Why am I writing this blog?
The Chief Minister is facing a Vote-of-Confidence
Whilst I have always supported the CM he is being pressurised by an unnamed group of people – and for the vote on Tuesday – members of the States including some ministers – who are demanding my re-appointment should be reversed.
Certain ministers are conditioning their support justifying their demands because they have never agreed with me being a member of the Council of Ministers and/or they disagree with the CM’s Statement of the Jessica Simor QC report into the Jersey Innovation Fund.
Democracy is about debate, discussion and appropriate challenge: it is how politics works. Ministers are responsible and accountable for policy decisions that impact people’s lives.
The Jersey Action Group have run an online campaign against me. They have published the Ozouf Dossier
This has the risk of compromising my ability to serve – I have now no option to defend myself.
I will always put people and Jersey first.
Votes of No Confidence
Chris Taylor, the Constable of St John, first threatened a vote of no confidence in October 2016.
The C&AG report into the Innovation Fund was published on the 12th January 2017.
Any member is entitled to bring a Vote of No Confidence in any Minister, Assistant Minister, the Council of Ministers or the Chief Minister. That’s democracy at work.
A proposition was finally lodged on the 7th June 2017.
There are three reasons cited for the Vote of No Confidence in the Chief Minister:
1. Hospital Funding – late withdrawal
2. Alleged failures in Human Resources
3. Innovation Fund – disputed findings of the Simor Inquiry
Pressure to resign
The pressure to resign, and leaks of my alleged sacking, is intensifying ahead of the Vote of No Confidence in the Chief Minister, which has been brought allegedly for a number of reasons, as detailed above.
My reappointment is NOW said to be the catalyst.
However, the proposition does not say that and this proposition was threatened before my reappointment.
The issues about me are totally unfair (in my view); they are unpleasant and personal. The facts concerning me, the work I have done and the tasks that urgently need to be done in the Financial Services area need to be worked on.
The next six months
Against the backdrop of what is clearly an unstable UK political situation, I have been out of office for six months – and whilst no one is indispensable, I have been appointed to serve and would like to undertake this role for the island.
The allegations and misinformation about me need to be debated publicly. In doing so, Members can decide for themselves the motivations of all those involved, based upon evidence.
I am honoured to serve our island. For my part I have always, and will continue to be driven to serve the best interests of Jersey. I do not believe any right-minded people question this.
The people of Jersey deserve better than this type of personal politics. I am therefore going to put detailed information into the public domain, and on Monday have discussions about what I should do before the Vote of No Confidence debate.
It is incredibly difficult to be accused by wrong-doing, stepping aside and getting an independent report which said that I acted properly and did all I could to sort the Innovation Fund. If the CM were to be brought under pressure to suggest that this is a distraction, then I would question the priorities of those who suggest this.
I now have no choice but to defend myself, against what feels to me (and is regarded by many) as if I was treated as a scapegoat in January and have now become the subject of a witch-hunt.
I have held numerous positions in government since 1999 and many of those positions have been regarded as the poisoned chalices of politics. I served two terms as Treasury Minister, during the Global Financial Crisis. It does not make one popular to have had to persuade colleagues that difficult decisions had to be taken on reducing spending and raising taxes to secure public finances.
A huge number of major issues have been tackled. Countless decisions were widely consulted on and have been taken successfully to the States for approval. Our Public Finances are now in a better position today as a result of the work undertaken.
The key people who were involved in this were Former Senator Le Sueur, under whom I served a Treasury Minister and Deputy Chief Minister, and Senator Gorst as Chief Minister, Deputy Eddie Noel and Constable John Refault.
We worked as a team and delivered.
This period solved numerous issues. One was a proposal and approval for £300 million to re-build the Hospital on the current site. The detailed site planning and the project could have started then. Of course decisions can be revisited with new information but I make the point that I delivered what other ministers needed: I worked collaboratively and successfully the then Health Minister Anne Pryke, then Deputy Green on the Housing Bond, Deputy Gorst and then Senator le Gresley with the massive challenges of the economic slow down and rising unemployment.
