Opinion from Gary Burgess
SAY what you like about Charlie Parker, and many have, but you’ve got to admit he has played a blinder.
He took on the second job he wanted without the right permission, he issued a statement that contained inaccuracies about said permission to the media, he then complained about coverage in the media despite turning down offers to tell his side of the story, and then after eventually gaining the right permission after the event, he was effectively pushed into resigning the top job in Jersey’s civil service to help the Chief Minister survive a vote of no confidence and later walked away with half a million quid in his back pocket.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is a work of genius that those lower down the public-sector pecking order could only imagine being able to get away with.
To put that half-a-million-quid golden goodbye into some perspective, it would take someone in Jersey working full-time in a minimum-wage job more than 30 years to earn. Just let that sink in for a moment.
It could fund enough nurses to run a hospital ward, it could buy all the computers that the poorest children in lockdown needed in order to be able to continue their education, and – heck – it could even have covered giving every man, woman and child a free drink and snack at their favourite coffee shop. The possibilities are endless.
But, no, instead Charlie Parker walks away with more than he was contractually entitled to and, even then, the process for paying him out that money wasn’t properly followed.
If ever there was a human being coated in Teflon so that absolutely nothing sticks, it is Charlie Parker. He arrived as the disruptor-in-chief with a pledge to totally transform the bloated public sector and left having failed to do that job, but having doled out multi-million-pound contracts to consultants and oversaw the arrival of a curious number of highly paid staff whose paths had crossed with his previously during his tenure.
So what happens next?
Well, if we assume the usual Jersey playbook will be followed, it goes something like this:
There’ll be a few weeks of outrage, there’ll be a Scrutiny review looking into what went on, there’ll be those politicians with an axe to grind fulminating on social media, and the upshot will be that ‘lessons have been learned’ and life will carry on.
It’s what Jersey is absolutely brilliant at.
Systems are set up to ensure no individual is ever able to be held accountable for massive errors – indeed, governmental departments don’t even match up with political ministerial responsibilities – so everybody is able to stand around in a circle and, when asked ‘Whose fault is it?’, is able to fairly point to anybody other than themselves.
That is, except for the Chief Minister.
When Charlie Parker’s second job as a non-executive director of a UK property firm with an interest in Jersey came to light, it should have been immediately apparent that it either was a conflict of interest or very easily could have the perception of being. Either way, that’s not a good look for a chief executive presiding over a billion-pounds-a-year public sector at the very moment a massive number of construction and property deals were in the pipeline.
The Chief Minister, we now know, verbally gave Charlie Parker the green light to take on the job, but he never put that in writing. He subsequently got the States Employment Board to give that written approval retrospectively.
Then the SEB, on the eve of a vote of no confidence in Senator John Le Fondré last November, withdraw that approval.
At the time, Senator Le Fondré announced that Charlie Parker wouldn’t get a penny more than he was contractually entitled to. And then he signed off a pay-off that was more than Mr Parker was contractually entitled to to avoid a drawn-out litigation process, and the government failed to follow the correct procedure, prompting the Comptroller and Auditor General to place an unprecedented note in last week’s States Accounts to point that fact out.
The Chief Minister’s defence? That pay-offs in the past had been bigger. So that’s okay then.
If you’ve had enough of the he said, she said, to-ing and fro-ing of this whole saga, and your response right now is that it’s water under the bridge, then, I am afraid, you’ve been had. That’s another very Jersey part of the playbook: to get us all so fed up of these drawn-out processes that our human instinct is not to focus on what’s going on but instead to just want it all over. ‘Let him take his money and we can all move on.’
Well, that’s understandable, but it’s to fuel a culture of arrogance where those at the top of the tree think they can get away with actions that the rest of us wouldn’t even dream of doing.
The upshot of the mishandling of the entire process is that continuity in government is disrupted, a massive pay-off that arguably didn’t need to be paid out if all due process had been followed now has been, and a fresh round of not insignificant recruitment costs associated with the appointment of an interim chief executive and finding a permanent replacement are now being incurred.
Charlie Parker is the big winner out of all this. He’s got as much money in his back pocket for the next two years as if he’d stayed in post, but without the burden of actually having to work for it. He keeps his second role as a non-executive director. And he faces no accountability for his singular failure to transform the public sector, not least the rotten-to-the-core culture of bullying that still exists.
Bravo, Charlie Parker.