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Deputy sacked as assistant minister

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BRINGING a vote of no confidence was the ‘nuclear option’ after a lack of an improved pay offer for large sections of the civil service, Deputy Geoff Southern has said – as he was sacked as Assistant Social Security Minister.

Deputy Geoff Southern Picture: ROB CURRIE. (24744134)

The Reform Jersey vice-chairman was removed from his ministerial post on Thursday after bringing the no-confidence motion in the States Employment Board.

He was initially asked to resign but refused to do so prompting Social Security Minister Judy Martin to sack him.

The SEB is currently locked in long-running pay disputes with hundreds of public sector workers. Yesterday, National Education Union members were on strike for the eighth day this month in protest over pay and conditions.

Deputy Southern, a former teacher, said he lodged his vote of no confidence in the SEB – which is chaired by Chief Minister John Le Fondré – owing to the board’s ‘appalling’ action during the dispute.

Meanwhile, Senator Kristina Moore, who chairs the Corporate Services Scrutiny Panel, has written to Senator Le Fondré for a second time requesting minutes from SEB meetings as part of a Scrutiny review after her initial request was ignored. In a letter sent to the Chief Minister this week, she said the panel had made the request in January but had ‘not been provided with these minutes yet’.

Deputy Southern has previously brought two propositions to the States designed to unlock funds to allow the SEB to return to the negotiating table. Both were rejected.

He said: ‘I was quite surprised that John has taken my attack on the SEB as an attack on him. I could have chosen a vote of no confidence in the Chief Minister – I didn’t. It is the actions of the SEB which, quite frankly, have been appalling.

‘Having had two attempts, the last option is a vote of no confidence. That is the nuclear option if you like. That is what I felt was necessary.’

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He added the SEB had until 4 June – when the no-confidence motion is due to be debated – to come up with a new offer.

‘I was expecting last week’s negotiations to produce something and when they didn’t I had to bring a vote of no confidence.

‘The negotiators from the unions said they were confident they would get an offer they could take to their members. They were mortified when that didn’t happen.

‘I have heard the SEB are working hard to try to make a proposal by 4 June. If that happens, I would withdraw – it would be lovely to be in a position to withdraw it.

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‘What we need is a change of personnel. We need some more open and reasonable people around that table. We can’t have this “no more money” stance. It is an insult to the workforce.’

Senator Le Fondré announced earlier this week that an ‘improved’ offer would be made to teachers in mid-June.

Deputy Martin said her assistant minister had left her with ‘no other option’ but to sack him with immediate effect.

‘When Deputy Southern proposed a vote of no confidence in the States Employment Board I regretfully asked the Deputy to resign from his position as my assistant minister, as a vote of no confidence is a very serious matter. Senator Le Fondré has made a point of accepting a range of views in government, and has chosen not to operate under collective responsibility. However, in my view, it is not compatible to occupy the role of assistant minister in a government while also proposing a vote of no confidence in the work of an integral part of that government.’

Reform Jersey chairman Senator Sam Mézec said Deputy Southern had declined to resign ‘on the basis that he believed his actions were in line with his election promise to support our public services’.

He added: ‘Reform Jersey calls on the SEB to take the necessary action to expedite their efforts to reach an agreement with the teachers’ representatives which will de-escalate industrial action and address their concerns on pay and conditions.’

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