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 and I am standing for re-election in 2016.

When I first stood for election, I said that I wasn’t a typical politician. I hope that what you have seen over the last 4 years has demonstrated just that. Through my roles as Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, Deputy Minister of the Health and Social Services Department and the other positions I have held, I have strived to make a difference through common sense, drive and passion.

In my manifesto I want to demonstrate not only what I see needs to be addressed in the next term, but also how what I say can be backed up by what I have done in the last 4 years. We have seen lots of strategies developed recently, with many fine words, but what we need now is action. However, I believe we have to be realistic. I could produce a long list of all the things that should be done, but what we really require is a States of Guernsey that is focused. Unless we establish priorities, expenditure could easily spiral out of control, leading to growing demands for tax rises to pay for everything. This must not be allowed to happen.

That is why the theme of my manifesto is focus. We must focus on where Government can, and must, make a positive difference. This includes long overdue action on housing, essential public service reform and support for economic growth. However, above all, it means transformation of our model of health and social care. That is why, if I am elected, I will seek to lead the new Committee for Health and Social Care to ensure that the positive work done, since the last Board took office in October 2014, can continue without delay.

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

To download the printed version of my manifesto please click here

Manifesto-link

Blog

The following blog comprises speeches, comments and thoughts I have had over the last 4 years as a Deputy. These have been classified into different themes and you can choose those which interest you from the column on the left. The most recent appear on the Home Page.

Public Accounts Committee Legacy Report

On the last day of the last States meeting of the 21012-2016 term I presented the legacy report of the Public Accounts Committee. I have been proud and honoured to represent the Committee for 4 years and believe it is in a better place than at the start of the term. My speech is below.

 

Sir, I am pleased to present the legacy report of the PAC for this term. It is not my intention to go through the contents of the report given this late hour both in terms of the time of day and with respect to this meeting. It is a comprehensive record and members are only being asked to note it after all – and more on that later.

What I will do is focud on just 3 aspects of the report and then look to the future.

 

The present Committee had only just put its feet under the table when we were informed of a fraud committed against the States of £2.6m. In fact it was just a month into this term. This States has often been blamed for that event. However, sa I stated at the time the Committee published its report into the states of financial controls and risk management at the time, this was an incident waiting to happen.

Reports produced int he past, including those of previous PACs has, for whatever reason, been ignored. I am pleased that this States has acted on the findings of this PAC’s report which reflects the understanding particularly of the CM and PSD Minister of the time and the T&R Minister, in particular, as to the seriousness of the issue, as well as the pressure from the Committee to ensure our recommendations were acted upon.

Our second report on financial controls demonstrated the improvements made. However, the Committee is concerned that the focus on risk management will be lost as attention turns to public service reform. It is therefore critical that the Scrutiny Management Committee monitors developments closely.

I would no like to turn to the FTP, which has dominated much of this term. The Committee ha spent a considerable amount of time reviewing progress, or otherwise, of what was one of the most significant programmes of work ever undertaken by the States of Guernsey. The Committee took various approached in order to cover off various aspects of what was a complex area.

The Committee on a regular basis called in the T&R Minister and officers for updates as well as having a direct input on improving reporting for the Policy Council. The cost/benefit review which looked at the largest projects in the FTP acknowledged that savings has been made and found evidence of some excellent initiatives but expressed concern over some of the calculations and, more importantly whether certain savings would indeed be sustainable. And in addition, the Committee fought vociferously and successfully against the payment of commission to the consultant in respect of a transfer of £650k from general review to the Guernsey health service fund as it did not represent a saving to the taxpayer.

Finally, in relation to the FTP and subsequent to this report, the Committee held a public hearing where it questioned the T&R Minister and States Treasurer principally on the legacy of the programme and lessons learnt. More particularly on the transformational aspects.

I would like to thank the Minister for his openness at that hearing and I would recommend that the Hansard record be read by those involved in the Public Service Reform, both politicians and officers. I want to see public service reform work. I think we have a great opportunity to make it work but we need to understand lessons learnt.

Much of the Committee’s work as, by necessity, to be undertaken behind the scenes, this has included developing a more robust annual audit and accounts production process, providing greater value for money for the taxpayer as well as providing advice and recommendations which have considerably improved the States of Guernsey’ financial and resource management policies and procedures.

The last are I would like to focus on is post implementation reviews. Sir, recent headlines implied that projects undertaken by this States has been wasteful. However, I think it is important  to make clear that several projects we looked at took place in the previous term and one, the airport terminal , over a decade ago. There has been a significant improvement in the management of projects since then. However, it is true that lessons do still need to be  learnt and money is still being spent unnecessarily. It is for that reason that the Committee recommended that the Policy & Resources Committee in the next term look at placing PIRs in the public domain.

Before ending, I would like to leave a message for the future SMC.

