Worst States Ever.
That’s how the 2012 intake were branded. Mind you, the 2008 were given that label too. So it only seems fair that the Class of 2016 have already been characterised as the ‘Worst States Ever’ by some vociferous commentators on social media. Whether they’re right, I’ll leave you to decide that.
In 2012 the fresh intake of Deputies was at first branded the ‘Sarnian Spring’ – a largely new group of politicians, bringing fresh ideas and exuberance. The 2016 intake was more characterised by its greater gender and age diversity when they were elected a year ago, with no pithy title to go with them.
So what has this new group of 38 deputies done in the last 365 days? Well, education has certainly dominated the political landscape in Guernsey in that time period, so it only seems fair that we grade the Class of 2016*:
Policy - D
The four big ticket items which have been discussed and approved by this new assembly are for me:
- The re-abolition of selection.
- Final approval of the Waste Strategy.
- Implementation of the new Population Management Regime.
- Agreeing the Island Development Plan.
- All policies which have, in essence, been devised by previous governments.
So it’s difficult to disagree with the D grade this States have been given, as when it comes to new policies specifically from this house, there’s nothing which immediately comes to mind, except for Environment and Infrastructure’s bonfire legislation. It proved controversial enough for a sizable debate, but isn’t exactly a ‘big ticket’ item in my book.
The other significant piece of new policy was the Policy and Resource Plan Phase 1, which while I myself, liked the ideas contained in it, was labelled as woolly and idealistic by some politicians and many members of the public.
Unity – C-
Now many of the people I asked to grade the States said this wasn’t an important category for them as, with a group of 38 independent politicians you’re never going to have a particularly collegiate view. But it’s a difficult sector to ignore seeing as within the first year we have already had a Vote of No Confidence in a principal committee and the vote for the top job (P&R President) threatened to split the house down the middle into Gavin-ites and Ferbrachians.
Arguably unity or a lack of it has characterised this first term, with squabbling over selection bringing those to the boil. But VONC’s aren’t uncommon in the States of Guernsey; just cast your mind back to the last term and Mike Hadley’s liberal use of them and it will show you just how common they are.
But there’s no denying a lack of unity has been an issue which has dogged this house, with the stage set for a few more potential bust-ups in the next year. Economic Development vs Economic Development on the runway extension, Policy and Resources vs Economic Development on the Strategic Review of Aurigny to name but two potential flash-points.
Spending - C+
Now before the big capital debate later this year, it’s again difficult to rate on spending, but there are a few key areas which deserve some exploration. It was revealed the new waste facility at Longue Hougue will cost more than originally expected, meaning more than a million pounds more expenditure on the project.
The Salerie Corner changes were billed as a £50,000 project and came in at more than double that, which ended in a serious amount of flack being directed at Deputy Barry Brehaut and a serious undermining of confidence in the States of Guernsey’s ability to deliver capital projects on budget. Now that can certainly not be a good thing, as we look at restructuring the island’s entire educational estate at a cost which will certainly be higher than £50,000.
But it’s not all bad news, Deputy Gavin St Pier told us earlier this year we were expecting to be £15m in surplus! It may have been due to a number of one-off factors and perhaps an element of robbing Peter to pay Paul, but there can be no denying that Chief Executive Paul Whitfield’s public sector reform is paying dividends and the transformation within Health and Social Care is beginning to reign in the spiralling cost of healthcare locally which has been the downfall of many a Health board in the past.
The big political issue when it comes to spending in the next three years will be over the 3/5/5 cuts, or ‘FTP 2.0’ which will happen before the end of this States term. There are rumblings from HSC and Home Affairs that the 5% savings in each of the next two years will be difficult to meet without cuts to frontline services. Watch this space.
So the report card reveals a ‘could do better’ set of grades. But as with all end of the year reports there’s also accolades for the top performers, so where do they go this year?
Committee of the year – Home Affairs
This one’s a tough one, and one which left me scratching my head, but Home Affairs for me have edged out Employment and Social Security for this gong. Arguably the toughest and most vital piece of legislation which passed the States this year was fronted by Home Affairs: The Population Management Law.
They survived early and regular broadsides from Economic Development, the business community and the open market to push through a set of extremely far-reaching reforms. It’s yet to be seen whether policy of their own creation this term can continue this early trend, but so far I’ve been impressed by the entire Committee, especially Deputy Richard Graham – who’s displayed a strength of character and resolve which I can only admire.
President of the year – Deputy Heidi Soulsby
It’s the poisoned chalice of the States of Guernsey. It saw the back of two ministers in Deputy Hunter Adam and Deputy Mark Dorey last term, and proved a tough beast to tame to the political powerhouse that is Paul Luxon. But Deputy Heidi Soulsby has so far, from where I’m sitting, got a handle on spending on agency nurse staff, signed a new multi-million pound contract with the MSG (Honourable mentions to Paul Whitfield and co. for handling the nitty gritty), changed the way treatment is given at the PEH and started planning for the next 20/30 years in healthcare.
She’s never one to shy away from the microphone when it comes to tough questions and above anything else she knows her mandate inside out. Being HSC President is a full-time job and is an easy way of putting the brakes on a promising political career, so to see someone coping so well with it, is nothing short of superb.
Deputy of the Year – Deputy Victoria Oliver (Honourable mentions for Deputy Peter Roffey & Deputy Emilie Yerby)
Proactive politicians are my favourite kind. I’m talking the kind who place amendments, front up to defend their ideas and who aren’t passengers. Deputies Yerby & Roffey are of that ilk and I commend them for it, as without them, States days would be far less interesting.
But as far as the new intake goes, I’ve been most taken aback by the conduct of Deputy Victoria Oliver. She may be accused of towing the populist line at times, but in an age of personality politics, Deputy Oliver has set herself apart with her work on the Development and Planning Authority and Home Affairs. She may be new to the political arena, but her skills as a chartered surveyor are being put to keen use especially on the DPA.
*These grades were selected by a group of 20 local political commentators, business groups & former politicians.