Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Trevor's Written Questions

Trevor tells us that his written questions for the States sitting of February 2nd arise from a mixture of his current constituent work; unresolved issues arising from the last States sitting; and some developing work on a review of taxation. The question to the Home Affairs Minister relates to many months work supporting residents of Albert Quay to get the authorities to finally tackle long-standing problems with anti-social behaviour. The question to the Attorney General follows on from a question on the use of independent lawyers during the Historic Abuse Inquiry that went unanswered at the last sitting due to States 'Question Time' over-running. The question to the Treasury Minister arises from work Trevor is analyzing with regard to progressive taxation possibilities. Finally, the question for the Chairman of the Privileges & Procedures Committee relates to the dissatisfaction a number of Members felt with the manner in which the complaint to PPC from Jersey's suspended Police Chief was dealt with.


"Will H.M. Attorney General please clarify whether any of the three former members of 7 Bedford Row Chambers subsequently employed within or by the Attorney General’s office, as mentioned in an answer to a written question on 19th January 2009, were involved in any way in work relating to the Historic Abuse Inquiry; and if so, would he advise what form this involvement took?"


"Will the Minister advise how many complaints, if any, have been received by the States of Jersey Police over the past twelve months relating to anti-social behaviour emanating from the area around the Albert Quay Apartments and surrounding land, particularly problems involving cars and motor bikes; further still, how many arrests have been made and how many charges have been brought against those involved in such anti-social behaviour?

Given the number of complaints from residents concerning anti-social behaviour involving cars and motorbikes outside the Albert Quay Apartments, will the Minister advise whether it is the responsibility of the States of Jersey Police or the Harbours Department to deal with this; and whether speed limits and Island-wide restrictions on the sounding of horns within certain hours can be enforced by the States of Jersey Police?"


"Given that taxation rates are in line for review, based on current figures, would the Minister advise what increase in revenue would be achieved by the introduction of a progressive tax rate of either 25% or 30% being implemented for those earning more than £100,000 per annum?"


Following her response to a question on 19th January 2009, concerning the letter of complaint to the Privileges and Procedures Committee made by the suspended Chief Officer of the States of Jersey Police, when the Chairman stated that she had intended to mention the letter to the rest of the Committee but that it had not been done , whilst also stating that she often did not inform the Committee of such contacts, would the Chairman advise whether she feels that such comments are consistent; and whether she feels that such practice does not undermine confidence in the Committee to do its job?"

Monday, January 25, 2010

More Questions Coming From Geoff

Deputy Geoff Southern will also be holding some other ministers to account with written questions:-

To Housing minister

The asst minister for Housing stated publicly on 24th January that “by and large they (J- cats) are on a time limit”. Will the minister state whether the policy of granting permanent J-cat licences has changed and state what proportions of the 348 and 533 licences granted in 2009 and 2008 respectively were granted in the public and private sectors?

To Chief Minister

Following the breakdown of the mediation process between the States Employment Board and teachers’ representatives, will the CM inform members what instructions were given to the States representatives on the 2009 pay offer in order to allow meaningful mediation to take place? What further measures does the CM have under consideration to avert the prospect of industrial action in our schools?

To Housing minister

Notwithstanding the ongoing consultation process his department is engaged in, will the minister inform members what options he has under consideration to eliminate the chronic underfunding of £7.5 m on annual repairs and maintenance identified in the Whitehead report?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Geoff to Quiz Ministers About Post Office

Following the news that Jersey's Post office plans extensive downsizing in the near future, Deputy Geoff Southern has prepared the following questions to ministers:

Economic Development Minister

To what extent has the ED department been in consultation with the management of Jersey Post, either directly or through the JCRA or other bodies over the recently announced restructuring plan for Jersey Post?

In particular, will the minister explain to members the meaning of the following statements from Jersey Post:

1.“the redundancies at Jersey Post are not a reduction in jobs…”
Will the minister inform members how many employees are there now and how many at the end of the process in 2013?

2.There is to be a “re-alignment of pay to market rates for particular skill sets and activities”
Does this re-alignment mean pay cuts for any employees, and if so which grades and how many? Further, will the minister outline for members the depth of any such pay cuts?

3.Can the minister assure members that this process will not result in deterioration to the Universal Service Provision, including collection and delivery provision?