 

  1. Firstly, work together as a team. It has been a pleasure working with a bunch of intelligent people who have worked together, can have robust conversations, but listen and respect each other’s views and come to a consensus. The PAC has certainly demonstrated that it can be done. We live in a consensus system and it is as important for the SMC as it is for every other Committee of the States. I just hope that continues in the next term.
  2. Secondly, don’t follow your own personal agenda. This will be even more important to be aware of where the whole scrutiny function is concentrated in just 3 Deputies and 2 Non-States Members; and
  3. Thirdly, Remember that what you want is to make government perform better. That can mean a balance between making a quick headline and working behind the scenes to make things happen. A recent report into the effectiveness of Westminster select committees in the last term stated that whist some committees took the big bang approach, they did not necessarily produce long term improvements. In fact it can lead to the bunker syndrome. A balance needs to be struck.

 

Sir, finally, and without wanting to make this sound like an Oscar acceptance speech, I would like to thank all those members of the Committee during this term. It has been a realtievely stable committee with changes only arising from the untimely death of Alderney Rep Paul Arditti and the departures of Deputies James and Le Clerc for an easier life on HSSD. I thank everyone for the positive contribution they have all made.  I have been honoured to represent you in this Assembly.

There is an old adage that says, It should be noted that if you have something to note, then note it. Do not note that the item you wish to note should be noted. With that in mind, I ask members to note this report.

Policy for Gifted and Talented Children

I laid a successful amendment to the Education Department’s report on Secondary Education in March 2016. My speech is below.

Sir, I did think I heard a collective groqn that another amendment would be laid but hopefully this won’t be a mammoth debate as I believe the Education Department will not oppose it. As I mentioned in earlier debate, this amendment is relevant whichever way we voted on selection. However, I do believe it will fit in very well under the non-selective system that has been approved this week.

At present the use of Gifted and Talented programmes is variable across schools and there is no central policy. The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that there is a co-ordinated policy across schools, something which I think makes complete sense and works very well under a comprehensive system. It is something in which I have taken a good deal of interest in the last few years.

So, what are Gifted and Talented students and why does there need to be a policy for them?

Dr Francois Gagne,  who was a leader in the field on this area made the following definition;

Gifted students are those whose potential is distinctly above average in one or more of the following domains of human ability; intellectual, creative, social and physical. Talented students are those whose skills are distinctly above average in one or more areas of human performance’.

The key word here is ‘Potential’. That a child needs support and guidance to achieve his or her gifted potential. It is estimated that approximately 5% of students in a mixed ability school will gifted & talented but that is not set in stone and will vary, and should.

So, why do gifted & talented students need to be considered separately? Well,  the normal curriculum may not be sufficiently interesting, motivating or straetching for the most able. They often need more challenging tasks if they are to maintain their enthusiasm, develop independence and reach their potential. Some exceptionally able students may have weaknesses which need specific attention if they are not to undermine outstanding abilities in other areas.

Extremely able students can become bored, unhappy or disaffected if their potential is unrecognised or neglected.

Gifted and Talented Education or GATE, is a broad term for special practices, procedures, and theories used in the education of children who have been identified as gifted and talented.

At present, schools approach gifted and talented students in different ways and to a greater or lesser extent. There is no overriding policy approach. St Sampson has details of their GATE for years 7,8 and 9 on their website. However, there is no policy in terms of the identification of gifted and talented, aims and objectives and measurement of outcomes. The purpose of this amendment is to fill that gap.

In a recent review of gifted and talented provision in Scotland, the author suggested that the focus on equality of opportunities and reluctance to consider selction in the Scottish education system meant that the needs of gifted and talented pupils had largely been ignored. I don’t think we can afford to ignore our giftes and talented ppils. Failure to identify such students risks damage to individuals who are so tuned off by rigid education that they opt out, sitting well below the attainment radar on their way to dropping out.

In turn, that damages our society and not letting them reach their potential means we are not maximising the potential value to our economy.

Sir, this is a common sense amendment, I understand the Education Department will not oppose it and I urge members to give their support.

One schools 4 Sites v 3 Schools

Following the decision of the States to end the 11+ at the March 2016 States’ meeting, attention turned to the number of sites that should be retained. The choice was between the Education Department’s preferred model of one school across four sites, with the concept of a ‘hard’ federation, versus a 3 school model. The latter succeeded. My speech on the matter is below.

 

Sir, Deputy James said the other day, a long long time ago, how that she felt she had fireworks going off in her head. WEll I don’t know if she’s like me and after 4 days of debate those fireworks have turned to jelly. Much of what Deputy James has said in this debate resonated with me. That might well be because I have more than once expressed to her my disbelief at the Education Department’s hypocrisy when it comes to their report now and their arguments made to close St Andrew’s School.

We were told a reason for closure was falling pupil numbers. That there would be a peak and then numbers would tail off. Here we are told we need 4 sites due to rising pupil numbers.

They want to retain 4 smaller schools rather than have 3 bigger schools but a reason for closing St Andrew’s was that large schools meant better education outcomes and help teacher recruitment.

We were told during the St Andrew’s debate that closing a school would not result in large schools in the UK sense but a size to ensure better educational outcomes. And to hear Deputy Sillars earlier quote a report supporting smaller schools seems so, so, ironic. And hearing others quoting the advantages and disadvantages of smaller schools gives a huge feeling of deja vu. It does, however, support the point I made the other day that you can find an educationalist to support any argument you want.

