This week has been a whirlwind, as we have all been getting to know our new Committees. I have been on the hospital site every day, with Health & Social Care meetings held in the heart of the PEH, in the Vauquiedor Office, and in the award-winning new Oberlands Centre. I have not been able to resist borrowing half of the health policy stock in the Institute library and have even passed the bug on to my colleagues.
Whenever I have not been with the Health & Social Care team, I have been at Wheadon House, getting to grips with the new mandate of the Committee for Employment & Social Security. Unlike Health & Social Care, which has much the same responsibilities as the former HSSD, the Committee for Employment & Social Security is a new creature, including bits of the old Housing Department and the employment and health & safety remit from Commerce & Employment, as well as all the core business of the Social Security Department.
The joy of this change is that it gives the Committee the opportunity (and indeed the duty) to focus on social inclusion in its broadest sense, covering every aspect of poverty, disadvantage and inequality. This includes a lead role in delivering on the Disability & Inclusion Strategy, and other matters relating to equality and discrimination. I have been delighted to discover that in Deputy Michelle Le Clerc, we have a President who has a solid understanding of Social Security responsibilities, from her service on SSD last term; but who has also wholeheartedly embraced the wider mandate of ESS, and is committed to delivering on it. No doubt we’ll face the odd teething problem – at operational level, as several Departments are brought together; and at policy level, as we figure out how our work sits alongside other Committees’, and make sure nothing falls through the cracks. But I have great confidence in our President and the team, and think this could be a really positive four years.
While we have been learning our way around our Committee mandates, we have also elected Vice Presidents: Deputy Shane Langlois is now VP at Employment & Social Security, and Deputy Rhian Tooley at Health & Social Care. I am pleased and proud of both my colleagues, and really looking forward to seeing them in action.
The next step for us will be to take everything that we have learned in the past few days (and that we’re going to carry on learning – the Health & Social Care induction, in particular, has a lot of ground still to cover, in quite a literal way: we’ll be going out to visit as many service areas as possible, as well as learning what goes on behind the scenes) and start to figure out our priorities for the next four years. This, in turn, will need to fit with the Policy & Resources Plan for the whole States, which we formally start work on in early June.
Meanwhile, one of the things that has delighted me most this week was that, at our very first Health & Social Care meeting, Deputy Heidi Soulsby, our President, asked us if we would support plans to significantly increase HSC’s communication and engagement with the public. This includes regularly publishing core data about how our health and social care services are performing.
Being the geek that I am, I nearly leapt out of my chair when she suggested it. By regularly publishing comparable data, we start to build up a picture of what we’re doing, how things are changing over time, and where there is progress or room for improvement. We enable people to form their own objective opinions about health and social care quality; we increase transparency about our activity; we empower organisations outside the States to analyse problems and propose solutions based on publicly-available information. And one of the best ways to improve data quality is to use it regularly – so, by publishing, we help ourselves to improve the data we use to inform management and policy decisions.
Please don’t expect the information we publish to be perfect, or to cover every single area of interest. From my perspective, I guess there will be several elements we will need to think about as we go along. Some of that might be to do with making sure that the quality of the data we collect is good enough. Some of it might be ensuring that we pick the right things to report on – that we’re looking at data that gives meaningful answers to questions about whether we are delivering health and social care services well (rather than just looking at issues that are easy to measure). And some of it might be ensuring that population health data (such as those in the Guernsey & Alderney Health Profile) and information about the performance of the health and social care system, not just the services run by HSC, are also taken into consideration. All of that will take time, and the Committee will need to give it plenty of thought and reflection as we go along – but we have to start somewhere, and no doubt we will build on it and learn as we go.
That commitment to openness is a great place to be starting from. And it’s happening all across the States. If you didn’t catch Deputy Gavin St Pier’s letter providing an update on the recent decisions of the Policy and Resources Committee, it is worth a read – if only to see that we have introduced ceremonial titles in Guernsey-French, alongside the English titles, for several of our senior roles! There’s no cost to doing so, and it’s a great way of acknowledging and displaying our unique island heritage.
However, while there’s lots to celebrate this week, for my own part, the honeymoon is definitely over. I am learning that the reserves of strength one needs to survive in this role for four years are entirely different to the courage one needs to get through an election campaign. I came in for a bit of a kicking earlier this week, when the Overseas Aid and Development Commission published its 2015 Annual Report. Some people are very unhappy with us giving any money to people and communities in need beyond our borders, and have been making that displeasure known on Facebook and in the comment sections of the Guernsey Press website. It’s disappointing for me, but of course they have every right to do so. It would be easy for me to dismiss them as selfish, but I don’t think that’s generally the case – within Guernsey, they’re quite happy for their tax money to be spent on causes that don’t directly benefit them, such as medical treatment for others. It’s more that we have a fundamental disagreement of principle about where and why money should be spent, which I don’t believe can easily be resolved. They will, however, have an opportunity to make their views heard to the States later this year or early 2017, when the Overseas Aid budget is formally reviewed by P&R, and I hope they will do so.
But there was one aspect of the criticism which I thought I probably could engage with in a productive way. Some people have said that local charities working overseas do not get the opportunity to apply for funding. This isn’t actually the case: we want to support local charities, have regularly done so in the past, and are encouraging local charities to apply for funding in the next round of grants, which opens in July 2016. In addition, I met my Commissioners (a very impressive group) for the first time yesterday, and they readily agreed that we would have a public launch event for the new funding round this summer – creating an opportunity for the voluntary sector and the wider community to learn about the work of the Commission and the requirements of the grants process, and to ask questions about any aspect of the work. We’ll announce more details once we’ve fleshed out the plan. This is, I hope, a sensible response to a legitimate concern that local charities might not be able to participate, and another reflection of this States’ commitment to openness and inclusivity – as well as, topically, a chance to demonstrate that we recognise and value the work done by the local voluntary sector and actively want to build better working relationships. I don’t for a minute imagine it will please everyone, but I hope that it will at least do some good!