4.In particular, has the minister received any assurances that Post Offices or sub post offices will not be closed or otherwise affected by this process?

Social Security Minister

Will the minister detail for members of the extent that his department has been involved in discussions over the impact that the restructuring plan recently announced by Jersey Post will have on redundancies and reduced wages and hence on his departments expenditure on Income Support and supplementation? Will he give members an estimate of these projected costs?

Setting Short-term objectives: Our Deputies Meet and Discuss

The JDA's four Deputies regularly meet to discuss and co-ordinate their work. They have decided to start publishing the minutes of their meetings online, to give the public a better understanding of their work. Here, then is this year's first:


At today’s meeting, Geoff, Shona, Trevor and Debbie discussed their priorities over what propositions to bring in the next few months. They focus on the key policy areas of fair taxation, electoral reform and population.

Geoff will conduct a further investigation into land value tax. He will ask a question about how much revenue would be generated by a higher tax rate for high earners. There will be a proposition (possibly brought by Trevor) to remove GST from essential items and raise it on luxury goods. Debbie will focus on the removal of GST from winter fuel payments, and Shona on the removal of GST from healthy food items.

This is an opportune time to raise it to 45% of the average wage. This needs to be dealt with (by Geoff) by March.

Shona is working on a proposition re the method by which the Chief Minister is elected. Debbie is proposing that Ministers should be unable to vote for Scrutiny chairmen. Geoff or Trevor will propose a rolling electoral register.

There is a hope that 39A (the law that prohibits helping people to apply to get registered for a postal vote) will be rescinded, brought forward by a States member who is not in the JDA. Having discussed this with a number of members of the general public deeply concerned about the disenfranchisement of many who are elderly or disabled etc, Geoff is also looking at the possibility of challenging it in the Royal Court on the basis that it is not Human Rights compliant.

Trevor will try to establish the right to lodge propositions in the name of the party.

The migration and population policy is being restructured. The JDA needs to discuss the line it will take.

As Scrutiny has now stalled on establishing an advocacy service, members favour the holding of regular surgeries with a rota of town deputies. There could be a buddy system, with experienced deputies training less experienced ones, and lay members to take on cases.

This was discussed but it was agreed that no policy will be brought forward for the time being given that the issue is set to be a forthcoming Scrutiny topic.

Sunday, January 17, 2010


My proposition focusing on the eighteen Ministers and Assistant Ministers now not just claiming their expenses, but also getting their Blackberry bills paid at the taxpayers’ expense is up for debate next week. Followed rapidly by my attempt to get more States Members to do what they are actually paid for by the taxpayer during States sitting weeks i.e. stay in the Chamber to listen, make informed decisions and vote accordingly.

Like many ‘backbenchers’, not to mention a good few members of the public who have observed the constant fiddling and message sending to each other (including telling at least one hapless Assistant Minister which way to vote!) from the Public Gallery, I am sick of a practice that is already banned in Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Eire and the Isle of Man - and seems quite likely to become so at Westminster too, where as recently as November 2009 the Deputy Speaker made it quite clear that their use in the House was ‘to be discouraged’.

I’ll probably try and write something in more detail on all of this after the debate itself. But in the meantime, it is worth flagging up this little gem from Chief Minister, Terry Le Sueur for consideration. Within his comments – or the Council of Ministers’ (you take your pick as to the true author) - attempting to justify all of this states:

“Ministers are required to stay in contact during Sittings of the States. Part B of Deputy Pitman’s proposition cites that there is ‘no justification’ for Blackberries inside the States Chamber, but it remains important for Ministers to receive messages and information from their departments when inside the Chamber. Prohibiting Blackberries inside the Chamber would thus be a retrograde action, forcing Ministers to leave and go elsewhere to perform their duties”

All very impressive on the face of it I have to concede. Only problem is when you start to dwell on the last line “Prohibiting Blackberries… (would result in)… forcing Ministers to leave and go elsewhere to perform their duties” Why? Because if more than a few members of the Executive - even with the wonderful, 21st Century technology of Blackberry instant communication – spent much less time in the Chamber than they do already it really wouldn’t be worth them coming in at all.

