Thursday, 28 March 2013

Blissful ignorance

I am still awaiting the A-Team's detailed study of how the Constables fit into their system. Sam Mezec seems to think that they will have a purely honorary capacity. Simon Crowcroft, who is after all in a better position to know, says that in that case they would certainly need to fund a Chief Executive for St Helier if they did not want to pay the Constable - in other words, there will be a cost element to ratepayers.

I do wonder how blissfully ignorant most people in the A-Team are in relation to Parish affairs; perhaps some more blog posting from Simon could help. He may even decide to retract what he told me at the Town Hall about the need for a paid position; after all, he has changed his mind once. To change it twice, however, reminds me of something Oscar Wilde once said.

In the A team scenario several assumptions have been made, all of which are false; based more on perception than fact. In 2010, Senator Sarah Ferguson did an analysis of the St. Brelade Parish Accounts. Given that the parish is the fourth largest, the figures are quite modest relative to the services and functions the Parish affords to its parishioners.

This analysis was published in La Baguette, and here is an extract:

"Former St. Brelade Deputy, and Public Accounts Committee Chairman Senator Sarah Ferguson explains. There is a considerable amount of detail in the accounts but they are clear and enable all rate payers to understand exactly where their money is spent. They are prepared on a very straightforward basis. Income is mainly recorded when it is actually received - in other words when cheques or cash are in the hands of the Parish Secretary. There are a few exceptions where money owing is recognised as income."

"Expenditure on the other hand is on the accruals basis. This means that all money owed by the Parish is always included in the accounts whether it has been paid or whether it is still owed by the Parish. Because of this the accounts always show the pure unvarnished truth of the state of the affairs of the Parish. In fact the balances in the accounts represent money in the bank."

"The main source of income for the Parish is the rates. The two crucial parts of the rates meeting are the estimates of the expenses for the following year and the decision on the Parish rates. If the forecasts of expenses are too low then the rates could be too low and the Parish would have to levy an additional rate, which would not go down well with Parishioners. If however the expenses are set too high then the Parish would have to set too high a rate which would also upset the Parishioners. Fortunately the Parish has an experienced team who make sensible forecasts."

It is notable too in that article there was mentioned just one dissenter to the rate proposed. That was Deputy Montford Tadier who wanted to increase the rate from 0.87p per quarter to 0.90p per quarter. And he is an A-Team supporter.

While it may be argued that there were (and still are) items seeking funding, it also needs to be remembered that the rates have a direct impact on all households. The prudent stance is therefore to raise the rates as little as possible and look toward other funding sources for non-urgent projects. It needs noting too that Maison St. Brelade as a singular and most urgent expense, had been financed from various sources - not just the Parish.

Income for that year [2010] totalled just under £1.3m, the majority of which was derived from rates. Of that the bulk of expenditure was spent on two items, services and administration. The running of the Parish Hall plus staff wages amounted £469,850  - or roughly one-third of total income.

It can be clearly seen therefore that that if the cost through salary to a Constable at the same level they enjoy by being a States member were part of the St. Brelade equation, the impact on expenditure would be significant - approximately 10% rise. Alternatively, if a Chief Executive was appointed, that would also cost at least the same.

There would also be several hidden costs too.

At times of deputation (such as illness, holiday, funerals etc) whereas at present the Procurer(s) or Chef de Police might temporarily fulfil some of the functions of Connétable. It is clearly far less acceptable that these be provided on a honorary basis if the Connétable himself were drawing a salary from the parish.

It could be further argued that anyone currently deployed in a honorary position may equally take the view that they should also be paid. As it stands, honorary police officers do get a small honorarium but that forms part of the overall policing budget (a separate item) not an administration cost.

The Connétable is not an administrator like the Parish Secretary, but option A pre-supposes that they are and to some extent seeks to re-define their role. They also suggest that there are many people who would 'like' to be Connétable but don't stand because it brings with it a seat in the House with which of course comes a £40k+ per annum salary which presumably they would be happy to give up!

Even supposing that were true, the 'post' of Connétable would only be open to those who could afford to take this philanthropic view - and if anything the incidence of contested elections would be even less than at present, as the workload would undoubtedly mean that it was only open to people with independent means of income, and that it also did not take them away from time spent on that; in other words, it would mean the Constable would be elected on the same kind of basis as States members were before they were being paid. That seems a very retrogressive step, and one which would almost certainly ensure many worthy candidates would simply not stand. It would be reserved to people of substantial means.

