Tuesday 25 August 2015

Independent Jersey Care Inquiry (12)---- Culture of Concealment Reigns On.

One of the interesting features emerging from the Committee of Inquiry (COI) Hearings is the variation in witnesses’ ability to recall events from the past. Some had a good memory, some a poor and on occasions it has been evident some had a selective memory.

Selective memory is often a convenient way of temporarily forgetting something which is expedient to forget. It was not that long ago that a senior Minister was unable to recall what he was reading on the plane. Even more recently he was unable to recall a conversation with the former Education Chief who claimed they had spoken about not reporting an allegation of abuse to the police.

In October the COI will be listening to some very interesting witnesses who will be commenting on the collusion between senior civil servants and Ministers and will be questioning the integrity of Ministers and the Council of Ministers in particular.

In the past month it has become evident that not only have other Ministers suffered from selective memory but the Council of Ministers is suffering from collective selective memory.

During my 18 years in the States I took a particular interest in the Licensing Law and successfully lodged a number of amendments which included approval for pubs to remain open all day on Sundays and for shops to sell alcohol after 1pm. Also at my instigation I conducted a review of the Island’s Licensing Law and among the recommendations was that anomalies in the fees charged for liquor licences should be addressed. Despite my offers to assist the Economic Development Department to conduct a review and to advance a new Licensing Law they were rejected.

In 2007 revenue received from license fees was around £272K per annum from over 600 premises and around £15 million received from Impôt Duties. To seek an increase in the fees requires States approval and until 2007 requests were made in September each year.

There are 7 categories of Licence and 7 scales of fees. However there is the nonsense of large supermarkets paying £114 for their licence which is the same as small corner shops, three times less than local football clubs who normally only open their bar on match days and four times less than the many small restaurants operating around the Island. There are a number of other anomalies which can be found in the link at the bottom of this blog.

In 2007 having again failed to persuade the Minister to agree to my request I lodged P117/2007 which sought States approval to request the Minister to review the structure of the current liquor licence fees with the view to introducing a more equitable licensing structure. Also and of equal importance was part 2 which requested the Minister to finalise the review within 12 months OR before any requests were made for further increases in Licensing fees.

The debate took place on 26th September. The Minister, Senator Ozouf agreed that his assistant Minister Senator MacLean should act as rapporteur and on his behalf accepted my proposition and I quote part of his speech “First of all, I would just like to thank the Deputy of St. Martin for liaising with the Department in such a constructive manner over this issue. We clearly welcome his proposition. We support it, just so that Members are not in any doubt whatsoever, and we will be moving forward to ensure that an appropriate review is carried out, not only in the narrow constraints of this particular proposition but certainly in a more wide-ranging review.” The full Hansard Report can be read via the link below.

What has this got to do with selective memory you may ask?  Well since the 2007 debate no review has been conducted and no increase has been sought until a couple of weeks ago when the Minister for Economic Development lodged P94/2015 asking for a 17% hype in the license fees The reason given for the increase is because fees have not risen since 2007, they need to be rectified and brought up to date in line with inflation. How ever there is no mention as to why there has been no increase or of the 2007 States decision, why?

This brings me back to selective memory because it’s difficult to accept that not one current Minister or civil servant can remember the 2007 proposition or asked why there has been no annual request. Senator MacLean is now the Minister of Finance, has he forgotten the proposition? The same could be said of Senator Bailhache who as Bailiff would have given consent for my proposition to be lodged and presided during the debate which was unanimously approved via a Standing Vote. Have fellow Ministers like Gorst, Ozouf, Routier and Pryke also forgotten or asked why there has been no request for an increase for long? Have none of the newer Ministers asked questions or are they so bound to collective obedience. 

Before a proposition can be lodged it has to be approved by the Bailiff who by coincidence also heads the Licensing Bench. I am surprised that he has not insisted on a rescindment of the 2007 decision before approving P94/2015. It is common knowledge among the Licensing trade why fees have not been raised since the 2007 decision yet that fact seems to be unknown to Ministers, their civil servants and even the head of the Licensing Bench. I found this memory loss hard to accept so did a bit of research.

