Guernsey Press

OPINION: Any other business

Deputy Gavin St Pier looks at what’s up for debate at this week’s States meeting


THIS is the States meeting that wasn’t supposed to happen. Back in the day, a four day-meeting had been inked in to consider the 2022 accounts and the Government Work Plan (previously, the Policy & Resource Plan, but renamed at the beginning of this term for no particularly good reason, other than perhaps to mark a change from everything that had gone before).

In previous States, missed deadlines for key debates would have seen the responsible committees flayed by their colleagues. In this States, deadlines have no particular worth, so when Policy & Resources announced they couldn’t deliver on time, the meeting was simply cancelled with a collective shrug. But then a few weeks later, the meeting was reinstated for any ‘other business’, probably because someone realised it wasn’t a good look for deputies to have six weeks without meeting just before they had six weeks without meeting over the summer.

The net result of all this to-ing and fro-ing is there are no routine committee statements to be heard. And, as it turns out, there is very little ‘other business’, aside from a few technical pieces of legislation which will get nodded through. This will include the transfer of fee-making powers from Policy & Resources to the Guernsey Financial Services Commission, reversing a previous evidenced policy decision which has been justified by the threat that is embodied in next year’s Moneyval inspection, the mere mention of which is enough to strike enough fear to mesmerise States members to do whatever they are told is needed to make the bogeyman happy.

The Committee for Employment & Social Security is bringing back revised proposals for an interim increase in Income Support, given this year’s raging rates of inflation. ESS identified from April’s debate, when they failed to persuade an evenly divided States to increase all benefit rates, that there might have been appetite to approve proposals targeted at Income Support alone. If it is correct that three members of P&R now support these revised proposals, then it seems the voting numbers will tip in ESS’s favour.

There is only one other substantive item. A lengthy policy letter from the Committee for Education, Sport & Culture to reform the very outdated 1970 Education Law. It’s not an easy 117-page read. Any States watcher will remind you, it’s the propositions that are the only things that really matter, as it’s those that get voted on, not the even-wordier bits that follow in the policy letter. There are 44 propositions over seven pages. One challenge is the propositions don’t readily follow the structure of the policy letter. Although the policy letter has a helpful summary introducing each section, some but not all matters summarised find their way into the propositions.

A good chunk of the policy letter deals with governance, replacing existing school committees with a network of governance boards and a council of chairpersons to bring them all together. Oddly, the chair of each board will be paid, but not the other members. More accurately, they ‘will be entitled to claim a retainer’, which makes it sound better than being paid. These are not posts that normally require payment in most comparable settings and these boards will carry rather less responsibility than most similar governance structures.

These proposals do not unlock local school management in quite the way Denis Mulkerrin envisaged in his reports all those years ago. Centralised control from Education Services remains a key theme through the policy letter. Enough certainly to have put a smile on the faces of the Soviet Union’s central planners in the 1960s – ironic perhaps, given the objective is to update a 1970 law. The governance boards won’t be controlling budgets, setting the curriculum or hiring and firing staff. They will, though, ‘be strategic in nature focusing on high-level oversight’. Apparently, this will include a duty to ‘be accountable to, and report to, the Committee (including officers acting on its behalf) as required to facilitate and further positive development of the setting’. So we know who’s going to call the shots then. Still, they can busy themselves focusing on their other duties which include to ‘promote high levels of learner attendance’ and to ‘contribute to and drive the strategic direction of a setting at an appropriate pace’.

There are a number of amendments lodged which seek to stem the centralising tide to the extent it touches those parts of the education system currently outside the States’ orbit of control, namely the independent colleges and those who are home-educating their children. This is likely to cause internal tension for those members with a self-professed de-regulating, laissez-faire approach to the role of government. If they support any such amendments, they risk irritating their political bedfellows and allies on ESC. It’s difficult to know what the final outcome will be but at least debate will not be constrained by the pressure of other items on the agenda.