Keeping Jersey government's staff headcount down ‘a challenge’

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THE Treasury Minister has admitted it will be a challenge for the government to prevent its headcount going beyond the 8,127 it reached at the end of last year.

Deputy Ian Gorst was commenting after recent figures showed the size of the civil service had swelled by more than 1,000 employees over the past five years – with an increasing number of people earning more than £100,000.

Deputy Gorst reiterated the view expressed by Assistant Chief Minister Andy Jehan – vice-chair of the States Employment Board – who said that it was important that areas such as health and education were able to recruit, but ministers were determined to keep a lid on things.

Deputy Gorst said: ‘In healthcare, for example, where there is a recruitment crisis, you do need more people.

‘When this government came in, we found that we have more money coming in than we had expected. Departments did have various pressures, not least of which was health, so we allocated growth in those areas.

‘The reality is, when you increase government expenditure – aside from capital programmes – you tend to employ people.

‘So, as well as paying off the Covid debt, we’ve allocated growth to priority areas, such as inclusion in education, as well as healthcare.’

He added: ‘It’s always extremely difficult to reduce headcount and overall cost. It is far better to not grow in the first place.

‘But what we’ve done in the Government Plan is keep those numbers largely steady.

‘The challenge for ministers throughout this year will be keeping numbers as steady as possible, and if we want to see growth, then we’ve got to find compensatory savings elsewhere.’

Deputy Gorst said that some growth in headcount was inevitable if the Island was going to maintain its outward-looking persona and industries.

This week, it was reported that taxpayers were funding 24 new supervisory roles in the run-up to a key evaluation of financial services later this year.

‘If you take that sector, there is an inevitability that the regulator, government and law officers will need to employ more people to be compliant,’ said Deputy Gorst.

‘When the reviewers come in, they do basic calculations taking the size of the industry to work out how many people should be managing risk. And if there aren’t enough, growth in these areas is an inevitability.’

However, the Treasury Minister did identify another area where expansion might not be such a foregone conclusion.

‘One thing we can ask in Jersey, as a small place, is do we need to have every institution and every regulatory body that you have in a large country?’ he said.

‘That is the part we can seek to influence.

‘We often look at individual issues rather than take an overarching view about what sort of government we want. I think that most Islanders ultimately want a more innovative government and a smaller government in those areas.

‘Islanders would rather us spend more of their hard-earned money on improving healthcare and maintaining high standards in education than they would in replicating regulatory bodies just because that’s what other jurisdictions do.

‘The cost of governance is increasing, so collaboration and cost-sharing with colleagues, such as Guernsey, has got to be the sensible thing to do.’

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