The civil service could grind to a halt if the Government Plan isn’t passed before the beginning of next year, the Chief Minister has warned.
Sparks flew during a tense Scrutiny hearing focusing on Government’s recently published savings programme between Senator John Le Fondré and the scrutineers claiming they hadn’t been given enough time to adequately review the plan.
Launched in July and due to go to a vote later this month, the Government Plan is an ambitious document proposing millions of investment into schools, homes and other island infrastructure.
Pictured: £100m of 'efficiencies' have to be found over the next four years to make the Government Plan work.
But, in order to find the funds to make that plan a reality, the government are asking States Members to simultaneously approve an 'Efficiencies Programme' - a regime involving £100m of cuts and savings to be identified over the next four years.
The latter part of the plans has so far sparked disquiet among States Members, with two members of the Council of Ministers - the Environment Minister and Education Minister - publicly voicing their scepticism.
Last week saw a panel of politicians tasked with reviewing the plans challenge the Chief Minister over the programme.
Battling fierce criticism from the scrutineers about the “last minute” timetable for getting the Government Plan and its accompanying savings programme through, Senator Le Fondré suggested that any delay on approving it would not only derail the plans but also bring Government to a grinding halt.
Pictured: The Government's efficiencies were the focus of the Scrutiny hearing.
The comments came as the result of a question from the Government Plan Review Panel’s Chair Senator Kristina Moore, who asked: “Would it disrupt the Government Plan if the Efficiencies Programme was delayed for further scrutiny so that we could perhaps, as an Assembly, debate this at an early point next year?”
To this, the Chief Minister replied: “The short answer is yes, it would. I will give the exact reason why we are not trying to do that, and I would not countenance it. It is a matter for Assembly, but you could just delay the entire Government Plan and then just not pay people on 1 January, which would be the consequence.”
This elicited remarks from both Senator Moore and member of the Review Panel Deputy Kirsten Morel who blasted Senator Le Fondré’s observation as “completely incorrect" due to legal safeguards.
However, it appears that these “safeguards” to cover the running of Government in the event that a plan is not approved before it is due to take effect only covers “subsequent Government Plans” and not the 2020-23 plan, which is the first of its kind since the switchover from the Medium Term Financial Plan (MTFP).
Pictured: The Chief Minister answered questions on the Government Plan and savings programme.
Deputy Morel said to this: “So your own Government Plan does not cover the first year of its Government Plan? That is very clever.”
Elaborating further on this issue, the Chief Minister explained that it is the Public Finances (Jersey) Law which does not provide the provision, rather than the Government Plan itself. He then went on to emphasise the importance of bundling expenditure and efficiencies together so that the Assembly can’t approve spending measures without approving the means to fund it.
Later on in the exchange, the Chief Minister invited the Treasurer of the States Richard Bell to comment on the finance law issue. Mr Bell said: “I believe this came up in the debate of the Public Finances (Jersey) Law when it was confirmed in the Assembly.
“My recollection is that it did not apply to the first year of the Government Plan in that those provisions refer back to the previously approved Government Plan spending limits would be available on a monthly basis.”
Pictured: The Government Plan will be debated in the Assembly at the end of this month.
Express has asked the Government to clarify whether the law will cover the first year of the Government Plan in the event that it isn’t approved by the Assembly before 1 January 2020.
Elsewhere in the hearing – which covered a vast range of topics associated with the recently released efficiencies programme for the next four years – the Panel grilled the Chief Minister and his accompanying officers on the place of revenue-raising measures in a savings plan, staffing concerns and increased fees for Highlands College.
Speaking about the latter, the Chief Minister noted that discussions around the idea were primarily focused on business-linked courses.
"One of the issues in all of this is around courses that are charged for - that essentially businesses send people to so businesses pay for - is to what extent do we and should we subsidise those courses for those businesses to put people through? There is a decision and that is I think one of the areas where the Minister for Education wants further information," Senator Le Fondré explained.
"You will have some quite large organisations who could afford the increases and probably rightly should pay slightly more, and you will have some small businesses which perhaps you would want to treat slightly differently. That is a discussion that has to go on, which is why this is highlighted as further information required, and we will see."
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