Monday, 24 January 2011

Scrutiny is dead – what next?

There were no scrutiny panel meetings for the week commencing Monday 17 January – but does it really make any difference if there are any meetings at all?

The States rejected Alan Breckon’s recent reform proposals that would have weakened the sick patient even more – so presumably somebody must believe that the current scrutiny system has to live on – but what can that justification be?

Obviously, scrutiny is intended to provide some sort of restraint upon ministerial government excesses in the absence of an organised or official opposition. In that sense it is a bit of pseudo-democratic window dressing to show to the world. However, proper governments (the UK might be that) have both opposition parties and select committee systems to regularly test and challenge their every action – besides all manner of audit procedures and special one-off inquiries and “Royal Commissions” when necessary.

Outside of government, most communities have scrutiny by media and a myriad of lobby groups, experts, political parties and international agencies such as the UN, Council of Europe, ILO etc. but Jersey opts out to a large extent because there is no effective and challenging local press and the adherence to international standards (on human rights and related issues) is mostly an illusion.

Jersey’s smallness is not an excuse for lack of scrutiny.

That scrutiny can work is demonstrated by the fear of IMF and EU examination of activities in the finance world. Jersey’s Zero-Ten debacle could have been so easily avoided if only our ministers had listened to the likes of Richard Murphy years ago. In fact, the upgrading of standards throughout the finance sector has only happened as a direct result of scrutiny by such bodies as the IMF. Likewise, the recent Council of Europe report on Jersey’s poor prison conditions will have much more impact than the Home Affairs Department could ever achieve unilaterally.

It is apparent too that a proper scrutiny process is an essential part of the protection afforded to individuals against oppressive government and administration. The huge number of complaints received in other places by Ombudsmen panels demonstrates that there is a universal demand for such procedures. Jersey is no different.

Jersey’s Complaints Board procedure against administrative decisions is hopelessly flawed and ineffective and deals with just a handful of cases each year. In a community of 92,000 people there should be hundreds of cases considered each and every year but the Scrutiny Panels system is virtually debarred from taking on individual cases to take up the slack. The sum total of these two procedures in Jersey amounts to a very substantially defective aspect of Jersey’s failing government system.

But, scrutiny is not effective unless there is status.

20,000 people can sign a petition against GST but they can be ignored by our ministers unless there is some enforceable process. Even the best scrutiny report can be ignored if it lacks the status to be taken seriously and, unfortunately, even some of the States members who sit on scrutiny panels clearly do not even take the process seriously. They are just filling their publicly funded time as backbenchers.

During a recent States discussion it was claimed that 12 backbenchers (that is those members who are not ministers or assistant ministers) are not on any scrutiny panels. This is not entirely correct since some, like Constable Crowcroft, are looking at dog pooh on the Policing of Open Spaces scrutiny sub-panel or Deputy Le Claire at Population - but it is evident that some scrutiny members are mere passengers. They contribute very little. As they used to say under the former system “they are very good on committee”- which usually meant they did not snore whilst sleeping.

That recent discussion arose following the announcement of Senator Cohen’s appointment as Jersey’s own Foreign Secretary (no prior scrutiny process of course), Deputy Le Fondre’s sacking as an assistant minister and appointment to a scrutiny panel, Deputy Egre’s and Constable Refault’s appointments as assistant ministers and their resignation from scrutiny panels etc etc.

All these decisions were made without any concern for the scrutiny system itself because it is not taken seriously and can be disregarded at whim. If it is ineffective then the ministers are unchallenged and happy.

It should not be thought that our States members actually do most of the work in producing Scrutiny reports. In fact, it is the Scrutiny officers who carry out most of the research and write the papers. Our elected States members mostly just talk. Very often they do not even bother to attend the scheduled meetings. Recently, the number of scrutiny officers has been drastically cut but this does not mean that our States members will be undertaking more work. The inevitable result is that fewer reports will be written, taking much longer to prepare whilst the quality of research and presentation diminishes.

Already, our States members have their minds on the autumn elections.

Scrutiny panellists are actively clearing desks in preparation for this year’s beauty pageant.

