Easter meeting of Chief Pleas-Essential Housekeeping

Easter Chief Pleas – Essential Housekeeping

The Easter 2022 meeting of Chief Pleas met on Wednesday of this week – a very busy day: a Vin d’Honneur was held in honour of the Bailiwick’s newest Lt. Governor, Lieutenant General Richard Cripwell CB, CBE, at the Island Hall at 12 noon, before Chief Pleas took place at 5pm in the Assembly Rooms, which was then followed by the obligation of all Island residents on the night of Wednesday 27th April 2022 to complete the first census to be held on the Island in more than 50 years.
The Easter meeting commenced at 5pm with the new Lt. Governor taking his place on the dais at Chief Pleas for the first time. There was almost a full House with the exception of Conseiller Tony Le Lievre whose apologies had been received. The Lt. Governor’s wife, Mrs Louise Cripwell, and his Aidede- Camp, Major Marco Ciotti, joined the deputy Speaker, Paul Armorgie in the public gallery, which had several new faces.
The Speaker of the House commenced proceedings by welcoming the new Lt. Governor and his wife before also welcoming the Island’s newest Conseiller, Kevin Monaghan, who was the only candidate at the most recent by-election and confirming that Conseiller Monaghan had completed his declaration of interest as required.
The Speaker of the House then introduced a statement from Conseiller Christopher Drillot on behalf of the Douzaine who confirmed that 2021/2022 had been difficult and challenging years with regards to the pandemic. Drillot added that the Douzaine has been a member short for some time but hoped that the vacant seat would be filled that night. He confirmed that local residents Jason Brehaut and Shaun Southern had now left the team and offered thanks for their services whilst Fiona Heald had also left the position of Public Works administration. Drillot then added that Mark Feibel will shortly be joining the team whilst Elliot Osborn had gained the position of ‘Quarry Operative’ to assist in the sorting of recycling. He furthered that all Island-owned properties have now been brought up to a rental standard, and that upstairs at the Medical Centre is to have a new kitchen fitted in order to provide separate accommodation for any locum. Drillot added that the recycling initiative has been extremely successful and has already reduced the Island’s burning of waste by approximately 60% and seeks to reduce this even further, though he curiously added that the recycling has caused a shipping issue but did not however elaborate further. Drillot further thanked Conseiller Paul Williams and the office administration for establishing the recycling initiative. Guernsey Recycling Group (GRG) have reported that there are a few issues with misplaced items however a mailshot addressing this would be delivered to all households shortly, but, on the whole, the scheme has been well executed by residents. The Harbour Café has seen structural issues which are being addressed; a proposal for the Isle of Sark Shipping Company Ltd (IoSS) to lease the property as a waiting room/ticket office had been confirmed as not viable. The building will now revert back to a café with a ‘Phil and Jackie’ taking the site on hopefully from June 2022 for three years after a new kitchen has been fitted. The materials for the resurfacing of the lower part of the Harbour Hill should arrive in May whilst it is hoped that the Pilcher Monument will be repointed shortly.
The first agenda item ‘Matters Arising from the Christmas Meeting held on 19 January 2022’ saw none, as did the following two items ‘Matters Arising from the Extraordinary (Special) Meeting held on 19 January 2022’ and ‘Matters Arising from the Extraordinary Meeting held on 16 February 2022’, though the Speaker did have one minor correction to the Hansard of February 2022. Agenda item four, ‘Questions Not Related to the Business of the Day’ also had none.
The fifth agenda item was introduced by Policy & Finance Committee (P&F) member Conseiller Vaughan Bougourd and was entitled ‘Amendment to Customs Law’ and the proposition was to approve the Projet de Loi entitled ‘The Customs and Excise (General Provisions) (Bailiwick of Guernsey) (Amendment) Law, 2022.’ This will allow certain functions of Guernsey’s HM Comptroller to be delegated to appropriate Guernsey Border Agency (GBA) officers in relation generally to the destruction of specific goods soon after seizure rather than to hold onto them for a month. Conseiller Frank Makepeace enquired as to who decides which goods should be destroyed to which Conseiller John Guille and not Conseiller Bougourd responded that it would be the appropriate Customs officers at the point of entry in either Guernsey or Alderney. Conseiller Sandra Williams enquired if anyone on P&F might have been able to enlighten her as to why there have been such delays from the GBA in permitting staff to come across to work in Sark, though she did query if it was relevant to this report and proposition. The Speaker felt that it was not appropriate and requested that Williams write to P&F directly to enquire. The House went to the vote and this housekeeping matter was carried unanimously.
