Wednesday 11 December 2019
The three main priorities for my Committee for the remaining months of this term are as follows;
Firstly, the review of Capital Allocation within the States; secondly, the review of the regime for Access to Public Information; thirdly, over-seeing the commissioning of an independent review of the process of the appointment of the Head of Curriculum and Standards at the Committee for Education, Sport & Culture. I will deal with each of these three reviews in turn in a moment.
In 2019, our main focus has been on these substantive reviews, but we have also jointly overseen the efficiency and benchmarking review of Aurigny by Nyras with the States' Trading Supervisory Board, which was published in October. My Committee felt it important to follow up on one of the key recommendations in the 2015 Scrutiny review of Strategic Air Links by commissioning an independent review to test impartially the efficiency of the operational management of Aurigny, bearing in mind the inherent risk of an airline in public ownership becoming more inefficient over time. This report hopefully allowed members of this Assembly plus the general public to gain an objective view of the levels of efficiency at Aurigny. Given the level of public concern regarding the losses incurred by Aurigny in recent times, the SMC believed that it was essential that the operational management of the States-owned, if not State-run airline, was examined in detail, and that has been done.
To return to our three key priorities.
The review on the Capital Allocation process and the Access to Public Information regime are now progressing well towards completion within this political term.
The review of the capital funding process is considering the existing process in place around the allocation of capital within the public sector. Again, the focus here in the review is to ultimately make recommendations on improving the existing process. The review has already considered the views of a wide range of stakeholders, including current elected Members, former States Members and relevant civil servants. This review is also considering the economic impact of capital projects on the local economy together with the disadvantages of reducing public funding of capital projects. We are using the expertise of an economist to inform this review. The report will make recommendations on the existing process and it will also be published in the first quarter of 2020.
The Access to Public Information review is looking at the current Code of Practice in place in the States. The review is examining the Code with a view to identifying whether there are any areas where it could be enhanced to improve transparency within government in the future. It is considering the competing objectives of transparency, proportionality and efficiency and we hope a report on the Panel's work can be published in the first quarter of 2020. The report will include practical recommendations for improving access to public information. The Panel is looking both at the potential improvements that might be made to the existing Code and also at legal frameworks that operate in other smaller jurisdictions, like Jersey and the Isle of Man. A public hearing will also be held in early 2020 as part of the evidence gathering process.
I now turn to the saga surrounding the appointment process for the Head of Curriculum and Standards.
Following the States' debate in September 2019, when the Assembly decided not to endorse the SMC's call for a so-called Tribunal of Inquiry, my Committee decided to commission an independent review of the appointment process. The SMC contacted the Committee forEducation, Sport & Culture and Policy & Resources to confirm support for an independent review on the 12th September, 2019. The relevant information and documentation to support and shape the independent review by an external reviewer was then formally requested from both Committees by the SMC. The date requested for providing the information was the 27th September 2019. After consultation, the deadline was then extended for both Committees until the 23rd of October 2019 and then again until the week commencing 4th of November 2019.
My Committee was then informed once again that the information could not be provided on the two further occasions and then, finally, the Committee forEducation, Sport & Culture committed to delivering the information albeit on a redacted basis - by the 13th of this month when hopefully the information will be provided.
I would like to thank the Policy & Resources Committee for supplying the information requested, albeit in redacted form by the 22nd November.
The reasons for the delay have included concern around possible contravention of data protection law and employment legislation, plus practical factors such as the availability of staff and Members and computer issues being experienced by the President of ESC.
Throughout this period, the Principal Officer of the SMC and I have met with the President of the Committee for Education Sport & Culture together with legal advisors and officers on more than one occasion to try and find a constructive way to move the disclosure process forward.
The delay in the provision of the requested information will inevitably lead to further delay in the progression of the independent review by our external reviewer and in the ultimate delivery of the final report. This is unfortunate because my Committee had hoped to get an independent analysis of this issue completed by the end of 2019, which will now not be possible.
In terms of other activity, we do intend on holding a public hearing with the Committee for Home Affairs in the first quarter of 2020 focussing on their response to progressing the recommendations made in both the HMIC report and in the governance review of Home Affairs by Professor Catherine Staite.
Three final points. First, when the new machinery of government changes were introduced it was hoped that many Deputies would be involved in the Scrutiny process on a pro tem basis. Thus far, only a handful of States Members - other than those on the SMC - have participated on a task and finish panel. In the future, that level of engagement must improve if the current system is to continue.
Secondly, up to May 2016, a dedicated Public Accounts Committee focused considerable and valuable attention on the States audit processes and expenditure across the States. In this political term, I believe that the level of financial scrutiny that has been possible has been limited despite our best endeavours. We would again ask for the implementation of an Audit Committee to review the performance of the external auditors and manage the relationship and contract. We also would say now is a good time for there to be a mature and thorough re-consideration of how financial scrutiny arrangements might be enhanced in the future.
Thirdly, we are hopeful that an enabling law will be registered in Guernsey early next year that will then pave the way for an ordinance that will enshrine new powers for Scrutiny on the Statute book. Such powers will allow Scrutiny to call for papers, people and the records to help inform our work. The lack of effective powers to compel the production of documents, for example, in appropriate circumstances has proved to be a real difficulty in our work since 2016.