States back reforms of ministerial government
MINISTERIAL government and the way the civil service is run is to be overhauled after States Members backed Chief Minister Ian Gorst’s plans to reform the machinery of government.
During a lengthy debate which ran late into Tuesday night, several Members expressed concerns about elements of the proposals – the main worry being about political accountability within a newly formed ‘Jersey Ministers’ – a new single legal entity of which all ministers would be a part.
Among the main changes brought under the plans are:
States chief executive Charlie Parker is to become the accounting officer for the public sector, meaning that the chief executive would be required by law to ensure that taxpayers’ money is spent in an efficient way.
The chief executive is ultimately responsible for the work of other senior civil servants.
Collective responsibility – the doctrine by which all ministers vote en bloc – is scrapped.
The Chief Minister will have greater flexibility to transfer ministerial responsibilities and budgets.
All ministers will become part of a single entity called the ‘Jersey Ministers’ headed up by the Chief Minister rather than having individual departments.
Senator Gorst said the move would make the civil service and the system of government more ‘efficient’ and would ‘remove the silos’ whereby departments work independently of one another.
Opening the debate he said: ‘There will be a number of arguments put forward about why we either don’t need to do it or “goodness me let’s not rush a decision”.
‘In a small administration is it sensible to continue with ten separate legal entities? Do they lend themselves to creating a responsive organisation all pulling together in one direction?’
Senator Gorst had previously faced criticism for ‘rushing’ through the plans and had been accused of not allowing the Corporate Services Scrutiny Panel enough time to properly review the proposals.
External Relations Minister Sir Philip Bailhache called the move to create one single legal entity dubbed Jersey Ministers ‘gobbledegook’ and said that having all ministers working under one umbrella would create a scenario where it was impossible to know who was politically accountable for what.
He lodged an amendment seeking to scrap the move, which was narrowly defeated by 24 votes to 22.
He said: ‘We need a balance of power, not a concentration of power, in the hands of one man or one woman.’
Deputy Simon Brée echoed Senator Bailhache’s comments and accused Senator Gorst of a power grab.
He said: ‘I would suggest we are going to create a monster because there would be no accountability because we don’t need to have individual ministerial accountability any more, because no minister is individually accountable for anything and that fills me with concern.’
Arguing against Senator Bailhache, Senator Gorst added: ‘If we want to put our heads in the sand that we have done the job – that we have got rid of the silo mentality by approving part of these proposals – then so be it.
‘But I know that Members, in their heart of hearts, know that is not the case. They know that by approving only that and not the single legal entity they will be approving a silo approach in government.
‘This is not about taking power and consolidating it – it is the reverse.’
Constable Juliette Gallichan said Members regularly faced criticism for not fully implementing the necessary changes. She said: ‘We hear a lot that we accept half a change and here we are again considering accepting half a change. We should be making sure that what we do facilitates the progress we want to make.’
Deputy Scott Wickenden added that the current system of government was not working as well as it should do and that the time was right to overhaul the way the civil service and ministerial government was run.
Deputy Russell Labey said that it was ‘time to get tough’. He said: ‘This is not about us. It is about the people out there – the people we serve.’
The move was ultimately adopted in the final reading by 34 votes to 11.