Agenda item six was to consider a report with proposition from P&F entitled ‘Legislation Relating to the Investigation of Economic Crime’, to approve the Projet de Loi entitled ‘The Economic and Financial Crime Bureau and Financial Intelligence Unit (Bailiwick of Guernsey) Law, 2022’ and was introduced by Conseiller Pippa Donovan. Donovan elaborated further to the report in that this legislation sets out the role and legal responsibilities of the Director of the Economic and Financial Crime Bureau (EFCB), a new specialist investigative organisation to combat money laundering, terrorist financing and other forms of economic crime. She added that, without Sark’s approval of this legislation, the EFCB would not have powers to investigate financial crimes on the Island. Donovan confirmed that, whilst there is no company register on Sark, it would seem highly unlikely that a resident would commit corporate financial crime. However, in recent years, the Crown Dependencies “have been in the national spotlight in relation to loose or lacking financial legislation”, and it was believed that, if approved, adherence to this Bailiwick- wide legislation would actively demonstrate unity in the fight against financial crime. Conseiller Makepeace sought clarification as to how far the body’s powers extended which Donovan responded that this authority would work alongside other Bailiwick bodies within their remit. This proposition was duly voted through by the House.
The Speaker of the House then interjected to request that agenda item 18 of the addendum was then inserted into the running order of the meeting; this was subsequently voted through. This agenda item was entitled ‘The Public Functions Law’ and sought the approval of the proposition. Again, introduced by Conseiller Pippa Donovan, there was not much to be added and, again, the proposition was duly voted through by the House.
The chair of the Education Committee, Conseiller Nichola McHugh introduced agenda item seven and added some additional points to what the House confirmed to be an excellent report relating to ‘Education Matters.’ The new Head of School was confirmed as Ms Michelle Grady who will be commencing in the role at the autumn term in September 2022. McHugh offered thanks to Acting Head Mr Nick Wolfe for his contributions to Sark School and the wider community over the past four years who would be leaving Sark over the summer and added that former teacher Jo Branson had now left the Island after having given one term’s notice; this has caused such an issue with the recruitment of a replacement at short notice that the committee will now extend the notice period across all positions to a minimum of two terms. Sadly, there are now only two candidates and not the preferred four for this replacement and interviews are due to take place imminently with Nick Wolfe, Michelle Grady and Paul Armorgie as interviewers.
McHugh then confirmed the proposed education Service Level Agreement (SLA) with the States of Guernsey would be signed following approval of the House; the credit for this work was given to Conseiller Joseph Donovan who would also be signing on behalf of Sark if approved. A review of education is proposed for 23rd May 2022 by the Guernsey committee with responsibility for education which will form the basis of the SLA moving forward. The support of the States of Guernsey was said to provide a “more robust and more stable” support for Sark’s education than the previous Director of Education, Ms Beverley Gates – Gates previously resigned with immediate effect when parents had been voted onto the Education Committee.
McHugh continued that Term Time Hosting (TTH) was proving an issue in Guernsey with not enough host families being in place for future post-13 education requirements though a further advertising campaign is due to be forthcoming. She added that the continued topic of a Sark House to accommodate Sark pupils in Guernsey was actually damaging as it had “rekindled parental anger” from those who had been led to believe that it was a solution being sought following the 2017 education review. However, a working group is to be set up to investigate this aspect further.
Conseiller John Guille appeared to have side-lined the hard work of the committee in its entirety and chose to thank only Conseiller Joseph Donovan for his work on the SLA. Conseiller Makepeace, also a member of the Education Committee, offered his thanks and support for Conseiller McHugh stating that she had worked tirelessly on this and that she “painted a modest picture” of the efforts that she had put in. Conseiller Joseph Donovan then added that McHugh was an “unsung hero” of the committee who had brought all elements to a head and offered thanks to those involved; he added that the approval of the SLA was the “right thing to do” as it offered flexibility and local services, skills and experiences to Sark and its children. Conseiller Edric Baker then added that he felt that this was an excellent report before the vote to approve the SLA with Guernsey was carried.
Agenda item eight saw proposed amendments to the Reform Law for the Constable function which now sees one Constable and three Assistant Constables deviating from the traditional Constable and Vingtenier system as referred to within the current legislation so changes are required to relevant laws which can now be instigated by Guernsey’s Law Officers. Introduced by Conseiller Drillot, this item was carried.
The Speaker suggested that Conseiller Couldridge would be speaking on this report; after some confusion, Conseiller John Guille introduced agenda item nine relating to the investigation of air accidents and incidents. A high-profile accident in recent years had highlighted discrepancies in local legislation with that of the UK which had in fact requested these updates to take place. Both propositions were carried.
