Too much at stake for faulty judgements

NEWS that phase two of the much-vaunted States public sector reforms has been reached was described by government on Monday as an important milestone. Possibly so, but taxpayers bracing for what looks certain to be a botched education debate and the introduction of GST could be forgiven for feeling underwhelmed.

Civil service ‘transformation’ has been on the cards since 2015, when a framework promising much was released; and financial reforms have been promised since 2009, when Tribal Helm/Capita announced its ‘profligate’ and ‘gold-plated’ assessment of government spending and custody of public funds.

Since then, islanders have seen little change. Public sector employee numbers were supposed to fall by 200, but have instead risen significantly, as have payroll costs. No zero-based budgeting, no performance-related pay and only token reforms of the seriously in deficit public sector pension scheme.

Underpinning this is the absolutely essential review of public sector contracts and the end of what the late Dave Jones insisted were the Spanish practices within them – sweetheart deals and allowances that increase earnings with little discernible taxpayer benefit.

All these things may be in the political crosshairs of course. The problem is that islanders don’t know. The next phase of reforms was announced with few details, fewer targets and only vague hints at the scale of proposed changes – staff likely to be affected will be spoken to individually.

More detail about what exactly is proposed is needed. Hopefully this will follow what appears to be an ongoing consultation process as islanders need to be persuaded that there is some ‘meat’ in the process and tangible benefits coming their way.

Meanwhile, what does seem surprising is the timing of the announcement – just after the States chief executive has been removed from his post. From that, people will deduce that one or other was rushed, and it won’t have been the public service reform process.

Leadership – at both political and official levels – is critical in these sensitive times and recent events have not shown government off in the best of lights. There is now too much at stake for judgements to be faulty.

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