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'Horror show' report pillories Home president

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HOME AFFAIRS president Mary Lowe has been singled out for scathing criticism in an independent governance review of the working of her committee, described by Policy & Resources vice-president Lyndon Trott as a a ‘horror show’ report.

Home Affairs president Deputy Mary Lowe. (Picture by Adrian Miller, 25028968)

It has revealed that senior staff in the police, prison, probation, and fire services think the politicians in charge are dysfunctional and ineffective.

The highly negative review also reveals that senior staff believe the committee provides no strategic direction, constantly meddle in operational issues, ignores evidence, lacks transparency, wastes time, undermines trust, creates a hostile atmosphere, and sometimes lacks integrity.

Deputy Trott called it ‘embarrassing’ and ‘disappointing,’ but he felt it was in the public interest to publish the review in order to demonstrate openness.

Deputy Lowe comes in for stinging criticism from the report’s author, governance expert Professor Catherine Staite.

‘It is never appropriate to harass or bully staff, to issue threats about the security of their employment or denigrate them to third parties, but a number of staff interviewees offered examples of being on the receiving end of, or observing, this type of behaviour from the president,’ the report says.

The behaviour of the committee towards staff was highlighted as the most significant source of concern for them, and examples are given of committee members speaking ‘discourteously’ to heads of service.

‘One example was given of two heads of service being interrupted by the president during a presentation of evidence and told that what they were saying was “rubbish’’.’

The document states that the committee’s behaviour frequently falls short of acceptable standards.

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Home Affairs will respond in detail to the report today, the vice-president, Deputy Rob Prow, and member Deputy Richard Graham have already resigned.

Deputies Lowe and Victoria Oliver have said they will stay on, and Deputy Marc Leadbeater is undecided.

In a statement issued on Friday the committee questioned the credibility of the report.

‘There remain serious concerns over the way the report has been produced and the way conclusions have been reached based on subjective comments from individuals which are not backed up by tangible evidence.’

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The report was drawn up through document review, workshops, and individual questions to staff and committee members.

When asked whether they thought the committee acts with integrity, the staff responded negatively.

‘Reasons given by staff for negative responses included the perceived focus on raising individuals’ political profiles, rather than acting in the best interests of service users and residents.’

Committee members all felt that they do have integrity and do want to ‘do our best’.

In another question, staff were asked which achievements of the Home Affairs committee they were most proud of.

‘None of the staff interviewees were able to identify any significant strategic achievements on the part of the committee over the past three years.’

The committee members highlighted the work they had done in preparation for Brexit in response to this question.

The main criticism in the report is the ‘strategic leadership vacuum’ and an example of this is given when the report’s author observed the January 2019 committee meeting which was discussing another highly critical report from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate and Fire & Rescue Services.

‘During the meeting the committee spent longer discussing the 22 operational “areas for improvement”, of relatively minor significance, which are, in any event, the responsibility of the head of legal enforcement, than it did discussing the key strategic recommendations of the report, which should have been the main focus of the committee’s attention.’

It is suggested that the committee should stop interfering with everyday matters, and instead focus on wider issues such as Guernsey having the second highest number of prisoners per 100,000 of population in Europe, with a cost to the local taxpayer of £50,000 per prisoner per year.

Another major problem highlighted by staff was the committee not paying attention to evidence before making decisions.

‘One example was the commissioning of the PwC in 2016, at a cost of over £100,000, to explore opportunities to save money.

‘The report highlighted the potential savings of £600,000 per annum that could be made by bringing together the Fire & Rescue Service with the Ambulance Service.’

‘However, staff interviewees reported that this recommendation was not followed.’

On a positive note, during the final workshop both staff and committee members expressed a wish to improve the current situation.

New ways of working were discussed that would allow more informal discussions of key strategic issues.

The idea was put forward that individual committee members might take a special interest in each service, to help build stronger relationships, but no specific plans for improvement of governance were agreed.

Full coverage of the report in today's Guernsey Press

Helen Bowditch

By Helen Bowditch
News reporter

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