Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Chief Officer Appointments: A Forthright Comment

"The Jersey Appointments Commission: Annual Report for 2012" sounds as if it is a regular tick box exercise, the sort of report that gets put on a dusty shelf then filed away in a filing cabinet somewhere, perhaps like the gigantic storage depot seen at the end of "Raiders of the Lost Ark". But nothing could be further from the truth.
It is very kind to Jersey Quangos, and I think rightly so. While it notes that in the UK "this type of  body has received a degree of criticism: indeed many have now been wound up as they were seen as an unnecessary extra layer of bureaucracy and require substantial funding", it sees that the situation in Jersey is very different because of the volunteer nature of membership:
"In Jersey, the situation is very different and the operation of these Quangos annually saves the States large sums, as the membership of the great majority of such organisations is made up of volunteers. We are indeed fortunate that we have so many people willing to give their time and expertise for the benefit of the Island."
But when it turns its attention to Civil Service recruitment, it begins to flex its muscles: "The concern, which has been mentioned from time to time by past Chairmen however, that there should be more local civil servants being groomed for higher office, remains appropriate."
It highlights three levels which require improvement, and which the Commission believes are responsible for an insufficient degree of success in this area.
1)      UK, Guernsey or even local secondments, both internal and external, would help develop individuals,
2)      more attention could be given to proper succession planning generally
3)      there should be more rigorous performance assessments undertaken
And then it challenges the mantra that Jersey needs to recruit from the top most ranks of civil servants, which has, of course, led to many coming from the UK:
"Most importantly, higher levels of consideration should be given to what we really require from a senior appointee. After all, our population is no more than that of a large English town so do we need the very best we can attract nationally or internationally in every area or an excellent local candidate that perhaps with a little further development could compete with the best?"
The chairman comments that "I believe we need a mix and whilst this comment may be considered as contrary to the ethos of the Commission, the subject of proportionality is an important one."
In other words, the requirements may well be pitched higher than is actually needed, so the scope for candidates could be narrowed to allow more local candidates to stand a chance. I think this is exactly right. Rather like the expensive meal recently at the Atlantic Hotel, the Jersey Government often seems to just go for the most expensive option more or less as a reflex action without much forethought.
The report does note that there can be difficulties with recruiting locally because of the critical attitude which can be shown by the local media or politicians, and also perhaps sometimes by the "citizen media":
"There are difficulties to overcome beyond the obvious ones however, such as convincing entirely able local personnel to put their heads above the parapet, without the fear of later being chastised by politicians or the media. In addition, secondments and courses may not always find favour with selected personnel. In these circumstances, it must be accepted that outside recruitment may prove necessary: one can take a horse to water but cannot make it drink."
But the report notes that this is not the main problem. The main problem is a lack of resolve to do anything about the situation, to just continue with present practice of recruiting chief officers, and even bending the rules (albeit legally) to subvert fixed term contracts because they haven't even made any attempt at succession planning.
"The situation is not helped however, when the employer provides fixed term contracts to non-local appointees and then allows them, without reference back to the Commission, to remain in post well beyond the end of their contracts or even permanently.
It notes, quite damningly, that succession planning is built into contacts, but is just ignored in the carrying out of that contract:
"When this occurs it is usually because little or no attempt has been made for succession planning, even though such intentions are at times clearly written into the appropriate contract as being part of the imported employee's duties."
The section concludes by noting that while it may not always be possible, there should be much more of a bias "for ensuring that off-Island recruitment is used only where there is no suitable local pool of candidates", which currently, as the maxim has it, is more honoured in the breach than the observance.
But there is another problem. Where the incumbent has departed, and there is a lengthy delay before a new appointment can be made, existing employees may be asked to act-up in a more senior capacity. It notes that "At times this develops into lengthy periods, often well in excess of a year and sometimes for several years, which is totally unreasonable."
And what is worse is that if having manned the fort for a number of years, they fail to get the appointment (and an outsider is brought in), this is not a fair and good way to treat the employee. As the report notes:
"especially if their performance has been beyond reproach, their worth as employees in the future may be seriously compromised, as well as adversely affecting them from a personal perspective"
This is the first Annual report of the Jersey Appointments Commission under the Chairmanship of Brian Curtis. And he makes some very good closing points on this subject:
"Unfortunately, there is not very much new in what I have said: indeed if one reviewed all the Chairmen's Reports since inception of the Commission it appears little has changed in respect of attitudes or even in certain cases practices so a determined effort to address all of the points raised over the years should be made, perhaps by the Commission being permitted to take a lead or at least becoming more directly involved in such matters. "
"My forthrightness may make a difference over the coming period but in any event, trust it will be accepted that my passion for the Island and for us getting it right, for the good of everyone that calls Jersey home, compensates for what is intended to be constructive criticism contained within this Report."
Clearly, here is a Chairman who is aware that nothing much has been done to address the problem of succession planning apart from good intentions which vanish like a summer mist when a Chief Officer's appoint is due. It is very forthright, a breath of fresh air, and it is pleasant to read a report which is not afraid of speaking out, and stating some home truths over the frustrations which the general public certainly feel about succession planning in the States. I look forward to the 2013 report and any progress made with interest.

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