Although the Education and Home Affairs scrutiny panel ought to have enough serious issues to examine for many years to come – they are starved of real work because the ministers of the two departments (Deputy Reed and Senator Le Marquand) have effectively removed most issues from the scrutiny agenda through the use of internal inquiry procedures and other delaying tactics.

Thus, this important scrutiny panel meets, to a large extent, only to agree when it will next meet. Yet it declined, at its most recent meeting, to take up serious topics submitted by the public.

Unfortunately, although the scrutiny panellists keep saying how they want to engage with the public and to be more effective, we know this to be untrue and have reported on it endlessly in past blogs.

Since so many of the scrutiny panels refuse to allow recordings to be made of their proceedings or permit only minimal public participation during meetings, the obvious conclusion is that the whole sham process is just the latest manifestation of “cosy club” government.

We on The Voice have attended more scrutiny meetings than any the  “accredited press” during the past two years and can report on the basis of knowledge.

The scrutiny system has failed and needs to be radically reformed or buried. It cannot carry on like this.

We have been monitoring the scrutiny process itself and some of our so called elected representatives resent this activity. Scrutiny itself does not generally like being scrutinised and more and more agenda are disappearing from public gaze behind “Part B” exclusions. It is all part of a very worrying trend to suppress and stifle free expression and the dissemination of knowledge and information.

As part of our monitoring, we asked scrutiny officers to provide a list of topics submitted by the general public over the past few years and to indicate how many of these were taken up or rejected. It is posted here. We know it to be an incomplete list but it does refer to nearly 70 topics that members of the public have submitted - yet very few have been adopted.

Extraordinarily, we know that some members of the public have not even been advised if their suggestions were accepted or rejected and we have previously reported how members of the public are sometimes excluded from the scrutiny meeting when their own suggested topic is discussed.

Such a system should be buried without ceremony or benefit of clergy.

List of scrutiny topics submitted by the general public and outcomes:

Corporate Services Panel

*1 Addition of GST to JEC utility bills

Discussed 26 Jan 2006. Agreed to incorporate into Panel’s review of GST exemptions.

*2 Legal representation in matters pending at European Court of Human Rights.

Discussed 26 Jan 2006. Agreed this was not an area the Panel could review.

*3 Communications Unit

Discussed 26 Jan 2006. Agreed it was an issue for the Chairman’s Committee to consider

*4 Financial Services Commission

Discussed 26 Jan 2006. Passed onto the Economic Affairs Panel

*5 Legitimacy Law

Discussed at Panel meeting on 3 March 2008.Member of the public notified that a draft law was being prepared and would then go out to public consultation

*6 Civil Partnerships

Discussed by Panel on 13 April 2006. Agreed it should be passed to the Minister for Home Affairs and the Legislation Advisory Panel

*7 Tax allowances for non-married couples

Discussed by the Panel on 13 April 2006 and member of the public advised that the Panel had conducted preliminary enquiries but was unable to undertake any further work due to its programme having already been finalised

*8 Jersey Legal information Board Website

Panel received further clarification on the issue from the Law Officers Department and discussed this at the meeting on 5 May 2006; however it agreed not to review the issue further

*9 re 20 means 20

Discussed at Panel meeting on 7 July 2006 and although the Panel undertook initial work on this issue it agreed not to undertake a full review due to other review commitments. The Panel contacted the Minister for Treasury and Resources highlighting all concerns that had been raised by members of the public and requesting for them to be responded to prior to the debate on the proposition

*10 Taxing empty commercial property and unsold dwellings

Panel undertook initial research and contacted the member of the public with the information received as a result of this research

*11 Government Bonds

Meeting held with member of the public on 15 February to discuss the issue. Full review not undertaken

*12 Review of Jersey’s Overseas Aid contributions


*13 Private Pensions

Panel undertook initial research and contacted the Minister for Treasury and Resources on the issue. Member of the public was contacted on 25 May 2007 explaining the work that had been undertaken by the Panel and confirming that as a result the Panel was unable to undertake a full review.