Still, I suppose the good thing is that such a statement really does mean that it will be fascinating to observe the two debates i.e. see how these members of the Executive will try to argue both that they must be allowed to keep their Blackberries to prevent them having to leave the Chamber – and that the States shouldn’t support my proposition to increase the quorum to keep them in the building. Yes, look out for some true Orwellian 1984 double-speak!

Deputy Trevor Pitman

Friday, January 15, 2010


Following on from questions raised by Deputy Bob Hill – this being with regard to the decision of the Chairman of PPC to refuse to investigate the concerns of the suspended Chief Police Officer over the actions of some involved in his suspension - at next week’s States sitting the I shall ask the following question of the Chief Minister:

“Did a meeting led by the Chief Executive take place after the CMB (Corporate Management Board) meeting of 25th July 2007 to discus matters relating to the Minister for Health and Social Services and, if so, who was present at the meeting, was the possible removal from office of the Minister discussed and, if so, would the Chief Minister suspend all those present from their duties pending a full investigation into this matter”.

These concerns have rumbled on for far too long. Having already personally asked questions last year about the alleged political and senior civil service involvement in the ‘Operation Blast’ case; and only last week seen serious concerned again expressed over the suspension of the Chief Police Officer, the allegations that attempts were made to remove a Minister from position in 2007 must finally be answered and a full independent investigation take place.

Having now been shown a copy of the original file note document where the suspended Chief Police Officer states that he felt an attempt was made to draw him ‘into a civil service led attempt to remove a Minister from office’ I have to ask the question as to how those allegedly involved can not have been suspended while this is independently investigated.

We are told that suspension is ‘a neutral act’ yet Mr. Power has now been suspended for some 14 months. Until such time as he is ever found guilty of any charge he is an innocent man. Thus to any self-respecting democratic government the concerns he expressed back in 2007 must be taken seriously and the matter acted upon. If not, then we can only conclude that the concerns raised by Deputy Hill are well founded. The fact that the Minister at the centre of this happens to be Senator Syvret; and the rights or wrongs of any of his subsequent actions are wholly irrelevant.

Deputy Trevor Pitman

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Apologies, but due to Saturday’s constituent work and visits ending up being far more protracted then anticipated, courtesy of the weather and the nature of one or two of the problems some people had; and another very busy day of constituent work Monday there will be a slight detour in this second posting. The intended response to Team Voice’s questions about the propositions and amendments that I have lodged will now hopefully be completed for posting three later this week.

Instead, tonight I will cover some of the questions sent to Members newly elected to their positions in 2008 about various aspects of their working practices etc. Though its all basic ‘nuts and bolts’ stuff which many may well find wholly boring (hey, its your fault, guys, you did ask!) there are still some interesting issues arising from these questions. So, if Team Voice will bear with me on this occasion, I may come back to one or two of these at a later date. Thanks again for taking the interest.

Other employment

Firstly, Team Voice asked whether Members had any other employment. The answer to that is no, I do not have any external business distractions and am a full-time politician. Nor, in all honesty, do I think that it is particularly desirable to have what for some Members certainly appear to be the clear conflict and pressure/distraction of another ‘job’. Why? Like a number of other Members I am increasingly concerned as to the time some ‘senior’ – and not so senior for that matter - politicians appear to devote to other business interests.

Of course, I fully support the principle that what one does outside of the States is a Member’s own concern. But – particularly in the case of politicians sitting on the Executive as Ministers – if this external commitment appears to be undermining someone’s political work, an issue that has already been raised in the States this year by Shona in relation to the quite ridiculous lengths of time one Minister was taking to respond to members of the public and the backbencher representing them, then that has to be a legitimate concern.

When you also consider the issues I raised in my initial post you also have to question the link to some politicians regularly disappearing from the States building during States sittings – and disappearing for hours at a time. Indeed, these disappearances are something PPC really should be doing something about.

Secretarial assistance and office rental

I don’t employ any secretarial support. I actually prefer to do my own typing (even if it is often based on four fingers and the occasional thumb!), filing etc and in all honesty the expenses limit set for States Members also doesn’t really make this a realistic prospect anyway for those without other income. There is also the issue of the confidential nature of many of the problems we are dealing with to consider. I don’t rent an office either. I work from an office I’ve set up in the spare room at home and on occasion make use of the very limited facilities room at the States. It is worth noting here that, as has now been recognised by PPC this year, the issue of facilities generally and the unevenness of how this pans out for Members is something that needs to be looked at.