Finally, it was well known that I often joked with Alan Maclean as ED Minister, (having done the job previously and understanding the need to invest in the Economy) that I would do what ever it took to find the resources for securing our economic future.
By the end of that term of office, I left published plans and forecasts for the next few years’ spending and income:
17 Jul 2014 Budget 2015 and Updated Income Forecasts
16 Sept 2014 Long Term Tax Policy
16 Sept 2014 Long Term Revenue Plan
22 Oct 2014 States Investment Strategy
I’ve had to put up with so many suggestions of a previously undisclosed ‘Black Hole’; the ‘Black Hole’ never existed and was used to besmirch my reputation and create fear.
In today’s language it was fake news.
We had to save money to fund more health spending and decided not to put it off like most other countries (who have spirals of debt) have done so.
Planning properly to deal with a world-wide Financial Crisis that has lasted far longer than anyone predicted and a changing world driven by technology, we were clear with the public that there was a need to re-prioritise spending to avoid a black hole.
Hindsight appears to suggest we did anything but fail as a Treasury Team.
In the midst of the General and Chief Minster Elections in 2014, I was faced with a Vote of No Confidence by Deputy Geoff Southern, in October 2014, on the day of the Senator Nominations.
The vote was rejected but I can’t help noting that the same people who proposed it and continued their opposition to virtually everything I have done are the same people calling for my head today.
The 2014 Election was very tough for me as I had to defend difficult decisions – many would argue that these decisions have turned out to be largely the correct ones.
Discussions about roles after the election
After the General Election in November 2014 I was re-elected and subsequently called by Senator Gorst (for whom I have the greatest respect) after he was elected as Chief Minister designate. He asked if I would serve on his new Council and take responsibility for three areas: Competition, Finance and Digital.
Combining these roles was designed to diversify the economy, create more jobs, and boost productivity and there was to be a position in a ministerial post. This meant that I would be subject to a full states vote instead of being only the CM’s nomination. In the interim period I was to be appointed as Assistant Chief Minister and an Assistant Economic Development Minister.
The advantage of the creation of this separate post is that it would not cost any more as it would be located in the Chief Minister’s department. There was also a perception was that the Chief Minister’s responsibilities were becoming too unwieldy. This change would mean one individual would be clearly seen as leading the Finance and Digital sector and as being more directly accountable to the States, instead of effectively acting behind the Chief Minister’s name.
The Industry would know who their first port-of-call was in government – albeit the policies would be subject to Chief Minister oversight. Success would ensure income forecasts would be met, despite the continuing worldwide economic turmoil, and the money found for investment in Health could be in part met by economic growth.
Innovation was added in
When the appointment letter came to me, “Innovation” had been added to the other areas.
This was somewhat of a surprise, and it was explained to me that the decision to transfer this from Economic Development was because this area needed some heavyweight political focus and policy formulation.
The Jersey Innovation Fund was only part of the brief and there were clearly potential concerns about the Fund administration. Transferring it to this new unit would move the Accounting Officer responsibility to the same individual who was responsible for the Finance Industry.
Ministerial position never created
The ministerial position was not created.
I’ve always understood that this was because the Chairman (and perhaps membership) of the Corporate Services Scrutiny Panel said they would block the move by calling it in for scrutiny. It took months to find a solution or compromise to this.
In politics there is often a difference between reality, law and perception and that also often changes with the benefit of hindsight. In Law, I discharged JIF responsibilities – firstly as Assistant ED Minister and then as Assistant Chief Minister.
The perception and the way I discharged the responsibilities was as the CM asked me to do so – as a minister. I have made public statements, upon advice, as though I were the minister responsible. I believe to the best of my knowledge and belief, that is how I should have acted and at no time was I told any different.
i was to;d the find was operating proper;y, numerous times. Here just one example.
November 2014 to December 2015
This period was incredibly difficult as what effectively occurred throughout the period was an impossible situation. Economic Development appears not to have either understood or accepted the CM’s instruction that I should have had full, delegated responsibility for JIF.
