Wednesday 08 September 2021
As always, I am grateful for the opportunity to make this Statement. Normally Statements of this type involve the President of a Committee listing the things his or her Committee have done in recent months and outlining what they are intending to do in the forthcoming months. This Statement will not disappoint in that regard, but in opening, I would like to say a little more.
We are now at a time in the history of this Bailiwick where we have had to deal with a very significant international change as a result of Brexit. There may well be significant advantages, but they have yet to manifest themselves. What we do know is that this has thrown up many challenges whether they relate to fishing, free trade or the absence of it, coupled with and linked to new immigration challenges which are impacting on the Bailiwick generally but are of particular concern to our hospitality sector.
We also, over the past 18 months or so, have had to deal with the pandemic that is known as COVID-19. That has eaten into our reserves. We have had two lockdowns. There has been a unique and sad, but necessary, interference with civil liberties. The virus and its consequences will be with us for years. I pay tribute to the many who have dealt with these challenges. Many millions of public money have been spent supporting businesses and individuals. We are and will be recovering but that will take time, although our travel figures have improved, they are still a relatively small percentage of what they were in 2019.
We have other serious domestic problems. We are not unique in that regard but that matters not. We need to solve them, and we are only at the foothills of Everest at best in respect of most of them. Because this is a time limited statement, I can mention only a few.
The first is the demographic challenge. We have an ageing population and a diminishing workforce. As an example, just recently, Policy & Resources was asked (and rightly so) by the Committee for Health & Social Care to approve additional recurring funding of four hundred thousand pounds for the employment of additional domiciliary staff to assist with community care. Our Care Homes are full. We have people in hospital beds because there are no places for them elsewhere. We have invested pitifully in our infrastructure for far too long. Almost nothing has been spent. As an example, the Ports need millions spent on maintenance.
We have to use my able colleague Deputy Helyar's comments, we have 'run out of runway' when it comes to public finances. We are running out of money. At the debate later this month on the tax review, there will be the opportunity for States Members to guide future policy. The debate should, and must, be constructive. Members must not shirk from difficult decisions which frankly States Assembly after States Assembly have done for too long.
We must address and deal with problems. There have been too many reviews and too much navel gazing. It is too easy to say, 'I just need some more information'. Our procedures are too cumbersome, our processes too detailed. We are stultifying in our own verbiage. Some Members though still do not get it. At one of our meetings with Committees, dealing with Budget requests, one experienced politician started the discussion by saying perhaps we could be giving more money to a particular third sector organisation. At a very recent meeting with the STSB, one of their members rightly said, and with derision, that it was ridiculous that they had to go through four layers (and now my own words) of bureaucracy to get permission to employ one extra fire officer. I agree, my Committee agrees.
We have a massive housing problem. The Housing Action Group is ably led by Deputy Roffey. We must though, move on from being concerned too much about traffic issues and planning concerns and focus on the bigger picture.
So, what have we (Policy & Resources) done to try and change attitudes? The first major piece of work, led ably by the Vice President Deputy Soulsby, was the approval of the Government Work Plan (GWP). That is intended to be the focus, and it must be a disciplined one, for the lifetime of this States.
The summer recess has seen officers working to the direction of the Assembly in organising the States of Guernsey to resource the top ten GWP actions and where possible to build resourcing and resilience into the other actions we set out in the GWP for the next eighteen months.
At our monthly Presidents' Meeting I expect we will (among other matters) discuss how to ensure we keep the focus and pace on current actions while also ensuring the longer-term horizon scanning and currency of the GWP is maintained without creating an industry that depletes the resourcing for action. In common parlance, rather than political speak, we want to get things done. The Policy & Resources Committee is already actively using the GWP to discuss with Committees their budget requests for 2022, as I mentioned above, and again we can reflect on how the new approach through the GWP is working for each Committee to improve how this is done for the next year.
Throughout the debate on the GWP the Assembly said it was critical to maintain momentum. This would be achieved by completing work already in train; focusing energy on new work that delivers against the agreed outcomes; and stopping other work that either is less relevant today or significantly impacts revenue costs and needs to be re-assessed.
Priority 1 continues our focus on moving to live with COVID-19 and reduce the emergency status of the Bailiwick. Arrangements are in hand to support Bailiwick children and education staff as they return safely to learning and working together in their schools. The Assembly will be considering an Ordinance made by the Committee under the Reform Law to start to remove the continuing reliance on the use of Emergency Powers.