*14 Civil Service Complaints Procedure

Discussed at its meeting on 17 September 2007. Undertook initial research however agreed that the Panel did not have the capacity to fully review the issue.

*15 Bovine Semen

SR 10/2008

*16 Zero Ten (taxing non resident companies)




*17 Scrutiny of the Scrutiny process – special regard to Data Protection and Freedom of Information

Discussed by Panel on 15 March 2010 – decided it was not within its remit and was passed onto the Chairman’s Committee on 26 March 2010

*18 Publication of all government information

Discussed on 17 and 31 March 2010 – decided it was not within its remit and was passed onto PPC on 9 April 2010

*19 Ratification of the UN Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women

A question was posed to the Chief Minister at the quarterly hearing on 30 June 2010. No further action was taken

*20 Bonus Payments

Discussed on 28 July 2010. Proposal rejected on the grounds that it concerned money laundering procedures in the private sector therefore not within Panel’s remit. Mr Dun informed on 30 July 2010

*21 Nurses

4 March 2010; Panel considered request from the public to investigate use of nurses time.

Follow up was undertaken with the Department no review was deemed necessary

*22 Member of the public submission

08.01.08 no record of subject or action just mention in the minutes

*23 Use of Agency Staff

07.09.10 forwarded to CSP. On next agenda – discussed on 6 October 2010 – decided that it would be undertaking a full review into the Human Resources Department in 2011.Mr Dun advised 11.10.10

Economic Affairs Panel

*24 The “Excessively high cost of travel and its effect on tourism, business and residents of Jersey.”

27.02.06 The Panel noted concerns about the cost of travel to the Island but agreed to delay any review into this matter until the Executive published its anticipated air and sea transport strategy

*25 Non-local companies and their use of the Island’s infrastructure, given that they were to pay no tax under the Zero-Ten tax proposals

08.0306 and 22.03.06 The Panel considered the matters which the fulfilment review was intended to investigate and that the remaining issues in his submission were primarily related to taxation policy

The Panel agreed to pass the submission to the Corporate Services Scrutiny Panel for its consideration and invite the proposer to a meeting to discuss the concerns further with the Chairman of two Panels.

*26 Environment/ Food Costs/ Tourism

16.01.09 The Panel noted receipt of a topic proposal but decided that it would not be able to undertake a review at that stage

*27 Residential Qualifications


*28 Trading Standards and the role of the Citizens Advice Board

12.04.10 The Panel agreed to write to the proposer of the Trading Standards Review to advise that the Panel would not be undertaking a review but that there may be a related Private Member’s Proposition lodged shortly for debate by the States

*29 Jersey Competition and Regulatory Authority

12.04.10 The Panel agreed to write to the proposer of the Jersey Competition and Regulatory Authority Review to advise that the Panel would be considering the matter further and was undertaking background research. No review undertaken

Education SC and Home Affairs Panel

*30 Prison Board of Visitors


*31 Higher Education Fees

Review on hold

*32 UN Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and Disability issues etc

15 March 2010 Considered by Education and Home Affairs. Letter sent to Minister for Home Affairs. Agreed not its remit and passed to Corporate Services.

*33 Policing of Beaches

Panel undertaking a review. Scoping document and terms of reference to be discussed at meeting on 17 August

*34 Surveillance

Panel undertaking a review in Autumn 2010. Review cancelled January 2011

*35 Dredging

Submitted July 2010 – yet to be considered by Panel (01.09.10)

Environment Panel

*36 Effect on boreholes, wells, streams and drinking water of spreading treated sewage sludge (biosolids) on agricultural land

Will be reviewed as part of Liquid Waste Strategy

*37 Choice of technology and location for EfW plant

No – previously investigated by Environment Panel. Also subject of States debate

*38 Why was Ramsar authority not informed about the construction of the EfW plant

Full review of Environmental Impact Assessment SR1/2010

*39 Operational performance and past health effects caused by local chimneys

The Panel will monitor progress with Air Quality Strategy

*40 Milk packaging at the Dairy

Not a matter for political scrutiny – Proposal forwarded to Transport and Technical Services

