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Ministers fight call to hand over covid meeting minutes to Scrutiny

Ministers fight call to hand over covid meeting minutes to Scrutiny

Thursday 28 October 2021

Ministers fight call to hand over covid meeting minutes to Scrutiny

Thursday 28 October 2021

The Government is fighting a call by backbenchers to share the minutes of all Competent Authorities Ministers’ meetings privately with Scrutiny.

The Scrutiny Liaison Committee, which brings together the chairs of all five panels of politicians responsible for assessing the Government, has formally proposed that the ad hoc group of Ministers who have led the island’s covid response should hand over all of its minutes to them, without redactions, on request.

However, the Council of Ministers wants to water down the proposal, which is due to be debated on Tuesday.

An amendment lodged this week by the Council of Ministers calls for “minutes” to be changed to “agendas, papers and actions agreed”.

Explaining its rationale, ministers say: “The Council of Ministers appreciates the importance of transparency in decisions reached and has sought to provide briefings to both Scrutiny Panels and States Members more generally following Competent Authorities Ministers decisions being taken and in advance of public announcements.

“This notwithstanding, the Council of Ministers considers the unamended proposition to be a significant divergence from the longstanding principle that the full content of both Ministerial and Scrutiny meetings are confidential. This is in-line with best practice in the UK and elsewhere.”


Pictured: Competent Authorities Ministers - External Relations Minister Ian Gorst, Economic Development Minister Lyndon Farnham, Chief Minister John Le Fondré, Health Minister Richard Renouf, Infrastructure Minister Kevin Lewis and Home Affairs Minister Gregory Guida.

Arguing against the handing over of minutes, Ministers say: “Meetings of the Competent Authorities are, given the sensitivity of discussions and in line with longstanding and fundamental conventions in Jersey, confidential. 

“A confidential safe space provides for frank, candid and open discussions between Ministers which allows for decisions to be taken following robust discussion. Introducing an observed element to the decision-making process would, even if limited, have an impact on the content and nature of discussions.

“Ministers and officers must be at liberty to express their views, without being unduly influenced to give performative interventions for the sake of the minutes. Equally, participants could be dissuaded from giving an opinion or be circumspect with their advice for fear of looking foolish in hindsight.”

They add that the principle of keeping minutes confidential was approved by the Assembly in 2018.

The SLC, however, argues that that the minutes of the CAM meetings should be treated in the same away as those from Council of Ministers.

Express has been battling for the minutes to be released to all members of the public for over nine months.

In July, nearly eight months after Express’s original request under the Freedom of Information Law, the Government released just eight paragraphs covering three meetings – two in March and one in April.

They shared very little of CAM’s deliberations, with the most in-depth section a short discussion touching on how freight volumes dropped 30% following lockdown, Paul Davis freight entering administration and an offer from Condor to use its Liberation for 18 trailers and freight if necessary. 

The minutes were originally requested in the wake of calls for transparency and public fury when it first emerged in December that CAM had gone against STAC advice. They also followed frustrations shared publicly and privately by other Ministers left out of discussions on important decisions.  

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Posted by Keith Marsh on
Whilst I am in no way happy with this Government, I have to agree with (I can hardly use the phrase) " Competent Authorities Ministers" in that such minutes of their meetings, during this horrid virus, should remain secret ~ if any such minutes were actually taken.
The thought that such minutes might be published would stiffer discussion and could harm future such meetings.
The Scrutiny Liaison Committee should however get honest answers to direct questions.
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