Tuesday, 31 July 2012

REFORM JERSEY – Calls for States reform and democracy – Town Hall Meeting

Reform Jersey held its first public meeting in the Town Hall last night to discuss States reform.

The meeting was chaired by Samzec. Four speakers presented a variety of opinions – Deputy Roy Le Herissier; former Deputy Daniel Wimberly and law student James Rondel. 

The meeting was well attended with seventy interested members of the public. Following the speeches there was a question and answer session from the floor which allowed an number of people to express their opinions. Apologies to those who were unable to speak; Reform Jersey will be holding further events and meetings.

Here are the speeches together with my guest appearance on the reform process in Sark and its implications for Jersey.

 Sam Mezec

Nick Le Cornu

(Deputy Roy Le Herissier

James Rondel

Daniel Wimberly

                                                                Deputy Montfort Tadier

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Electoral Commission holds 3rd public hearing – Placemen, timings, information

Two things are becoming clear from the Electoral Commission hearings; firstly the lay panel members are far from being placemen and secondly the public remain ill informed about the composition of the States Assembly and electoral system.

Town Hall hearings

The third public hearing occurred yesterday in the Town Hall at 10am, when four witnesses gave evidence. There was a separate hearing for one female witness at 5pm. The Commission is to be praised for accommodating someone whose only availability was after work.

I was aware of the hearings being held this Monday but could not find the start time on the Commission website. It took an email and a very rapid reply from the Greffier of the States to advise it was about to begin at 10am. Realising I had two minutes to get to the Town Hall, I pulled on my shoes and shot off on the bicycle. When I checked later in the day a notice with timings had indeed appeared under the NEWS section.

A full house - Placemen and Democrats.

Commission member Dr. Jonathan Renouf made his first appearance, making it the first occasion all members had been present at a hearing. He proved his worth along with Professor Ed Sallis and Colin Storm, gently teasing out aspects of the “democratic deficit” in the current structure.

Given the concerns about independence for the Commission from the outset, in having States Members on board, it is reassuring to note that the lay members are far from being placemen. One hopes that during private session and in drafting the final report, their evident concerns about democratic issues are reflected.

Deficiencies in the electoral system

The electoral system is not part of the terms of reference of the Commission, however witnesses have raised issues in their written submissions and orally. There has been discussion of the single transferable vote and other mechanisms to indicate voter preference, since the first past the post system and equal weighting for every vote cast, creates distortions. The public is clearly flagging up issues of equality and fairness in all aspects of the process as well as structure.

The absence of the electoral and voting system from the final terms of reference derives, one suspects, from the desire not to address the “democratic deficit” and issue of voter abstention. A 60% voter abstention makes Jersey one of the highest amongst democratic countries. The low 40% turnout at elections raises serious questions of legitimacy for those elected. That is perhaps a little too embarrassing and hence the concentration on the structure of the Assembly.

To remind readers, the terms of reference are restricted to:
  • Classes of States member;
  • Constituencies and mandates;
  • Number of States members;
  • Terms of office;
  • and all other issues arising in the course of the work of the Commission which are relevant to the needs stated above.
Town and Country divide – new wine in old bottles

The historical divide between Town and Country is throwing up disparities and highlighting inequalities. The contrast is ever between the Parish of St Mary with a population of 1752, a Constable and a Deputy, while St Helier has 10 Deputies, a Constable and 33,532 residents. To achieve the same level of representation St Helier would require 38 representatives in the States! No one is suggesting this, but it illustrates the problem starkly.

In the past the dominance of the Country Parishes represented the influence of landed property and the farming interest, over the interests of commerce in the Town. The history of that epic economic and political struggle is well recorded in Dr John Kelleher’s  book “The Triumph of the Country”.

Now that farmers have been replaced with bankers, lawyers, accountants and the well healed, that divide has taken a new form. New wine has been poured into old bottles. The Country is where the wealthy live, while in the Town of St Helier and the “urban” parishes, live the poor and middle classes. The disparities in the electoral system have never been addressed precisely because it achieves the dominance of the interests of the wealthy. It is a form of gerrymandering.  Those in St Helier and the urban areas are denied equal representation in government.

A dearth of information

Speaking to one witness yesterday highlighted the absence of information provided by the Electoral Commission which the public can use to inform themselves and make a credible submission. There is a lot of frustration with the existing system in its evident failure to deliver but little clear analysis of the core issues and how it has come about. There is a manifest desire to make improvements, however some of the schemes are Byzantine and unworkable, loosing sight of democratic principles. Those that contribute do so with good intentions but are handicapped by not being well informed. The Commission has not provided any tools of analysis and it is highly unlikely the final report will be an extensive discourse of political science.

I have mentioned in earlier posts of the romaticised views expressed about Constables and the Parish. Some present an idyllic harmonious community, divested of issues such as the provision of welfare and shelter for the poor.