Now, Deputy Parkinson said he’s like to see 4 schools and have each one specialise, say int he arts or sport. Well, how will that work given the decision made yesterday which would result effectively in selection by catchment area?

All that aside I think I should comment on a term used both in the run up to debate and today and that’s value for money. It’s been quite disappointing hearing some comments about value for money which have demonstrated a real lack of understanding as to what it means. Value for money is at the heart of public service reform and quite rightly so.

On page 30 of that document is a diagram showing 3 interconnecting circles representing cost, quality and need and in the middle it shows that where those circles interconnect we get value for money. Value for money is not cost. Deputy Gollop, this debate is not about cost. It is about cost, quality and need.

Now we are told we shouldn’t be bothered about value for money when it comes to education, health and social care. But, this represents a complete misunderstanding of value for money. You just can’t throw money at something regardless of whether it is needed or the quality of provision. This is an irresponsible use of funds. That way leads to financial meltdown.

And I remind members yet again that in the the consultation on the personal tax and benefits review, respondents said overwhelmingly that they weren’t prepared to keep on funding these services. Frankly, this report makes it impossible to determine whether the Department’s proposed solution is value for money. It sets out little in the way of figures, little on outcomes and how this will lead to a better educational system. That’s the problem.

In response to Deputy Gollop’s accusations against the members of T&Rwho supported retaining selection and now support the 3 school model. But the fact is you could have a 3 school option under selection as Deputy St Pier said in his opening speech. It would probably require more work and the criteria for selection would need to change to make it work but the point is it could work.

Sir, how can I as Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, faced with this report and at the same time seeing the potential for greater value for money do anything other than to vote for the 3 site option. I can’t and will be supporting amendment B2.

Secondary Education Report – 11 Plus

Probably one of the most divisive subjects that we have had to debate this term. It formed part of the Education Department’s policy letter proposals for secondary education. I thought it a very disappointing report with little in the way of evidence or desired outcomes. Financial information was sparse and the public consultation was totally ignored. The accompanying letter from Treasury & Resources was scathing. In fact the whole situation was unacceptable, with 2 Departments unable to reach consensus over 2 years. That can’t be allowed to happen again.

It was no wonder that the report was heavily amended. It had to be. A decision on the 11+ was needed before deciding the structure of schools.

Here is my speech on the 2 amendments which set out whether or not the 11+ should continue. The States voted to get rid of the 11+. This was followed by a subsequent amendment to retain selection through a combination of assessment and tests. I supported it, but this too was defeated.

 

 

Sir, as expected, there are many here who have strong views about the 11+, both for and against and these positions have been expressed well yesterday and today.

It’s hardly surprising, given that there is an abundance of material on the matter and that anyone can provide evidence to support their point of view. Indeed, I believe there is a whole industry dedicated to providing information to support a particular viewpoint and I think many educationalists have done very well indeed out of such debate over the years.

And really that’s the point. There is no overwhelming evidence either way to say whether the 11+ is better or worse than no selection at all.

So, as someone who has not nailed her colours to the mast of the 11+ or alternatively said scrap it altogether, I have found it very difficult to determine the best thing to do. Perhaps that reflects my experiences. I was brought up by a teacher who often made it clear she believed it should go, someone who attended a Grammar, which at the time I was there has the teachers working to rule, oh the delights of the late 70 and early 80s, and having a child at the Grammar school who has blossomed there.

I hear what my good friend Deputy Le Clerc said but I don’t think we should look at personal experiences but rather what is in the best interests of the Island as a whole.

For me, how I vote focuses around 2 claims. The first is the limitation and long term impact on children and the other about the shortcomings of the exam itself. I am going to focus on the former.

EQUALITY OF OPPORTUNITY

So, firstly, the big buzz word is that the 11+ does not provide equality of opportunity. This was said by all those not in support of the 11+.

The reasoning seems to be around restriction of access to the curriculum. That sounds reasonable. I mean if you can’t get access to the course you want, then that is not equality of access.  However, I have been scratching my head as to why and how that means the solution is to scrap the 11+.

Will it be possible to offer all subjects under the system Education proposes? I do wonder the logistical nightmare of managing a timetable across 4 separate sites. I suspect there may well be a call for some new software to enable that to happen.

SOCIAL HOUSING

Now, I have been trying to get to the bottom of why there are such low numbers of chidlren from social housing that go to the Grammar and Colleges. We are told they are low, but no explanation. However, it is an argument made to demonstrate inequality of opportunity.

 

Now this is looked at in paragraph 7.8 where it states that in a 3 years period, of the 230 children in social housing only 3 went to the Grammar. Just over 1%. That is low.

BUT it goes on to say that the teachers only assessed 31 out of the 230 as being capable of going to either the Grammar or Colleges.  So that is just 13%. However, the top 25% from any year go there.

I’ve not heard anyone today explain that difference and why it is the 11+ that is to blame.  Doesn’t that demonstrate the equality of opportunity exists before Year 6?

