Government system flawed
Re: STRETCH KONTELJ – Comment, page 17 – ‘If it’s broke, fix it’,
14 February 2019.
This article grasped my attention not least that in my opinion Stretch makes some astute observations. Indeed I would also suggest to those considering the brave step of putting themselves forward as a candidate in the first full island-wide election, that they keep a copy of the comment to hand.
The IWF result was indeed emphatic, despite a five-question referendum, in which two of the questions had no campaign group. It was, as the comment suggests, a wake-up call, but perhaps some of the players are still asleep. It was a rejection of the status quo, which essentially includes the present system of government. The aftermath debate has concentrated mainly on the practical logistics of the change from voting districts to an all-island constituency, which to some extent is fair enough. However, on that front I have every faith in the new States Assembly & Constitution Committee, led by Deputy Neil Inder, who has put his head above the parapet and has selected an excellent team to rise to the considerable challenges. And I hope States members support that committee in delivering what the majority of our island voted for.
But has sufficient energy and debate gone into the message behind the result? Does it suggest that islanders have lost faith with our system of government and that they have a hope that IWV will be a catalyst for wider government change?
I really welcome the Institute of Directors kick-starting a ‘system of government’ debate and an ‘analysis’ at its mid-term review in March. Very fair play to them. The panel looks impressive and particularly knowledgeable around the background of the formation of the current system of government and its predecessor. I respect their pedigree and integrity. However, when it comes to innovation and ideas for change a lot will be put on the president of Scrutiny, Deputy Chris Green, at this forum. Along with myself and a handful of other deputies, who have also taken up a call for a review, he has already provided some valuable challenge in the States and in the media regarding our current system of government.
So bring it on, but importantly we should, before the end of this term, continue the machinery of government debate in the States and listen carefully to the public. Personally I am in no doubt that the untested system this States inherited from the previous Assembly is proving to be seriously flawed. I also believe that this is one of the underpinning reasons why in 2020 we will be voting for our deputies on an island-wide basis.
I have found it astonishing that the six presidents at the delivery-end of government have no formal mechanism of any kind, or even a forum, to enhance collective decision-making across all the committees. Indeed P&R had to develop a cunning idea to produce a plan which is really the only tool in the box that exists to have any strategic cohesion or consensus across the States. But sadly it does not provide good joined-up government with collective vision and direction because it is the politicians who have the responsibilities and need to be held to account, not a plan. This is exacerbated by the so-called principal committee (P&R), who in business terms have the mandated task of running the back office functions of government, like HR, ICT and finance, which are discharged through an executive and hierarchical structure. But P&R are isolated from and do not have any ownership of the challenges and responsibilities associated with the delivery of the government services the island wants and needs or in the development as a government of the underpinning and enabling policies (e.g. those of: health, education, the provision of safety and security, the development of the economy, environment, infrastructure, social security, and our trading entities).
The irony is that this current system was promoted on ‘improving a lack of co-ordination and cohesion’ and the avoidance of so-called ‘silo working’. At least the previous Policy Council achieved some of that functionality and a level of joined-up scrutiny and responsibility, before policy letters were let loose in the Assembly.
I must, however, stress I make no criticism of the abilities and skills of the current members of Policy & Resources who have in my view done remarkably well despite the lack of a truly co-ordinated and accountable structure, which is not a matter of their making. When dealing with external threats they have been exceptionally led and outstanding in my view. In fact all States members are the victims of this curious government structure, some of whom have probably filed their 2016 individual manifestos in a box labelled ‘mostly unachievable’.
We are some 14 months away from this historic adjustment to our electoral system. Do we all need to sit up and smell the coffee? I support the view that following the result of the referendum, no reasonable person could argue against a proposition that change is necessary.
It is pointless now whingeing about how difficult it might be to get messages across or extolling the justifiable merits of district voting. IWV is going to happen come hell or high water. Whether political parties, loose alliances or groups emerge or whether they don’t, the electorate has sent a message. I believe many islanders may well be looking to put their crosses against a combination of consistent themes in the hope that it will deliver what they want most from their government, something that was not really possible in the past when choosing to elect five or six deputies at a parish polling station to sit amongst 38.
DEPUTY ROB PROW,
vice president, Committee for Home Affairs,
and member of the Committee for Health & Social Care.