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
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.”)