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Ministerial complaint spat sparks bid to oust chief Health scrutineer

Ministerial complaint spat sparks bid to oust chief Health scrutineer

Tuesday 21 February 2023

Ministerial complaint spat sparks bid to oust chief Health scrutineer

Tuesday 21 February 2023


The leader of the panel responsible for probing health policy is facing a 'vote of no confidence' - after he fell out with two members of his panel when he failed to defend them against complaints from the Health Minister.

The motion to oust Reform Jersey's Deputy Geoff Southern from his role as Chair of the Health Scrutiny Panel is being put forward by fellow panel member Deputy Philip Bailhache.

He accuses Deputy Southern of creating an "impossible situation" because he cannot work with the "excellent" Deputies Barbara Ward and Andy Howell.

After receiving a complaint from the Health Minister about the pair, Deputy Southern asked them to resign from the panel, despite having "no power" to do so, Deputy Bailhache said.

Disagreeing with the Minister's complaints and Deputy Southern's stance, Deputy Bailhache said that he had considered alongside Deputies Ward and Howell "whether we should all resign".

Noting that it would leave the panel "inquorate" and "unable to carry out its functions", however, Deputy Bailahche said he invited Deputy Southern to "consider resigning from the chairmanship", but he was "unwilling".

He said he therefore had "no other option" but to lodge the motion of no confidence, which was countersigned by Deputies Ward and Howell, and Infrastructure Minister Tom Binet.

In a report explaining his proposition, he laid out the complaints made by the Health Minister.

Ward_and_Howell.jpg

Pictured: The vote of no confidence against the Health Scrutiny Panel Chair relates to how he dealt with a complaint from the Health Minister about two of his fellow panellists, Deputies Barbara Ward and Deputy Andy Howell.

Deputy Wilson had made three complaints against Deputy Ward relating to revealing information from a private meeting during a public Scrutiny hearing, allegedly relaying information to the panel that was received through her membership of the States Employment Board and persistently raising employment matters in relation to recruitment difficulties.

Defending Deputy Ward, Deputy Bailhache wrote: "The record shows that several members, including the Chair, have seen fit to ask about the difficulties of recruiting and retaining staff, but in my view that is again perfectly legitimate questioning and relevant to matters within the Minister's responsibilities."

The allegation against Deputy Howell, meanwhile, related to how she had spoken to the Health Minister and senior department figures during a meeting.

The Minister had accused her of "wholly inappropriate" behaviour and subjecting officials to what she said she "considered to be clear vitriol and disrespect", in particular during a meeting on 2 February.

"...Matters came to a head when Deputy Howell was questioning the Chief Officer of the Health Department and stated, 'You are not listening to the doctors' or words to that effect. The Minister did not let her Chief Officer respond but directed her to leave the room," Deputy Bailhache explained.

"Deputy Howell was in error – she should have phrased the statement as a question, by adding the words 'are you?'. Deputy Howell acknowledges this minor transgression, but in my view the Chief Officer, if allowed to do so, could easily have treated it as a question and responded."

Health Minister Karen Wilson.jpg

Pictured: Deputy Bailhache defended his fellow scrutineers against the allegations levelled by Health Minister Karen Wilson (above) - and pointed out that Deputy Southern failed to back them.

Deputy Bailhache went on to explain that, after receiving the letter of complaint from the Health Minister, Deputy Southern then wrote to the pair.

They asked to see the complaint and on 9 February Deputy Ward collected a copy from the Members' Room in the States Chamber building.

"Deputy Southern was there and told Deputy Ward that he did not want her to attend any of the several meetings of the panel scheduled for the following week, saying that there was a trust issue with her. The same information was apparently conveyed to Deputy Howell and both Deputies were asked to consider resignation from the panel."

Deputy Bailhache said that he met Deputy Southern a few days later to discuss the matter in what was a "frank and cordial meeting". 

In his no-confidence motion, Deputy Bailhache added: "We discussed the letter and went through the different allegations. Deputy Southern did not argue that any of the allegations against Deputy Ward were well founded but he was unwilling to reply to the minister’s letter defending Deputy Ward’s position."

It continues: "I said that both Deputies were new Members of the States and had expressed a genuine willingness to learn from any mistakes and asked that the chair should withdraw his request for them to resign from the panel. Deputy Southern declined to do so and said that he could no longer work with either of them."

Deputy Bailhache said that he had considered Deputies Ward and Howell "excellent members of the panel" given their medical backgrounds and that the three of them had given consideration to whether they should all resign from the panel.

"Deputy Southern has no power to require members of the panel to resign but his stance that he is unwilling to work with them creates an impossible situation," Deputy Bailhache added.

Reform Jersey responded in a statement this evening:

"Reform Jersey considers the motion of no confidence lodged by Deputy Philip Bailhache against the Chair of the Health and Social Security Panel, Deputy Geoff Southern, to be entirely inappropriate and unjustified.

Deputy Bailhache has brought the motion of no confidence in response to Deputy Southern's request to two other members of the panel to stand down from the panel. Deputy Southern requested that the two panel members concerned should stand down because attempts over several months to resolve their inappropriate approach to their work as scrutineers, on which formal concerns had been raised, had not resulted in any improvement, and had not resolved matters. They have declined to stand down and Deputy Bailhache has chosen to side with those members and seek to displace the chair, rather than address the issue of their conduct.

In his 23 years of public service as a States Member Deputy Southern has gained the confidence of members across the political spectrum for his work in Scrutiny and in particular as a diligent and balanced Scrutiny chair, able to work across political divides and develop positive working relationships with Ministers and officers.

He has our full support, and we hope the States Assembly will not seek to oust a competent and diligent Scrutiny chair for striving to ensure the panel can work effectively and uphold the standards that all members of the public would expect their elected representatives to uphold."

The motion will be debate in the States Assembly on Tuesday.

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