Wednesday, 21 May 2014

The States Debate Power and Pay

After a marathon run of States sittings, the proposition giving the Chief Minister the right to fire his ministers and to set up new ministries has just been passed. However, the States retain the right to nominate alternative candidates to those of the Chief Minister, so a degree of balance has been retained.
It is interesting to speculate what would happen if a Chief Minister fired a Minister, but the States nominated him for the post, and he was re-elected. Presumably, while in principle the Chief Minister could sack him again, it would be unlikely.
Of course, the method in the past, as with Stuart Syvret, was for a vote for dismissal to be brought as a proposition and debated by the whole House. As they voted him out of office, it would have been unlikely that in the new situation, he would have received enough support to win a re-nomination.
But the case of Rob Duhamel is interesting, as it seems as if members of the House, and the Council of Ministers, were quite divided over whether he should go. Indeed, it was the split within the Council of Ministers which led to negotiations, and a rapprochement between Chief Minister and Planning Minister, with the consequent withdrawal of the proposition.
The question is what difference collective responsibility would make. If  a majority in the Council of Ministers, even a slender one, supported the Chief Minister's removal of a Minister from office, would the dissenting voices be silenced? Under collective responsibility all ministers must support cabinet decisions, although I understand there are caveats for matters of conscience.
Fortunately, politicians voted 23 in favour to 20 against the proposal for extra pay for Ministers. Coupled with the increase in the Chief Minister's powers, Sam Mezec was quite right to point out the dangers:
"Not only will ministers lose their title and position if they don't toe the line, they will also lose a large part of their salary."
Apparently Senator Ozouf said the change would not mean ministers suddenly got more pay, it would be down to the remuneration body to decide if they deserved more money. Given the imbalance in the membership of the remuneration body - all retired high-earners - and their past decisions, I shudder to think what they would decide.
Politicians in the island are paid £42,600 a year and are able to claim up to £4,000 in expenses. Their salary is set by an independent remuneration body. The BBC report listed UK MPs salaries, which are considerably higher (basic pay £ £67,060), but for some reason didn't give the closest comparison, which would surely be Guernsey politicians, who have similar responsibilities and workload.
Guernsey politicians are paid far less than Jersey ones, and while pay is extra for Ministers, which would make Senator Ozouf very happy, Ministers now get £46,364.
The pay scales in 2012 (before a recent increase this year) were as follows:
Chief Minister................................£ 61,520 - 00
Deputy Chief Minister....................£ 48,450 - 00
Minister........................................£ 46,350 - 00
Chairman .....................................£ 39,570 - 00
Deputy Minister & Vice Chairman...£ 36,550 - 00
States Member..............................£ 34,155 - 00
Minister Kevin Stewart said of a recent 3.2% pay rise that: "I work bloody hard for the money, quite frankly..When I became a deputy I knew what the pay offer was and I'm entitled to take it, like any other job - I don't have another job and I work more than 50 hours per week."
Now if Guernsey Ministers work as hard as their Jersey counterparts for around the same , perhaps the proposition on the pay differential should have been to reduce backbenchers pay instead of increasing Ministerial pay. I don't somehow think there will be any takers for that view, surprisingly!
And finally, an interesting quote from an interview with Tony Benn about how to both work within collective responsibility, and raise issues and differences of opinion from it:
Iain Dale: It's difficult as a Minister, when you are bound by collective responsibility, to drive forward an individual agenda. You are always compromised by the system.
Tony Benn: Not really. I developed a way of dealing with that. I realized that collective responsibility applied to the present Parliament, so I would say "looking ahead ten years this is what we will have to think about." so I could open up a whole area. They couldn't get me on that. I would also say "I'm getting an awful lot of letters at the moment saying this, that or the other." It didn't please colleagues but I think that on the whole a government where it is known there is a debate going on is more credible than the pretence of unanimity. The idea that a Cabinet is unanimous on every issue isn't true and everybody knows it isn't true.

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