Looking through very recent Ministerial decisions, I came across this little gem:
"Budget transfer to States Assembly: IT provision for States Members. A decision made 10 March 2014: Budget transfer from CMD to States Assembly to enable IT provision for States Members"
This is a "one off" expense, although what the situation will be in October when new States members may well come along, has yet to be seen. Expect another "one off" expense.
The details say that this is:
"To enable the Chief Minister to approve a non-recurring budget transfer in 2014 of £31,000 from the Chief Minister's Department (CMD) Information Services (IS) to the States Assembly to enable IT provision for States Members."
It is all do to with States members having the ability to claim up to £600 to purchases their own IT devices - iPhones, Tablets etc. They own the device, but the States funds part of the costs.
"The Privileges and Procedures Committee (PPC) agreed on 15th November 2013 that a revenue budget of £31,000 should be transferred from the IS budget in CMD to the States Assembly for the sole use of Members IT provision. This budget would be sufficient to allow each member to claim up to £600 per annum, in 2014, for the provision of hardware, broadband and software to assist them in their work as a member of the States. Devices purchased would be categorised as personally owned and operated under a 'Bring Your Own Device' policy and members would be advised to take out device insurance against loss and damage."
Now it is notable that while States members' salaries were increased, in line with the recommendations of the States Remuneration Board, the same body decided to freeze members' allowances.
States members have two income components as a legacy of the past. A salary, and an expense allowance; the latter derived from the days before they were all paid. The two have been kept separate, and while the salary increased last year, the expenses were frozen.
But here is an extra £600 per States member, so where does it sit? The report accompanying the decision is very vague, no doubt assuming that no one would really scrutinise it deeply. It simply says:
"It was further agreed that the States Members' Remuneration Review Body should be requested to provide a recommendation regarding how information services expenses should be reflected within the standard expense allowance for States members from 2015."
So this is bypassing the recommendations of that body, and effectively suggesting to them that the expense allowance should be increased to accommodate it next year. So much for letting the body get on with its work at arm's-length; this is a firm nudge to either increase the main allowance, or introduce a new allowance specific to IT.
The Minutes of PPC of 15th November 2013 simply reflect the decision of the report "to allow each member to claim up to £600 per annum for the provision of hardware, broadband and software to assist them in their work as a member of the States. Devices purchased would be categorised as personally owned and operated under a 'Bring Your Own Device' policy and members would be advised to take out device insurance against loss and damage. The connection of the devices to States of Jersey corporate systems would be dependent upon the member adhering to Information Services policies in respect of mobile devices and information governance, including Data Protection notification."
And they also look to this being an extra component to be added to States members allowances:
"It was agreed the States Members' Remuneration Review Body should be requested to provide a recommendation regarding how information services expenses should be reflected within the standard expense allowance for States members from 2015"
Stripped down to its bare essentials, what is this suggesting? That the standard expense allowance should remain the same? Hardly! It is a recommendation that the States Remuneration Body takes this on board and increases the standard expense allowance!
When the Remuneration Body recommends an increase, as happened last time, there was a good deal of argumentation that it was independent, and States members had to abide by its decision. But it appears that neither PPC nor the Chief Minister in signing off this Ministerial order, really abides by that.
They can increase the standard expense allowance on an ad hoc basis, side stepping the States Remuneration Body, and then effectively tell the States Remuneration Body to include an extra sum in its standard expense allowance to "reflect" this in the future. Will the Remuneration Body take their request on board? If I was a betting man, I would say it was a cast iron certainty!
Is it just me, or does this smack of hypocrisy? When salary goes up, it is untouchable. When expenses are frozen, ways and means are found to get around that. The Village fishmonger, Unhygienix, in the Asterix books, is well known for his stale and smelly fish. But this way of smuggling in an increase in the face of the States Remuneration Body's recommendations smells even worse.
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