The whole purpose of remuneration for States members was that lack of means would not prove a barrier to standing for election. Under the Option A proposals, if the Constable's remuneration is not funded from the ratepayers, then it would mean turning back the clock to the days before remuneration.

I bumped into a curmudgeonly old boy today when conducting a random survey, and he told me that he wished it was still "the good old days when States members didn't get paid". I don't think that was a particularly healthy position; apparently, the A-Team think otherwise with regards to Constables. Do they want to be in that kind of company?

Quite how that position of an honorary Constable is supposed to improve democracy and revitalise the Parish is questionable. I think the trouble is that the A-team have repeated their same mantra so often they have begun to believe it without spelling out in practical terms of costs. "Vote for A - it means a renewed Parish", is just so much flim-flam unless it is costed out thoroughly. Let's have some flesh on the bones, please. Some solid accounting, based on Parish accounts, as has been done in the case of St Brelade.

On the other hand, if A-Team agree that the Constables were to be paid, St. Brelade would face a 10% increase in administration costs just to keep par with current salary, but the lesser populated and largely country parishes would be facing huge increases to match par. It may be the case that smaller Parishes could manage with an honorary position, but an investigation of their finances and workloads would also be needed to provide facts and figures by someone with the requisite accounting skills, like Senator Sarah Ferguson.

Rhetorical flourishes do not constitute sound accounting, and quite honestly the same phrases are about "strengthening the Parish" (coupled with a lack of a detailed accounting and administrative study) is beginning to sound like a record that has got stuck. The devil is very carefully avoiding the details, one might say!

Of course St. Helier would have a far less of a problem - but they would also be seeking to engage a CEO if they didn't pay the Constable - again the impact on the rates would not be insignificant. A CEO for St Helier might actually end up being paid more than the Constable is at present. Simon Crowcroft hinted as much to me.

In summary: A Parish is de facto a business, one that needs to balance to books and deliver dividends to its shareholders (me and you) by way of services which they do more efficiently than the spendthrift States members (or would-be members) who don't appear to understand even the basic principles of running a business - let alone the municipality (of which they don't seem to understand its function) or even the role of the Connétable. Either the rates of the larger Parishes will need to increase for a paid position - CEO / Constable - or it is back to the bad old days when gentlemen of private means could aspire to that office, but ordinary people could not.

12 comments:

Sam Mézec said...

I don't have time to read the whole blog right just now, but to correct the caricature at the beginning, I have never said that Constables either will or will not be paid. I have always said that it will be up to each Parish on a case by case basis. That's the wonderful thing about the Parish system. If a Constable says he/ she doesn't want to be paid, then he/ she won't be. If one says that he/ she will need to be paid, then the Parishioners will have to decide and they are within their rights to go to Parish Assemblies and have their say and vote against it. Democracy!

The A-Team isn't a homogeneous group of people (apart from all believing in Option A) each has their own views. I know that one of our members, who is an elected Chef de Police works very hard for his Parish and receives no remuneration for it and is of the view that the same should be the case for the Constables.

TonyTheProf said...

The Parishes have to balance the books; they could be perverse and vote a rate that would leave the Parish in debt but no one has ever had that happen before. Of course it is their democratic right - California shows what happens when voters want more services and less taxation for it. Is that what you want?

Also, if there are two candidates, one who has private means and says he doesn't want to be paid, and one who says he would need to be, you are back in the situation where lack of means disenfranchises one individual. Like the old days when the States were not paid. Or do you think it right that someone can effectively "bribe" the electorate by saying they don't need to be paid; they have enough independent wealth? Is that your idea of democracy?

TonyTheProf said...

I think we can guess the Chef de Police - the Parish Affairs blog rather blew the gaffe on that one.

Sanity said...

It is unfotunate that the highly opinionated Sam does not have time to read such articles that go against his perception. But then his whole mantra would quickly fall apart if he had to base these on facts

Sanity said...

It is unfotunate that the highly opinionated Sam does not have time to read such articles that go against his perception. But then his whole mantra would quickly fall apart if he had to base these on facts

Ugh, It's Him! said...

