Priorities – and what’s not…

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Priorities – and what’s not …

In my last blog, I explained that I was going to spend most of 2019 concentrating my effort on a small number of priorities that I’m determined to see through before our term ends in June 2020.

I don’t believe in secret agendas – and, despite popular views on social media or in the pub, I don’t think many Deputies have one. (My favourite rebuttal to the people who think we’re all hopelessly incompetent but ruthlessly self-seeking was the person who said “if they can’t run a government, what on earth makes you think they can run a conspiracy?” It’s a bit unfair, but it’s got a point.) My agenda has been public from the start – that’s what a manifesto is for.

But, like every Deputy in the States, I’ve had to cut my cloth – I’ve had to set aside some goals that will never be achievable, at least not in this States, because I am in such a small minority on the issue that I’ll never change enough minds to make a difference. I’ve had to relax my expectations on other fronts because the States doesn’t have enough resources to go around; because external forces, above all Brexit, have imposed other priorities on us from outside. At the end of that, I’m left with a small but critical pile of things that, come hell or high water, I will try and see through to the end. I want to use this blog to talk about what those are – and to spend a little time on what I’ve left behind.

#1 – Tools for Citizenship

I went into the States because I believe in democracy, and because I think that a willingness to be part of government, at least for a time, is our duty as citizens in a small community. I also think there is a special responsibility on those of us in government to keep local democracy flourishing, and we should devote the time and energy needed to do so.

I have a particular responsibility as a new member of the States’ Assembly & Constitution Committee (SACC) to ensure that we have an effective and user-friendly system of island-wide voting before the June 2020 General Election. I also have a personal commitment, which I explained in my last blog, to try and promote engaged citizenship in Guernsey – that is, trying to demystify government and raise the profile of the many different ways in which islanders can make a positive difference to our community. That’s what I’m trying to do through this site in particular, and it’s as serious and important to me as any of the Committee work I’m involved in, or any of the priorities set out in the P&R Plan, because in my view an active citizenry is the lifeblood of our self-government.

#2 – Fiscal Fairness

I’m a repeat renegade when it comes to Budget debates in the States. I wondered whether to put this on the “defeated” pile, because I can never bring enough States Members round to my point of view to change the Grand Financial Narrative of this government – and, anyway, the Budget debate last November was really my last chance to do so.

But there are small ways in which our tax and benefits system can be made fairer, and which are still worth pursuing. This includes work that Employment & Social Security are doing on earnings disregards and medical assistance for people receiving Income Support. It also includes the Committee’s work on funding for long-term care, which we know is not sustainable, and places a heavy financial burden on families. I’ve been close to giving up on finding a solution for that one, because it is such a complicated problem, but the time I’ve spent recently with people who are struggling with the present set-up has given me a real reminder of how much this matters.

#3 – Equality

It’ll come as no surprise to anyone that my commitment to equality, inclusion and accessibility remains front and centre on my agenda, given that I’m on the Committee that’s working to introduce Equality law, together with an Equality & Rights Organisation to make sure that employers, businesses and the community as a whole are well-prepared and supported before the arrival of the law.

On the Committee for Health & Social Care, our top law-drafting priority is for Capacity Law. Progress has been slow due to Brexit, but we want to see this law, which will provide much-needed protection and support to people who are vulnerable because of dementia, mental health conditions, learning disabilities or other reasons, in place before the end of term.

#4 – Justice

Freedom and fairness have always been guiding principles shaping my work as a States Member. Even though I’m not part of the Committee for Home Affairs, I’ve kept a keen interest in their work on Justice policy. As a review of the Justice Framework is underway, and should come to the States later this year, my particular interest is ensuring that there’s a genuine emphasis on prevention – so that we’re focused on building safe and stable communities based on mutual trust, and minimising the risk of first-time and repeat crime and all its consequences.

As a member of SACC I am also now responsible for helping to deliver the review of the States of Election (the body responsible for selecting Jurats) – which will be important in ensuring that public trust and confidence in our justice system can remain high.

#5 – Health

As a member of the Committee for Health & Social Care, we feel the possible impact of Brexit keenly, and it has become a priority to make sure our health and care system is secure throughout, and beyond, the Brexit process. But we are thinking long-term, as well, and our Partnership of Purpose policy letter set out our ambitions for the years ahead. We hope it’s a document that will outlive us – certainly, the kind of transformation in health and care services which it imagines is not something that can be done overnight. It requires the hard work of lots of people, in lots of different parts of the system, pulling towards common goals, patiently and for a pretty long time.

