Machinery of Govt

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.

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.

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.

SRC – 3rd Policy Letter – annual uprating report

My third successful amendment against the SRC report set the same restrictions on amendments to the SSD annual uprating report as the budget. My speech is below.

Sir, a minor amendment, but it is important nevertheless. Basically this requires that amendments to the annual uprating report have to follow the same rules as the budget and be submitted in advance. I suppose the need for this report crystallised itself for me last month, when we debated both the budget and uprating report at the same sitting, but that budget amendments has to be submitted 7 clear working days before the debate, whereas there was no such restriction for the uprating report and we received these right up to a day or 2 before the debate.

But that does reflect the inconsistency of treatment between revenue managed by T&R and that managed by Social Security. We only have to see how in the secondary healthcare debate how HSSD has to come to the States for funding for its half of the costs to negotiate the contract, whereas SSD does not. Perhaps that is for another day, but this amendment at least provides some inconsistency whenit comes to 2 important annual financial policy letter that come to this Assembly.

I urge members to support this amendment.

SRC 3rd Policy Letter – States’ accounts

I laid a successful amendment against the policy letter to ensure that specific time is set aside every year to debate the States’ accounts. My speech is below.

Sir,

I think it would be useful to clarify the effect of this amendment. It is not to set aside a whole day to debate the accounts, unlike the budget. All it does is ensure that the first item of business on the last States meeting before the recess is the debate on the States accounts. That is why, unlike for the budget, it does not refer to the ordinary business starting on the next day. It is presumed that ordinary business will follow on from that debate.

 

It will come as little surprise to members that I have laid this amendment, certainly given in the September meeting I expressed my and the Public Accounts Committee’s dissatisfaction at debating the 2014 accounts in September, the day in fact that the budget for 2016 was published!And it was pigeonholed between other States business.

This meant the numbers were less important than our ability to judge the T&R Minister’s ability as a fortune teller by comparing the foreword to the accounts and budget at the same time.

The effect of this amendment is to ensure that what we experienced this year, and last is not repeated and a specific slot is set aside for the States accounts.

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.

SRC Second Policy Letter – general debate

I raised various concerns about the new machinery government structure in general debate on the second policy letter. My speech is set out below.

Sir, I’d like to follow up on the speech I made yesterday where I spoke about the considerable change that will arise from the recommendations of this policy letter and take a slightly different tack from those comments made by Deputies James, Domaille and others.

 

Before I do so I’d just like to say I think Deputy Langlois is wearing rose tinted glasses when he says the risks by Deputy James have been exaggerated. He talks about there being a lot of experience from when similar occurred in 2004. However, I would say experience yes, but have lessons be learnt? Recent years have not demonstrated that the States is a master at change management.

I would also remind Deputy Langlois that the restructuring in 2004 was, in theory far simpler than this time. 11 years ago it was more a matter of consolidating 50 odd committees. This time it is more complicated as specific services in one department are moved to different committees. The decision made 2 days ago to split fisheries and agriculture, will, even in a relatively small way, cause some headaches I am pretty certain.

And my real concern, as echoed by others is that £530,000 will not be enough to ensure that this change is managed appropriately. We have to put this into context – last year we voted for an extra £1m to run the SCIP process. We are talking half that to restructure the whole of the States.

This will include the necessary IT changes, not only security and access rights, but also the reconfiguration of financial data.

However, despite all that, I do see this as a real transformational opportunity, beyond the structural changes. And I’ll give just a small example, one I think Deputy Lester Queripel will like in fact – and that is headed letter paper. I am surprised that pre-printed paper is still used around parts of the organisation. With the change in committees, this paper can’t be used for official purposes but this is the perfect opportunity to bring in a template system that includes the letterhead, across the States of Guernsey.

This is just one small example, but I am sure there will be more. I will also be interested to see whether the restructuring will result in sustainable savings at the macro level with the reduction of Departments. I’m sure there are, although it is likely to take time for these to be realised.

So, whilst I do have some nervousness over the disruption that these changes will cause, and I wish the Chief Executive good luck as he embarks on actioning what we have agreed here, I honestly believe this represents a real opportunity to make positive change.

SRC Second Policy Letter – amendment 1

I laid a successful amendment against the policy letter that meant that, instead of delaying a review of the power and resources required by the new Scrutiny Management Committee until its formation in May 2016, that this should be done by the current scrutiny committees. My speech is below.

Sir, Whilst I am the one that is laying this amendment this should very much be seen as a joint amendment with the Chair of the Scrutiny Committee and has been discussed by both PAC and Scrutiny Committees.

Before I begin, I should make it clear that both Committees are grateful to the SRC for taking on board the comments submitted by them and incorporating them into its policy letter.

 

However, members will remember that as a result of the amendment passed last year that the States Review Committee was directed to propose to the States before the introduction of the new committee system ways of strengthening the powers, resources and impartiality of the scrutiny committees and panels”

Whilst I understand the reasoning behind the proposal to wait for the new Scrutiny Management Committee to be formed before consideration of the its powers and resources, I do not believe that this is the most effective way forward .

Proposition 29, as it stands, would require the newly formed SMC to lay a policy letter with recommendations on such areas as;

  • Ability to call/compel witnesses to attend
  • Potential increase in scope of scrutiny to include all non-States bodies which are in recepity of public funds
  • Clearly identifiable responsible persons within each of the new Principal Committees
  • Resources, budgets and expectations of the SMC.

