Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Cuts must be Surgery, not Butchery.

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.

David Rotherham


  1. This is the most sensible and measured comment I have read on this site, and David should be congratulated. The concept of 'Does this help or hinder getting the job done' should be adopted in every procedure the States put in place. It echoes the simple question every politician should ask themselves before proposing any change. ‘Does this make life better, easier, or cheaper for the majority of the population ?’

    If this is an indication of the future direction and thought process of JDA policy, then you might be moving towards a greater acceptance of your policies and ultimately, greater success at the ballot box, rather than perpetuating the ‘them and us’ mentality which deters a large number of voters from supporting you.

    If I might be permitted to make a number of observations however, it might help hone your policies, and encourage greater acceptance by those who have not traditionally supported your mandate.

    1) You may have been formed to represent the ‘ordinary’ people of this island, but the presence of your representatives in the States means that you actually represent the interests of all islanders, whether they are ‘ordinary’ or whatever your interpretation of the opposite of ordinary is.
    2) To have ‘obvious targets’ such as Assistant Managers of Directors, is in contravention of (1). You should be targeting waste or duplication, at whatever level it occurs, rather than picking your victims before any analysis of the problems have taken place.
    3) Your point about wasting time and resources asking ministers to provide ‘embarrassing’ statistics is very relevant, however if your aim is to simply cause embarrassment, one would have to question your real motives. Surely better to find the statistics out for yourselves, and to suggest ways to improve the situation at the same time as revealing the problem, being constructive, rather than destructive if something is not in order.
    4) Following on from (4) above, your ultimate aim should simply be to make things better for the majority of islanders, not to score points and garner news coverage. The fact that other politicians of differing political persuasions waste time and resources playing these games doesn’t mean you have to retaliate. Why not try and set an example by concentrating your time and effort on making everyone’s life better, instead of cheap political point scoring. This is exemplified in the advice you would exhort others to follow:
    'Does this help or hinder getting the job done ?’

    If this is an indication of a more proactive, rather than retroactive approach, more power to you. Most people are not blind to the fact that part of a politicians mandate is to try and secure their own re-election, however this is best achieved through positive improvements for the majority, not just pyrrhic ‘media’ victories. The public are not stupid. Help make things better for the majority of us, and we’ll re-elect you, regardless of which party badge you wear.

  2. Indeed, as per my comments on the oral questions, another good piece. Whatever else I have never doubted the work ethic of your members on behalf of those they represent. But if the JDA keep up this commonsense attitude to matters I might have to consider the previously highly unlikely possibility of voting for the party!

  3. Interesting to see the JDA are arguing for job cuts. Is this really party policy? Why do working people have to pay the price for this crisis, one that is not of their making?.
    Don’t be fooled about gentle cuts. The example of Greece shows how serious the crisis has become. Jersey is swept up in a process that embraces other highly indebted countries like the UK, Spain, Italy, Ireland and Portugal. Jersey faces black holes and deficits not only because of recession but because its model as a Tax Haven is unsustainable financially.

    The Anonymous comment above that praises the JDA for its moderation and newly found “common sense” requires analysis. This writer, clearly a supporter of the Establishment, rather disingenuously praises a perceived moderation with the hope of emasculating effective opposition politics. I hope JDA deputies and membership do not follow this advice, as it amounts to getting the Labrador to roll over and have its tummy tickled. The Establishment desperately wants to avoid opposition from the workforce it is about to make redundant. It also wants to mute opposition from those deputies that should be speaking out against the cuts and the unfair manner in which the will inevitably be executed. Collaboration is not the way to defend the interest of working people. Don’t be fooled; the Right are not going to vote for the JDA. However, the “ordinary people” desperately seek leadership that will organise effective resistance to an Establishment project designed to emiserate.

  4. Anonymous #1: Thank you for both the praise and the valid criticisms,that we should be careful who we mean by ordinary, and that waste is waste at any level.

    Anonymous #3: This article was clearly billed as an opinion piece, not party policy, which would go on I don't see that it does recommend any very large scale of job cuts. Several per cent of managerial grade civil servants can be expected to retire each year in the normal course of things, and if they do not all have to be replaced due to more efficient structuring, then actual redundancies can be kept to a minimum. I see all sorts of problems with large scale sackings, but very selective replacement of "natural wastage" can deliver significant economies in a reasonably short time scale.

  5. So somebody takes the time to visit this site, to praise the comments made, and to suggest constructive ways in which the party might better implement its policies and attract wider voter participation, (which I thought was in everyone’s interest if you want the policies to have a chance of being passed through the States) and all you can do is imply that the ‘establishment’ are trying to hijack the aims of the party, and to induce some sort of ‘collaboration’ !

    But perhaps you’re right. Don’t change anything, stay true to the ‘working man’ and enjoy another 5 years of 3 representatives, and the inability to get any of your propositions passed, whilst paranoid militants clamour to defend the integrity of the party.

    I’m sorry I bothered David. With delusional comments like that, you can perhaps start to see why the voting public are suspicious of the parties intentions.

  6. Anonymous #1/#4:

    I published Anonymous #3's comment, because it offered a view on the topic in a manner fit for publication.
    Allowing him debating space is not an endorsement of his argument, and I am rather shocked that you attribute it to me.
    Although I find his style very reminiscent of a former JDA member we parted with in the Spring of 2008, I have no more idea who he is than I do who you are, and I think he is unlikely to be a current party member. The comment may even be a double bluff by a right-winger trying to discredit the left.
    I accept and agree with your points for my own part: I do think they constructively develop my initial argument.

  7. Hi David, My comment was not directed to yourself or the content of your blog entry, but to commenter No 3. who it would appear is either a member or supporter of the party, but either way, wishes to continuing perpetuating the antagonistic 'them and us' mentality which is quite obviously one of the primary causes of the party lacking wider acceptance by the voting population.

    Apologies if it read as otherwise.


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