Both the Parishes and the States are more than businesses; they are administrations. While solvency is a necessary condition, they are both primarily about getting things done for the people within their respective jurisdictions. And, if that means increasing income to cover the expenditure they have a duty to be making, then they need to do so, and explain to their electors why.
In particular, Mad Maggie Thatcher's belief that corner shops in a price war was an appropriate model for government was utterly delusional. I don't exctly like paying my fair share of tax, but I am happy to claim what it pays for as my right, so I put up with having to pay it. I am not going to emigrate to Somalia or somewhere just to dodge paying my way. Home is here, and I have to chip in to the cost of keeping it good to live in. so I can't exercise the discipline of taking my custom elsewhere on the States. So, government does not work quite like business, and you need to avoid rhetoric that implies that it does.

Clive Tomes said...

Some clarity is required regarding Tony's comments. If parishes choose to pay their constables, the value attached to that role will not be the same as the value of their dual role as both States Member and Constable. It is therefore likely to be approximately half of the States Member's salary, say approximately £25,000.

This amount, if approved by the parishes, should be compared as a percentage of the parish's income, not its salary cost, to identify the effect on rate-payers. In the St. Brelade example, this would approximately equate to a 1.7% increase in rates - very different to the 10% used in the blog.

The Constable's role is very definitely not a full-time position - if it was, it would have been impossible for the Constables to also be States Members over the years. There is no reason why candidates for Constable could not have income through other means, and there is therefore no genuine reason for this situation to disenfranchise any potential candidates. In fact, it is likely to attract candidates who genuinely have the real interests of their parish and parishioners at heart, which can only be beneficial.

Under Option A, it seems to me that the parish system should strengthen - parishes will have Constables who are not distracted by States business (unless they stand for Deputy and convince their constituents that they can cope with both roles) - parishioners will have 7 representatives in the States (6 under Option B) - the parish can also call on 7 Deputies for representation - parishioners know their vote has exactly the same "value" as those of any other parish (not true under Option B).

Parishioners, at a small cost, can, if they choose, to remunerate their Constables, or continue with the honorary position it has always been - that is for parishioners to decide, and in reality it is not a reason to vote for or against Options A or B.

TonyTheProf said...

If you think that larger Parishes won't need a Constable with mroe remuneration, then you haven't read what Simon Crowcroft (an A Team supporter) said to me. The Parish will need a CEO or a paid Constable. And he certainly was not implying that it could be done on the cheap.

You also do not address my other point. If the Constable is not sufficiently remunerated, it will indeed fall back to those who can do it as an honorary position; just as it was for ALL States members, and some people still say it was better then. That seems to be a retrogressive step, making an elected position of some demands in the urban Parishes only open to people of means or who can supplement means with an allowance given by the Parish.

A small cost? Speak to Simon Crowcoft and sing from the same song sheet; he is Constable; he is aware of the workload, and he indicated it was worth at least as much as a States member.

TonyTheProf said...

As a supplementary, why not do away with paid States members? By your argument, it is likely to attract candidates who genuinely have the real interests of their electorate which can only be beneficial.

Clive Tomes said...

Simon Crowcroft is probably right, but it is still a small cost - say £50,000 on St. Helier's total income of £8m - less than 1%. No other parish would need a full-time constable or CEO, so it is wrong to base your arguments on that one parish which has about 1/3rd of the island's population.

I have addressed your other point - it is up to the individual parishes to decide if their constable is paid. If they do so, which I agree would be best for democracy, the cost would be small - between 0.5% and 1.5% of current rates. In my view a small cost for a truly democratic system under which the parishes have greater representation in the States and are stronger for the reasons previously stated.

Clive Tomes said...

Simon Crowcroft is probably right, but it is still a small cost - say £50,000 on St. Helier's total income of £8m - less than 1%. No other parish would need a full-time constable or CEO, so it is wrong to base your arguments on that one parish which has about 1/3rd of the island's population.

I have addressed your other point - it is up to the individual parishes to decide if their constable is paid. If they do so, which I agree would be best for democracy, the cost would be small - between 0.5% and 1.5% of current rates. In my view a small cost for a truly democratic system under which the parishes have greater representation in the States and are stronger for the reasons previously stated.

TonyTheProf said...

I think St Brelade would need someone near full time, or at least not able to otherwise work full time because of time demands. Costings on St Brelade's rates are given above.

And maybe the Island should also decided if their States members should be paid? Some don't seem to do an lot.