government, was approved in November. This will definitely strengthen scrutiny in the next term. My speech is below.

Sir,

In a nutshell this amendment seeks to ensure that the scrutiny function’s powers are not weakened, but enhanced, in the next term.

Paragraph 6.1.3 states that the States Review Committee was reluctant to impose too many qualifications on what and whom the Scrutiny Management Committee should scrutinise. However, the duties and powers  of the Scrutiny Management Committee as set out in Appendix 1 only enable it to scrutinise legislation, policies, services and the use of money and other resources for which committees are responsible.

However, under section 9.4.4 of the Stares Review Committee’s second policy letter it states that ‘the powers of the Scrutiny Management Committee would be strengthened further by affording it the right to scrtuinise, and to call in witnesses ane evidence from a greater range of roganisations where are in receipt of public funds or which has been established by legislation.

This amendment merely seeks to replicate that statement.

Without this amendment the powers of scrutiny will be weakened as, to some extent the Public Accounts Committee has powers to scrutinise the spending of public funds provided to other bodies and an example is the review of the contract with MSG in 2011. The powers must explicitly state that the Scrutiny Mgt Committee can continue to investigate public bodies in receipt of states funds, such as SJARS, GHA and other providers.

However, this is not just about money. Members will be all too aware how the government service model is moving to a concept of a partnership with outside bodies. Indeed, the public sector reform document we approved recently makes that clear;

 

‘Civil service must enable government to involve the community in developing policy. A good example of this is SOG’s formal partnership for working with the 3rd sector through the Association of Guernsey Charitieis, the Social Compact signed in Autumn 2014’.

Of course, with policy development with external parties will come outsourcing of those services to those bodies.

The agencies and organisations involved in delivering government policy have evolved significantly since the original mandate was agreed in 2004 when the Public Accounts and Scrutiny Committee were created.

Since 2004 the methods of delivery of government programmes have diversified to encompass third sector organisations, private sector providers and a number of other agents of government, where agents are defined as organisations created or commissioned by government to undertake functions or supported by government to supply services but are not Departments or Committees. In 2012 the government provided grants and subsidies totalling over £30 million to such organisations in Guernsey.

The reviews undertaken by the current Committees have highlighted the problem that agencies and organisations essential to the delivery of government policy or services, which the Committee is mandated to review, are beyond the current remit. As a consequence democratic oversight is curtailed.

A number of agencies and public offices have been created to minimise the risk of political interference in certain types of decision-making. Where agencies have been set up with a governance structure created to minimise the risk of political interference, it should  not be the intention of the Scrutiny Management Committee to introduce it. The changes suggested are not intended to limit the autonomy to act independently or curtail the commercial freedom of any agencies or organisations.

BUT organisations of this type are granted operational independence whilst operating under the direction of government at a policy level. Many of these agencies do undertake functions that should be subject to appropriate scrutiny. In the UK, select committees regularly question government agencies, regulators, and commercial organisations (and their legal advisors) on their activities. This is seen as an essential part of Parliament’s retrospective oversight of the work of these agents of government.

We only have to remember the recent revelations over the charity Kids Company, something that the PAC in the UK recently described as a failed 13 year experiment.

Now, that doesn’t mean what happened there wil happen here, and under our system of government  it would be very difficult to see how that same exact scenario could be repeated. BUT if SMC is to be and I quote from policy letter, ‘be empowered to shape scrutiny as it sees fit, it needs to be able to do so with as much flexibility as possible.

That is why the powers as set out in the report are insufficient and why I urge memebrs to support this amendment.

Aurigny recapitalisation

I made the following speech about the recapitalisation of Aurigny in November 2015. The reference to running an airline arose out of a comment made by Deputy Lester Queripel who said anyone could do it, to which other Deputies responded that it was not so simple.

Sir,

I don’t profess to know anything about running an airline but what I will focus on is something I do know more about and that’s finance and accounting. I agree with Deputy Harwood that we have no choice but to support this report BUT, as Deputy Domaille would say….

The T&R Minister has frequently made the point that we should be making the right decision in the right order. I would question whether we are doing that in supporting the capitalisaition now. Given the issues raised by the Scrutiny Committee report and specifically the need to determine a strategic way forward – should we be investing £25m into this venture above other worthy Capital projects?

 

We are all aware that a number of key social and environmental strategies have been and are going to be laid at this meeting seeking ‘revenue’ funding. In addition, the Budget debate last month highlighted that the ‘Capital Reserve Cash Flow’ is under pressure from numerous commitments.

 

The decision to invest £25m of public money, is a major decision and must be done so based on a strong evidence-based rationale that provides a convincing argument.

With regard to this specific SCIP project, the investment of ‘capital’ into a wholly-owned subsidy could quite frankly be perceived as a somewhat academic accounting exercise given that the ‘liabilities’ are effectively already held by the States.

However, the advantages to the Company of an influx of capital to address its insolvent position are obvious. Certainly ‘refinancing’ unattractive / uncompetitive overdraft and loans would certainly appear to be sensible. And if that is the purpose, I’m not entirely sure, even though the T&R Minister tried to explain this in his opening speech, quite why the Bond can’t be used.

The problem is that the management of the Capital Reserve is a complex balancing act involving £100s of millions of public money and the Policy Letters of this nature MUST provide clear rationale presented with ABSOLUTE clarity but it really doesn’t seem to be the case here.

Sir, prior to the debate I did ask the T&R Minister and CEO of Aurigny what the accounting treatment would be should this policy letter be approved. It was unclear from the States accounts, which is probably not a surprise, and it was difficult to ascertain when we did not have the accounts of Aurigny. The publication of the latter has helped, although it is still not completely transparent. Presumably the provision for accumulated losses of £19.9m within the States accounts will be reversed and a benefit will be seen in the general reserve where the provision has been posted to date. Interestingly, the provisions haven’t gone through the revenue account; this would be the expected normal accounting treatment and would have the effect of reducing surpluses or increasing deficits. It will be interesting to see how future losses are treated.

Furthermore, the ‘Return on investment’ is NOT clearly stated within the Policy Letter. In many ways, less would have been more in this Report; less background and more specifics on the rationale for this investment.

Whilst the recapitalisation course of action may be reasonable there is a lack of a coherent convincing argument presented within the Billet why this spending should be prioritised. I attended the Deputies’ briefing given by Aurigny and it wasn’t very clear from that. So I guess where I am on this policy letter is I want to support it, but that the authors to this report have hardly done their best to make a convincing case. Disappointing to be perfectly honest, especially given the sums involved.

I do welcome the review that will come out of the amendment we have just approved. It was something that I was pushing for when I was on Commerce & Employment.

So whilst I do have reservations over the recapitalisation I will support the report, as amended.



Mobile: 07781 139385

Landline: 01481 239385

Email: heidi@heidisoulsby.com