The JDA have always taken the position that there is more that could be done to fill the looming “black hole” in Jersey's public finances by a range of fairly gentle alternative taxes, each raising a few million towards the necessary total. However, alternative taxation may no longer be enough, and it is time to look at expenditure, as well as revenue. The ordinary Jersey people we formed to represent are becoming increasingly concerned by the conspicuous bloat and the rising tax bills to pay for it, and, if we are to stay in touch and relevant as a party, we need to be turning our thinking to the subject. Most of the current JDA Council have worked in the public sector for at least part of our working lives, and should know the score. Speaking for myself, I would like to add my general agreement to the various calls for some trimming of public sector spending, to suit the harsh reality that we are both locally and globally entering the backstroke of the boom-bust cycle.
I also share the suspicion with others, that there is more dispensable surplus to be found at the shoulders of the States organisation than at the base. Thus, I would not endorse crude, untargetted pro-rata cuts across the board, but I would like to see our elected representatives defending the effective provision of public services, facilities and benefits, and letting go of otiose fripperies and side-tracks. Therefore, I would point out something that seems to have been overlooked, so far.
There is a balance to be struck in the administrative burden on front-line staff. It is plainly unacceptable for the operational workers of all types to be left to carry on without any supervision of how they work, nor accounting for what they have worked on. However, the insidious big inefficiencies are to introduce excessive supervision that makes no useful contribution to the task, and to collect unnecessary information on the off-chance that someone wants to know. (The latter is a personal bugbear of mine, as I used to be a UK Civil Servant spending around 45% of my time compiling statistics about our actual work, just in case some MP ever asked a question.) Before middle-management can be reduced, there must be a radical culture change in the public sector. If we are not to have unproductive support clerks churning out sheaves of never-to-be-read paperwork, then the front-line staff have to do it themselves. And if the front-line staff are taking time out of their real work to do their own admin, then that admin needs to be reduced to the bare minimum. Both private business and public service alike use “Due Diligence” as an excuse to waste time and money on unthinkingly gathering all sorts of useless data, these days. If shareholders of private businesses are content to let their management do this, that is their privilege. We are all shareholders of the state, though, and we should be demanding that judgement be applied with diligence, not just filing.
So, we need to develop a general policy of evaluating all procedures and structures by the question “Does this help or hinder getting the job done?”. The obvious targets are Assistant Directors and Managers. In some cases, I would expect that they actually do assist with an otherwise impossible workload. But, it can so easily happen that supervisors nearer the front line report in detail to them, for the Assistant to report in summary to the Chief Director or Manager, when the supervisors could have spent less time reporting in summary directly to the Chief, freeing 100% of the Assistant Manager's time for a more productive alternative position. Then there are forms with ill-considered boxes, that time must be spent completing and processing, to supply irrelevant information. If it is not something that needs to be known to manage effectively, it is not worth the bother.
There is a part for opposition politicians in this, too. When asking ministers to admit embarrassing statistics, they should give a thought to how much Civil Service time is going to be absorbed in compiling those figures, and how much more is going to be absorbed in future as the civil servants prepare for the chance of being asked again next year. Is it always worth £100 of clerical time to score a little point, that doesn't make the news anyway, at Question Time.
To sum up, we can fairly painlessly trim a lot of waste through a case-by-case examination of which management posts are effectively side-tracks, and an end to amassing statistics from habit instead of to a purpose. Only then, if still necessary, should we be scaling back the services and facilities that it is government's purpose to provide, and that in a prioritised way, not slashing by numbers.