Fight for Freedom of Information

Guernsey does not have a Freedom of Information Law (FoI). We have a Code of Practice for Public Information, which is voluntary. There is a supposed “presumption in favour of disclosure” rule. Experience suggests, however that this is not observed if the information requested would cause discomfort. The ranks close. A full Freedom of Information Law would prevent this happening by providing a defined right to information, subject to independent interpretation by a judge or Data Protection Commissioner (rather than by a non-independent official), and thereby capable of enforcement.

Jersey and the UK have a proper Freedom of Information Law. A full Freedom of Information Law should be brought into force in Guernsey.

Excuses for not previously doing so have focussed on costs. Whilst “small government” and the minimisation of the costs of government, both those directly charged to citizens and those indirectly caused to them, is of course an important objective, it should not be used as an excuse for not doing what is undoubtedly right for the modern day, but which happens to be inconvenient to the establishment. 

In fact, the ultimate cost of a Freedom of Information Law would likely be lower than the direct costs of its implementation and existence, because that existence would encourage better practice. We believe that previous deterrent scaremongering estimates of the costs of providing information transparency have been greatly overestimated for a small community such as Guernsey, but in any event, if the organisation is in fact operating cleanly, the costs will be reduced; it is merely a question of efficiency. We believe that FoI will pay for itself in practice, because the likelihood of public disclosures would result in more careful decision-making with consequent savings to the public purse, as well as discouraging the questionable use (whether through profligacy or doubtful propriety) of taxpayers’ monies. The real question is: in a modern climate, can Guernsey afford not to have such a Law?

Importantly, though, the system for providing FoI must be reasonably affordable for the applicant. The “free” availability of information is an illusion if the costs of obtaining that information are initially high, or prohibitive in the face of any resistance, and any system for implementing FoI must take account of this. There are methods of dealing with this, such as a sliding scale of fees & we might be well advised to examine Jersey law in this regard, and see how they do it.

We believe that an easy, effective and affordable route for accessing information must be developed and provided, particularly for the aggrieved. It is a vital tool for both the efficiency of a modern system of government, and for promoting the trust of citizens. The case for introducing such a Law going forward is therefore compelling. 

A more difficult question is how far any such Law should have retrospective effect. It might reasonably be feared that unlimited retrospectivity could encourage an avalanche of requests, and expense out of all proportion to any practical benefit. It would be reasonable, therefore, for there to be some form of time limit. However, such limits must be sufficiently liberal or flexible so as to permit applications with regard to matters of continuing effect on the applicant, or which relate to issues of proper conduct in public office. But the correct scope of these qualifying requirements could, and should, in case of dispute, be decided on by the independent judgment of a court or Data Protection Commissioner, and not by an official, and in all cases there would be a presumption in favour of disclosure. It is worth noting that Jersey has implemented retrospective FoI, and that matters are administered by the Data Protection Commissioner.

Only that way will a Freedom of Information Law be able to fulfil its proper function; encouraging transparency and promoting confidence in government. What politician or official could conscientiously object to this?

© 2020, The 2020 Association

https://guernseypress.com/news/2020/02/03/freedom-of-information-should-be-enshrined-in-law/

Jan Kuttelwasher

Deputy Jan Kuttelwascher

Sadly, recently one of the founders of 2020 and more importantly one of the leading politicians in Guernsey over the last twelve years, Deputy Jan Kuttelwascher died.

 Jan was an extraordinary man who lived an extraordinary and full life.  He still had much to offer and would have been a candidate in the forthcoming election.  We as an organisation are going to miss his wise guidance (and humour) and, even more sadly, so will his family and the population of the Island whom he served so well.

 Jan was born in what was then Czechoslovakia in 1946.  The dark curtain of Communism was coming down in 1948 and the Communists were moving in.  His parents then decided to leave Czechoslovakia and Jan, who was then only two and his sister were sedated and put in the boot of the car whilst the parents made their exit to Germany.  Jan and his family spent the next six months in a refugee camp in Germany. The family then moved to London as Jan’s uncle was already there. Jan’s uncle was the most distinguished of Czech pilots in the Second World War.

