When is a consultant not a consultant?
The agenda for the June States meeting was quite short and matters were wrapped up before lunch. However, this should not be taken to mean that the issues debated were of minor consequence. There were 2 main subjects that have future ramifications for the Island but in very different ways.
The States voted unanimously to remove the deemed distribution regime. This came in as an anti-avoidance measure with the introduction of Zero-10. I spoke in the States about this as I have had direct experience having to advise clients on this matter. As far as I am concerned this was an overly complicated and inequitable system and I was happy to see it go. It is estimated that the regime brought in approximately £4m, though you would have to offset the extra Income Tax Office staff needed to administer it and the wasted time in trying to understand it. The shortfall will have to be made up, but whatever proposal is brought to the States needs to be simple to understand, easy to manage and more equitable.
The second, quite different issue, raises questions in relation to accountability and transparency and is of some concern to me.
The States Review Committee was formed as a result of the approval of Deputy Fallaise’s requete in March 2012. It is mandated to review the structure and operations of the States of Guernsey. The Committee is required to have 2 non-States members. Before the June meeting, Deputies had been advised by the Chief Minister that, having advertised in the Guernsey Press, they had not found anyone locally who could fill the positions and that they had identified people off the Island, but they needed expenses paying for and a fee. We were required to support an amendment enabling a delay to the appointment of the non-States members, but, at the same time, enable the Committee to operate.
I was happy to vote for the amendment, as there was obviously no other option if there were no names being put forward. However, there are 2 aspects of this matter that raise concerns and which I spoke about on the day. The first is the fact that the States just put an advert in the Guernsey Press. Any employer in private business knows that, to get the highest calibre people, you need to work hard and smarter than that. For a start, they should be using social media to engage with people. I found 2 high calibre people as non-States members of the Public Accounts Committee by doing just that through Twitter. In addition, and this is something that should be true across Government, the States should be in contact with the professional bodies in Guernsey.
It is often used as an excuse that we are only a population of 62,000 and how can we find skilled people on an Island the size of a small town in England. However, we have little similarly with a small town. What town the size of Guernsey would have 700 members of the Institute of Directors? We have so many professional bodies with huge memberships that you would never find in a town of our size in England. Chamber of Commerce, GIBA, GILA, GSCCA, CGI – the list goes on. We should be working together for the benefit of Guernsey.
The sesond issue that arises is in relation to funding. The Chief Minister stated that Deputies were wrong to call the people, whoever they are, consultants, they were non-States members. To me, if you pay someone to give you advice, they are a consultant by any other name. More importantly however, Deputy Fallaise’s requete stated that any non-States member would not be able to claim expenditure. Now, it looks like a request is going to be put forward to the States in September for funding the non-States members.
All I can say at this present moment is that the 2 people who have been identified are going to have to be pretty special before I will be voting for non-local paid members of the States Review Committee. Things have to change, we can’t just do as has been done in the past. We must think harder and smarter.