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Chief Minister resists pressure to reveal full £100m cuts plan

Chief Minister resists pressure to reveal full £100m cuts plan

Monday 02 September 2019

Chief Minister resists pressure to reveal full £100m cuts plan


The Chief Minister has refused to reveal the full cuts and savings used to plug the government’s forecast £30m black hole before October – despite growing pressure for more transparency.

The pledge from Senator Le Fondré came in a letter sent to a panel of politicians that had been pushing him for more detail about the proposals to save £100m over the next four years to pull government accounts out of the red.

The announcement comes nearly 11 months after the Chief Minister first revealed the need for yearly savings in the tens of millions.

According to the Government Plan, efficiencies totalling nearly £20million have been identified so far under Chief Executive Charlie Parker's 'OneGov' programme, with the majority (£8.2m) the result of “transformation in services” and “driving improvements in productivity” – but islanders and their elected representatives have largely been kept in the dark about what these entail in tangible terms.

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Pictured: The savings already identified according to the Government Plan.

When Express asked for further details of the plans under the Freedom of Information Law, the request was declined on the basis that the government needed a “safe space” to develop its money-saving policy.

The lack of information has led to disquiet among backbenchers – and at least one Minister – who have in recent weeks been attempting to pin down what the ‘Efficiencies Programme’ will mean for government services and the islanders that access them.

Earlier this month, Senator Kristina Moore wrote to the Chief Minister on behalf of the Corporate Services Scrutiny Panel – a group of politicians tasked with reviewing the running of the government – to demand “detailed information on the efficiencies” ahead of the debate on the Council of Ministers’ spending plans in November. 

Without this information, she noted, “it makes it extremely difficult for us to assess the level of funding proposed for putting children first, improving wellbeing and your other strategic priorities, if efficiencies are to be allocated against these figures before the [Government Plan] is debated in November.”

In bringing forward legislative proposals for six-monthly assessments of the savings plans last week, Deputy Geoff Southern was similarly critical of the decision to wait until October before releasing the Efficiencies Programme.

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Pictured: Senator Kristina Moore, and Deputies Geoff Southern and Kirsten Morel have all sought more information about the savings plan.

“This is very late notice to enable even a modest assessment by Scrutiny of the feasibility or sustainability of these efficiencies, let alone giving consideration to amending or redistributing these efficiencies,” he said.

Days later, Deputy Kirsten Morel stepped in, urging the government to leave politicians at least four weeks to examine the cuts proposals.

In a report justifying his calls, Deputy Morel argues that the “success” of the Efficiencies Programme will define the deliverability of the Government Plan, which makes bold pledges including a £10m affordable housing scheme and £91m to be invested in schools, the Future Hospital project, cybersecurity and solving the question of what to do with Fort Regent.

“Given the self-proclaimed importance of the Efficiencies Programme to the Government Plan, it is essential that there is enough time for States Members to effectively scrutinise it, but the Plan itself suggests that States Members will only have a minimal amount of time in which to do so,” he explains.

“Knowing how important the Efficiencies Programme is to the success of the Government Plan, and how important Scrutiny is to the success of democratic government in Jersey, it is crucial that there is enough time given to States Members so that proper scrutiny of the Efficiencies Programme can take place.”

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Pictured: Deputy Morel says the Efficiencies Programme and success of the Government Plan are linked.

The Deputy later adds: “Of course, if the Government is willing and able to give States Members more than 4 weeks, that would be even better.”

Despite the growing pressure from across the States Assembly, the Chief Minister has declined to budge from his current timetable.

In a letter sent to Senator Moore on Thursday, Senator Le Fondré said that he would be willing to share an “interim report” in advance.

“…Further details on the efficiencies and their impact on departmental spend will be presented to the One Gov Political Oversight Group (OGPOG) and the Council of Ministers (COM) over the next couple of weeks; greater clarity will then be available to Scrutiny Members. As a consequence, once COM has had the opportunity, on 18 September, to finalise and agree the further details, I will arrange for an interim report to be sent through for your consideration alongside the Government Plan,” the Chief Minister wrote.

However, he declined to bring forward the publication of the final report on the 2020 to 2023 Efficiencies Plan, which will detail “how the £40m of efficiencies will be delivered in 2020 and the proposed full impact on departments’ 2020 budgets.”

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