Ask what the people of Sark want-again!

In May 2012 Belinda Crowe published her report on the administration of Sark. The then General Purposes & Advisory (GP&A) Committee – a former iteration of the current Policy & Finance Committee – had commissioned this independent review of the then administrative and executive support arrangements for the government of Sark and sought:
‘… recommendations for reform which would provide the government with the impartial, accountable support necessary to develop and implement policy and deliver services in a manner appropriate to a modern democracy.’
The report confirmed that Crowe had been able to complete her review by meetings and group and individual discussions with residents during two visits to Sark, phone calls and written submissions and exchanges with a number of people who live on Sark or who have an interest in matters relating to Sark, desk-based research about Sark and other jurisdictions, and an analysis of hours spent on government business by Conseillers in committee meetings and between meetings.
The Crowe Report was circulated to every household on Sark on 28th May 2012, whilst the GP&A formally tabled the Crowe Report as a working document from which Chief Pleas could develop strategies and policies for future consideration at the Michaelmas meeting of the Island’s government on 2nd October 2013

Later in October 2013, a series of workshops were held at various venues across the Island instigated by Chief Pleas
with guidance from the Ministry of Justice. 
These workshops were directed at anyone with an interest in economic development in Sark and were aimed at discussing the then economic situation in Sark and potential opportunities for Sark to improve its economic prospects.

Improve its economic prospects. The poster advertising the event added:

‘The output of the sessions will be given to the Chief Pleas so that they can begin to create an economic development plan for Sark.’
The workshops were not the only events offered; drop-in sessions and a separate talk also took place. The talk was hosted by the then Commerce and Employment Minister of Guernsey, Deputy Kevin Stewart with the then Chief Officer Jason Moriarty, Greg Boyd, then an economist for the States of Jersey, and Roy Burke, the then CEO of Alderney, to talk on what has worked and what hasn’t in other Islands and about the challenges they had faced in creating an economic development strategy and how they went about it. The drop-in sessions were hosted by the Guernsey Enterprise Agency which has been operating in Guernsey since 1986 and provides a wide range of business development advice, both to new business start-ups and existing business seeking to expand.
The format of these economic development workshops was to analyse the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in relation to Sark’s economy – a ‘SWOT’ analysis. There was a total of five groups, each with about 25-30 participants – a figure one could imagine to be in the region of 125 possible residents – and at the end of each workshop the groups were asked to pick the top three issues in each quadrant.
Some points highlighted in the summary written by Jo Reeve, a then member of the Policy Council of the States of Guernsey, now the Director of International Relations and Constitutional Affairs for the States. Some comments included in his summary were:
‘There was a general point that no committee of Chief Pleas was mandated to look after the economy.’
‘The importance of good quality data was raised in several of the workshops. It was agreed by many that Chief Pleas has a role to play in the collation and managing of that information and the community has a responsibility to contribute to the collation of data. This data will be essential to enable Chief Pleas, and its committees, to make evidence based decisions on policy.’
‘It was agreed in each of the workshops that Chief Pleas lacked an agreed vision and plan. An economic development plan would demonstrate to businesses the type of activity that would get Chief Pleas’ support. This in turn would help the economy grow and develop in way that meets the vision for the future.’
‘Workshops such as these are good examples of effective public engagement in small communities. The level of participation across the workshop groups and the general island representation at these sessions was excellent.
Establishing a policy for public engagement might encourage these sorts of events across the policy-making spectrum. This would further improve the decision making process of Chief Pleas and will benefit the community.’
‘The workshops have highlighted the need for Chief Pleas to further embrace its role in defining a vision and economic development plan. This will help Chief Pleas to encourage the creation of an environment that is conductive to economic growth. It is important for the community to engage in the process, embrace the island’s economic plan and continue to work to bring forward new economic opportunities.’
Whilst a few items listed and agreed by participants of these workshops have been addressed, far too many have not, most essentially, the lack of a plan.
Following this, over the winter of 2012/2013, the position of a senior civil servant as recommended in the Crowe Report was filled by Isle of Man resident Colin Kniveton, author of the subsequent reports collectively known as ‘A Vision for Sark.’ These reports included:
Inaugural Economic Policy for Sark
Proposals for a Revised Structure and Membership of Chief Pleas’ Committees
Proposals for Revised Administrative Support for Committees of Chief Pleas
Work Permit Summary Paper
Census Issues
Budget Preparation Procedures and Timetables
‘A Vision of Sark’ was the outcome of a survey that took place in Sark during the autumn and winter of 2012. Over 220 Islanders replied to the questionnaires that provided the groundwork for this series of reports; to quote from one of them:
‘A Vision for Sark has been designed to reflect the views of the population of Sark, as evidenced in the recent survey of perceptions in Sark which has provided guidance as to where the focus of Government should lie. It is clear that Chief Pleas faces a wide range of demands. Members of Chief Pleas will strive to achieve reforms and initiatives which satisfy the aspirations of the Community and those in business in a harmonious manner.’

The Chief Pleas report at the Easter 2013 meeting states that:

‘This is an important document which should be used by the Committees of Chief Pleas to provide a guide for future initiatives. It is evidence based and reflects the concerns of the Community.’
Yet, it appears to have never been tabled as an official document of Chief Pleas to the extent that the Crowe Report was, whilst neither are currently available on the state website.
In 2017, the then Policy & Performance Committee – a former iteration of the current Policy & Finance Committee – on behalf of the now defunct Good Governance Special Policy Development Team (PDT), completed a public consultation on the future shape of Chief Pleas. The number of responses received was 88, which at that time, the Chief Pleas report stated was approximately 20% of the adult population using only 12% of the total forms issued; considerably less than the possible 125 attendees for the economic development workshops and the 220 responses received for ‘A Vision for Sark.’

Midsummer 2017 Chief Pleas, agenda item four

Questions included: if respondents were on the electoral register, had they stood for election previously, served on Chief Pleas at all, reasons why they may not have stood for the Island’s government, what might encourage them to stand, amongst others. Responses received as to what would encourage participants to stand in future elections included amongst others:

‘The acceptance that Chief Pleas requires reformation to ensure that it has the ability to prioritise policy and deliver said policy in a timely and proper manner.’
‘An acceptance that professional expert assistance is to be sought at an early stage in policy making and delivery where appropriate.’
‘The professional delivery of day to day operational issues.’
‘A full commitment to the principles of government.’
‘Accountability – a commitment to require that ALL committees meetings are minuted and the minutes are published.’
‘Openness – a change in the way government is conducted to give minorities a right to expect that the government committees will include them in all discussions about matters that concern them.’
‘A change in the government organisation to provide a clear focus on commerce and employment to enable a clearly articulated vision for Sark’s future.’

Former Conseiller Jane Norwich, chair of the Good Governance Special PDT commented at that time:

‘What I can say is that this is a consultation that is very relevant to the future of Chief Pleas. Sark itself has been very clear in saying it wants change. It wants the right to change. It wants Chief Pleas to do something about the way it works. It clearly expects professional standards in the future. The Proposition is asking Chief Pleas to listen and read those responses within the Report and take note of those contents.’
Whilst several other members of the assembly commented that there was disappointment in only 88 responses. Well, they didn’t count on the consultation on the future shape of Chief Pleas in 2021! July 2021 saw Chief Pleas launch a subsequent public consultation on the future shape of Chief Pleas approved by the House; the accompanying report stated:
‘Non-contested elections are an issue that has the potential to undermine our autonomy and we would like to understand what more Chief Pleas can do to encourage Sark residents, many of whom are fiercely protective and proud of their Island, to put themselves forward for election to be a Conseiller of Chief Pleas.’
Out of 371 questionnaires; 27 replies were received. Less than a quarter of the previous consultation in 2017! Year on year, fewer Islanders have chosen to participate – why? Five years on from the previous consultation, items that would encourage respondents to stand for future elections included:
More clarity and information about what the role involves.
More collaborative political culture.
Receiving reimbursement/salary for Conseiller work.
Formal training.
Positive publicity for Chief Pleas work.

The Chief Pleas agenda of 6th October 2021 which included this consultation added:

‘The Policy & Finance Committee would like to thank all those who responded. The Committee is considering the results and will return to Chief Pleas once the full analysis has been completed.’
Nothing more has been heard since. Such impetus was put on the recent census; surely another public consultation could be organised by Chief Pleas? However, Sark residents can’t be blamed for political apathy when the results of previous consultations have barely seen the light of day or been given true analysis or application.

This article first appeared in the Sark Newspaper : May 27th 2022

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