There is another way
Thursday 14th February 2013, 5:00PM GMT.
DEPUTY Andrew Le Lievre seems rather given to emotive outbursts in the States.
Whether that signals a laudable passion for the social policies he advocates so strongly or simply a naive frustration at the challenges of an imperfect world isn’t fully clear. One of his characteristic eruptions came during last month’s big debate on the FTP. Speaking as Deputy Education Minister, he stressed that the board of that department didn’t support all of the cuts they had been railroaded into putting forward. In fact, he seemed to predict the whole process might end in tears, with Education members refusing to vote for their own savings programme.
This is a very curious state of affairs and begs several questions.
For example, if the savings suggested by the FTP team or officers at education are so obnoxious to the board members, why don’t they suggest an alternative set of proposals to trim their budget?
I presume T&R don’t care how the savings are made, so long as they are made. Indeed, maybe if the cash-saving ideas originated with the Education board the States could save the 6% payment to the FTP consultants – but I wouldn’t count
I rather suspect that what Deputy Le Lievre really meant was that the political board at Education can’t support any programme of cuts that adds up to their FTP target. Fair enough.
As I wrote recently, the FTP should not be regarded as a set of diktats to be followed without question. But what it should require from dissenters is a credible alternative. If members of Education are now claiming that they can’t support the proposed level of savings for their department then where was their budget amendment to enhance their revenue allocation? More germanely, where was their plan to fund that extra cash by cutting other departments’ budgets or increasing taxes?
There’s been a sad habit among non-ministerial deputies over recent years to call themselves ‘back-benchers’.
They are nothing of the sort. Under Guernsey’s unique system of government they are all part of the executive and as such responsible for developing and implementing the government programme. So it is not acceptable for those outside of the Policy Council or T&R to moan about the FTP, or any other big strategic initiative, as if it was something being done to them.
These are their programmes and if they don’t like them they should hone, amend or scrap them. But equally, as part of the executive they are responsible for the consequences of those changes, for putting credible alternatives in place, and they must accept accountability for those amended policies. ‘It’s not fair, it’s all wrong, but it’s not my fault’ isn’t an acceptable stance for any States member to take. Back-benchers elsewhere can attack the government, but in Guernsey all politicians are in the government.
Sadly, only a few non-ministerial deputies seem to accept that these days.
Coming back to Deputy Le Lievre, I have to say I rather like his conviction style of politics, but sadly for the Vale representative he probably finds himself in government at just the wrong time.
It must be hugely frustrating for someone who obviously cares deeply about welfare issues and public services to find themselves in a States whose overriding job is to make unavoidable austerity cuts. Alas for Deputy Le Lievre, that is the big task facing this assembly and politicians have to deal with the world as it is rather than as they would like it to be.
Where I do have enormous sympathy with the likes of Hunter Adam, Mark Dorey and the members of HSSD, Education and Social Security is that the current spending cuts agenda is throwing up far harder decisions for them than for members of other departments. HSSD may have to blacklist an expensive but potentially life-saving drug.
Education may have to close much-loved schools or increase class sizes. Social Security may have to cap some general revenue-funded benefits while making others means tested.
By contrast, Housing can just reduce its massive refurbishment budget, Culture and Leisure outsource Beau Sejour and Environment put up planning fees. There really is no comparison, but again if it all seems unfair or perverse then it’s the job of all deputies to rebalance the programme and not just moan about it.
Where the debate on the FTP failed in its purpose of getting complete support from members was in its vagueness. It simply asked the House to endorse the programme of savings as a whole, which of course they did. But it didn’t flag up any of the big, controversial, individual cuts that need to be made.
As a result, members had no ability to compare and contrast those proposals with possible alternatives.
Policy Council might think that was a canny tactic as it avoided the pitfall of emotive trigger points that could inflame opposition to the FTP. I don’t think it was canny at all.
All they have done is kick those problems further down the road rather than tackling them head-on.
CampaignsVoice For Victims
Voice for Victims is a campaign aimed at promoting the rights of those affected by child sexual abuse.