Priority 2 sees work unabated on matters further to Brexit with a policy letter setting out a new process for participating in Free Trade Agreements as a consequence of work led by the Trade Team at Economic Development. Our External Relations team has been in active discussion with UK authorities in relation to the introduction of a Reciprocal Health Agreement. Positive progress has been made and it is believed that there is now a real possibility that such an agreement can be put into place next year.
Much progress has also been made in relation to Priority 3 and our recovery actions. In the Budget of November 2019, the predecessor Policy & Resources Committee was directed by the States to conclude the development of the air policy framework by April 2020. This was delayed and not completed during the previous term. The current Policy & Resources Committee, on its election in October 2020, resolved to bring this matter to conclusion. Since then, actions have been taken in order to support the development of the air policy framework including putting in place the much-delayed Alderney-Guernsey PSO this year. The Committee's intention is to submit a policy letter on the re-capitalisation of Aurigny for the consideration of the States of Deliberation at its October meeting 2021. The air policy framework will be appended to that policy letter.
This gives us a real opportunity to work together cohesively as the States to secure the outcomes for air transport that our community and economy need - balancing the role of Aurigny and Guernsey Airport as strategic assets with a commitment to fair and proportionate competition through quasi-open skies and the protection of essential routes.
The Committee is also working with Economic Development to conclude a new formal and long-term arrangement with Condor.
As well as the forthcoming submission of the Aurigny re-capitalisation policy letter, the Committee - with Economic Development - will also submit a policy letter shortly on accelerating the roll-out of Fibre to the Premises. Following the election, we made this a priority. Businesses, the wider community and indeed government, have told us that we need to accelerate the roll-out of fibre so that our digital infrastructure is faster, more resilient and accessible to all. We listened and we have acted on it. This is a critical decision for this States, as we are presenting the opportunity to make a significant investment to ensure our island keeps pace with and, in some cases, overtakes our competitors around the world.
The Government Work Plan shows that we need 21st century infrastructure to meet our challenges - in the global economy, on skills and education, on digitising public services to cut the cost and size of government. This will help us ensure that infrastructure is put in place at pace. If the Assembly agrees this investment, the accelerated roll-out will begin before the end of this year, be finished in 2026, and no-one in our community will be left behind. Importantly, it will also tell the world that Guernsey is investing in its future. The proposals to the States are for a capped investment in the engineering programme that will be undertaken by a commercial partner in order to roll-out fibre to premises. Investment will be deployed to accelerate work and to ensure that that there is a 100% roll-out within the timeframe. Contract negotiations are ongoing so at this stage I will not say more.
Work streams within priority 4 'Re-shaping Government' are also progressing. The Policy & Resources Committee has met its target by publishing the Tax Review Green Paper for debate later this month and we are clearly seeking the views of the Assembly and agreement on key principles. It is clear to me, from the evidence set out, that we have to focus on how to raise tax rather than whether to raise tax, but this clearly needs to be alongside action to eliminate waste and examine all options for cutting the cost of the public service. This isn't necessarily an easier answer - to reduce service levels or restrict access to public services and benefits is not without significant pain. The States have been grappling with the matter of the ageing population and resultant increase in cost of the public service for more than a decade now - we cannot continue to delay.
In addition, building on the initial work that has already been undertaken, this month we will start to begin the process to streamline how we currently commission and monitor services with the intention of improving how we partner with external providers, in particular the third sector, as well as considering what other services could be commissioned and GWP outcomes achieved by commissioning. We will draw together the work of the Commissioning Academy pre-COVID; consider the significant number of arm's length bodies created by government; outputs from Public Service Reform; and the recommendations of the sub-committee should that approach be supported by the Assembly to challenge current service provision as part of the Tax Review.
The Committee will shortly also begin the process to undertake a review of the machinery of government with SACC, which also has the potential to be a source of managing the cost of government.
This week we have reached the next important milestone in our Public Service Reform programme. Having made significant improvements in our technology and digital capabilities, we are now in a position to begin engaging with employees across the civil service on a restructuring that will create better, modern services that are more efficient and cost effective. For users of our services it will mean easier access and a more joined up approach that makes for a better experience for the community and for staff alike.
Finally, cognisant of recent world events and a demonstration of why flexibility is required within our strategic policy planning, the Committee awaits confirmation from the UK Government with regard to its full policy position on a resettlement scheme for the most vulnerable individuals, especially women, girls and children, they will help to relocate from Afghanistan. Officers are exploring whether the same technical barriers remain today as those that existed for the States and community groups to take part when Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme was expanded back in 2015.
Sir, there is yet very much to do. It can only be done if this States is purposeful and not self-indulgent. I await questions on this Statement and on the general mandate of the Policy & Resources Committee.