Billet Blog: P&R Plan – Phase One

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Billet Blog – P&R Plan – Phase One

I had the honour of attending the Youth Commission’s annual “Youth Works” conference yesterday, and taking part in a workshop with the Youth Forum, who are preparing their plans for next year.

We learned a useful approach to making plans. It goes like this: take a large sheet of paper and draw three columns on it. At the top of the first column, write: Why? Underneath it, list the reasons why you want to do this piece of work. Once that’s done, move to the second column … and again, write: Why? If, in the first column, you wrote “we’re doing this because we want to hear young people’s voices”, in the next column tell us why it matters to hear young people’s voices. When you’ve done that, move to the third column. And, once again, write: Why?

The value of this approach is that it helps you really understand the reasons for doing something, and to see if those reasons stack up. You can do the same with How? (“We’re going to change attitudes.” How? “Well, we’ll run a poster campaign.” How? “We’ll each design a poster that has an important message.” How? “Let’s get together next Saturday with some A3 paper and a pile of craft stuff…”) It’s supposed to walk you through from a good, general idea to a specific plan of action.

It’s a technique we in the States could probably use more often, too.

This week, we will be debating the first phase of the Policy & Resource Plan: the document that will act as a framework for government policy-making in the next four years and perhaps beyond. During the summer, I wrote about the state of Guernsey right now (something I also looked at in my Budget blog and speech) and about what I hoped the P&R Plan would deliver. A lot has been done since those early workshops with States Members – including consultation with business organisations and community groups about what they’d like from the Plan. The Youth Forum were proud to tell us yesterday that they’d been consulted, and the States had reshaped some of the wording based on their advice.

So, we have arrived here: Guernsey – great today, better tomorrow. The vision is that, in future, “we will be among the happiest and healthiest places in the world, where everyone has equal opportunity to achieve their potential. We will be a safe and inclusive community, which nurtures its unique heritage and environment and is underpinned by a diverse and successful economy.”

It’s not a bad thing to aim for. Happiness is not our strong suit, I think – we are habitually grumpy and grumbly – I earned the nickname “Eeyore” before I even hit my teens, and I deserve it, and I’m not unusual here. But we’re pretty healthy, and pretty safe, and pretty successful. We could do more to be inclusive, more to create opportunities and diversify. But we’re travelling in a good direction, and the Policy & Resource Plan should just give our work a bit more structure and – hopefully – more impetus.

There are four themes within the Plan: Our Quality of Life (which depends on having a Healthy Community and being a Safe & Secure Place to Live), Our Community (which is strengthened by being Inclusive & Equal, and by embracing Lifelong Learning), and Our Place in the World (as a Centre of Excellence & Innovation with a Mature International Identity), all underpinned by Our Economy (which should be Strong, Sustainable & Growing, with Sustainable Public Finances).

Each theme is discussed in more detail in the Plan, and a number of broad objectives for government are set out. The aim is that, early next year, the six Principal Committees will each complete a plan of their own workload, and demonstrate how they will help to achieve the “Future Guernsey” objectives. Resources and timeframes will be arranged to reflect priorities. This will happen as Phase Two of the Plan. I think that’s really important, because, in our structure of government, Committees are only really delegated to look after specific policy areas on behalf of the States – it’s the States, as a whole, that’s in charge. Phase Two will be an unprecedented opportunity for all States Members to look at, and possibly reorganise, the work plans of all Committees before they start haring off down a dead end. It should be a very productive discussion.

On that note, though, the States talks about “prioritisation” a lot, and it’s the most immensely boring thing. (I’m as guilty of it as anyone.) It’s boring because it focuses on the processes and mechanisms of decision-making – not the actual content, the stuff that matters to people’s lives. And it’s boring because you believe it’s fine words masking a nasty question: “What can we stop? What is of so little importance to us that we can put it on the bottom of the pile and forget about it?” (There I go, being Eeyore again.)

