Children’s Services Report Rebuttal

On the 13th of May the Health and Social Services Department (HSSD) published a report into children’s services that contained a number of inaccuracies. As this report was published without consultation with previous members of the board of HSSD and no attempt was made to verify its assertions prior to publication, I feel that the department have lied about my time on the board and have called into question the action of civil servants who do not have the opportunity to publicly refute the claims.

Given the failings in the report I feel it appropriate to publicly publish my email sent to Deputy Luxon and the full board of HSSD seeking correction and clarification for their action.

Dear Paul,

I know that other members of the previous HSSD board have contacted you in relation to the blatant and damaging errors contained in the recently published report concerning Children’s Services, but feel that I must add my voice to the utter dismay as to the failings of this report  and my consequent skepticism and lack of confidence in the whole report. This is highly regrettable as I believe there to be a number of areas within the HSSD Children’s Service that need addressing. The service was repeatedly the highest risk item on the department’s risk register and as such, received close attention for the whole time that I served on the board, I’m please to note that the new board is also taking this area seriously, but have little faith in this report due to the fabrication and lies that I’m able to so easily identify. Questions therefore are naturally raised as to the quality and value of the remainder of the report. This only works to undermine any findings and calls into question what the department intends to do to verify the report. Were I to be completely cynical, and it’s difficult not to be, I have to question whether the report writer has undertaken a review with findings that ensures her continued employment, as is so often the case with consultants. I sincerely hope that such cynicism will be proved incorrect, but given the questions that I outline below, I’m sure you’ll understand why I come to such a position.

  1. the report states that “Using that criteria, the service would be judged inadequate, due to the inability to evidence clear governance, the lack of outcomes measures and performance data……” Indicating what I stated clearly in the SCIP debate concerning the lack of information linked to the inadequate Child Information Database. I strongly opposed the delay in implementing this replacement system proposed in an amendment laid by Deputy Soulsby and seconded by Deputy Le Clerc to the SCIP report, I am now left wondering whether the delay in implementation has happened inadvertently by the proposer of that amendment being made chair of the very committee charged with implementing this software. Could I therefore have an assurance that the swift implementation of the Child Information Database replacement remains the main priority of the Electronic Health and Social Care Record board? How is it that the system is still in the procurement phase when the SCIP report, approved by the States in July 2014, released the funding?
  2. The report states “there is no evidence that the States takes seriously its responsibilities for corporate parenting of children in care.”. Anyone taking a cursory glance at the board meeting minutes, whenever corporate parenting was discussed, will note how seriously they were dealt with by all concerned and discussed at length. I’m sure that previous boards also took this responsibility seriously, did the report writer not have access to board minutes pertaining to corporate parenting and if not, why not? If so, how can we believe that this document is evidence based when it has ignored that very evidence?
  3. The report states there is “…..low investment in training local people into social work……..”. I was advised, repeatedly, that the real difficulty in training local people in Social Work on island was due to a lack of placements. For every placement that was possible, I was advised that the position was filled. Why has the report made no mention of the lack of possible placements as an issue but has rather focused solely on cost?
  4. The report states “ A high proportion of cases in the Assessment and Intervention Team (AIT) are subject to strategy meetings as a means of ensuring that information is shared, although less than half result in a joint investigation1.” But the superscript 1 refers to the caveat “1 Data based on my own research for the diagnostic as none was available”. With no data available, how can such an assertion be made?
  5. The report states “The senior leadership team for CSC has been seriously undermined by a lack of engagement from the previous Chief Officer and the former HSSD Board.” This is complete false nonsense. Both previous boards made visits to various parts of the HSSD estate and spent considerable time discussing issues with staff on these visits. From memory I believe there was a board meeting held at Perruque House whilst Deputy Adam was minister with a visit to the services there immediately after the board meeting. Whilst Deputy Dorey was minister I remember an extended visit to both Perruque House and the Carrefour, that same day we were expected to visit Swissville, but due to the amount of discussions and time we spent at Perruque and Carrefour we had to delay the visit to Swissville. When we did visit Swissville, this was an extensive visit with plenty of opportunity for discussion between board members and staff. I also distinctly remember visiting Lukis House with Deputy James who should be able to correct the misinformation contained in this report. Both boards also held frequent meetings with senior staff of Children’s service. I have to ask what the current board were thinking when they authorised the publication of this report with this statement? It is evident that I personally arranged a presentation for all deputies prior to the States Capital Investment Programme (SCIP) debate since we were seeking funding for the replacement Child Information Database (CID) system, did the board think that I would arrange such a presentation without discussing the issues thoroughly with the staff at children’s services? Did the board think that we would seek funding without understanding the risks currently carried by Children’s services as a result of the inadequacy of that computer system? Did the board think that we would pursue an extension to the CYPP without first having an in-depth discussions as to the merits of such actions, as opposed to the alternative of implementing the draft that was presented to us? I’m aghast as to the board’s thinking on publishing such a statement, or was it the case that the board simply didn’t read the report? Was no consideration given to the quality of the work and the appropriateness of its content? Or did the board take all the content at face value? What has the current chief officer done to rectify this blatant fabrication and what role did the chief officer have in quality assurance of the report writer and the quality of the content of the report? I’m sure in time I’ll have further questions on this aspect as it’s the one part that I’m fully able to evidence to the contrary, but for the time being, a frank and honest response is urgently required and a public apology from the report writer, board and chief officer is also expected.
  6. The report states “Managers have been clear that there was a culture where problems and issues were not to be escalated and no performance data, other than the financial risks outlined in the Governance reports was to be shared with the Board”. Anecdotally I’ve noted the agenda items for the board meeting 15th October 2014 when a governance report from the Children & Maternity service was tabled. I distinctly remember questioning the lack of content of these reports and how it would be necessary to extend the content to include outcomes and quality measurements, this was whilst the current chief officer was sat at the table. Anecdotally, further to this, I distinctly remember being advised by senior staff at HSSD how reports concerning the work, quality assurance and outcomes of other parts of the HSSD were not tabled at the board meeting due to the current Chief Officer active blocking of these reports from being progressed above the Corporate Management Team (CMT). Can the board therefore state what actions they’re taking to ensure that such reports are now tabled at the board meeting and not blocked at CMT level?
  7. The report states “….. staff and managers have had to develop their own systems and approaches, drawing on what they each believe to be good practice, rather than on what the HSSD aspires to on behalf of the population that it serves.”. Could I ask whether the governance and assurance team have been consulted on the content of this report as I believed they were actively working with the Children’s Services to agree measurements that were to be reported regularly to the board.
  8. The report states “the care offered by the residential home, Le Carrefour, is positive and well-managed, with regular meetings with young residents who are able to inform the way in which the unit is run. However, there is an appalling lack of investment in the physical fabric of the building, the transport, and in the training and development of the staff who run it, and no Board member or Chief Officer, prior to the current CO and Board, has ever visited this service”. I distinctly remember two visits to Le Carrefour whilst on the board, one of which to the residential part had to be aborted as the children who were resident were in the building at the time. I’m sure you’d agree that a visit at such a time, when specifically requested by the children resident not to have a visit from the board, would be inappropriate. On that occasion we proceeded to the secure unit part of the Carrefour only. On the second occasion the visit was extensive with a thorough discussion held between deputies and the staff running Le Carrefour and a full visit to the site was possible. It was recognised that the fabric of Le Carrefour was inadequate and a decision by the board to lease two new residential homes was made to rectify the situation for future children taken into care. A visit to these new properties as well as a number of other properties used by Children’s Services was part of the board’s rolling programme of visiting all premises forming part of the HSSD estate. All visits to the properties used by children’s services included conversations and consultations with the staff working in those locations. I’d also like to highlight how the new phase 6B development includes a secure unit to replace that at Le Carrefour.
  9. The report states in its recommendations “Immediately: Agree how the findings of this review are to be shared with staff who participated, and their views reflected where there are any disagreements with the evidence base or findings.” Evidently the report has failed on the first hurdle given that those deputies mentioned have evidenced how wrong the report’s assertions are, could I ask whether there has been a peer review of the paper by all other staff members? Who else disagrees with the report’s assertions and what is the board doing to rectify these blatant and damaging failings?

