Public Services

Public Sector Reform – personal comment

I made the following speech on public sector reform during the debate in September 2015.

Sir, speaking personally, normally I have to say that my natural scepticism could have kicked in and I would say that it is a lot of nice, fancy words – ‘motherhood and apple pie’ – but little substance. However, I have already seen the Chief Executive practice what he preaches. The support that he has given the board of HSSD, over the last 10 months, demonstrates that quite clearly and gives me the confidence that this document will not gather dust.

I totally concur with paragraph 6.6. We Deputies should have less day-to-day involvement in the delivery of public sector services, but that public servants need to provide appropriate financial management and performance information to provide assurance to the boards – committees, I suppose we are meant to call them in the future – that those services are being run effectively and efficiently and in accordance with all relevant legislation and professional standards.

Now, that is all very well and good, but when it goes wrong we get the brickbats. Just witness the sea front changes. This is not an area of high level strategy and policy; it is about where lines are painted on a road.

Under this scenario, we should have been seeing officers dealing with the complaints, not the Ministers of Environment or PSD. Whether that will ever happen, I am far less certain, but to enable it to happen there needs to be trust. That does not mean that we, as politicians, should not continue to challenge and, despite what some might think, every Deputy with whom I have been on a board or committee these last few years has challenged management and should continue to do so. That is how positive change will happen, so long as the challenge is constructive, of course.

Finally, I would like to touch on the need to embrace technology. I believe that the appointment of a Chief Information Officer has already resulted in positive change through an expert ‘can do’ mind-set that gives me hope good things will happen. We only scratch the surface of what can be done with new technology at the moment, but it has the potential to provide real transformation, from telemedicine and telehealth, to enabling people to access services 24/7.

So will this work? After all, it is an immense programme. It is going take a leap of faith but, frankly, I do believe that is what we have to do. The key is leadership. Change will come from a change of culture at the top, with the engagement of those below. It is a mighty difficult job to do but, from this document and what I have witnessed in the last 10 months, I do believe that it is a risk that has to be taken and I, for one, hope that it succeeds.

Public Sector Reform – PAC comment

I made the following speech on behalf of the Public Accounts Committee during the debate on public sector reform in September 2015.

Sir, I will begin by speaking on behalf of the Public Accounts Committee and then I have a few comments speaking on my own behalf.

Sir, on behalf of the Public Accounts Committee, I would first like to pay tribute to those who have enabled this paper to be brought forward before the Assembly today. The Committee appreciates their endeavours and would wish to publically acknowledge that the Chief Executive has kept the Committee informed of progress, which has been very much appreciated.

The Committee supports the inclusion of the value for money work-stream as one of the central pillars of this programme and I can confirm that the current PAC and, I hope, the new Scrutiny Management Committee will be keeping a close eye on the effectiveness of this element of the programme.

I do think it is excellent in demonstrating how value for money does not mean cost. Many times, I am asked to investigate expenditure because of the cost. Last month there was a call on the bus service, on how much it had cost the taxpayer. However, as I pointed out to those people, cost is only one element of value for money. You need to think of need and quality. By way of example, the bus service subsidy was cut, but you could question whether that resulted in better value for money.

The Committee notes with interest that the Report states that the FTP made every public sector worker cost-conscious. We need to be reassured that this programme will now empower each and every worker to take the actions necessary to improve value for money. We also note that the consultation on this work-stream starts in the quarter four of this year, with the establishment of a value-for-money team in quarter one of next year. Now, this is a positive step and the Committee is willing offer its full support.

We have just spoken about the need for internationally-recognised accounting standards and, again, I will say that the Committee believe this in integral to enabling the calculation of the true cost of service provision.

Just to pick up on Deputy Gillson’s comments, this morning, regarding financial training for Deputies, I think it should be extended to the public sector and that such training for non-financial managers is essential for those with budgets they are expected to manage.

Now, once the value-for-money work-stream is established, the consultation completed and the framework developed, we would call upon the Chief Minister to support the production of a report to be brought forward for consideration by the States as soon as is practicable.

Learning lessons: the Committee’s rallying call has been that the States of Guernsey must learn the lessons – good as well as those not to be repeated – from the various initiatives undertaken. The Committee looks forward to such lessons related to change management, being fully embedded into the processes, culture and psyche of the Public Service, as it moves forward with the implementation of these reforms.