Among the aims set out in that policy letter, I’m delighted we’ve already begun to make progress: we’ve introduced free cervical screening this year, and we’ll be asking the States to agree to proper regulation of health and care services next month. I hope we will have started to change the physical landscape of health and care with Community Hubs up and running, and hospital modernisation underway, before 2020; and, perhaps closest to my heart, I really want us to make progress on affordable access to primary care (GPs) before our time is up.

#6 – Future Generations

Perhaps it is the calm before the storm, but in the lull before the new Committee for Education, Sport & Culture publish their detailed plans for the future of secondary education, it’s easy to forget that this was the defining election issue & political debate of the first half of our term. But it’s had a prolonged and difficult history, and we would do a huge disservice to the children of this island, and their families, if we left this States without certainty on the future of secondary education – and, vitally, ensuring that children with special educational needs are respected and included in those plans.

Before I leave the States, I also want to feel I’ve done as much as I can to ensure the Committees I sit on, if not all States Committees, have a much deeper understanding of our role as Corporate Parent to children in care, and the responsibilities that go with that. And I want to make sure our housing strategy offers real options to young people and families, so that they are able to live, work and thrive here, without constantly worrying about the cost of keeping a roof over their heads.

#7 – Towards a Better World

Unlike certain commentators, I really welcomed the recent announcement that the Committee for Environment & Infrastructure would include a clear commitment to tackling climate change in its next P&R Plan update. The world is running out of time. Guernsey won’t be the first to suffer from global warming, but that doesn’t mean we’ll be immune to its consequences – it’ll change patterns of human migration, of the spread of disease, and of the availability of food. We can’t pull up the drawbridge and take no responsibility for helping to solve a problem that we’re all contributing to, and that is going to hurt all of us in time.

It is also important to me to support Guernsey’s commitment to international development through continuing the work of the Overseas Aid & Development Commission, using any opportunities that present to improve the way we work or to enhance our impact and value for money – such as our planned investment into an Impact Fund. We will also have Guernsey’s next reaccreditation as a Fair Trade Island in 2020, and it’s part of my responsibility to help make that a success.

What I’ve left behind

What all of this is missing is some kind of grand talk about “The Economy” and how I’m going to sort it all out, is it not?

Well, for starters, I believe the role of government is to do the bits that businesses won’t do – the bits where markets fail, because there is no profit motive in providing social protection to poor people in insecure employment, or health care to older people with few resources to fall back on, or neighbourhood policing to people who live in less safe places. That’s what I think government should be about, so that’s where I focus my effort. There’s no sense wasting public money by extending government into areas where there’s a perfectly functioning private market: we should focus our efforts on where we are needed.

But even if I felt differently, my prescriptions for a flourishing economy just don’t have majority acceptance. Given a free hand, I would remove the Population Management regime tomorrow, and fund Aurigny to provide lower fares to people coming and going from our Bailiwick. Those are the two things I think government could do to make an immediate, positive difference to the island economy. But both have been put to the test in the States already this term, and the majority of Deputies think otherwise. So there is little sense in me continuing to fight an uphill struggle for a battle I’ll never win, when I could be concentrating that time and energy into areas where change is just as needed, and where it has better prospects of success.

So that’s how I’ve ended up with my seven priorities – or themes, I suppose. They’re not ranked; each of them is equally important to me. Some of them I can influence more than others; some are highly dependent on what other people choose to do. I’m going to keep coming back to them, in this blog and elsewhere, to try and stay focused – sorry if I bore you along the way! If you want a change of scene, I’m not the only politician who blogs, and would always recommend Deputy Dawn Tindall’s blog for a thoughtful take on a different range of subjects. (Yes, I’ve promised to get better at sharing others’ work, too, so expect more like that in future – and please don’t hesitate to send me links and resources you find interesting, and would like me to pass on!)

That’s my 2019 – not quite Resolutions, I suppose, but certainly a bit of a plan. As ever, I would welcome your constructive feedback, and would like to hear from you on anything I’ve forgotten – or, even better, anything we could work together on. I hope the year ahead, whatever it ends up bringing us, is a good one.

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