It’s time for departments to stop shooting messengers, by Nick Mann
Wednesday 30th October 2013, 5:00PM GMT.
THERE’S a game that has become a little too popular within States circles: shoot the messenger.
It’s easy to play too, normally taking the form of disagreeing with – or at least rubbishing – anything too radical you are told by an outside body.
Top of the department leader-board must be Health and Social Services, with its damning indictment of the independent hospital report, that it commissioned, just the latest example.
The strategy is to immediately go on the attack, create doubt, then conclude that things are different in Guernsey anyway.
It plays well to the crowd who think it’s the Guernsey way or no way, and to those who will always question the need to bring in experts from elsewhere.
HSSD has form on this – remember the critical A&E report and the nothing-to-see-here attitude of the department?
The department has been caught out this time, though, with the hospital report’s authors coming back to highlight the misleading statements trotted out to discredit them.
Credit where it is due, at least HSSD decided to publish the report almost in its entirety, so it means everyone can make up their own minds.
But should the arguments fall the way of the critics, it leaves the department’s credibility once again damaged.
And this is the very time that it needs that credibility intact – there is a fundamental debate to be had about the most suitable model for delivering healthcare in Guernsey, as HSSD’s 2020 vision has highlighted. But the window of opportunity for change is closing.
The MSG contract runs out in 2015. At the moment the vision seems to be blurred and the pressure of that deadline means there’s a risk of paralysis.
A department unwilling to consider bold decisions could condemn taxpayers to paying out more and more for an inefficient service.
Perhaps taxpayers believe as dogmatically in a gold-plated, consultant-led model as the department seems to. It delivers excellent care, but at a huge cost.
But perhaps they do not. Without these independent reports, the alternatives would simply not get a look in.
It has not only been HSSD that has taken aim at advice it did not like, having asked for it. Take
Treasury and Resources and the Herm lease negotiations.
Twice it went out to market experts, twice it was told a 21-year extension was worth £440,000.
Twice it rejected the
advice, coming eventually down from £6m. to £2.44m.
Those in government will argue this is good politics, not slavishly listening to outside experts. But it begins to feel more and more like not wanting to make tough decisions and a fear of change.
Go further back.
There were those who rubbished the Wales Audit Office report into the Fallagate saga and the subsequent recommendations to reform governance arrangements.
Remember how viciously the WAO was attacked for not understanding Guernsey – but then contrast that with how the good governance dogma has now become so ingrained in political thinking and change.
So there can be a positive influence if new thinking is allowed to get a hold.
Moving forward again we have the Financial Transformation Programme.
That, too, has stumbled in part because of a mentality that the States does not like being advised what to do – especially from those outside the service and the island.
It is, of course, easier to attack the messenger than implement their ideas for savings, especially if their proposals are controversial or unpopular.
But the advisers must be left somewhat dazed and confused by it all, having been invited in, worked with a department and its staff and within the department’s terms of reference.
The more you look at it, the more you wonder why anyone would get into this messenger game.
The corridors of States buildings must be littered with the wounded bodies of consultants and independent experts, their thinking put in a bin marked ‘too difficult’ or ‘just too different to contemplate’.