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The problem of the ‘Parker Plan’

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LADIES and gentlemen of Jersey, you have a problem on your hands. Quite a considerable problem. And I am unable to predict how it’s going to turn out, for all that I have a preference in the matter.

Richard Digard

The catalyst is the transformation programme started by new States chief executive Charlie Parker and the root-and-branch public-sector restructuring he has just announced.

The actual cause, however, is the decades of poor management of government by government and tolerated (or not noticed) by come-and-go politicians over that period.

As ever, don’t take my word for it. Just look at what Mr Parker and his transformation team uncovered when they started lifting a few stones.

I know States Members and public servants get irritated when people make reference to Jersey plc because, as they insist, it’s not a business. If they are in mellow mood, however, they will concede that there’s no reason why the States shouldn’t be run in a business-like fashion.

That’s now about to be put to the test. You see, I rather underestimated what Mr Parker and Co had in mind after doing their due diligence on Jersey plc and declaring: ‘We don’t know what good looks like in many areas.’

As we now know, he was also talking about the political process and the way departments and ministers have been created. Which is why he’s changing them.

His starting point, naturally, was, ‘What’s the States of Jersey for?’ Not many people ask that these days. It’s been there like it is since, give or take, the end of the Occupation.

The only real changes have been in its size, the complexity of what it deals with, how much it costs Islanders and – crucially in today’s climate – the extent to which its in/actions hold back or thwart economic development.

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Beneath that, it is still a three-quarter-of-a-billion-pounds money-making machine that, to be effective, needs to be focused on its core objectives. In addition, its staff should be actively performance managed to ensure they remain committed to and capable of achieving those goals.

What the transformation team found when they did their due diligence was that, in too many areas, government was self-serving, defending vested interests and with civil servants acting in their own narrow interests.

That’s why the reforms are aimed at creating one government service, which is relentlessly focused on the needs of customers, on supporting economic growth and on protecting children and vulnerable adults.

Mr Parker said: ‘There will be a simpler structure, with fewer layers between the most senior management and frontline staff, reduced duplication, more transparent decision-making, greater accountability for performance standards, and a culture based on teamwork, collaboration and getting things right first time.’

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So far, so good. Why it represents a potential problem, however, is because Mr Parker has also scrapped three departments by merging them with others and he has also reorganised and renamed the remaining departments so they are focused on the core purposes of the States.

Now, who or what runs departments? Correct. Ministers. So there are now three fewer. Except there aren’t, because Mr Parker is a civil servant and can’t sack politicians.

He can, however, take the administrative actions which remove the departments from under ministers and leave it to the Chief Minister to deal with the political flak.

So, achieving the reforms Jersey needs requires a cull of ministers, a refocusing of departments and responsibilities and modernising the workforce, who have just turned down the package he was offering them.

The plan now is, effectively, to impose it and then move on to negotiating a two-year deal for 2018-19, including a pay freeze for senior managers earning £100,000-plus (will that apply to the Crown Officers, I wonder?).

In short, there isn’t anyone that the transformation team haven’t taken on and, of all the things that Jersey folk worry about, the cost of government is the second least troubling for them, after the consequences of Brexit.

That’s according to a survey Mr Parker commissioned because the States are also pretty poor at listening to people and he wants to change that too.

However, the survey found that people are massively concerned about the cost of living, getting on and off the Island and the economy. Plus they really want modern and more digital public services.

In that sense, the people of Jersey are supportive of the changes the transformation team want to make, but they think as favourably of politicians and government as they do of traffic jams and the weather (not a lot).

Well, the tectonic plates of change are shifting nevertheless and this is Jersey’s last chance to effect significant reform.

I say that because, like Guernsey, modernising the civil service has been discussed endlessly but never achieved. Your economy is faltering and, despite what the Treasury Minister says, balancing the books looks doubtful.

So, if you don’t like the Parker Plan and end up driving him and the transformation team out, what next?

Effectively the message will be: It’s the Jersey Way or the highway… with no one else likely to want to pick up the pieces.

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