Machinery of Government

Summary

  • When the new electoral arrangements have settled down there should be a review of how they are working including whether an Island-wide mandate should be reintroduced and the number of members of the States Assembly.
  • The pay of States Assembly members should be determined wholly by an independent reviewer or panel.
  • States Assembly procedures should be reformed to reduce the time taken by pointless and point-scoring debates, reviews and questions, with a focus on efficiency and effectiveness.
  • The scrutiny function should be enhanced.
  • Consultation on policy issues should be improved with better engagement with groups who will be most affected.
  • Access to major policy documents, which at present tend to be not easily accessible, must be improved.
  • A career development programme should be established to ensure that local people take a much higher proportion of senior government positions.
  • Reduced use should be made of UK consultants and more use of local expertise.
  • A new framework for all Government-owned enterprises should be established, allowing them more operational freedom within a framework set by the States Assembly.
“Consultation on policy issues should be improved with better engagement with groups who will be most affected.”

The Island-wide franchise and number of States Assembly members

The States Assembly in December 2020 voted to abolish senators and introduce the new larger constituencies. This was done with no public consultation or analysis of the consequences. One clear consequence has been the growth of party politics. The electorate no longer has the opportunity to express a preference for individual members who they consider are best placed to hold senior positions in the Council of Ministers. Party politics effectively are a partial substitute for this as voters will know that if they vote for the candidate of a party, they are supporting that party’s Leader to be the Chief Minister. It remains to be seen what the outcome of the election will be and whether in practice party politics and the absence of the Island-wide mandate are what the people of Jersey want. The Alliance considers that it would be appropriate after the first full year of the new States Assembly to review how the arrangements are working, including whether the Island-wide mandate should be restored with effect from the 2026 general election. This review would include a full public consultation.

That review will inevitably have to consider the number of members of the Assembly. By any standards Jersey has a large number of elected members.  It has been argued that this is necessary because the operation of the Assembly  means that there are many positions to fill.  The Alliance aims to streamline the operation of the Assembly and the Government. When this has been achieved, it would appropriate to review the size of the Assembly, alongside the issue of the Island-wide mandate.

Remuneration of Assembly Members

The arrangements for setting the remuneration of States Assembly members are unsatisfactory, in particular through a requirement that all members are paid equally, regardless of the responsibilities they have. Remuneration should be set by an independent reviewer or panel, with States Members having no say on the level or structure.

Conduct of States Business

The Clothier Report in 2000 on the machinery of government in Jersey included the following –

A recurring theme in the evidence presented to us was that there were many failings in the present performance of the States and especially the lack of effective use of the time available, partly as a result of:

    • A tendency for some Members to speak on almost every topic, while others seemed hardly ever to speak or put questions;
    • A tendency to enjoy debating trivial problems which should be resolved elsewhere, rather than underlying policy issues;
    • The making of long and discursive speeches, often repeating what had been said by earlier speakers;
    • An inability to adhere to recent previous decisions and an urge to debate them yet again.

 

We have attended a debate and seen some of the States’ agenda. These confirm the criticism that many a representative feels impelled to raise his or her voice on every topic even if all the words that could sensibly be said about it have already been uttered more than once. It is notoriously easier to speak about a relatively trivial and short-term problem, than to contribute a reasoned and well researched speech on some strategic policy to be pursued in the future. A repeated theme in the evidence we received was that there were far too many of the former kind of speech in the States and too few of the latter. We accept that evidence, borne out as it is by our reading and observation.

Nothing has changed; indeed the situation has deteriorated, reflected in the Assembly sitting for longer and achieving less.  In 2020 the Assembly sat for 60 days, compared with an average of 36 in the previous five years, although Covid-related matters accounted for part of the increase. The time taken by oral questions increased by 90% between 2018 and 2020 and accounted for 18% of total sitting time. The direct costs of running the Assembly (on top of the cost of the members) are £2.8 million a year. As importantly, when the States Assembly is sitting a significant number of senior officials are required to be in attendance, which is at the expense of their more important work. In order to address this, changes to the Standing Orders of the States should be made including   –

    • A reduction in the number of questions that may be asked by each member.
    • A requirement that in order for a proposition, other than those from ministers or committees, to be lodged it must have the support of 10% of the members of the Assembly, and that all propositions, and substantive amendments, should be accompanied by a financial and manpower implications statement and an analysis of the costs and benefits of the proposal.
    • A reduction in the period allocated to oral questions from 2 hours 20 minutes to 40 minutes and ending the practice of questions without notice for which 45 minutes is currently allowed.
    • A reduction in the maximum length of speeches, other than from the mover and principal responder to a motion, from 15 minutes to 5 minutes.

 

There are also two provisions in Standing Orders which inhibit good government and which need to be changed –

    • The limit of 21 on the number of members who can serve as ministers or assistant ministers.
    • The prohibition on the Chief Minister serving also as a minister or assistant minister.

 

The second requirement should be abolished and the limit on the number of ministers increased so as to allow more elected members to participate in the government of the Island.

Jersey is moving from a political system in which all members were elected as independents to a party system. This move will not be completed in a single go and it will take time to settle down. There is a parallel here with the creation of the Government of Jersey which dates back to 2005 but which still has not been fully embedded, hence confusion between the Government and the “States of Jersey”.

