What began as a discussion about the future development of Guernsey’s harbours quickly descended into acrimonious accusations of power-grabbing and arrogance on one side, and abdication of responsibility on the other.
Before the week began, it was anticipated that States members would be choosing one of seven options for developing the east coast ports, ranging in price from a ‘do minimum repair work’ plan costing £37m. to an ‘extend eastwards and build a new northern port’ plan, which would come in at £706m.
However, this was turned on its head just the day before the debate – with the States meeting already under way – when two senior members of the Policy & Resources Committee moved to wipe out all seven options and get States approval to set up a new board to re-examine the whole issue from scratch.
This left Deputy Peter Roffey, president of the States’ Trading and Supervisory Board, which had done all the work to define the options, as he put it ‘a bit vexed’.
He began by pointing out that the sudden proposal – laid by deputies Mark Helyar and Peter Ferbrache – had come out of the blue, on the very same day that members had been reminded about the importance of all propositions being subject to consultation with stakeholders.
‘What double standards,’ he said, describing the late intervention as ‘an Exocet of a wrecking amendment’.
Deputy Roffey also drew attention to the apparent disparity between the promises made by Deputy Ferbrache when pitching for the job of Chief Minister and this move, which sought to replace a decision on a plan with a decision to form a body to look at devising new plans.
‘So much for “action this day’’,’ Deputy Roffey said.
‘Eight months into a new political term and the first big decision this assembly’s been asked to make and P&R effectively want to sursis it. Seemingly, “inaction this day” is to be our new watchword. It’s utterly feeble.’
He accused Policy & Resources, as senior government committee, of showing a lack of confidence in committee government and in the work of STSB, which worked up the plans according to directives given by the States Assembly. He drew attention to the ‘overwhelming’ public support the plans had attracted and the approval of the douzaines.
‘It’s a vote of no confidence in cracking on with economic recovery with self-assurance,’ he said.
‘It’s a vote in favour of centralisation and control freakery.’
Economic Development president Neil Inder interjected, accusing Deputy Roffey of personality politics, then added: ‘I lack some confidence in whether Deputy Roffey really is taking this seriously as a job.’
Deputy Ferbrache referred to Deputy Roffey’s speech as nonsense, ‘full of righteousness and indignation’, and implying he was ‘filled with bile’: ‘I’ve heard enough now from Deputy Roffey, with his self-imposed ideological viewpoints on things, whereby if you disagree with him, he doesn’t like you, and you’re a devil incarnate.’
He also attacked the STSB president for using a Guernsey Press column to propound his views in the manner of a communist propagandist – an ‘opportunity’ he claimed was only open to deputies Roffey and Gavin St Pier.
The exchange between the political old-stagers left newcomer Deputy Steve Falla feeling more than a little awkward.
‘I really like healthy debate,’ he said.
‘But I’ve kind of come to the conclusion that the honeymoon might be over on this new assembly and I’ve felt a little bit like a child listening to my parents arguing in the room next door.’