Tuesday, 8 December 2015

A Culture of Delay

A Culture of Delay

The commentator William Barclay recalls a fable about three demons who were being sent by their leader Satan to destroy the human race. “How are you going to do this,” Satan asked them. The first said: “I will tell them that there is no God.” Satan responded: “You will not fool many. They know God exists.” The second said: “I will tell them there is no hell.” Satan answered: “They won’t believe you.” The third demon said: “I will tell them there is no hurry.” “Ah, that is good,” Satan replied, “you will ruin thousands.”

I was thinking about that in reading part Ben Shenton’s submission to the Jersey Care Inquiry. Ben was Assistant Minister for Health and then, briefly, Minister for Health. 

So we are on about 7 to 10 years from the time that Paul Le Claire described when Health and Social Services Operated under the Committee system.

It is a culture in which there are still failings and delay – as Ben says: “you could probably fill this room with reports that have been commissioned by States and not acted upon. It is a political process normally to keep something at bay or to just keep complainants happy.”

While some items were kept out of the minutes with the Health and Social Services Committee, the change from a committee system to Ministerial government seems to have had a far greater impact on how records were kept – when Ben asked “can I have a copy of the outstanding issues and the minutes of meetings you had with the previous minister”, he was told that it was just informal conversations which were not recorded.

This seems to have been done certainly with the connivance of the officers, as they did not like him bringing in a regime of minuting discussions – so that he could monitor progress. Verbal briefings are much better, I am sure, at concealing procrastination.

And it also allowed strategic developments to take place which would be unrecorded. The Police Chief, Graham Power, was present at a meeting of Chief Officers who were discussing – informally, and without minutes – how to remove the Health Minister Stuart Syvret. 

It is only because Mr Power had the foresight to make a written file note immediately after that meeting that we know it took place. This does not make for transparent government, to use the popular cliché which is such a favourite today.

There was clearly a culture of closing ranks against Stuart Syvret and that certainly led him to react in way which paved the way for his dismissal. But Ben Shenton, who was at one time quite outspoken about Lenny Harper, also found the same culture endemic when he took over.

Have lessons been learned? It is difficult to tell because those in positions of power tend not to rock the boat, and of course, the Quangos of Jersey – Telecoms, JEC, Jersey Water, Housing Shadow Board, and the new Ports Committee are littered with ex-politicians – usually with rather a tidy remuneration for relatively little work. They are not going to spill the beans and lose out on what is rather a nice way of easing their retirement from the States. It is usually those who are assistant ministers who become marginalised that will tell us what is really going on, and most of those don't want to rock the boat while the "greasy pole" of preferrement awaits.

A Culture of Delay
Ben Shenton

I think when you have to look back you will no doubt be well aware or become well aware that the person that was removed as head of the Child Protection Committee was Iris Le Feuvre. Iris Le Feuvre was a very, very good friend of Senator Frank Walker, who was the Chief Minister at the time.

We will never know whether if the Head of the Child Protection Committee had been Ms Jane Doe whether we would then have had the events that followed.

The Council of Ministers has no control over individual departments on business that doesn't overlap  and I don't think a lot of people realise this. So when you are Minister for Health, if you have an area of responsibility that doesn't overlap with another department, you are not beholden to the Council of  Ministers in how you operate that policy.

This system works okay in the UK, because they have a party political system. So in the UK if you have got your Health Minister, he is then constrained by the policies of the party and the political whip to keep him in line.

Because Jersey has no political parties, it is down to an individual that has no control to actually keep them in line. So this was a weakness of the ministerial system. We, in my opinion, we had a system designed for parties operating with independents.

So when one of these strands of government, i.e. Health, when the minister didn't start acting in the way that the rest of the Council of Ministers felt that he should be acting, there was no real mechanism, as in the UK where you have whips and policies, to actually bring that person back into line. So it was almost like the nuclear option of you have to remove someone if they are not acting and therefore you need to establish some sort of event or something that would allow you to remove  that person, because you also need the support of the chamber.

Well, within Children's Services, when I became Assistant Minister for Health, Iris Le Feuvre had been  removed as head of the Child Protection Committee and she had been replaced by June Thoburn. Now, if we go all the way back to when I started this and I said I'm an investment manager, I don't give -- I don't tell a consultant how to operate on a patient or give any sort of things outside my expertise, I have got expertise in management and pushing things forward, but I'm not an expert actually this the day to day detail of it.

Now, this was a very positive step because Iris Le Feuvre was not an expert in child protection issues and yet she was appointed to that position because of who she knew and who she hung round with, as opposed to her competency and her professional qualifications.

So putting an expert in charge of the Child Protection Committee, which is something Senator Syvret  did, was very much the first step to making the States of Jersey a little bit more professional. But it upset a lot of people, that is the problem.