I’m still working my way through the detailed findings and will no doubt have other questions on that section, but in the interim I have these further observations on the first part of the report.

Given that the report includes such blatant lies about my conduct and time on the board of HSSD, why should I believe any other part of the report? Given these inaccuracies and down right lies, may I ask how much money was spent on the production of this report as well as how much time senior staff spent in its production and an estimated cost of their time? What peer review has been done of the report? What do the board intend to do to verify what is accurate and what else is false?

A previous report looking at the Children and Young People’s Plan was conducted by another consultant who made some review and observation of the children’s services, what has the board done in relation to those findings prior to commissioning this further report? Are we to have endless reports highlighting the problems but dealing with none?

Given the public way that the report has besmirched my name and that of all other deputies that served on the board of HSSD, I’m sure you’ll understand that I’ve published these points and ensured public circulation. I expect a swift and public apology from the department for their action and an answer to the questions above if the report is to have any credibility.

I’m sure that my anger as to this unacceptable publication is evident. I fail to understand what the report writer, chief officer or board thought they would achieve in attacking former chief officers and board members. I’m fortunate that I can publicly refute the lies included in the report, such a public platform is not afforded to the civil servants that the report made such damming attacks against, therefore I would expect the department to be issuing an apology to those civil servants as well.

I’d hoped not to enter into a public discussion on HSSD for the rest of my term as I feared that I could be viewed as being bitter, but I did not expect an attack that would justify such bitterness.

Yours in disgust and annoyance,

Elis Bebb

I await their response which I expect to be public.

Holocaust Memorial

Tuesday the 27th January will once again mark the Holocaust Memorial day here in Guernsey. The 27th of January was chosen as the day to mark the Holocaust internationally as this is the date the Nazi death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau, being the largest death camp in the Nazi holocaust machinery, was liberated by the soviet forces.

Here in Guernsey the Holocaust is remembered every year in a small service held at the white rock, but it is also commemorated in a larger service on the 10th anniversaries of the liberation of Auschwitz. Ten years ago the then Dean of Guernsey, the Very Reverend Cannon Paul Mellor, led an interfaith service held at St James. This year, the service will be held at the Town Church and will include the testimonies of those local people detained in various Nazi concentration camps throughout Europe. These narratives of the resistance fighters in Guernsey, deported to the Nazi camps, form part of the holocaust, as any person being deported from Guernsey, for whatever reason and to whichever destination, who died in this time can only be seen as victims of the Nazi regime.

A recent article in the Guernsey Evening Press that I contributed towards brought this event to the attention of many people, but had a mixed reception. Whilst I’ve been approached by many who were very pleased that I’ve raised the issue and that the event is happening, there is a minority who feel that I’ve unduly accused the Guernsey people who lived here through the occupation. I talked of how we in Guernsey deported the three jewish women, Therese Steiner, Auguste Spitz and Marianne Grunfeld, who were eventually murdered in Auschwitz. I also spoke of how we actively participated in the Holocaust.

Some have sought to portray these words as a condemnation of all Guernsey people, but of course that simply doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. We frequently refer to Guernsey as a wealthy island, but that doesn’t mean that every Tom, Len and Enid are rich. The holocaust encompasses both the acts of terror and the facilitating of them and by any measure, the actions of the authorities in passing the antisemitic orders and those of the police in handing over people for deportation can only, in my opinion, be viewed as complicit. This does not mean, as some have portrayed, that I claim the authorities here knew what fate awaited those being deported, I sincerely doubt that anyone on the island would have known of the death camps.

Others have questioned my motive in raising these painful memories. I honestly believe that the public narrative has become too narrow, that the story of the resistance fighters is little represented and that the black and white view of the occupation, which I hear on an increasingly frequent basis, is detrimental and betrays these variance narratives.

Having said all of the above, when I first saw the offence taken by some on social media, I responded to try and deal with the complaints. Having responded repeatedly over the past few days and today stood back, it is evident that twitter isn’t an appropriate space to be discussing these matters. Whilst I believe that I’ve responded with restraint, the response has given oxygen to views that wouldn’t have persisted had I remained silent. I’m committed to furthering the dialogue, study and discussion of the holocaust narrative and how it played out here, but I will no longer discuss the matter on twitter.

HSSD Minister

Today I announced my nomination for the position of Minister of the Health and Social Services Department. In making that announcement to all deputies I sent them this letter outlining what I would seek to prioritise were I to gain the position. I feel that it is appropriate for me to publish the letter here on the website in the interest of transparency of my priorities.

I’d be equally pleased to answer any questions from the public on any matter pertaining to the role of minister of HSSD.

Dear Colleagues,

Having decided to stand for the position of minister of HSSD I thought it appropriate to share with all of you some of my views concerning the immediate future of the department. Were I to be elected I would work with the board and other departments with the aim of achieving as many of the actions below as possible whilst recognising that I would need the endorsement of the rest of the board to progress these intentions.

The PEH has been the main focus of many when talking of HSSD, but this is only one part of the department’s service offering. Mental health has gained far greater interest and attention in recent years, that is to be welcomed, but there’s scant attention given to our adult disability services for instance. Children’s services receive due close scrutiny on difficult occasions but when was the last time we heard talk of the role of the Children’s Convenor?

I’m proud that my time on the board of HSSD has been spent working closely with Mental Health and the recent organisation of Elephant Week. I’ve met every other month with carers of our Disability Services and recently attended the first meeting of the extended parent carer council, an initiative that I oversaw. I’m pleased to have been closely involved with the upcoming Sexual Health strategy, the first time we will have a strategy to deal with our high rates of teenage pregnancy and our low rates of STI diagnosis. I’ve also been diligently working with our IT department, implementing what will be a great improvement in the governance of healthcare.

The Chief Executive of the States recently circulated details of the new initiative ServiceGuernsey. Whilst I share some concern over the naming of the initiative, the principles behind it are laudable and to be welcomed. Of course in healthcare, such initiatives have long been championed under the heading of “Patient Centred Care”. HSSD is much larger than just healthcare and therefore we frequently talk of Service Users rather than patients, therefore I’d like to talk of Service User Centred Care, an equally unpalatable term, but it does describe accurately what needs to be our focus on each and every occasion, people, frequently at vulnerable points in their lives.

Some amongst you will feel that the lack of mention of finances thus far is worrying, but failure to deliver Service User Centred Care will result in similar problems, such as the current crisis that has consumed our maternity service. The cost of such failures are extensive. I will outline my thoughts on Finances later in this letter.

