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P&R's "tribalism and inexperience" led to Dep. Soulsby's resignation

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Wednesday 30 November 2022

P&R's "tribalism and inexperience" led to Dep. Soulsby's resignation

Wednesday 30 November 2022


Deputy Heidi Soulsby has revealed that she wrestled with thoughts of leaving the Policy & Resources Committee for most of this year before a culture of "tribalism and inexperience" forced her to resign five weeks ago.

"I said in my speech to get onto Policy & Resources [in 2020] that I am not tribal. I like to work together to get things done. Our consensus system of government relies on that," said Deputy Soulsby, pictured top.

"But Policy & Resources has become more tribal - very much about who or which committee is bringing a policy letter rather than the actual issue at hand. I have struggled with that more and more.

"I think inexperience has played its part. I would say I don’t think the Committee has been helped by having members who were newly elected to the States in 2020.

"I feel I have really tried to make it work. But there came a time when I thought I could do more good outside the Committee."

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Pictured: Deputy Heidi Soulsby said she tried for months to push back against what she felt was increasing tribalism within the Policy & Resources Committee before resigning last month because she "could do more good outside the Committee".

Deputy Soulsby, who was previously President of the Committee for Health & Social Care, was elected as a member of the Policy & Resources Committee, the States' senior committee, after the 2020 general election along with two experienced Deputies, Committee President Peter Ferbrache and Jonathan Le Tocq, and two first-time Deputies, Mark Helyar and David Mahoney.

They elected her Vice President, a position she held until last week, when the States' Assembly elected another Deputy in his first term, Bob Murray, to replace her as a member of the Committee.

When she announced her resignation, Deputy Soulsby said: "It has been obvious for quite a while that my views and advice have not been valued by some on the Committee and I think there is little point in me continuing in the hope that things may get better." 

Since then, she has declined media interviews multiple times. She wanted to wait until her successor was elected and the Committee had finalised its far-reaching proposals to raise tens of millions of pounds a year in additional taxes, including by introducing a 5% goods and services tax [GST], which were published on Monday.

Speaking to Express yesterday morning in her first interview since resigning, Deputy Soulsby explained her opposition to the Committee's tax plan, which she described as "the final straw" which led to her resignation. 

In this second part of her interview, Deputy Soulsby looked back on her two years on the States' senior committee, and shared her thoughts about how she approached the role initially and the frustrations which ultimately became too great to bear.

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Pictured: Deputy Soulsby said that she and Deputy Peter Ferbrache maintained a good working relationship throughout their time as President and Vice-President of the Policy & Resources Committee.

Express understands that, if she had stood, Deputy Soulsby may well have had enough support to be elected to the top job in 2020 - President of the Policy & Resources Committee - ahead of Deputy Ferbrache, who defeated the only other candidate who stood, Deputy Gavin St. Pier, by 23 votes to 17. Deputy Soulsby confirmed yesterday that she seriously considered standing, but in the end agreed to serve under Deputy Ferbrache's presidency. 

"I was pleased to have a role on Peter's Policy & Resources Committee," she said. "Peter’s style is different from mine, but I have been able to work with and talk to Peter. I feel he has listened to me. Absolutely we have always been able to work together.

"I think in the end, because it's all about maintaining a majority in the States, losing me was easier than losing others – to maintain the majority in the States."

Earlier this year, Express interviewed Deputy Soulsby for a podcast which, because of what she told us in that interview, we titled: 'Building consensus in a tribal political culture'. At that time, Deputy Soulsby, who was first elected to the States in 2012, said: "It's more tribal than I have seen in previous political terms."

Broadly speaking, two tribes had emerged: a majority group of deputies normally loyal to the Policy & Resources Committee and a minority group usually with alternative political views.

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Pictured: Deputy Soulsby told Express in May that the current States' Assembly was "more tribal than I have seen" and she is worried that divisions have since deepened. 

Deputy Soulsby said yesterday that she had tried hard to put political differences and previous allegiances to one side to make the current Assembly work.

"That’s how I hoped it would work, but it didn’t pan out that way. I'm disappointed, but I know I've tried," she said.

"We have a consensus system. We need to work together. But the longer it went on, the more tribal it felt. Us and them. Whether a policy letter would be supported or not felt more as if it was about who was presenting it. Whether resources would be given to committees felt the same.

"Policy & Resources is about trying to help and guide all committees and co-ordinate between them. I just didn’t see that happening very much. Some committees were favoured more than others."

