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Under-fire scrutineer lifts lid on chaotic meetings, tears and shouting

Under-fire scrutineer lifts lid on chaotic meetings, tears and shouting

Thursday 23 February 2023

Under-fire scrutineer lifts lid on chaotic meetings, tears and shouting

Thursday 23 February 2023

A Scrutiny Panel chair facing a vote of no confidence next week has said that he asked two members to resign amid briefings that turned into a shouting match with the minister, and witnesses being left in tears.

Deputy Geoff Southern is facing being axed as chair of the Health and Social Security panel owing to a political spat over the conduct of his Scrutiny colleagues Deputies Barbara Ward and Andy Howell.

Deputy Southern has faced backlash from three of the other four members of his panel for failing to support Deputies Ward and Howell against a complaint made by Health Minister Karen Wilson.


Pictured: Deputy Geoff Southern is facing a vote of no confidence as chair of the Health and Social Security Scrutiny Panel.

The Reform Jersey Deputy has defended his position and argued that the relationship between the minister, her officers and the panel had "completely broken down" and that "it is very difficult to build trust when that happens".

Deputy Southern said that he had asked both Deputies Ward and Howell to resign from the panel - potentially with the view to them rejoining it at a later date - but that both members refused.

He added that during a training session last August, a complaint was made from a training company about Deputy Ward’s "disruptive" and "combative" behaviour which had left the trainer in tears and that he had seen "two witnesses in tears" after a private briefing ended with "those two Deputies engaged in a shouting match with the minister".

However, Deputies Ward and Howell retained the support of fellow Health and Social Security Scrutiny Panel member Deputy Sir Philip Bailhache, who has brought the no-confidence motion against their chair.

The dispute led to a showdown meeting between Deputies Southern and Bailhache, in which the former External Relations Minister requested that the chairman step down if he was unwilling to work with Deputies Ward and Howell - a request which was refused by Deputy Southern.


Pictured: Deputy Sir Philip Bailhache has brought a no-confidence motion against his panel chair

Defending his position, Deputy Southern said: "What I am talking about here is the threat to the efficient working of Scrutiny. If that is put in danger, then that has got consequences for the government because we must, as an Assembly, have good relations between Scrutiny and ministers in order to have any clarity whatsoever.

"I can’t see a way of mending that trust without removing the two Deputies concerned from the frontline. Philip takes the view that just an apology is sufficient but, in my mind, an apology won’t change anything."

He alleged that Deputies Ward and Howell had entered meetings with pre-conceived ideas which led to a failure to ask appropriate questions or listen to responses.


Pictured: Deputies Barbara Ward and Andy Howell.

"We had someone in tears because people were not asking questions and not being tolerant," the St Helier Deputy said.

The St. Helier Deputy added that "consideration" may need to be given as to whether panel membership should be chosen by the elected chair in future.

Currently, secondments to Scrutiny Panels are decided by the States Assembly.

Lieutenant Governor Sir Stephen Dalton States Assembly.jpeg

Pictured: The no-confidence motion is due to be debated during next week's States sitting.

Deputy Bailhache said: "I think it is rather sad that the Scrutiny Panel, which has been reasonably successful, has fallen apart in the way that it has. I think Deputy Southern and I have diametrically opposed views as to what has happened over the last few months.

"I think they [Deputies Ward and Howell] are excellent members of the panel. That is why I was not prepared to accept their being pushed off by Deputy Southern.

"I think anybody who proposed a motion of no confidence is morally obliged to put himself forward."

He added that should Deputy Southern survive that the ‘likely outcome’ would be that he and Deputies Ward and Howell would all resign from the panel.

The no-confidence motion was counter-signed by Deputies Ward and Howell, as well as Deputy Tom Binet. It is due to be debated during next week’s States sitting.

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