The Minister’s report in P94/2015 which can be read in full in the link below says “following consultation with key stakeholders it has been agreed that whilst the up-rating is long overdue, in order to reduce the financial burden on licensees, the increases will phased over 2 years.”  As the report makes no mention of the 2007 States decision I thought it was wise to check with some of the key stakeholders seeking information as to what the consultation entailed.

I have checked with key stakeholders who have confirmed that they met a minister and civil servant but only to be informed that the fees would be going up, but to ease the burden they would be raised in two rather than one year. They maintain that they raised the issue of the States decision in 2007 and why the increase was sought before the outcome of the review. However they were told that the increase was going ahead irrespective of the States decision."

I have no reason to question the stakeholder’s version of events because asking about the 2007 decision is probably the first question anyone including States Members would ask.

What is now evident is that Ministers and civil servants are aware of the 2007 decision but have chosen to omit that fact in the report. The States has had 8 years to conduct the review but has failed. Not only does it hide the truth but the anomalies still exist because the promised review has not been carried out.

The Council of Ministers is desperate to fill the black hole it created and via the Economic Minister is seeking an increase in Licence fees; however the manner in which it seeks the increase does little for its integrity or reputation. It is evident that by concealing the truth the Ministers and Civil Servants are being underhand and unprofessional. What ever reason it chooses to deny that fact it will do little to persuade the "thinking public" that the culture of concealment and collusion still exists in Jersey and should not go unnoticed by the Committee of Inquiry.

If the Council of Ministers can go to such lengths to conceal the truth for such minor matters like increasing Licence fees than it begs the question what has it been concealing in relation to abuse allegations, Operation Rectangle, the Graham Power suspension and many other related matters.

I shall be forwarding this blog to the relevant Ministers suggesting that P94/2015 be withdrawn and the States decision of 2007 be implemented before any rise in fees is requested.. 

The original Proposition P 117/2007 can be read by clicking HERE

The Minister's Proposition P94/2015 can be read by clicking HERE

The 2007 Hansard report can be read by clicking HERE and scroll well down until reaching Paragraph 11

Thursday 6 August 2015

Independent Jersey Care Inquiry (11)----Jersey Social Services " Out on a Limb"

It has been a good week for supporters of the Committee of Inquiry (COI) and after weeks of hearing evidence from those abused, the COI is continuing to question those people who held positions of responsibility when the abuse and neglect was taking place. As each witness is questioned it is becoming abundantly clear that not only were some staff incompetent but they used their positions to cover up their incompetence and in so doing covered up allegations of abuse.

Whilst it has been disturbing listening to evidence from the abused it was also disturbing listening to the answers given by Anton Skinner who rose through the ranks to become the acting Chief Executive of the Health and Community Services. This blog will comment on some of his evidence and Marnie Baudains comments about Stuart Syvret.

What I found disturbing about Anton Skinner’s evidence was that he knew the Jersey Care system was working in total isolation and years behind UK good practice. Mr Skinner admitted that Haut de la Garenne was “a total situation of crisis” yet it remained open for years after the publication of the Lambert/Wilkinson Report, why and who was responsible?

The Lambert/Wilkinson 1981 Report highlighted the lack of training and of Child Care Officers in Jersey feeling "out on a limb from colleagues in the UK and working in isolation." However Mr Skinner said that if anyone wanted to attend courses in the UK money was not a problem but from what he went on to say there seemed to be no encouragement given to those who should have been attending courses not only for their own professional enhancement but to share the knowledge gained with their colleagues.

Mr Skinner held senior positions for a number of years so why did he allow the “out on a limb and working in isolation” to continue? I don’t know whether the Panel understood the isolation issue. It was not just that our Children’s Service was working in isolation from the UK but it was more serious than that, because it was working in isolation in Jersey whereby unlike in the UK where there was an inter agency approach, this was not the case in Jersey.

