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Blog: The £1.4m mistake that's nobody's fault

Photo: Dominic Lipinski PA Archive/PA Images

Eleven months later, now we know. Not a single Minister is responsible for £1.4million of taxpayers' money going down the drain.

It was June last year that I revealed £400,000 had gone up in smoke after a loan from the Jersey Innovation Fund (JIF) was made to a company that then disappeared.

The revelation caused a political scandal at the time, and led to further investigations that uncovered the true scale of the financial loss.

The Assistant Minister with responsibility for JIF, Senator Philip Ozouf, then quit and the Chief Minister launched a number of reviews into what went wrong.

The first of his reviews is now out. It's the one that looks at the role of politicians in this scandal. I can say it's come as no surprise to me that its conclusion is nobody is to blame.

Why? Because the tangled web of political responsibility in Jersey appears set up to ensure enough grey areas, meaning there's never really one person you can pin wrongdoing to.

In this case, it's emerged the paperwork confirming Senator Ozouf had legal authority over JIF was delayed. It was verbally agreed in 2014, but not signed off until 2016. Nobody's quite sure why!

That meant Economic Development Minister, Senator Lyndon Farnham, thought Senator Ozouf was the boss. Senator Ozouf acted as the boss in certain circumstances, but assumed Senator Farnham was the boss at other times. Confused? You're not the only one.

There's a mild slap on the wrists for Senator Farnham and his predecessor at Economic Development, the now Treasury Minister Senator Alan Maclean, for a lack of oversight of JIF. But that's it.

Out of this, the Chief Minister gets the opportunity to call for reforms to the machinery of government. He's proposing the role of Assistant Minister is axed and that there are clearer lines of responsibility.

If we look at the direction of government under Senator Ian Gorst's leadership, there's been the introduction of collective responsibility (it means Ministers can't publicly dissent) and increased delegated responsibilities (meaning Ministers can make big decisions without consulting parliament). On that basis, expect further reforms to be dressed up as strengthening decision-making while actually strengthening the executive power of the Council of Ministers and further weakening the role of parliament.

Anyhow, it's not the end of the story. This is report one of three. There are still two more reports to come: one on the financial state of JIF, and one on the role of officials. I think it's fair to say there'll be blame placed at the door of either current or former civil servants.

Remember Mike King? He's the former chief officer of Economic Development who resigned before Christmas. He made the headlines for being in charge of a department that agreed to a £200,000 grant for a blockbuster film that never got made, and for booking cushy business class flights to a conference in South Africa.

If you're after a scapegoat. He's a handy one.

The Jersey Innovation Fund story is far from over. But the latest chapter renders politicians blameless, arguably strengthens the hand of the Chief Minister, and could see the return of Senator Ozouf to front-line politics.

Now that's innovative!