After yet another uncontested election, Sark has come back onto the radar of the Ministry of Justice, who have said its "unsustainable" and undemocratic government poses "serious risks" to the way the island is run.
Lord David Wolfson of Tredegar, the newly-appointed Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, has written to Sark's Policy & Finance Committee Chairman John Guille expressing his concerns and setting a March deadline for a response detailing how Guernsey and the UK can assist the small island.
The general election in December - which saw just six people nominated for nine seats in Chief Pleas - was the last straw for Lord Wolfson, who has vowed to pay "close interest" in the good government of Sark.
"Whilst I understand a further bi-election is planned for March, it is an undeniable fact that Sark has had only one contested election in the last eight years," he said.
"This is despite the efforts of existing members to encourage others to stand, and the reduction in the number of seats from 28 to 18 in recent years."
This raises two key concerns, both of which Lord Wolfson says are imperative to the way the island is run and the democratic mandate of those in charge.
Pictured: Lord Wolfson has assumed responsibility, on behalf of the Crown, for ensuring the good government of the Crown Dependencies (Credit: Crown Copyright).
"First, contested elections are an essential foundation of good government. They ensure that voters have a genuine choice of representation at the ballot box and that the government retains a proper democratic mandate to govern," said Lord Wolfson.
"Secondly, as well as making and passing laws, Sark's government is responsible for implementing those laws, arose in which other governments is carried out by civil servants. Although the number of seats in Chief Pleas has been reduced - a necessary step to make contested elections more likely - the question still remains whether the reduction in the number of Conseillers has been fully compensated for by an equivalent increase in civil service capacity.
"If Conseillers feel stretched and do not have the time to focus on long-term strategic planning, this poses a serious risk to the good government of the island."
Lord Wolfson has told Sark politicians that he sees the problems as inherent to the current system. He acknowledged that there have been efforts in recent years to encourage greater participation, albeit to little avail.
"The evidence strongly suggests it is now time to accept that Chief Pleas is unsustainable in its present form, and that its structure and the support available to Chief Pleas must therefore be adjusted."
Pictured: Lord Wolfson has urged Sark's Government to seize the opportunities for joint working with Guernsey wherever possible.
Lord Wolfson's predecessor in the role, Lord Keen, warned about the need for the island to professionalise its civil service and strengthen links to Guernsey.
Lord Wolfson has echoed those comments, saying that Sark cannot evolve unless it has a small, professional civil service to provide evidence-based policy advice and strategic planning.
"Such support would both afford greater assurance of essential public service delivery and free up a smaller, but more democratically sustainable, Chief Pleas to focus on legislative and policy direction," said Lord Wolfson. "I strongly endorse this as a way forward."
He added: "To effect meaningful change, the civil service must be able to provide strategic, evidence-based policy advice and not just enhance administrative support."
Progress has been made towards increased engagement with Guernsey and in a letter that has been cc'd to the Lt-Governor Sir Ian Corder, Policy & Resources President Peter Ferbrache and his P&R colleagues Mark Helyar and Jonathan Le Tocq, Lord Wolfson urged Sark's Government to seize the opportunities for joint working wherever possible.
Pictured: The number of seats in Sark's Government has reduced from 28 to 18 in recent years, however that has not been enough to ensure contested elections.
"Increasingly, there are strands of activity for which Sark is leveraging support from Guernsey and Guernsey's government has publicly stated its willingness both to strengthen this practice and place it on a more formalised basis," he said.
"I therefore urge you to prioritise the necessary reforms and take advantage of the resources available to you."
Lord Wolfson insisted that his comments should not be taken as a "criticism of current or previous Conseillers", laying the blame instead at the "underlying and structural" flaws in Chief Pleas.
He has, however, warned that the UK expects to see swift and decisive action. In his parting comment, Lord Wolfson told Sark's chief politician that he wants "an early update on your intentions, including your assessment as to how Guernsey and the UK can assist" by the time the results of the March by-election are known.
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