Each Department was working in silos and there was no sharing of information or joint case conferences held when problems arose with children and/or within the family. The welfare of a child with problems should have been paramount but from my experience a child with problems seemed to be an inconvenience. 

If Mr Skinner could not see the need for training himself then it not surprising that he failed to see the need for training for the lower ranks. It is also apparent that there was no appraisal system in place which would have identified the personnel’s strengths and weaknesses. That absence allowed for the incompetent to remain in office and worse still some getting promoted beyond their levels of competence.

When asked how he kept abreast of the fast moving changes in child care outside Jersey Mr Skinner said he read Care related magazines. It could be said that when it came to leadership in our Care system it was a case of the blind leading the blind. It was not that those in authority planned to fail, but they simply failed to plan because they were either out of their depth or blinkered.

Social justice is a long way down the list of most of those who can do some something about it. Guilt by association is still very much a way of life and I was amused by the former Head at Le Rocquier School complaining about having to accept 'grossly disturbed children' from Haut de la Garenne at his school inferring that it lowered its image.

I attended St Martin’s School for all of my 9 years education and during that time I sat alongside boys from Haut de la Garenne. At no time did I ever hear my former Head Teacher Mr Anthony or any of my fellow pupils complain. I would say that the boys' presence enhanced my education and I have a greater understanding of the difficulties young people in care have to endure. 

It was interesting to see that Mr Skinner had amended his original statement; no doubt some amendments were required following evidence given by some of his former colleagues. I thought his written apology was too little and too late and was more of an apology for his shortcomings than for the harm caused by his incompetence. It was not surprising that one of the abused felt the apology was insincere and an insult.

I noted with amusement that an officer who smacked the bottoms of two mischievous boys had the book thrown at him yet a blind eye approach was adopted when dealing with real abusers.

It was also interesting hearing why the Maguires were not prosecuted. To claim it was in the victim's best interest not to prosecute adds salt to the wounds. The prosecution would have highlighted the shortcomings of a Service that was leaderless, incompetent and in parts uncaring and probably that had more to do with the decision not to prosecute.

It should be noted that the Children’s Service was under the remit of the Education Department until 1995 when it was transferred to the Health Department. It is now evident that concerns about the Maguire’s were made known to the Health Committee soon after the transfer. However it was not until May 1999 that the Committee of the day was misled when being told that the Maguires were leaving because of poor health.

I was a member of the Committee and present at that meeting but was denied the full facts. The decision to deceive my colleagues was not just Mr Skinner's so it begs the question as to who else was part of the deception.

Having been a Member of the Health Committee for around 5 years I found Mr Skinner to be very pleasant but felt was too laid back to hold senior positions. Counsel for the COI Patrick Sadd had certainly done his homework and did a fine job in exposing Mr Skinner’s shortcomings. It is evident that the Panel was struggling to accept some of Mr Skinner’s answers and selective memory and from time to time sought clarification. The transcript of Mr Skinner’s lengthy time answering Mr Sadd’s searching questions are well worth reading and can be found on the COI’s website by clicking HERE.

Marnie Baudains had worked in the UK where she began her career in various child care and supervisory roles before taking up similar employment in Jersey in 1985. She retired as Directorate Manager of Social Services in 2011. She said that Stuart Syvret’s criticisms of services and individuals were erroneous and his actions increased the risk to those who required protection from abuse. It was not the content but the manner in which Stuart had raised the issues.

Methinks that Ms Baudains should be reminded that people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. Whilst she was may not have been party to the abuse, she worked for Jersey Social Services for over 25 years and her eyes would not have closed for all that time, therefore she must accept responsibility for some of the failings that are now coming to light.

It is apparent that Stuart does not have a degree in diplomacy and often his message is lost because of his direct style. However evidence now coming to light is proving that his criticism was not erroneous and there is still more evidence to come.