Category Archives: System of Government

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.