Sunday, January 17, 2010

MINISTERS AND THEIR BLACKBERRIES – TO PLAY OR STAY?



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

12 comments:

  1. As an occasional observer from the public seats, I have indeed been shocked to see how often our Ministers appear to be totally detached from the proceedings in the Chamber, and engrossed in their Blackberries and other distractions and STILL feel the need to leave the Chamber frequently. It was a real eye-opener for me, and personally feel it is extremely rude and disrespectful. From 'above' I have even seen Ministers reading the paper!

    Good luck with your proposition.

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  2. As I have heard many speeches in the States I cannot blame people for leaving their seats. This all boils down to getting your argument over without boring people and I reckon this may be the problem here. Blackberries? This is a bit like the sandwiches argument, not of real public interest. Blackberry users in any other firm have their bills paid for and thats the deal with firms and pretty standard these days. I would like the JDA to start working on some items of their manifestos and stop presenting minor items for debate. Just an opinion.

    Paul

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  3. I listened to some of this debate and I wonder why the JDA are not using Blackberrys, are some States members a lot more busy than others?

    If the COM are using Blackberries for States business then does that mean other States members have time on their hands?

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  4. Deputy Trevor PitmanJanuary 21, 2010 at 11:27 AM

    Anonymous

    The fact that 'the JDA are not using Blackberrys' like the COM is because none of believe in ripping off the taxpayer.

    The COM already get expenses with a set limit (£3.650) like the rest of us. This is meant to cover communication costs and all other office related expenses etc. This limit has now been undermined via a 'loophole' - one result being that the taxpayer gets hit twice.

    As for being busy...some States Members may well have time on their hands. I'm pleased to be able to say that the the four JDA politicians are not amongst them because we're too busy working.

    If you heard the deabte then you might have also picked up on the excellent sspeech from Deputy Hilton - an Assistant Minister.

    Firstly, she ointed out that despite Blackberrys apparently being so crucial for every Minister/Assistant to have, neither she or the Home Affairs Minister (who is probably one of the busiest of all Ministers) had Blackberrys, used them or felt them necessary to do their job.

    The second excellent point she made was that, just as I said in my proposition, it was a disgrace that these were being paid for by the taxpayer and those Ministers should pay the money themselves.

    Still, I suppose they are useful for messaging if you are a Minister on holiday in Tenerife when the taxpayer is paying you to be in the States Chamber. So maybe you are right Anonymous - some States Members clearly do have time on their hands...

    Deputy Trevor Pitman

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  5. Trevor you are very close to Stuart Syvret and looking at his attendance record alone over the past 12 months for you to have a go at others is just a little over the top don't you think?

    This is a difficult one because the public cannot see what is going on with the Blackberries as the States are not televised. They could all be playing games on them and nobody would be any the wiser.

    But it is another perk, like the lunches, which again makes the idea of chucking your job in to work in the States even more easier for the RICH to do.

    So cutting all these perks is a double edged sword and back firing in my opinion if these propositions of sacrifice eventually get through.

    Not many people find £40K a year for a 70 hour week an easy proposition, and I just see the Blackberry vote another attempt to knock out a potential necessary perk of the job to get the less well off going for election.

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  6. Deputy Trevor PitmanJanuary 22, 2010 at 4:50 AM

    Anonymous

    To begin with, I'm not quite sure what you mean by being 'very close' to Senator Stuart Syvret.

    Yes, I have known him for a long time. I would also have to say that, without a shadow of a doubt, whether people like or dislike his politics/approach etc the Senator is one of the most capable and articulate politicians Jersey has ever produced.

    Does that then mean that I agree with or approve of his every action or view - absolutely not.

    As to my proposition on Blackberrys, which as you probably know was spilt into two separate parts (i.e. part A being the ripping off the taxpayer/equality 'loophole' aspect; part B being about the the issue you touch on with the use/misues in the States)was aimed at all who abuse this regardless of who they are.