For example, Ministers have an office and significant admin/facilities support which I certainly have no quibble with - other than when viewed against some of the appallingly inept reports and answers to questions that have become increasingly regular lately. How this can happen with so many officers at their disposal is a question that many within the Assembly have been asking. Connétables also obviously have access to offices etc by simple nature of their post through their parish hall.

For any Deputy not having a department facility to work within, however, deciding to rent an office means this cost must come from within the expenses limit – which under the States of Jersey Law is meant to be the same for all of us. The reality of this - and for an example I will use Shona who has rented an office in the heart of her district since being elected in 2005 - is that the resultant rental costs will wipe out the vast majority of those expenses meant to also cover everything from phone calls to office equipment, electricity, stationary, postage, printing and materials etc in one stroke.

A fact that takes on a further significance when one considers that this year, in a deliberate ‘loophole’ flouting of the States of Jersey Law (don’t believe the Establishment Party spin that claims otherwise!), we have seen 18 States Members of the Executive, many already with access to offices and support also claiming both their expenses and now getting Blackberry bills paid: effectively increasing/stretching their expenses limit by another three, four figures and beyond! All at the taxpayers’ expense. Why can’t they just stay within expenses limits or foot the surplus themselves like those in Scrutiny?

Have I travelled off-island on States business?

With the others members of the ESC/Home Affairs Scrutiny Panel in November 2009 I visited Westminster and the Welsh Assembly to meet with, and to view our counterparts at work. This was over two days and certainly from my perspective was very useful.

Letters, e-mails and telephone calls etc

Team Voice also asked about the volume of contacts Members received from members of the public. I would imagine that all Members would state that this can vary hugely and is affected by a number of things. For example, in the lead up to the debate on my ‘naming of youth offenders’ proposition I received over 180 contacts on this one issue over three to four weeks. Why? This was clearly an issue that a lot of people felt very strongly about, but the number was still a rarity. On other issues that you also anticipate you will be bombarded with calls you may not get a single one.

I would say that if you happen to have been in the media regarding a particular issue this also has an impact. As for more general contacts (I’m taking this question as not meaning actual cases to take up) this varies hugely too. It is possible to actually get a week on very rare occasions where you don’t get a single contact about anything and start to worry as to why. The next week you will suddenly find yourself with a dozen or more constituent contacts and possibly half as many fully blown new cases to take on as a result.

Maybe this is linked to the type of constituency a politician represents, but most people definitely seem to prefer to phone. This is wholly understandable I suppose because most will want that ‘personal’ contact in order to explain the problem.

A related point to this is the question raised by Team Voice about holding ‘surgeries’. I don’t do this for the simple reason that people who approach me for help want me there when they need that assistance; and really appreciate the fact that a politician is willing and able to come to them. For many elderly constituents, of course, taking this approach is absolutely essential. I’ve also questioned many people about this going right back to before the election and the message is overwhelmingly the same. That’s not to say they can’t work in the right circumstances

One final point under this heading. Perhaps it is partly because as a member of the JDA people are used to seeing me at the information stalls we have run regularly in the High Street over the past few years during the warmer months, but I am also really pleased that so many people seem quite happy to come up to me in the street and talk about issues. For all the faults with our system, this is one area where I think Jersey’s small size really does offer something to the democratic process that you would be highly unlikely to get in far larger jurisdictions.

‘Average’ hours and the different aspects of a States Members work

I obviously can’t speak for other Members questioned, but for me, if there is such a thing as an ‘average’ week it will generally fall between 45 – 60 hours. I must admit, as yet I have never sat down and created a week-by-week diary sheet to break this down into segments. Maybe this is something else for the coming year. Weeks with extended sittings and/or periods when Scrutiny work on an intense schedule (such as the Vulnerable Children’s review for example) can obviously increase this figure as it can have a ‘knock on’ effect. Similarly, as I indicated above, constituent work is something that you simply cannot predict and which can increase your workload significantly.

As for the different aspects of work themselves from my own experience these can be broken down into the following areas. The truth is that many of these actually overlap.

