OPINION: Questions to answer

Deputy Gavin St Pier looks at what’s on the agenda for this week’s States meeting.

Education, Sport & Culture president Andrea Dudley-Owen with her committee's proposed model of secondary education, which is up for debate in the States this week. (Picture by Sophie Rabey, 29961870)
Education, Sport & Culture president Andrea Dudley-Owen with her committee's proposed model of secondary education, which is up for debate in the States this week. (Picture by Sophie Rabey, 29961870)

THIS week, the States of Deliberation is faced with a mountainous agenda, including three items deferred from July’s meeting – secondary education, electricity tariff regulation and a review of the 2020 general election.

Added to that are yet more Brexit-related policy letters: one from Home Affairs dealing with the seizure and disposal of perishable goods, and one from Policy & Resources which, in essence, delegates from the Assembly to the committee all decisions relating to the Bailiwick’s participation in any future Free Trade Agreements negotiated by the UK.

It is a pragmatic proposal but is, nonetheless, a further transfer of decision making to the States’ senior committee.

Given the volume of other business, it is unlikely to receive the scrutiny it deserves or might otherwise receive.

The future of the island’s aggregate supply and a decision whether to dig out Chouet headland is also scheduled for debate. That decision is not uncontroversial, especially for those living close by, and understanding the commercial and environmental consequences of accepting or rejecting the recommendation to proceed is critical.

As ever, before any of that begins, inches of financial services legislation will go through on the nod.

We will need to get through two routine statements – it’s Policy & Resources’ and Economic Development’s turn again – and all the questions which follow.

This will provide an opportunity to scrutinise where we are with various bits of work on which it has all gone a bit quiet.

We also have oral question time. I’ve submitted a couple to Economic Development on the state of the Public Trustee’s accounts and what taxpayers can expect to get back from the £2.3m. provided to the Public Trustee to do its work.

I have also submitted one to the chairman of the CCA to explain how the authority continues to satisfy itself that an ‘emergency’ exists within the meaning of the CCA law given, we are told, that Covid is going to be with us for some time. If that is indeed the case and we have to learn to live with it ‘responsibly’ then we must surely learn to do so without a permanent state of emergency?

Separately, I have lodged six questions to the chairman of the CCA in relation to Farmhousegate. While the chairman had indicated he didn’t intend to respond to them, fortunately and rightly, it is not a matter for him to decide.

Under the States’ rules, that decision rests with the presiding officer – the Bailiff. Rule 15 provides that the presiding officer may ‘on the ground of public interest, decline to allow a question to be put’.

I can’t recall during my time in the States this rule previously being invoked, but given the expanding nature of the issue, I think it highly likely that the presiding officer now will not allow the questions to be asked in light of the ongoing criminal investigation. If so, while understandable, I think it is regrettable.

It is also worth remembering that political scrutiny and accountability is somewhat different from the legal standard of proof beyond reasonable doubt. Political questions will not go away and will be re-posed and answered at some point – and from the public’s perspective, they will want those answers sooner rather than later.

The big debate this week is yet another round of the ongoing secondary education debate which started two decades ago in 2001. Is this the climax? Is this the denouement? I’m afraid I’ve no idea.

Given this long, tortuous history, the public can be forgiven its weary resignation when hearing of yet another education debate. In many cases, children have been born, educated and left school in the time it’s taken to get to this point. In those cases, the focus is now on what the education system might be for their as yet-to-be-born grandchildren.

With another six amendments to be debated, the community’s capacity to keep track of the detail is, in many cases, frankly but understandably shot. But we mustn’t forget that their confidence in whatever decisions are taken in relation to education (or any other matter) this week or in the future rests as much on their confidence in the quality of their government and its decision makers.

Top Stories

More From The Guernsey Press

UK & International News