Wednesday 22 April 2020
Since my last Update Statement in October 2019 a lot has changed in the world and in Guernsey. I am obviously speaking about the outbreak of COVID-19 / coronavirus.
The Committee for Home Affairs would like to take the opportunity through this Update Statement to formally put on record its thanks to all the Emergency Services and the many essential workers who, on a daily basis, protect the island and enable island life to continue.
We must however not only give our attention to managing the current crisis but also to the future beyond the pandemic. In this respect a significant piece of work which the Committee has been developing is the review and reassessment of the way in which justice, in its widest sense, is achieved and delivered across the Bailiwick.
Members will note that the Justice Review has been submitted for debate as a Green Paper and they will not need reminding that this is an area which we as a States have determined to be a key priority.
Nonetheless, while important, the Committee recognises that at this time we as a States must prioritise those matters that require the most urgent attention, and on this basis we have proposed that debate is held over to July or later by which times we might have moved closer to our usual debating forum rather than Microsoft Teams, which although very good, does have its limitations.
Another significant area of work which is continuing regardless is of course Brexit.
Since 2016, Brexit has created a huge workload for the Committee and its officers (especially GBA) with the need to ensure the Bailiwick's borders are kept safe, and the movement of people and goods is regulated appropriately.
While Brexit is no longer a regular news item, officers are still having to work hard to ensure Guernsey is compliant with the EU ruling to enable trading and movement of people.
There has been no change in the declared intention of Her Majesty's Government for the UK to leave the EU at the end of this year. In this respect the Committee will soon be submitting a Policy Letter for consideration and debate on proposed amendments to the Customs Law which will be critical to have in place the time of exit.
On a positive note the Committee for Home Affairs finished 2019 with a £360k underspend. This was a remarkable achievement in light of the never diminishing pressures on the services we provide and a much improved position on the overspend in 2018.
This change was in part due to one-off and non-recurring items and is therefore unlikely to be repeated in future years. The other significant portion of this underspend arose from vacancies within established staff and Law Enforcement.
Nonetheless, where it has been possible to make sustainable financial savings, these have been implemented and the corresponding budget given back to P&R thereby reducing the Committee's outstanding savings target.
In total in 2019 the Committee found £190k of savings against a target of £150k however £77k of those savings will only materialise in the 2020 accounting period.
Now moving to 2020 performance year to date, the Committee's services were managing well and operating £375k under the budget as at the end of February. This favourable position did not come as a surprise as a number of vacancies remained, predominantly within areas of Law Enforcement. During March a good number of these vacancies were filled, so in normal circumstances we would be expecting to see the Committee's net expenditure being closer to budget in the rest of 2020.
However, normal circumstances do not currently prevail, the States finds itself in the middle of a global pandemic. Covid-19 has already started to have a financial impact upon the Committee's services, and will continue to do so.
For example the Coronavirus Hotline staffed primarily by JESCC Operators has been set up but this comes at a cost; additional Personal Protective Equipment has been purchased for use by staff within Law Enforcement and the Guernsey Fire & Rescue Service;
In addition income overall has dropped as for example the fixed penalty income as many of the restrictions on car parking have been removed, along with a reduction in the ability of Fire & Rescue to sell their support services to businesses.
There has also been a significant reduction in income generated by Population Management and Immigration as applications have near enough dried up.
Separately we are in discussion with P&R over the liquor license fee income which may be difficult to charge at the same rates if, for an extended period, pubs and clubs are unable to use their licence.
Clearly, the financial impacts do not stop there and these costs will escalate in terms of front line staffing, if, as we must expect, the teams across our services are directly depleted through illness.
It should come as no surprise that the Committee is currently unable to forecast, with any certainty, the total financial impact that Covid-19 will have upon its finances. I can however assure Members that the Committee is doing everything it can to ensure that staff continue to deliver the critical services expected of them at this difficult time, while monitoring the cost to the taxpayer, and making every effort to minimise the impact on the public purse.
Turning now to Domestic Abuse
The Committee has just consulted with key stakeholders proposing the creation of new, and the amendment of, existing legislation in order to offer greater protection to victims of domestic abuse and violence.
The Committee will be recommending the introduction of Domestic Violence Protection Notices and Orders and making the breach of a Domestic Violence Injunction a criminal offence. The Committee is aiming to present its Policy Letter on this matter to the States this autumn.
The Committee is also preparing to report on the wider Domestic Abuse Strategy.
I will now mention the planned independent inspections of the Probation and Prison services, which are increasingly being categorised together as the Offender Management Service
The Committee commissioned the Her Majesty's Inspectorates of Probation and Prisons to inspect both the Probation and Prison Services during 2020 but unfortunately, due to the coronavirus, the Committee was advised recently that those inspections would need to be postponed to 2021 or later.
Contact will be maintained with the independent Inspectorates to arrange a new date as soon as possible.
Guernsey Fire and Rescue Service
The Committee and officers have continued to liaise with Property Services, previously through the States Trading Supervisory Board and more recently through P&R in an effort to ensure alterations can be made to the first floor of the Town Arsenal Fire Station to create additional valuable office space.
It was in the autumn of 2018 that plans were prepared. Given the slow progress I met with the President of STSB and officers in January last year where I was given the commitment that all efforts would be made to complete the work by the end of that summer.
Here we are, in the second quarter of 2020, and despite repeated assurances the scheme is no further forward.
We also need the support of Property Services to exit from private rented accommodation at Ozanne Hall and Les Huriaux to deliver much needed, financial savings. To minimise the risk of this important opportunity being missed there is a pressing need for this work to be given a much higher priority by Property Services.
Returning now to the Fire and Rescue Service rather than its building, Members will also have noted the operational decisions made by the Chief Fire Officer and his team to split the service over two sites to reduce the risks associated with coronavirus spreading through one of the crews, or watches, as they are more commonly known.
Guernsey Prison Service
Of late the Committee has been working with the Law Officers and the Prison management to ensure the necessary legislative provisions are in place so the Prison has the flexibility it needs to respond to a health emergency and also, aside of that, for electronic tagging to be used as part of the strategy of reintegrating prisoners back into the community in a way that can be well managed and monitored. The Committee has also authorised special quarantine arrangements should these be needed.
Turning back to the main focus of the Committee's activities, I could share at length about the range of legislation being progressed, the policy development underway, and the constant strategic oversight of all the services to ensure the Bailiwick remains safe and secure. However at this time the Committee is of one mind that focus needs to remain on those things that are truly important, which first and foremost is ensuring the community is kept, and keeps itself, safe and healthy.
Finally, we must all remember, and that means every person in the Bailiwick, that we are in this together. If we all follow the advice and play our part we can look forward to a bright future in which we can continue to feel safe and secure.