One year into the £250,000-a-year role, Government CEO Suzanne Wylie - whose shock departure was confirmed this afternoon - spoke to Connect Magazine about the key challenges she had faced so far.
Here's what she had to say on...
I've tried, as much as possible to find out about the whole ecosystem here in Jersey, and why it all works, and all the different layers that are involved in that.
Lots of people have reached out to me over the year, to come and talk to them and find out about what they do, whether that's charities and third sector organisations or business organisations. It's difficult to do that all during the week, so I've been using Saturday mornings, to do some of that.
…I've been asked to visit all those different corners of the organisation and have listened to staff, to managers, listened to their challenges, and listened to the things that they are motivated by as well. That has been incredibly useful in terms of thinking and analysing what we need to do in terms of change across public service.
We we did a lot of preparation for that new government: a lot of policy documents, a lot of looking at the state of the island, the economy, infrastructure, all of those things you would expect that when a new government comes in, that they would be briefed on, so that they can then start to put their priorities together along with what they promised in their manifestos, and on the doorsteps as well.
We did look at those promises and interpreted that into policy and advice that we gave the new government. Of course, this new government came in as we were coming out of the most difficult parts of our pandemic, but also coming into a cost of living crisis.
In my view, the government really hit the ground running, and were very clear about the priorities that they wanted to see. We had the 100-day Plan, which for me was a really good test of how agile we can be as government.
In Belfast, politics is very, very local. What happens in the neighbourhoods and in the different areas is just as important as the big, strategic long-term future planning.
That's very similar in Jersey, in terms of what happens in our parishes, and the closeness of people to politicians. Of course, there are lots of differences.
[One example is] Jersey's government being responsible for delivery as well as policy. That's quite different from anywhere in the UK. The fact that Jersey’s government runs a hospital, for example, is quite unique.
However, I would say that the that kind of balance between the government thinking long-term, thinking about the future sustainability of the island, as well as thinking about the services that are provided and the quality of the services that are provided, and also really being connected to what islanders are saying and what islanders need, that's actually quite similar to the context that I've worked in. And it's that balance.
That is the biggest challenge for CEO of the Government of Jersey – to make sure that all those areas get the right level of attention, and the right level of expertise is provided.
Lack of equality in Belfast was a huge, huge issue. And even in one city, [among] different parts of the city and different communities, there was a huge effort to improve equality. I think coming here and seeing some of those inequalities that exist here... I think that it is quite stark to see.
...It's not necessarily worse, but what we're talking about here is the gap. Of course, there is enormous wealth on this island, and then there's the people who are struggling in terms of their everyday living expenses on this island, so it's that gap. That's quite evident and that's what we need to try and close going forward.
The government has some decisions to make around what it invests in to try and address some of those inequalities.
I think you will see some things in relation to things like school estate, in terms of housing, in terms of how we take forward the affordability issue with housing going forward. And, obviously, how we look at work and skills development too on the island.
There has been, I think, a shift. Ministerial responsibility is very clear. The fact that each Minister with a department has got a Ministerial Delivery Plan that they have signed off, and that that is the plan that the department then has to deliver on, I think is a significant step forward.
Setting up a Cabinet Office is all about providing that right level of support to Ministers, and helping them to make decisions improving governance.
It's also about ensuring that… services work more effectively together, and we're much more joined up, so things that fall across different departments actually get delivered and solved.
I've set up a Delivery Unit within the Cabinet Office… to make sure that we kickstart programmes.
If we have a housing programme in place, that cuts across lots of different departments because you're looking at affordability, support for housing, building new homes, then the shareholder responsibility and Treasury, Treasury for R&D, etc. This unit is to make sure that that ownership is held in one place, and that all parts of the organisation come together to deliver.
We will, through that unit, also look at talent management, and bring in different people from across the organisation to work on projects, developing them internally.
For example, a project to improve recruitment and retention within the organisation is going on at the minute. I have appointed one of my chief officers as the senior responsible officer for that, and a Task and Finish Group has been brought together from across the organisation to work on that as a project, to try and reduce the time it takes to recruit people, and make sure it's a good experience for people and that we can retain them in government for longer.
It means that people can develop internally as well, and do things that they may not have any experience in previously… They then can see how the centre of government works and translate that back into services – that will help to solve problems too.
