After a quiet spell in the middle of the year, the States’ agendas for November through to January are much heavier, with the Budget just gone and important topics from the future of health and social care, to the shape of secondary and post-16 education, coming up soon. This meeting, the second one in November, will include lively debates on the future of Overseas Aid and the Population Management regime, as well as the election of another Jurat. The regular President’s update statement will be from the Committee for Environment & Infrastructure.
Billet d’Etat XXII – 29 November 2017 (read it online here) – Election of a Jurat
This Billet convenes the States of Election: a body which includes States Members, parish and church representatives, and the island’s Jurats. The role of the States of Election is to choose the island’s Jurats. We last met in September, when Jurat Alan Boyle was elected. The candidates for election this time are Stuart Crisp, Callum Beaton and Peter Gill.
The role of Jurats in the island’s justice system is explained here. In brief, they act as a permanent jury, who judge matters of fact (not law) in civil and criminal cases, and who have a role in criminal sentencing, as well as a range of other decision-making responsibilities.
Billet d’Etat XXIII – 29 November 2017 (read it online here)
Part One: Legislation laid before the States
The items in this section are statutory instruments (orders and regulations) which are agreed and put into action by individual Committees of the States, in line with their powers and duties. The States do not have to approve these (they are in force from the moment the relevant Committee decides) but we do have the power to annul a statutory instrument if we don’t agree with it. This would be quite an unusual move. There won’t be any debate about these items unless there is a motion to annul one of them.
There are nine statutory instruments this month: one updating the list of notifiable animal diseases; another one updating the stock exchange’s name to The International Stock Exchange Authority Limited, this time in data protection law; one updating regulations on the control of poisonous substances; two updating pharmaceutical benefit regulations in relation to nurse prescribers; and four relating to weapons and firearms, including various permits and fees, specifications of firing ranges and exemptions under the Law.
Part Two: Legislation for Approval
The new Data Protection law mirrors, as closely as possible, the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), in order to ensure that Guernsey has a legal framework which offers citizens the same level of protection as in the EU.
There has been one amendment submitted, by the President and Vice-President of Home Affairs (the sponsoring Committee), which makes a small number of adjustments to the draft Law. One of the most important of those is that it gives the Committee the power to set limits on the penalty fines that can be issued, or exempt certain people or organisations from being fined altogether. In my view, this is an important inclusion, as the fines permitted under the Law are astronomical. This may be appropriate in an EU context, where data breaches by vast multi-nationals might be the key issue; but for tiny local enterprises or charities run by a handful of people, these are beyond punitive, and I fear they could put people off doing business or providing services altogether.
The other important function of the amendment is to expand the “right to erasure” (also talked about as the “right to be forgotten”), which allows people to demand, in certain circumstances, that their data be deleted by an organisation that holds it. The draft Law said this only applied where the data held was inaccurate or incomplete, whereas the amendment says it can apply to any data held, regardless of accuracy. Apart from this, the rest of the amendment serves to tidy up a few clerical errors in the draft Law, and to make clear how it will be applied to Alderney and Sark.
The States has debated the principles of the new Data Protection law on two occasions this term, most recently in April 2017. Although the new Law is complex and will be onerous for organisations in some respects, it is also an important evolution of citizens’ rights to privacy in a digital age. Most significantly, it is fundamental to our continued ability to do business with anyone based in the EU, and so we have very little choice but to approve it now.
This, and the next five items (Item 3 – 7), update Social Security benefit rates and contribution rates for 2018, in line with those agreed by the States at the start of this month, when the Committee for Employment & Social Security’s Uprating Report was debated. All the rates are as set out in that report, so I have not discussed them in detail here, but the titles and links to each piece of legislation are given below.
Part Three: Other Business
The budget arrangements for Overseas Aid were last debated in detail in 2012, when the States resolved to keep them at the same level (uprated yearly by RPIX) for the next five years, and then review that allocation. That five year period is now at an end, so the Commission, in consultation with the Policy & Resources Committee , has presented a report suggesting the way forward.
The Overseas Aid budget is just under £3m. It is invested in projects working with some of the world’s poorest communities, focusing on five key areas: education, health, water and sanitation, food security, and livelihoods. The impact of Guernsey’s overseas aid funding is often life-changing, even life-saving, for those who benefit from the projects funded. The States is being asked to continue supporting Overseas Aid, although the 2018 budget is to be increased by less than RPIX, mirroring the financial pressure on every other level of States expenditure. It should be said, however, that Guernsey’s contribution only adds up to 0.13% of national wealth (GDP) – a smaller proportion than that given by almost every other wealthy country, and a long way short of the international target of 0.7% of GDP.
The policy letter introduces the concept of an Impact Fund – an approach to international development that involves investing in projects that have a financial, as well as an environmental or social, return. This is an opportunity which the Commission is keen to explore, together with P&R, and a detailed feasibility study will be carried out if the States approve of the initiative. While the Commission considers that grant-funded projects will continue to form the heart of its business, an Impact Fund would complement that core work, and presents an opportunity for the public and private sectors to work together in this area.
