Wednesday, 28 April 2010


A few weeks ago, the Health, Social Security & Housing Scrutiny Panel- aka Senator Breckon, Constables Mezbourian and Yates and Deputies De Sousa and Southern – discovered the existence of the SOCIAL SECURITY ADVISORY COUNCIL in a report.
Our elected reps wondered; what does it do? Better find out they said - in a jokey sort of way - because the Council did not appear to do very much at all.

So, this week our elected reps (the two Constables were absent) met with Sylvia Seymour the Chair of the Council, for a friendly half-hour chat at 11.30 a.m.

In fact, our elected reps had already been chatting among themselves for two hours with two scrutiny staff in attendance and there was plenty more coffee to be drunk and words yet to be spoken at this meeting.

But – what a breath of fresh air Sylvia Seymour proved to be. Without doubt one of the best witnesses that this Voice reporter has ever heard at a Scrutiny Panel. All questions were answered precisely, positively and on the basis of knowledge.
What planet was this person from your reporter wondered and if only……

It soon became clear that the SS Advisory Council, which consists of 8 volunteer members and meets at least once a month, is the personal and private scrutiny panel of the Minister of Social Security (currently Deputy Gorst).
It is established under the SS Advisory Council (J) Order 1992 – in other words it existed before Ministerial government and Scrutiny Panels were ever dreamed of.
The volunteers are appointed for terms of three years after a standard three interview selection process and can serve for further terms.
Our elected reps did not ask for any names or further details of those who currently serve on the Council whose terms of reference include “giving advice and assistance to the Minister in connection with the discharge of the Minister’s functions and performing such other duties as may be assigned to them under Art 42 of the SS (J) Law 1974…”

The Council it seems undertakes research and produces reports for the Minister on a very wide range of SS matters and the Minister can take or ignore any recommendations as he chooses ( so no difference with States Scrutiny there) and he could publish their reports too – but never seems to do so. What a pity.
The Minister asks the Council to look at all policy and legislation proposals and the membership also select other matters to consider. They have a budget of £5,500 p.a. out of which secretarial support is paid and all monthly meetings are attended by a (named) civil servant.

Thus Pensions, the SS Reserve Fund, Income Support, Care of the Elderly, Swine Flu Regulations, Insolvency Fund, Comprehensive Spending Review, updating the SS Law and even the provision of information by the SS Department to the general public are all matters that have or are ongoing Council projects among many more……

Maybe of course the Council reports are rubbish and if they are never published – except to the select few – who will ever know?

The obvious question that arises though is just why does this SS Advisory Council exist now at all if Senator Breckon and his team are doing their paid Scrutiny job – on OUR behalf – properly?

How many Scrutiny Panels do we need? Are there any other shadow Scrutinizing Councils in our governmental system? Do any other Ministers have their own personal teams of Scrutiny volunteers?

It costs about £150 to £200 per hour in salaries alone to stage an average Scrutiny Panel meeting with our elected reps and Scrutiny staff. The SS Council membership makes no charge and works within an annual budget of £5,500.

Once again, the need to look critically at the faults in the Scrutiny process was revealed very starkly by this friendly chat.
The whole Scrutiny process in Jersey is in need of a much more resolute, wholesale and searching examination with reform in mind.

Submitted by Thomas Wellard.

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