To answer Deputy Laurie Queripel, I can say that Public Accounts Committee has been pushing for a post implementation review for SAP from T&R and we want it by the end of this term. We have recently been sent draft terms of reference so things are moving but, like Deputy Queripel, I would like assurance from the Minister that the review can be completed within this term.

Airport Terminal Requete

I spoke in relation to report into the Airport terminal project on behalf of the Public Accounts Committee at the December 2014 States meeting.

Sir,

I will speak specifically in relation to the Public Accounts Committee’s involvement in this report.

Those members who were around during the last States will be aware that in  February 2012 the Previous Public Accounts Committee sought to rescind the requete of 2004 instructing it to report on a specific aspect of this project, namely the process which led to the award of the contract to ensure it was robust and well managed and in particular the financial checks carried on Hochtief.

However, I think the States then made the right decision not to support that proposal. It is probably true to say that project management has improved greatly in a number of areas since then. There are contract administration processes, a standard procurement policy, pre-qualification questionnaires and risk registers.

However, the current PAC does not think the picture is a rosy as made out by T&R and Policy Council in their comments attached to this report. It is therefore important for members and those involved in large scale projects are made aware of the issues that still exist.

Then, as now, work commenced before contracts were signed. PAC have been made aware of issues that have arisen on other projects since the airport terminal build where this has created problems and additional costs.

We are also aware that contingencies are still not used for the purpose for which they were intended, but as additional project funding. And whilst it is true that in the last 5 or more years projects have not gone over budget, it is also true to say that projects have had sizeable contingencies which, in several cases have been fully spent.

And, as I mentioned 2 weeks ago, post implementation reviews are still not disseminated so it is harder for lessons to be learnt across the States.

Specifically in relation to financial assurances, checks were done on Hochtief and parental company guarantees were put in place. However, then as now, the financial situation of sub-contractors was not looked at as there was no contractual relationship with them.

Now, recent capital projects have introduced the concept of a project bank, a bit like an escrow account, whereby monies paid in to a bank account at each stage of the project are only paid out on the joint signature of the main contractor and the States. This was trialled successfully on the Belle Greve Phase V wastewater project.

However, in large contracts where there may be several sub-sub contractors they will continue to be vulnerable. Such contractors need to ensure that , in accordance with commercial best practice, they have their own contractual protections in place.

Finally, we must comment on the legal proceedings that were undertaken and lasted 8 years at an unknown, but undoubtable substantial cost and without a satisfactory conclusion so far at the States of Guernsey was concerned.  The PAC would recommend that responsibilities in the legal decision making process are understood and consideration is given as to the costs and risks associated with each course of action to minimise the likelihood of similar costly and protracted proceedings occurring in the future.

Waste Strategy

I spoke in the adjourned January 2014 States meeting on the proposed waste strategy.  I also managed to get the States to agree not to debate an amendment that would have caused extra work for the Public Services Department and voted against a Sursis to look again at landfill. Whilst I have reservations with regard to the costs as set out in the report, I do believe that the basic principles of the strategy still hold good and that we should support the Department’s proposals at this time.

Sir, I would like to speak firstly on behalf of the PAC and then from a personal perspective.

 

The Committee has reviewed the report from the Public Services Department and has a few observations regarding the content in so far as it concerns financial management and value for money.

Firstly, the Committee welcomes the creation of a Solid Waste Trading Account that brings together the financial reporting for all waste trading management activities. If appropriately implemented, this should increase transparency as well as assisting in maintaining effective financial control.  We would expect these benefits to outweigh the incremental costs, in terms of both administration and the additional work required by the States auditors.

Secondly, whilst the cost of delivering the strategy to 2016 now appears clearer, it is disappointing that, despite the fact it has been 2 years since the then States passed the resolution to have PSD report back with full costings to, and I quote; ’ give maximum effect to waste prevention and minimisation measures’,  several significant costs are still estimates. Indeed, whilst, the Department seeks to assure Members that it is confident costs will not exceed £29.5m the Committee  is concerned that the estimates contain so many contingencies that the actual figures do not reflect realistic and achievable costings from a value for money perspective.