The Commission has been particularly criticised for not carrying out research into the contribution of Constables in the Assembly; their engagement in Scrutiny, questions to Ministers and participation in debates. This has been part of an ORGANISED campaign and its success is evident by the number of contributors making submissions using the template request. The campaign has been conducted via the internet, in part on Facebook and a number of Jersey blogs. Senator Bailhache, the Chairman, alluded to the requests which the Commission had decided to ignore.

Were the public better informed they might be less romantic about Constables. Just a couple of examples could suffice, such as the fact that in eight of the twelve parishes there was no contested election for Constable in 2011, whilst the one that occurred in St Ouen was the first in 108 years.

The times they are a’changin – NOT in the Country Parishes at least.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Health care in Jersey – a quarter century of under funding, political neglect and uncertain catch up.

 “The White Paper only reflects what the NHS was doing 25 years ago”
General Hospital Clinical Directors

“Doing nothing is not an option” – this quote from Health Minister Anne Pryke in respect of reforms to Jersey’s health system and the White Paper for change, was how the Chair of the Scrutiny panel opened her questioning to a group of seven senior clinical directors from the General Hospital. Back came the answer – for 25 years Jersey’s government has been under funding health provision and only now have they woken up to the magnitude of the task ahead. Doing nothing has clearly been official policy for the last 25 years.

The Scrutiny panel listened intently this morning to a condemnation of policy failure, oblivious that the collective responsibility rested equally with them and the Minster of Health as loyal supporters of a governing group that has been running the show all those years.

Interestingly there was not one “Jersey boy” amongst these Doctor-managers. They were all health professionals from outside the island with a somewhat jaundiced view of how Jersey politicians have been behaving. Their candid evidence was refreshing. Rarely do we hear from the managers who actually run the system on a daily basis and know its limitations, since as professionals and civil servants they do not speak out politically.  Instead, we are all too familiar with the representatives of Jersey’s political class, versed as they are in the “Jersey Way” of talking up “success” and smoothing over a litany of neglect.

It should come as no surprise that the redesign of Jersey’s health system is being carried out by a new team of professionals from the UK, revealing that the experience of managers from elsewhere is crucial to the island’s functioning. Sitting like the fairy at the top of the tree is the Health Minister.

Overheating the low-tax, low spend model

At the heart of the problem is the low tax low spend model that has been pursued and is now facing something of a scissors crisis, between diminishing revenues and rising demand. Public expectations are also rising as to the level of treatment.

One of the Directors having been in post several years, could recount that each successive year’s budget had been based on the previous year and that meant there was no point asking for more resources to develop services. Only now was there a coherent plan for the future.

The pressure on the Hospital would continue, even if that growth in demand for services was lessened by the development of community based nursing. The Hospital as a physical building needed to be either replaced or refurbished, as it was falling apart and unsuitable for adaptation to modern services. At present the General hospital has only 2 disabled parking spaces.

The cost of building a new hospital will be considerable and place additional demands on the States’ capital budget. The evident cooking of books and failure of private-public finance initiatives in the UK, mean that only state funding is feasible for such a large project.

Recruitment of staff

Much is heard about the problems of recruiting nurses to the island because of the high cost of living, but what is less well known is that sub-specialist doctors are relatively easy to attract. Driving them here is the turmoil in the NHS and reductions in funding, together with the opportunity for practitioners to work as generalists in their field, without being confined to ever more narrow specialisations as is the case in the NHS.

The nursing shortage it was suggested could be addressed by assisted housing needs as well as crèches. Given the divisive housing laws and shortage of funds for social housing this forms another aspect of the scissors crisis.

It was recognised that insufficient nurses was a potential weak link in the organisation generally. Without the infrastructure of a Hospital building and suitable staff, services could not be delivered

The impracticalities of Independence

Whether independence for Jersey is official government policy or just kite flying, the practical realities of dependence on the UK were made clear by the men with their feet on the ground.

All doctors and surgeons need insurance and this will only be provided by insurance companies if they are satisfied that identical standards of governance are being applied in Jersey as in the UK, otherwise they will refuse to insure. To achieve those seamless standards requires a modern hospital.

Since Insurance companies are driven by financial considerations, the cost of cover is becoming prohibitively expensive and may necessitate a Crown indemnity programme. Is Jersey’s government capable of underwriting all liability for negligence?

Synergies through cooperation with Guernsey were possible and imminent, but both Jersey and Guernsey remain islands with inherent logistical difficulties. Patients did not like being off island for a long time and this generated the need for multi capability hospital provision. There needs to be 24 hour acute cover in both islands, however specialists could be pan-island and consultants brought over as required.

GP’s – stuffing their mouths with gold

Earlier in the morning there appeared before the Scrutiny panel two representatives of Jersey’s general practitioners. It was evident that as a group their financial well being had been taken into consideration when designing the White paper and new community based services that were to be developed. They expressed none of the open criticism that came from the clinical directors.Instead there were tales of new groups of GP's opening clinics in purpose built buildings and successful business models.

Whereas Jersey’s politicians were blind, it was the clinical directors that could see Jersey’s health system had to undertake 25 years of catch up and there was no knowing if the community based services plan would deliver, could be funded or ever assure projected financial savings.