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Statement by the President of the Scrutiny Management Committee

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Wednesday 24 February 2021

General Update

Madam

I am pleased to present this statement, the first routine update of the work of this Scrutiny Management Committee.

Once the States had confirmed the appointment of our two voting non-States members, the Committee were able to discuss and consider which area merited being the subject of our first review.

Before announcing details, I need to mention one item from last term that we will be addressing. The previous Committee, led by former Deputy Green, completed a significant piece of work into Freedom of Information and published a review with recommendations last August, just prior to the election. Although my Committee were not involved in undertaking or preparing this review and indeed we may not all agree with all the of the recommendations drawn from it, nevertheless we consider that it should be presented to the States for debate to enable the Assembly to make an informed choice as to whether changes should be made to the current system of Access to Public Information. To this end we have drafted a covering Policy Letter with a range of options and our recommendation, to which we will append the original review, and this will be submitted in the next few weeks.

Looking forward, we have identified various topics to commence our programme of reviews for this term.

The first review will be of the policies in place regarding the Island's sea links. Over the last decade, a huge amount of scrutiny and wider political activity has been focussed on the Island's air links but less consideration has been given to our links by sea.  The Committee believe that this absence of political focus is an oversight and that there is broad public interest, particularly regarding the frequency and cost of travel on and off the island by sea. Of course, the issue is wider than just passenger and vehicle travel and one of the challenges that we encountered when scoping this review was deciding exactly where to draw the system boundaries. It would be all too easy to expand the boundary to include everything related to the harbours, including fuel ships and such like, and end up with a vast unmanageable task for the time and resources we have available. Nevertheless, we do realise the interconnectedness of the many activities that take place in our ports, and the significant infrastructure that our harbour encompasses, and we will strive for a balanced and informed outcome that understands the various impacts of the many parts that make up the whole picture. We will seek to clarify how the States of Guernsey can secure its future sea connectivity, determine how effectively the current policy has been implemented, and assess whether the Bailiwick's current sea connectivity policy is fit for purpose.

In terms of other activity, we will be holding a public hearing with the Policy & Resources Committee in the first half of this year focussing on the Government Work Plan. Although this has been delayed by the second wave of the pandemic, when we are able to schedule it, it will provide an opportunity for some detailed scrutiny of this vital work and allow senior public officials who cannot contribute to a States debate to add additional information around this subject, in public, which will undoubtedly be central to the work of government this term. Public hearings with Principal Committees will follow throughout 2021.

During the year we will be announcing further reviews and, of course, my Committee is aware of its role in holding snap hearings as and when the need arises to respond to emerging matters of significant public interest within its mandate.

I'd like to use the remaining time I have in this Statement to make some general points about the Scrutiny Management Committee to further assist members and others who may be listening to better understand its role and purpose. Firstly, when the new Machinery of Government changes were introduced in 2016, it was envisaged that a greater number of deputies would be involved in the Scrutiny process on a temporary basis. In the last States, just three members, other than those who were on the Committee itself, participated on a task and finish panel. I do hope that this term a greater number of my colleagues will take up the call to be involved, in order to ensure the effective functioning of the wider scrutiny role. Members will tire, if they haven't already, of hearing me repeat the need for all deputies to be scrutineers. I really do want to stress the point that a collegiate and respectful relationship with fellow States members is not at odds with also robustly holding Committees, and by extension, colleagues, to account. Members of Principal Committees have a vital scrutiny role for often only they will see the information upon which decisions are made.

Up until May 2016, a dedicated Public Accounts Committee focused considerable and valuable attention on the States audit processes and expenditure. In the last political term, I believe that the level of financial scrutiny was more limited despite that Committee's best endeavours. My committee considers that now is a good time for a mature and thorough re-consideration of how financial scrutiny arrangements might be enhanced in the future and this is something that we intend to focus on over the coming months.

However, I should make it clear, in order to address confusion that seems to exist and which is evidenced by the call in some quarters to reinstate the Public Accounts Committee, that the SMC has all the functions of the former PAC and more and there is no need to try to re-establish the Public Accounts Committee in its previous format. It has not disappeared. I would also remind those currently calling for a prioritisation and acceleration of legislation on disclosure, including for evidence and sanctions, that this legislation came into force in the last political term and its existence will serve to strengthen the effectiveness of the Scrutiny function.

Madam, I hope this update has been informative and useful for members and I welcome any questions.  

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