Is it the primary school system? We hear they are wonderful, and they’re mixed ability, no one has a bad word to say for them. Or is it the family circumstances of those children? Is this something which demonstrates the importance of the 1001 days programme? We need to sort things out before the children even get to school?

I do see that the numbers from social housing are less than those in private sector. But is it the 11+ concept that is at fault?

SETTING

I do understand that setting can be a solution, althought the report is vague on this and should this amendment be passed I would be happy to second an amendment referred to by Deputy St Pier, to ensure that it is.

However, there will be a fundamental difference between setting students across 4 mixed ability schools than setting under a selective system, which exists now in core subjects. I know it does at the Grammar

Taking the top 25% of a distribution and setting that gives you much tighter ability levels in each set rather than the comprehensive model that takes the whole distribution and divides it up into sets, resulting in much wider ability levels in each set. Of course the alternative will be to have more sets and perhaps that is a solution.

 

GEOGRAPHY

Now, one issue that hasn’t been clarified is whether results will be published by campus or as one school?  Frankly I think the public will demand it by campus. Well, I think the Housing Minister might quite like that as it could well stimulate the housing market with parents moving to the most desirable catchment area. Something that has been done in respect of primary schools. Of course, those in social housing aren’t able to make those same choices.  So we will have selection, but based on geographic accident, or perhaps not,  of where your parents are, rather than ability

 

MENTAL HEALTH

Finally, Another commonly cited problem, is that the 11+ can cause mental health issues. I can understand that a child who does not get a Grammar school place may, wrongly see themselves as failures. It is hard not getting what you want and looking like you are not as good as someone else.

However, as Deputy Minister of HSSD, when I heard that children were damaged by the system I did think it was beholden on me to find out more.  The response I got from the mental health service was that they have come across children over the years who have attributed low self esteem ,anxiety and low mood to failure at the 11+ but often there are many other factors which contribute to the development of children’s mental health disorders so it is difficult to say there is a direct link .

Interestingly though, they are  seeing a rise in the number of young people  presenting with low mood ,anxiety , self harm and eating disorders as a result of exam pressure around GCSEs and A levels. I would hope that the initiative under the CYPP that we debated 2 weeks ago will help alleviate this.

 

However, clearly for some it will be upsetting to not get to the Grammar  or Colleges. I know that many like Deputy Duquemin consider this a very important point. Deputy Brehaut’s comments that it’s the only test you can only take once, it is all or nothing, but that is true of other tests. Going for a job, you either get it or you don’t. And degrees, post-graudate qualifications are limited, if not by the institution, certainly in terms of money.

 

INHERENT ISSUES

So, finally and more briefly, turning to the argument on the  structural problems of the 11+ we do hear that in the last 2 years there are more girls than boys at the Grammar School, a minority from social housing and that many children are coached. Can’t these issues be dealt with through changing the structure rather than getting rid of it totally?

 

On this I thought I’d look at my old school’s website. It is still a Grammar, but now has the benefit of being a locally managed Academy School, with Humanities College status, which was rated as outstanding by Ofsted at its last review. I was interested to find out all its policies are published on the website and that included its equality objectives. These are based around equality of access, equality of provision and equality of outcome.

In relation to the former it have the following policies;

  1. To give preference to students on free school meals in the admission border zone.
  2. To ensure the 11+ reading test does not have a ‘middle-class’ bias.
  3. To set a test that restricts the benefit of an 11+ tutor.

These policies have increased the proportion of childnre on free school meals who attend the school from 6% to 8% in 2015. So, it can be done.

I suppose to me the most important issue is not about equality of opportunity but fairness, which is part of the criteria that the department are said to have considered. Is it fair that every child gets the same education rather than the education that its them? We don’t have a failing system. All the schools are doing very well, or so we’re told.

So, why would we want to throw everything up in the air and hope that a bespke untried system will work better, when we don’t know what better is? That is the issue for me. I don’t have a strong ideological viewpoint, but I wish I did as it would make it so much easier. I just don’t see that getting rid of the 11+, or selection generally, will lead to Nirvana.

For that reason I can’t support Amendment 1 but will support Amendment 2.

Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards

HSSD presented its proposals for a new Capacity Law at the last States meeting. Included within this were recommendations for deprivation of liberty safeguards (DOLS) to protect the most vulnerable in society. It was subject to an amendment to delay until the UK has decided what it was going to do to amend its legislation. The amendment was defeated and then there were calls from the proposer of the amendment to take it out completely. I set out below my speeches urging members not to support the amendment and then in main debate, to support the policy letter in full. The policy letter ended up being passed fully and without amendment.

Speech – main debate

Sir, this isn’t a health issue at all, although it’s more applicable in health and care settings. It’s a human rights issue. It’s about how we protect the liberty and dignity of those citizens among us who are most vulnerable to having their freedom of choice taken away.

I think HM Procureur has made it very clear that this policy letter has been written to be human rights compliant. Just taking out the DOLS will just lead a coach and horses through it. It is the flip side of the same coin – the capacity law results in giving powers over someone without capacity. DOLS gives that person without capacity protection. It’s as simple as that. That is why it is required. That is why, if we don’t include DOLS, the Privy Council are quite likely to throw it back. That is the risk.