Scrutiny: As outlined in my last post, if one is committed to trying to do this to the best of his/her ability then its one of the most time consuming aspects of the job; not least because of the huge amount of background reading/research that is necessary. Of course, viewed in its present form, I also have to acknowledge that Scrutiny work may well also currently be seen to be one of the least effective usages of time in relation to ensuring effective government. This is why we need to improve it urgently.

As I touched on in posting one, it does not have sufficient teeth; is hamstrung by the limits within which it has been developed; and is viewed with total contempt by all too many of those who it is meant to help hold accountable. A further example is that the Scrutiny Chairmen’s Committee hasn’t been able to sort out the Citizens Media issue over the past year – something which I fully believe could, and should, have been sorted out long before now. But more on this last particular issue in a dedicated post.

I am aware that I have been very critical of a number of politicians who played no part, or next to none in either Scrutiny or the Executive during 2009. Yet maybe Members like Deputy Bob Hill are right? Maybe those not on the Executive can be far more effective in holding the COM to account in a different way? Sorry if that upsets any of my fellow Scrutiny members – I am just being honest. Again, more on this issue in a future post…

Propositions: In my first year following election I lodged six propositions and a further three amendments. More detail about this issue in my next posting as promised. Suffice to say for now that for a ‘backbencher’ without any support this can also be very time consuming – particularly for those members who also play a full role in all other areas I outline.

As far as I am concerned, however, it is also a very important part of the democratic process; often being the only way a Member can ensure government debates an issue that the Executive of the day simply may not want to touch with a barge pole. Personally, whether I share another Member’s political perspective or not, if they are prepared to develop propositions and follow them through (whatever the result) they have my respect for it because some Members will probably never lodge a proposition in their whole political career.

Constituent work: I am pleased to say that like each of my JDA colleagues I have a very busy portfolio of constituent work. I say pleased because it is an area of political work that I really enjoy. Which is not really surprising I suppose given a background in Youth and Community Development. Like the previous headings it too is also very time consuming, not just due to the number of cases but because the complexity of sorting problems out can vary hugely. It’s been a sharp learning curve in many areas.

Constituent work is also one area of our work that I think is definitely impacted upon according to whether a politician gets a good name for helping (or at least trying to help) people as word definitely seems to get around pretty fast. The other key factor affecting the volume of this work is obviously the type of constituency a politician represents i.e. urban or country.

I can briefly illustrate this very neatly with an example from last October. Chatting to a Deputy from a country parish – a very good Deputy too I might add – he let slip that he had just one constituent case. This must have drawn a wry smile because that particular Thursday I had happened to pick up not one, but a record (for me) seven new cases over the one afternoon. Fortunately that day has been a one off so far! As I say, it’s just the nature of different constituencies.

Finally, and I accept that some might want to criticise me for taking this approach. But though the majority of my ‘constituent’ work is obviously in my district, and is my key priority, I have also regularly taken on cases for individuals who have contacted me from other parishes over the course of the last year. Why? Though a parish Deputy I feel it is right to do this because I did initially stand in the Senatorials. So if someone feels, for whatever reason, that they are able to trust me with their problem then I think it is only right that I do my best to assist – not that you always can. It doesn’t detract from my district work in any way and personally I am happy to put in whatever additional time might be necessary to do so.

Parish work: As well as things like attending Parish Assemblies and our regular St. Helier Deputies meetings with the Connétable; helping serve food at the parish parties for elderly residents etc, constituent work obviously also overlaps this heading significantly. For example, all four JDA Deputies were recently heavily involved in supporting the residents around Ann Court to collect signatures for the petition against building a multi-story car park there.

Other aspects of work also overlap too, of course. Such as my involvement in initiatives such as the St. Helier North Town Master Plan group. I’ll talk more about this in the posting on propositions, but I also have an amendment to try and ensure that there is such representation from St. Helier No. 1 (hopefully me!) on the Fort Regent Strategy Working Group, as I think it is important that local Deputies are directly involved wherever a project or development is being planned.

Arising directly from Deputy Southern’s successful amendment to finally get the Town Park project kick-started the Connétable, Simon Crowcroft, is similarly now chairing a Working Group to push this forward.. This was finalised shortly before Christmas at one of our regular St. Helier Deputies meetings. And, whilst I did not put my name forward to be a full member of this group as both Geoff and Shona are already, like other Deputies not directly on the group I will still attend and do whatever is necessary in 2010 to help progress this long overdue project as and when I am needed.