Maternity Service

The current crisis will be the main focus of the next board. A number of recommendations will be made by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) in their report. I’m of the opinion that a large number of the recommendations will need to be implemented without question, but for some recommendations there may be a question to ask as to the appropriate solution for a small, remote location, such as Guernsey. There’s also some questions that may need to be made as a result of Guernsey’s rather unique consultant led care with no junior doctors. This model is not unfamiliar to NHS Scotland, who have similar remote locations with a different model of healthcare delivery. I would therefore propose that the findings of the coming reports be peer reviewed by colleagues in another jurisdiction to evaluate what can reasonably be justified as not being implemented.

This is not a desire to be defensive of our services. We must recognise the failings that have occurred over a number of years and resolve to swiftly implement the findings where appropriate, but where we feel there are questions over the NMC findings we must not only act in the best interests of our population, we must also be seen to act in such a manner. A peer review allows us such an opportunity.

Part of the reason for the failings in my opinion, has been as a result of a closed environment within one of our services. This must never again be allowed to happen. I look at the partnership approach within mental health, where a number of service users call in to Albecq Ward for a discussion with service users to ensure that they receive the care that would be expected. Such visits keep our services open and transparent to the very people who’ve experienced them in the past and on occasion may need to call on the services again in the future. Specifically on Loveridge Ward, I believe there to be an association known as friends of Loveridge and I’d like to discuss a similar approach with them. We cannot rely on the medical profession alone to resolve the issues, as some of the issues are of their making.

Governance

It is evident that we cannot rely solely on the governance arrangements midwives have in place and need to improve on our internal governance arrangements. Following the incidents on Loveridge ward, the language used by the NMC and the Local Supervisory Authority (LSA) has been that of a culture. A culture of straying from procedures as being acceptable, a culture of poor relations between nurses and doctors, a culture of secrecy as a result of frequent leaks to the media. As a result of the Financial Transformation Program (FTP) two posts in the governance team were removed. We need to shore up our governance team and extend their remit, as such I would be talking about our staffing level and scope of the governance team, should they feel that an increase in staffing is necessary I would be seeking to review the staffing and skills at our disposal.

In the interim, the governance team is now looking at the individual failings in Loveridge ward and reviewing the policies across the hospital. This will give us a matrix of services areas against practice, developing a picture of where the failings lie and what actions will be necessary to tackle them.

MSG

The MSG contract will terminate in 2017 as I’m sure you’re all aware. Notice must be given in 2015 of whether the States will continue with the contract. This is an incredibly tight timeline, but given the previous reports commissioned by the department and the current crisis, I don’t believe the current contract to be a viable option. The culture of poor practice is partly borne of the current contract and the problem could be reasonably summed up in the following statement:

The Interests of the MSG are not always aligned with the interests of the PEH.

The variance of interest has already led to a culture of poor practice and the friction between senior consultants and junior nurses is detrimental to our service users.

There are different means of delivering secondary healthcare, States employed consultants, the current MSG model which could be thought of as similar to barristers in chambers, privately employed visiting consultants or a State owned company employment of all health workers. There’s also a combination of all the above that could be considered. I would seek to have a policy letter outlining the options to the States as soon as practicable, this would require a conversation with both the Social Security Department (SSD) and the Treasury and Resources Department (TRD) as the means of conducting such a review must be complementary to the benchmarking exercise that the TRD have identified in the coming budget.

Departmental Finance

The departmental budget for this year and the past two years has not been met. The proposed 2016 budget is once again lower than originally requested by the department. But whether there is an overspend or an underspend (as happened in 2011, where the significant underspend was masked by the decision of the department to undertake expenditure that should rightfully have been from TRD) the discourse is poor with only a comparison made between budget and expenditure. The context for the expenditure is simply lost and the resulting public discourse is ill informed and damaging to a department that strives to provide excellent healthcare and social care outcomes for its service users. I therefore would seek to publish quarterly financial results along with quarterly governance reporting. The number of procedures carried out in the PEH, the average length of stay, the number of hospital acquired infections, the number of service users with psychosis that we have, the number of service users with affective disorders, the number of off island complex placements and the number of off island acute placements, the number of children in our children services. When presented in that light the discourse will be greatly improved. I would therefore seek the endorsement of the States to publish such a report from the first quarter of 2015.

Capita have placed what I understand to be one of their most senior advisors to work with the HSSD for many months and have not identified any significant savings within the immediate term, even the longer term savings come with extensive caveats. This is no reason not to strive for greater savings, but the options are unpalatable. There is a fairly easy way of bringing the department back into budget and to meet a proportion of the outstanding FTP target, this would be through charging for certain services, blood tests, x-rays, parking being three obvious candidates. Jersey already employ this model in certain areas and I would seek to have a policy letter brought to the assembly as soon as practicable outlining the various charging options, but I must also state that the department may well lay the report and seek the States to reject such charging mechanisms. Neither of the previous boards this term have supported, by majority, the introduction of charging and such an outcome is conceivable of the next board.

IT

Part of the solution to the current crisis is the implementation of the EHSCR e-Prescribing module. This would tighten regulation surrounding the prescribing practices that is now overdue.

Children’s Services

The greatest risk item on the HSSD risk register remains in children’s services relating to the outdated computer system. If we are to avert another crisis we must reform the IT system and revisit working practices. This work has started, but progress is hampered by the delay in reviewing EHSCR as requested by the TRD. I know that the TRD are equally frustrated by this delay, but we must now work to release the funding and see the implementation happen as a matter of urgency.

Mental Health

Last week marked Elephant Week, an initiative to start a uniquely Guernsey week for raising awareness and tackling stigma surrounding mental health. I was the organiser of the week and brought various government departments, charitable organisations and the private sector together to deal with one of the biggest health issues we have.

The States are now working with Guernsey Mind to implement a mental health policy that should see a substantial reduction in the number of sickness days that are taken. When the Guernsey Post implemented this policy they saw a reduction of sickness days from 1,200 to 400 with 60% of that improvement seen in the first year. This is now estimated to save Guernsey Post £100,000 per annum. The opportunities for savings within the States are substantial and I believe HSSD should be at the forefront in implementing this policy.

Sexual Health

As I stated in an email to all of you recently, we need to introduce the ability to charge for contraceptive services in the Orchard Clinic. The current position of treating a Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) and then advise service users of the need to go elsewhere for contraceptive services flies in the face of the ServiceGuernsey initiative. I believe the policy letter is written and I would therefore seek to present it to the assembly as soon as the timescales allow.

Resourcing

There are a number of promises made above, I must caveat all of them by stating that the HSSD will be tied in to a number of reviews concerning the immediate crisis in midwifery care. Throwing money at the problem won’t be a solution. The experience and knowledge of senior members will be torn between the immediate crises and the needs of benchmarking, review of healthcare and review of the MSG contract. I believe it would therefore be foolish to promise delivery of all of the above within short timescales, but I would seek to prioritise these demands with the new board and deliver to all States members a summary of the priorities and expected timescales by the end of the year.

I’d like to close by stating clearly that HSSD is facing a crisis in one part of its services. I’d suggest that what we need is experience and knowledge, when the Local Supervising Authority (LSA) described the failings as a systemic organisational failure, what the States need is someone who knows the system, understand the organisation and has a clear vision of how it needs reforming as well as the means of getting there. We also shouldn’t allow this one area to consume the board to the detriment of the rest of the department. I believe that I have the knowledge, the experience and the ability to deliver on the above and to keep all of you informed. This is not the time for us to look to an individual or a small group of five to resolve the problems, this is a time when each and every one of us need to take responsibility to the extent we can.