I’d like to offer an alternative interpretation. The reality is that we’ll always be busy. There will always be more work to do than there are hours in the day – and a lot of that work will be important. When we’ve got a spare hour or two, we’ll try to make sure it gets done, but it may take a little while. (Sound like anyone else’s to-do list, or is that just me?) When we talk about prioritisation, I think we need to be asking ourselves: “What is so important that we can’t afford to leave it undone? What do we need to put first?” It’s only a change of emphasis, but I think it’s significant. Not to evaluate and rank everything minutely, but to pull the most important things to the top. We’ll come back to that, anyway, in the early months of next year.

For the rest of this blog post, I’m going to look at each of the sections of the Policy & Resource Plan, the objectives and the amendments which have been brought. But before I do, just a few words on the Fiscal Framework. This is the set of rules which determine how the States can set tax policy. In the covering policy letter, we are reminded that “without robust fiscal rules, the ability to achieve the vision and the Plan will be undermined” (para 3.1). When we debated the States’ Accounts and the Budget, I laboured the point that money is just a means to an end – the end is the delivery of effective public services. So it’s absolutely right that we should look at the funds we need, at the same time as we look at what we’re trying to achieve. But these are just the guidelines. More importantly, early next year, P&R will present a “fiscal strategy” as part of Phase Two – a set of plans for managing expenditure and/or raising revenue to deliver what we need – which ought then to be reflected in every annual Budget. That’s bound to be an interesting debate.

So here’s the Plan, in four parts:

Our Economy – “Strong, Sustainable & Growing” and “Sustainable Public Finances”

We want a strong economy. Why? Because it allows individuals and families to do well, and because it provides the resources that government needs to deliver public goods. Why does that matter? Because we believe that communities where individuals and families have the opportunity to prosper, and where there is a strong public provision of the things (like health and education) that households working alone cannot get, are more likely to be safe, and contented, and healthy places. Why does that matter? Because every person deserves a chance to live a simple, ordinary life, filled with people they care about, doing work they find fulfilling, unthreatened by violence or insecurity. They have the best chance of doing so in a peaceful, thriving society: a community that is healthy, and safe, and contented.

That’s the Youth Forum “Why?” method. You see it digs deeper than the ambitions in the Plan. It strips them back to the fundamentals, the things we all care about. And in doing so, I hope, it shows why those lofty ambitions are needed in the first place.

The Economy section of the Plan recognises that businesses are generally capable of flourishing on their own, without too much government interference, and that’s as it should be. However, a certain amount of regulation is needed, to protect customers and to safeguard public goods. If we want the economy to thrive, government also needs to act on the factors only it can – for example, the security and efficiency of our transport links, and the quality of our lifelong education system to produce the skills that business needs. Brehaut Amendment 7 ensures that the close relationship between environmental and economic priorities is reflected in the Plan.

The Economy section also looks at public finances (which we’ll come back to again in the Fiscal Framework discussion, below). It recognises that, for nine years now, there’s been a deficit – a mismatch between government income and spending – and that needs to be put right by a careful balance between expenditure restraint and fair revenue-raising. Part of this is making sure that we get a return from the commercialised States’ assets – and Dorey Amendment 3 seeks to ensure that low-income consumers are protected if any new charges are introduced. Brehaut Amendment 8 requires decisions about taxation and spending to consider the wise use of natural resources. Fallaize Amendment 15 directs the States to follow its own fiscal rules in balancing the books – something which shouldn’t need to be said, but rules have been broken so much in the past (especially in relation to capital investment) that it’s worth spelling out. And Dudley-Owen Amendment 13 directs the States to take a closer look at public sector pay – a topic which Deputy Dudley-Owen and others raised during the Budget debate, and which will be essential for the States to tackle this term, if it ever wants to convince the public it is getting its own house in order.

Fallaize Amendment 14 would modify the introductory text in this section of the Plan. It reminds us that economic growth is valuable not just because it allows businesses to flourish, but because it creates jobs for ordinary people and it raises government revenue without the need for changes to the tax system. This amendment also introduces a wise note of caution into the debate about public finances – recognising that economic growth has been slow recently, and isn’t likely to magically pick up speed, and government should base its financial planning on realistic expectations.