Other aspects also come to mind in thinking about Team Voice’s questions that it is also important to support even if a politician is not directly on a group. A good example is supporting the links with Funchal and Madeira. Similarly, the new St. Helier Battle of Flowers Committee initiative that is being chaired by Debbie de Sousa. Whilst I would certainly not wish to claim it as ‘work’ as all you had to do was chip in £30 - all four JDA Deputies along with Deputy Judy Martin and Connétable Crowcroft recently attended a fundraising event featuring some traditional musicians from Madeira that was absolutely brilliant.

I would emphasise that though such things may seem unimportant at first glance they really are hugely valuable in terms of developing the community positively. Whatever some people might view his other faults I would also state here that this is one area where Simon Crowcroft has done a truly excellent job as St. Helier Connétable. .

Reports, presentations and preparation work for the States: The fact that we regularly hear members of the public moaning along the lines that all States Members do is turn up at the States once a fortnight ‘to vote yay or nay’ is, in many ways, not surprising in my view. Though I had followed local politics since I was in my late teens it was not until Shona was elected in 2005 that even I began to see the true extent of the work involved. The amount of reports and paperwork alone that arrives every week needing to be read as background to legislation, propositions etc is simply incredible and takes up (or should if you are serious about trying to understand issues that might be completely outside your sphere of knowledge or even interest) many hours every week.

Could a politician get away with not trying to do so? Undoubtedly – if he or she is really happy to just turn up at sittings and vote blindly or as they are told. I’m pleased to say that I am not one of them. On top of this there are also regularly linked ‘presentations’ to attend on some issues. Like many other Members, however, I’m afraid to say that far too many of those organised by the Council of Ministers are a complete waste of time. Why? They frequently descend into spin aimed at promoting a particular angle. Reading may take far longer but I would suggest that is far more beneficial to making an informed decision.

States sittings: This obviously overlaps directly with what I have said above so I will limit myself to the following observations. This is the only part of a politician’s ‘work’ that most people see via reporting in the media, unless you are a constituent approaching one for help. Yet actually attending States sittings are - trust me - a real eye-opener and I would encourage anyone with a high pain threshold to come along to the public gallery to watch.

If nothing else, you might get to know how misleading it can be when you are informed that someone is ‘present’ according to newspaper and radio. Likewise which politicians rarely or never ask questions? Who rarely or never plays any part in a debate by making a case for or against? Who actually tries to keep their election promises by presenting a proposition – or sells out their election promises made to you the voter at the very first turn? A really interesting one this - who always vote together and against who? Hey, if you happen to have really sharp eyesight you might even get to note who is being told how to vote via Blackberry!

I think I’ll leave it there.

Deputy Trevor Pitman

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Some observations on questions raised by Citizen’s Media ‘Team Voice’

Before Christmas ‘Team Voice’ – one off-shoot of what has become increasingly known as ‘Citizen’s Media’ over the past couple of years - contacted all those politicians who had been elected to new positions at the 2008 elections. This was to ask if they would consider responding to a number of questions relating to their experiences of the past year. With the Christmas/New Year festivities now out of the way, I respond to some of their key questions in what will be the first of three or possibly even four postings covering a number of different issues.

Some questions Team Voice asked about, such as how many oral/written questions a new Member might have asked during the 2008 States sittings, are really best answered by simply pointing anyone significantly interested to the appropriate areas of the States website where this information can quite easily be found. But I felt that some responses really demanded a little more detail be given: hence the decision to split the comments over a number of postings.

I would add that what is written below and within the posts that will follow will be far from a full account of the past twelve months in politics as I have experienced it. But I would nevertheless genuinely like to thank Team Voice for taking the trouble to ask their questions. I certainly don’t agree with them on every single issue but the reality is that the more people who take a deeper interest in local politics like those behind Team Voice the better it is for democracy. And that should be true regardless of whether one is left, right, centre or green. In my experience the only politicians who don’t like such interest are those who also don’t like accountability.

Posting One

In this first response to Team Voice’s questions I will outline the main Scrutiny work that I have sat on this year, and also offer some thoughts on the fascinating (honest!) issue of States sittings. The second posting in a few days time will look at the issue of the propositions/amendments that I have brought; along with discussing the different areas of a States Member’s workload.