 

The purpose of this amendment is to bring forward the drafting of the policy letter so that it can be laid before this Assembly and a decision made before the end of this term.

Why? Well

I’d like for a moment for us just to take a step back and consider the wider context and the effect that this policy letter will have should it be passed in substantive form.

Let us not delude ourselves here.  There will be significant change that takes place from 1 May next year, not only  in terms of a reduction in Deputies but, probably more importantly, a change in departmental or committee structures and mandates.

Against this background of considerable change, a newly constituted SMC, is expected to determine the resources it will need. Now times of considerable change can be the times of highest risk and therefore a time when we need a scrutiny function focussed on its core role.

Whilst the  SMC will be experiencing the new arrangements, the argument given for it to do the work,  I would argue that, whatever the new structure, the breadth of work will be broadly similar.

Waiting until the next term will mean that, given the time to let Members get their feet under the table, prepare the report and then get it to the States, it is highly unlikely anything will be decided within a year. And that’s before anything that is agreed can be actioned.

 

The present PAC and Scrutiny Committees believe, with the experience they have had over the last 3 years, they are ideally placed to provide the necessary input to such a States’ report. I made it very clear when we debated the first policy letter, the last 3 years have been intensely frustrating with the lack of resources. Our budget has been reduced by 30% over the last 3 years,  placing severe limitations on what we could do and we have even had to go to the Department that we were to scrutinise to request funds to scrutinise them! That really can’t be right. So, when we look at resources and budgets it won’t just be the quantum required, that is just part of the story, but how we obtain those resources and how budgets are developed. What may work for Government Departments may not be right for a Parliamentary Committee.

This isn’t about wanting to take on more work, but we believe we can do it in the timescale and in the most effective and efficient way. We are also conscious how much more important it will be to allow the SMC to hit the ground running. With the reduction in Deputies, the level of political oversight will reduce unless we can beef up the scrutiny function as quickly as possible to compensate.

So on behalf of the future SMC, please support this amendment and let us get moving now.

Island Wide Voting

I made the following speech in relation to the requete on Island Wide Voting in July 2014.

Sir, like many here I’ve  always favoured an element of Island Wide Voting. However, I can’t find myself supporting the requete as the system adopted I believe would be completely unworkable and, perversely, less democratic than our present system.

Distributions of manifestos, limited to 700 words will not help the first time candidate, or at least those candidates who have not benefited from a high profile beforehand, whether or not they are sitting Deputies. For me the manifesto was very important, not only in expressing my views but also to give the electorate an idea of who I was. They are, whether we realise it or not, an expression of who we are. By putting a limit on it we are denying freedom of expression which I believe is very dangerous.

 

Paragraph 8 speaks of the labour-intensive and time consuming nature of the current counting system. However, I believe that those people who volunteer do so willingly and do so as they wish to be part of what is an important day for Guernsey.

 

Now, when anyone comments about the difficulty of the electorate to choose between the 80 or more candidates that might appear on a voting form they are told ‘how dare you question the intelligence of the Guernsey voter’. But the ability of any human, wherever they may live,  to choose up to 45 out of 80 people is no small feat. It’s ok for those who have lots of spare time to study every candidate but not those who lead busy lives. It is also more likely to lead to errors and Deputies being elected on less votes than now.

Why errors? Well, think about it. There may be a few Le Pages’s or variation on a theme of Mahe, Poidevin and even a scattering of Joneses, be they sensible or not. How likely is it that, given a list of candidates, however that is produced, that with just the voting form in front of them, mistakes are made? Sorry, human nature as it is,  that will happen.

And who’s going to bother ticking 35, 40, 45 boxes? They won’t. The average number of votes cast in those parishes with 6 places was 4.6% at the last election ie 77% potential number of votes cast. I believe with the system proposed in the requete that it will be significantly lower.

The one thing I liked about the amendment ,was that the Parish system did not disappear. This is why I would not support a full IW system but would be happier with a hybrid variant. We all tend to think on the macro scale when considering the impact of IWV, indeed the requete talks about most issues being Island wide issues.  but certainly for me, a very important and rewarding part of my work, as I am sure it is for others here  is helping individual parishioners with issues that they may have. I know Deputy Hadley spoke about the fact he gets more emails from outside the Parish than within, as do I. But that’s emails.  I find that when someone has a real concern they pick up the phone. Yes some things can be handled by the Douzaines but certainly not all.

The Parish system means people know who represents them and they have 6 or 7 to choose from, which means that issues are effectively divided up and spread more evenly amongst us.  How will that work with Deputies being elected on an Island wide basis?

No, I think if we lose the link to the Parishes Deputies will be perceived as more distant and out of touch than now. And that bothers me.

Now, this debate was delayed to await the outcome of the debate on our system of government. However, we still haven’t agreed what that should be apart from a very basic structure. We don’t know how many Deputies we are likely to have, Committees or Scrutiny function. I therefore think it is too early to make a fundamental change to our electoral system until we have that information.

The fundamental question is, will this requete  make for a more democtratic system than we have now? I hear Deputy Langlois’s comments regarding the advice from the electoral reform society and whilst I still support an element of IWV I believe the system as set out in this requete would cause more problems than it would solve and on that basis I cannot support it.



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Email: heidi@heidisoulsby.com