Now to cost. Comments made yesterday by Deputy Dave Jones just exemplify why mental health services have been the Cinderella of our services for so long. So much easier to spend money on drugs and operations that you can see.

Of course, we would like more investment in community nurses and social workers. It is needed, but it must not be a binary choice between one or the other, because that’s simply not he reality.

This is, as Deputy Perrot has said, a good news story, and I urge members to support this policy letter in full.

Speech – amendment

Sir, Deputy Hadley is nothing if not consistent. Here he is laying yet another unnecessary amendment. This policy letter is the result of extensive consultation with those professional concerned. Deputy Hadley references a meeting with 2 psychogeriatricians and I think I need to make it clear what actually happened at that meeting.

At the Board meeting where this policy letter was discussed, Deputy Hadley said that a couple of psychogeriatricians did not like it the DOLS and therefore he couldn’t support it. Following that meeting, I agreed to meet with them and Deputy Hadley, together with the States’ consultant psychiatrist of adult mental health, head of older adults services, director of communities and the law officer involved.

At that meeting it was clear that the psychogeriatricians has been led to believe that this policy letter was actually the law. They were advised this was not the case. It was also clear that there was a lack of awareness as to the legislative process here and that we would have little ability to develop a law different from the UK. The final concern was with regard to the term Deprivation of Liberty. It is a phrase that is tainted due to the system that has been put in practice in the UK.

It was explained that the term comes from Article 5 of the EU Convention of Human Rights, which Guernsey has incorporated into its law through the Human Rights (Bailiwick of Guernsey) Law, 2000. Article 5 states that;

“Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be deprived of his liberty save in the following cases and in accordance with a procedure prescribed by law”. Therefore, in order for our law to be compliant with the convention we have to use the same phraseology.

However, that does not mean this has to be used as the standard term, merely that it is made clear that wahtever term is used it has to be referenced to the term Deprivation of Liberty. I believe the proposals suggested by the Law Commission when they went to consultation included changing the term in the UK to ‘protective care’.

It was made clear at that meeting that no-one wanted to follow the UK. We wanted a balanced and proportionate law for Guernsey. In fact this is an opportunity for Guernsey to be ahead of the UK and set the benchmark, not follow. AND, AND, we could do that and would do that through working with the professional to develop the legislation, regulations and subsequent codes of practice. There is nothing in this policy letter that says this will be anything like the UK.

At the end of that meeting the professionals, just note, the 2 profesioanls with concerns, were assured. Deputy Hadley said that he was, if they were. Great! It was a good meeting. Then, 2 days later, we heard Deputy Hadley wasn’t happy and couldn’t support the policy letter – again!

Sir, the problem here is, I’m afraid with Deputy Hadley, not this policy letter. Sir, Deputy Hadley is alone on this and I urge all members to reject this amendment.

States Welfare and Benefits Investigation Committee Report

A major policy letter that hit the meeting of the States was that produced by SWBIC. Here is my speech.

 

Sir, This is a good report. It is well-balanced, which I think reflects the diverse make up of that Committee, which I mean in a positive way. I would just like to comment on one aspect of the report and that is in relation to the implications of moving people from rent rebate to supplementary benefit.

On page 1956, paragraph 161 it states that the proposed unification of the system will potentially bring an additional 930 households, comprising 2,275 individuals, into scope of free medical and para-medical cover.

Now, I don’t want Members to think I believe that wrong. Quite the contrary. The report published a year ago by CICRA on the primary healthcare market stated that 50% of those respondents to their consultation has been put off going to the GP because of the cost. We don’t want that. All that means is people aren’t treated in time which in the end can result in more serious long term conditions and proportionately more expensive treatments.

However, I think it is important that Members are made aware of the impact that this might have on health services, at least in the short term, before things settle down, as we see increased demand arising from referrals from GPs. We don’t know the impact at this stage but it is not rocket science that it will result in greater demand.

I had drafted an amendment on this area but decided that, after discussing this with Deputy Le Lievre, that it was sufficient that I just make my concerns known for the record. However, I do believe that the future Committee for Health and Social Care with that of Employment and Social Security will need to keep this under review, possibly at the same time as addressing the recommendations of the CICRA report in relation to charges for GP consultations in general.

Having said that, it makes complete sense to me merging the rent rebates into supplementary benefits. It results in greater transparency and that has to be a good thing. So, finally, I would say well done to SWBIC and hope everyone supports these proposals.

Sugar Tax

An amendment was placed against the Healthy Weight Strategy by Deputy Hadley to introduce a sugar tax from the beginning of 2017. The Strategy sets out that this will be researched before bringing it in. My speech against the amendment is set out below.

 

Sir, I do urge members not to support this amendment. The policy letter makes it clear that HSSD, Home and Treasury & Resources will investigate the potential  for administration and implementation of a tax on sugar sweetened beverages.

Why do we say that and not go the full hog and do what Deputy Hadley wants?

