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Statement from the Vice-President of the Scrutiny Management Committee

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Wednesday 27 February 2019

General update

Throughout 2018, the Scrutiny Management Committee has continued to hold a significant number of public hearings whilst also progressing evidence-led reviews such as the in-work poverty review which was recently debated by the States in January 2019.

In 2018, we conducted public hearings on a wide range of subjects, including on the Implementation of the Disability and Inclusion Strategy, on the Transformation agenda with the Committees for Health and Social Care, Home Affairs and Education, Sport and Culture and also a hearing in relation to the HMIC report on Bailiwick Law Enforcement.

As a Committee, we believe that it is important to conduct regular public hearings as this enables the SMC to monitor progress being made by States Committees against their policies, to analyse their management of resources and to help identify significant areas that might justify a major review. Importantly, public hearings help facilitate greater transparent scrutiny in the public domain, allowing new and additional information to be highlighted which may previously have been overlooked or simply not released.

At the same time, conducting full evidence-centred reviews of both policy and financial matters will remain a critical focus for my committee, particularly from now until the end of this political term.

Whilst my Committee and I were disappointed by the recent decisions taken by this Assembly on in work poverty, we look forward to closely monitoring progress made on these issues over the next few months within the Policy and Resource Plan.

Moreover, my Committee does intend to continue to produce evidence-led reports and reserve our right to bring propositions to the States if we feel that it is necessary and expedient to do so.

In 2019, our main focus will be on commencing a challenging and interesting work programme with four new, major reviews:

Firstly, a review of the States of Guernsey's Access to Public Information regime.

Secondly, a review of Capital Allocations within the States.

Thirdly, a review of Recruitment and Retention of key public workers within the States.

And, fourthly, overseeing an efficiency review of Aurigny jointly with the States' Trading Supervisory Board.

The review of Access to Public Information will chime with many people in our community. "Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants" and that is why better access to official public information can help to improve public confidence and trust in government if the public sector is seen to be more open.

The review will consider the competing objectives of transparency, proportionality and efficiency. The backdrop to the review is that people have a right to know about the activities of public authorities, unless there is a good, valid reason for them not to know. This area has become increasingly complicated with the introduction of the new Data Protection law in 2018.

The Committee will therefore set up a task and finish panel to review the effectiveness of the existing Code of Practice on Access to Public Information following its approval by the States in 2013 and the modifications made to information handling in this political term. The Panel will consider whether it is fit for purpose generally. There will also be a careful analysis of previous requests made to date under the regime, as well as a consideration of the appeals process.

The Committee will also review the processes associated with the allocation of capital across government including the accuracy of financial estimates produced to support political decision making on major capital projects and the operation of the Transformation and Transition fund. The review will examine a number of recent capital projects and if required make recommendations to inform this process moving forward.

The review of the Recruitment and Retention of key public workers will focus principally on putting forward reasoned suggestions to improve how government can better recruit and retain its own staff given the well-known challenges inherent in Guernsey's situation. Employee pay costs form the largest single area of expenditure for the States and key workers form a very significant element of this cost. It is intended that the review will concentrate mainly on the policies and procedures in place for the recruitment and retention of nurses, teachers and police officers.

In addition, the SMC will be jointly overseeing the efficiency review of Aurigny. This review will produce an initial diagnostic assessment of the operational and financial efficiency of the airline. This will include a review of Aurigny's budgets, management accounts and other management information to develop a better understanding of the airline's performance.

The SMC also looks forward to considering the forthcoming policy letter from the Committee for Education, Sport and Culture due to be published in May. The SMC will consider issuing letters of comment as and when appropriate relating to government policy of substantial political and public interest.

We will also endeavour to bring legislation before the Assembly to put into effect resolutions providing for additional powers for the Scrutiny function to allow us to be on a par with other comparable jurisdictions like Jersey and the UK in terms of being able to call for people, papers and records to inform a review or hearing.

And finally. I repeat a point that I have made before now that still remains as valid as ever. The Scrutiny Management Committee cannot hope to scrutinise everything within our system of government and so individual members of the States must also conduct their own scrutiny - both in Committee and more generally - in a way that is supplementary and indeed complimentary to the official scrutiny function if the public interest is to be served in the best way.

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