Wednesday 16 February 2022
I am pleased to present my annual update on the work of the Scrutiny Management Committee.
Following the debate on the SMC policy letter on Freedom of Information last June, Members voted to implement a strengthened Code with the addition of an independent appeals mechanism. I am pleased to report that the Freedom of Information Panel, an independent sub-committee of the Scrutiny Management Committee, has been established in accordance with the timeline in the resolution and that the States website and its relevant literature has now been updated to reflect this change.
My Committee received a good number of expressions of interest from individuals wishing to sit as a member on the Appeals Panel and I thank all concerned for their interest. After due consideration the SMC has appointed Advocate Chris Green, Advocate Simon Howitt, Advocate Ian Kirk, Mrs Susan Hardy and Ms Rachel Masterton as inaugural Panel Members.
The Scrutiny Management Committee agreed early in this new term to reaffirm the significance and importance of holding regular public hearings. This resolve was reinforced following the acceptance by the Assembly of the Government Work Plan in June 2021 as Committees will now also need to be effectively scrutinised regarding their progress against the Plan. The SMC has now held six public hearings with Principal Committees. Hearings with Committees for Employment & Social Security and Environment & Infrastructure are scheduled to take place in late March and early April, and this will complete the first full cycle of Principal Committee hearings.
The Committee also resolved to bring in more members of the Assembly as Panel members to assist on these hearings - we believe this is beneficial both to those members who have kindly participated and to the SMC who are able to make use of the different talents and interests amongst Members
I would like to thank all our guest Panel Members to date, both States Members and indeed other individuals, who have assisted the Committee. I would encourage all eligible States Members to offer their support to sit on public hearing panels or 'task and finish' review panels.
In autumn 2021, following the significantly increased autonomy and delegated authority granted by this Assembly to the Policy & Resources Committee to facilitate the implementation of the GWP, the SMC established its Government Work Plan Scrutiny Panel. This Panel is designed to specifically focus on the progress made against the priorities of the Government Work Plan. The SMC believes that it was appropriate that this change was matched by a corresponding increase in the level of ongoing Parliamentary scrutiny throughout this political term and hence this Panel was formed to meet this need. I wish to thank Deputies St Pier and Gabriel for volunteering their services to sit as Members of the Panel. It is intended that membership will evolve over the term and may include members of the community.
The Panel held its first hearing with the Policy & Resources Committee last month. We believe that this hearing was both extremely interesting and beneficial to the public in explaining the work, priorities, and current progress of the Government Work Plan. It's our intention that these hearings with the Policy & Resources Committee will be held regularly to help ensure continued oversight and transparency in this area.
In response to the recent Covid surge, the SMC livestreamed two of its hearings and this has been very well received despite a couple of technical challenges. The Committee believes it has already proven particularly valuable in encouraging wider public engagement in the Committee's work and making it more accessible. It is our intention therefore to continue to livestream hearings wherever possible.
In addition to Committee hearings, we have carefully considered and scoped a number of topics for potential review. I recently announced in this Assembly that the SMC will undertake a review of the work of Agilisys, focussing on value for money. It is intended that this review will be launched by mid-2022. Additionally, the Committee has completed initial scoping regarding a review of the Guernsey Competition & Regulatory Authority and further discussions regarding the timing of this review are ongoing.
In my last update to the Assembly, I indicated that the SMC was considering undertaking a review of the Island's policy on Sea Links. However, after discussing the possible review with Policy & Resources it was decided jointly that given the sensitive nature of the ongoing negotiations in that area that a review was not appropriate at that time. Nevertheless, the SMC reserves the right to review government policy on Sea Links in the future and will be paying close attention to the progress of a sea links policy letter.
At the last States Meeting, Members agreed that the Policy & Resources Committee would consult with my Committee regarding a potential review of the Islands COVID-19 response, with a policy letter to be returned to the States Assembly in April 2022 when a further direction would be agreed. The SMC will of course engage fully with this process and my Committee will comment further in the April debate.
In the last year the Legislation Review Panel has continued with its important work. Since the beginning of this political term some Members of this Panel have expressed a view that they believe the level of legislative scrutiny in Guernsey could and should be improved. The LRP Members recognise that some progress has been made in relation to this by virtue of the machinery of government changes over the last twenty years. Nevertheless, some LRP Members believe further additional steps should be taken to strengthen this essential parliamentary function. It is acknowledged however, that the current system, although perhaps lacking in scale when compared to some alternative approaches undertaken elsewhere, is a relatively speedy and low-cost approach to providing meaningful legislative scrutiny. The current Panel Members are keen to ensure that this matter will be considered during the reshaping of government review and the SMC will fully engage with that process.
In ay complex public service organisation, financial scrutiny is an essential part of the assurance process. This is the role of the SMC's Financial Scrutiny Panel. The role involves reviewing the Annual Accounts and the work of Internal Audit in order to determine any areas requiring further investigation. This work has continued under the FSP in 2021. Much of this work is by its very nature not visible externally but it remains an important contribution to the overall accountability of public services to the local population.
In order to enhance our capability to undertake this work we have added to the expertise available on the SMC by appointing Ms Gill Morris to join the panel from early 2021. Mrs Morris is a long-standing Non-States Member on the previous SMC and a past Public Accounts Committee member.
The Scrutiny Management Committee believes that scrutiny of government finances is a political task and duty; one that is highly valued and seen as an essential function of effective government across the world. We consider this to be an area that requires further strengthening through the review of the Machinery of Government.
Sir, I thank members for their attention and will be happy to answer questions.