Thank you for your time in reading the above, should you wish to discuss any of the above or any other matter pertaining to the minister’s position on HSSD, please feel free to contact me.

Yours sincerely,

Elis Bebb.

Things to do before you die

Dying Matters

This week is Dying Matters Awareness Week, starting on the 12th May until the 18th, it aims to get people talking about death and encourages us to make provision for one of the certainties in life, its end.

As with many of these campaign weeks, the national media have been running stories to coincide with the events and I was personally surprised to read the following story on the bbc website showing that so few of us have made arrangements concerning our end of life. The details are there for anyone to read, but if I simply restate here that only 21% of respondents to a survey state that they’ve discussed their end of life arrangements, I think the problem becomes clear given that 100% will die.

Here in Guernsey there’s a wonderful campaign underway this week with the pop up shop in Smith Street taken over for the campaign and the arts commission have installed a Before I Die…. wall in the market. All geared to get people talking about, and making, end of life arrangements.

I’ve never quite felt comfortable about the term “end of life” as I always thought it was a nice way of saying “death”, but I’ve now come to realise that it’s about a lot more than the final act of death. Dying, for many people, is a process that takes time and what the campaign is asking of us is not simply to arrange our funeral and write a will, important though they might be, but to also discuss our long term care should we become incapable of making those decisions ourselves.

In the UK people may choose to write what is colloquially known as a living will, or if you’ve been watching a little too much American drama, an advance directive. This is particularly timely, as the States will be discussing a requête by Deputy Perrot (turn to page 193) when we’re finished debating the transport strategy. The requête seeks the introduction of an Enduring Power of Attorney, the ability to decide in advance of losing capacity what arrangements you’d like to put in place for that day, should it happen. This is only a small part of what is required in terms of capacity legislation, but will assist many people in determining their health care requirements in advance of losing the capacity to do so. The obvious beneficiaries will be those who go on to develop dementia, or those that suffer enduring mental health conditions that cause them to lose capacity for short periods of time.

I’m very supportive of the requête and will vote accordingly, my hope being that people will complete an Enduring Power of Attorney at the same time that they write a will, or to have the opportunity of writing one when they’ve first been diagnosed with some form of dementia. It’s important that we afford people the choice of deciding their future care needs.

An Enduring Power of Attorney would also assist HSSD in their care of people. I’m sure it will come as no surprise, now you know there’s no advanced directive available in law here, that certain care decisions become difficult for the professional carers. Doctors, nurses and social workers can find themselves in the eye of a family feud with no basis in law to fulfil what is the patient’s wishes. This is a situation we surely can’t allow to continue.
I sincerely hope the requête will be successful  and the law introduced swiftly.

On a personal note, I’m surprised people don’t talk about dying. It may be me or it may be a Welsh thing, but death is not a difficult discussion around the dinner table with the family. Well maybe not the dinner table, but I was back in Wales a couple of weeks ago and I had an evening meal with my sister and her family. After dinner the discussion moved at one point to our choices of hymns for our funerals and where we’d like to be buried. It wasn’t a depressing conversation, it was rather affirming to have such a discussion and understand why we’d both chosen our respective burial plots. It was interesting how we’d both moved from being in favour of cremation to burial. We had a good laugh about our choice of hymn and her incredulity as to how catholic I was compared to her protestant position. It was a fun evening with plenty of laughter and shows that difficult conversations can be had whilst enjoying yourself.

Having written all the above, I suppose I should also confess to being someone who hasn’t yet written a will, something that’s particularly important given that I’m in a long term relationship and haven’t married. I haven’t made proper arrangements to be an organ donor. I therefore pledge to deal with these issues this week. Hopefully a number of people will do the same, after all, if not this week, when?

The one thing we can all be sure of is dying. All of us probably know of a family that have torn themselves apart over a lack of a will. All of us probably know someone who’s had, or is currently suffering dementia, do we know if they’re receiving the care they would have wished? If you’ve attended as many funerals as I have you’ll also have seen exactly what you don’t want for your funeral and maybe some things that you do want.

Can I suggest that you give yourself a gift of ensuring you have a voice in your long term care and funeral arrangements. I’m arranging mine this week.

The front page of the Guernsey Press this morning had a horrific story of how a young girl had her van vandalised with the words “DIE FILTHY QUEER” painted onto the back and her dog attacked in the night with a hammer, to the point that the dog will need to have the eye removed. For those reading this blog outside Guernsey, I’d like to highlight that we don’t see this behaviour often. Violent crime is on the decline and hate crimes (though we don’t currently have legislation designating it as such) are very scarce. The community is rightly shocked. I had time to think about things since this morning and what follows is what I wrote on the internet page of our local newspaper www.thisisguernsey.com. I thought that what I wrote was worth repeating here.

I was shocked when I read this story today. As an openly gay man I’ve lived in Guernsey for about 18 years and have never come across openly aggressive homophobia, passive yes, but never this type.

During the election campaign I remember saying that it was time to bring our laws up to date so that they reflect the tolerant and progressive society Guernsey is. It’s very disheartening when something like this happens that is at variance with that statement.

When I expressed my shock on twitter this morning, someone asked what could be done and I answered honestly that I wasn’t sure and would like to reflect on it.

I’ve spoken to Deputy Le Tocq as the minister of the Home Department and was heartened to hear that our violent crimes are consistently down as a trend, except domestic abuse (and this is a very worrying trend on the island, but I’ve recently written a blog post here http://www.elisbebb.com/blog/domestic-abuse/ about this problem).

I’m also heartened by the public reaction. People are rightly shocked and appalled as to what happened here. Attitudes are changing and incidents like these are simply not tolerated by people. This is a good sign that something has been happening over the last few decades that improves our expectation of each other’s behaviour. I know of people, only about twenty years ago, who were physically attacked for being gay, but the reporting back then was ambiguous and the reaction muted.

I’d like to suggest that the reason so many people are shocked about this incident (and the other two that were on the first three pages of the press today) is because we abhor this behaviour and that it is now so infrequent, we are shocked at its occurrence. The reporting and visibility of these issues are also far more transparent than anything in the past.

Of course we can’t be complacent about these issues, we can’t be until we eradicate violence and bigotry and that’s a very long journey. Education is key to this endeavour, and I don’t mean just in the classrooms, I also mean in the Churches & Pubs, on the street and in the home, in community centres and in the shops, we all need to stand up and reject the idea that hate crimes and violence are an acceptable reaction. We should never allow intolerance of the “other” to become acceptable again in Guernsey.

This is a dreadful incident and the hate crime towards Jenny Harding and the violence towards Alice is inexcusable. Having had time to think further I do believe that we now need to bring forward hate crime legislation (something that we don’t have) and revisit our laws in relation to attacks on animals, something I know is in the process, but where and what priority has it been given? But feel that there may be some other form of reaction possible and I’m interested in discussing any ideas that people may have. I’d be particularly interested in talking to Jenny Harding should she wish to.

Finally, I’d like to say that the reaction here is part of the reason why I’m pleased to call Guernsey home. I chose to live here and I feel that the reasons for living here remain strong for as long as we, as a community, continue to condemn violence, abhor hate crimes and confront it in all its manifestations.