Well, for a start, the evidence of the effectiveness is contradictory. Yes Deputy Hadley refers to the Cancer UK and UK Health Forum reports which assert the potential to introduce a sugar tax.

A report published by Christopher Snowden of the Institute of Economic Affairs last month raises considerable doubt on the effectiveness of sugar taxes. From research done ono the impact of said taxes in other jurisdictions, the report concludes that;

  1. demand for sugary drinks, snacks and fatty foods is inelastic.
  2. Consumers respond by switching to cheaper brands of the product or shopping in cheaper shops. This leads to the consumption of inferior goods rather than the consumption of fewer calories.
  3. Taxes on sugary drinks leads consumers to switch to other high claorie drinks such as fruit juice, milk or alcohol.
  4. Taxes on energy dense food and soft drinks take a greater share of income from the poor than the rich, exacerbated by low income consumers being less responsive to price changes than the rich.

and finally and perhaps most pertinent here, no impact on obesity or health outcomes has ever been found.

So, faced with that research are Mebers happy to support the introduction of a sugar tax today?

Sir, as I have made clear more than once in this Assembly, I believe in making evidence based decisions. I know that I’m not the only here either. I can’t agree to bring in an indirect tax when its effectiveness is open to question and cant do it on the basis of purely money raising. And on the latter front, we have no idea what could be raised and how much it will cost to administer.

That is why proposition 4 says what it does, that is why we should focu on education and awareness and consider the healthy carrot rather than the stout stick of yet more taxes.

With the creation of an independent body, with the sole purpose of implementing the healthy wieght strategy, it can work.

The strategy to date has hardly been an overwhelming success. More of the same would not represent value for money. We need to engage and partner with others, and that includes in terms of funding. It would be easy saying yes to an extra £250k but we can’t keep on clobbering the taxpayer. We have to think directly.

So, for all these reasons, I urge members to reject this amendment.

Breastfeeding Strategy

March 2016 saw the States approve HSSD’s breastfeeding strategy. I opened debate and my speech is below.

 

Sir, I’m pleased to present the first breastfeeding strategy for Guernsey and Alderney. Sadly, it has taken longer to get here than originally directed by Deputy Burford’s successful amendment, for which we apologise. However, I can assure members that this did not mean the Board were not wanting to give it the attention is deserves. The Minister in his previous incarnation was a seconder of the amendment after all.

What we want to achieve through this strategy is for breastfeeding to be considered the normal thing to do for mothers and what they will want to choose to do.

 

So what? Well, there is clear evidence of the health benefits to both mother and baby of breastfeeding. Mothers have a lower risk of acquiring diseases such as breast and overian cancer whilst babies benefit in the short term from lower infection rates and in the longer term as adults through lower risks of obesity and diabetes.

The focus on prevention and early intervention is, as we have made clear already in previous debate, an essential element in the transformation to a sustainable health and social care service. And so this strategy has a part to play in that.

Now, we haven’t set any targets. Something I am sure Deputy Burford will be pleased about, although given the scant information on breastfeeding, we had little option and that is something I will address in a minute.

So, no targets, but the objectives are to increase rates of initiation of breastfeeding and for continuation to 6-8 weeks, an increase in places where women can breastfeed and attaining the UNICEF baby friendly imitative accreditation.

TO achieve this we are looking at 4 areas. Firstly through data collection and analysis, so we know what’s happening and can target resources where they are needed. At the moment it is not easy to extract valid statistics to monitor breastfeeding initiation and continuation and so, when data needs to be obtained it has to be done manually and whilst exercises have been undertaken in terms of numbers breastfeeding, we don’t have reasons why the rates are as they are. As an example, we know that in January this year only 67% of women were breastfeeding, either fully or partially, on discharge from Loveridge Ward. We don’t know why. Further details on December figures from the 6-8 week health visitor visit showed that 50% were fully artificially fed with 25% bottle-fed from birth. Again, we need to know why.

 

Through education and awareness, we need to let Mums know the benefits. These aren’t just medical, which tends to be the general focus but also psychological, as the closeness helps the bond between mother and baby. I breastfed both my children, something that as teenagers they don’t wish to be reminded about. I can’t say whether it has helped me from a health point of view but I do know it is something that created a bond, well quite literally, but certainly emotionally.

The third area of focus is the need to help women breast feed. Most importantly we need to improve support to new mothers. It can be quite daunting thinking about it. Some mothers to be may worry they may not be able to do it as they won’t be able to produce enough milk. Well, on that front all I can say is, speaking  personally, I can confirm that size really doesn’t matter when it comes to breastfeeding.

Women need consistent, helpful and up to date advice to enable them to make informed choices. That latter point is crucial. What we don’t want is Mums being made to a feel guilty for not breastfeeding and not force themselves to breastfeed if it is not working for them. At the same time it does take practice. For some it is easier than others to start but, practice more often that not does make perfect and supportive consistent advice has a big role to play to help Mums from the beginning.