*41 Re-use and repair

Proposal forwarded to Economic Affairs Panel

*42 Parking; introduction of double yellow line

Issues considered within review of Sustainable Transport Policy

*43 Parking provision in new developments

Issues to be considered within new Draft Island Plan

*44 Trinity Landfill

Issue subject to legal proceedings. Individual case not policy therefore not considered appropriate for Scrutiny review

*45 Bus service complaints

Issues to be considered within review of Sustainable Transport Policy

*46 Temporary agricultural buildings

Issues discussed with Minister at quarterly briefing

*47 Taxi/Cabs

Panel to monitor the outcome of a forthcoming review by DVS

*48 Parking

Issues to be considered within review of Sustainable Transport Policy

*49 Methane Gas deposits in St Ouen

Not pursued due to lack of supporting evidence for the claim

*50 Radon – adequacy of existing legislation and monitoring provision

Research carried out – ongoing meeting with Medical Officer of Health and Head of Health Protection Services

*51 Planning approval process

Not appropriate for the Panel to review individual planning consents. General issues discussed with Chairman of Association of Jersey Architects

*52 Abattoir – time available for killing pigs

Matter resolved without Panel intervention

*53 Road-works Audit Board

Panel agreed to consider review of highway maintenance in future work programme

*54 Building Bye-Laws; Carbon content of imported electricity

Discussions with Jersey Gas, JEC and Planning and Environment Minister. Minister undertook to commission an independent study ; however, agreement between stakeholders could not be achieved. Amendments to Bye-Laws have resulted in removal of reference to carbon emissions.

*55 States policies on oil

Subject to be considered within review of Draft States Energy Policy

*56 Farm Shops

Issue investigated by the Panel – Minister has commissioned an independent review

*57 Encouraging low emissions and alternative energy vehicles

Issue to be considered in the context of the Panel’s review of the Sustainable Transport Policy in the first instance. There is also a relevant proposed policy contained in the draft Energy Policy

*58 Support for waste timber recycling project in St Ouen

Panel visited the site. Investigating Regulations regarding flues for pellet stoves

*59 Public Toilets

Sent to Environment Officers 25.08.10

Heath, Social Security and Housing Panel

*60 Doctors and Dentist Disciplinary Procedures

3 March 2009; Considered by HSSH Panel. Proposal acknowledged. Questions were asked in the States. No further action was taken

*61 Suicide and self-harming

13 July 2010 ; Panel would consider the subject as part of its work programme in September 2010

*62 Pension Provision

13 July 2010.Panel considered and provided a copy of the Government Actuaries Report. No review to be considered at this time

*63 Respite Care and Regulation of Care Providers

2009 submission by member of the public. Re-submitted by a member of the public.

13 July 201; Panel in both instances monitoring the progress of the Regulation of Care (J) Law 200- Deputy De Sousa is working with the stakeholder group established by HSS and will report to Panel. Also part of the work on the Long Term Care of the Elderly

*64 Housing Adaptations

13 July 2010 ; Panel to consider as part of its work programme for the last quarter of 2010 – pursuing protection of the budget as an amendment to the States Annual Business Plan

*65 Legal Highs

24 November 2009; considered by HSSH Panel letter sent to the individual concerned

*66 Social Housing

12 January 2010 Panel considered allocation of housing and agreed to consider as part of 2010 work programme. Delay to consideration has been caused by delays in any outcome from the Whitehead Report. Panel to meet Minister for Housing early September.
Submitted by Thomas Wellard.


Anonymous said...

How many States Members do sit on scrutiny panels. Surely somebody will come on here to defend the system in this election year?

Anonymous said...

well done - first sensible article ever

old lady said...

this is my first response to any blog! i am of the opinion that any Senator (who has an Island wide mandate from all of the people of Jersey) should be given the departments not deputies. I do believe that Deputies are for their Parishes only and Senators would be the better people to run all the departments and regardless of what the Chief Minister wants. I would rather see a Senator in these departments because in an arguement as i am sure there will be soon have the right to say i have the authority of the Island where as a Deputy can only say i have the authority of my Parish and what is that worth in an arguement nothing.