Seasonal Affective Dissorder

SAD

Yesterday I read a tweet from @itvchanneltv highlighting the issue of seasonal affective dissorder (SAD). It was concerning what Guernsey Mind were doing to highlight this problem. The story is available here should you wish to read it.

Last year the States of Deliberation discussed the Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy that we would implement and it was during that debate I revealed my own mental health issue of having SAD. The speech I gave is available on my website should anyone be interested, but what I wanted to talk about in this post was my experience of SAD and how it hampered my life, career and relationships until I was diagnosed and treated.

The Mind UK Website describes SAD as follows:

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that people experience at a particular time of year or during a particular season. Most of us are affected by the change in seasons – it is normal to feel more cheerful and energetic when the sun is shining and the days are longer, or to find that you eat more or sleep longer in winter. However, if you experience SAD, the change in seasons will have a much greater effect on your mood and energy levels, and lead to symptoms of depression that have a significant impact on your day-to-day life.
Most people experience SAD during the winter. Less commonly, some people find that they experience SAD in reverse – with depressive symptoms occurring in summer.

and I would recommend anyone concerned to have a look at the rest of the website to understand what the signs of SAD are and what options are available for its treatment.

The first thing I’d like to say in relation to my own experience is that I simply didn’t think I had a problem. I displayed very erratic behaviour, frequently confrontational and in hindsight I can confirm that I was irrational. But at the time I simply thought that I was right and that the other person was wrong. I would even go so far as to justify my behaviour and refuse to listen when someone criticised.

There’s one occasion that I’d like to recount here. I was working on the IT service desk in a finance company, answering the phone and trying to resolve the problems of the company’s users. It became evident that the number of people phoning the service desk had reduced considerably, but when we did receive a call the person was either exceptionally irate or very timid. It was only when my managers discussed this with various people in the company that it became evident I was being rude and difficult when people phoned, to the point where they wouldn’t even risk phoning for assistance (for anyone working in IT, this doesn’t make for a good IT strategy).

A few examples were when people had forgotten their password, I’d ask them if they’d manage to forget their credit card pin number. When someone told me that they’d done something and it no longer works I told them that it was their fault and that they’d get lower priority because of stupidity. One person asked for different access rights to their computer, I promptly told them that it simply wasn’t possible, even if they were the MD (and it was).
I’d like to highlight these as the worst examples. I was capable of excellent work as well, taking on the most difficult members of staff and their issues and resolving them to everyone’s satisfaction. Undertaking fairly large projects successfully with good user engagement and buy in. It was this bizarre dichotomy that led to my managers failing to understand why I would be so difficult one day and so calm the next.

Without me even noticing, the problem of my attitude was affecting the IT department’s engagement with the company. There was even one occasion when I remember shouting at a member of staff in the middle of the floor, something I still cringe at when I think about it now, but at the time, as I said previously, considered this behaviour to be acceptable and rational.

This wasn’t the first time that I’d had such problems at work, but the difference on this occasion was my manager’s engagement with me about the problem. Rather than call me into an office and give me a dressing down, I was advised that they’d like me to see the Learning & Development officer. I undertook a test to assess my behaviour and then had a discussion. It was through discussing matters with him I slowly came to realise that this was irrational and destructive behaviour. I learned about Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) and realised that I needed to take ownership, not only for my actions, but also for the way other people perceive my actions (still working on this by the way).

It was as a result of this approach and further discussions I came to realise I had depression, but that it wasn’t constant. I saw my GP who offered anti depressants, but I thought it was worth making some lifestyle changes and exploring alternatives before starting on a course of Seroxat.

The behaviour that I displayed at this work place was no different to the behaviour I’d displayed in previous workplaces. I am known for having gone from one job to another over a period of around 13 years, some jobs lasting a year or less, with me always leaving because of annoyance. I’d wager that each and every one of my former colleagues, from a number of employers, would be able to recount a string of occasions when I was difficult, argumentative and even down right rude. The difference on this occasion was the approach of the management, they wanted to engage with me to resolve the issues rather than confront me about my issues.

I started making changes to my life, eating a more healthy diet, exercising more frequently and lowering the alcoholic intake, but that in and of itself wasn’t sufficient to deal with my health issue. I now take St John’s Wort every winter and I manage my symptoms well, I can honestly say that I don’t recognise the person I was. I’ve also learnt to recognise when I start to behave in the old way and take remedial action before things go too far. This usually starts anytime from September through to November depending on how good the summer was.

Now, when I look back, I notice that the workplace wasn’t the only place I had a problem. There were occasions at home when I would become argumentative to the point of insufferable. Getting out of bed was simply an exhausting task that I can’t really describe how awful it was. I would eat large quantities of bread and cereal craving carbohydrates and neglecting all other food groups. I would resort to alcohol on frequent occasions, feeling that having a drink somehow made me feel better about the awful day and allowing me to relax from the anxiety I felt (only to feel worse the next day). There were days when I would be racked with guilt and anxiety about something I’d said or done in the past, from the previous day spanning back to my childhood. There were occasions when I’d simply cry uncontrollably and try to lock myself away. There were the days off work with illness, both physical and sheer mental exhaustion or anguish. Finally there were the odd occasions where I simply wish I wasn’t here, had never been, those were the darkest days of all.

As I’m sure you can imagine, a lot of these behaviours made the situation worse. If you do eat badly, drink lots of alcohol and refuse to leave the house you’re likely to get worse. They allowed me to enter into a personal vicious cycle of self destruction. It also wasn’t advisable for anyone close to confront the problem since I would lash out at them as much as anyone else.

I look back and I can’t believe how bad things were. But now that I have set myself a set of rules for diet, drink, exercise and the daily dose of St John’s Wort it’s all manageable. There are the odd occasions when I notice I’ve stayed in bed too long, drank too much, eaten nothing green for a few days, have been a little argumentative or felt a welling up of emotions that result in my crying, but I recognise the problem and correct the situation. Instead of months of destructive behaviour I now have a couple of weeks a year when I don’t feel too well, but know that I’ll be fine in a few days.

In relation to my work, I know that I had a poor sickness record and that my productivity in winter was bad (to say the least). Once I started treating the issue, my sick days became virtually non existent, my productivity soared and I enjoyed the prospect of going to work again.

Given all of the above, I suppose I’m sharing this for a number of reasons.

  • Firstly I’d like to assist Guernsey Mind in highlighting this particular issue.
  • Secondly, those who may have SAD should know you can change things and manage the situation so that you enjoy life a lot more, no one should feel it acceptable to write off six months of the year for the rest of their lives, the first step is to recognise the problem.
  • Thirdly, I’d like to advise employers that if someone displays erratic behaviour, work with the person to resolve the issues, nothing could be worse than confronting the person and asking them to explain their behaviour.
    For more on this, Guernsey Mind have a wonderful training course that they offer to managers and employers to assist them in identifying and working with people who have mental health issues. Guernsey Mind are running a workshop on the 17th January next year so please contact them to book your place. When I identified my issue and treated it, my sick days became vanishingly small and my productivity soared, something every employer wishes of their staff.

The last thing that I wanted to say was sorry to all those people I worked with and had to put up with my behaviour; and a very big thank you to those managers and colleagues who helped me identify the problem and deal with it. My life now is almost unrecognisable to those years when I allowed SAD to rule my winter, that happened because of people whom I’m no longer in touch with, but to whom I’ll always be grateful.