 Jan attended school and in London passed the 11 Plus.  He said that was one of the watershed moments of his life.  He went to a Catholic boys’ grammar school. He was outstanding as a student.  He then took up a place at Queen Mary College in the University of London. He was so bright that he graduated for the Special Honours Degree in Physics.  He then engaged in a career for which he was so wonderfully suited. He joined BOAC which later merged with two other State entities to become British Airways.  In his pilot training he had his first connection with Guernsey in that he met Jurat Jerry Girard and they both qualified at the same time.

 Jan was not just a pilot, he was a distinguished pilot, but he also set up an import/export business and he carried out some property development.  Being a former refugee Jan had that restless spirit. He had that enterprise. In 1982 he sold his business and accepted a secondment to Air Mauritius.  At that time that country was a tiny speck in the Indian Ocean. He moved his family there. He flew many of the inaugural routes for that airline and also trained local pilots on the then new 707 aircraft.

 The family returned to the UK in 1986 and he continued his career with British Airways until he retired in 2000, a career which lasted 33 years.  For many of those years he was a CAA Instructor and Examiner. He flew to many destinations a plane known nowadays as the Jumbo Jet.

 His flying career and accomplishments can be described as nothing less than distinguished.

 He and his wife had visited Guernsey on holiday in 1993 and liked the Island so much that they bought a house and effectively moved to Guernsey in early 1994.

 He and his wife took to Island life like a duck to water.  After retirement as a pilot he became a member of the St Peter Port Douzaine and was actively involved in Age Concern.  Since 2008 he has been a Deputy serving the district of St Peter Port South. He did that with integrity, ability and distinction.  He made a vast contribution to the States of Guernsey.

He sat on a number of committees.  He was previously the Deputy Minister for the Treasury and Resources Department and this term he was both Vice-President of Economic Development and later a member of the States Trading Supervisory Board.  In both of those roles he brought his considerable knowledge, not just relating to the Airport and Aviation, but also to so many other topics.

He was a man of the highest integrity and decency and possessed great humour and charm.  He was incisive and tolerant and less than a week before his death at a committee meeting of the 2020 Association he was brimming with ideas and was about to produce some papers on some important topics.

He is going to be remembered much more than just for his sustained and able promotion of the runway extension (which we believe should come to fruition).  He had so many ideas, all liberally laced with common sense, all for the benefit of our community.

He will be sadly missed by his wife, children, grandchildren and wider family, but also by our Association and the people of Guernsey.

Best and worst airports to be stranded at in the British Isles.

https://www.netflights.com/blog/best-uk-airport-stranded-christmas/

According to Netflights, Guernsey is the worst airport to be stranded in in the UK. Little to do, and poor facilities, if any.

The busiest UK airports ranked by ‘strandability’:

 

London Heathrow
2. London Gatwick
3. London Southend
.
.
.
28. Norwich
29. Isle of Man
30. Guernsey

Principles and Objectives

The 2020 Association has formulated general principles and objectives which it intends to expand into a core manifesto to be presented before the 2020 Election.  We will lend our support to candidates for the States who subscribe to our approach and aims.

We aim to:

  • Bring into the States a cohesive group of politicians, who are both of demonstrated capability, and willing to act sensibly but decisively and to avoid procrastination and habitual recourse to expensive consultants, drawing on on-island expertise wherever practicable.
  • Invest in the infrastructure of the island to support economic growth, and establish a framework of reliable and reasonably affordable transport links to meet the needs and wishes of islanders, of business and of tourism.
  • Encourage and support the finance industry, especially world-beating green finance, and encourage new businesses, with a culture of positivity towards initiatives.
  • Promote “small” government, by reducing red tape, and regulation, and promoting “joined up thinking” across the States and the Civil Service.
  • Acknowledge the value of Open Market residents and use their skills; cautiously  relax, and if necessary suspend, over-rigid Population Management rules.
  • Cut waste and pollution, in particular by reducing non-degradable plastics.
  • Promote greater use of public transport, reduce transport dependency on hydrocarbons, and move firmly towards environmentally sustainable energy sources.
  • Strive to ensure a decent and uniformly available standard of primary and secondary health care, and a basic sufficient standard of living, for all.
  • Pursue the alleviation of real in-work poverty, and recognise the priority that should be given to the well-being of our poorer islanders.
  • Review the conduct of States Assembly business, promoting focus and efficiency by limiting speeches and timing meetings so as to enable participation, as Deputies, by persons in full time employment.
  • Respect broad public opinion, considering pressure from single issue groups with caution and objectivity.
  • Introduce a Freedom of Information Law.
  • Restore more local functions to the Douzaines, including enabling their input as to decisions on planning control, whilst enhancing their accountability.
  • Support the Colleges in providing further and adult education, and monitor the secondary education system to ensure that it best provides the skills, academic and technical training to equip all our young people for success in adult life.  
  • Ensure that tax is imposed fairly and reasonably as regards all strata of society, and that Guernsey retains its attractive and enterprise-encouraging character as a low tax regime, with no introduction of stealth taxes.

