So, what did the last States ever do for us?

KEEPING track of whether policies are performing is a vital element of good government.

KEEPING track of whether policies are performing is a vital element of good government.

In the past, the States was rightly criticised for its lack of evidence-based decision making, stuck in the philosophy of ‘it just feels right’.

The absence of good data also left a vacuum for those tasked with holding the States to account as there was no way of judging swiftly and properly if policies were working.

Things have taken some strides forward and the publication of the annual States Strategic Monitoring Report should act as the basis for several lines of enquiry.

It is also final judgement on the record of the previous Assembly – to some extent answering the question, ‘what did they ever do for us?’

The report outlines performance in three different areas – economic, social and environmental.

At a glance we can see that in 2011, the States’ total expenditure and revenue expenditure were on target; but the overall deficit, investment in infrastructure and economic growth were not.

The report states that ‘the overall economic performance of Guernsey is robust’, which in times of global financial turmoil is welcome news.

But there are worrying trends – employment rates are continuing to fall, for example.

Median earnings – one for deputies who are arguing their pay deal based on these could mean a cut – are continuing to trend upwards.

At two per cent of GDP, investment in public infrastructure is again below the three per cent target – remember the past arguments about failures of previous States to invest properly in buildings, roads, schools and the like, which has left a legacy for their successors to deal with?

Public infrastructure projects are also seen  in some quarters as a key way of boosting the local economy, potentially providing a welcome lift in employment in the construction sector.

The social policy indicators are arguably a poor legacy for the last States.

Performance has slipped compared with 2010.

The number of residential units being built was 70 off target.

Social rental housing waiting lists are higher than they were five years ago, no doubt the current building projects have a big part to play here, but lower than in 2010.

Housing is becoming increasingly unaffordable – house price and private rental price to earnings ratios are off target.

Health indicators are positive, but the report acknowledges there is ‘insufficient data to gauge performance regarding overall state of health’.

Performance in education is shown as declining at GCSEs including English and maths, but the number of people remaining in some form of education post-16 is increasing.

Environmentally, the States failed to deliver on one of its keynote targets, the 50% recycling rate, but it is getting closer.

While greenhouse gas emissions are on target for the reduction set by Kyoto, the figures are going to be hit severely by the recent problems with the cable link when this is next reported on.

The amount of undeveloped land that could be used for food production is a measure of self sufficiency and this is above the target minimum.

Trend in bus passenger numbers was upwards – but again remember the continued decline now reported – and motor fuel consumption, used to show vehicle use and fuel efficient, was down.

But the area of open natural habitat, key for biodiversity, is below the target minimum – and the aim of having protection strategies in place for all this land has not been achieved.

This is not an area where there has been much debate at all.

Air pollution indicators are on target and surface water quality is improving.

That is what the last States left in the in-tray of this new Assembly – some positives, but plenty of areas for improvement against the targets that it set itself.

When this States comes to debate its priorities in March 2013 it will also consider any changes that might be needed to the monitoring process.

It may get lost in the larger policy debate – but if the right objectives and targets are not being set, then it can undermine not only the effectiveness of government but also public confidence in it.

There is little point shouting from the rooftops about achieving targets if they were set too low to start with – and people can see right through that.

March will be a major milestone for the Assembly of change and this monitoring report shines the spotlight on where improvement and focus is needed.

The latest data has come too late for the last Assembly to answer, but it will provide a basis for holding this one to account over the next term.