Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Guest Post: Sarah Ferguson on Scrutiny and the Finance Centre

I see that finally the States of Jersey Development Company have backed down as are letting Scrutiny view all relevant documents, but this sorry saga in which taxpayers money has drained away in the course of the dispute to various lawyers, raises the issue of just how accountable these new States quangos are.

In that respect the SOJDC is correct: protocols need to be in place so this does not happen again. Indeed a formalised version of the accepted conditions in this case would surely suffice and be easy to implement. It is not right especially that quangoes which were once States Departments should suddenly be able to be unaccountable.

This subject was the subject of a piece in the JEP by Sarah Ferguson, which apparently was slightly edited in the paper, so here is the complete version from Facebook.

Sarah Ferguson on Scrutiny and the Finance Centre

As the Bard almost says “The officers doth protest too much methinks”! The ongoing standoff we have watched between the States of Jersey Development Company and the Corporate Services Scrutiny Panel does give rise to public suspicions about the complexity of the information being withheld.

It was stipulated in the original propositions setting up SoJDC that the company would be subject to review by the Public Accounts Committee and by Scrutiny. Human nature being what it is, is it really surprising that the longer an organisation withholds information, the greater the concern expressed by the public?

It is inconceivable that the Scrutiny Panel could have a sensible discussion with their advisors if the advisors cannot explain the basis for their thinking and the evidence to support it. SoJDC have not noted that there have never been any leaks of information from the Corporate Services Scrutiny Panel and appear to have overlooked the statutory requirement that both the Public Accounts Committee and Scrutiny are entitled to review the company. The followup question is to whom does the company think it is accountable? Scrutiny and the Public Accounts Committee represent the taxpayers – the shareholders.

In most countries a summons to provide information to and to appear before a parliamentary Committee is a three line whip. There may be a reluctance if there may be embarrassment. Classic examples are HBOS and RBS but even these organisations produced the required information.

It is conceivable that if SoJDC had been less secretive and dealt with the enquiry swiftly when first asked then this would have removed the uncertainty which it is maintained that prospective clients felt. Certainly the delays have extended the uncertainty. Co-operation at an early stage would also have reduced the interest which would be shown in the Scrutiny report.

In the meantime we now have a situation where the prospects of Orders of Justice are flying all over the place and the public are totally confused. The second planning application for the latest building with the boundary moved was an interesting move but has it really improved the quality of the arguments?

The underlying question is whether government should get directly involved with property development and carry the risk? Is this an area where taxpayers’ money should be utilised? Originally there was the promise of a loan from the currency fund. Security on the loans for construction will presumably be on the assets of SoJDC - assets belonging to the shareholder, the taxpayer.

It was intended that the development of the Waterfront masterplan would provide an attractive mixed use area for work, rest and play, with an income which would provide funds to regenerate other parts of St Helier. We started on this 8 years ago and we are still waiting.

1 comment:

James said...

SoJDC have not noted that there have never been any leaks of information from the Corporate Services Scrutiny Panel

I'm guessing that what she means is that SOJDC fail to note that there have never been leaks, rather than SOJDC have noted that there have been leaks, which is what the misuse of the double negative suggests.

We the people are not shareholders - that's a wrong way of looking at it. Shareholders can buy in and out - we can't - and moreover there's a covert implication in shareholding that the views of the wealthy (you know, the millionaire sorts who have houses on St Brelade's Bay) count for more than those who live in portakabins on farms.

And the question of whether government should get involved in property development is sheer stupidity: you cannot trust the private sector to deliver what people need, rather than what will earn them a fast buck. Office developments you can leave: decent civilised social housing should be left to government.