Friday, 4 January 2013

States Members Pay Rise

Members come from diverse backgrounds and some (though not as many as would have you believe) give up higher salaries in order to seek election to Parliament.   To some extent, though not entirely, it is a class issue.  I well remember, some years ago, standing behind a wealthy Tory in the queue for tea, who said to me with great passion, "what you don't realise, Chris, is that no Tory can survive on an MP's salary."   Much to my embarrassment, he said this within the hearing of the tea room staff whose incomes are a third of ours.

Of course, if you live in a world where private education and private healthcare are the norm and where you are mixing with people who are incomparably richer, you are bound to feel hard done by.

(Chris Mullins, MP, speaking on why MPs should not have a pay rise)

What happened on September 2012? That was when the names were put forward for the States Members' Remuneration Review Body. And who appoints them?

"The members [of SMRRB] shall be appointed by the Privileges and Procedures Committee following requisite consultation with the Jersey Appointments Commission. Before making any appointments the Committee shall nevertheless be required to present a report to the States setting out the names of the proposed appointees and the appointments shall not be confirmed by the Committee until at least 15 days after the presentation of this report."

"With the agreement of the Acting Chairman of the Jersey Appointments Commission, Mr. Brian Curtis, M.B.E., PPC has agreed to the re-appointment of the current 4 members of SMRRB for one further term of office."

So PPC are involved in the names of the people who are appointed to the Review Body which proposes States Members pay. This is the same PPC which is asking States members to vote against Sadie Renard is proposing to reject the pay rise for States members of £880, on the grounds that "The States should not be directly engaged in the setting of their own rates of remuneration". But surely PPC, as the Committee deciding on the appointees should not be involved at all in rejecting the vote; they have, after all, chosen who will sit on the Review Board and can hardly be considered disinterested. They may not be "directly engaged"; they are surely indirectly engaged.

In fact, given that PPC appoint a board which then reviews States Members pay, there is an element of circularity involved. It could be argued that they are stacking the deck, in a like manner to political appointments in "Yes Minister". Let's take a closer look at that:

Mr. Julian Rogers, M.A., M.B.A., has been resident in Jersey since 1975; and owns and runs a software company, working with a wide range of clients. His past achievements include developing and running the first adult IT evening courses for the Business Studies Department at Highlands College. In the voluntary sector he has been Chairman of the States Members' Remuneration Body since 2004, and has held roles with the University of the Third Age in Jersey and the Probus Club of Jersey. He has been a member of the Jersey Appointments Commission since 2009.

Now this means that the Acting Chairman of the Jersey Appointments Commission, Mr. Brian Curtis has agreed to the appointment of a fellow member of the Jersey Appointments Commission. That seems a bit politically incestuous, but we'll let it pass.

Brian Bullock was Deputy Head of various Island schools, culminating in Head of Hautlieu, in 1988, a position he held until retirement in 1996.

Mr. John Mills has spent his career within the Civil Services of the United Kingdom, Hong Kong and Jersey, being the Chief Executive for the Policy and Resources Committee between 1999 and 2003.

So here we have two people at the summit of their positions in education and the civil service, high earners both, on good final salary pension schemes.

Mr. Dubras was a Deputy of St. Lawrence from 1996 until he retired from the Assembly in 2005

It's hardly what you would call a representative body, and it contains nobody of lower income, no representation from the working class in any shape or form. To paraphrase G.K. Chesterton (in "All Things Considered"), none of those four excellent persons is, or ever has been, a poor man in the sense that that word is understood by the overwhelming majority of the inhabitants of Jersey.

With the best will in the world, assuming these are intelligent, honest men (and I see no reason why not to do so), they will have an inherent bias when it comes to what they term "modest". It is well known that there is a basic difficulty in providing an occupational benchmark in the private sector that can be used to compare legislative performance. As benefits of legislators' work are extremely complex to quantify, it is difficult to directly determine the real value of their output. Given this problematic opaqueness, the bias in the background of the review body is likely to become more apparent because there are no objective guidelines for determining pay.

When it comes to the workforce, that's decided by the  States Employment Board (SEB), made up of five politicians who oversee States workers pay and conditions. That can't be put in the hands of an independent review board, however loosely the term "independent" seems in this context. This means that one panel can decide that the States employees need a pay freeze, another that States members need a pay increase, with no apparent attempt at consistency.

PPC, in its comment rejecting the proposal by the Constable of St Saviour note that the review board is attempting to balance two principles:

(i) the principles that the level of remuneration available to elected members should be sufficient to ensure that no person is precluded from serving as a member of the States by reason of insufficient income and that all elected members should be able to enjoy a reasonable standard of living, so that the broadest spectrum of persons are able to serve as members of the Assembly;

(ii) the economic and fiscal situation prevailing in Jersey, any budgetary restraints on the States of Jersey and the States' inflation target, if
any, for the period under review.

It seems that the States Employment Board manifestly works out a different solution regarding item (i) with regard to States employees enjoying a reasonable standard of living. Evidently it is possible to come to quite different conclusions, and strike quite a different balance where the workforce is concerned. And the maxim - "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you"  does not apply here.

PPC finishes by saying:

"The Committee has no comment to make on the increase in remuneration proposed for 2013. PPC nevertheless wishes to remind Members that they are not obliged to take the full amount of remuneration available to them. Any Member who wishes to receive less than the total needs only to notify the States Treasury of the reduced amount that they wish to receive."

That's a case of trying to play both sides of the game, and I suspect we will see a good deal more of this. States members who will say that they will forgo the rise, but will vote against the proposition. But do we know who has done this, apart from the States member saying so? States members pay is not published in that way, and there are probably constraints by Data Protection against publishing a list showing who said one thing, and did another, or perhaps who refused the increase - for this year. It's like a secret ballot on who should be Chief Minister, we just don't know, and all sorts of arrangements can be made, enabling the member to say they have not taken the pay rise, which is true this year, but not next year.

Of course that is the one matter that the proposition to reject the pay rise does - it opens up the matter so that the public can see. Like the open ballot on Chief Minister, the matter becomes transparent, there is no hiding place, no means of getting the rise next year, or even worse, saying that it would be wrong to accept a rise, and taking it anyway, because no one can ever know. And what if they change their mind later in the year, the extra cash always there, temptingly within reach?

That is why the proposition is important to the public, it is a case of put your vote where your declaration lay - stand up and be counted. But on the basis that the review body - re-appointed by PPC - is independent, we shall certainly see the argument which PPC lays down that it must stand, and not be tampered with.

PPC basically comes down to these arguments:
1) The Review Body has simply fulfilled the brief it was given, and there is nothing manifestly inequitable about its proposals
2) There are no exceptional economic, fiscal or other relevant circumstances that should be considered.

What it doesn't address is the moral arguments put by the Constable that an increase is not "morally justified during such a period of financial instability and given the austerity measures we have imposed on our own States and Parish employees."  They use her phrase "manifestly inequitable", but carefully avoid any use of the word "moral". Thus they attempt to cast the debate in what appears to be a neutral value free language, in which it would only be "manifestly inequitable" if the Review Board didn't follow its brief. Whether that appears morally justified is something they wish to avoid at all costs, because that undermines the more neutral language in which they want to shape the debate. But it is a subterfuge nonetheless, and they shouldn't be allowed to get away with it, and avoid the moral issue.

Other relevant circumstances? Sadie also notes that "we hear constantly from the States' wage negotiators that pay rises should be resisted and a tight rein kept on States coffers." That's bringing the public sector wages into the picture, something which the review body doesn't do, and it widens the argument, in that there is an inherent inconsistency - a mixed message is being given out that the States cannot afford to increase public sector pay - yet somehow they can change tack and afford a pay rise. It is an inconsistency that the Review board may not have considered because they didn't see the wider picture as part of their brief, and perhaps it is time that brief was widened. That is an argument for "other relevant circumstances", if ever there was one!

That's exactly the same inconsistency being highlighted in other jurisdictions. In New Zealand, for example, PSA national secretary Brenda Pilott said many staff who worked for MPs had not received a pay rise in three years and were battling to get an increase: "They are consistently being told by Parliamentary Service that there is no money in the pot for pay increases, yet MPs get a pay rise and a backdated lump sum without even trying." (1)

But rejecting a pay rise is not without a precedent, even where there is a review body. In 2011, in the UK, Members of Parliament agreed to forgo a one per cent pay rise for themselves. That move brought them into line with the majority of public sector workers  who had their pay frozen for two years:

Leader of the House Sir George Young told MPs they should either be 'in step' with households up and down the country or 'insulate' themselves and risk public anger. He said: 'Colleagues must now decide whether their constituents would  welcome Parliament exempting itself from this policy and thus insulating itself from decisions that are affecting households up and down the country. 'Or whether, as I believe, they should be in step with what is being required of other public servants.'

Shadow leader of the House Hilary Benn backed the call, telling MPs: 'The public would find it very hard to understand if we got a pay rise when they are not getting a pay rise and that is why we will support the motion.'

The pay freeze came about because of the Government's desire to scrap the one per cent award made by the Senior Salaries Review Body. (2)

So it can be done, if the will is there, and if States members see that voting against the proposition will only fuel public anger at politicians generally. It is however not an election year, so some may well decide to bat with PPC, but say they will nevertheless not take the pay rise (this year) and try and have their cake and eat it.



Anonymous said...

Mr John Mills a clever man who receives a final salary income from the states, sits on the harbour and airport shadow board, earning about £25,000 and also on the States review panel for States members payment.

These part time appointments are well paid and appear to go to a few of the chosen ones. One has to wonder if the decisions they arrive at suits the people giving them the positions rather than truly independent candidates ?

Anonymous said...

Membership was openly advertised .Few applied .trade unions and working class people should be encouraged to apply

Jerry Gosselin said...

In response to Anonymous:- even if a "working class" person could actually make it through the rigid appointments process, at best they would merely end up as the 'token vote against', thereby helping to give some undeserved credibility to a thoroughly disreputable process. Furthermore, I don't think the current applications process would actually allow a person who is known to have made previous political statements on the subject of States Members's pay to sit as a member on the SMRRB, which would rule out people like myself (and Tony too!).