Billet Blog: 7 September 2016


Billet Blog: 7 September 2016

After a quietish summer, the States will meet again in just over a week’s time: on Wednesday 7 September. There are two States’ Meetings next month – the second begins on 21 September. From then, it is all systems go until the end of the year. This blog is an update on the items to be debated on 7 September.

Billet d’Etat XXI – 7 September 2016 (read it online here)

Part One: Elections and Appointments

Item 1 – Parole Review Committee – Chairperson (link). Responsible Committee: Home Affairs.

The purpose of the Parole Review Committee is to decide whether prisoners can be released on licence after serving part of their sentence (or to recall people who have been released on licence, if need be). It was established in Guernsey under the Parole Review Committee (Guernsey) Law, 1989. There is a short, sharp history of the local system in the former Bailiff’s 2004 judgment on Webster & Singleton v Chairman of Parole Review Committee, which provides helpful context.

The Committee is made up of independent lay members – people who are not part of the States or the judicial system, nor the prison or probation service. The Chair is appointed by the States, and the other members are appointed by the Royal Court. The current Chair has tendered her resignation after 10 years of service, so the States are now being asked to appoint a new Chair. The Committee for Home Affairs’ proposed candidate is Philip Taylor, whose CV is in the policy letter. Mr Taylor has been a member of the Parole Review Committee for four years, and the members of Home Affairs consider that he has the “integrity, effective communication and listening skills, and all the attributes required to be an effective Chairperson.” His professional background is in security, having had various leadership roles at G4S.

Reading up on this, I found out that, in 2005, the States decided to update the legislative framework which governs the Parole Review Committee, to better reflect the purpose of parole. It defined that purpose as: (a) protecting the public; (b) preventing the offender from re-offending; and (c) helping the offender to resettle successfully into the community. New legislation was drafted and approved in 2009. Among other things, this gives the States and the Committee for Home Affairs various powers to set eligibility for parole, specify factors that should be taken into account in reaching decisions about parole, and so on. When enacted, this should give the Parole Review Committee clearer decision-making guidance, in answer to the critique in the former Bailiff’s 2004 judgment. The law also provides for the Parole Review Committee to report to the States on its functions, which I believe is an important inclusion. As the law isn’t yet in force, I asked Home Affairs for a progress update, and was advised that the secondary legislation needed to implement it is being drafted, and is likely to be ready by early 2017.

Item 2 – The Appointment of Additional Employment and Discrimination Tribunal Panel Members (link). Responsible Committee: Employment and Social Security.

The Employment and Discrimination Tribunal is the body which hears cases of unfair treatment in employment, as covered by the Employment Protection law, the Sex Discrimination ordinance, and the Minimum Wage law.

Each Tribunal is made up of three people drawn from a wider Panel, which currently has twelve members. The Committee for Employment & Social Security is looking to expand the Panel membership to 15, by adding three new members: Jason Hill, Darren Etasse and Wayne Hassall.

The process for recruiting new candidates started before the last election. Applicants were shortlisted locally and then put through an ACAS-led skills assessment to evaluate their fit for the role. The combined shortlisting and assessment process identified all three as suitable candidates (out of an initial pool of 14 applicants). After the new ESS Committee was elected, we reviewed their mini-CVs (which are in the policy letter) and confirmed that we were happy to recommend their appointment as members of the Panel to the States, in light of their obvious skills and relevant knowledge, and the thorough process that had been followed to recruit them.

The Employment and Discrimination Tribunal is a new part of the Committee for Employment & Social Security’s mandate, having previously been with the Commerce & Employment Department. It is part of a wider responsibility for labour market legislation and industrial relations, as well as protection against discrimination, which the Committee are beginning to get to grips with.

Part Two: Legislative Business (Laws, Ordinances and Statutory Instruments)

Part Three: Legislation Laid Before the States

Part Four: Other Business

Item 3 – The Guernsey Financial Services Commission: 2015 Annual Report and Accounts (link). Responsible Committee: Policy and Resources.

