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A view from the back-benches

A view from the back-benches

Friday 27 March 2020

A view from the back-benches

As a back-bencher and scrutineer, Deputy Jess Perchard is used to getting the information she needs from Government, when she needs it.

But since the Government and the island have been plunged into a health emergency, the St. Saviour Deputy says that, “back-benchers are finding out information moments before the public, if not at the same time.”

This is why, in Deputy Perchard's own words, she thinks that needs to change...

“Never has it been so vital for back-benchers to provide both scrutiny and support. The corona virus outbreak has brought with it huge financial stresses, job losses, and a vast amount of uncertainty to the populous. 

Since the Occupation of the island, we have not faced such anxiety as we are forced to fundamentally change the way we behave and the way we think overnight. 


Pictured: States Members have to manage many aspects of island life during the virus outbreak.

For those of you who watched the States sitting earlier this week, you will have picked up on the fact that backbenchers are not as informed as they need to be because the business-as-usual mechanisms for the dissemination of information do not work well in a crisis. 

This has left some of us feeling disenfranchised as we desperately try to support our parishioners and answer the many questions coming to us from members of the public. 

The community is desperate for reassurance and desperate for hope. As a Deputy, as a back-bencher, as a member of Scrutiny, it is my job to answer questions, to seek answers to the questions of the public and to provide much needed reassurance. 

Whilst trying to not slow down the Government response to the emergency, we have had to try to find a way to apply appropriate pressure, adequate support and thorough scrutiny, and this is a tricky balance. 

The Government and officers are working tirelessly, late into the early hours, on plans to develop solutions to the problems faced by the public.

What I will say is this: backbenchers and Scrutiny members need to know about them, and the public need to know when they will be available.

We need detail, dates, and delivery.

Much rhetoric around being all in this together was used by Ministerial members on Tuesday, but it is not reasonable to expect backbenchers not to act if they are unaware of what is being planned. Back-benchers are finding out information moments before the public, if not at the same time.

With the absence of information, all that I can do as a back-bencher in terms of moving things forward is to draft propositions that seek to deal with the some of the pressing challenges faced by islanders at this time, and this is what I have done. 

However, I believe it is right that solutions come from Government because Ministers have a much better overview than backbenchers and teams of staff to work on the detail. They are able to put together complete packages that take into account the complexity of these issues in a way that backbenchers simply cannot. Therefore, in order to avoid confusion, I have sent my ideas and calculations to the Government first to see if what we want - and preferably more! - is already being planned and is to be delivered imminently.

If solutions are not forthcoming, that is the appropriate time to lodge from the backbench, and this will happen if it needs to be done.

Collaboration, communication and clarity are key.

Keep well, keep safe, and keep following the advice from Health - it really could save lives.”

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not Bailiwick Express.

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Posted by John Henwood on
I consider Deputy Perchard one of the better, brighter, newer members of the States and one who, with more experience, will be ministerial material. However, this little whinge about not getting information much before the public is misplaced. The government is trying to deal with the most difficult situation in the lifetime of most of us and, despite much criticism, it's doing a pretty good job. Frankly, it probably doesn't have enough time to observe all the usual courtesies of keeping everyone briefed in order of precedence. What we all need is less moaning and more positivity all round. There will be time enough later, when life gets back to something like normal, to consider what might be better done next time - because there will be a next time.
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