Monday, 23 May 2016

Outsourcing - Broken promises and shabby excuses

On the 17th May, a Parish Assembly was held in St Helier to consider the following proposition -
to consider the merits of the proposition of Deputy Geoff Southern (P.29/2016 - Outsourcing) and to decide whether or not to express support for this projet and advise the Connétable, the ten Deputies and the eight Senators accordingly;
Around 100 members of the public came, with 52 ballots handed to St Helier residents in attendance, 51 of which were returned in favour of the proposition, with the remaining one ballot not being cast.

This unanimous vote was communicated by letter to all of the St Helier Deputies and Senators the next day.

Reform Jersey and Unite the Union called the Parish Assembly, evoking the Loi au sujet des Assemblées Paroissiales from 1804, to force St Helier to hold this meeting.

The next morning I went live on BBC Radio Jersey with the Minister for Infrastructure Deputy Eddie Noel to go head to head on the government's plans to privatise huge swathes of public services and make hundreds of workers redundant.

On a couple of occasions I was forced to use the word "lie" to describe what Deputy Noel was saying.

I consider it to be a huge shame that I have to do this, but there is no other word I can use when Deputy Noel chooses to mislead the public in the way he does. Since I would be expelled from the States Assembly by the unelected Bailiff if I used that word during a debate, I feel it is my duty to speak the truth outside the assembly where no such rules exist.

I want to go through some of the statements made by Deputy Noel in this BBC interview and demonstrate how they can be refuted. I did attempt to interject several times during the interview, however my microphone was turned down and it is difficult to hear the points I made.

At 2:57, on what consultations with the workers has taken place, Deputy Noel says -  "I have spoken to many people since my tenure at the Department of Infrastructure and prior to that when it was TTS. I do quarterly visits throughout Infrastructure. Deputy Mézec mentions that there hasn't been any consultation, but that simply isn't true."

A nice way of dodging the question. The BBC attempted to get a better answer from him and he reveals that his officers were in contact with the workers and you can hear me saying something in the background.

I was saying that Deputy Eddie Noel had not met with these workers' representatives once. That is a fact. It is confirmed in this written question I asked in the States -

He then lists the times that the DfI officers have met with the workers to "consult" with them.

Of course, because the Minister was not there these were not consultations in the true sense of the word. They have been described by the workers and union shop-stewards as being a complete sham. No discussion was taking place on the principle of outsourcing as only the Minister has the power to determine policy. It was the condemned being offered which method of execution they would prefer. Hardly a real consultation.

At 3:50 he says "we had this debate back in September last year when we had the first round of the MTFP".

Of course, this is not true. The MTFP decided the parameters of spending for each States department but (and the Council of Ministers were criticised heavily for this at the time) they contained no specific details on the substance of those cuts and which jobs and services would be outsourced.

There has been no States debate to endorse the Minister's outsourcing programme. To imply anything else is a straightforward lie.

At 4;00 he explains the make up of Jersey's deficit and this £145m blackhole. He says that an amount of this is for "investment" in public services.

Let's be clear, this investment is either a) covering for decades of neglect by previous ministers/ presidents who refused to spend money keeping our social housing, schools, hospital and other bits of infrastructure up to date because they didn't have the foresight to spend properly at the time, b) covering demographic changes because the Council of Ministers has an out of control population policy and we have larger numbers of children at school and people being treated in hospital than they had planned for, or c) is being paid for by cuts to support for pensioners and the disabled and cannot be described as being an improvement on those people's circumstances.

At 4:50 the BBC ask him if he made an election promise to protect jobs and he says "no I didn't make that promise to protect jobs".

Another straightforward lie.

The following quote is taken from the transcript of the election for Transport and Technical Services Minister on the 6th November 2014 where he was directly asked by Deputy Southern about redundancies -

Deputy G.P. Southern: Can I ask the specific question then? By how much does he expect to reduce his 500 workforce?
Deputy E.J. Noel: I do not intend to reduce that 500 workforce at all; in fact it is going to increase because I am going to put Property Holdings staff in with T.T.S. 

He couldn't have been clearer.

At 5:15 Deputy Noel explains why he believes it would be irresponsible to subject every outsourcing initiative to a States debate where workers would find out their fate potentially on the radio or on the news.

In the background you can hear me mutter "or an advert in the JEP".

This was a reference to the advert his department put in the Jersey Evening Post in February this year in which he put out an Opportunity to Tender for these exact jobs, before telling the workers themselves that their jobs were going to be put on the line.

Although I do have to enjoy the irony of Deputy Noel accusing Reform Jersey of being irresponsible towards these workers when we ourselves have consulted with them far more than he has and we had their overt support for this public meeting and proposition.

At 6:45 Deputy Noel (being caught with the quote from his broken election promise) backtracks with the epic "but since then, Deputy Mézec, the world has changed".

Nothing changed.

The public spending deficit (which was generated during Deputy Noel's time as Assistant Treasury Minister) was what it was both before and after Deputy Noel's election.

This is just a cover phrase to pretend that he change his mind when he saw the figures.

He just said what he thought he had to say to get the votes, with no intention of ever taking it into account.

So I lay this challenge to him - if it is true that he believed in keeping his promise but was forced to change by his ministerial colleagues once more figures came to light, then publish the minutes that demonstrate this.

At 8:13 he is asked why he wasn't at the Parish Assembly and he responds "it was a Parish meeting, it wasn't a public meeting".

Anybody was allowed to attend.

There were a good 60+ people in attendance who were not St Helier residents.

At 10:43 I handed Deputy Noel a piece of paper with the phone number of the union regional officer representing the workers and challenged him to call him to arrange a face to face meeting, something he had failed to do so far.

I am glad to say that as a result of me embarrassing him, he has agreed to meet the union representatives and hopefully progress can be made to avert strike action and protect workers' jobs.

This whole process has been poisoned from the start.

If you do not treat your workers with respect, you cannot expect to be treated with respect yourself.

Deputy Noel made an election promise he had no intention of keeping, he knew the state of our public finances at the time (because he'd been assistant minister for several years at that point) and refused to meet the workers face to face to discuss moving forward.

Their vote for strike action is therefore entirely justified.

I hope that tomorrow the States Assembly votes to accept the will of those who came to the Parish Assembly and approve our proposition to stop Deputy Noel from outsourcing services without a full impact assessment and vote in the States.

Episodes like this are what destroys the public's faith in politics. The sooner we are rid of ministers who behave this way, the better.