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Senior officials had to be 'ordered' to deliver covid support and nursery cash

Senior officials had to be 'ordered' to deliver covid support and nursery cash

Wednesday 03 March 2021

Senior officials had to be 'ordered' to deliver covid support and nursery cash

Wednesday 03 March 2021


Some of the Government's most senior civil servants had to be formally ‘ordered’ to carry out Ministers’ decisions on providing more covid business support and increased nursery funding, it has been confirmed.

The news, which emerged after Senator Kristina Moore asked the Chief Minister how many ‘letters of instruction’ had to be issued since the 2018 election, exposes the lengths Ministers had to go to in order to get their decisions put into place.

Such orders are issued when an Accountable Officer – the individual within a department personally responsible for its running and finances, which is usually the Director General – has concerns with a Minister’s decision and/or considers it too risky. 

They must set out their concerns in writing, and ask that, if the Minister still wishes to proceed, they issue a formal ‘letter of instruction’. A copy of this is then sent to the Government's spending and governance watchdog, the Comptroller and Auditor General, and the Accounting Officer is not then seen to be personally responsible for it. 

Economic Development Minister Senator Lyndon Farnham sent two of these letters in response to pushback from the Acting Director General of the newly formed Economy Department, Richard Corrigan (pictured top, third).

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Pictured: The Economic Development development Minister faced resistance from the Acting Director General for the new 'Economy Department' in relation to covid support on two occasions.

The first came on 14 December 2020 after Mr Corrigan laid out “a number of risks” relating to the Visitor Attractions and Events Scheme – something the devastated events industry had made an urgent plea for, just weeks earlier.

The Chief Minister revealed that such a scheme had been agreed by the Council of Ministers as early as 16 October. He said Senator Farnham “acknowledged” the concerns raised, but ultimately felt that any risks were “outweighed by the urgent need to provide additional support” to the sector.

On 8 February 2021, Senator Farnham then faced resistance from Mr Corrigan again – this time in relation to the Fixed Costs Scheme. 

Senator Le Fondré reported that his colleague nonetheless “instructed that the Scheme be introduced to provide extra support for a broad range of impacted businesses not eligible for help under other Schemes.” 

He added: “In doing so the Minister noted that the Scheme had been supported by the Competent Authorities Ministers and the Economic Recovery Political Oversight Group, and had a number of safeguards built into it.”

The Fixed Costs Scheme was then launched the day after the Senator's instruction. As of last week, it had received 350 claims of which 148 had received pay-outs totalling £308,000 (around £2,000 each on average), Government officials told Express. The previous Visitor Attractions and Events Scheme attracted just two applications from businesses which received £15,156.45 between them, which businesses told Express was due to the tight eligibility criteria.

The Treasury Minister, Deputy Susie Pinel, also had to make an order to push ahead with Phase 4 of the Co-funded Payroll Scheme nine days after Ministers had agreed it on 20 January 2021.  

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Pictured: The Treasury Minister encountered pushback from the Customer and Local Services Director (pictured top, first) and the Treasurer (pictured top, last) when she sought to extend the Co-funded Payroll Scheme.

Having acknowledged the concerns laid out by Treasurer Richard Bell and the Director General of Customer and Local Services, Ian Burns, Deputy Pinel decided that the scheme should still go ahead to “deliver support and liquidity to the economy urgently.”

The most recent letter of instruction was issued last week (25 February) by the new Children and Education Minister, Deputy Jeremy Maçon. 

The week before, he had come under scrutiny for apparently failing to commit to his predecessor’s plan to increase free nursery education from 20 to 30 hours – a move announced by Senator Tracey Vallois in December in line with recommendations from the Early Years Policy Development Board. Senator Vallois then stepped down in January, citing concerns that she was not "listened to".

While Director General of Children, Young People, Education and Skills, Mark Rogers, was said to have identified a “number of risks” with the nursery funding proposal, Deputy Maçon decided that these were “outweighed by the urgent need to honour the Government’s commitments made by the previous Education Minister.” 

Mr Rogers’ department must now plan how to meet the costs of the proposals.

None of the letters of instruction are currently in the public domain, but the Chief Minister said that the Treasury Minister had asked for advice about how they might be made public in future.

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Pictured: The new Children and Education Minister had to order his Director General to implement plans to increase free nursery hours by 50%.

In his response to Senator Kristina Moore, Senator Le Fondré also noted: “It is entirely possible for an Accountable Officer to understand and agree with the need or policy imperative for a particular course of action but still require a letter of instruction because of concerns relating to these narrower responsibilities.”

He later added: “Letters of instruction are a valid and appropriate mechanism, to be used where necessary as part of an overall framework of good governance, used in Jersey and elsewhere, enabling Ministers to consider the wide range of issues they are required to, and allowing Accountable Officers to discharge their responsibilities.

"The Jersey process outlined above is based upon a similar process in the UK, where Ministerial Directions are issued if Accountable Officers express concerns. Members may be interested to note that 19 such directions were issued by UK Ministers in 2020, and two so far in 2021.”

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EXPRESS OPINION: Light shed on covid support decisions is to be welcomed

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