Agenda item 10, ‘2021 Financial Statements’, was introduced by Conseiller Pippa Donovan, again after further confusion, on behalf of P&F. An agenda supplement relating to this had been placed on chairs in the public gallery. Donovan offered minor supplementary commentary before opening to questions from the House. Conseiller Frank Makepeace contributed that, with the changes to the accounting treatment, an artificially high budget surplus of £206,000 had made him uncomfortable; if the 2021 statements were treated in the same accounting manner as previous years, then there would only be around £86,000 surplus. Conseiller Sandra Williams then confirmed that she had emailed P&F requesting information on the Chief Secretary and Committee Support Officers and any possible salary increase but has received no response to date whatsoever. In 2020 £63,359 was required, 2021 £107, 219, whilst in 2022, £92,127; has the new Assistant Chief Secretary role been included in the budget figures, and Williams queried if this increase had been approved by the House. Conseiller Edric Baker then queried if Digimap licensing was still required, he requested a breakdown of the Seigneur and administration category salary breakdown, before also asking for a further breakdown of operational costs for the abattoir. Baker believed that the slaughterhouse is being subsidised by the Island with direct costs being hidden in other areas such as Public Works costs.
Conseiller Makepeace retaliated at Conseiller Sandra Williams’ earlier enquiry which P&F had failed to answer in that she herself had failed to respond to Makepeace’s own enquiry direct to Williams and the Medical Committee as to Beverley Gates employment as the Island’s Safeguarding Officer which he believed has not been approved by the assembly. Conseiller Sandra Williams then furthered that Gates’ position had been approved by the House.
Conseiller Kevin Delaney then expressed two concerns/ observations: the lack of properly audited accounts as this might impede the ability to borrow in the future, and the need to strengthen the Island’s balance sheet. He added that the value of Island properties had barely moved, increasing only by £8,000 to £665,000 this year; he asked that the committee undertakes a revaluation of the assets. Delaney referred to the potential purchase of Sark Electricity Ltd (SEL) and a possible purchase of a Sark House and furthered that the only two ways the Island had of raising capital was either by taxes or borrowing. He believed the Island would need to undertake large scale borrowing in the near future and requested that the committee investigate the possibility of issuing bonds as the most effect way of borrowing, but only for capital expenditure, most certainly not revenue expenditure.
Makepeace then requested that Williams point him towards evidence of the Houses’ approval of Gates’ safeguarding employment and queried why the position had not been publicly advertised. The Speaker questioned the chair of P&F ad hoc as to Makepeace’s validity; Conseiller John Guille appeared to be uncertain who then deferred to the Treasurer in response to some of the questions laid before the House. Makepeace and the Treasurer appeared to be at cross-purposes and misunderstood one another, whilst the Treasurer confirmed that it would be for Chief Pleas to vote for the Island accounts to be audited. Conseiller Guille requested that Makepeace email through his queries at another time for clarification and a response. Conseiller McHugh continued with the safeguarding thread and referred to Gates’ resignation letter referring to both the roles of Director of Education and the Island’s Safeguarding Officer and that Gates’ conduct concerning this had not been exemplary. The Speaker requested that the Medical Committee investigate the Safeguarding Officer’s role and salary and revert to the House at a later date.
Conseiller Guille then responded to the lack of P&F’s response to Conseiller Sandra Williams’ email enquiry regarding administration salaries; he confirmed that the Assistant Chief Secretary’s salary had been previously approved by the House before adding that a detailed response would be sent to her in due course. Guille vouched for the Digimap facility, that it had been used for the census and with regards to the Island’s electricity grid and is vastly superior to alternatives. Data protection would likely prevent the breakdown of the Seigneur and administration salary category, and the abattoir accounts query would be referred to the Agriculture, Environment and Sea Fisheries Committee. Guille then referred to his and Delaney’s membership of the Taxation Review Special Committee to work towards limiting the Island’s borrowing – it appears likely that taxes will increase substantially for any future capital expenditure/infrastructure projects. Guille then requested that Conseiller Pippa Donovan summed up prior to the vote, although Conseiller Helen Plummer confirmed that, without a new slaughterhouse, the Island would have had to cease meat exports which would, in turn, likely have caused the end of the majority of agriculture on Sark. She added that resident Philip Long had been helping for the past 18 months and had not taken one penny for his efforts and services. Had Plummer known that this matter would be questioned, she and the Treasurer would have prepared something, but would ensure something was presented in the future. Conseiller Pippa Donovan summed up before the 2021 financial statements were approved by Chief Pleas.