Our Quality of Life – a “Healthy Community” and a “Safe and Secure Place to Live”

We want everyone to benefit from a good quality of life, characterised by wellbeing and a sense of security. Why? Because feeling that you and your household are safe, and are living in the best possible health for you, are the fundamentals of life. Every citizen should reasonably expect their government to protect their safety and promote their health. Why does it matter? If people feel that living here fosters their wellbeing and keeps them safe from harm, we’ll be an attractive place to live, work and raise families. (As an added benefit, healthier, safer populations ultimately cost governments less.) Why does it matter? Because we need to maintain a decent-size working population. Because people who feel loyal to this community will give that added extra – in work, or in volunteering, or in other forms of community participation. Because it is our duty as a government.

The Quality of Life section of the Plan recognises the current health challenges in Guernsey – rising obesity, poor mental wellbeing, an ageing population requiring increasingly complex care, and extensive and growing demands on the health and social care system. Soulsby Amendment 1 rewrites the objectives in this system to make them clearer: starting with a focus on prevention (keeping people well and independent), but providing timely and appropriate treatment when needed, and working on the transformation of health and social care across Guernsey, so that it can meet the challenges of the future without busting the Budget.

In considering what makes Guernsey a “safe and secure place to live”, the Plan recognises the importance of protecting islanders from harm that comes from within or beyond the community. It doesn’t just focus on criminal activity – it also reflects the need to protect against harm arising from natural causes, including climate change (which is amplified by Brehaut Amendment 9). Interestingly – wisely, I think – there is also a heavy emphasis in this section on the infrastructure which keeps us safe and secure: access to housing, good public infrastructure, and regenerated public spaces, especially around our harbours.

I realised late, and with some alarm, that there is no explicit mention of justice in the Plan – nothing about maintaining an independent justice system, protecting civil liberties, or ensuring access to justice for all. I flagged it up to the Committee for Home Affairs in case they wanted to bring an amendment, and they have assured me that a strong emphasis on justice will be apparent in their Phase Two submission. Perhaps justice is so fundamental to the business of government that it’s easy to forget it is there – but we simply mustn’t lose sight of it, all the same.

Our Community – “Inclusive and Equal” and “Lifelong Learning”

We want everyone in our community to be included and valued, and have opportunities to learn, grow and develop throughout their lives. Why? Because if our policies forget some people, or leave them behind while others flourish, they will grow disaffected and disengaged from their community. Why does it matter? Because we’re only a small island, and we need everyone’s talents and efforts to keep us going. And it’s demoralising and sometimes actively harmful for those who feel excluded, or don’t have access to opportunities. Why does it matter? Because our people are our greatest wealth, and we waste that if we don’t recognise that everyone has something to contribute, and seek to get the most out of those contributions.

This section of the Plan says that no one should be left behind. There is no place for discrimination in Guernsey society, and the States will deliver on its commitments to challenge disadvantage and promote equal opportunities. The Plan recognises that this will happen through a combination of laws and services: for example, in the case of disability, the promised equalities legislation will be a backstop that provides legal protection against prejudice, but the provision of social care services in the community will be a practical solution that helps people attain greater independence and freedom in their day-to-day lives. Both kinds of approach are reflected in this part of the Plan. Yerby Amendment 2 introduces two objectives focusing on the States’ duty to children and young people, to ensure that they are not overlooked in policy development. Fallaize Amendment 16 expands the introductory text in this section, and Fallaize Amendment 17 lists out the States’ key strategies, approved last term and due to be implemented this term, which will help to create a more inclusive and equal society.

The discussion of “Lifelong learning” recognises the value of providing people with opportunities to learn, develop and gain new skills at every stage of life – for their own personal growth and wellbeing, as well as for the social and economic opportunities it opens up. Fallaize Amendment 20 revises the wording to place more emphasis on the importance of a high-quality education, as the start to a lifelong love of learning. It’s an important point to make, because we’re revisiting the future of secondary education at the end of this month, and one thing’s clear – whatever decision we make about selection, we’ll all need to coalesce around making sure that our education system is ambitious for all our children, and delivers the high-quality schooling they’ll need to compete in a globalised world. St Pier Amendment 18 is a technical amendment, adding back in some wording which was accidentally dropped, and Brehaut Amendment 10 reflects the value of participating in nature conservation for lifelong learning.

