WHEN I first started reporting on the States more than a decade ago, it was not only frowned upon for politicians to talk about the work of specific civil servants but actively discouraged.
Even the mere mention of the name of a civil servant during a States Assembly sitting was usually enough to get the Bailiff or whoever else was chairing proceedings to interject, accompanied by much head-shaking from other Members.
It is still the case that standing orders – the rules of the Assembly – dictate that Members must not, during the course of proceedings, ‘refer to any individual who is not a member of the States by name, unless use of the individual’s name is unavoidable and of direct relevance to the business being discussed’.
But, despite that still being the case, it seems that civil servants are not as protected by this rule as they once were.
And attitudes towards talking about specific civil servants or without a name but using their job title have softened and the boundaries have become somewhat blurred.
I was reminded of this situation while reading that the Chief Minister’s complaint against Senator Kristina Moore regarding an interview she gave discussing former government chief executive Charlie Parker’s tenure had been dismissed by the commissioner for standards.
Senator John Le Fondré had alleged that some of the comments made by Senator Moore during that interview could give rise to potential claims against the States Employment Board and questioned their factual accuracy.
It is important to remember that there is no love lost between the two Senators, who have ended up cast as the arch nemeses of the class of 2018.
For anyone thinking that their rivalry – which can likely be charted back to their political allegiances of the past, with no other obvious reason for it – had settled down, this shows it clearly hasn’t.
And while the pair could have been spending their time drafting proposals or attending meetings that could make a real difference to Islanders the Chief Minister was filing his complaint and Senator Moore was being forced to prepare a response to it – all 22 pages.
There is a commissioner for standards for a reason, of course, and maintaining professional standards is something we need more of in the States, not less.
But was this case a good use of time and energy for our Chief Minister and our head of Scrutiny, who we must remember polled an impressive second at the Senatorial ballot box last election day?
And, given that so many other people and politicians have passed comment about Mr Parker over the years, why was this matter reported and others were not? Deputy Inna Gardiner, for example, referred herself to the commissioner (no one else filed a complaint against her) for comments made about the chief executive about him failing to attend a meeting with the Public Accounts Committee. She too was not found to have breached the code.
Senator Moore, in her response to the commissioner, points out that she and Senator Le Fondré do not – she politely puts it – ‘enjoy a good relationship’ and suggests that the complaint was ‘sadly, politically motivated’.
The Chief Minister, meanwhile, says the SEB advised him to file a complaint with the commissioner.
Interested parties will likely come to their own conclusions, some of them based on which side of the fence they were sitting on to begin with.
Most disappointing of all, however, is that the Chief Minister did not attempt to raise the matter with Senator Moore first, before filing a complaint, as the commissioner recommends.
Does this show just how ‘not good’ their relationship is that it will not even allow for professional courtesy between two leading Senators? Or, if one party is not even willing to try to stay professional, does it perhaps suggest why things are so sour in the first place? Either way, it’s disappointing.
TO end on a positive note, it is encouraging to see work under way on some new local shops in St Helier, with skincare company Jersey Skin and gift website Harriet and Rose both sharing news on their social media channels recently that they are opening physical stores in town soon.
We are also told that there could be some positive developments on the way for the iconic Hamons store in King Street, which has been ‘winding down’ since 2008 with a ‘to let’ sign in the window for most of that time. A planning application has now been submitted for changes to the interior of the shop and the sign changed to ‘under offer’.
It’s a hugely encouraging sign for a town centre which, like many around the British Isles, has struggled with the loss of many shops both pre- and during Covid.
St Helier Constable Simon said recently that one in 12 shops in town are currently empty – better than many places around the UK but still no reason to be complacent. Writing on Twitter, he added: ‘We’re looking at ways of finding temporary uses for empty shops, keeping them tidy etc.’
Tidy is good, of course, but open and trading is better – especially if they are being run by local businesses or are stocking local products.