OPINION: Savings alone are not the solution
First the States asks you for help to make savings, then it reveals that they are unlikely to be as successful as was hoped... Deputy Dave Mahoney from the Policy & Resources Committee gives the definitive update on where the States is on savings and cost reductions
LET me start with a thank you to everyone who took the time to engage with Policy & Resources by completing the online survey. We were instructed by the Assembly to look to save £10-£16m. per year within the next four years and since the strength of feeling over the funding challenges Guernsey faces is understandably high, we felt the public would like to be heard.
In some quarters this was received well and in others, not so much. Public emails to me included ‘How dare you ask me, that’s your job?’
Of course if we hadn’t asked for input, others would have pointed fingers that no one listens to them. Damned if you do, and damned if you don’t – but that’s politics.
For completeness I should point out I did receive emails saying: ‘I really appreciate my thoughts being heard.’
However, before I get to the update, let’s confront something which regularly gets plenty of air time, both online and in print, especially over the past couple of weeks.
We have seen numerous comments on various social media platforms that ‘all we have to do is sort out the bloated civil service’, along with ‘sack some people’, and assorted other throwaway comments which all lead to the same conclusion of ‘that’ll solve all of the money issues’.
So let’s put to bed this common and inaccurate meme.
The States of Guernsey spends £12,200 per head of population to run the island. For that we get an incredible health system that is the envy of far bigger populations, we educate our children (and adults), we police the streets, we run an airport and the harbours, the borders are secure, a fire service, our waste is cleared, and we provide amazing sporting and social facilities. There is of course much more but this article is short.
In providing all of these, we spend less per head than Jersey, the Isle of Man, and the UK. If Jersey spent the same per head that we spend, they would save themselves £82m. per year. Conversely, if we spent the same equivalent as Jersey, it would cost us an extra £50m. per year.
These numbers won’t stop the constant chatter from some quarters that it is the answer because the truth is sometimes a bitter pill that’s hard to swallow, so they won’t.
To be clear – P&R is not saying there are no savings to be made. There are, and we are dealing with that, but they simply will not touch the sides of the issues we face. The shortfall is significant and must be dealt with properly. Putting a sticking plaster on a broken arm achieves nothing.
So, back to the survey and let’s fill in a few blanks that people have been asking about. We had 834 replies with 2,203 suggestions. Naturally many suggestions overlapped but that in itself is useful as it gives us an idea of the strength of feeling for those matters.
Roughly a quarter of the suggestions related to tax increases across a number of areas and those were all passed across to the tax sub-committee chaired by Deputy Helyar. The remainder of the suggestions are being collated and scored in a matrix across six metrics.
Every single reply is being scored in each of the following categories – financial benefit, implementation cost, economic benefit, feasibility, social impact and finally, financial risk. This will allow us to focus initially on those suggestions that will have the biggest impact. Understandably this is a large task and officers have been working on this since the survey closed. By the way, if you have any other suggestions it isn’t too late – email them to my States email address and I’ll get them added to the list.
The survey has returned much of what was already being looked at but there have been some useful points that were not on our radar, and officers will be reporting the analysis back to the Reducing the Cost of Public Services sub-committee and we will pass on our recommendations to P&R.
Let me add that the significant feedback from the public sector workers added some interesting insight. Available space doesn’t permit me to go into much detail but some of the common themes were the scale of benefits paid out, public sector terms and conditions, outsourcing, the shape of government, restructuring of departments, the island health model, and subsidies and grants. Of course, there were many, many more.
The sub-committee has met with every committee and looked into a large number of items that fall into the above themes, and those committees are now looking deeper into the savings and consequences thereon.
The savings we are chasing are significant and are built into each of the three options put forward in the policy letter for debate in October, but they will not solve the issues before us. We absolutely must still implement some savings but it has to be on top of a package that deals with the mountain we face.
So, where are we? Well, P&R will look to bring a policy letter to the States at the end of this year, a full year earlier than instructed. This will incorporate the themes and suggestions I have noted above. And then what? Well after that it’s up to the Assembly to decide which savings it wishes to make, or whether deputies were only paying lip service to dealing with the £10-£16m. of savings they voted to achieve.
Everyone knows savings are needed but it won’t be popular. As the Bard once wrote, ‘Ay, there’s the rub’. So let’s see.
As I said at the outset – damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. That’s politics.