Guernsey Press

Gavin St Pier: This week at the States

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

Deputy Trott will give his first update statement as P&R president at this week’s meeting. (Picture by Sophie Rabey, 33069420)

Doesn’t time fly? The States’ meeting tomorrow will mark 97 days of the Trott Premiership v2.0 and serves as an important occasion right before the conventional 100 days has passed.

Deputy Trott will deliver his first State of the States Address in the form of one of the Policy & Resources Committee’s biannual statements. We should expect to receive an indication of the financial out-turn for 2023. In all likelihood the actual results will be better than the last forecasts delivered by the previous committee. This is not only because Deputy Trott is more prone to boosterism than his predecessor, but also because the States has a fine tradition of outperforming its own financial forecasts. All the more so in 2023, given every indication that the economy was motoring, generating more tax revenues than originally budgeted.

Most committees will, probably, have delivered within their budget allocations. If any haven’t, the largest spender, Health & Social Care, is the one most likely candidate to have overspent. Economic Development also have a regular statement to update the States on the progress in delivering their mandate.

The investment performance of the States’ reserves is another number to watch out for. The investment strategy and asset allocation has been significantly altered since the creation of the States’ Investment Board in 2021/22 and this will be the first time we can see whether it has paid off in investment performance terms.

Then it’s question time. Health & Social Care is facing a raft of questions from me (and, no doubt, supplementaries from others) on the projected £30m. increase in costs for Phase 2 of the Our Hospital Modernisation project. In essence, who knew what and when about the significant shift in costs? HSC might try and head this off by delivering their own statement.

There is very little substantive committee business aside, once again, from Home Affairs. This month, they have some tweaks to terrorism legislation and a policy letter to produce a new electoral roll ahead of the June 2025 general election. It is noticeable that Home have been prolific in policy development this term, but this says more of the lack of substantial policy development elsewhere in the States.

The requetes are starting to pile in, as members realise that this parliamentary tool is one of the very few that individual deputies can deploy to actually get something done before their term ends, given the paralysis in the rest of government. The first on waste disposal, led by Deputy John Dyke, is inelegantly drafted. It professes to open up the waste market to competition, but the responsible committees have been both harsh and surgical in their criticism, concluding it won’t do what the requerants want anyway. The whole topic has become dominated by a discussion of the tender process for food waste. It seems unlikely the propositions will garner much support without significant amendment and the smart move might be to withdraw the requete, lick wounds and start again.

The second requete is a straight re-run of a December debate seeking to limit the increase in mooring charges to 10%. That lost by one vote, with quite a few members absent. The requerants believe they can swing the result the other way. I went into the last election with a manifesto position that we shouldn’t keep re-debating matters in any given term. Although I led the December attempt on this issue, fortunately nobody asked me whether I would sign this requete. If they had, I would have had to decline given that manifesto position. Now the matter is back before us, not by my choosing, I need to decide how to vote on it. But given the absence of new arguments on either side, there seems little reason to change my position in favour of limiting the increase in charges.

There are two motions I’m leading. One is to debate the 2022 annual accounts of the Office of the Public Trustee. This is a statutory position created to act as the trustee of last resort in certain limited circumstances. The States are required by the law creating the office, in essence, to make sufficient funds available to the public trustee to do the job in hand. The hope and expectation is the public trustee will then recover those funds from the assets being administered. The key point here is that if that does not happen, then the grants from the States will not be repayable. And the sums are significant: £4.1m. at the end of 2021 and £5m. at the end of 2022; and no doubt more again at the end of 2023. This is the price – or the risk – of having a public trustee, which in turn is the price of having a significant fiduciary services industry in Guernsey. While we should not forget that the benefits of that sector in terms of employment, profits and tax far exceed the £5m. at stake here, nonetheless this debate is a chance to shine a light on the issue. Economic Development, which retains political accountability for the Public Trustee, have committed to review funding options for the Public Trustee before the end of this political term. Their committee statement and the debate will be an opportunity to update members on progress on this reform.

The other motion is one to annul some regulations that increase marriage fees charged by the Greffe. I’m hoping that it won’t be necessary to debate this at all, provided it has been possible for P&R to find a pragmatic solution to the discrimination the current regulations have embedded between religious orders and humanists.

Another test for Trott v2.0.