Andrew Williamson came in, and that was at the behest primarily of the Council of Ministers, to look at Children’s Services and again we had someone, a professional in their field, coming in to look at the department. And then further down the line we had the Howard League, which – that was Senator Syvret's recommendation, coming in to look at the way we held vulnerable children.

So these were all steps where we were replacing the old system of people taking roles because they were known on the Island or because they knew the right people and replacing them with professionals, and this was a very important step, and long may it continue,  because there is still a lot of work to be done.

Q: To what extent has the introduction of statutory ministerial collective responsibility made a difference?

Well there is no opposition now; I don't know whether that counts. Well there is collective responsibility, but there is no policy to be collectively responsible for. So again, it is a bit of a mess.

I mean, you could probably fill this room with reports that have been commissioned by States and not  acted upon. It is a political process normally to keep something at bay or to just keep complainants happy that you will get an independent review. The Kathie Bull Report was not fully implemented.

Q: You go on to say that ministerial government was set up without any proper checks and balances and that you therefore decided your own remit and made your own decisions. What sort of checks and balances do you think would have worked and may work in the future?

A. I think what they need to do, or the government needs to do is to have a strategic plan that is not a woolly, mama and apple pie document, but is actually a detailed document as to what they will achieve and put timeframes  in, as to when they will achieve it. So that people can see whether the government is actually performing to their expectations.

Q: Mr Shenton, during your time as a minister and given specifically your private sector experience in financial management, when you took over the department, were you provided with any management information, for instance in respect of performance and outcomes?

No. In fact, I would have to say that I have never come across such a complete mess in my whole life. I took over and I said "can I have a copy of the outstanding issues and the minutes of meetings you had with the previous minister" and they said "we don't keep any records of that", it was all just conversations and so on and so forth. So I had to institute a regular Friday minuted update and with that, we would have recorded outstanding issues and deadlines and then we would revert back to find out whether things had been done, and if they hadn't been done, why they hadn't been done, but none of that was in place when I took over.

Q. A very quick follow-up on that: did you implement audits on performance and outcomes, or ...?

I wasn't there really long enough. We were just starting to get -- I was only in the job 20 for 12, 13, 14 months, I think. We were getting there, but then the new Chief Minister didn't want me there, so ... I had outstayed my welcome.

In paragraph 30 you address what is called the culture of closing ranks, and you say the greatest weakness of the States, which you describe as being still very much prevalent within the public sector, is closing ranks. You give as an example the way in which the department had reacted to the mistreatment of children by the Maguires and I am sure you are aware, Mr Shenton, the Inquiry has heard extensive evidence about the Maguire scandal. You say this has been the default position of the States. What exactly do you mean by closing ranks? It may be very obvious, but in the context of politicians, what should we understand by that?

I think it means dealing with a matter in a manner which causes the least amount of ructions within the service. It is far easier for the States to pay off or to make someone exit quietly than have a full-blown criminal investigation or inquiry or so on and so forth. The Civil Service themselves have a cultural problem which exists today where they find it very, very difficult to take criticism, and instead of taking criticism positively and using it as a sort of robust two-way sort of argument as to how something should be done, they tend to, and they still react in very much a retrenchment, sort of put the barricades up manner, and I'm not quite sure how you are going to change that, to be honest with you.

Q: How do you say the department or the service closed ranks over the Maguire scandal?

A. Well, obviously they found -- I mean, again, and this is something that I wasn't -- if you are asking me as Ben Shenton now, because as Minister of Health & Social Services that wasn't an issue, because that was before my time, it was long before my time as minister. That had been dealt with long before. So this is just my opinion as Ben Shenton. I mean, it was far easier for them to pay off the Maguires and sort of give them a good reference to move on than it was to actually look at the issues. And unfortunately for the children that were affected, if you got a child in care and a respectable person in authority, the onus up to now would always to believe a respectable person in authority, as opposed to the child in care.

I think through this whole saga if you -- no one  within this whole Inquiry comes out with any credit, not  myself, nobody, nobody comes out with any particular credit through this, and there has been some pretty horrendous victims as results of negligence and the systems in place and so on and so forth.

And I know most of the players on the judiciary, the political side, within the services themselves and I can honestly say that I don't think anyone operated with any malice or any bad intention. But if you are used to doing things in a certain way, you can perceive that you are doing good when you are not, because you are not aware of the damage that you are actually doing.

And I think -- you know, you are going to interview the Police later on, and, you know, certainly I'm not  100 per cent happy with the way they handled the affair, but I can understand the frustrations they had with the judiciary. I can understand why the judiciary did what they did, I can understand why Senator Syvret did what he did, and I can understand why the Council of Ministers did what they did. There was no malice there, but if you are operating almost with blinkers, you are not going to see the damage that you are doing. And me as a politician didn't see it either. And it is only with the benefit of hindsight and looking back that you can say yes, the judiciary didn't take notice of the experts in Social Services. They were not experts in childcare.