    The fact is, of course, that these individuals are members of the Executive.

    You further mention Stuart's well-documented absence and ask how can I have a go at others for not being in the Chamber. Firstly,I don't defend the Senator over this at all. My point is, at least his absence is very well documented. He has stated his reasons/argument for his position and people will criticse/support his stance as they see fit.

    My issue here is that there are a number of other very high profile politicians who, quite frankly, regularly may as well also be out of the island themselves because they either disappear soon after the calling of the school register, or don't even turn up at all.

    A good example being this Tuesday. One Senator absent without reason (i.e. not ill etc) actually found to be lying on a beach in Tenerife we are told.

    A second Senator, also not ill (I know, because he told me this when I chanced to bump into him during the lunch hour and asked him directly) simply deciding not to turn up because he was doing other non-States things which he obviously saw as his priority.

    Now, we all have busy lives and I'm sure that you are probably no different. But in our case the States is meant to take my priority under Standing Orders etc.

    Yet what do PPC do about this? Nothing. What does the Chief Minister do about this when it involves members of the Executive? Nothing. How often do the media make this the big issue is should be? Hardly ever.

    Yet you then get the likes of Deputy Rondel moaning about 'petty, trivial' issues being brought to the House. Well, if those like PPC and the Chief MInister actually showed slightly more back bone than a jelly fish we wouldn't have to bring such issues to the States.

    I also fully agree with you that the States should be televised. Such an approach would put an end to a lot of the part-timers and skivers who treat the public who are paying them with complete contempt.

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  7. Hi Trevor.
    I notice you have been replying to comments on this JDA Blog site, so you must of had time to look at your emails. But you don't seem to of replied to my last email on your .gov email.
    If my email has not got though to you I would like to know.
    If you have another email address could you pass it on to me Thanks.
    You have my email address from our last email.
    As for your proposition, Deputy Hilton is sounding as if she is seeing sense at last,I have heard her a few times now on different propositions & has gone against the Government. With some touching & heart felt speeches, She has been talking sense. Good on her.
    As for the Minister of Home Affairs I think he needs to go & confess at his Church for the things he has not said on many subjects. i.e. Stuarts Dismissal by a Civil Servant & the unlawful suspension of our Chief of Police.
    If that can happen to our Chief of Police with no reason or charges no wonder Stuart is in London.
    I hope you are doing all you can to get to the truth.This is were I personally think your Party should be going from now to the next Election.
    With all four of you hell bent on finding out the truth about how our senior civil servants go about there job. Because at the end of the day if its the civil service that actually makes the Laws & runs the Island what is the point of electing politicians.
    If I was convinced that this was the way you are going to go I may consider joining your party.

    Kind Regards.

    Trevor Richomme.

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  8. Trevor I think you will find that only a minority actually have time for Mr Stuart Syvret now especially since October. There is nothing articulate about spreading lies about people as highlighted in the Chapman Report and in the next elections I can see the public going against any politicion that endorses this kind of behaviour. This 'sytle' of politics will never over throw the Establishment you know that being the Chairman of the JDA.

    I agree with what you say about the Senator in Tenerife and I agree that if people are not attending then you could argue they are not into the job at all.

    But what about my question on the job itself and the perks being cut back by these proposals? And they don't effect millionaires already in Government but they could well effect somebody who counts the pennies and attempts to get into Government to just do something about it?

    Would you and Shona stand agains if the job went back to be voluntary with no wage and be honest?

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  9. Deputy Trevor PitmanJanuary 23, 2010 at 10:00 AM

    Anonymous #7

    Yes, Trevor. Pleased to say that the e-mail you sent the other day did get through this time. Wasn't pitched in a way that seemed to ask for a response i.e. containing the e-mail that hadn't been recieved, so that is why I didn't.

    Will get back to you directly on your e-mail address over the weekend however. I will also send you my other e-mail address now that I know who you are. Interesting what you say about a certain Senator responding to your e-mail thinking the 'Trevor'was me!

