The Environment Minister has brought forward proposals for a probe into the current “machinery of government” over concerns that Ministers are no longer really in charge.
Deputy John Young says a panel should be appointed by the States Assembly, tasked with reviewing not only the role of the Council of Ministers, Ministers and Assistant Ministers, but also the government's overall departmental structure.
He also wants the role of Scrutiny Panels, the Public Accounts Committee and Policy Development Boards to be examined, as well as the current machinery of government and whether it enables States Members to make an “effective and meaningful contribution to policy development”.
Deputy Young says the panel should be chaired by an appropriately qualified individual and include four other members, all with relevant knowledge and experience.
Pictured: Deputy Young says the panel should be chaired by an appropriately qualified individual and include four other members.
Once their review is completed, they should report to the States Assembly by the end of July 2021 so that their recommendations can be considered and, if necessary, implemented before the May 2022 elections.
The Environment Minister suggested a budget of at least £100,000 to fund the salary of the panel, as well as admin support, facilities, logistic and research.
According to the St. Brelade representative, the move comes after the covid-19 pandemic highlighted some of the disadvantages of the current system, including the exclusion of some Ministers from policy development and the lack of transparency for the public.
In the report accompanying his proposals, Deputy Young voiced concerns about the transformation of the island’s democratic Government into “a highly centralised Ministerial government”, which he experienced not only as a previous senior civil servant, but also as a Scrutiny Chair and most recently as a Minister.
“Since the system was first introduced, many people in our community still question whether these changes are right for our small self-governing island. I too share these doubts,” Deputy Young wrote.
"...Many question whether Ministers are really in charge of this system at all. Some ask whether centralised government with its vastly increased complexity has made it too difficult for lay elected members to be effective or is it the Corporate Civil Servants who are effectively in charge.”
Pictured: Deputy Young said the restructuration of the Civil Service has yet to show its benefits.
Deputy Young also argued that the restructuration of the Civil Service, whose cost has been “significant”, had yet to show its benefits.
He noted how recent decisions had drifted away from the recommendations of the Clothier report, despite the panel being appointed in 2000 to consider whether the machinery of government in Jersey was appropriate.
Deputy Young said that the appointment of a Government CEO accountable to the Council of Ministers went against the Clothier report who instead recommended the role of Chief Secretary who would report to the States for implementation.
In addition, the Minister said that the Target Operating Model didn’t follow the Clothier principle of having a single Minister setting the political direction of each individual civil service department.
“Departments in the one government civil service structure no longer match Ministerial responsibilities and cross the boundaries of Ministerial statutory responsibilities,” Deputy Young said.
“I believe this has confused and seriously weakened political accountability and oversight.”
Pictured: The current system is preventing back benchers from contributing to policy development, according to Deputy Young.
Deputy Young also argued that the current system of centralised government has prevented back benchers from contributing to policy development.
While he acknowledged participation in the Scrutiny process has been good during this term, the Minister noted concerns over the effectiveness of the interaction between government and scrutiny, and the adequacy of the processes that ensure Scrutiny has “unfettered access” to information and sufficient opportunity to influence States policy.
This issue, Deputy Young said, became even more visible during the covid-19 pandemic, as the government didn’t give enough time to Scrutiny to consider some of their proposals.
“The system relies greatly on the personalities comprising the Council of Ministers or inclination of individual Ministers to enable Scrutiny to have effective access to policy setting,” he noted.
While he acknowledged some of the shortcomings of the Committee system, the Minister said it would have prevented “poorly thought out policy and projects”, such as the “abortive hospital project”, from progressing without a States consensus, thus avoiding time and resources being wasted.
Concluding his report, the Minister said the case for a review of Ministerial government after 15 years was “strong”.
“The system has evolved beyond the mandate set by the States and issues I have highlighted show the subsequent adaptations have had significant impact and need to be reviewed and assessed,” he added.
“The benefits and disbenefits of these changes need to be identified and weighed against a shift to an alternative system.”
His proposals are scheduled for debate by States Members on 22 September.
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