Category Archives: Civil Service

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.

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.