Tax review doesn’t need shroud-waving
AN INSTRUCTION from the Policy & Resources Committee for States departments to model the effect of accepting five to 15% cuts in their budgets may have earned the island’s senior politicians some favourable headlines, but as a meaningful exercise to protect islanders from looming tax increases, it’s pointless.
Far from being productive, it will trigger a spate of shroud-waving, or departments offering what’s known in Whitehall – which, unlike Guernsey’s civil service, is used to cuts – as offering bleeding stumps. In other words, something so unpalatable that it has to be rejected.
For the process to be meaningful it needs to be far more forensic. Over the years leading to zero-10 and then the 2008 crash, government enjoyed significant ‘mission creep’, departments doing things because they had the money. An audit of what committees are presiding over and above the strict definition of their mandate would be a good starting point.
As we’ve seen illustrated on too many occasions – and slightly reined back with P&R’s ‘bonfire’ of extant, or outstanding, States resolutions – the system grinds on implementing years-old decisions, whether the original requirement still exists or whether there are higher priorities to pursue.
This is made all the worse because the civil service and the Law Officers, who draft the required legislation, are not part of the political term.
They act outside the electoral cycle so, until P&R’s initiative, there’s no resetting of the clock. What was a must-have two or three Assemblies previously remains baked into the bureaucratic routine.
The other area where P&R could take effective action is in releasing the organisation charts of every department, with an invitation to consider what might happen if some were removed. Recently, one department has been recruiting for five posts – total annual cost around £360,000 – and one of the positions was head of safety and rulemaking.
The other aspect for P&R to consider is how government is operated.
Organisations setting about trimming costs generally don’t invite their departments to say how bad any cuts would be. Those that are serious about it simply set budgets on the basis of what resources are available.