Finally, we want to ensure there is wider community support and acceptance. One of the things we would like to do is bring in a scheme that enables employers and businesses to demonstrate they are breastfeeding friendly. Things have moved on from only a few years ago when Mums were told to stop breastfeeding in public but we really need to make women feel comfortable breastfeeding in cafes and restaurants. There should be no stigma associated with breastfeeding, it is what our bodies were designed for after all.

At the same time we need to raise awareness amongst employers about the need to support who are breastfeeding. Now, that doesn’t mean bringing in baby for the mid-morning snack. But it does mean helping Mums who wish to express milk.  The less a Mum breast feeds, the less milk she produces the more she needs to top up with formula. For me, going back to work was beginning of the end of breastfeeding. And I suspect I’m not alone.

So, in terms of funding, in the long term, through increased prevention and early intervention that raising breastfeeding rates will contribute to this strategy should save money. However, in the short term, we will be reprioritising funding to kick-start the implementation. In particular to enable us to work with the third sector to develop a peer support programme. The latter is, I believe going to be crucial. The problem in any strategy like this, just as healthy weight, is that it is far too easily seen as government telling people what to do. Whether it is right or wrong, it can make it harder to get buy in. That is why a peer support programme is important and, just like the HWS that’s whay working with the 3rd sector makes so much sense.

Sir, breastfeeding is best for Mum, baby, the health service and taxpayer. From the evidence we do have, we know rates in Guernsey demonstrate both poor uptake and continuation of breastfeeding. Whilst there is good work done by many, a co-ordinated strategy is needed to increase rates and support future Mums to be.

I therefore ask Members to support this policy letter.

Increasing the Powers and Resources of Scrutiny

The Public Accounts Committee and Scrutiny Committee laid a joint policy letter to the States at the February States meeting. This was very important to me as I had wanted to increase the powers and resources of the scrutiny function before I was elected and everything I have witnessed since I was elected as Chair of the Public Accounts Committee demonstrated to me why this was necessary.

I am pleased that the policy letter was passed, with an amendment on funding that we did not oppose. This means that the new Scrutiny Management Committee will be better placed under the new machinery of government. Below is my speech.

 

Sir

This policy letter arises from an amendment placed by myself and the Chair of the Scrutiny Committee to ensure that the powers and resources of the new SMC were agreed before the end of this term. We could have decided to go with the original proposals in the SRC report, stating that this should be left to the new Committee to consider. However, we believed that it was important that it should be able to hit the ground running and get changes put in motion as soon into the new term as possible.

It is important to stress at the outset that this States has already agreed the structure of scrutiny that it wants for the future and that it should have more powers and resources. This policy letter is therefore following the direction of the States in setting out what it believes those powers and resources should be.

It is also important to make it absolutely clear that what we propose is not a pick and mix; our proposals set out the minimum requirement to give effect to the new scrutiny structure and reflects our 4 years of experience and more in some cases, of the current system.

We have concluded that specific areas require significant strengthening to ensure that effective scrutiny can be provided.

I am not going to go over all these now, they are clearly set out in the report, but I will focus on some key points.

Firstly, the power to compel, or to use the standard term, ‘the power to send for persons, papers and records’. A power that is standard in the UK and other Crown Dependencies.

The  appropriate legal infrastructure will need to be in place to ensure the enforceability and legality of the proposed approach. Powers to send for papers and records are already vested in various statutory bodies today, such as the GFSC, Children’s Convenor and CICRA. In our view, therefore, the drafting of such legislation should be relatively straightforward.

Secondly, rights of privilege should be extended to any person giving evidence to scrutiny panels and hearings.

At the moment a person attending to give evidence, or producing any document to the Scrutiny Committee or the Public Accounts Committee is entitled to the same immunities and privileges as if they were a witness before the Royal Court, whereas a Deputy enjoys absolute privilege. This may have been an error in the drafting of the legislation as it was intended to be provided for in the original Billet.

This will allow witnesses to be able to speak freely to their elected representatives, a fundamental democratic right.

Thirdly, in terms of  visible impartiality we  recommend that a memorandum of understanding should be in place between the Principal Scrutiny Officer and the Chief Executive that guarantees the operational independence of the former whilst providing him or her with the appropriate management support.

To provide the necessary balance, the Principal Scrutiny Officer must ensure that, any review undertaken complies with the SMC mandate, provides value for money, and is in the public interest. Where a review does not meet these tests, in the opinion of the Principal Scrutiny Officer, the Principal Scrutiny Officer can be formally instructed to proceed by the Committee through a written direction.

Now, we turn to a recommendation in this report that is certainly very timely. That is the ability, in certain contexts, to be able to be review the internal legal advice provided to Departments and Committees.

This is a complex area. However, at Westminster, legal advice has been questioned by Select Committees in certain circumstances. To allow for this to happen, UK Ministers, in effect, waive their insistence on the confidentiality of the legal advice their departments receive.  In the UK, the decision to disclose the Attorney General’s advice on the legality of military action in Iraq, has created a high level precedent which will make it difficult for governments to hide behind the claim that ‘we never make public the advice of our Law Officers’. To those who argue that this was an exceptional case, I would respond that the only thing that was exceptional about it was the level of political pressure which forced eventual disclosure.

Something to consider in light of recent events.

