In our democracy the civil service must be accountable to Ministers who are in turn accountable, through the States Assembly, to the public. That accountability means that Ministers are responsible to the public for the actions of their officials at all levels. Our coalition is clear that, as political parties, we are accountable at the ballot box to those who vote for us. In a democratic state the public should not feel powerless, or that their wishes are seen as irrelevant, or ignored.
The “One-Gov” programme brought in by a former Chief Executive with the acquiescence of the Council of Ministers has severely damaged the democratic system in Jersey. The Machinery of Government amendments introduced in 2018 placed extensive executive and financial power in the hands of the Chief Executive Officer and senior civil servants and removed the direct accountability of some civil servants to Ministers altogether. Ministers are not always consulted and are sometimes clearly not in control of events. The removal of direct accountability is very evident from the One Government structure published on the government website (www.gov.je) which does not refer to Ministers at all and is comparable to a local authority structure in England.
It was claimed that “One-Gov” would improve public services, but it has done no such thing. It was promised in the summer of 2018 that by late 2021 there would be a “step-change” in how the Government was perceived, both within the Island and externally. There has been a change, but it has not been for the better. The size and cost of the civil service, particularly at a senior level, has increased alarmingly. Its structure is confused and some staff are demoralised. Parts operate seemingly without any political supervision. Some Departments find it difficult to recruit staff. In others bullying is rife with no one held to account. In short, the civil service, taken in the round, is not in a contented place.
Some Departments have several Ministers with political responsibilities, some have one Minister, and some have none. Often there are overlapping responsibilities. One of the consequences is that it is no longer possible in the States Annual Accounts to specify which Minister is responsible for which part of the Budget. Financial accountability is more difficult to enforce because in law departmental accountable officers are accountable only to the Chief Executive.
Another consequence of the lack of clear political accountability is that there is sometimes a lack of transparency and even a culture of secrecy. Information is kept hidden or revealed only reluctantly in order to avoid awkward questions or to achieve a policy aim by stealth. If people are unaccountable, why should they be concerned about what the public think or say?
The Coalition is determined that this must change, and that every civil servant should be accountable, through their senior officials, to a Minister. The Minister must be politically accountable for every action taken by an official in the Minister’s name. The Minister should be, and should be seen to be, accountable, through the States Assembly, to the public. There should be nowhere to hide from that responsibility. Accountability is the bedrock of democracy.
By strengthening political accountability, all civil servants should be encouraged to take responsibility, within limits appropriate to their seniority, for their actions. The “blame” culture which inhibits decision making and encourages procrastination and inefficiency must be eradicated. Officials should not be fearful of taking appropriate decisions and should be supported both by their seniors and by Ministers when they do so. In all departments there should be a consistent “whistleblowing” policy offering strong protection to staff.
Jersey should once more be careful and conservative about its finances. For a long time, Jersey has been financially prudent, building up considerable reserves and earning an international reputation for that prudence. The recent lack of proper accountability has led to commitments to huge expenditure, on the hospital, on new offices, on a new health model and on pre-existing pension debt without any rigorous analysis of the implications for financial sustainability. If borrowing is essential, it should be clear how that borrowing is to be repaid and over what period. The extensive powers vested in Accountable Officers, and the Principal Accountable Officer, must be reviewed.
Most people acknowledge, and independent reports have confirmed, that there are too many members of the States. This leads to increased bureaucracy and inefficiency. A reduction in the number of members would save money in several ways.
Transparency and straightforwardness in dealing with the media and with the public have diminished and we would insist that they be restored. Communication is about truthfulness and not “spinning” a story. The necessity for the large communications department which has grown up over the last three years should be reviewed.
We commit to:
Restoring political accountability, good governance and prudence with our finances, thereby making Jersey’s government more effective, more open, and more responsive to the needs of Jersey people;
Carrying out a review of the functions of the Chief Executive Officer and the system of accountable officers;
Reducing the number of members of the States and keeping an open mind as to the reintroduction of Island-wide voting.