‘Power grab’ means extra responsibility

OUTRAGEOUS power grab – or a pragmatic approach to reducing States interference and throwing off the shackles so Policy & Resources can finally start spending to rebuild the Bailiwick as Covid-19 eases from pandemic status?

The stakes really could not be higher. Depending on which figures are selected, and who you listen to, deputies have nodded through borrowings of £200m., a raid on existing reserves, and opened the taps for spending of up to £650m. over the life of this States.

That’s a colossal sum an island of just 63,000 souls – equivalent to £16,600 per taxpayer – so the trust islanders need to have in their political leaders to use it wisely is considerable.

For last week’s decisions on the Government Work Plan mean just that – P&R has been handed quasi-executive government authority to progress capital investment projects as it sees fit. Islanders now have to hope its members use that power wisely. They won’t, said P&R’s opponents. The GWP was one of the most fiscally incontinent plans seen in almost a decade, said former chief minister Gavin St Pier.

For taxpayers, that comment is disturbing. Many voters expected him to be leading this Assembly and trust his judgment. So, political rhetoric or ruinously expensive prediction?

Time will tell, but the delegated authority transferred to this P&R is less of an experiment than detractors suggest. Departments already have wide discretion to spend and the GWP tries to ensure taxpayer funds are used for targeted purposes – not gratifying committee whims.

While the political heat in the Assembly is rising, it is possible to detect an acceptance elsewhere of this new normal – a government that can take decisions with a ’proper’ majority and little prospect of a flip-flop ambush a few months down the track. That is to be welcomed.

While P&R appears to gave gained power, it has embraced significant extra responsibility. It will – rightly – be under enormous pressure to deliver the GWP and to do so in a timely, cost-effective fashion.

Fail, and it will find taxpayers and voters far more critical than opponents in the Assembly.

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