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Where are the details?

Peter Gillson | Published:

LET’S say that I, along with four friends, want to build a hotel.

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Off we go to the bank manager and ask for £116m. to build it. Obviously he would ask questions, want to know details, and I would be happy to give him a report telling him everything.

Except I am not going to tell him:

. How many rooms it will have

. l The size of the rooms

. How many holidaymakers it can hold

. How many holidaymakers I expect it to cater for

. l How many holidaymakers we expect to come to Guernsey

. Any real details of the running costs.

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There is no need to tell him because I have received a report from an expert who says the size is OK.

I accept that he may never have heard of this expert, and the expert was not employed by way of any competitive tendering process, but the expert says the size is fine, so that should be good enough for Mr Bank Manager.

Finally, the membership of my group is due to change next June – we know at least one will be standing down and it is likely that others will not rejoin either. In fact it is possible that none of us will return. So, I cannot tell Mr Manager with any certainty who will be running the project.

But he should not worry, and he should give us the £116m.

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What do you think his reaction would be? I’m guessing it would be along the lines of ‘on your bike, mate!’

And quite right too. I wouldn’t have given him enough information to know if my plans were fit for purpose.

Who would think they could get away with asking for so much money with so little information?

The answer is: the Education committee.

Swap the States of Deliberation for the bank manager, and the Education committee for me, and that is just what they are doing with their current report for money to extend the secondary schools and College of Further Education.

The sort of information missing includes:

. Size of the extensions,

. Number of classrooms

. Size of the classrooms

. The capacity of each school

. The running costs of each school.

Not only does the report not detail the capacity of the schools, it doesn’t give any projection of future pupil numbers so you cannot tell if the schools are actually the right size or not.

If they have all of the details, why not include them in the report? There are only two reasons: either the details do not support their plans or they do not know them yet. Both are worrying.

The report is supposed to enable deputies to consider more than £100m. of capital expenditure, yet of the 137 pages, only seven relate to the extension of the two secondary schools, with a further three pages on the College of Further Education proposals.

The majority of the report is more a ‘sales pitch’ for the two-school model.

Interestingly, in their open letter of 13 August they mention ‘… separating education policy from buildings and asking the States to determine the future structure of education and only after that to consider any building works…’ But that is not what is happening – the report deals with both.

This sentence is misleading in another way. Far from giving the States the opportunity ‘to consider any building works’, the propositions actually remove the States from anything to do with the buildings – everything would be decided by Education and Policy & Resources. Presumably behind closed doors rather than in the States where it is open to public scrutiny.

When it comes to the College of Further Education, it does seem to be more of a spending spree than making best use of what we have. I fully agree that the existing buildings the CoFE operate from are not good enough, but why not use the Grammar School and Sixth Form Centre building?

The report says the building would need to be modified and needs a new roof, costing £20m. So how can spending £47m. on a new building be more cost-effective than spending £20m. upgrading the existing buildings?

Further into the report, other uses are suggested for the buildings – presumably they will also need a roof so the States will have to re-roof it at some point. No saving there then.

Also, these ideas are just ideas, no firm plans. So, we could spend £47m. on a new building only to have the Grammar building empty for years. Remember how long the KEVII hospital was empty.

More importantly, if these proposals are approved it will be virtually impossible to scrutinise what they do or hold them to account.

OK, they will have an upper limit to spend, but on precisely what? Keeping within a budget is easy by reducing the specification of what you are building.

Remember the waste site at Longue Hougue? The only reason we know that what was built cost £10m. more than the original budget was because what was in the original budget was clearly detailed.

If the original budget had not listed the items, we would never have known it was so much over budget.

We will have the same issue here – no specification means no real accountability.

Great if you can get away with it, but not good government.

Just as I’m typing this I find that a 174-page business plan has been published which largely re-hashes the ‘sales pitch’ but does include some more numbers, including details of two possible options – something I cannot recall reading in the report.

Furthermore, the £2m. annual savings are not achieved by the option the committee favours, and it also refers to money from the sale of the Grammar buildings – even though their report has a proposition to investigate re-using it. Sell it and re-use it?

How can the States agree to build schools if they have no real details about them? The answer is that the States will be taking themselves out of the process – giving it all to P&R and Education to decide.

Remember, we do not know who will be on P&R and Education in six months’ time so the States will be giving all of the authority to persons unknown.

I am left with the impression that the report has been rushed – presumably to get it through before next year’s election.

In essence it is saying: you agreed to the two-school model, here it is, give us £157m. and let us and P&R work out all of the details.

Not transparent, not good government.

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