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States reject independent review of covid response

States reject independent review of covid response

Friday 29 April 2022

States reject independent review of covid response

Friday 29 April 2022

Deputies yesterday decided against holding an independent external review of how the States have handled the covid-19 pandemic.

The Assembly agreed instead to “a programme of debriefing and audit reviews” which will be carried out internally and passed on to States’ committees, including the Scrutiny Management Committee, which may decide to hold public hearings on them.

The proposal for internal reviews was recommended by the Policy & Resources Committee and supported by 24 votes to 11. This meant that the Committee’s alternative proposal for an independent external review - which it argued against - automatically fell away without a vote being taken.

After a debate lasting more than two hours, five deputies who spoke strongly in favour of an external independent review helped to defeat that proposal by voting for internal reviews instead: Deputies Tina Bury, John Gollop, Sasha Kazantseva-Miller, Aidan Matthews and Lyndon Trott. It is understood they had concerns that voting against internal reviews could result in no review being carried out at all.

The Policy & Resources Committee estimated that the cost of an external independent review would be up to £250,000 whereas internal reviews - possibly with Scrutiny Management Committee hearings to follow - could be completed for less than one-fifth of that cost. 


Pictured: Much of the States' debate was dominated by concerns about the estimated costs of internal and external reviews.

The two politicians who had the highest profiles fronting the island’s response to the pandemic when chairing the Civil Contingencies Authority – Deputy Gavin St Pier until October 2020 and Deputy Peter Ferbrache since then – disagreed about how the States’ performance should be reviewed.

Deputy Ferbrache, the current President of the Policy & Resources Committee, made an impassioned plea for internal reviews and against a more expensive external independent review.

"We're talking about £250,000 of public money," said Deputy Ferbrache. "You can pinch a lot of pennies for £250,000. You can mark a lot of homework for £250,000. You can buy a lot of pencils to mark your homework. That is a vast sum of public money. To achieve what?

"I don't say that with any defensiveness. I have already said...I want to be as open as I'm allowed by law and I'd like to be released from any confidentiality obligations I've got under law if that assists any review." 

His predecessor, Deputy St Pier, argued for an external independent review "to have somebody else objectively assess what we can learn".

Deputy Sue Aldwell

Pictured: Deputy Sue Aldwell wanted the States to avoid the kind of expensive independent review which is now underway in Jersey.

Deputy Sue Aldwell spoke in support of internal reviews. She referred to a review of covid-19 in Jersey for which the States have made available up to £500,000 and said she "hoped we would not be going down the same route".

"There are far more worthwhile causes to spend such a large sum on. An expensive review would change absolutely nothing," said Deputy Aldwell.

Members of The Guernsey Party – including Deputies Bob Murray, Nicholas Moakes and Simon Vermeulen – were particularly critical of the idea of holding an external independent review.

"It never ceases to amaze me how free some members of this Assembly are with other people’s money. Quarter of a million pounds – that’s ludicrous, particularly in our straightened circumstances," said Deputy Murray.

"Can we not get a grip in this House of what the realities are facing us? We have no money at this stage. We have other screaming priorities and we want to look backwards and interrogate people about whether they did the right thing or not."

Deputy Moakes said it was "not the right time for a review". He was concerned that a review now would "remove a lot of the focus of these amazing health professionals…bringing things back to normal because they will be focused on trying to answer questions for us when we don’t even know if the problem is fully resolved yet".

Deputy Vermeulen said that a review "would be a total waste of money" and encouraged the States to look forward to a time when covid-19 was no longer a major consideration.


Pictured: Guernsey Party Deputies (clockwise from left) Simon Vermeulen, Nicholas Moakes and Bob Murray argued against spending money at the wrong time to review the States' response to covid-19.

Deputy Tina Bury argued in favour of an external independent review.

She said such a review would "very much align with the values which, as a government, we should be upholding – independence and transparency".

"If we want the public to buy into this review, then it needs to be done independently," said Deputy Bury.

"Any review is not about blame. I don’t think it needs to be approached in that way at all. It is lessons learned. It is feeding into improvements for the future."

Deputy Adrian Gabriel, also speaking for an external independent review, said the States should be open to examination from impartial people outside the island.

"If we think we’ve done a good job and if there is best practice to share, let’s commission this review and let’s learn from that and move forward," said Deputy Gabriel. "Let’s not make any mistakes by not having a review."

Deputy Sasha Kazantseva-Miller said that ideally she would prefer a blend of reviews led internally but with external input and argued that "a degree of independence is absolutely crucial in a parliamentary democracy like ours in showing a level of transparency".


Pictured (l to r): Deputies Tina Bury, Sasha Kazantseva-Miller and Adrian Gabriel argued that public confidence would be higher if the review of covid-19 included external independent input. 

A handful of deputies argued clearly that there was no need for the States’ Assembly to direct an external or internal review. Among them was Deputy Carl Meerveld, who was concerned about the cost and time of reviews which he did not feel were justified.

"What are we hoping to get out of our review?" asked Deputy Meerveld.

"We’re going to analyse what we did. I think everyone is in agreement that we did pretty well. We’re going to identify some weaknesses and some things we could have done better with 20/20 hindsight. But nobody ever makes decisions in the heat of an emergency without making some mistakes.

"Did we make any massive mistakes with far-reaching implications? I don’t believe so. The review will take a lot of resources regardless of whether it’s [internal or external].

"Save the money. Preserve the resources to be dedicated elsewhere. And don’t have a review. I don’t think it’s needed. I don’t think we’ve done anything dramatically wrong. I think we’ve generally done well."

Deputy Meerveld added that the Scrutiny Management Committee should be free to look at any specific issues of concern with how the States and bodies in receipt of public funds have handled the pandemic.

Deputies Carl Meerveld & Liam McKenna

Pictured: Deputy Carl Meerveld (left) was not persuaded that States' members needed to set up a wholesale review of the response to the pandemic and Deputy Liam McKenna (right) said he fully agreed. 


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