Guernsey Press

P&R set to lose power to approve major projects

The Policy & Resources Committee looks set to be stripped of powers to approve spending on large capital projects after deputies backed an amendment in the Tax Review debate.

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Deputy Yvonne Burford, left, heading to the States with Deputy Sasha Kazantseva-Miller. (Picture by Luke Le Prevost, 31812706)

If it passes through a final vote, budgets for one-off projects above £5m. would need to be approved by the full Assembly.

Deputies voted 22-16 to revoke P&R’s delegated authority – which it was handed in 2021 – to set budgets on a lengthy list of capital projects as long as their total cost remained within £568m.

‘We are the States of Deliberation. We are here to debate in an open forum so the community can see and observe what is going on and give us their opinion,’ said Yvonne Burford, who proposed the move to take away P&R’s powers.

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‘If everything is being decided behind the closed doors of P&R on major capital projects, that wider scrutiny from the people who elected us and put us here just doesn’t take place.

‘P&R argued that having the authority to spend over half a billion pounds on any or all of a long list of projects without recourse to this elected Assembly would yield benefits that outweighed the lack of scrutiny and accountability which came with that move.

‘P&R claimed delegated authority would speed up the pace of capital projects, saying it would deliver better public value and momentum in delivery. Eighteen months on, I’m not sure where the evidence for that is.’

Deputy Burford said P&R had pledged – but failed – to develop an adequate way of reporting to the States on its oversight of capital projects.

She also said P&R had claimed that its delegated authority to spend up to £568m. was limited to the current States term, but that this had since been refuted in advice from His Majesty’s Procureur and the States Treasurer.

Deputy Burford’s amendment was seconded by Lyndon Trott.

‘Some delegation makes absolute sense. It’s essential for the smooth running of a business or government. Delegation of £5m. is entirely appropriate,’ said Deputy Trott.

‘My view has always been the same and I protested against further delegated powers to P&R when I was a member because it’s fundamentally wrong in our system of government. I think we’ve created a model which looks bizarre and perverse. This is really quite an important matter. Unusually, I implore members to vote in favour of this amendment.’

Treasury lead Mark Helyar urged the States not to revoke P&R’s delegated authority. He claimed the move was motivated by some deputies wanting to stop certain capital projects.

‘These returns of big capital projects are used invariably as an opportunity to reopen arguments about policy,’ said Deputy Helyar.

‘Very often they get overthrown because of spurious reasons about cost. But it’s not being done for the purposes of cost – it’s being done to stop a policy happening that the individual didn’t like in the first place. There are myriad examples of this in the past in the States.

‘If members were inclined to approve this amendment, that would be to P&R’s benefit because we don’t have to take any responsibility for making the decisions any longer. It’s your problem. Which means you’re all going to have to read all the stuff we have to read, and time is money. It’s going to cost more.’

P&R president Peter Ferbrache, also speaking against the amendment, argued the debate was about trust.

‘Why the public often don’t trust us is because we’re not seen to trust each other in relation to making decisions,’ said Deputy Ferbrache.

‘We want to chew over every single decision that’s made by every single person at every single instance. You can’t run life like that. You can’t run a 21st century government like that.

‘You have got to give people trust and judgement and let them exercise that judgement. It’s a matter of trust and allowing us to be fleet of foot.’

In the previous States term, P&R’s delegated authority on capital projects was £2m. The current States raised it to £5m. initially before raising it to £568m.

How they voted ...

... on Deputy Yvonne Burford’s amendment to strip P&R of its power to approve spending on large capital projects

For: Deputies Burford, Bury, Cameron, De Lisle, de Sausmarez, Fairclough, Falla, Gabriel, Gollop, Inder, Kazantseva-Miller, Le Tissier, Le Tocq, Leadbeater, Matthews, McKenna, Queripel, Roffey, Soulsby, St Pier, Taylor and Trott. Total: 22

Against: Deputies Aldwell, Blin, Brouard, Dudley-Owen, Dyke, Ferbrache, Haskins, Helyar, Mahoney, Meerveld, Moakes, Oliver, Prow and Vermeulen, and Alderney representatives Roberts and Snowdon. Total: 16

Abstained: Deputy Murray.

Absent: Deputy Parkinson.