Need for reform now even more pressing

TREASURY lead Mark Helyar made a telling remark after last week’s States debate which ushered in a new approach for government – aligning spending with agreed priorities.

‘While we have a government system where everything is ultimately within the control of a committee of 40, spending decisions can continue to be made without regard to how much the public has to pay for them,’ he said.

In other words, deputies in the Assembly can play fast and loose with taxpayer money because they avoid individual responsibility for the uncosted spending they have committed government to.

Deputy Helyar was referring specifically to all NHS-approved drugs being made available here but the point he made applies more widely – and not just to spending.

This ‘safety in numbers’ approach to difficult decisions has not served the island well. The global crash of 2008 should have been the spur for government to tackle restrictive public sector terms and conditions and take control of payroll costs.

It failed to do so, members instead saying Guernsey had enjoyed ‘a good recession’. In reality, that and the financial transformation programme were opportunities wasted.

The need for public sector reform has not gone away. The Covid crisis has made it more urgent. Yet those who failed to grasp the nettle then are now loud in saying there are no more savings to be had.

That is nonsense. The island’s top civil servant earlier identified the need to lose 200 public sector posts – still largely unfinished business – and lockdown working from home highlighted other positions adding little value.

The tragedy here is the private sector is desperately short of staff while Frossard House itself has identified it has too many.

The choice, to paraphrase Deputy Helyar’s Facebook comments over the weekend, is simply to spend less. Turn that around slightly and the question for Mr and Mrs Taxpayer is whether they wish to pay more to keep a civil servant in a ‘redundant’ post.

With the autumn tax review looming, time’s running out to make the right response.

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