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‘Quite extraordinary’: Scrutiny chief shocked to be critiqued

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IT WAS ‘quite extraordinary’ that the Scrutiny Management Committee was neither told nor consulted in advance about comments made in the governance review of the Policy & Resources Committee, said SMC’s president Chris Green.

Deputy Chris Green, president of the Scrutiny Committee. (Picture by Peter Frankland, 26608215)

Although looking chiefly at P&R, the report’s author, Professor Catherine Staite, noted that the nature of that committee meant that it could not be considered in isolation, and she went on to comment about the issue of governance of the States as a whole.

Prof. Staite also referred to the States’ inability to hold itself to account for its own actions, despite the presence of the Scrutiny Management Committee.

She said that some of those she interviewed said that the SMC ‘lacked teeth’ and cited the example of how it did not challenge effectively the behaviour of Home Affairs when it held a scrutiny hearing to consider the findings of the report on Bailiwick Law Enforcement by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary.

‘This effectively gave [Home Affairs] permission to continue to attempt to interfere in operational matters and to avoid developing a strategy,’ said Prof. Staite.

There was also criticism by interviewees of SMC’s processes being too slow and cumbersome, leading to a backlog of issues requiring its attention ‘and preventing it from examining problems arising within committees quickly enough to prevent those problems escalating to the point where they become irremediable, with the consequent damage to the reputation of the States of Guernsey’.

‘I was somewhat surprised by the critical comments made in the P&R review about the scrutiny function, to be honest,’ said Deputy Green.

‘I thought the review was about governance at P&R, not other committees.’

He said SMC was not given any chance to comment before the report was published: ‘Neither were we given early sight of the document.

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‘Quite extraordinary.

‘Nonetheless, I think it is fair to say that my committee has been trying to fulfil its mandate since 2016 in the most trying of circumstances.

‘Yes, timely and effective scrutiny is part of the governance nirvana, but the reality is that rather too many politicians don’t want such scrutiny, or rather they only want it if it applies to other committees and not their own.’

With regard to the Scrutiny review of Home, he said SMC’s work was limited by it being unable to get all the information it requested.

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There remain limits on Scrutiny’s power to compel the production of relevant documentation.

‘However, we do hope to have new powers to get hold of relevant documentation – which are, by the way, entirely standard in other jurisdictions – in the new year, possibly by April or so,’ said Deputy Green.

Looking at the review of P&R and governance overall, he said it was probably wise that it stopped short of recommending ministerial government – although Prof. Staite did suggest that the States needed to look in depth at its governance structures.

‘But it isn’t that clear in terms of how the system could be enhanced within the committee system,’ said Deputy Green.

He said States committees generally needed to do a lot more to ensure that high standards of good governance were consistently applied and that ongoing professional training in this regard was ‘absolutely vital’ and should be part of the next States.

n A follow-up Scrutiny hearing involving Home Affairs will take place in the new year to look at the progress it has made in responding to the recommendations made by HMIC and Prof. Staite.

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