Briefing note 6

The briefing note below is the latest in our series summarising prospective business at States Meetings, to enable 2020 Association Members to be informed. It is largely self explanatory. It is regretted that this States Meeting has come closer on the heels of the previous one, such that it has not been possible to send out this note in time for member comments, but it will nonetheless at least keep members informed, in particular about the matter which seems to us to be the most concerning.

Future States Business brief (6) – Meeting of 12 June 2019

Apart from routine matters such as elections of members to committee places, and the usual array of statutory instruments on such routine matters such as animal and plant health measures and formalities for import duties, there are only three items of substantive business which really merit note or comment. (We therefore mention only in passing measures to coordinate the timing of meetings of certain States Committees with budget dates, and to make minor amendments to anti-money-laundering legislation as a result of practical experience. )

The three items which deserve actual note are, first, the approval of a measure to formalise the constitutional position that Westminster cannot impose legislation into Guernsey’s domestic law without the specific approval of the States of Deliberation. This is obviously to be welcomed in the light of the well-known hostility to the Island on the part of certain grandstanding politicians in the UK.

The second such item is approval being sought to bring forward legislation to re-organise the provision of health care funding in Guernsey by bringing all aspects of this (including associated aspects such as medical benefits, medical travel funding, and suchlike) under the umbrella of the Committee for Health and Social Care,rather than with the current split between that Committee and the Committee for Employment and Social Security. This is an obviously sensible measure of efficient rationalisation, but apparently (if unsurprisingly) requires a good deal of legislation to provide for the mechanics of budgeting and of setting up and controlling the appropriate funds, including the destination of existing funds. It is not expected to make any very obvious difference to islanders in everyday practice. It is to be noted, though, that, within this legislation, the way appears to be being paved for the relaxation of, or the introduction of flexibility into, the present rules specifically limiting what medicines or drugs will be provided at States expense, and also that the proposals include the giving of authority to press ahead with a complete review and overhaul of the present system for levying social security contributions, in pursuance of a resolution passed at the time of the Personal Tax Pensions and Benefits Review of 2015. So watch this space.

This brings us to the third item, which is that of the most concern on this States Meeting Agenda which is the Policy and Resources Future Digital Services document, which can be found here. In essence it asks the States to decide:

 

  • To enter into a ten-year contract with Agilisys Guernsey Limited following P&R’s approval of the Full Business Case.
  • To transfer States staff to this new entity of which the States would have a ‘golden shareholding’, thereby providing the States with a degree of control
  • To approve or acknowledge various funding amounts of: £1.4m, £2.0m, £26.9m, £16.7m in the short term, with total costs over 10 year span of £200m+.

After careful analysis of the 63 page policy document we believe that the The Future Digital Services policy, in its current form, is too vague on the transformation it is seeking to achieve.

For the States to enter into a partnership with Agilysis for the purpose of achieving vague, aspirational goals has all the appearance of a commercial disaster waiting to happen. We feel that it is premature, highly risky and almost certainly doomed to failure. It is disturbing that the States are seeking to have their hands held without specifying accurately what they want or where they will be led.

Whilst a detailed analysis is beyond the scope of this briefing note, we suggest that further work to identify the need and a specific plan to address the States’ requirements is needed before entering into a 10 year contract, especially where £200m of tax payer’s money is at stake.

For example, there appear to be no specifications for each major area/project (for example: Revenue Services, HSSD, Education, Planning, Cadastre and general document storage inter alia) and there is no clear indication of how such new projects (if they are indeed created) will interoperate, what platforms they will use, and little detail of how they will be provided (except that they may be ‘cloud based’). Indeed we would expect such areas to have been the subject of detailed analysis before seeking any tender bids or entering into any partnership.

