Wednesday, 25 March 2015

In the States

Order, Order…

The debate on the continued funding of the Jersey Care Inquiry took place today but has been adjourned. Because of problems with electrics and a fire alarm, it was moved for the first time to the Town Hall.

And unusually – although it has happened in the past – the “speaker” was a States member, and not the Bailiff, who apparently recused himself because of a conflict of interest.

It has been said that part of the problem of having a speaker chosen from among States members is that one Parish will probably lose some of its representation in the House. This does happen in the UK, but the numbers of members are so plentiful that the loss of one vote is not significant.

But why not adopt what I would term the “Have I Got News for You Approach”? The TV show suffered the sudden departure of the Chairman Angus Deayton, after various misdemeanours involving sex and drugs. The solution could have been to replace him, but instead they opted for different presenters for each show.

Now there is no reason why this could not happen with the States. A rotating chairmanship, perhaps for a month or two months, by a number of nominated States members would mean that the House and the electorate were not wholly deprived of a member by being set aside as speaker. States members can already take the helm; it would require but a small change to regularise it.

Moreover, having different speakers would also ensure that the post would not accrue to itself a rival status to that of Bailiff, who would remain the Civic Head of Jersey, which I think is the main worry of those who don't want an elected speaker.

The Jersey Care Inquiry

Deputy Anne Pryke made this case for not appropriating badly needed funding from current demands on Health and Social Services; in doing so, she made substantially the same kind of argument that was made by John Refault, the Constable of St Peter:

“We know that funding for health will increase over the years but we only have a finite budget. Indeed there are 2 propositions to come to increase funding for the voluntary sector. I just have not got a bottomless pit.."

"The pressures we are under for waiting lists, time and time again people can read that in the paper; I get a lot of complaints. Public health: improve and campaign to raise the awareness of psychoactive drugs in young people, face-to-face work; that can be one-off. Also to support the Y.E.S. (Youth Enquiry Service) project in that work that they do to cope with the increased demand; that would be one-off payments. So I am afraid I will not be supporting this”

But when was this said? This was said at the time of the Plemont debate, and true to her word, Deputy Pryke (and indeed also the Constable of St Peter) voted against handing over £3.575m of public money to buy the headland.

Deputy Susie Pinel, on the other hand, said that “the approaches that have been made to me with regard to the proposition have been overwhelmingly to vote in favour which I fully intend to do.” There was none of the wholly forensic style of focus on the economic arguments, despite Social Security badly needing extra funds, especially for Income Support, even back in 2014.

It will be interesting to note, when it comes to the vote, how those members – 35 of them – who felt the money could be grabbed from the Criminal Confiscation Fund and used to help the National Trust buy the headland, will somehow have lost all hope that the new Treasury Minister can pull economic rabbits out of his bag like his predecessor.

The Jersey Care Inquiry is not a vanity project, nor could it ever been seen as such. Despite the strong emotive appeals made, the funding of the purchase of Plemont could have been seen as a vanity project. So isn’t there a shocking inconsistency with those members who - like Susie Pinel – urged splashing out on Plemont, but now tell the States to draw in the purse strings?

In fact the said Deputy also voted for the purchase of Plemont by compulsory purchase in 2012, when essentially the vote (which was lost) was one for a blank cheque! One could say: "Wake up, little Susie", to your blatant inconsistency.

And how much money is still available in the Criminal Confiscation Fund? If there was no better use, it would be to support the inquiry. Or has it been frittered away elsewhere by clever creative accounting?

I am in favour of prudence, and better accountability, and I do worry that the legal costs have been significantly greater than expected – but that suggests that an examination should be taken to see how that has happened. Clearly something is amiss.

But if a business needs better financial controls to run well, closing the business down should be the final option, and an admission of failure - bringing better financial controls should be the first. Should we have shut down Economic Development because they gave away £200,000 under Senator Maclean's tenure? Should we give up on Digital Jersey and shelve it because of the money which it has wasted? Or do we have better controls on spending? 


Póló said...

A worthwhile and considered contribution to the debate.

I'm sure there are those who would love to use the high legal costs as an excuse to close down the inquiry. And some of those are not too far from the legal sector themselves.

As you say, one doesn't throw out the baby with the bathwater. An independent inquiry is badly needed to ensure/restore the integrity of the island and equally public expenditure needs to be strictly monitored and controlled in any event.

Nick Palmer said...

I think this whole inquiry is throwing into sharp relief the humongous over the top amounts that legal stuff costs, in particular, in Jersey.

One wonders why market forces do not seem to function (in the case of legal fees) to bring about a flood of new legal practitioners who would saturate the market and thus bring the stratospherically high costs crashing down... but what do we see locally? Oddly enough, we do see, locally, far more students ending up in the law than in a less unusual jurisdiction, yet legal fees stay relentlessly orbital.

I think a challenge need to be brought to whatever system of protectionism the law apparently uses to keep the gravy train rolling along. Somehow the market has drastically failed in this area.

I was in Southampton just recently and what was very noticeable was the lack of marble columns, platinum statues and gold inlaid ashtrays in the average solicitors' offices. Indeed, some of them could do with repointing their brick work...