    For your info, whilst I was ready to do so following on from my recent questions in the States, Bob Hill is already in the process of putting together a proposition on a committee of inquiry. I would imagine that this will be lodged very soon.

    Anonymous #8

    Sorry if we disagree, but I didn't stand for election to worry about 'perks of the job' like free lunches.

    Whatever your view on this I doubt you would believe the amount of childish whining that has been flying around via e-mail from a number or wealthy members still blubbering about this issue.There is no reason that the taxpayer should be asked to pay for this.

    As I have said, working within both public and private sector I have experienced being allowed to park somewhere if that is available; a computer on which to do my work; even any necessary work clothing on occasion.

    Lunches simply don't need to be free, as whilst you highlight that the salary might not be great for putting in 60+ hours I don't believe that there is any Member who can't afford to buy their own lunch. It is also the principle. But I respect your point of view.

    As for me, I took a pay cut of more than £4.000 and also gave up a career with a pension. I am obviously not wealthy like many in the States and don't have any other income. I don't ask for Brownie points for this, however, because it was my choice. You say that not many would stand for the current money given the hours and you may well be right. I stood because I felt so strongly about a significant number of issues.

    Finally, as for your question about would I stand if it was on a purely voluntary basis such as when only the wealthy could afford to stand - however spectacularly inadequate some may have been - the answer is a simple no. As an ordinary person how could I? I have a mortgage to pay and all the other bills we all have to meet within a very expensive island.

    Were I a wealthy person, however, then due to the strength of my feelings on how this island has been run in recent times the answer would have been yes.

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  10. Hi Trevor.
    SO what is it about saying Lies about someone being not well then as you did in the States under oath.
    I do not want to get into one with you but I think you are getting me all wrong.
    Why do you comment or bring him up in the States if you do not believe what he is saying.
    I would Like some answers from you if it is not to mush trouble.
    I would love to meat you if that was OK.
    As for you going on about a Senator Holidaying in Tenerife I do not give a toss. I didn't mention anything about him.
    Have you read Stuarts Last post from the 23/12/09. As I asked you on my first email to you on the 31/12/09. or have you read the postings on Voice for Children Blog site.
    I Know you have read them so I would Like to hear your views.

    Kind Regards

    Trevor Richomme

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  11. Deputy Trevor PitmanJanuary 24, 2010 at 12:30 PM

    Trevor

    Hope you have had my direct e-mail to you now. As I say, happy to meet and discus the issues you raise.

    Also, sorry for getting the reference to holidaying Senators made by another Anonymous mixed with your post - one reason why I wish people didn't use 'anonymous' unless they absolutely have to for understandable reasons relating to protecting their ID.

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  12. A few thoughts on financial remuneration.

    One should recall that Deputy Norman Le Brocq stood for election at a time when there was no salary as a States Member. He was assisted finacially by donations of 5 shillings per week from working class supporters.

    It is true that there are a number of Members who currently earn more than they could do so in the labour market given their current skill levels. This is so of both Executive supporters and the Opposition.

    The Establishment lament the lack of talent and capability amongst States Members. They known that the salary of a States Member is not sufficient to attract the best, but it is enough to attract the mediocre. They would like to have more members directly from Finance, the Law and Business, however few are prepared to make the necessary finacial sacrifice. Why would any Bourgeois want to go into politics anyway when the meaning of life is making money? Of course in some countries businessmen go into politics precisely for the reason that they can make money out of government position. Fortunately that is not a calculation that operates in Jersey; or does it? Loosing the sandwitches is irrelevant when there are opportunities for "commissions" and other "pour boire". The UK Parliamentary expenses scandal shows that the political class are dishonest and corrupt. Would it be nieve to think things are otherwise in Jersey?

    These are all useful arguments when the Right cynically raise the populist trope that Opposition Memebers are only doing it for the money, and the most ghastly lie, that government was so much better before there were any salaries.

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