Yes, I can understand why Harper and Power were frustrated at the actions of the judiciary. Yes, I can  understand that Stuart Syvret was frustrated at not being told what was going on in his department. Yes, I can understand the attempt of the Council of Ministers at the time to calm the waters. So there is an awful lot to be learnt from this.  But unfortunately no one is going to come out of it well. But there was no malice by anyone.

Q: We know from Council of Ministers' minutes that the discussion of the Howard League invitation by  Senator Syvret was taken up by the Council of Ministers and they set out their concerns, as it were, about him acting unilaterally without reference back it his colleagues. When Senator Syvret was effectively dismissed from his position, was there any move to withdraw the invitation to the Howard League?

Yes, there was, yes.

Q. Who made that attempt?

It was done through the Chief Officer of Health, Mike Pollard.

Q. And why was that done?

It was the usual "we don't think it is necessary" type of response.

Q: At paragraph 81 {WS000636/24}, where you are agreeing with the conclusions reached in a particular passage of the Howard League Report, where they have said at paragraph 80, you are quoting:  "... powerful interlocking networks may exclude and disempower those outside of the groups and make it hard for those outside of those networks who have genuine concerns to raise them or make complaints in an effective way. This is likely to be particularly true of deprived, disadvantaged and powerless children."

And you go on to quote:  "An enlightened authority will recognise these risks  and put in place independent checks and balances, and methods of redress that will mitigate these risks."  You say, Mr Shenton, paragraph 81: I would agree wholeheartedly with these conclusions. I cannot imagine how hard it must have been for a young child in care to disclose allegations  of abuse when faced with this culture of closing ranks and with the 'the power interlocking networks'. The child would have been discredited and would not have had the power to change anything." Then you conclude:  "Unfortunately, I do not think that anything has  changed since this report was written. I do feel that this is an issue that still needs to be addressed within the service."

How do you come to the conclusion that nothing has changed?

I don't get the impression -- and again I'm a layperson now, I am not in politics -- I don't get the impression,  being outside the States as I am, that there has been sufficient change within the system to do that. And I think the children within care, I still think they  lack a voice to be heard, because if I go back to another part of my statement, I still don't think it is  coordinated enough. If, you know, one of the children we got into care when we were fostering came into care  because Education had noted that he didn't have any lunch, they were coming to school without lunch, they were malnourished and everything else like that; you know, you have Education, you have Home Affairs, you  have Social Services, and I still don't get the impression that anyone is -- you know, if you have  little Johnny in the middle, I don't think anyone is actually taking responsibility for little Johnny.

Education does when he is at school, Home Affairs does when he has run away and they bring him back, and Social Services do if he has at risk or something like  that, you know, if it becomes serious. But there is no one actually looking after him. And this is where, going back to the children's minister concept comes in.

Q. You may recall also, Mr Shenton, that the Howard League criticised the function carried out by the Greenfields independent Board of Visitors; do you remember that?

I do. I mean it is a long time since I read the Howard League Report

Q: At paragraph 73 you suggest that your own department had lost confidence in you, I think is how I summarise what you say there. Why do you think that had happened?

A. I'm not sure whether they had lost confidence in me. I don't think they particularly enjoyed working with me. I think that is probably a thing -- all of a sudden they started getting the meetings with them minuted, they started getting set deadlines to implement things, they were starting to be chased as to why things weren't done. It was quite a cultural change for them.

Q: Finally, Mr Shenton, the Inquiry is in a position to make recommendations. I know you have already qualified your view about the success or otherwise of those recommendations being carried through, but what would you want the Inquiry to consider in particular?

I think my own view is that there does need to be a children's minister and I'm not totally convinced that Social Services and Health make good bedfellows: because Health is such a large budget and Social Services so small, it doesn't necessarily get the attention that it deserves.

There has to be a cultural change within the Island to open up and accept the problems -- or not problems, but accept that mistakes were made. You know, we all make mistakes. We all make mistakes. If you make a mistake, don't try and defend it, just open and say  "yes, I made a mistake".

And the judiciary made mistakes. They kept children with parents that quite frankly had no right to be  parents, and rather than try and say "Oh yes, oh yes", they made a mistake. And it is only with the benefit of hindsight that we know that.

But the reason they made that mistake is because they were lawyers -- with all due respect, they were lawyers and they were not childcare experts. And they made decisions in areas that they had no expertise and if the Children’s Services, if you have faith and confidence in the Children’s Services, you will accept the recommendations put to you.

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