Checks and balances in a political system are vital. In most jurisdictions this is achieved by a mixture of an official Opposition and specialist committees responsible for overseeing particular subjects. Jersey has adopted the scrutiny committee system, which has been patchy in its performance depending heavily on the composition of the scrutiny panels. The Alliance regards the scrutiny function as critical and will wish to work with independent members and representatives of other parties to strengthen it so as to ensure that it operates effectively following the election.

Transparency and consultation on policy-making

Good quality policy-making has three key elements –

    • Evidence based
    • Transparent
    • Effective consultation.

 

In respect of evidence, on the whole Jersey does quite well in that significant policy proposals are accompanied by detailed analysis. Indeed, in many areas the problem has not been lack of evidence but rather failure to take decisions promptly notwithstanding the availability of evidence. The same is not true in the States Assembly of amendments to propositions and propositions put forward by individual members. They cannot be expected to have the same resources as the government in respect of evidence, so resources should be made available to members so that when they move an amendment or proposition, they are able to provide a meaningful analysis of the costs and benefits.

Transparency is currently a dismal failure. Those who wish to understand current policy issues struggle to find the relevant papers without being specifically pointed to them. Most key policy papers are not available or not easily accessible on the Government website but rather can be found only on the States Assembly website, and such papers begin with what the Assembly is being asked to do rather than with the policy paper itself. They are also generally referred to by numbers rather than names. What is required is that for each significant policy area, for example housing, education, population, the hospital and climate change, there should be a specific page on the Government website summarising the current position and giving links to all of the key policy documents. And major policy documents should be published in their own right as such and not simply be part of a proposition to the Assembly and each should have a meaningful summary.

Achieving all of this is a simple housekeeping matter that should require virtually no resources, but it is essential if the transparency of policy-making is to be improved.

In respect of consultation, the performance seems very mixed with some examples of good practice but equally some examples of poor practice resulting in measures being introduced where those most affected say that they were not consulted. This was the case for example with the recent increase in provision for paid maternity and paternity leave, which while being very desirable in many respects is capable of creating significant problems, for example for smallish primary schools. Effective consultation means a clear programme for each issue taking account of the nature of the issue and the people from whom a view is needed.   What is not acceptable is simply to publish a consultation document and invite responses and regard this as being satisfactory. Even worse is an online survey with no attempt in the resulting report to indicate how representative those responding were. Proper consultation at the very least requires direct engagement with those who would be most directly affected. Surveys are valuable but they should be done only with the appropriate professional advice and not simply invitations on social media to respond to an online poll. Focus groups and citizens juries are very useful on some matters but again need to be professionally run otherwise there is a danger of simply producing a wish list.

None of what is suggested in this section is difficult or costly to implement. It simply requires a firm political decision that it will be done and the appropriate training of staff so they know how to conduct an effective consultation exercise.

Local people in senior Government positions

It is wholly unacceptable that almost all senior positions in the Civil Service in recent years have been taken by people from outside the Island. This reflects serious deficiencies in career and succession planning, which will take some time to fix. A leadership programme should be introduced to identify potential senior officials and ensure that they have the necessary career development programme to enable them to take on top positions.

Use of UK consultants

The use of external consultants is standard practice in governments and businesses throughout the world. Effective use of consultants enables expertise to be tapped at a lower cost that would be the case by doing everything in-house. However, far too much reliance can be placed on consultants, sometimes as a means of protecting backs, providing reassurance or even making life easier for civil servants. There is no doubt that Jersey has made excessive use of consultants over the last few years with endless reports being produced, many of little real value. Most of these consultants have been from the UK and some have attempted simply to apply their experience of the UK to the very different environment of Jersey. An Alliance Government will continue to use external consultants but on a significantly reduced scale compared with what has happened over the last few years. Rather, local expertise, from businesses, charities and individuals, will be sought.

It is appropriate that a proper procurement process is used in the appointment of consultants. However, one size does not fit all.  What is appropriate for a major IT consultancy project is excessive for a small project done by an individual consultant. A streamlined procurement process should be introduced for projects under a certain size.

Government owned businesses

The various Government-owned or controlled bodies are all working well notwithstanding excessive interference in day-to-day business by the States Assembly and unnecessarily rigid requirements in respect of Board appointments. There are six issues with the governance of Government-owned bodies that need to be addressed –

    • Failure to achieve a regular turnover and refreshing of board members and long delays in appointing permanent chairs.
    • Failure to recognise the importance of, and to make provision for, succession planning.
    • Excessively detailed oversight of business-as-usual decisions.
    • Inadequate arrangements in respect of executive remuneration.
    • Failure to review and bring up to date legislation and memoranda of understanding.
    • Slow decision taking and inadequate resourcing in Government.

 

More satisfactory arrangements should be introduced –

  • The States Assembly to be responsible for legislation establishing, selling or closing down Government-owned businesses, including defining their scope and governance arrangements.
  • The States Assembly to settle a range of fees payable to non-executive directors applicable to all the businesses.
  • All relevant appointments to be made in accordance with the requirements of the Jersey Appointments Commission, formal approval resting with the relevant minister.
  • Fees payable to Board members, within the Assembly approved range, to be approved by the relevant minister.
  • Annual business plans and budgets and a defined list of major decisions to be approved by the relevant minister.
  • Otherwise, all operational matters to be the responsibility of relevant boards.
  • The appointment of a senior experienced business person to oversee the governance arrangements of all the bodies, reporting annually to the States Assembly.

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