The March States Meeting, which begins on 21 March, is likely to be fairly short again, with only a couple of significant papers.
Billet d’Etat X – 21 March 2018 (read it online here)
Statements and Questions
There will be a general update on the work of the Committee for Economic Development (given by its President, Charles Parkinson) and an update from the States of Alderney (given by Alderney Rep Graham McKinley), which was deferred from the last meeting due to snow. The new President of the Committee for Education, Sport and Culture will give an update on that Committee’s financial position, following warnings from the previous Committee that it was going to substantially overspend its budget.
There will be questions about the length of school holidays and the cost of milk.
Elections and Appointments
On 28 February, Deputy Peter Roffey was elected as President of the States Assembly and Constitution Committee. He’d previously been an ordinary member of the Committee, so his election to President leaves another empty seat to fill. Although the Committee’s a popular target for States Members who don’t like the way the rules work, it’s hotting up to be quite a contested election, with at least three names in the frame — one of whom (Deputy Neil Inder) has already indicated that he wants to wind down the Committee later this year and pass its responsibilities across to P&R.
Concerns about the Office of the Public Trustee led to the States carrying out an internal review at the end of 2017. The former President of the Committee for Economic Development and the Public Trustee both resigned their roles at the time. The new Committee for Economic Development announced, at the end of January, that it would be carrying out a full review of the governance of the Office of the Public Trustee. Meanwhile, the States are asked to appoint David Harry as the new Public Trustee, to take over the role from the outgoing office-holder.
The States are asked to approve the appointment of three new members to the Independent Prison Monitoring Panel: a group of independent people who have authority to check on the standards of the prison and the way that prisoners are treated. They’re a vital part of our justice system; one of the checks on the power of the State, which is so important in circumstances where people have been deprived of their liberty.
There is only one statutory instrument to be noted by the States: the Social Insurance (Contributions) (Amendment) Regulations, 2018 – these clarify the existing law, for the avoidance of doubt, rather than introducing any kind of policy change.
Propositions and Policy Letters
There are two items of business:
The States has already approved a three-stage process for replacing the island’s ageing buses with newer vehicles that are less environmentally damaging, and which continue to support a shift away from individual car use towards more use of public transport.
The first phase took place in 2016, when 12 new diesel buses were purchased. These came on to island roads last year, and this report paints an encouraging picture of their success: they can travel further on a tank of fuel (11.5-12.5 miles per gallon, vs. 9.5 miles per gallon by the old buses); they have had far fewer breakdowns (around 1 a month, vs. 12-15 a month among the old buses); and so far there has only been 1 accident in six months (compared to 8-10 accidents each month by the old buses). The saving on fuel alone, never mind repairs, works out at an estimated £40,000 per year.
The original plan was to replace another 13 buses this year with similar fuel-efficient diesel buses, and to bring in 14 electric buses in 2020 to complete the replacement of all of Guernsey’s public buses. E&I are now asking for permission to replace 22 buses this year, as the existing buses are in a bad state and will need extensive repairs if they are to remain on the roads much longer. This leaves only a handful of buses to be replaced in the third phase, when E&I are hoping to be able to introduce electric or alternative fuel buses.
There is a helpful FAQ here which explains why electric buses are not yet an option for Guernsey – principally because those that are being built right now are made for cities with generous roads, not Guernsey’s narrow twists and turns. Hopefully by 2020 there will be a much better market for electric buses, and we’ll find the one to suit us.
Meanwhile, E&I have negotiated a deal with WrightBus, who supplied the first phase of new buses, to purchase a further 22 vehicles at a price of £131,500 each (£2.9m in total) – a discount of over £3,000 per bus compared to the previous purchase. This is presented as good value for money, and the report also shows that the new buses should reduce annual operating costs (especially fuel and maintenance) because they are more efficient than the old buses they’re replacing.
Once a year, the Policy and Resources Committee is required to set out the pipeline of laws to be drafted over the coming year. This is part of the planning process linked to the Policy and Resource Plan.
This report is the first of its kind, despite being halfway through the States’ term already, and it includes a schedule of laws which P&R believe to be priorities for drafting during 2018-19. It is a reasonable overview of the scope of work that needs to be done to put States’ decisions into action. Unfortunately, its usefulness is limited because it does not contain any information about whether the States’ law drafting team will actually be able to deliver on these priorities, nor what kind of resources they might need to make it happen, and that will need to be challenged and clarified in debate.
There are three appendix reports – these are provided for information but won’t be debated unless a States Member specifically requests it.
The annual report of the Scrutiny Management Committee (link) details the work done by the Committee during 2016 and 17, including policy reviews relating to the States’ bond issue and the matter of in-work poverty, and a cycle of public hearings with all the Principal Committees. It rather labours the point that all States Members are responsible for scrutiny, while the Committee has a “specialist”, more in-depth, scrutiny role – arguably, it has to make this point because its powers and resources fall short of what it needs to do its job.
On the whole, the report shows a busy year for the Scrutiny Management Committee, and flags some points of concern. In particular, it is disappointing to read that Scrutiny feels it has not been able to continue the process started by the former PAC, to act as an independent observer of the external audit process of the States Accounts, because it hasn’t been able to get P&R’s agreement to its approach. It also emphasises the need for wider circulation of post-implementation reviews on capital projects, to make sure the States learns from its mistakes each time around.
Looking ahead, the President’s introduction points towards reviews of Committee transformation programmes and staff terms and conditions, as well as a focus on public access to information and financial transparency over the coming year – issues which are vital to any Scrutiny function, and which will help to underpin scrutineering by other States Members and the wider community, as this report so clearly desires.
The States will also note the election of a non-voting member to the Committee for Education, Sport and Culture (link), following the appointment of former deputy Richard Conder. A second non-voting member, Andrew Warren, has since also been appointed – due to timing, the States will note that at a later meeting.
Finally, the annual report of the Guernsey Police Complaints Commission (link) details the work done by the Commission during 2016. We last considered a report from the Police Complaints Commission in June 2016, for the period 2011 to 2015. At that time, States Members debated the report, and I called for more meaningful data on the number and types of complaint investigated, comparable to the statistics used in Jersey. The continued lack of such data is unsatisfactory. Equally disappointing is the fact that the Committee for Home Affairs appears to have made no further progress on reviewing the law governing the Commission, despite an undertaking from the Committee in 2016 that they would make this a priority.