THANK YOU

Given my reference to my taking of St John’s Wort I’d like to clarify that this works for me but may not work for everybody. I’d recommend anyone thinking of taking it to discuss it with their GP and do the research, a good place to start is the Mind UK website. I’m more than content to discuss both SAD and St John’s Wort with anyone who’d like to, but I can only offer my personal experience and direct them to the best service and research.

white-ribbon-day

Domestic Abuse

Last Saturday around forty men walked from Salary Corner to the Guernsey Yacht Club. A total of one mile. So what’s the news story here? Well they were all walking in women’s shoes as part of Walk A Mile In Her Shoes event, intended to show that men abhor all forms of violence against women.

The timing of the event was to coincide with the White Ribbon Campaign that seeks to raise awareness of domestic abuse.

I therefore thought that I’d take that message and write this post, as I don’t think that we’re as aware of this issue in Guernsey as we should be. Before anyone thinks that this isn’t an issue in Guernsey can I emphatically state that YES IT IS, horrific detail as to how much of an issue it is here are later in this post, keep reading.

I’d like to start by discussing what domestic abuse is. Too frequently we have an image of domestic violence as a man that comes home drunk and beats his wife. Whilst this does happen, it also ignores the many faces of domestic abuse, all of which start from a point of control. Domestic violence is first and foremost the desire of one person to exercise control over their partner (or another close family member’s) life. This then manifests itself through physical violence, stalking, abusive language, intimidation, threats, sexual violence, coercion and many other ways.

But it’s the desire to control that we so frequently miss and is the greatest area of concern. There are so many people that are put in a position of trust, that simply abuse that trust by turning it into control. Wives trust husbands and husbands trust wives; partners trust each other; children trust parents and parents trust children; people in need trust carers. All these bonds of trust are essential to a healthy community, but people are so vulnerable when they’re abused.

The reality of domestic abuse then plays out in the most heinous form and the reason most of us abhor it is not only the extreme violence, but also the complete abuse of trust.

Many of us think of domestic abuse as an argument between a couple that got out of hand, the police being called out and someone suffering a black eye. Once it’s all dealt with, life returns to normal.

That’s rather a naive understanding of the issue, as with all these things, it’s complicated. Domestic abuse is a pattern of emotional abuse and coercion where physical violence is often (but not always) an underpinning factor. The abuse of power and the coercion can lead to the victim being isolated from their family and friends, their activities completely controlled. In some circumstances what a person wears is controlled as well as their finances.

Physical and sexual violence often underpins the control, with victims living in a constant state of fear and anxiety, which can have profound implications on both their mental and physical health. This then leads to some victims using drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism, with predictable results.

For more information on what domestic violence is, visit the Safer website.

Around 700 incidents a year are reported to the police locally, (around 14 incidents per week) however this is only the tip of the iceberg.  It is well known that domestic abuse is a seriously underreported crime with victims on average experiencing around 35 incidents of abuse before seeking help. 

Here in Guernsey our records are frightening in this area when compared with the UK. Of our highest risk cases this is how we compare with the UK.

Complex Needs

Local Clients

National Dataset

Financial Problems

44%

25%

Mental Health Issues

44%

28%

Threatened / Attempted Suicide

30%

16%

Self Harm

19%

13%

Alcohol Misuse

22%

11%

Drugs Misuse

7%

6%

Requiring Benefits Advice

7%

17%

And in case you thought that wasn’t bad enough, these are the numbers comparing the risks when victims enter our IDVA service (Independent Domestic Violence Advisory Service) compared to the UK.

Risk Profile at intake

Local

National Dataset

Physical Abuse

High Severity

59%

40%

Medium Severity

4%

21%

Sexual Abuse

High Severity

15%

8%

Medium Severity

22%

6%

Harassment & Stalking

High Severity

59%

32%

Medium Severity

19%

18%

Jealous & Controlling Behaviour

High Severity

33%

43%

Medium Severity

41%

26%

The impact of all this violence is profound with many victims having to access some other services as mentioned previously: mental health, drug & alcohol services and others. But the violence has profound impact on the children of those in an abusive relationship as well. Research in this area has only just started, but in the very young it is understood that brain development is hampered. There’s also a strong correlation between domestic abuse and physical or sexual child abuse. In the UK, nearly three quarters of children on the “at risk” register live in households where domestic violence is occurring.

So what do I want to say about all of this? The first thing I suppose is to reinforce what those men did last Saturday, raise awareness of the issue and add my voice to those who stand up to domestic abuse. I suppose I also want to raise awareness of this issue, I sit in a position where these things are regularly brought to my attention and I’m aware of their existence in our community, but I know that others aren’t so aware.

Domestic abuse is a huge cost to our community, both in financial and physical terms. We haven’t developed a meaningful language to talk openly about the issue and too many people still consider the issue to be a private matter between a man and his wife, and that they shouldn’t involve themselves in such matters. We should. Domestic abuse diminishes all of us, we have a duty to stand up and confront it.

Finally, I’d like to ask all those who suffer domestic abuse, or if you’re aware of someone that is suffering, to contact Safer on 257652. I know what excellent work is done by all agencies involved with this issue. Believe me when I say that you will be treated with respect, care and dignity.

The joy of risk taking

Challenging the Health and Safety Orthodoxy

When Bradley Wiggins came to Guernsey I was asked, as one of the few deputies that cycle regularly, whether I’d be willing to be part of the deputies against the civil service cycle race. Given that it all seemed to be in good sport, the fact that I consider Sir Bradley to be an excellent rôle model for young people today and the opportunity to beat other deputies (even if it was on something other than debate), I decided to take part.

Sunday morning came and I pulled on a t-shirt, cycling shorts and my cycling shoes ready for the occasion. As I approached the front and heard the cheering crowds for the children’s race, saw proud parents beaming with joy as to their child’s participation, I considered what a good event this was, enthusing people of all ages about cycling and, thanks to the weather, the fact that rain isn’t a barrier to healthy traveling.

I registered for the race, pinned the number to my chest and quickly noticed how healthy, svelte and fit most of the civil servant participants looked in comparison to the deputies. I also noticed how a number of deputies that were meant to participate evidently preferred their bed on a wet Sunday morning to the joys of cycling.

As we moved onto the road, ready for the race, I was asked where my cycle helmet was, to which the response was

“I don’t wear a helmet”

The look of horror and disgust on people’s faces was surprising. I had evidently crossed a line that was not to be crossed and challenged the modern orthodoxy of elf ‘n safety. How dare I suggest cycling without a helmet. Being the person that I am I suggested that they made no difference to safety and weren’t effective. Evidently a mistake, not only was I considered misguided, I was also unwilling to repent for my defiance of the orthodoxy.

So let me put the record straight. I don’t disagree with those people that chose to wear cycle helmets, as with anything in life, I’m a great believer in personal choice. But I simply don’t believe that cycle helmets are beneficial. The evidence that we have available does raise some very real questions about the cost benefit of them, the long term disbenefits of their promotion and the fallacy that, as a society, we pay increased health costs for those that disregard orthodox health and safety.

Let’s start with the benefits of cycling. There is strong evidence to show that people who cycle regularly, even if they already undertake regular exercise, enjoy substantial health benefits (Froböse, 2004 and Cavill & Davis, 2007) . These benefits include

  • Boost of Immune System
  • Muscle Strengthening and Maintenance
  • Increased Bone Density
  • Reduced risk of Back Pain and Disc Problems
  • Balance & Equilibrium Maintenance
  • Heart & Cardiovascular Improvements
  • Body Fat Reduction

There are many other direct benefits, as well as the indirect environmental benefits of less people producing pollutants from driving, reduced noise pollution of traffic etc. All of these direct and indirect benefits are substantial in their cost saving to our health economy.