I don't think it's as straightforward as saying, ‘This is the number and that's it.’ I think we need a… more sophisticated conversation on the right size of government to serve the island.
As population increases, demand increases. That means that the services are going to increase as well. Obviously, if we're trying to solve some of the island’s challenges ahead… we might have to build resources in one area while trying to reduce in another.
For me, it's about being more agile. It's about having the right resources, the right capabilities in the right places, and being able to use those much more flexibly in future.
Of course, we have to be value for money. Absolutely. It’s really important that we show that we're not wasting money. And there will be a big focus on that… going forward.
There's quite a lot of focus on that, and obviously that dates back to before my time, two predecessors, so I guess I'm right in the middle.
When this government came in, they were very clear about their priorities, the Chief Minister was very clear on what she expected from me. We have performance conversations every week, when we have our official one-to-one meeting…
And the KPI element of it. I have said publicly and PAC, and the Chief Minister has said publicly in Scrutiny, that they're a work in progress, but we'll be finished by the end of February.
…I want to do a good job for Jersey, and I would like people to see that. I do hope that accountability is about the right things.
The whole of the job is quite difficult to distil that down into a few KPIs here and there, it's actually quite a difficult process to do that. And to get it right. And so I do hope that people see the whole job, and assess me on that.
But it is quite unusual, I think, looking across other places, that there's that level of scrutiny… because of course, if I'm not performing, then Ministers will deal with that.
There are areas where we've struggled with getting the right level of resource. That means some staff are under considerable pressure… We have many cultures in different areas and I saw that for myself when I went out and visited different places.
What really came home to me was that… they love what they do in many, many of the services, they absolutely love it. You just see it oozing out of them, but they do not always connect that to telling people, “We love working for the Government of Jersey”.
My job is to get them to feel that way and to feel proud of working for the government because I want this to be a government that people choose to work for and want to stay with.
What we’d want to see is a one-access point to government, so you don’t have to go all over the place to search for how you can do things online; so that you come in through one point, and you can easily find which service it is that you’re looking for – whether that’s filling in your tax return, for example, or whether that is re-registering your car.
[The Estonian Ambassador said on a recent visit to Jersey] that people on their phones can look up their children’s education and vaccination records, and everything is at their fingertips. That’s where we, as an island, should be able to get to. We’re small and very connected, so we should be able to get there.
Supporting a sustainable economy, which is really important for the future, and thinking about our resilience as an island.
A more sustainable funding model for health is going to be incredibly important for us, and regeneration.
[Given] the price tags that come with improving infrastructure, thinking a bit more innovatively about how we can fund some of that is going to be important to us.
[Ministers] haven't given up on the opportunity at Fort Regent at all, that's not the case. I think they have absolutely seen the opportunity that Fort Regent has.
But maybe [the previous government’s plan] wasn't actually right for the island. And I don't think it's right for the island right now.
The grounds there, the views are spectacular 360-degree views of the island. Just amazing. And the opportunity for that to be a bit of a public park. And also what we do with the interior of the building.
We know that there are islanders who were going to want their children to play there, for example, and we know that we struggle for venues at certain points in time. So if we can do that in a way that it's not going to cost a fortune… I think there is great, great potential.
The government and public servants – and others, because there is much wider support across the island – are very focused on supporting those people who have been bereaved and lost loved ones, and [those who have] lost their property and been displaced. That continues and that will continue for some considerable time while the investigations are ongoing.
I think what it showed me is that there is a lot of care within public service. When these issues happened, people immediately dropped everything to try to support those who have been so badly affected.
They didn’t have to be asked to do that... they just came into the office and wanted to know what could be done.
In the face of all that loss, I’m proud of what the public service has done and have continued to deliver – of course, that’s not to take away from the suffering that continues.
Suzanne Wylie, who will be leaving in the coming months to take up a new role as Chief Executive at the Northern Irish Chamber of Commerce, also spoke to Connect Magazine upon her arrival in 2022 - read the full interview by clicking here or flicking through the magazine below...
Comments on this story express the views of the commentator only, not Bailiwick Publishing. We are unable to guarantee the accuracy of any of those comments.
Once your comment has been submitted, it won’t appear immediately. There is no need to submit it more than once. Comments are published at the discretion of Bailiwick Publishing, and will include your username.
Personally I would not trust anyone working in councils whether it be in Belfast or any other city around the u.k.
Furthermore councils can not be trusted.