Monday, 7 March 2016

Why we have lost faith in Treasury Ministers?

Why we have lost faith in Treasury Ministers?

“Balanced budgets through a period of unprecedented global economic turmoil” (Philip Ozouf, Treasury Minister, Election manifesto statement of achievement, 2014)

In a recent survey of politicians, Senator Maclean came bottom in the popularity stakes, just beating Senator Ozouf. Now this was a self-selecting poll, so there are limitations, but what is interesting is his response.

According to Bailiwick Express Senator Maclean said:

"The survey result is really not a surprise as it would be rare for a Finance Minister to be very popular and especially in an environment where he is faced with having to find a solution to a funding shortfall of £145m within a few weeks of taking office.

"The Council of Ministers could have approached the problem in a number of different ways. We could have taken the easy option, massaged the figures, borrowed some money, spent more of our reserves and said we'd close the remaining gap as the economy grew in the future and thus effectively passing a much bigger problem to future generations.

"We decided to be absolutely open about the challenges we faced and set about developing a Medium Term Financial Plan to deal with them and deliver a balanced budget by 2019.

Why I think there is so much anger is not that the Council of Ministers decided to be open to the challenges, transparent about the budget deficit, and not massaged the figures after the 2014 election, but that they appear to have done so before that election. Do they honestly believe the funding shortfall was not present before the election, and opened up in a mere 4 months? If they did know about it, why did no one mention the extent of it during the campaign. 

I know one of the retiring politicians on the Council of Ministers told me that there would be huge budget problems, and I find it hard to believe that they knew that and Senator Maclean did not.

There is a Scrutiny Panel dialogue from July 2014, bare months before the elections, whee Senator Ozouf was positive about the economy.

The Minister for Treasury and Resources, Senator Philip Ozouf said: “Iincome forecasts are slightly down. They are slightly down from where we thought they were in terms of that dotted line. We are always prudent, that is the right thing to be.”

Senator S.C. Ferguson: ...Yes, there are what? Let us not go into details, it is only £100 million here or there, is it not?

The Minister for Treasury and Resources: “Sarah, please, do not add up figures and cast aspersions like that. You have added up, as Deputy Le Fondré did, 3 numbers, this is a number that was an extrapolation that is wrong. Deputy Le Fondré was wrong to add those figures up and somehow come up with another £100 million problem. Because of planning, because of these measures we are taking we are not going to have a £34 million deficit. We are going to be running a surplus this year and we are planning to have a balanced Budget next year “

Now either Senator Maclean was oblivious to this projected deficit, or he was ignorant of it. If Senator Ozouf had kept him in the dark, he should have said so, been honest and upfront about that - and not been complicit in what looks to outsiders like a cover-up of his predecessor's mistakes. He should certainly say so now. Collective responsibility looks more like being an accessory after the facts, as Inspector Morse would say.

Because what it looks to outsiders, the man or woman on the Liberation station omnibus, is that the situation before the election is more like this.

An easy option of massaging the figures, borrowing some money, selling off properties (look at the sales from Property Holdings rising massively!) and juggling funds all over the place, and saying they would close the remaining gap as the economy grew in the future and thus effectively passing a much bigger problem to future generations, namely the States and the electorate after the election.

When the deficit was announced in April 2015, former States Member Ben Shenton, who served as the chairman of spending watchdog the Public Accounts Committee, said the Assembly had previously voted down moves to limit expenditure, with politicians happy to “stick their heads in the sand, blame others, and send out a message that things were great”.

Or as Philip Ozouf said in an upbeat message that things were great in July 2014, “We are going to be running a surplus this year and we are planning to have a balanced Budget next year “

Is it any wonder Senators Maclean and Ozouf came bottom in the poll? It is not a matter of poor communication, it is a matter of communicating one message before the election, and another afterwards. It's not getting a painful message across, it is the fact that they failed to get the painful message across in the first place when it would have been the right time to do so.

No comments: