Michaelmas Meeting of Chief Pleas

The Michaelmas meeting of Chief Pleas was held on Wednesday 4th October 2023. 16 Conseillers were present with apologies having been received from Conseillers Booth and Delaney. His Excellency, The Lt. Governor of Guernsey was in attendance whilst the public gallery was relatively full. The Speaker of the House welcomed three new Conseillers from the recently contested by-election and commented that around 15 residents had arrived at the polling station expecting to vote; they had not realised that they had to be inscribed onto the Electoral Register in order to do so. The chair of the Douzaine made a statement relating to the operation of that committee following the recent resignations of two former Conseillers from the committee. The chair of the Agriculture, Environment & Sea Fisheries Committee then gave an update on the recent annual Inter-Island Environment Meeting for governments, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and interested parties, hosted by La Société Serquaise, with delegates coming from Alderney, Guernsey, Jersey, the Isle of Man, the UK and France.

There were no Matters Arising from previous meetings of Sark government and no Questions Not Related to the Business of the Day. An oversight had led to Sark’s Landing Tax not being increased from £1.25 to £1.31 and the Ordinance relating to this was subsequently voted through, whilst the island’s Property Transfer Tax, payable when a property changes ownership, after some comment, was increased from 4% to 7.5%.

All three propositions regarding the engagement of a ‘Director of Civil Service’ – essentially a replacement of the former role of Chief Secretary – were withdrawn by the Policy & Finance Committee (P&F) following protracted debate. The chair commenced by recognising that communications concerning this matter, not only to remainder of Chief Pleas but also to the public, had been poor, and subsequently came under attack from several other Conseillers for this and other perceived failings. Conseillers requested that all communications relating to this proposition be made public, and some even went so far as to request the resignation of the chair of P&F in the future in light of any shortcomings. A mention of a possible vote of no confidence in Sark’s lead committee indicated that this may take place at the forthcoming budget meeting due to be held in November.

Education fees for 2023/2024 island children who are in education on the neighbouring island of Guernsey and the UK were approved by the House before an update on seaweed farming was given by the Agriculture, Environment & Sea Fisheries Committee who requested and received continued support from the assembly. The Douzaine then proposed the re-establishment of the Independent Policing Panel (IPP) with the committee itself being responsible for any complaints procedures for Sark’s Constables in the interim. Both propositions were lost with little support generally due to there being a perceived danger of accusations of a lack of impartiality.

The Douzaine requested that its two sub-committees, Public Works and Old Island Hall, were disbanded; these could previously only be populated by members of the Douzaine, and it was felt beneficial for oversight to return to the full committee. The Perkins Group were appointed as the Island’s Auditors. An interim financial update showing a forecasted budget deficit for year-end then followed with little debate. The 2022 census was finally released to the public almost 18 months after it took place and will be used as a benchmark in future analysis by Sark’s government. A taxation review update then followed from the deputy chair of that committee.

After the House had voted on each nomination, Conseillers Couldridge and Bateson were duly elected to the Douzaine, Conseiller Couldridge was also elected to the Education Committee whilst Conseiller Kennedy-Barnard was elected to the Policy & Finance Committee. Mr Mike Locke was also voted onto the Top-Level Domain Special Committee as a Non-Chief Pleas member. The session took a little over 3 hours.

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