Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Controlling or Consulting?

Controlling or Consulting?

The recent leaks which Deputy Geoff Southern has exposed show how controlling the Council of Ministers has been.

As usual, the Medium Term Plan is being released at the end of June, just before the summer recess. The argument for doing this is the same one repeated with tired regularity – that it gives States members and the public time to view them.

In fact, it is rather like the unfortunate fiasco which befell Education Minister Deputy Rod Bryans. As readers may remember he was criticised for getting the information out – and then going on holiday immediately afterwards.

[As an aside, I am pleased that the new proposals for nursery care funding by the States contain a sliding scale for means testing, something I strongly advocated at the start – fixed cut offs usually lead to people simply gaming the system. A sliding scale gives a lot less incentive to do so.]

But returning to the matter in hand, Deputy Bryans was criticised heavily, and indeed admitted it had been a mistake, for releasing the proposals just as he left the Island for his holidays.

And yet now we have the Medium Term Plan due for release just before the summer recess when we can expect that at least some Ministers will be unavailable because they are on holiday!! 

Moreoever, with no States sittings, there is no forum for raising questions until just before the MTP is debated.

It is a matter of control. The Council of Ministers doesn’t really consult (although individual Ministers may), but wants to control how it releases information. It doesn’t want to have a lot of time and effort in consultation, when decisions have already been made.

But a leaked document has revealed cuts. Do the Council stick to their guns on the release date, or would it be better to engage with the public? What if the leaks are more or less accurate? If they are, we should be told; if not, the people's fears should be allayed. That would be the responsible course of action.

Deputy Southern said that “The document I have seen contains well over 150 potential measures including the loss of over 400 posts across all departments. Although most are described as efficiency savings many public services, vital to the wellbeing of islanders, will be stopped, reduced or outsourced with consequent loss of standards. Both of the priority areas, Health and Education, supposedly to be protected, have seen major damaging cuts.”

In reply, Alan Maclean, decided to spin the news. Now one of the features of spinning around is that a spinning top faces many ways, and so it was with Senator Maclean’s comments.

In response, Senator Maclean said that the figures appeared to come from an early draft, much of which has now been changed. But he has refused to say which of the cuts was not happening in the way that the leaked papers present. He said: "It has been superseded, it's out of date, a lot of it is inaccurate.

"We wouldn’t wish to make any further comment other than to say that some of the points picked up are points that we have been making since the MTFP was lunched last year which is to say that we are looking to reorganise the public sector and reprioritise spending to key areas health, education and economic growth."

"As we’ve been clear publicly, part of the plan will be a reduction in headcount, stronger vacancy management and if necessary after all those avenues have been exhausted compulsory redundancy."

So one the one hand - it is inaccurate, and lots of it has changed, but on the other hand - a lot of cuts will be taking place more or less along the same lines as the leaked document.

The Roman God Janus, who could face both ways, must be rejoicing that he has found a disciple in the modern world!

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