Scrutiny work - panels and sub-panels

Like a number of politicians I firmly believe that there is a good deal that needs to be done to finally make Scrutiny what it should be i.e. the key check and balance by which the Executive is held accountable. Put in a nutshell Scrutiny needs to develop real teeth; whilst Ministers need to recognise the absolutely crucial need for adequate checks and balances to the functioning of all democracies. I would even go as far as to say that it is also quite possible that Scrutiny may not even be the best way forward to achieve this - given the general contempt that it, and those politicians who put so many hours into the work in good faith, are viewed with by so many members of the Executive. But more about that in a future posting. For now let’s get back to Team Voice’s question about panel/sub-panels I have been involved with.

Since elected I have been the Vice-Chairman of the Education, Sport & Culture and Home Affairs Scrutiny Panel. This is chaired by Deputy Roy Le Herissier and also includes Deputy Montford Tadier and Connétable Graeme Butcher of St. John. Other States Members have also been co-opted for various sub-panel reviews. Full reviews are only one aspect of the Scrutiny process; but our most recently published report was an investigation into Fort Regent. Arising directly from this the panel has a proposition to establish a working party to try and finally kick-start some much-needed, co-ordinated re-development of this sadly neglected community facility up for debate in January 2010. I also have an amendment to this proposition – which I’m pleased to say has been accepted by the ESC Minister – lodged in my own name. Again, more about that next time.

During 2009 I also served as Vice-Chairman on the Vulnerable Children’s Services Review (a Health, Social Security & Housing Scrutiny sub-panel) arising from the Williamson Report. This was a very intense and time-consuming piece of work due to the very tight deadline constraints. It was chaired by Senator Alan Breckon, who I have to say put in a truly incredible amount of hours, and also included Deputies Geoff Southern and Roy Le Herissier.

I could say a great deal on this particular review, but for now will simply observe that having been the politician who persuaded the other members to lodge the proposition calling for an independent Committee of Inquiry I was truly appalled that this was subsequently rejected by the States. Why? It offered the one clear opportunity to ‘de-personalise’ (politically speaking) the whole issue and finally, however painful, ensure that the States could eventually draw a line under the issue. As it is I think this will now take many, many years.

Further still, along with being a member of the sub-panel chaired by Deputy Tadier that examined the Prison Board of Visitors system I am currently Chairman of the ESC/Home Affairs sub-panel investigating the issue of School Suspensions. The report on this issue – which is bringing to light some areas of real challenge for government to try and find means to adequately support our teachers in 2010, - should be completed by the end of February.

Finally I would also point out that a major consequence of Deputy Le Herissier and my self needing to be pulled off work to assist with the Vulnerable Children’s Services Review was that some other planned work for the later part of 2009 will now be undertaken in the coming months. This will include looking at Higher Education fees and the delivery of political education following on from the recent lowering of the voting age to 16.

States sittings – When being ‘present’ is not all it appears

Team Voice also asked how many States sittings new Members have missed. The answer to that in my case is none. Though most of us will have been unwell on occasions; or had something serious come up leading to them missing the odd thing as a result some people have not been so lucky. Here I would just pay tribute to my JDA colleague Deputy Debbie De Sousa. Debbie has endured a terrible year of bad fortune in 2009 including losing both her mother and father; her grandmother and the awful blow of her daughter losing a baby. She even ended up in hospital herself just days after the last States sitting. The fact that Debbie has soldiered on, contributed fully and still managed to serve so many constituents so well in St. Helier No.2 along with Shona and Geoff is a real credit to her strength as a person.
However, with reference to the issue of attendance at States sittings I actually think that interested ‘politicos’ like Team Voice should probably be asking slightly different questions.

Such as with regard to the number of ‘part-time’ politicians we appear to have for example. Politicians like those who squeal to the media about having to ’listen’ to long, boring speeches/propositions. Yet who all too often, having come in to say ‘present’ for the marking of the school register actually then disappear to their external business offices or to who knows where. Disappear in fact regularly not to be seen again for the rest of the day; or possibly just hurry back in to vote on debates they will often have never even heard!

I honestly think members of the public who have never observed a full States session would be quite intrigued by just how many of the ‘great and the good’ regularly contribute nothing whatsoever to debates or question time or very close to it. Just how these Members can subsequently claim to have been able to make an informed decision on which way to vote I’ll leave to readers to fathom.

