The Strategic Plan bogs down – no surprise there then

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I’m not talking about Haut de la Garenne, although while many Islanders were wringing their hands in contrition and attending church services looking for forgiveness, I could not bring myself to believe some of the more extreme stories being pedalled.

Luckily for all, including any victims, my scepticism was justified and the much smaller scale of the problem is now clear.

No, what I’m referring to is the great States Strategic Plan which is supposed to be the blueprint for the Island for the next five years. Four months ago I described the strategic planning process as confusing, almost meaningless, lacking in focus and largely a waste of time. Anyone listening into the debate in the past weeks must surely now agree with those criticisms.

It’s the sheer scale of the plan that is the main problem. Not surprisingly, States members not only want to make numerous amendments, they also want to debate every item in some detail.

That’s fair enough. There’s not much point in doing it if States Members aren’t going to be thorough. A few might take the opportunity to make some mischief, but that’s politics for you.

The end result is that the debate has droned on and on, and many taking part and those listening in must have lost the will to live.

So we have the rather unedifying spectacle of the Chief Minister trying to hurry things on a bit, so that Members can get on with the business of governing the Island.

That means the Council of Ministers accepting amendments which they originally opposed just to hurry things along.

Ministers have also been advised to shorten their speeches, which is no bad thing, just so long as they don’t then have to gloss over items of importance.

Because make no mistake about it, the debate is important and certainly too important to be curtailed in the interests of saving time.

But there has to be a better way of doing things. To begin with, why do we need a new Strategic Plan every time we have a new Council of Ministers?

Many members of the new Council were members of the old Council so they could presumably accept what they were trying to do then as the basis for what they are trying to do now.

It’s not as though having a new Strategic Plan is important in a democratic or electoral sense. The electorate is largely out of the loop. They have voted for their States members not knowing which ones would be on the Council of Ministers, so they can hardly be voting for what kind of strategy the CoM would choose to adopt.

Indeed, perhaps the electorate could be provided with a more meaningful choice if the current Strategic Plan were made an election issue.

They could then vote on the basis of those who agree with the plan, those who want to make some amendments and those who want to ditch it completel. Only if a majority who wanted to change the old Strategic Plan completely were elected would the new CoM have to draw up a totally new plan.

It’s obvious enough that things change and once in power the new Council of Ministers would probably want to amend the plan – although not necessarily immediately – and that is when the States could then be asked to consider amendments rather than a whole new plan.

That should save a lot of time and also help to focus attention on particular aspects of the plan which need amending and which requires time for a detailed debate.

For example, this time round the particularly important aspects of the new plan are how to deal with an ageing population and tackling the recession.

Other aspects of the old plan could stay in place until either the CoM or Members in general felt that it needed amending. That would be better than starting from scratch every five years or so.

Some aspects of the plan might require an even more frequent revision than every five years. Other parts of the plan could stay the same – in particular the platitudes about how the plan is designed to make us all healthier, wealthier and happier or, as the new plan says, ‘allow everyone the opportunity to reach their full potential, by meeting our health, housing and educational challenges etc, etc’.

Putting essentially meaningless phrases like this in every new plan is just an open invitation for States Members to jump on their own particular hobby horse. It needs to be much more focused to be effective and to engage the public.

The wide scope of the current debate is beneficial in one respect, however. It is helping the electorate to get a much better picture of what many Members believe and stand for. It’s not quite party politics yet because many Members are too indisciplined to be restricted by the policies of a party. But there is definitely a much more pronounced left–right divide than has been the case in recent years.

You can almost hear some of the old guard of the States spinning in their graves as so many Members stand up and proudly declare themselves socialists.

Personally, I think this bodes well for the future. As more Members begin to espouse a political philosophy and make it clear what they believe in, then those who oppose them will also be forced to adopt a political philosophy and make clear what it is that they stand for.

This will give the voters a much more meaningful choice at the ballot box whichever side of the more obvious political divide they stand on.

Peter Body is editor of Business Brief magazine.

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