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Change at the top for the States Assembly

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SCRUTINY stalwart Senator John Le Fondré clinched victory in the two-horse race for the Chief Minister’s job, promising to deliver a more inclusive Chamber where all voices can be heard.

Senator Ian Gorst (left) congratulates the Chief Minister-designate, Senator John Le Fondré. Picture: ROB CURRIE (21635486)

In the first sitting of the new Assembly, Members opted for Senator Le Fondré’s ‘fresh approach’ – ending Senator Ian Gorst’s bid for a third term as Chief Minister.

Both candidates were given ten minutes to address the Chamber before facing an hour of questions from the Assembly.

And while the candidates for Chief Minister both expressed the need for changes in how the States and the public sector were run, it was Senator Le Fondré, buoyed by his third-place finish in the Senatorial polls at last month’s election, who ultimately won the support of Members by 30 votes to 19.

First to address the Chamber after his name was drawn out of the hat, Senator Le Fondré told Members he offered ‘integrity, inclusiveness and teamwork’.

He said the previous four years had been characterised by in-fighting within the Council of Ministers, a lack of leadership on key projects and a system whereby Scrutiny panel members and backbenchers were unable to properly contribute to govern- ment policy.

The former chairman of the Corporate Services Scrutiny Panel said that, if elected, he would become the first Chief Minister to have experience of sitting on both Scrutiny and executive government, having previously served as an Assistant Treasury Minister. Senator Le Fondré had faced criticism in the build-up to the debate amid accusations of homophobia for proposing a tolerance clause during the debate on same-sex marriage.

Addressing those concerns early in his speech, he said: ‘I am not and have never been homophobic.

‘I have always, when present, voted for civil partnerships and I did vote for the introduction of equal marriage.

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‘It was a passionate and hard debate and a democratic decision was arrived at.

‘But to be called homophobic would be a lie and to paraphrase [Rudyard] Kipling, “Don’t deal in lies”.’ Senator Le Fondré outlined three Senators he would seek to propose for ministerial roles if elected Chief Minister, including Senator Gorst for the External Relations post.

He added that Senatorial poll-topper Senator Tracey Vallois would be his preferred choice for the Education portfolio, while Senator Sam Mézec would be his choice for Housing Minister and a new role of Children’s Minister once it was created.

When asked by Deputy Rob Ward how he would manage the relationship between the Assembly, Scrutiny panels and States chief executive Charlie Parker amid potential departmental reshuffles, Senator Le Fondré spoke of his support for the Scrutiny process.

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He said: ‘I think that is one of the things I will bring to this role, that I will be the first Chief Minister that has sat on both sides of the Assembly.

‘In terms of dealing with changes in creations of ministries, the Standing Orders on reshuffles prevent anything from happening on that front for six months, and I’m very cognisant of the need to give the Assembly full and proper notice.

‘The Assembly can challenge any order and in terms of creation of roles, my advice has been that new roles of ministers can be created and potentially elected by this Assembly before the summer recess.

‘The structure that we have does not correlate with the ministers that have to be appointed and that is why getting that team in place will require changes to get the best system.’

He also spoke of the need to ‘take people with us’ when developing plans for the new hospital and spoke in favour of a review of all sites.

Seeking a third term at the top, Senator Gorst spoke of the need to deliver change through ensuring stability in the Chief Minister’s job.

He told the Assembly that he stood for election on a platform of change and that he was the man to continue delivering public-sector and government reforms.

The Chief Minister spoke of the challenges the Island faced during Brexit and pointed to his ‘experience’ and ‘proven leadership’ during the previous two terms in charge.

He said: ‘It is an election about changing how we do things. I don’t believe it is wise, at a time of so many changes and such international uncertainty, to take the risk of changing the Chief Minister.

‘We need a Chief Minister with proven experience and sound judgment with a track record of making firm and difficult decisions.’

He admitted that he had been disappointed by how long it had taken to initiate changes to the public sector but said he was committed to overseeing the work which began at the end of his last term to drive efficiencies within the public sector.

And he added that he wanted to ensure that the recommendations made by the Independent Jersey Care Inquiry were implemented in full.

When asked by Deputy John Young what would change following 6½ years of population growth and income inequality under his stewardship, Senator Gorst said: ‘At the heart of that increase in income inequality is the cost of housing.

‘That is absolutely why I proposed during the election and said if you vote for me that within six weeks I will create an affordable housing commission.

‘That commission will focus on driving down the cost of housing and increasing the supply.

‘There is no easy answer but by coming together I think we can tackle some of those really important issues.’

Deputy Montfort Tadier said Senator Gorst’s tenure had been a failure in many respects.

However, the Chief Minister said that he could ‘equally read out a long list of successes’.

Following his defeat, Senator Gorst is to be invited to be the Chief Minister’s first choice as External Relations Minister to help negotiate Brexit.

He did, however, question whether the Chief Minister should be delegating those responsibilities, as the various secretaries of states around the world ‘expect to deal with the Chief Minister’.

He added that he had developed the contacts and relationship with senior Westminster officials to make sure Jersey’s voice was heard and added that a change of leadership would put the Island’s position at risk.

How they voted

For Senator Le Fondré: Senators Ferguson, Le Fondré and Mézec; Constables Le Sueur-Rennard, Jackson, Le Maistre, Taylor, Vibert, Le Bailly, Buchanan and Shenton-Stone; Deputies Martin, Southern, C Labey, Lewis, Tadier, Maçon, R Labey, Johnson, Young, Ash, Morel, Guida, Huelin, Raymond, Pointon, Ahier, Perchard, Ward and Alves. (30)

For Senator Gorst: Senators Gorst, Farnham, Vallois, Moore and Pallett; Constables Crowcroft, Norman, Mezbourian and Le Sueur; Deputies Higgins, Pinel, Luce, Rondel, Renouf, Doublet, Wickenden, Truscott, Le Hegarat and Pamplin. (19)

Roll call

NO one was missing from the start of yesterday’s States sitting. The Bailiff, Sir William Bailhache, was presiding and the Lieutenant-Governor, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton, was in attendance.

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