It is clear to both current Committees that the content and rationale of the advice provided to politicians and staff by the officials within St James’s Chambers, should be subject, when appropriate, to review by Parliament. And, standing here occupying the place he used to take I am reminded that this is something that the Late Alderney Representative Paul Arditti felt very strongly about it. I do think it is sad that he can’t be taking part in this debate.

 

Yes, the mechanisms need to be thought through carefully. However, a complete bar on the ability to scrutinise legal advice, is inconsistent with the principles of openness and transparency that lie at the heart of good government. The scrutiny arrangements and perhaps as importantly, the culture within government, must allow for parliamentary oversight of this type of material when it is appropriate.

Both Committees have also expressed a desire for additional clarity in situations where there is uncertainty as to whether advice is legal advice, or rather advice from a Law Officer on a non-legal matter. We believe that guidance on this matter should be clearly drawn to avoid a situation where appropriate parliamentary scrutiny is blocked by the refusal to release advice from a law officer on a non-legal matter.

Legal advice given to States Departments and Committees is primarily provided by the Law Officers of the Crown and lawyers working under their direction at the Law Officers Chambers. Where advice is given by a lawyer to a private or commercial client, that client could decide to “waive” privilege at their discretion and disclose the contents of the advice. However, different considerations arise in relation to advice given by, or on behalf of, a Law Officer to Departments, Committees and other public office holders.

However, as was demonstrated in the disclosure of Lord Goldsmith’s advice on the legality of the war in Iraq and of Jeremy Wright’s own recent advice on the legality of RAF drone strikes on British ISIL targets, there are “exceptional” circumstances when at least the fact of giving advice is disclosed. For the reasons set out above, it is suggested that the situation in Guernsey should mirror that described in England and Wales and, as that approach changes, so should ours.

The key point here is that in certain circumstances it should be possible to view the advice that led directly to decisions being made. This may be very rare but it is also essential. Advice is just that – advice; Boards take the decisions. And if political scrutiny is to mean anything, it has to be able to test the judgements which Boards have made based on the advice they have received.

 

So, last, but by no means least, we get onto the sticky matter of funding. It is very difficult for me, as Chair of Public Accounts Committee to come here and request extra money, but I knew that would inevitably be the case at the start. I would hazard a guess that all members would have expected that, more powers and resources would come at a cost. But, remember, it is not about cost, rather value for money. It will not mean more of the same, but the ability to undertake urgent hearings and respond faster than is possible at present. We are only going to get a stronger scrutiny function if we allocate more resources to it.

 

If this assembly wishes to have effective political, financial and legislative scrutiny then it will cost more money. If members believe that this level of additional expenditure is unjustifiable then so be it, but please do not then constantly reprimand the new SMC for not addressing the numerous areas of public concern that arrive throughout the next political term. This month and next we will be debating areas of huge strategic importance: the alphabet soup of SLAWS, CYPP, SCIP as well as Waste, perhaps CHP and dare I say education?

As things stand the current resources are woefully inadequate. From a financial scrutiny perspective alone, we have just 3 staff to scrutinise 1/2bn of States general and SSD annual expenditure. That’s when no one is ill or on holiday. Compare that with Jersey with spends nearly £800k on the Auditor-General’s office, £311k on Scrutiny, excluding staff costs which are probably a conservative £500k, plus a dedicated building and all that excludes the child abuse enquiry for which £20m has been set aside. Yes it has a ministerial system, but that doesn’t mean that scrutiny should be funded any the less. And in the next term, with a more powerful centre and fewer Deputies, a stronger scrutiny function will become even more important.

It’s not as if what we are asking for is unreasonable. It represents 3 more staff, one of which is for legislation, which currently has no resource and £150k for specialist advice which will be necessary as the SMC focuses on complex areas, where generalist knowledge will be inadequate.

And don’t forget the Deputy resources that will be lost from scrutiny as a result of the new machinery of government. In fact, we have calculated that the loss in terms of Deputy and Non-States members’ time comes to the equivalent of £191k.

Also, remember that in the last budget we agreed to pay an extra £900k for SCIP programme and £200k for additional Policy Council resources. Why is that OK, but not the resources to scrutinise it?

 

As William Gladstone famously pointed out – ‘Men are apt to mistake the strength of their feeling for the strength of their argument. The heated mind resents the chill touch and relentless scrutiny of logic.’

Gladstone correctly identified that many well-meaning politicians cannot see the weaknesses in their own arguments – this is why Scrutiny is so important

And, In the words of Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes “It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.”

This is where Scrutiny comes in – no individual member has, or will have, the time or supporting resources to fully investigate a significant portion of government policy.

Independent political scrutiny is essential and a properly-resourced scrutiny system empowers the individual Deputy as a member of a scrutiny panel.

The recommendations made to the States in this Policy Letter provide for a future scrutiny function with greater capacity, powers and resources to ensure Committees and their agents can be effectively held to account by the SMC.

I believe we have provided an appropriate balance in the context of the changing machinery of government and therefore ask that all members fully support increasing the powers and resources as set out in this policy letter.



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