Thirdly, the Committee considers that the adoption of a charging mechanism to pay for ongoing costs, which incorporates both fixed and variable elements, will act as an incentive to ongoing waste reduction,  prevent opting out and provide some certainty of income. However, getting the balance right will not be an easy task and the Committee will be interested in reviewing the States report on this aspect when it is published.

Finally, it is evident to the Committee that the entire strategy has many complex aspects to it. Aside from the construction of waste management facilities, a whole new set of processes needs to be implemented.  There are therefore significant risks in undertaking this strategy, which need to be managed effectively. Effective project management is therefore critical for successful delivery of the strategy, which, apart from ensuring those with the necessary technical expertise are employed, means effective political oversight throughout the project life both from PSD and T&R.

 

 

 

Now,

Speaking personally, I think all the talk of how we deal with our waste is a distraction. Whether we should or should not have had an energy from waste plant, whether we should or should not export our waste, whether or not we should stick it all in a hole. That debate should finish. The biggest waste in all this is the waste of time and money from prolonged debate. We can’t afford that any longer.

We need to focus on the most important part of this strategy, the part of the strategy that will really save money and  is something that we all are responsible for  – and that is waste minimisation. Each and every one of us has a responsibility to minimise household waste.  This is not something we can delegate to government.

I think it is therefore important to have some focus on this aspect today.

Worldwide about one-third of all food produced – equivalent to 1.3 billion tonnes – gets lost or wasted in the food production and consumption systems, according to data released by Food and Agriculture Organsiation of the United Nations and It is estimated that locally we needlessly throw away 2,500 tonnes of food a year. This is at a time when others worldwide living in extreme poverty are starving and back home some in our community are struggling to put food on the table, with food banks witnessing more demand than ever before. This is an appalling state of affairs.  It has been calculated that Wasting this food costs the average household in the UK £470 a year, rising to £700 for a family with children. Given the higher average cost of groceries in Guernsey, evidenced in CICRA’s recent report and it is likely to be even worse here.

 

Best before dates on everything have a lot to answer for. On a recent radio 4 programme a  representative from Lee & Perrins said that, if stored properly, a bottle of their world famous Worcestershire Sauce would never spoil and the only reason for a sell by date on it was because it was legally required. This was of some relief to me when I looked at the bottle that was sitting in my cupboard the other day and found it had a best before date of 2010.

I would be delighted if we banned the printing of best before dates here, but appreciate this would not be practical for the supermarkets. We therefore need to educate people about what they mean –  to understand food.

We need to increase awareness about the cost of food waste and educate people on how they can minimise what they throw away. I support the LoveFoodHate Waste campaign brought over from the UK, complemented by local initiatives that bring it home to people here how it directly affects them.

 

On an associate point, I fully understand the reasons behind not wanting to impose charges or legislative requirements on businesses. However, it does concern me that under these proposals, households will have to pay more for unnecessary packaging and, in particular black plastic, which can’t be recycled. As a member of the Commerce and Employment Board I therefore look forward to working with PSD and the commercial sector, to develop workable voluntary initiatives. I would like to see the end of Buy One Get One Free and similar multi-buy offers on perishable goods here. Tesco have stopped this in the UK to tackle food waste and I would like to see pressure put on the local supermarkets to do likewise here.

 

Whilst I have focussed on waste minimisation I would just like to comment on a few matters relating to recycling.

I fully endorse recommendations 19 and 20 that require event organisers to provide where practicable, recycling facilities, as well as the phasing in of the requirement for States entities, when contracting with event organisers, to ensure that recyclable or compostable food and drink containers are used at events on States-owned land. Already there are events organisers who do take the impact on the environment seriously, including the Vale Earth Fair and other charitable organisations in particular. I should in fact declare an interest as my  business has been selling recyclable and compostable tableware for such events for several years. However, there is a long way to go and I believe it is right that government leads by example in this area.

 

As someone whose garage can end up looking like a full bring bank site at the end of the month, kerbside recycling can’t come soon enough for me. I look forward to the trial starting in St Martin in March and hope it goes well.  I am also pleased to see that small businesses will be allowed to participate in the scheme, however, I think the amount of recycling may become an issue for the collectors as, just because a business is small, it does not necessarily translate into small amounts of recycling. I will be interested to see the outcome.

There is still much to do but I support the department in progressing the strategy as set out in this report and encourage other members to support its proposals.



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