Three amendments have been submitted. One, by Deputy Peter Roffey and Deputy Peter Ferbrache, directs P&R to find an alternative source of funding for the Impact Fund, protecting the whole of the Overseas Aid budget for grant-funding and emergency relief awards. Another, by Deputy Lester Queripel and Deputy Joe Mooney, directs the Commission and P&R to submit the feasibility study to the States for approval before making any investments. The last, again by Deputy Lester Queripel and Deputy Joe Mooney, asks the States to run a public consultation on whether Overseas Aid should be funded by voluntary contributions – a move which, in theory, could be hugely damaging to Guernsey’s international reputation, and see the island turn its back on the incredible transformative work it is doing in some of the poorest communities in the world. This amendment is deeply disappointing, and I hope the States will reject it resoundingly.
The Committee for Employment & Social Security (ESS) is responsible for recommending the Minimum Wage rate each year. This year, we are recommending the adult (18+) rate should be £7.75 per hour and the young people’s rate should be £7.05.
This follows a new approach to consultation, where we published our proposed rates (then £7.50 for adults and £7 for young people) and asked for feedback. The vast majority of people said the rates should be higher – in fact, most of those who replied said that the adult rate should be £8 an hour. With Brexit making it harder to recruit the overseas workers some industries rely on, one way we can make Guernsey a more attractive place to work is by having a competitive minimum wage rate – at the very least, keeping pace with the UK and Jersey.
But it is important not to forget that the fundamental principle behind introducing a Minimum Wage was to avoid circumstances in which workers in Guernsey were being paid low wages to the point of exploitation. With that in mind, it bears noting that, despite a significant increase in the hourly rate, a person being paid minimum wage in 2018 would still only earn £16,120 a year for a 40-hour working week – only half the average wage in Guernsey, and not nearly enough for a decent quality of life.
There is one amendment to the policy letter, from Deputies Peter Roffey and Chris Green. It asks the Committee to include a medium-term plan for minimum wage levels in its next report, to provide employers and employees with more certainty. Doubtless this follows the finding of the interim report on In-Work Poverty published by the Scrutiny Management Committee last month.
There are two reports on the Population Management regime up for debate – one brought by Home Affairs and the other by Economic Development. In order to enable them both to be debated together, the Policy & Resources Committee have brought an amendment allowing the two sets of proposals to be set directly against each other.
By way of context, the Population Management regime was approved by the States and implemented earlier this year. It replaced the old Housing Control regime. As part of the introduction of the new law, it was agreed that there would be a review of its operation within two years – however, feedback from certain parts of the business community prompted the Committee for Economic Development to seek a debate on it sooner. The full review will still be carried out, but these reports concentrate on issues affecting short-term permit holders, primarily working in the tourism and hospitality industries.
If the Home Affairs proposals are agreed, then:
• People living and working in properties registered on Part B or C of the Open Market (that is, hotels and care homes) will be able to renew their permits an indefinite number of times – they will no longer have to leave after five years.
• People who have been working in Guernsey for nine months of the year, and spending the other three months away from the island (a pattern of work that was permitted under the old system, but largely abolished when Population Management was introduced) will be allowed to continue doing so, provided they’d been doing it for at least three years prior to the introduction of the new regime.
An amendment submitted by Deputy Peter Roffey, which I am seconding, effectively reintroduces the nine-months-on, three-months-off regime (under which a person’s permit can be renewed an indefinite number of times) as an alternative to the short-term permit which lasts a full year and can be renewed for up to five years only. The Committee for Home Affairs have recently confirmed that they will support this approach.
The Economic Development proposals go further. They also propose that people living in Part B or C are able to renew their permit indefinitely, but they add to that by saying that people should be able to live in any Part B or C property, not just the one attached to their current job.
More significantly, the Economic Development proposals would allow Short-Term Permits to be renewed an indefinite number of times. Although Short-Term Permit holders can’t build up certain residence rights which are available to other permit-holders, in some ways this would put them in a more favourable position relative to Medium-Term Permit holders, whose permits cannot be renewed in the same way. Regardless of whether or not this is the right thing to do, it drives a cart and horses through the whole logic of the Population Management regime.
For my part, I tend to think that Population Management is a very blunt instrument, and economic factors, especially the supply of housing and of jobs, will have a much more significant effect on the size and nature of the island’s population than any government effort can do. I voted against the regime’s introduction in the first place and, while it exists, I would like it to be as liberal as possible. As with the original debate on introducing the regime, this is one where I will have to listen to the debate to understand the potential consequences of the different options, and finally determine exactly how I will vote.
This is the report initially brought by the Committee for Economic Development. I have discussed it together with the Home Affairs’ report, in the item above. Depending on the outcome of that debate, it is unlikely that there will be a separate debate on this policy letter, although the recently-laid amendment by Deputy Jan Kuttelwascher and Deputy Jennifer Merrett suggests that the Committee may not be minded to withdraw it.
Part Four: Appendix Reports
Overseas Aid and Development Commission – 2016 Annual Report (link)
The annual report sets out the work of the Overseas Aid and Development Commission during 2016. It includes case studies of a number of projects which the Commission supported, for those who want to see the real-life impact of Guernsey’s support for some of the world’s poorest communities, as well as a full list of funding allocated in the appendix to the report.
Given its responsibility for disbursing public funds, the Commission strives for maximum transparency and accountability. Our Annual Reports, dating back to 2012, can be found on gov.gg/overseasaid, together with full details of the Commission’s rules and requirements for applying charities, both in relation to routine grant funding and in the case of emergency relief applications.