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Dep. Soulsby: "I don't think our system is broken"

Dep. Soulsby:

Wednesday 18 May 2022

Dep. Soulsby: "I don't think our system is broken"

Wednesday 18 May 2022


The deputy leading a review of the island's government thinks it is unlikely to lead to the adoption of a cabinet or ministerial system.

Deputy Heidi Soulsby, pictured top, believes that a more likely outcome of the review is limited and evolutionary change to the current committee system.

Putting more power in fewer hands 

"Just be careful what you wish for. It's ok having an executive system as long as you've got the people in there who you want to be in there. If they're not the kind of people you want, it can make it very difficult," said Deputy Soulsby.

Speaking about the current committee system, Deputy Soulsby said: "I don't think the system is broken. I really don't. There are challenges with it, as there are with every system of government, but there are benefits of what we've got as well. 

"I wouldn't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. It's very much about saying 'that bit doesn't work - how can we deal with it better?'

"I think evolution is better than revolution in any event. It’s how far that evolution can go that is going to be the key point."

Deputy Soulsby was speaking to Express in a wide-ranging podcast interview which can be accessed HERE.

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Pictured: The group reviewing the island's system of government includes (clockwise from top right): Deputy Heidi Soulsby, Deputy Liam McKenna, Deputy Jonathan Le Tocq and Deputy Carl Meerveld.

What is Guernsey's system of government?

The States' 'blue book' outlines that, in Guernsey, "parliamentary and governing functions are fused in one body, the States of Deliberation".

"Guernsey is governed not just through its parliament but by its parliament. In practice, most day-to-day functions are carried out by Committees of the States, each of which is independently responsible to the States of Deliberation. Committees of the States – individually or collectively – are in no way analogous to an executive or government. A Committee is in effect an agent of the States of Guernsey exercising functions conferred on it by resolution of, or legislation approved by, the States of Deliberation."

The island's system is sometimes referred to as consensus government or committee-based government. 

The principal alternative would be a cabinet or ministerial system in which committees' powers would be concentrated in a smaller number of ministers and States' members would be divided between those in government and those not in government.

"It's great to be in charge, but..." 

"The truth is that we've got an executive system now - it's just that it operates through the States' [Assembly]," said Deputy Soulsby. 

"The question with that executive decision-making is where do we want the balance to be: is it less in the States and more out of the States? That’s what we’ve got to look at. It’s all part of some kind of continuum.

"It’s great to be in charge of something and say 'just go and do it'. That’s great. But then you’ve got to step back and say look what’s going on in Russia...those things are quite important to understand.

"If we went from one system to something completely different overnight, I think that would be difficult. What [the review] can do is help the decision-making process."

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Pictured: The politicians reviewing Guernsey's system of government must choose which track the island should go down - retaining a committee system or moving to a cabinet or ministerial system.

Ministerial government in Jersey

Jersey introduced a form of ministerial government in 2005. The changes included each government department being run by a single minister rather than a committee with multiple members, the creation of a small council of ministers which is now commonly referred to as "the government" and an attempt to divide States' members between those in government and those not in government.

Deputy Soulsby said she did not see Jersey's changes as a blueprint for Guernsey to follow.

"I think the last few years has shown that it’s not necessarily a better system. The Jersey system hasn’t proved itself to be any better. I don’t see that it has.

"You’ve always got to remember the quid pro quo. People talk about an executive system, but that needs to be balanced out by a scrutiny function which is beefed up and greater, and I think Jersey has really been bogged down in this system. You’ve only got to look at the new hospital [debate] there."

model_of_Jerseys_proposed_hospital.jpg

Pictured: Jersey has spent years and millions of pounds discussing where to locate a new £800million hospital, which Deputy Heidi Soulsby identified as an example of how ministerial government is no guarantee of greater efficiency in decision making.

The pandemic was unique

For much of the past two years, Guernsey's response to covid-19 has been led by a small group of politicians, including Deputy Soulsby, with sweeping executive powers granted by extensive emergency legislation. 

Deputy Soulsby said that this approach was necessary during the pandemic but would not be acceptable in normal times.

"People say we had this small group doing such and such, but then that was when a lot of the rest of the government quietened down because they knew the focus was on covid.

"I think there was more concern the longer it went on about having a small coterie of people making decisions and I get that. I don’t think it’s great for a long time. It absolutely worked as we were dealing with the pandemic, but as an ongoing structure I think that would cause a bit of concern in terms of transparency. It’s much harder from a democratic point of view."

READ MORE...

PODCAST: Building consensus in a tribal political culture

Four deputies to review the States

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