When the going gets tough, the States takes easy option
Tuesday 16th October 2012, 5:00PM BST.
TREASURY has given both Health and Education a multimillion-pound savings holiday.
Wouldn’t everyone just love one of those?
Those supportive of the move, which means both departments have had their saving targets slashed for next year in return for making bigger gains in 2014, will argue it is a pragmatic response, that the Financial Transformation Programme is running too fast and that its implications are not fully understood.
But Treasury has undermined the keynote project of the States – the promise to the electorate that it would wipe out inefficiencies that have been identified by an independent body.
Where is the department’s moral authority now when it comes to asking taxpayers and service users for more money?
Both HSSD and Education promise they will deliver in the next two years, just at a different pace.
But it is an argument that, at the moment, does not stack up.
Take a closer look at Education.
Last week it briefed staff about what the impact of the FTP could be, but insisted that no decisions had been made and everything remained on the table.
How does that square with a promise to make the necessary savings or cuts?
It has no direction or agreement in place about the way forward yet is asking the public to trust it.
The department needs imminently to move from discussions behind closed doors to spelling out to the public what its plans are – much of the background work was already done by those behind the FTP anyway.
The same is true for Health and Social Services. It should come clean with what it intends to do, although it at least comes to this with a recent track record of delivering savings without the world stopping spinning.
Next year was always heralded as make or break for the FTP – it was deliberately planned that the biggest savings would be made then.
So why is it only being challenged now, and the challenge accepted with no debate, no decision by the States?
The last Assembly had no tough decisions to make because it could always offer the public something new, having made the decision that savings would be spent on new services.
The trouble with procrastination – the delay in savings results from a lack of decision-making – is that it breeds further procrastination.
Now every department can see a weakened Treasury has backed down once, so what’s to stop it doing so again when the going gets tough?
What new thing is coming to the table that means Education and HSSD can rest easy that the savings will come to fruition in two years’ time instead of one?
Or are they expecting others to pick up the slack?
At least now we know why Treasury delayed its budget by a month as the wrangling over this got sorted out.
But that too is a move that has been made with very little scrutiny or comment.
Just picture UK chancellor George Osbourne announcing that his Budget would be a month later. He would be pilloried at home and abroad for letting things unravel.
The reason Treasury has got away with barely a squeak is that so many deputies have had a vested interest in not rocking the boat.
All members of HSSD and Education wanted delay to get their own way; the Policy Council has a new sense of collective – they call it corporate – responsibility that it would be embarrassed to undermine so early.
Perhaps the newer members of the United States of Change did not want to dent their credentials so early in the piece.
Sadly, we are beginning to see the FTP unravel.
It is a project that is reliant on cross-departmental work, with some elements reliant on others to be successful.
Accountability is meant to be achieved by this method – individuals would not want to let others down by not delivering on their side.
Already two departments have let things slip. Tip of the iceberg, perhaps?
This States has never debated the programme and is now, in some quarters at least, looking to dilute it.
The question was asked of candidates many times during the election whether they would take tough decisions.
At the first time of asking, they have taken the easy option.