Under sections 6 and 18 of the Financial Services Commission (Bailiwick of Guernsey) Law, 1987, the GFSC (Guernsey’s finance sector regulator) is required to prepare an annual report and accounts and lay them before the States. The accounts are audited, and the independent auditors’ report (p26) does not highlight any concerns.

This report reflects an ongoing commitment to a high quality of finance sector regulation in Guernsey, and to continuing to meet international standards and obligations. It shows the GFSC’s own continuous development and points to a strengthening of their enforcement function, in particular. It is, in addition, a window into the health of the finance industry – a sector which is responsible for one in five local jobs and around a third of our GDP. In that respect, it shows neither great growth nor substantial shrinkage; and ongoing global economic uncertainty is reflected across all sub-sectors of the industry.

Finance sector policy is a relatively specialist sub-set of economic policy – but, given its size and importance to our flourishing, one which is worthy of careful attention and critical scrutiny. It is an area where I’m still building up my knowledge. However, at their simplest, my concerns are to make sure that the way we run our finance sector protects the little guy (so I’m especially interested in the discussions about a consumer credit framework, mentioned on p11 of the report) and ensures we act ethically on the international stage, while remaining an attractive and competitive place to do business. The financial services regulator is the place where these concerns meet; so, although I’m unlikely to say anything myself in this debate, I’ll be listening with interest and following future developments closely.

Part Five: Appendix Reports

Item 4 – Channel Islands Financial Ombudsman – Annual Report (link).

The Channel Islands Financial Ombudsman was set up in Jersey and Guernsey last year, officially starting operations in mid-November 2015. This is its first annual report and accounts. As it had only been running for a few weeks by the end of 2015, the report is fairly limited in scope: in future, it is hoped to include case studies and themes arising from the Ombudsman’s work.

In the report, the Chair of the Ombudsman explains that it provides increased “access to justice by providing an informal alternative to the courts.” Its role is to manage complaints about financial services providers brought by individuals, small businesses (‘microenterprises’) and small charities (see page 2) – that is, people who wouldn’t necessarily have had access to the resources they’d need to scrutinise the advice they were given or the product they were sold in the first place, nor to mount a legal challenge if it went wrong – and to ensure that disputes are resolved fairly. It has an important role in making sure the little guy is protected – as I mentioned above.

While the report only offers a glimpse into the work of the Ombudsman, they have already begun to publish case studies on their website, as well as quarterly statistics (which are also sent to States Members) – providing further insights for those who are interested.

As this is an Appendix report, it is published for information only, and will not be debated by the States unless someone specifically requests that it should be.

Billet d’Etat XXIV (additional Billet) – 7 September 2016 (read it online here)

Part One: Elections and Appointments

Item 1 – Guernsey Competition and Regulatory Authority – Appointment of Chairman (link). Responsible Committee: Economic Development.

The Channel Islands Competition and Regulatory Authority (CICRA) is made up of the Jersey and Guernsey Competition and Regulatory Authorities. When it comes to appointing a new Chair of the CICRA board, the States of Jersey and the States of Guernsey therefore both have to approve the appointment separately.

Earlier this summer, Jersey approved the appointment of Michael O’Higgins as the Chair of the Jersey authority. Guernsey States Members are now being asked to do the same, so that he can become Chair of CICRA (the joint authority). We were unable to make the decision at the same time as Jersey, because of our different States’ timetables.

While I’m happy to support Mr O’Higgins’ appointment, the approval process seems absurd and unwieldy. It leaves open the possibility, however remote, that one island could approve a candidate who is then rejected by the other. If we are properly committed to closer working with Jersey, we are going to need to get better at developing truly integrated approaches, rather than processes that just run parallel to each other, across both islands.

I shared my concerns with the Committee for Economic Development at the time this proposed appointment was announced, at the start of the summer, and let them know they’d have my full support if they wanted to seek a more streamlined process. I was pleased that Deputy Ferbrache confirmed that he and his Committee had similar concerns, and this was an issue they would be looking at in future.