One might well ask how it is possible to make the jump from deciding to enter into this partnership and drafting contracts to ensure adequate performance? Where are the fully formed terms of reference? How will it be enforced? What happens if it goes wrong?

Some parts of the document appear to seek to have a ‘feel good’ factor instead of substance, and appear to be deviating into joint venture areas instead of concentrating on core States IT systems.

IT projects are infamous for going over budget and failing to deliver the benefits promised. This is in no small part due to their complexity and the lack of specific IT knowledge in decision makers. Consequently, we believe the appropriate response is a detailed scoping and planning exercise by experts that can help reduce the risk before committing to such a vast project. We welcome the work done thus far but feel there is still a further stage of planning before awarding such a large contract.

The perils of vague IT projects: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/sep/18/nhs-records-system-10bn

This article highlights the financial risks of lofty & vague IT projects. The Institute for Government also offers some sound advice on how best to approach them: https://amp.theguardian.com/technology/2014/aug/19/costly-trail-british-government-it-disasters-universal-credit
 

Tom Gash, the Director of Research at the Institute for Government: “There are some patterns here we’ve seen in a lot of other failed projects,” he says. “The one that stands out is doing a ‘big bang’, announcing it all at once.”

(Further information regarding future States Business can be found on www.gov.gg under “Search States Meetings Information.”)

Airport Runway (Part B) information response from P&R

On the 2nd May 2019, we demanded to see PwC Part B Tender docs under the States of Guernsey Code of Practice for Access to Public Information (2014).

We asked because the figure of up to £700,000 was given in P&R’s policy letter relating to the review of strategic air and sea links infrastructure.. but by the States meeting of 26 April it had become of £700,000.

We wanted to know how many tender submissions there were, what the scope of the the tenders was and what was their breakdown.

On the 24th May 2019, P&R declined to provide any further details on the airlinks tender.

This response is exactly why a proportionate freedom of information law is a necessity.

P&R must conduct business in a transparent and accountable manner.

Briefing note 5

The briefing note below is the latest in our series summarising prospective business at States Meetings, to enable 2020 Association Members to be informed. It is largely self explanatory; as usual, Members’ comments are welcome.

 

Future States Business brief (5) – Meeting of 22 May 2019

As usual, there is routine business as well as some more interesting topics. The routine business comprises, first, certain elections, namely (i) the President of the States Development and Planning Authority (to replace Deputy Gollop following his recent resignation), (ii) certain Governors of the Ladies College and (iii) the re-election of the Chairman and Deputy Chairman of the Panel for the Administrative Decisions (Review) Board, Deputy Green and Mr Richard Heaume) for a further term.

 

(A list of complaints received by this Panel since 2015 and their outcomes is appended to the Billet for the 22 May meeting. Very few appear to go anywhere, mostly dividing between those which were declined on the grounds that the complainant had a legal remedy which ought to be pursued, and those which were not pursued after unspecified “discussions” with the relevant authority or committee.)

 

Second, there is a total of 23 Ordinances, Regulations and Orders laid before the Assembly effectively for confirmation. Most of these are contingency preparations for Brexit. They therefore range through a hugely diverse set of matters. at one extreme regarding the implementation of international trade agreements, the regulation of customs and tariffs, of company acquisitions of animal health and of medicines, and at the other extreme, down to the registration of trailers, the importation of bees, exemptions to seat belt requirements, and paving the way for a code of regulation for the crewing of small merchant vessels.

 

There is one proposed piece of primary legislation for which States approval is sought, being a very short measure to allow an individual to receive a carer’s allowance under the Severe Disability and Carer’s Allowance (Guernsey) Law 1984 at the same time as receiving any benefit under the Social Insurance (Guernsey) Law, 1978.

 

The more interesting topics appear under the “Other Business” before the States.

 

The first is probably not controversial in all the circumstances. It is approval being requested to proposed amendments to the Public Servants’ Pension Scheme Rules 2016. The background is that general and universal changes to the terms of public service pensions were proposed in 2015, to make the expense of these pensions more sustainable, as people lived longer. The proposals were accepted by a majority of the Association of States Employees Organisations, and the Policy Council approved this as being therefore representative of approval generally, and the new scheme and its Rules were therefore implemented in 2016. However, certain sections of public servants, represented by the Unite union, did not accept the new scheme and instituted a legal challenge. This dispute went to mediation and was settled, to avoid the expense (and bad feeling) of a trial. The agreement reached at mediation was approved by a majority of those represented by Unite, and therefore became binding. The effect of the agreement, however, is to introduce further options with regard to the new scheme, different from those contained in the 2016 Rules. The effect of the amendments being proposed is therefore to make these further alternatives available generally to all States employees, for fairness.

