Briefing note 2

The briefing note below is the second of a series which is intended to be a short summary which will enable 2020 Association members to be aware, in advance, of significant business scheduled for debate at forthcoming States Meetings.

Future States Business brief (2) – Meeting of February 27th.

There is probably only one matter of States Business scheduled for the 27th February meeting which is likely to give any food for thought to members, as mentioned at the end of this piece.

The States will first proceed to elect from among their own, replacements for former Deputy McKinley to the Transport Licensing Authority and for Deputy Lester Queripel (who has resigned) to the Development and Planning Authority. It is to be hoped that people with common sense will be elected, especially to the latter. Lobby your Deputy if you have any ideas.

Following this, some 23 proposed Ordinances/Orders/Regulations will be laid before the States. Whilst the States can, in theory, annul these, they have already been debated in the States at an earlier stage and are simply up for approval. Their subjects are varied. For those who are interested, there are ten relating to the imposition of 25 mph speed limits on various sections of road (Members will recall the debate about these last summer, when it transpired that the road signs had already been ordered in advance of public consultation – either presumptuousness or lack of common sense here); there are five dealing with fees – amending (raising) the fees chargeable for the registration of public documents, for marriages, for fire services, or boarding permits, and the levies on the financial services industry; there are three relating to the supply and purchase of medical appliances; there are two aimed at ensuring that companies which claim the benefit of being subject to income tax in Guernsey actually perform economic activity of substance here. One brings in the new schedule of social security benefits, one amends the list of notifiable animal diseases and one puts the presently operating system of Legal Aid on to a statutory footing. There seems to be nothing which demands particular comment, and our understanding is that, except in unusual and exceptional circumstances, there will be no further debate and they will all, in practice, simply be voted through.

There are six items set down for the States to discuss as potential legislation either for approval or as a matter of policy. Most are unlikely to be contentions. Of the two for approval, the first makes provision for an assumption that where an entity uses a computer program to make contracts, there is a prima facie presumption that it intends this to be legally binding. The second sets up a system for clarifying and regularising the situation where there has been a breach of planning control (ie, use of real property in contravention of planning permission) but this has continued for so long that the authority would now be out of time for enforcement by serving a compliance notice. The proposed Law would enable a landowner to apply for a “certificate of lawful use” in that situation, rather than remain in a state of uncertainty until any actual dispute arose. This is a useful procedure, long established in the UK where it works well, and obviously sensible to adopt in Guernsey.

As to the four policy items, two are of narrow scope, one being a provision to enable the “Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank” – an international development organisation – to operate in Guernsey, and the other providing the mechanism for Alderney to levy its own TRP, and use it for its own purposes, as part of a general devolution of certain financial operations to Alderney, previously agreed. The third provides for amendment of the Marriage Law to simplify the process for obtaining a marriage licence (whilst retaining the necessary minimum identification formalities to protect against forced, sham or illegal marriages) and to relax the present somewhat archaic restrictions on wedding venues, times, and forms of ceremony, so as to enable couples to marry in such way as they would wish. The proposed changes, proposed after and largely in accordance with extensive consultations, appear to be very appropriate for modern times and to contain nothing which should be contentious.

The fourth policy item is the only matter which members may like to reflect upon. It is a policy proposal to set up an overarching Independent Statutory Commission to regulate the provision of all medical and social care services in Guernsey. The aspiration is stated to be to make Guernsey a “world leader” in terms of regulating health care. As a Commission regulating the entire spectrum of health and care services, including complimentary, cosmetic, mental health and suchlike would require an army of specialists who would obviously be grossly underemployed for a population one thousandth the size (for example) of the UK, it is proposed that the Commission comprise a team of core officers, with the power to engage specialist consultants for assistance in particular areas as and when required. There is also an aspiration to co-operate with Jersey, to help reduce costs. The first year set up cost is estimated – but we all know what that means, and the reporter was instructed to try to constrain the costs of any recommendations – at £368,000 (including £274,000 in staff costs), which it is said would reduce to £194,000, after deducting the estimated cost of current regulatory processes and income from current regulatory fees. Whilst admitting that the running costs of such a system, once established are unclear, it is suggested that these would involve a States grant of £184,000 per annum – but that is on the assumption that the functions and costs of the Commission would be shared with Jersey. The likelihood of this is not discussed.

This is the item on which members may care to reflect. Regulation, and the creation of regulators, is expensive. It incurs large costs in the shape of salaries for the bureaucrats who form its office and secretariat. It also costs the operators who are obliged to pay fees and spend effort dealing with the regulators rather than conducting their work, and such costs have to be passed on. A “world leading” system such as can be constructed and devised with tolerable efficiency for a large economy of diverse people the vast majority of whom are strangers to each other may be a commendable abstract aspiration, but in the context of a small community, the question of the costs, direct and indirect, of a blanket bureaucratic regulatory structure, relative the actual benefits ever likely to be achieved in reality, must surely come into question. The report appears to admit that the rather broad brush and light touch system operating in Guernsey at present makes it difficult to see both where excellent services are in fact provided as well as where, and even whether, there are significant shortcomings. Is there really a case for setting up such a bureaucratic institution for reasons of substance, rather than simply for the sake of form and appearances? What robust evidence is there that the creation of another general bureaucracy, rather than taking an incremental approach where deficiencies can really be seen, would, in fact, deliver any real and tangible benefits for islanders? This whole issue perhaps raises the wider question of how far Guernsey should keep on adopting a policy of doing what the UK does, because we “ought” to, rather than thinking for ourselves – an issue to debate with your Deputy?

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

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