The eleventh agenda item related to a ‘Donation to Ukraine’; Conseiller John Guille made it be known that, further to an email request from Conseiller Makepeace, a donation of £4,000 would be made on behalf of the Island. Thanks were given to Makepeace for his suggestion, and this proposition was carried.
Agenda item 12, entitled ‘Amendment to Development Control Legislation’, was introduced by Conseiller Simon Couldridge; the committee wished to strengthen two aspects of the current Development Control Law: the protection of historic buildings and trees of particular value, and was seeking assistance from the Law Officers in how to achieve this. Conseiller Helen Plummer questioned what would happen should a tree or a historic building be unsafe. Couldridge responded that it would be dealt with on a case-by-case basis; for example, a rotten oak tree could not be preserved, whereas there would be a desire to preserve a historic building which may include rebuilding to achieve preservation. Conseiller Sandra Williams confirmed her support and asked if legislation could be extended to cover derelict buildings of which there are many on the Island. Couldridge commented that, whilst derelict properties where currently not covered, he felt it would be an excellent suggestion to investigate for the future.
Agenda item 13 were the proposed changes to the Rules of Procedure which also solicited additional excerpts left on the seats in the public gallery with further amendments. Conseiller John Guille confirmed that these amendments had been a result of an email from former Conseiller Janet Guy voicing her concerns on some of the propositions. The outcome was that paper copies would only be printed on request in future, a new section relating to statements is to be introduced and questions are to be allowed in relation to political statements but not to personal statements, a reference to a now disbanded committee is to be removed, and a variation to the declaration of interest section is to be made. After some confusion, the House agreed that declarations of interest are to be updated when circumstances change and the requirement for completion on an annual basis remains so as not to forget, whilst Conseiller Kevin Delaney enquired as to whether or not the assembly should go one step further and publish the declarations online. Conseiller Sandra Williams asked if it is right that everyone should have access to the declarations. Conseiller Simon Couldridge requested confirmation as to what happens to the declarations at the end of a Conseillers’ term of office? The Speaker confirmed that they are immediately removed.
Conseiller John Guille then updated the House on the previously approved purchase of SEL which saw him repeat the report verbatim. However, he did add that only four Conseillers were able to attend a March briefing by mediator Andrew Ozanne due to the COVID outbreak that had taken place and that there were hopes for this to be repeated in the not-too -distant future.
Conseiller Frank Makepeace asked for confirmation of a quote of £1.8 million for SEL assets. Conseiller Kevin Delaney contributed an update as to a brownfield potential contamination report. He is engaging a specialist company to complete what he described as being an intrusive ground investigation, which would comprise of trial pits, boreholes, a collection of soil and groundwater samples for chemical analysis specific to site history such as hydrocarbons, PCBs, etc. Delaney added that he would be seeking permission from the Island for additional ground investigation of the Harbour Hill as this would also likely see contamination, any such contamination exists due to its location below the Power Station site.
Conseiller Drillot informed the House that The Police Force (Bailiwick of Guernsey) (Amendment) Law, 2021 (Commencement) Ordinance, 2022 came into force in March 2022. This will allow law enforcement officers from other jurisdictions to ‘lawfully conduct their duties in the island.’
Agenda item 16 saw Conseiller Kevin Monaghan elected to the Douzaine and Conseiller Sandra Williams elected back to the Vulnerable Adults Special Committee after some confusion. Conseiller Makepeace believed that he was a member of this committee but, as it had never convened since he had joined, did not know quite what was happening. Conseiller Williams confirmed that she had previously been on the committee and that communications with Guernsey’s Law Officers had been put on hold at the time as a result of COVID and never been resurrected. Quite what the new Lt. Governor might have thought can only be imagined! Agenda item 17 saw no one elected to committees and panels. The Speaker confirmed that the Taxation tribunal had been populated though there was still one vacancy to be filled – again no mention of the amalgamation of the Island’s tribunal structure.
The chair of Sark’s lead committee P&F appeared to have delegated agenda items to fellow members of the committee for once, however, he failed to appear to have any faith in their ability to respond to questions elicited through debate and did it all himself. The agenda was dominated by housekeeping matters and concluded in a little under two and a quarter hours, and can be heard at: https://govsark.sharepoint.com/ sites/CourtRecordings/Documents/Easter 2022 27 04 2022.mp3?ga=1

This article first appeared in the Sark Newspaper : April 29th 2022


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