When you consider the flak that Senator Syvret has received for very publicly not being present in the Chamber you also surely have to ask those Members who often only appear to be there ‘in name’ if they are really in any position to criticise? Maybe they all keep in touch via taxpayer-funded Blackberries instead? Of course, in January I have a proposition to try and combat this disappearing trick by forcing more people to stay in the Chamber by upping the quorum from 27 to 35. I wonder who will support it.

Another directly related problem that needs sorting out is the regular mass exodus. Everyone needs a quick ‘comfort break’ at some point during the morning/afternoon as I have said. But the regular, quite deliberate contempt for some Members every time they rise to speak – and Deputy Southern and the Deputy of St. Mary are two prime examples of Members being treated in this way – is both disrespectful and quite frankly wholly pathetic. What makes the behaviour all the worse is that the two Members I mention above regularly give some of the most informative and best researched speeches anyone is ever likely to hear in the States! This Establishment Party tactic has certainly become far more blatant as the year progressed. As I say…if only more of the general public would come along and watch for themselves.

To conclude? I openly acknowledge that I came into politics with very strong views. Yet the fact is that I can nevertheless say quite honestly that I have still always been willing to support and vote for another Member’s proposition on merit of the argument as I see it. Those who simply don’t/won’t vote or listen to a Member just because it happens to be the JDA; a Deputy Wimberley; Senator Breckon; Deputy Higgins or Tadier etc really aren’t fit to be in government. Unfortunately, this type of ‘politician’ is still in the majority.

But if we do really want listening, accountable and effective government; government willing to work together for the benefit of all we can change all of this very easily. Just take the same kind of interest displayed by those at ‘Team Voice’ for example and then in 2011 - vote!

Trevor Pitman

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Happy New Year

For the Jersey Democratic Alliance, 2010 will be the year to lay the groundwork for the 2011 General Election.

The first issue to resolve is whether we set our sights on merely being a party of opposition and protest, as we have been obliged to become for the time being, or whether we return to the original idea of being a serious alternative party of government. My personal preference is for the latter, but as our politicians become more experienced and skilled in the tactical game-play of systematic opposition, so, it seems to me, some of them are coming to see it as an end in itself. As the DEMOCRATIC Alliance, though, it will be the collective will of our membership that ultimately settles our direction.

If the alternative government vision does prevail, that will then open a second issue of what our policies should be. Our 2008 Policy Document has been overtaken by events in many places. There will be hard work to be done to overhaul it, and rebuild it into a raft of credible, practical and more attractive options to give voters a real choice.

Another challenge will be to make contingency plans for what our policies would be, in the event of a major economic setback. Dark clouds continue to hang over the international finance industry. It would be good for Jersey's economy, if our little piece of that industry continued to thrive. However, it would be somewhat foolhardy to assume that it definitely will. Should there be a substantial contraction, the JDA's principled support for a strong public sector, to provide the standard of infrastructure and services that Jersey deserves, will become incompatible with the island's traditional abhorrence of government debt. I foresee some heated debate about where the compromise should lie, so 2010 should be an interesting year for those of us who are concerned about policies. Although, should the JDA have accepted the role of perpetual opposition, it may be enough to just leave the dirty work to others, and then castigate them for it.

We have until Nomination Night in the Autumn of 2011 to find our candidates for the next election. On the other hand, it would be better to spend a year or more preparing them, than to send forth raw recruits whom we do not really know and cannot rely upon. It would be unkind to mention names, but some readers may recall that we have sampled failure in the past, from giving our backing to the unready. Perhaps one of my few readers may be secretly nursing a desire to represent their fellow islanders; come forth and tell us now, not when it is too late.

Probably the greatest challenge will be just to keep people interested. The last election is over a year gone, and the next still further away. This may be the time when politicians can concentrate on doing their best and most serious work, but that is because it is also the time when the general public are least engaged. We cannot keep using old mailing lists; that would offend against common sense and common courtesy as much as it would the Data Protection Law. Thus, we can only make general invitations to supporters to come or return to us.

2005 was an unduly rushed campaign, and 2008 even more so, despite having had years in which we could have prepared. Therefore, to apply the hard-learned lessons, Election 2011 needs to start right now.

David Rotherham