Can change at the top trigger more changes?

THERE is little doubt that this week’s departure of the chief executive of the States of Guernsey was inevitable for a while.

It was well-telegraphed for those in the know, alluded to in these pages just a week ago and, as he was quick to point out, predicted as far back as May by former States member Matt Fallaize.

While sad for the individual, such things happen in business and government. Financial compensation will inevitably be paid and all will move on. The nature of the role and the scrutiny it attracts is perhaps unfortunate, but not unexpected.

Probably the greater challenge is how the States moves on from here. Although the chief executive role is a fairly recent invention, the post was de facto held by one individual for many years, even if he didn’t have that precise wording on his business card.

So for the past two decades or more, the post of chief executive of the States of Guernsey has been held only by two people.

It was once said that being manager of the England football team was ‘the impossible job’.

But the challenge of running a business that’s not ‘a business’ with more than 4,500 staff, including 1,600 civil servants, set alongside managing the change required, nay, demanded, to make government more efficient, is a strong contender.

Back in 2018 Paul Whitfield outlined successful reforms to date – in machinery of government, closing States offices and moving staff, digital changes, the population management regime and a customer charter. And, less tangibly, cultural change.

At the same time a change in structure for the senior States executive was announced, leading to ‘a fundamental redesign of the entire civil service’ which was due by the end of 2020. That offered a ‘de-layering’ of the service and reduction in senior and junior posts – more than 200 of them.

And this is where things appear to have stuck.

The question islanders are now asking is whether the departure of the chief executive is a genuine attempt to secure meaningful change within the public sector – or a cynical attempt to make the actions of this government look better.

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