Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Some Ministerial Decisions of Note

The business of government goes on even when the States are no longer sitting, and thanks to the Government website, we can at least follow ministerial decisions as they are made. There have been a mass of them over the last week or so, mostly relating to leases or renewal of leases.
It is good to see "Reserve Forces (Safeguard of Employment) Act 1985 (UK): Request for Jersey equivalent legislation". This brings members of the TA in line with their UK counterparts, for which there is a degree of protection for employment when called on active duty.
"Reservists in Jersey who deploy on active service (and who are not public sector employees) currently have no employment protection.  It is desirable that they should be afforded protection of employment and the right to reinstatement to their job upon return from active service.  This protection would align to that given to Reservists in the UK under the Reserve Forces (Safeguard of Employment) Act 1985."
The accompanying report also notes that filling a reservist post on a temporary placement is not likely to be so much of a problem given the current unemployment situation:
"In the current employment climate the Social Security Department is well placed to nominate 'advance to work' or 'return to work' people to back fill any vacancies during the period when the Reservist is on active service."
Let's hope this gets on the statute book soon, as increasing demands are being made on reservists like the TA as the UK armed forces are cut back severely. It is a timely change.
From Home Affairs to Transport and Technical Services, where the "Motor Vehicle Registration (Amendment No.4) (Jersey) Law 201-" is being proposed. This aims to raise revenue by selling off particular numbers for motor vehicles. But it is rather vague as to what kind of numbers will be sold, or how it will operate. The terms of the law, although no doubt simply to ease changes and sale of registered car number plates, does seem open to quite sweeping powers:
"Amends the law and extends the powers for the Minister to make Orders about registering motor vehicles including the assignment and withdrawal of registration marks and particularly the sale, retention and exchange of rights to assignment of registration marks.  It also allows the Minister to provide by Order, for the grant of a right to have a particular mark assigned to a vehicle by sale at auction, by tender or by charge (set by the Minister), together with any documents necessary for validating these transactions."
When you look at the explanatory notes for the draft law, you read:
"Article 6(l) of the draft Law provides a new power for the Minister, by Order, to provide for reviews or appeals in relation to certain decisions in respect of mark rights and the assignment of registration marks."
In theory, although that's not the intention of the law, this would give the Minister powers to withdraw a registration mark from a vehicle and assign it to someone else for a price. It is another example of quite wide powers being assigned to Ministerial order.
Apparently, it is expected that after auctioneers' commission and other expenses, there will be a net income of £100,000 per annum. There must be some very wealthy people about wanting special number plates.
More controversially still, we have the "London Office Establishment: Government of Jersey: Funding Approval" from the Chief Minister's Department.
This is a request for "a request for non-recurring contingency funding in 2013 totalling £432,300 for costs associated with the establishment of the Government of Jersey London Office."
There has been some controversy about whether this represents value for money, but I personally think it is a necessary expense; Jersey needs to have good lines of communication, and an ear to the ground, close to the Whitehall and Downing Street.
This doesn't just relate to matters of taxation. You have to look at two major setbacks which might potentially have been avoided with better channels of communication. One was the removal of low value consignment relief, where negotiations for some kind of compromise and planned withdrawal could certainly have helped. Another was the loss, fortunately temporary, of the arrangements for reciprocal health agreement in place for free urgent healthcare. Both of those were illustrative of the dangers of being out of touch with the UK.
What is interesting though is that the money comes from "Contingency funding" which also is the source of funds for "Budget Transfer: Freedom of Information Legislation Support from Emerging Items Contingency Funds"
This is in support of the Freedom of Information legislation which is coming online in 2015:
"The adoption by the States' Assembly of a new Freedom of Information (Jersey) Law in May 2011 requires that the States is fully prepared for implementation in early 2015, the target effective date ('Appointed Day Act') for the legislation. An Information Management Programme is needed for the delivery of Freedom of Information (FOI), with appropriate funding put in place to deliver the people, systems, policies and procedures needed to administer the requirements of the law, and to ensure that the States can meet its on-going obligations under the legislation as part of an Information Management function."
It is good that the States are finally getting the UK equivalent of a law to make our government more transparent and accountable, but it is another example of these "contingency funds" which we keep seeing.
Back in the bad old days of Reg Jeune being in charge of the Island's finances, I remember the Departments would all be allocated budgets, and then later on would come "Supply Day Requests", which basically meant extra money because they couldn't keep to their budgets. Our current financial planning seems far more robust, but I shall be keeping a sharp eye out for how many "contingency fund" requests are being made. It seems like a backdoor around budgets.
As Ministerial Decisions, these seem to just slip by, not being noted in the States like the old Supply Day requests. Perhaps a States member could ask how many there have been over the past year, and precisely what the status is of the rather shadowy "Emerging Items Contingency".

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