An independent review of Home Affairs' governance has revealed an incredible diatribe against the Committee and its President, Deputy Mary Lowe.
Political points scoring, withholding information from staff and bullying are just some of the things that the Committee and its President in particular have been accused of by senior civil servants and service heads.
Deputy Lowe has been described by staff as behaving in an "oppressive manner", with reports of her bullying staff and issuing threats about the security of their employment.
The findings could lead to political action from colleagues on Policy & Resources and the rest of the States if Home does not accept the report's recommendations and work to rebuild relations with staff.
Home has expressed "serious concerns over the way the report has been produced" and its reliance on "subjective" sources of information, while Deputies Rob Prow and Richard Graham have resigned from the Committee.
The review was carried out by Professor Catherine Staite, an expert in Public Management and a member of the Institute of Local Government, who interviewed committee members and staff on a number of governance issues.
"The majority of interviewees considered that the Committee is dysfunctional and not effective," said Professor Staite. "Reasons given included; the combination of a lack of strategic direction with, what staff interviewees considered to be, an excessive interest in and even interference in, operational issues.
The staff who were interviewed. They said the Committee focussed on raising individuals’ political profiles, rather than acting in the best interests of service users and residents. Some staff interviewees said the Committee "sought to lay the blame for problems at the doors of heads of service but to claim the credit for successes."
"The behaviour of the Committee towards staff was highlighted as the most significant source of concern for them," said Prof. Staite. "Examples were given of Committee members speaking discourteously to heads of service. One example was given of two heads of service being interrupted by the President during a presentation of evidence and told that what they were saying was ‘rubbish’. The Committee’s behaviour, as evidenced by the staff interview responses, frequently falls short of acceptable standards.
"It is never appropriate to harass or bully staff, to issue threats about the security of their employment or denigrate them to third parties, but a number of staff interviewees offered examples of being on the receiving end of, or observing, this type behaviour by the President."
The committee was not just criticised for its personality but for its performance as well.
"None of the staff interviewees were able to identify any significant strategic achievements on the part of the Committee over the past three years."
Policy & Resources Vice-President Lyndon Trott, Committee Member Jane Stephens and President Gavin St Pier want Home Affairs to accept the report's conclusions and work towards implementing its recommendations.
"In two decades of experience, it is unusual for there to be such a catalogue of identified and apparently evidence-based failings," said P&R Vice-President Lyndon Trott.
"The five people who make up the Home Affairs Committee are not bad people or poor politicians, but it would appear that the sum of the parts is maybe less than their individual contributions. Being a deputy is about teamwork, and the team is your stakeholders, your constituents, your taxpayers and the civil servants who work with you. When there is a breakdown in one of these areas, problems emerge and from the report I have to conclude that is regrettably what the outcome has been.
"P&R has a duty of care to all stakeholders, including our colleagues on the Home Affairs Committee," continued Deputy Trott. "When the report was presented to us, we asked Prof. Staite the question: “With the right resources and training, is the Home Affairs Committee remediable?" The answer we had was that she did not believe so, that some members of the committee were too long in the tooth to change their habits and as a consequence, success was unlikely.”
P&R initiated governance reviews of each of the principle States Committees earlier this term, with Home Affairs chosen to come next after Health & Social Care because of a HMIC report that raised concerns over Home's governance.
"There doesn’t seem to have been much movement towards a better positions in the months between those two reports," said Deputy Stephens.
"We are in a position from P&R’s point of view where it seems very likely that we have a committee that is functioning under par and is reluctant to accept this is the case. This is an issue that P&R have to take a close interest.
The issue that is most disappointing is that there seems to exist, between the members of the committee and the staff they work with, barriers that there has been no effort to breach."
While Home has questioned the release of the report, Deputy Stephens countered: "I am very pleased it has been published, it is important to me that we are open and transparent as a government. There’s no way we can countenance redacting the report or a partial publication."
Deputy St Pier added: "Not accepting the validity of the report’s content is a barrier to implementing the recommendations."
Asked whether P&R will file a vote of no conficence against Home or its President, they said a lot would depend on what Home do next.
“If they reject the report and its recommendations, as they seem be doing at the moment, then my confidence in them will have dissipated," said Deputy Stephens.
“I don’t wish to speculate because we have not had a public response from the remaining members of the committee as yet," said Deputy St Pier. "The recommendation that the Committee should work with staff to build new relationships of mutual trust and respect is the critical recommendation and we need to understand what their reaction to it is."
Deputy Trott concluded: "I understand the reactions of Deputies Graham and Prow and under these circumstances, my response would have been similar."
Pictured top: The Home Affairs Committee.
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