All the government’s men…
Friday 6th September 2013, 4:00PM BST.
…and one woman. Peter Roffey looks at the ministers and committee chiefs and considers how they’re shaping up so far this term.
IN MAY last year, it was very hard to tell what sort of government the island had just elected. Nearly half the States members were new and many of those debutants were immediately given ministerial positions. It certainly was a brave new world.
For islanders wanting to see big changes this was welcome, because it brought hopes of a fresh direction. But could it really deliver?
Now we’ve had a chance to see the deputies of the ‘Sarnian spring’ in action, how do they measure up against all those great expectations? Let’s look at some of the key players.
Deputy Peter Harwood was very unusually given top job (maybe) of chief minister despite being brand-new to the States. He wasn’t new to politics, though, having been the lead author of the Harwood Report that proposed Guernsey adopt an executive system of government.
I think few will be surprised with Deputy Harwood so far. He’s pleasant and intelligent and, despite his report, seems keen on trying to build consensus. On the debit side, he doesn’t seem from the outside to be very driven and events can appear to be happening to him rather than him making the political weather.
Perhaps the biggest challenge facing the chief minister is healing the rift that is opening up between the Policy Council and the rest of the States. In this his affability will be a real bonus – few deputies seem to dislike him – but perhaps he needs to be a bit more brutal in tackling the underlying reasons for the schism.
A related headache is the need to resolve the apparent growing disconnect between the elected members and the civil servants. Then, of course, we are all waiting for Harwood Report mark II. Expect a rather different document this time around.
Moving on to the Treasury and Resources minister, it’s tempting to feel rather sorry for Deputy Gavin St Pier.
He’s inherited the sharp end of the States’ cost-cutting programme, the FTP, and shortly after taking office his department was scammed out of £2.6m. It was a tough baptism in politics, but then he knew what he was taking on when he went for the post, despite being a new boy.
One thing which may come back to haunt him is his obsession with openness and accountability during his election campaign.
That sits rather uncomfortably alongside his tiff with former T&R member Garry Collins over alleged secrecy surrounding the SAP commuter system.
Have his views changed, or are his instincts towards openness being suppressed by his officers?
The Treasury minister’s big challenge over the next year will be delivering a successful FTP despite the unpopular service cuts that requires.
As for budgets, I’d expect him to deliver a fairly neutral one this year with the focus still on spending, but next year’s is very likely to include some tax hikes – perhaps disguised somewhat under the current review of taxation and benefits.
One old face still around the Policy Council table is that of Deputy Mike O’Hara.
It’s slightly strange how he was so sanguine over the FTP when it affected only Health and Education (St Andrew’s School apart), but is squealing loudly now it’s starting to bite on Culture and Leisure.
What’s even odder is that his protests make it sound like the FTP is something being done to him when, in fact, as a member of the previous Policy Council, he’s one of its progenitors.
Another new boy is former radio presenter Kevin Stewart, who has taken on the mantle of Commerce and Employment minister.
In many ways his persona is the direct opposite of the chief minister’s. He seems very driven and energetic but the jury is still out on whether there’s any real depth there. His social networking certainly throws some doubt on that.
Another odd thing is how quickly Deputy Stewart – like Deputy Jones before him – has undergone a metamorphosis from the scourge of the States establishment to its strongest defender.
Talking of Deputy Dave Jones, he’s a well-known quantity and hasn’t really changed from previous States.
I suspect he may be the last ever Housing minister, with social housing steadily transferring to the Housing Association and the Housing Law due to be repealed before too long.
As one of the authors of the replacement population policy, he may well regret it if he’s too stubborn in defending the proposed erosion of our local children’s ability to gain permanent residential rights.
As a chap who seems to always want to be everybody’s friend, it’s hard to conceive of why Deputy Roger Domaille stood as Environment minister.
It’s a department in which pleasing everybody is just plain impossible.
So far he’s pleased very few by approving the new bus service, complete with its discriminatory fares. He’ll find getting approval for an island transport and traffic strategy even more tricky, but in many ways he’s yet to be tested under fire on the floor of the Chamber.
The same could be said of Public Services minister Paul Luxon. He’s cultivated an air of being a corporate team player, but the news that PSD might be actively wooing a competitor to Aurigny on the Gatwick route rather tarnishes that image.
He’s got big tests to come and the jury’s still out.
The Social Security Department’s Deputy Allister Langlois has tended to be the invisible minister of the States so far. Given the job over Mark Dorey because he was seen as more fiscally conservative, he’s yet to justify that tag. I suspect that – fairly or not – he’ll be judged on what sort of deal he strikes on reform of the public sector pension scheme.
Another low-profile minister is Deputy Jonathon Le Tocq. As deputy chief minister as well as Home minister one might have expected him to be a very dominant figure in the new States, but he doesn’t really seem to be.
Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
Also, as a member of the Policy Council with previous States experience, you’d expect him to be a key driver of strategic policy.
If that’s happening, he’s hiding his light under a bushel.
Deputy Robert Sillars became Education minister late in the last States and so was able to hit the ground running.
His department has certainly been very active, although the real fruits of that labour are yet to be revealed.
I suspect they will put forward plans for primary education that are at odds with his election promises to the voters of the south-east. Also, proposals on selective education will enrage Guernsey’s articulate upper-middle class. No wonder he always looks just a tad nervous when being interviewed.
Lastly among ministers, there’s Deputy Mark Dorey at HSSD. He’s a decent man with a good brain but sometimes struggles to communicate – and he’s been given a near-impossible mission.
I wish him well, but I fear the worst.
Turning to the committee chairmen, and Paul Arditti promised a new approach at Scrutiny. He’s certainly delivered that by deciding the committee no longer wants to help improve States policy or lay all its reports before the Assembly.
Thing is, if he wants to re-invent Scrutiny in his own image, shouldn’t he get States approval for the change in mandate?
PAC still sits uncomfortably as an in-house function. Its chairwoman, Deputy Heidi Soulsby, really needs to decide what the committee is for.
On the positive side, it seems to have stopped spending squillions getting the Wales Audit Office to produce reports. However, on the downside, PAC doesn’t really seem to be having much impact.
The Legislation Committee under Deputy Rob Jones sadly appears to have settled for life as a proofreading body.
And what about the Parochial Ecclesiastical Rates Review Committee? It was set up as a temporary committee shortly after the reformation and seems to have slowed down even further under Deputy John Gollop.
‘What are we going to do? Not sure. Hang on a minute – I’ll just ask the dean.’
Finally, there’s the chairman of SACC, Deputy Matt Fallaize.
He sometimes seems to be having a bigger impact on this Assembly than some Policy Council members.
He has two big roles.
Firstly the official one alongside the chief minister in delivering reforms to Guernsey’s system of government and maybe thereafter our electoral system.
Then there’s the unofficial one as champion of ‘you lot down there’ in their occasional clashes with ministers.
He seems to be winning most of those battles recently.
Whether that’s good or bad is subjective, but it certainly suggests he’s got political ability.
The question is whether he has a responsibility to step up to the plate soon and use that talent in a leadership role, or whether what he’s doing now is even more valuable.
To be honest, I really don’t know.
I used to be certain but I’m beginning to change my mind.