If you had told me what Committee responsibilities I would take on in the States, even just a month ago, I would not have believed you. I would have sat myself down and given myself a stern talking to.
Today, I was elected as an ordinary member of the Committee for Health and Social Care, the Committee for Employment and Social Security, and the Transport Licensing Authority. Last week, I had the honour of being elected President of the Overseas Aid and Development Commission.
None of this – none of it at all! – was in the plan when I stood for election. I intended to be a strong advocate for Health and Social Care, but from the floor of the States, not as a member of the Committee. I had my heart set on another Committee. But three sets of elections take place before the bit where first-timers like me get to join the Committees we’re interested in – first President of Policy & Resources; then his Committee; then the Presidents of the other Committees. Each of these has a knock-on effect on the next, and forces you to constantly and carefully re-evaluate where you can make the most meaningful contribution.
With that in mind, I thought I would briefly explain my motivations and decision to stand for each of these Committees – and for taking on a rather large workload all in all!
Overseas Aid and Development Commission: The Commission is responsible for distributing the development assistance budget agreed by the States, and for working with the private sector to enhance giving. I won’t revisit this one at length – my reasons for standing for this role are covered in my speech. In short, I think that the way we do aid says a great deal about who we are as a community. I stood for election in the first place because I believe we are at heart a generous, compassionate society – the work of the Overseas Aid and Development Commission allows me to help put that compassion into practice on behalf of the community, and make a positive impact in the wider world.
The main work of the Overseas Aid and Development Commission is organised around applications for grant funding, which happens once a year. There will be a burst of activity when the applications are reviewed (early in the new year), but the workload for the rest of the year will be fairly gentle. I will be working with six Commissioners, who are all non-States Members with relevant expertise; and a very professional and capable civil servant. I will have at least two additional areas of focus, beyond the grants process: one will be about reviewing the overall level of funding (in line with a States Resolution) and the other about building partnerships with the private sector (in keeping with the second part of the Commission’s mandate).
Committee for Health and Social Care: When I was a civil servant, I worked for a while at HSSD (as it then was) and loved it – so much so that I went on to start a degree in Public Health. So I have practical experience and an academic grounding in health and social care policy. But I didn’t enter the States intending to seek a seat on this Committee. Not because I didn’t care about the work – there is little else closer to my heart. But because the States, in the past, has had a habit of sending a great team of people into Health – and then pulling the rug out from underneath them when they realise just how complicated and intractable Health’s challenges are. As soon as you join the Committee, you risk being deemed to have ‘gone native’, and somehow lose the trust of the Assembly. With that in mind, I felt I could do much more good as an outspoken advocate for Health and Social Care from the floor of the States.
However, with a smaller number of States Members leaving only 27 Deputies to populate Committee roles (once the Presidents and P&R were in place), it was quite obvious that the States could not afford for anyone not to pull their weight. For me, that meant going where my skills and experience were most useful – that is, on the Committee for Health and Social Care.
This is going to be the one that eats up all of my time, effort and emotion over the next four years. It’s the nature of health and social care policy that it deals with the most serious matters of life and death, and human vulnerability. That’s an enormous weight of responsibility; and it’s compounded by the Committee’s ongoing struggle to match financial resource allocation with the enormous (and growing) breadth of demand that it faces – a challenge which will only increase over the next four years, and beyond.
But I’m doing this one because I care deeply about it, and because I have a strong sense of duty towards it. Because I believe that challenges of this scale need to be faced with courage; and because I feel it would be the right use of my next four years – or however much of that time I am allowed on Health and Social Care – to focus on the health, welfare and wellbeing of our island’s population.
Committee for Employment and Social Security: It was a deliberate choice, on the part of the Presidents of the Committees for Health & Social Care and for Employment & Social Security, to find one member who would have a seat on both Committees. This was a role taken on by Deputy Michelle Le Clerc and former Deputy Sandra James in the last States, and it added value because there are so many areas of shared responsibility between the two Committees – the specialist medical contract, long-term care, primary care and pharmaceuticals, equipment and adaptations, and more. Having some overlap helped to ensure good communication, mutual understanding, and effective working relationships.
I fit the bill this time because of my past experience: my first post in the civil service was at Social Security, so I’m familiar with many parts of the Committee’s mandate. My involvement with the voluntary sector has given me other insights – through working with Ageing Well in the Bailiwick, I have focused much more on pensions and long-term care; while the Community Foundation has maintained a strong voice on issues relating to poverty. I have been actively involved with the Disability and Inclusion Strategy for a long time – and this is the Committee that will be responsible for putting it into action.
Employment & Social Security, like Health & Social Care, will have a fairly large and steady workload throughout the year. If the two were unrelated, trying to do both would be a challenge – but the reason why I was prepared to take this on was because so much of their work is complementary, and I think there will be real value in having somebody who bridges both Committees, understands their different challenges and priorities, and is able to support a productive working relationship between them.
Transport Licensing Authority: This one, I have to confess, was unplanned and unexpected! The Transport Licensing Authority has an adjudicating role – it assesses applications for transport licenses (particularly air routes, at present) against predetermined criteria set by the States. It does not define the criteria – it has no responsibility for making policy at all.
The most important thing about the Transport Licensing Authority (and indeed the Development and Planning Authority) is that it should be capable of evaluating applications and making decisions in a fair and even-handed way. The two Authorities come a long way down in the pecking order for elections, which can make it hard to establish that kind of balanced committee, unless people are willing to accept the importance of doing so. Recognising this, I had said that I was willing to stand for a position if there would otherwise be difficulties in forming a strong team (although, workload considering, I’d rather be picked last if there were four likelier candidates).
I have a little bit of a law background, and a fairly analytical mind – skills and experience that will be useful in fulfilling the duties of the Authority, which are, essentially, to assess evidence thoroughly and apply the rules fairly. This role hadn’t been on my radar at all before now, but I will seek to fulfil it with diligence and integrity, the same as any other.
So that’s why I have ended up with four Committee roles: a heady mix of enthusiasm and duty. Well, I set out to be a full-time Deputy, and I certainly shall be. Sadly, I’ll have to give up some of my voluntary sector roles, which I had hoped to keep, because of the overlap with the Committees’ mandates and the potential conflict of interests this would create. On the other hand, that frees up a little more time (which is going to be in short supply now) – and if I start to miss the volunteering, which I surely will, there are plenty of opportunities in areas which don’t overlap with my Committees, where I could still make a positive difference… But for now, I’m looking forward to getting settled in and learning the ropes of each Committee. Once that’s underway, I’ll start to talk in a less woolly way about what we hope to achieve and how over the coming years.