 

The only further points which need noting are, first, that there is a separate section explaining the application of the new form of the scheme to judicial officers (ie the full time judges and the senior Crown Officers), who are not States Employees, but who participate in the pension scheme. It is explained that the provisions in relation to those office holders are designed to bring the scheme into line with changes to the judicial pension schemes implemented in the UK. The second further point is that the opportunity is also being taken to provide for certain unintended consequences and omissions in the 2016 Rules, such as unintentional discrimination against same sex marriage partners.

 

The precise terms of these pension provisions are are very complex, as one would expect, and a full and accurate review is beyond the scope of this briefing note. An introduction, for those interested further, can be found in the explanatory letter to this item of States Business on the gov.gg website.

 

The next piece of “other business” is a Requete by seven States Members with regard to the policy for disposal of inert waste. This asks the States to alter the present policy to dispose of inert waste (once the present landfill site at Longue Hougue is full) by further land reclamation at that site, and instead to direct the States Trading and Supervisory Board to prefer, and to investigate and pursue, the option to use such inert waste for the purpose of redeveloping St Peter Port Harbour. An illustrative phased proposal suggests the creation, over four years, of a block extension out from the current Eastern Breakwater beyond the QEII Marina, followed by the creation, over a further period of 10-15 years, of a further pier or piers from this, southwards, parallel to the White Rock pier, and the enlargement northwards of the original area of extension. The economic case and possibilities for such a proposal are argued, and its consistency with previous States’ approach to considering an alternative to further land reclamation at Longue Hougue as well as the objective of harbour redevelopment is pressed, whilst stressing that the proposals put forward are illustrative only, the principle behind them being to make economic use of inert waste towards the accepted desirable objective of harbour redevelopment.

 

Once again, it is beyond the scope of this briefing note to set out more detail of the Requete proposals and it is understood that proposed amendments may well be laid, although this Association has no knowledge of what these might be. Whilst there is obvious sense behind such a proposal – far better to make good economic use of inert waste for something rather than simply looking for where it can be dumped – the concern must surely be that this is too narrow a proposal to be pursued alone. The sensitive and economically effective redevelopment of St Peter Port harbour requires a broad visionary scheme on a much wider general basis. Recently Richard Digard referred, in an article in the Guernsey Press, to one such wide scheme proposal, including the generation of tidal power, the accommodation of cruise ships, and associated economic and “green” benefits, which has not been widely publicised despite having potential financial backing, and which has seemingly been either dismissed, or suppressed, by the States. Surely, though, it cannot be sensible to pursue one particular aspect of harbour redevelopment without ensuring that it will at least fit with, and not interfere with or limit, any wider and more all-inclusive harbour redevelopment strategy which it may be desirable to pursue?

 

That really concludes the States Business agenda. The only further point to note is the appending to this agenda of the Annual Report for 2018 of the States Scrutiny Management Committee. This Committee operates as both a panel scrutinising key areas of government policies and spending, and also considering law reform. Its report makes interesting reading, and the overall impression is that the committee has been doing a good and energetic job at holding States departments to account, sometimes in the face of indignant objection.

 

A tone of some frustration can be detected in the report. The Committee points out that its scrutiny function is, inevitably, retrospective, and that it is for the Deputies and others who sit on Committees and Authorities to carry out oversight functions on a current basis as business is conducted. Perhaps, though, the most interesting sign of frustration is revealed by the following quotation.

 

    “The Scrutiny Management Committee believes through its experience gained to date that the new system of government is failing to allow sufficient scrutiny of financial matters. It is our collective opinion that the States of Guernsey must provide greater financial transparency and we continue to monitor developments closely. We believe additional access to information and the ability to influence policy, as enjoyed by other jurisdictions, would significantly improve the current position.”

 

A review of the activities of the Committee suggests that it takes its mandate seriously and its efforts are to be applauded.

 

(Further information regarding future States Business can be found on www.gov.gg under “Search States Meetings Information.”)