Let’s just hope that the new Government Plan will be worth waiting for
By Lucy Stephenson
‘DON’T worry, it’s in the Government Plan.’ ‘We will have to wait and see what is in the Government Plan.’ ‘A case is being prepared for the Government Plan.’
Sound familiar? Of course it does, because it’s all we’ve heard from the Council of Ministers every time anyone asks about, well, pretty much anything.
Funding for the Sexual Assault Referral Centre? Government Plan.
The future of university funding? Wait until the Government Plan.
Relocating the unfit-for-purpose Orchard House? You got it, it’s in the Government Plan.
Deputy Rob Ward’s plan for free buses? The Government Plan would be a good place to start.
And so it goes on, and on, and on…
So we get it, the Great Government Plan is important.
After all, it is intended to replace the existing Medium Term Financial Plan process, and will, in the government’s own words ‘set out in detail how public money will be used to deliver the day-to-day services provided by government and more specifically the strategic priorities and areas for improvement set out in the Common Strategic Policy’.
The draft, we are told, should have already been completed, and is due to be lodged this summer for debate when Members return from their recess in September.
But this plan has a lot to live up to.
Unlike previous MTFPs, however, the Government Plan is going to be proposed annually, which means we could end up in this weird limbo waiting for decisions to be made every 12 months.
I suppose it’s better than every four years, however.
The new plan will also contain a broader overall picture of the major States funds over four years and set income and expenditure proposals for years two, three and four on a rolling basis. But the detail for the year ahead will be decided by Members annually.
The rationale, we are told, is that it will enable greater flexibility, bring together the approval of income and expenditure proposals, and provide that broader picture of States finances.
Again, it’s got a lot to live up to. Even more so when you remember what the five strategic priorities it is to support are: putting children first, improving Islanders’ wellbeing and mental and physical health, creating a sustainable, vibrant economy and skilled local workforce for the future, reducing income inequity and improving the standard of living, and protecting and valuing our environment.
We find ourselves in a similar situation with the Island Plan, which sets planning policy for Jersey. The next plan will cover 2021 to 2030, but already we are in limbo, not yet with a new plan but already over the old one, but without any way of changing anything until the next one is debated.
In the long run, hopefully the change to the financial planning cycle will prove to have been worth it.
But it is important that it doesn’t just become a catch-all excuse for not telling the public about what is going on, when, why and how.
There’s a feeling right now that ministers don’t really want to talk about details until that plan is out, and it’s fair enough if there are still things to be ironed out.
Perhaps also it is an indication that the Government Plan thrashing out around the COM table hasn’t necessarily gone that smoothly and ministers aren’t all necessarily confident that their projects are being covered satisfactorily.
But, whatever the reason for it, the public shouldn’t be brushed aside with an ‘it’s in the Government Plan excuse’. Because now, more than ever, Islanders want to be kept in the loop.
And it will make explaining and digesting the plan when it does actually materialise a whole lot easier.
FINALLY, a word on the rebrand for the future hospital project to ‘Our Hospital’.
Apparently the name is meant to reflect a new approach that will involve the people of Jersey in the scoping and site selection of the new hospital, including via the use of citizen panels.
But has the last few years taught the States nothing?
People do not agree on the best site for a new hospital, and no amount of sitting around a table looking at reworked reports and proposals is going to change that.
I’m all for engaging Islanders (see above), but there comes a point when it is just passing the buck.
What this project needed from the start was decisive leadership from a team prepared to stand by their decisions and just get on with it based on the expert advice they had received.
There’s a reason voters elect politicians, and a reason experts are brought in to advise them and why senior civil servants train for years to do what they do – why have we forgotten that?