Make Guernsey better – go to work on an egg

BY NOW, many of you will be wondering whether the post-Covid mantra of build back better is actually a load of self-serving claptrap peddled by those who want to impose their vision of the perfect lifestyle on others.

The ‘I don’t travel by plane and neither should you’ approach to policy-making. Perhaps it’s why the militant bicycle tendency is insisting on island-wide one-way systems and universal bike lanes to accommodate the handful of them versus the 86% of the rest who drive.

Riders, according to the latest survey, are in smaller percentages even than bus users and walkers, which makes their ambition all the more vaulting: only those with cycle clips shall truly inherit the earth. Oh, and save it as they go.

For the record, I’m also a cyclist and a believer in climate change. Which is why, instead of attacking the my-way’s-best brigade, perhaps we should appeal to them to exercise some tolerance. As in, it isn’t a crime for people to disagree with you, States members and zealots everywhere, plus a bit of realism never hurt anyone, eh?

Accept that and building back better can start with the things that we can truly influence. After all, what happens to global temperatures depends on Russia, China and America, not Barry Brehaut or his acolytes, whatever they might tell you.

Which is why Dominic Cummings has got it right. Those in charge, or advising them, should read Andy Grove’s book High Output Management, he says. It draws on Grove’s experiences as only the third employee of Intel, going on to turn it into one of the greatest ever computer companies and thereby changing the world via PCs, smartphones and internet connectivity.

Dominic Cummings.

In Grove’s world, it started with a breakfast egg. Simple enough, boiling an egg. But getting it to table in a timely manner, co-ordinated with coffee and toast at the right price to run a successful business needs careful management and constant vigilance.

How many perfect boiled eggs does the States of Guernsey manage to dish up? Think of the push me-pull you L’Ancresse wall debates, the on-off general election date, endless angst over the runway extension (a definite goer, according to the latest study) and whether or not to do something useful and productive with the east coast. That’s before contemplating the future of education…

Think, too, Covid-19’s perfectly boiled response, showing that it can be done after all. And ponder Grove’s other strictures: how you manage your own time is critical for success and, when trying to quantify or measure something, concentrate on outputs, not what went into it.

For instance, how much talk, effort and expense has been poured into the issue of relative and absolute poverty in the island v. the number of lives actually rescued or families lifted above the breadline? And that was when the island had the money to do something meaningful.

There are a couple of other pointers from ‘Mr Intel’ which Boris’s own guru wants to see Whitehall incorporate, particularly team management.

‘The single most important task of a manager is to elicit peak performance from his subordinates,’ says Grove. Well, I don’t know how many managers the States has – but there are now 325 senior employees costing £80,000-£300,000-plus a year, so it’s a lot. And with the best will in the world, I can’t see we’re getting value for money. Or top-performing teams, come to that.

Which brings us back to the other bit of high output management advice: tackle problems as early as possible and at the lowest value stage possible. In other words, it’s easier, quicker and cheaper to deal with a poorly performing manager than resolve the damage they’ve caused three years later.

Anyone who’s had dealings with the States will see at a glance how relevant all this is to government here, which thrives more on process and less on outputs. As Chris Sherwell revealingly told the Institute of Directors event he was moderating on Wednesday, government’s priorities are all menu and no food.

It’s one reason why Blue Islands is now a Jersey-based airline despite being owned by one of Guernsey’s most prominent businessmen. Ministers there recognised the collapse of Flybe posed a connectivity crisis and swiftly did something about it. Lending Blue Islands £10m. is nothing in that context and the tax take from 65 new jobs is pretty handy too. Guernsey’s response, by contrast, is leave everything to a loss-making Aurigny…

There are those in Guernsey who get all this, of course. It’s why Gavin St Pier said ‘we need to move at “Covid” speed and not at States speed’. But getting the machinery of government fit for purpose to enable just that has been unfinished business since the feeble ‘reforms’ of 2004.

And that’s why the latest vocal ‘build back better’ brigade are off-target. Yes, things can and should improve – but that’s exactly what the Future Guernsey Plan promised in 2017.

Its values, ‘We will be among the happiest and healthiest places in the world, where everyone has equal opportunity to achieve their potential. We will be a safe and inclusive community, which nurtures its unique heritage and environment and is underpinned by a diverse and successful economy,’ still seem pretty sound even today.

Importantly, those values are all-embracing and not skewed by those fortunate souls who’ve had a good lockdown, want permanently to put the clock back and regard Sturmey-Archer three-speed gears on a bike as dangerously subversive.

This States, according to Deputy Lyndon Trott, also speaking at the IoD, has been the most indecisive he has known in his 20 years there. This means we’ve now had several iterations of machinery of government reform yet made no progress.

In turn, that puts the focus on the individuals in the Assembly themselves and their inability to pull together for the benefit of the island (Covid crisis excepted, when most of them were excluded from critical decision-making).

So the conclusion is that there can be no effective building back better until after the general election on 7 October. That’s when this States mercifully ceases to be and, according to Deputy Charles Parkinson, also at the IOD event, could have 20 fresh faces in the new Assembly.

So, when you’re confronted with a bewildering array of candidates with manifestos promising the Earth and a Guernsey rebuilt to conform to their own beliefs and wants, just ask whether they can boil an egg.

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