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.
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.