Wednesday 28 September 2022
Rule 10(3) Statement on Public Service Reform
Madam, I am grateful for your permission to provide this update to the Assembly on the important issue of reform and transformation within the States of Guernsey.
As members will be aware, Public Sector Reform was agreed in 2015 as a ten year plan to transform how the public sector is organised, how it is managed and how it delivers services including investment in the digitalisation of services. Central to this work was the delivery of savings, allowing the money released to be reinvested in the frontline services which need them the most; our schools, our hospital, our police force etc as they cope with increasing demands and pressures.
Today I aim to provide an important update on that work. Members are aware of the Committee's concerns and we have now reached a point that we must determine how we continue.
Firstly can I say that there was a high-level mission underneath the detailed plan for Public Sector Reform. That was to get to stage where our services were being delivered online as well as in person, so that people could access them with ease at their convenience, not at ours, where we had removed duplication, and removed the need for Islanders to give our services the same information again and again depending on which bit of the States they were dealing with.
Alongside that, it was intended to allow us to concentrate our resources where they are increasingly becoming most needed, in health and care services where the demands from our population, as it becomes older, will grow. That is still what we want to achieve, and it is more and more what people expect.
Can I also say that the staff right across our organisation working to deliver change, and those who have seen their roles changed already, have worked incredibly hard and we should thank them. They have been asked to undertake an enormous amount of additional work, on top of delivering their services day-to-day. I do not want anyone hearing what I say next to think this is a criticism of the very hard-working people in our public sector. Members, we all know from our own experience this term that in many areas those staff are very, very stretched.
So if the aim is right, and staff are working their socks off, why do I have concerns? Because we are not seeing the results. We are not seeing the savings that were promised. We have not seen the removal of 200 civil service posts that was promised in the 2019 Budget. We have seen around 100 and we know realistically we've removed as many as we can through efficiency alone. To remove more means cutting into the delivery of services themselves.
The Assembly's approval of the plan last term was made in good faith; the forecast returns justified the significant investment. The scale of the anticipated savings meant that the initial expenditure would be recovered relatively quickly and there would be an ongoing benefit.
However, in attempting to verify these figures, its become apparent that the programmes of work were too complex, too ambitious, and simply not deliverable. This leaves us in a position where current expectations in terms of savings are pathetic compared to previous promises.
Every year, budgets have promised recurring savings and every year, there has been a significant shortfall in these saving targets. 2022 is looking no different. Some of that is down to the increased demands from COVID, but that cannot be an excuse. Because fundamentally the approach adopted last term, which was based on a "big bang" approach, was, if I'm really honest, all wrong.
This current P&R has inherited this problem and it has been complicated and time-consuming getting to a position where we can fully appreciate the extent of it. But it's clear now we cannot continue as we are. Some may not agree and argue if we keep going, keep pouring more money into it, it will eventually work out. Well I don't think it will. We need a new direction now if we are going to successfully deliver the change Islanders expect without wasting significant additional sums. To do otherwise would be an unconscionable waste of taxpayers' money. It would also be unfair to those who are working so hard across the States to try to deliver results against the direction this Assembly sets, with no hope of success. It's not right and it's not fair.
Getting it right is a responsibility for the whole Assembly. Many Committees have, perhaps understandably, not leant into the reforms, and there has been a lot of pushback at a political level. Is that because of a lack of buy-in from members, or a failure to secure political support by the leadership?
In a sense it doesn't matter, what matters is it's one more sign that we cannot continue with the current direction, it must change. When it does we must work together, with each other and with the whole organisation.
So what does the new direction look like?
We need to be more focused, and allow service areas to introduce incremental changes in a way that it does not prevent them and their teams from delivering their services. Senior expertise will work with the subject matter experts to identify their, and their customers', core challenges and together they will work towards addressing these with clear, measurable outcomes. Staff will be upskilled and supported to lead teams through change and engage effectively with external providers.
The result of this work will be a smaller list of actions which prioritises suggestions from those with the practical experience based on urgency, achievability, benefits and the resources needed. This will allow informed investment decisions to be made based on value for money. These will be monitored and supported through to conclusion.
The new Head of the Public Service is working with senior colleagues to establish how they can support their teams to move into this new direction, where we make practical improvements without spending vast sums.
I will provide a substantive update at my next routine statement where I will provide examples of how this new way of working will practically support service areas.
What does this mean for members and for political committees? Short-term, committee priorities cannot take precedence over the longer-term needs of the States as a whole, as we're simply moving nearer to the day when we'll need to start turning services off as we won't be able to afford them. That is how stretched we now find ourselves. We know that we face greater pressures on our public services in the coming years because of our ageing population, and we know we already face a shortfall in the tens of millions per year. We can't expect savings from transformation to help improve this situation. Transformation instead needs to look at modernising and improving services, using these efficiencies to help us off-set future cost increases.
We have what is the most difficult job of any States since my political career began. We must get our transformation back on track, deliver the sorts of services Islanders want, find a solution to our looming shortfall, and all of that against a backdrop of huge global economic uncertainty. But we members, must rise to the occasion, and we must work withour public sector, our community and with each other to do it. We can only do this if we are honest and stop chasing the ghosts of the previous term.
This subject will be discussed at my monthly meeting with Committee Presidents and, I and my colleagues, are happy to attend principal Committee meetings to discuss more specific details if helpful. This is an open offer available to any Committee at any point. We are also arranging for a presentation and drop-in session for all States Members with the Strategic Leadership Team of the public service, and invitations will be sent out today.
Madam, if I've been the bearer of bad news this morning, I'm sorry but I hope that this is seen as a positive, that we are recognising where things are not working, we're putting a stop to money being needlessly spent on unachievable targets, and we're getting serious about what it will take to keep delivering the public services our community expects.