Why politics is a rough old trade

IN THE lead letter on this page correspondent Michael Henderson makes a valid point about the flak that politicians expose themselves to in seeking public office and, in particular, getting involved in running departments.

IN THE lead letter on this page correspondent Michael Henderson makes a valid point about the flak that politicians expose themselves to in seeking public office and, in particular, getting involved in running departments.

As he says, most do their best to make a difference and rely on their civil servants to get the number-crunching right.

This, however, is exactly the point made by this newspaper and the remuneration committee reviewing States members’ pay and which has yet to be addressed.

If the real work is done by the officials, what is the role of deputies and ministers?

While it is to formulate policy and oversee its implementation, it must also be to scrutinise the performance of the relevant department and be accountable to islanders for the prudent expenditure of their money.

And it is here that the greatest difficulty arises. To act in effect as executive chairman of a £108m. organisation employing nearly 2,000 people and specialising in health and welfare and being responsible for managing multi-million pound external contracts requires – in the outside world at least – particular skills and experience.

In the States of Guernsey it does not, other than getting elected. A good heart and the right motivation is not what’s required when an operation of the size and complexity of, say, HSSD starts to go wrong.

It possibly was in the old (pre credit crunch) days when money could simply be hosed at whatever problem emerged. Today, however, when blips arise the focus is squarely on the department’s management team and their politicians.

In turn, that puts individuals on the spot and they either rise to the challenge or they do not.

Education has made progress since its enforced regime change triggered by the exam results scandal and the previous cover-up but it is not out of the woods yet.

Health has had a change of board, a new chief officer (acting) and two UK hospital troubleshooters parachuted in yet it still struggles to account properly for bowel cancer screening money or remain within budget.

If the minister and his political board members are not accountable for that, who is?