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OPINION: Channel Island CEO chaos

OPINION: Channel Island CEO chaos

Thursday 23 March 2023

OPINION: Channel Island CEO chaos

Thursday 23 March 2023

Is it the job, or is it the person? In recent years there seems to be an issue in the Channel Islands with retaining the leader of the public service - either at all, or without controversy.

It could all be nothing, but the shocking departure of Jersey’s latest CEO - after the most briefest of tenures - does seem to indicate a running theme, not only in Jersey, but in Guernsey and even Alderney.

Suzanne Wylie announced her resignation from Jersey’s top job in the civil service yesterday, after only a year in post, making her the fourth CEO in Jersey in only five years. Her predecessor - Paul Martin - completed an interim 12 month posting to plug the gap after the disastrous and divisive loss of Charlie Parker in 2021.

Mr Parker made waves in Jersey after announcing major reforms to Jersey’s government shortly after his arrival in 2018. Sound familiar? His tenure came to an abrupt halt after it was revealed that he had taken on a second £50k job. Not only had he not sought permission appropriately, he made a pledge that the job would only be worked on in his spare time, a pledge which was disproved by Express. He took a half-a-million golden handshake and sailed off into the sunset.

Before him? John Richardson, whose appointment from interim CEO to full-time CEO did not follow normal States procedures and was investigated by the island’s Appointments Commission. And before him, a man called Bill Ogley who received a whopping £550k payout after it was claimed that he received harassment from politicians.

Hopping over to Alderney, the theme continues. Earlier this year Express reported that the States of Alderney were seeking its third CEO in just two years. Bizarrely, Andrew Muter disappeared from the island during the covid pandemic and simply never returned. His successor, Kathryn Jones, handed her resignation in January and the States voted in another interim during the March meeting; Elizabeth Maurice.

I won’t cover old ground with Guernsey’s most recent CEO debacle, because it has been done to death. Summarised: Paul Whitfield was ousted with an unknown severance package by Deputy Peter Ferbrache’s P&R. Despite numerous questions on why and how Mr Whitfield was let go, P&R refused to offer any insight beyond “recognising a need for change”. The CEO vacuum was filled - inevitably - by another interim, civil servant stalwart Mark de Garis. He then beat seven other applications for the permanent position and remains the island’s top civil servant today.

Perhaps by calling Mr de Garis the ‘Head of the Public Service’ instead of receiving the mark of death that is ‘CEO’ the States of Guernsey were looking to break the cycle. And it certainly seems to be working. Not only has he done nothing wrong, he’s essentially invisible. During nearly a two year tenure he has appeared in the news only three times via Express, twice of which were for appointments; and, after Express asked to meet him - once when he first stepped in as interim and a second time when he stepped up full time - he was never put forward.

So what’s the issue? Is it the public hammering they get? Is it the constant pressure levied on them by a squabbling pool of politicians? Is it the job, or is it the person? It can’t be the remuneration these people get because the figures are eye-watering. The States of Jersey top job comes with a pay-packet of £250k. Past Guernsey CEOs received annual salaries topping £180k. And that’s part of the problem, these constantly shifting positions - and the positions themselves - cost us money. 

Several payoffs and severance packages later, the cost to the taxpayer ‘pan-island’ has far surpassed the million mark. So, I’d argue that questions should be asked about how hard it seems to be to keep a CEO in office. It shouldn’t be that expensive to retain a top civil servant. Should it?

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