On a day of high drama in the States of Jersey, which saw plans to fund the island's biggest ever capital project aborted at the very last minute...again...more details have begun to emerge as to what really lay behind the decision to rip up the current funding proposal for the new hospital. Why would ministers rip up months of planning just a few hours before such a critical debate? What other option has been put on the table?
While many States members criticised the eleventh hour move, former Treasury Minister Senator Philip Ozouf has now come out with praise for the withdrawal.
States members were left in shock on Monday after receiving an email from the current Treasury Minister Alan Maclean announcing that he would be withdrawing all hospital funding proposals and that there would be no debate until autumn on how the £466 million new build would be financed.
The move – an eleventh hour U-turn after the debate was finally scheduled to take place, after three delays since January – sparked widespread disapproval from States members, who questioned why Senator Maclean had scrapped his own ideas, despite still claiming yesterday that they were still his preferred option.
Senior States sources spoke of serious dissent within the Council of Ministers, with some suggesting that pressure, and an alternative funding solution from Senator Philip Ozouf in particular, had sparked it – something he strongly denied.
Speaking yesterday at a planned lunch engagement with the IoD, the Senator confirmed he supported the rethink, suggesting "new information" had come to light.
Video: Senator Ozouf tells an IoD lunch audience that he was in favour of withdrawing the hospital funding proposals.
Moreover, he suggested that there were more "innovative" ways of funding it:
"It seems to be that they’ve made the right decision. We need to build the hospital… With the States having found their public finances in a much stronger position clearly the balance sheet is much stronger, tax receipts are up.”
“We need the hospital, we need to find, dare I say it, an innovative way of funding it. The bond was one way, but there are perhaps other ways, for example, using the capital program… The States have a crazy way of doing things by having to get all the cash in place before you start a project and I think that's what the Treasury Minister, as I understand it, is going to be considering a number of options, and I think that’s right.
“The hospital has to be built but maybe there’s a better way of funding it, because there’s always a better way when you have new information.”
But despite claiming that there may be a “better way” of funding the hospital, such as through the “capital programme” mentioned, of which he provided no details, Senator Ozouf told Express yesterday that he had “absolutely not” put forward an alternative funding model, and that he remained, “…on the side lines [within the States] these days… not really in the sort of cut and thrust of things.”
But he did use his IoD presentation, to confirm he was targeting a return to the ministerial benches, so that they could make use of his political experience - but he accepted that might not be possible. Privately, some other ministers have threatened to resign if he returned.
Although Senator Ozouf has claimed he wasn't one of the instigators behind Senator Maclean’s decision to pull the funding plans, questions remained in the States yesterday as to why exactly Senator Maclean scrapped his own proposals, particularly when he still stood by them.
Video: Lost in the hospital funding debate? Express recaps where we're up to with getting a new hospital.
Numerous States members attempted to drill down on this, with Senator Sarah Ferguson asking: “Would the Minister tell the Assembly who was involved with the decision, which ministers, which elected members of this Assembly, and any members of the public?"
Senator Maclean steadfastly refused to mention names, however, claiming that, as the Minister who lodged the proposal, he was ultimately the one responsible for its withdrawal.
In a statement, he reaffirmed that he remained, "...fully committed to the delivery of a modern, new hospital to meet the needs of our community for the future."
He added: "However, we have to get the timing and level of borrowing right for this important project, so following discussion with the Chief Minister and other members of the Council of Ministers, I have agreed to withdraw this proposition on the Future Hospital Funding Strategy, until the autumn when there should be greater certainty about key aspects of the project."
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What we need is to deal with the social care issue of the elderly and see that they receive home based care of the quality currently restricted to the palliative care system, and a community based acute hospital service driven by the plethora of highly qualified underemployed GPs in Jersey.