Against the States Strategic Plan

Thank you Monsieur Le Baillie,

I would like to start by asking the very simple question of what is a State’s Strategic Plan and what is its purpose?

In 2012 there was a publication entitled “A Guide to the States Strategic Plan” and it defined the plan as “Guernsey Government’s most important policymaking tool”. It goes on to state that “The SSP is a tool to enable the States to decide what they want to achieve over the medium to long term”.

Personally I’d define all of this as a manifesto of this government. It is a means of distilling the prevailing view into a policy document that stateswhat we intend to achieve over the lifetime of this parliament and what we intend to do to address the medium to long term issues of import.

Given that manifesto is a more frequently used term I proceeded to look at the English Oxford Dictionary’s definition of manifesto and read that it was “a public declaration of policy and aims” the origin being “mid 17th century: from the Italian manifestare, , ‘make public’, and from from Latinmanifestus ‘obvious’”. Therefore we today make it obvious to the publicwhat we intend to do.

Well that would be good wouldn’t it, but I doubt that any person reading this document would state that we are making anything obvious. The whole document seems to be an exercise in obfuscation and evasion. Heaven forefend that we might take an actual direction of travel that isn’t circular.

Deputy Fallaize recently had cause to send me a copy the Conservative party manifestos for both 1959 and 1964. I can only assume that DeputyFallaize has been doing some research into good governance approaches to policy, but that aside, I noted that they both stated in fairly unambiguous terms the intention of the party were they to be elected as the government of the day. For illustrative purposes I’d like to quote the following from the 1959 manifesto on Education.

“We shall defend the grammar schools against doctrinaire Socialist attack, and see that they are further developed. We shall bring the modern schools up to the same high standard. Then the choice of schooling for children can be more flexible and less worrying for parents. This is the right way to deal with the problem of the ‘eleven-plus’. Already, up and down the country, hundreds of new modern schools are showing the shape of things to come. Our programme will open up the opportunities that they provide for further education and better careers to every boy and girl; and by 1965 we expect that at least 40 per cent will be staying on after fifteen.”

Fairly unambiguous whether you agree with it or not, compare this with the States Strategic Plan that is seemingly silent on education anddaren’t mention anything as controversial as the eleven plus.

On Nationalised Industries the 1959 manifesto stated:

“We are utterly opposed to any extension of nationalisation, by whatever means. We shall do everything possible to ensure improved commercial standards of operation and less centralisation in those industries alreadynationalised. In addition, we shall review the situation in civil aviation, and set up a new licensing authority to bring a greater measure of freedom to nationally and privately owned airlines.”

No doubt there and when combined with the following statement on modern roads

“Our first priority in England and Wales will be to complete the five major schemes and motorways, which with their urban links and through routes will provide the framework of a new road system. In Scotland we mean to complete the Forth Road Bridge, the two Clyde Tunnels and the reconstruction of the Carlisle-Glasgow-Stirling trunk road, and to speed up the programme of Highland road development.”

We can make the due comparison with section 10.5.19 of the States Strategic Plan clearly defining our manifesto pledge in the following words

“While the Infrastructure Plan is being developed and is in the consultation phase, it forms an important part of the SSP process.”

I’m not asking members to agree with the 1959 Conservative manifesto, but at least you know where you stand, there is certainty and definition in the statements. It’s difficult to make a stance either for or against a plan that seems to be built on sand rather than the sure foundation of granite that is the bedrock of this island.

John Ranelagh famously wrote of Margaret Thatcher’s remark at a Conservative Party  policy meeting in the late 1970’s,

“Another colleague had also prepared a paper arguing that the middle way was the pragmatic path for the Conservative party to take .. Before he had finished speaking to his paper, the new Party Leader reached into her briefcase and took out a book.  It was Friedrich von Hayek’s The Constitution of Liberty.  Interrupting, she held the book up for all of us to see.  ‘This’, she said sternly, ‘is what we believe’, and banged Hayekdown on the table.”

Sure conviction and a steadfast belief in a philosophy that then formed the mainstay of Conservative manifestos for decades to come.

I doubt that we could expect Deputy Harwood to step into the policy council and speak with such conviction on this plan. There would be no bang on the table, merely the expectant flop of vapid platitudes.

I believe a manifesto should be the clear statement of how we bring into effect a philosophy that we can subscribe to. I welcome controversy in the text as we surely can’t expect a common direction of travel in an assembly of forty seven individuals unless we count circular. Let us have the difficult statements and those of a majority will prevail. If the intention is to strip the SSP from all meaningful commitments and have them transferred to the Government Service Plan, let us do away with the SSP and reduce the bureaucracy. But I can’t subscribe to a manifesto that seems to be written by Sir Humphrey having chaired a special committee of civil servants. Adding an additional layer of bureaucracy is, as Mitt Romney famously stated in the US Presidential debates, trickle down government.

I would ask that the SSP be rejected, thrown out and confined to history, but of course that’s not what would happen, if we vote against the SSP all that would happen is that we stay with the current SSP and nothing would change. In equal measure, if we vote for the SSP nothing will change. Such a document that makes no difference if it’s adopted or rejected is testament to it’s inconsequence and such documents do nothing but bring us into disrepute as a talking shop that does little to change the lives of the people of Guernsey.

Nearly a year into this government’s life the SSP does little more than confirm that we’re committed to protect and improve the quality of life of islanders, if nothing else the document can be commended as one that could be supported by all political persuasions. We may even be able to export it to the EU as a measure of something both Germany and Cyprus could agree on. Congratulations on the first manifesto that could be supported by the Conservatives, the liberals, the Labour party, communists and probably fascists.

It’s time to bring these vagaries to an end, let us reject this document and implore the Policy Council to present a worthy Government Service Plan with concrete proposals and sure foundations.

Members I ask you to reject the SSP in its entirety.

Thank you.

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