Principal Committees Presidents

Pictured: The six Presidents of the States' principal committees, who Deputy Soulsby said are treated quite differently by the Policy & Resources Committee depending on their perceived loyalty to the senior committee.

The Policy & Resources Committee nominates its members to lead on various areas of policy. For example, Deputy Le Tocq on external relations and Deputy Mahoney on property. Deputy Soulsby said yesterday that she initially thought she might be asked to serve as treasury lead.

"When I became a member of Policy & Resources, perhaps because I was the only qualified accountant on the Committee, I thought I would be asked to be the treasury lead. I wasn’t sure I wanted to do that because I really wanted to lead the Government Work Plan. I remember we had a meeting and I said I suppose you want me to be the treasury lead and they said Deputy Helyar was going to do that. It had already been decided."

Deputy Soulsby led the Government Work Plan, which aims to set out the States' programme of government until the end of their term in 2025, and an ongoing review of the island's machinery of government.

She also, at least initially, found herself taking a lead working with deputies to secure support in the States' Assembly for the Policy & Resources Committee's legislative and policy agenda. It was while doing this, as far back as January this year, that Deputy Soulsby first questioned her future on the Committee.

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Pictured: Deputy Soulsby said that the lead up to a debate in January on Guernsey post-covid threw her and some of her colleagues' differing approaches to States' work into sharper relief. 

"I can probably place it to around the time when we had a policy letter on life after covid," said Deputy Soulsby. "There were a number of deputies who wanted to lay amendments. Fair enough; they had different views. This was a whole mix of deputies from across the States.

"I met the head of policy and we went through the amendments. Then I spoke to the members with the amendments and went through them pointing out any that would be really difficult, offering suggestions on others…you know, as good old Guernsey politics is meant to work…the kind of thing that anyone who has been in the States over the past however many decades would understand as normal.

"We got agreement with those who wanted to lay amendments. I went back to Policy & Resources and it was looked on as a bit odd about that I would talk to other deputies about amendments, but there was agreement, and then in the States Policy & Resources didn't support. I've had that more than once. I've gone into the States understanding that Policy & Resources supports something and then members have gone off and done something else.

"I can only put it down to tribalism or inexperience or both. It happened over the withdrawal of the benefit limitation. We issued a letter of comment saying we supported it and then in the Assembly they didn't. It happened on secondary pensions. How can you speak with authority for Policy & Resources when you have no idea what members of the Committee will do going into a debate?

"I think if you get that tribalism from the top [the senior committee] it will filter down throughout the States. That has bothered me more and more."

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Pictured: Deputy Soulsby became frustrated by occasions when the Policy & Resources Committee agreed to support another committee's proposal only for its support to fall apart in the States' Assembly. Removing the benefit limitation in income support was one example.

A recap...

In the first part of Deputy Soulsby's interview, published by Express yesterday, she said the Policy & Resources Committee's final plan to raise taxes by tens of millions of pounds a year - including through a new 5% goods and services tax - was "the final straw" which led to her resignation.

She said the Committee's plan overstates how much additional tax the States need to raise, ignores opportunities to make efficiency savings and shows no empathy with households facing the largest squeeze on living standards in decades.

"The tax plan was the final straw. It's such a missed opportunity. Don't get me wrong, there absolutely is a structural deficit, but I believe it's being over-egged. The States are in control of a lot of that deficit," said Deputy Soulsby.

"I can see that GST might be needed at some point, but I don't think the case is made that it's needed now. Frankly, the timing is terrible.

"For me, it shows no empathy to propose GST at a time of the highest inflation we've had in decades when there is a cost of living crisis. We know people above the benefits system are really struggling. It shows no understanding of people's experiences in the island at the moment."

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Pictured: In the first part of Deputy Soulsby's first interview since her resignation, published by Express yesterday, she explained her opposition to the Policy & Resources Committee's tax plans at a time of significant cost of living pressures on most families.

Coming up...

In the third and final part of Express' interview with Deputy Soulsby, she looked ahead to the remaining two-and-a-half years of this unusually lengthy States' term.

She is currently in her first week in more than 10 years in the Assembly without a committee presidency or a seat on the senior committee.

She discussed how she hopes to play a constructive role in the months ahead and why Guernsey politics needs "more inspiration". 

READ MORE...

Former Vice President reveals opposition to P&R tax plans

P&R promotes Dep. Helyar to VP

Dep. Murray joins P&R

"An enormous loss" for P&R..."a bad day for Guernsey"

Dep. Soulsby resigns from Policy & Resources 

Tax plan includes 5% GST - but P&R says most families will be better off

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