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.”)