Our Place in the World – “Centre of Excellence and Innovation” and “Mature International Identity”

We want to be respected and known among other countries as a jurisdiction which is innovative, enterprising, successful and trustworthy. Why? Because we’re competing against the rest of the world for business and people, and ways of working change very quickly these days. Why does it matter? Because if we don’t look for advantages that make us an attractive place to live and work, somewhere else will do it first. Why does it matter? Because we can never take our success for granted and, if we don’t keep moving, we risk being left behind by developments in a rapidly changing world.

This section of the Plan recognises the need for Guernsey to act independently, in our own right, on the international stage. In response, we need to be credible internationally – and that includes adopting reasonable international standards for social and environmental protection and the assurance of justice. We also need a “personality” internationally – a character that is born from our rich heritage, our language and culture. Brehaut Amendment 12 emphasises that this heritage is natural as well as cultural – and it’s true: a good number of the emails we’ve had in support of the environmental amendments to this Plan have come from people who live off-island, but who love to visit us because of our landscapes and wildlife.

Considering what it means to be a “Centre of excellence and innovation”, the Plan promotes conditions where enterprise can flourish – where new ideas can be made into reality. The objectives primarily focus on how businesses can grow and diversify, which links this section neatly back to the “Our Economy” section of the Plan. Yerby Amendment 6 introduces two new angles. One is the importance of innovation in the public sector – linking to earlier discussions about transformation of services, and the need to deliver Public Service Reform. The other is about the building blocks of innovation – equipping students with core skills in subjects like science, maths, technology and engineering which will help them to be the inventors and entrepreneurs of the future, innovating in directions we can’t even imagine now. If we truly want to be a centre of excellence, a commitment to the development of hard skills must be part of our ambition. Brehaut Amendment 11 repeats the link between economic and environmental goals, which was also in his Amendment 7.

The Fiscal Framework

The Fiscal Framework is attached to the Policy & Resource Plan as appendix two, and States Members are being asked to re-confirm their support for it. There are ten rules in the Framework, which explain that the States must always aim to balance the books; that deficits should be tackled when they are identified; that total government borrowing can’t be more than 15% of GDP; that capital spending should average 3% of GDP per year; and that the most government can spend at any time is 28% of GDP (we’re nowhere near that ceiling right now).

There are only two amendments being proposed to the Fiscal Framework and both of them, unfortunately, are mine. Yerby Amendment 5 revises the wording of the rules addressing deficits, to recognise that the solution will be some combination of reducing expenditure and raising revenue. It doesn’t attempt to prescribe the correct combination. It simply ensures that the rules talk about the tools available to solve the issue, not just the problem itself. I’m working with P&R to tweak the wording on this amendment so that we can all be comfortable with it, and a revised version will be available before the debate.

Yerby Amendment 4 changes the capital spending target. Instead of averaging 3% of GDP each year over a 15-year period (the ‘medium term’), this amendment will require the States to spend an average of 3% of GDP on capital investment (including major public infrastructure developments) over each States’ term. The aim of this is to give more attention to capital investment as an area of government responsibility, given its importance for good-quality public services, and its potential to act as a stimulus to the local economy. I know that P&R will be opposing this amendment, although I haven’t been able to get my head around their arguments for doing so – but it’ll be good for us to have this discussion as a States, as it reflects many of the concerns that were raised in the Budget debate last week.

What next?

On Tuesday, the States will be asked to approve the Fiscal Framework and the Policy & Resource Plan, with any amendments that might be agreed during the week’s debate. One or two States Members have made it clear that they will oppose the Plan altogether. On the whole, however, hopefully it will be seen as a step in the right direction, and the debate around the amendments will help to identify any serious policy concerns among, or differences between, States Members which need to be addressed this term. If approved, the six Principal Committees (Health & Social Care, Home Affairs, Employment & Social Security, Environment & Infrastructure, Education, Sport & Culture and Economic Development) will be tasked with going away and developing their own plans of action, which will form Phase Two of the Plan. Plenty of policy and practical work will carry on between now and then, with all the Committees dealing with some serious and important subjects, but Phase Two will allow projects and resources to be prioritised – to decide, as a States, what we cannot afford to leave undone and what we must put first, in the four years that lie ahead of us, and beyond.

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