Monday, 14 April 2014

A Penny for the Poor?

I have a few items for Monday. First, a note about an independent project called which has been launched to reach out to students, graduates and young professionals and engage them in the political process ahead of this year's elections.

See more at:

If this is something that would interest you, please like, share and follow the following pages on Facebook and Twitter.

You can also find out further information at the following website
And secondly a guest post on the recent rise in States members allowances, and how a changing in Telecoms billing enabled an increase in expenses to slip under the radar, and why this sets a dangerous precedent.

A Penny for the Poor?
by James Rondel

States Members shamelessly agree to a new method of remuneration for IT equipment

This may not be the most important thing that you read about on, and it may well not be the most interesting, but to me, this conflicted and brazen act of self-interest goes some way to demonstrate just what is wrong with our current States Assembly.

So what has happened?

States Members used to have their internet bills paid for them directly, but due to a change to Jersey Telecoms' ("JT") billing system, it is no longer possible for JT to 'void' the bill directly. States Members had also received the use of a States laptop that was "[1]periodically … [up]graded".

Due to the change in JT's billing system, and the fact that the States Remuneration Review Body had already met and made their recommendations for the year, the Privileges and Procedures Committee ("PPC") chaired by Deputy Macon came to the "uncomfortable"[2] decision to divert the £31,000 allowance that was previously held by the IT Department directly into the hands of States Members; providing they requested it.

This begs us two questions to ponder. Firstly, did PPC only realise that JT would be unable to 'void' States Members internet bills after the new billing system was introduced? And could our States Members have delayed any decision making until after the elections in October?

I presume that whilst internet bills would have to be paid during this period, it is questionable whether their technology would have needed a 'periodical upgrade' during this 7 month window.

So why does this matter?

It is my opinion that the actions of PPC, which were endorsed by the Chief Minister, matter for three reasons; Precedent, Accountability and Apathy.

i) Precedent

It would appear that the decision taken to make the £31,000 IT budget directly accessible to States Members sets a precedent 'through the back door' in that far from deciding how best to cover Members' internet expenses, the PPC Committee have decided to do away with the uniformed, and centrally administered States Laptops, and create a situation where it is the individual Member's choice as to how they want to spend their share.

I would assume that the "old out of date laptop"[3] was cheaper to update (periodically) than the £31,000 budget that States Members now have direct access to.

If this is the case, then it is wrong to suggest that it is not costing the tax payer any more money. There is a vast difference between having a set budget, and under-spending, to having an annual allowance being made available to all States Members.

Indeed, in his answer to a written question on this very topic, Deputy Macon conceded that, "To date, 23 States members have requested an allowance, totalling £12,650"[4]. Nearly half of our members have claimed a proportion of their allowance in only a matter of weeks!

If this isn't bad enough, PPC, and the Chief Minister, have inadvertently tied the hands of the States Remuneration Review Body into how their IT expenses should be administered in the future. For those of you who think I have made an assumption, I wager a coffee that the Review Body will not be prepared to reverse the decision, particularly when Deputy Macon pointed out on Facebook that "IT suggested that it would be better for them and States members to get members to buy there own devices [sic]"[5]. There is seemingly neither political will, nor departmental will, for our civil servants to shoulder the responsibility of fulfilling our States Members electronic requirements.

ii) Accountability

Having established why the change has occurred, how much it is going to cost the tax payer, and how PPC have set a precedent for this level of spending to continue, we now need to consider what controls there are in place.

Taking into consideration that this is the same Assembly which selflessly refused to debate the possibility of a pay freeze, due to the inherent vested interest of Members discussing their own remuneration, I was surprised to discover that PPC took to making this decision prior to the next sitting of the Review Body.

I am concerned that this policy has a deficit in accountability. Deputy Macon stated in his answer to a written question that, "Members are not required to prove that the money has been spent on information technology"[6].
Simply put, it is not acceptable to implement such an opaque policy during the era of transparent and open governance. 

The electorate need to be able to see how members have spent which amount on what product.
In the same way that we need to be able to see how decisions are made, and who makes them, we need to be given this information, as it is the only deterrent to corruption.

iii) Apathy

The expenses saga in Westminster is seemingly endless. The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, The Right Honourable Maria Miller MP, is the latest in a long line of politicians who have been discovered to have abused the expenses system.

When we couple this with our low voter turnout, and the general apathy towards politics in Jersey, it doesn't take a political scientist to tell you that the decision to hand IT allowances directly to Members, is not going to play well with the public.

Rather ironically the Committee charged with raising voter turnout amongst the populace, is the same Committee who made this decision, and it is the same Assembly who graciously accepted a 10% rise to their expenses allowance in 2012.

I fear that the expense culture is creeping its way into Jersey politics, and that this would be the death knell for the already demoralised Jersey voter.

We need a new untainted Remuneration Review Body that removes any decision completely from the hands of States Members. It needs to be comprised of people from a broad background, and not remain its present retired middle class male demographic. It also needs to be more responsive and engaging with the views of the electorate through mechanisms such as social media.

Until we make these changes our elected representatives will remain figures of ridicule, and I fear that if they retain the new method of claiming IT expenses, it will inevitably lead to a system that will cost more money to the electorate, be open to abuse, and lead to greater despondency amongst voters.


[1] Deputy Jeremy Macon, Chairman of Privileges and Procedures Committee, Facebook, 17/03/14, 11:41
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[5] Deputy Jeremy Macon, Facebook, 17/03/14, 11:41

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