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How much is a deputy worth?

Politics | Published:

FEW things see the States squirm quite as much as the issue of their own pay.

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But last week’s effort to decide what they are worth was quite something in a long list of shambolic decision-making.

It’s not clear if members realise quite how embarrassing their thought processes are sometimes, so removed from everyday life have they become.

Perfect timing, too, given the protests for a fair pay deal from the nurses out on the steps of the Royal Court.

At the last States meeting, members squashed a robust investigation into the Education appointments scandal because they decided that they needed to look after the public’s money – who would want to spend £200,000 on ensuring the public sector could employ people free of political patronage and in a fair and transparent way, after all? Especially if it uncovered anything slightly embarrassing for those politicians involved.

But this sudden miserly approach to spending did not last long as they rejected the independent pay panel’s recommendations for a restructure of the pay brackets and then a pay freeze to cover next term.

That would have saved more than an estimated £200,000.

It was muddled and wrong-headed thinking that did for the proposal.

Members firstly rejected an amendment which would have linked annual pay awards to median earnings, then rejected the whole report, so that pay remains linked to median earnings under the current structure anyway. Go figure.

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It also guarantees that, should that figure fall, States members are protected.

You need to take a deep breath.

Some in the chamber did not like the idea of a pay freeze, not because they wouldn’t get paid as much, but because of the fear of the public reaction next time around should there be a large pay rise.

This not only prejudges what the next independent panel would recommend, but it also sees the public as fools, unable to follow a decision-making process.

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Some abstained because they do not think they should be voting on their own pay, or at least they should not amend what the independent panel they appointed recommends.

Some did not like who was on the panel that made the recommendations.

Some will vote against anything Policy & Resources brings to the States.

Some think they should be paid more.

Some think it should be more egalitarian, with all members paid the same.

Some, somewhere I’m sure, still do not think they should be paid at all.

All this said, every deputy has already had their say when the independent panel went out to consultation.

They even got to have workshops on the issue – although only 15 members bothered to turn up.

The public and business community also had a chance to voice their opinions.

Surprise surprise, there are a lot of mixed views out there on what a politician is worth.

This would be helped immensely if the public had more faith in the work that our deputies do.

But they are all too acutely aware that for every one that has the skills and aptitude to commit to the role as a more than full-time job, there are a few that would not have got through the door if it had been an interview for the private sector.

We have little idea come election time of how skilled an incoming deputy will be, or how they will approach the role – but this term has done plenty to erode public confidence, particularly with some of the behaviour on display.

It is right that States members are paid, that needs to happen to ensure it is not just the preserve of wealthy retirees who are not representative of the community.

There are immensely important strategic decisions that should be being made, sometimes life and death judgements, sometimes signing off on millions of pounds’ worth of expenditure.

It can be absolutely thankless as decisions are lauded and lampooned in equal measure by different sections of the community.

The independent panel had recommended a rebalancing of some of the pay bands that appeared eminently sensible given the level of responsibility.

Past debates on pay and this one have proven that it now needs to be de-politicised.

Members had their voice twice through the consultation and then the debate and managed to come up with nothing.

They won’t like the idea of losing control, but successive Assemblies have shown that they cannot cope with the insidious position having the debate puts them in.

In the UK, responsibility for setting MPs’ pay and expenses was taken out of their hands after the 2009 expenses scandal.

Since then the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority has done the job.

MPs’ pay is linked to average earnings in the public sector, which has a certain appeal to it.

This will now be a debate passed on to the next Assembly, the first elected on an island-wide basis.

They would do well to dispense with the issue early in their reign.

That at least will allow them to concentrate on addressing the strategic issues they should be

involved in.

Nick Mann

By Nick Mann
News editor

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