No one disagrees with these sentiments, but I do hear you ask “what has helmet wearing got to do with these benefits”. Well the answer is not obvious at first, but the evidence is clear. The more we do to demand helmet wearing either by direct legislation or simple encouragement, the less people cycle.

The most extreme example is Australia, where compulsory helmet laws have seen drops in usage. I’d like to refer specifically to Victoria where the number of children cycling has has seen a reduction of between 36% and 46% since making helmet wearing compulsory.
More telling is the cycle scheme that they have in Melbourne, where a city of 4 million people attracts fewer than 650 subscribers to the scheme. During four months the number of cycle rides were 20,700 journeys averaging around 300 per day.
Compare this with Dublin, where there is no compulsory helmet law, and a city of 1.7 million people attracts 47,000 subscribers. In the first twelve months the number of rides were 1.1 million with the average daily journeys being a staggering 5,000.

So why the difference. Admittedly, the cost of the Melbourne scheme is nearly four times the Dublin scheme, but despite this it remains competitive on cost to other forms of transport. As I’m sure you’re not surprised to hear, most analysts place the reason for the difference firmly at the feet of Victoria’s compulsory helmet laws.

“But we’re not facing a compulsory cycle helmet law” I hear you say. Well thank goodness no, but before we start relaxing, there is evidence that UK local authorities that undertook cycle helmet promotion saw a marked decrease in cycling. The table below gives a measure of the decline:

Focused campaign held 1994 – 1996 Change in helmet wearing Change in cycle counts
Yes (11 authorities) + 4.1% – 2.8%
No (18 authorities) + 0.8% + 4.9%
p < 0.001, sample approx 20,500 cyclists

Therefore the evidence is clear, increasing helmet promotion reduces cycling activity. And the cost benefit analysis is substantial, with the health benefit:cost ratio ranging from 13:1 to 415:1. Therefore any reduction in usage is likely to have a substantial cost increase for health.

Promoting cycle helmets gives people the impression that cycling is dangerous, but once again, the evidence doesn’t suggest that. Of all Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) in the US from 1997 to 2007, cycling was a tiny proportion.

Activity Average TBI fatalities/year % of total
All causes

53014

100%

Motorists

7955

15%

Pedestrians

1825

3.4%

Motorcyclists

1361

2.6%

Cyclists

325

0.6%

I know that it’s going to sound ridiculous, but are we honestly suggesting that people wear helmets in their cars or whilst walking?

A psychologist friend of mine suggested that, were I really interested in reducing the risk of cycling, I should buy a blonde wig, dress in female clothing and wobble as I cycle. This would have a far greater effect on motorist’s behaviour towards me than any helmet (which incidentally, tends to cause drivers to drive more recklessly around you than if you’re not wearing a helmet). The real risks are available in this interesting quiz.

Just before I finish on this subject, I don’t normally lend much in the way of credence to the reporting of the Guernsey Evening Press, but I note that there was a report today claiming that young children forced to wear a helmet to the skate park would rather skate elsewhere. Do we think that children would be safer skating on the street? Obviously not, we simply need to learn that when children fall, they will hurt themselves, this is part of learning to live with risk and what risk we’re willing to undertake.

Risk

This is my biggest fear. I remember being told that were we to apply the health and safety norms of today to the invention of the car, it would never have been allowed. The idea that we regularly jump into a moving vehicle with such an appalling safety record and demand multiple locations that sell highly flammable liquid is simply incompatible with today’s orthodoxy.

We’ve reached the point of stifling innovation, talking of risk as though it were a bad thing without recognising the benefits. This is not a mindset that will serve us well. We do not need a future generation of risk averse health and safety executives. What we need are a number of wealth creators who recognise risk and learn to evaluate and understand it, not try to eliminate it.

I’ll finish with an anecdote from my past. I used to work in the information security department of a bank, the policemen of the IT systems if you like. Too frequently the talk was of removing risk, when the only effective means of removing risk was to switch the computers off. On one occasion I could see a manager contemplating it, not realising that he was contemplating shutting down the bank.

Are we on the brink of trying to remove risk to the same extent, not realising the wider consequences of our actions?

It's not as difficult as you think.

Computers, Clouds, Data Centres, WAN and all that Jazz

Whatever your thoughts on computing and all that goes with it, it’s receiving close attention at this point in time, partly because of the Cadastre and SAP, but mainly because of FTP and the desire for more to be done by computers so that we run a more efficient government. So this is a post about what all these different bits are (Yes I know that some of you will know this already) and why you should be keeping your eyes peeled for all that jazz over the coming months.

By the way, I was asked a question about the cadastre computer failure recently by a reporter from the Guernsey Press and I noticed how difficult it is to explain all of this to non computer geeks, so here we go.

Lets start with the assumption that you know what a computer is (I take it that you’ve either got one or know how to use one if you’re reading this). A computer is fine, but when you have an office environment with lots of sensitive information (that for some reason we refer to as data), there’s two things that you need to do. Connect all the computers so they can talk to each other and store the data safely.

Computers have a nasty habit of dying on you just at the most inconvenient time (as though there were such a thing as a convenient time for this to happen), so we store the data on servers. Servers are basically a super computer designed to hold lots of data.

Given that servers are just computers, albeit super computers, they also have a habit of dying every now and then. This is why we backup our servers. Backup is a fairly simple process where all the data on one server is copied to another server or disk on a regular basis (usually overnight as it tends to slow down the servers).

Now at some point or other, someone thought that if you connected all the servers together life would be better, as the servers would all communicate with each other and we’d hate servers to have a silo mentality. When you have a lot of servers together it’s called a data centre, for what I would hope are rather obvious reasons. Running a data centre is pretty important work; all the servers will want a very stable electricity supply with no spikes or power outages; all the servers tend to produce a lot of heat, which is bad for servers, so the room will need to be kept at a certain cool temperature; as though that wasn’t enough each server needs attention with updates and fixes that are called patches.

At this point I don’t blame you for being tired of the jargon, those who work with IT love their jargon as much as any other trade, it tends to make them feel separate and more knowledgeable than others, but it’s just jargon. Bear with it.

I think that you’re beginning to see the trend here in IT. You start with one computer, then you connect a lot of them together, then you connect them to a server, then you connect a lot of servers together. Yes, the next logical step is to put lots of data centres together in the same room, and that is what happened, but because no one organisation would want to do that on their own, it’s large computer companies that do it and this is what we call the cloud.

What is the cloud and why do people talk about it so much? We’ve all come across cloud technology by now, how many of us use apple iTunes Match, where all of our music is stored in the cloud. Microsoft sky drive is a way of storing our documents in the cloud. it means that we can access our information from any computer as long as there’s an internet connection.

Now imagine that the Cadastre were to store their data in the cloud instead of a data centre in Sir Charles Frossard House, not a lot of difference I hear you say, well no not really, not for the user. But there is a big difference for the IT department.

Servers need all that maintenance, patches, steady electricity, cooling, upgrading; and all of this requires someone to work in the IT department doing it. But it’s not that interesting and maintenance isn’t a high priority when you have exciting new projects, like SAP, that take up a lot of your IT department’s time. And I can’t blame the IT department for focussing on SAP, this is a big project that needs a lot of work and attention and it will also give us large benefits. But then servers aren’t a fine French wine, they don’t improve with age and eventually something breaks.