Item 2 – Elizabeth College – Election of New Director (link). Responsible Committee: Education, Sport and Culture.

The States is responsible for making certain appointments to the Elizabeth College Board of Directors. On this occasion, one director’s term of office expires at the start of 2017, and the States is being asked to appoint a replacement. The College wishes to have a States Member on the Board, and has requested the appointment of Deputy Lyndon Trott, who previously served as a director until 2010, and is a former student of the school. Alternative candidates can be proposed from the floor of the States.

Part Two: Legislative Business (Laws, Ordinances and Statutory Instruments)

Part Three: Legislation Laid Before the States

Part Four: Other Business

Item 3 – Closure of Electoral Roll for Vale By-Election (link). Responsible Committee: Home Affairs.

It is planned to hold a by-election on 19 October 2016 in the Vale, in order to fill the seat left vacant by the passing of Deputy Dave Jones.

This report proposes that the electoral roll should close to new entrants on 15 October: four days before the election. Importantly, this means that people will still be able to register to vote after all the candidates have been nominated. This would be a first for Guernsey. It could have some negative effects – candidates will have much less time to reach the people who register late, so not everyone will necessarily get a knock on the door (or possibly even a manifesto through their letter box). But it’s hoped these will be outweighed by the positives – it’s thought that people are more likely to take an interest in politics once there’s something to focus on, such as a set of candidates. By keeping registration open for longer, it is hoped that more people will take an interest and sign up to vote than otherwise would.

I’m just a bit torn on this one. In part, I feel like those who are elected at a by-election should not have to jump through any hoops that those of us who were elected at the General Election did not. An extended registration deadline will change the nature of the beast slightly (although, as the report points out, it will change it equally for all candidates). On the other hand, I share the view that extending the registration period is likely to encourage more people to sign up, and to be better for democracy – although I worry about how it might be exploited to rally people in a negative campaign against a candidate. And, almost entirely contradicting my first point, I suspect that it is better to pilot changes like this at a by-election, where they can be tested out on a smaller scale, than to introduce them for the first time at a General Election.

I still have some thinking to do on this one, to work out what side of the balance I come down on. My first reaction was wholehearted support but, on reflection, it’s more complicated than that. For reasons of timing – explained in item 4 below – I’m likely to end up supporting the recommendation; but, as ever, I would welcome your thoughts.

Item 4 – Vale By-Election Ordinance (link). Responsible Committee: States’ Assembly and Constitution.

This is the piece of legislation which confirms that the by-election will be held on 19 October 2016 and that registration will close on 15 October 2016.

Looking at this in conjunction with Item 3, it appears that, if enough States Members really didn’t like Item 3 and voted out the extended registration deadline, the only option available would then be to reject this Ordinance (and require SACC to come back with a new one, with a bigger gap between the closure of the electoral roll and the date of the by-election). That would presumably have the effect of pushing the entire by-election back by about a month, if not more. I don’t think my worries about the extended registration period are big enough to justify that – so, as I said above, I’m likely to end up supporting Item 3, if only because of the knock-on delays if it were defeated.

Item 5 – Changes to the Rules of Procedure of the States of Deliberation and their Committees (link). Responsible Committee: States’ Assembly and Constitution.

This report suggests two practical changes to the States’ Rules of Procedure. The first allows more than one Billet d’Etat to be issued for the same meeting – effectively, allowing late (but necessary) items to make it onto the agenda without too much procedural fuss. Anyone who was listening in to the debate on 29 June might have noticed that we had two roll calls and two sets of prayers that day – that was because we had two Billets to consider and, technically, the rules required a new meeting to be convened for each. This change will avoid that happening in future!

The second allows the States to fill vacant posts immediately, even when the vacancy arises by a States Member leaving the States (through death or resignation), rather than waiting for a by-election. Again, this will help us to avoid another situation like the current long gap in filling the Presidency of the States Trading Supervisory Board, allowing the States to run more efficiently.

Part Five: Appendix Reports

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