General update on the activities of the Committee
Thank you Mr Bailiff for giving me this opportunity to update the States on the activities of the Scrutiny Management Committee
At the beginning of this political term, the Scrutiny Management Committee determined that we would follow a primarily two-pronged approach to the scrutiny of significant matters of policy and finances across the public sector.
Firstly, we wished to continue to do a programme of major, evidence-led reviews of substantial policy issues and financial matters. These major reviews, by their very nature, tend to be conducted over a number of months and are longer term, granular deep dives into policy, finances and other matters.
Secondly, we also felt it important and appropriate to conduct a series of regular public hearings with Committee Presidents to help the SMC track what progress committees are making within their mandated policy areas, and with their management of resources, in order to help us to hold them to account publicly and also to help indicate any significant areas that might justify major reviews that I mentioned a moment ago. This has been a significant focus of our efforts thus far.
The first major review that we commenced this term was on the States of Guernsey's bond issue. For that review, the Committee engaged KPMG to do an independent review of the bond issue and their report was published on the 26th of May.
A Scrutiny Panel was formed to conduct a public hearing with the President of the Policy and Resources Committee and the States' Treasurer on the 12th of October and a Hansard transcript of that hearing has been subsequently published.
I believe that the public hearing conducted by the bond Scrutiny panel on this matter has provided the additional transparency and accountability on this issue that can only be attained effectively in our system of government by a Scrutiny public hearing with its ability to question both senior politicians alongside the most senior of public servants.
In work poverty
We have also made substantial progress with our second major evidence-based review, which is a review of policy and financial matters surrounding the concept which is referred to as in work poverty. The second call for evidence has now been concluded and work is continuing on this review.
A panel chaired by the Vice President of the SMC will continue to oversee this review process and the Committee intends to bring a report to the States on the matter in the third quarter of 2018 which should include specific and constructive policy proposals for debate. It is also likely that public hearings will be conducted on specific aspects of this work at the appropriate time.
Major reviews in the future should be commenced shortly including a review of the governance and frameworks around States' financial grants to third parties. It is my view that the SMC does now need to apply a greater degree of focus and attention to its major reviews from now on to ensure that meaningful progress is achieved in 2018.
The general approach to scrutiny within the new States term will continue to be one that is committed to the work of scrutiny being done in public. We have already conducted a total of twelve public hearings with local political leaders.
We consider that these routine hearings are a vital part of the transparency and communication agenda for the States and we have been generally pleased with the level of cooperation that we have received from the States Committees.
Since the last time that I updated members on the activity of the SMC, my panels have conducted public hearings as follows:
As I've already alluded to, in October 2017, we held a public hearing with the Policy & Resources Committee on the States of Guernsey bond issue
Again in October 2017 - a routine session with the States' Trading Supervisory Board
In November 2017 - a routine session with the Committee for Environment and Infrastructure
In December 2017 - a snap public hearing with the Committee for Education, Sport and Culture on matters of significant public interest surrounding a discontinued Social Media campaign
And in January 2018 - we conducted a public hearing on the degree of progress made by this States and the previous Government on implementing the Disability and Inclusion Strategy.
By virtue of these public hearings, we have achieved at least two things; first of all, we have helped to raise substantially the profile of the specialist scrutiny function within government overall as well as developing what effective scrutiny can potentially do; and, secondly, we have also helped to raise the profile of many public policy issues that the States is involved in, including, inter alia, the development of the States Asset Management Plan, the Hydrocarbons project and issues around the implementation of a disability discrimination law.
These hearings have also established the expectation that Committees will be held to account for their major decisions in a public setting and there is evidence that this practice is already starting to have a tangible effect on the Committees of the States. "Will this decision pass the Scrutiny test?" is now openly discussed in various committee meetings. I am grateful for the positive feedback that my colleagues and I have received from members of the States on this.
Moving forward, the Committee will use emerging technological solutions to provide wider access to public hearings in line with the activities of other States committees. When it is sensible and economic to do so, the Committee will consider live streaming events. When this does not make practical sense, we will consider producing a video record of proceedings.
Indeed, the recent public hearing focussing on the disability and inclusion strategy was digitally recorded and the Committee will be making this video record of proceedings available via the States website in the next few days. It is important to note that this is in addition to the Hansard transcript produced by the Committee after every hearing. The complete record of our public hearings to date on Hansard, are available to review at any time on the gov.gg website.
In addition, the ongoing work of Financial Scrutiny has been overseen by the Financial Scrutiny Panel which is chaired by Mrs Gill Morris. The Financial Scrutiny Panel has a key role in continuing to actively scrutinising matters of substantial financial value.
In particular, I can announce today that the Financial Scrutiny Panel intends on conducting a major review in relation to the States' policy on rent allowances for, and recruitment of, key public services' staff in the near future.
It should also be noted that the SMC intends on continuing its dialogue with representatives from the States' Treasury shortly on developing a shared understanding on the Financial Scrutiny Panel's role and function in respect of the States audit process due to a lack of clarity encountered hitherto.
The Legislative Review Panel continues to conduct effectively its regular and important parliamentary duties in examining draft laws and ordinances.
The sub panel of the LRP that has been considering reform of the legal framework around election expenses is also expected to reconvene once the referendum on the electoral system has taken place in October of this year.
Looking forwards, the Scrutiny Management Committee still has to face a number of challenges, including a limited budget, powers, and personnel, whilst also encountering a heavy burden of high expectations from members of the community and from States members.
It still must be acknowledged in our view that scrutiny - properly so called - is not just the preserve of the Scrutiny Management Committee.
I will make no apology for repeating my belief that each committee of the States and each individual States member are or should be public scrutineers. The function of the SMC will work best if all States' committees and indeed all individual States members remember that good scrutiny at all levels is good government.
Indeed, recent events on a number of States' committees have caused the SMC some concern on how effectively committees have been conducting that scrutiny role on a regular basis and I believe that it is important that my committee provides some comfort to the public in the coming months that members of principal committees in particular are indeed acting as genuine and active scrutineers in their political roles.
To provide this assurance, we will be looking at certain principal committees and reviewing the activities of the political members on their so called scrutiny responsibilities in this regard going forwards.
I will be writing to States' Assembly and Constitution Committee in the next few days to explore the case for creating an obligation for government bodies to respond to formal recommendations flowing from major Scrutiny reviews within a period of two calendar months to create a useful dynamic following the publication of our report recommendations.
In conclusion, having reflected on the experiences of the last 20 months or so, I believe that the SMC must now place more of its focus and resources into our major, long term reviews in order to ensure that we can continue to contribute positively to the policy agenda and the financial practices of the States and, ultimately, to help to make government operate better in the longer run.
Inevitably, the SMC needs to adopt a strategic approach to its work. We cannot realistically hope to scrutinise anything and everything under this system of government; but we must concentrate our efforts on where we can secure most benefit.