Cloud technology allows us to forget about all of that maintenance dullness, it allows departments and companies to concentrate on the things that are important for them. This is where world IT is going now, so why are the States of Guernsey not going there.

Before you think that the States of Guernsey are just luddites in this respect, there are a couple of things to think about. When we have a data centre, we know exactly where it is, but does anyone know where your iTunes match data physically is? Where in the world is the server with your Microsoft Sky Drive? This is an important question because if important government information sits in another country, it’s not the best idea, as well as potentially being illegal. I know that Microsoft’s european data centres are in Dublin and Amsterdam, neither of which I’d like to have my tax information. Apple has it’s european cloud in Luxembourg and as pleasant as Luxembourg is, I’m not sure that I’d want all that information sitting inside the EU (they do have a habit of prying into information that isn’t theirs). EU government’s could also demand, through their courts, for these companies to disclose all the data that they store on their servers and I most certainly don’t want my electronic census data being disclosed in an uncontrolled way to some nosy parker EU government.

But we do have local cloud providers, Calligo, Itex and others (as the BBC would say, other providers are available) who have their cloud computers sitting in Guernsey and Jersey, and as such, are the logical option for us to start thinking about cloud computing.

Computing is getting more and more complicated, and as it does so, the basics still need to be done. Any company that’s still doing the basics really would have to ask themselves, by now, why? It’s time the States of Guernsey did the same.

My first suggestion would be to think about the exact issue that caused the loss of data at the Cadastre. Currently the States of Guernsey are backing up their servers onto tape. To say that this is a little old fashioned is a little like saying that betamax is on its way out. What we should be thinking about is backing up data to the cloud, but that’s not even on the radar yet, only to replace tape back up with more computers. Personally I think that this is a little like moving from betamax to VHS just as the world is moving into digital downloads.

Finally there’s WAN (Wide Area Network). This is easily explained as the electronic pipes that connect all the computers of the States of Guernsey together, from the King Edward Hospital to the Tourist Information Centre on the front. From St Sampson High School to Sir Charles Frossard House. The best way to think of this is that we rent the pipe from a telecom company (currently JT) to use it. But the bigger the pipe, the more you pay for it, therefore the pipe from the PEH to Sir Charles Frossard House (because of the number of people) will be bigger than the pipe from the cadastre office. But if the data sits in the cloud, we don’t need a big fat pipe between the offices, all we need is an internet connection, and we all know that Commerce and Employment are working hard at the moment to bring those costs down. Indeed Commerce and Employment are working hard to facilitate cloud service providers on the island, so why aren’t we, as the States of Guernsey, taking advantage of this work?

Civil Service Accountability

Some will know that I’ve recently written, and am leading, a requête titled “Clarification of the Responsibility and Accountability of the Civil Service to the Political Boards and Committees”. I’m rather sure that the first reaction of most people having read the title is “why should I care?”. If not, the reaction may well be “how dull”. So I’m writing a blog to say why it’s not dull and you should care (though I won’t pretend that it’s easy).

Lets start by looking at our current system of government known as consensus government. What does it mean? Well in essence, every department is a committee of five deputies that make the political decisions. This is different from executive government, such as they have in Jersey and the UK (and the Guernsey Press wishes we had here), where individuals are given responsibility for their department and form the executive (that then acts as a cabinet in the UK or council of ministers in Jersey).

Next I’ll talk about the Civil Service. Effectively it’s the body of people that carry out the will of the political establishment. No one would disagree with that statement in the UK, but here in Guernsey we frequently find that civil servants have much more power and ability to effect change. Why is that? Well it’s mainly because we don’t have political parties. When I’m elected I don’t have a political party that I’m a part of with a manifesto that I must deliver. I don’t have a majority of members who’ll always vote with me to deliver that manifesto, therefore civil servants in Guernsey bring forward ideas and policies for the politicians to consider in a way that would be unimaginable in the UK. This isn’t necessarily all bad, because I don’t have a party that I’m part of, I don’t have political think tanks that have considered the delivery and change of service, I don’t have policy formation within a party set up, therefore the civil service have filled this void. There are good examples of this and bad examples and I don’t disagree with the civil service doing this in many respects as the ideas need to be approved by the politicians to be progressed.

So given this happy arrangement, why do I think there’s a sufficient problem to raise a requête and face the horror of the Policy Council, Treasury and Resource Department and the Guernsey Press?

The problem is simple. In our system of Government, as a member of a department (HSSD in my case) I’m held responsible for the delivery of service within that department. How is it therefore that I have no say into the appointment of the most senior civil servant of that department, the Chief Officer? How is it that I’m not involved in determining how effective the Chief Officer has been in delivering what we, as the politicians, have deemed it necessary for him or her to deliver? I can ask for something to be done, for something to be stopped and something new to be offered, but the only person that can give the Chief Officer an appraisal is another civil servant. If I ask for something to be done and it isn’t, that means nothing as long as the civil service are happy with their own work. Is that your understanding of government?

When I was elected I expected to set the direction, make decisions and be held accountable for them. For better or worse, I’m the one that you can phone, email, tweet, talk to in person or (yes it does still happen) send a letter to, complaining or complimenting me on my action (more compliments would be welcomed by the way). My name and contact details are freely available in the front of the phone book, on the government website and a whole host of other places so that you, dear electorate, can give me a piece of your mind (and you frequently do).

But how can I be held fully accountable if I’m not fully in control?

I’m not asking for some silly system of patronage where I’d be appointing a friend, indeed, given that I’m only one of five in the committee of the department, I don’t see how such nepotism would be possible (believe me when I say that not all five members of the department agree with each other all the time). But I am asking for us to have an input.

Why would you trust me on this issue? Well strangely enough, just after I published, signed and delivered my requête the UK cabinet office published a report asking for exactly the same system that I propose. If they have an executive government, how much more appropriate is the same system for a consensus government.

Given all the above I’d also like to clarify a few things:

  • I’m not harking back to some golden era, this was never the practice before in Guernsey and it would be a bold move to undertake.
  • This is similar to what is already done in
    • France,
    • The United States of America,
    • New Zealand,
    • Austria
    • and a whole host of other countries.
  • This wouldn’t scupper existing initiatives as we’re all bound by the resolutions of the States of Deliberation.

Sorry to dispel the myths promulgated by the opinion column of the Guernsey Press.

Why should you care? Simply put, do you want a government by deputies or by civil servants? If it’s the latter, sleep easy; if it’s the former, lobby your deputy now the contact details are as above.

So how interesting was that? I suppose it’s as interesting as I can make it. Yes I suppose you can complain that deputies are once again concerned with themselves to some degree, but I’d also suggest that this is also a concern for you. If you voted, aren’t you expecting your deputies to be responsible? If you didn’t vote, don’t you expect your deputies to be responsible?

Let me finish by stating that I make no judgement on the quality of our civil service here in Guernsey, it is like any other company or body of workers, some are excellent, a lot are good, some are questionable in their ability. I’m not bringing a requête to attack them, simply clarify their responsibilities and reporting lines.

Whatever your opinion, leave your feedback below. I know that I’ll read it and take account of it. I’m not sure that the civil service would have to and I’m not sure that it’s their job, but I know that it is mine.