I verified the basis of my appointment. Emails show that between the period November 2014 right through to June 2015, E.D. made repeated attempts to hold onto Innovation, despite the instructions from the C.M.
All public documents stated the clear intention that the legislation (Regulations) for the new Ministerial position for Competition, Digital, Financial Services and Innovation would be implemented as a very high priority. Moreover, when this was done, which would have had immediate legal effect, Sen Ozouf was the CM’s nominee. 2015 was a year of ongoing difficultly.
The Fund was transferred to the Chief Minister’s Department on the 1st January 2016, a year late. Fortunately by this time, I had overseen and completed an in-depth review of the whole of the Innovation Policy.
We had concluded that the States should not continue to fund start-ups in the way the Fund had been set-up when credit markets were not lending for businesses, particularly high risk-high high-reward ones.
The Financial Services unit had effectively concluded that the Innovation Fund remaining balances could be better used not to lend large amounts to businesses but instead help start-ups put together their business plans and help them secure their funding from the plentiful sources of capital in Jersey which has a huge range of risk appetite.
Reporting lines confused
This policy approach was, however, almost impossible to deliver as the Economic Development Accounting Officer remained in charge of the Fund administration, even though it was now in the Chief Ministers department.
This was an impossible situation for both the officers and myself.
At the same time it was important not to make speculative public comments that the Fund was definitely a failure. There were concerns but not all of the businesses were failing. Casting aspersions on the Fund as a whole and the businesses being supported could have led to investor confidence declining in the funded startups.
Learnt more about Innovation from Leaks
I often learned more about the Fund’s problems from reading leaked information in the local media. I was put into the position of trying to defend what was, in hindsight, indefensible.
Ministers have to be inquisitive but have no other option but to rely on information given.
The information I was given was incomplete and barely accurate; it was attempting to hide the facts and not properly-sourced. These are the real reasons why no new loans were sanctioned, and I brought in external auditors, in spite of opposition from Civil Servants and others.
What would have happened if I had not been as persistent and inquisitive once I began to realise all was not as I’d been told? The reality is that if the fund had not been subjected to rigorous and persistent questioning, the eventual losses of the fund would be considerably greater. The action taken has, in effect, reduced the eventual total provisions.
It was strongly suggested to me that my persistence in getting to the facts would result in a bullying and harassment claim. This has been a persistent refrain of those one tries to hold to account for the job they are paid a lot of money to do.
I was only provided with partial information.
I was repeatedly told that everything was in order, and the documents that I was given indicated that. It was only because of my own persistence in questioning officials, and, ultimately, effectively having to demand that the Accounting Officer be changed as I had lost confidence, did I discover that matters were not right with the Fund.
Ministers have to take responsibility for the actions of their officials, but only if they consent to their appointment.
Whilst I have support from the CM and my own team – in hindsight, knowing what I now know, it is with great regret that I have concluded that I do not believe that I had sufficient high-level support from the top of the Jersey Civil Service. Why was I – as had been the case in so many previous occasions – getting very little support for sorting things out?
I asked for training and have not had a single days training provided. The training I have had has been self-sourced and paid for out of my own pocket. That is not right especially as ministers need training and coaching to do their jobs.
I would also say backbenchers are treated appallingly and the hard working ones have little support to serve Jersey. Some members take the identical salary that everyone is paid and pocket the expenses too. No one holds them to account.
Administrative failures are failures of administration and officials.
I had full confidence in my team. But, the question needs to be asked as to whether corrective action, to what had become a series of failures within one area of the States. should not have also resulted in internal civil service action much earlier.
This is something for the Public Accounts Committee to consider, upon the advice of the Comptroller and Auditor General.
January 2017 resignation
I resigned from my position as Assistant Chief Minister for Competition, Digital, Financial Services and Innovation on 17th January 2017 to allow an Independent Inquiry in the wake of the Comptroller and Auditor General’s report into the handling of the Innovation Fund that had been set-up and run at the instigation of Economic Development in 2012.
The report was was highly critical and rightly so.
Here was what happened in the States that morning
Jersey Action Group organised a protest whilst the States were sitting see here
Here was my statement
See the webcast start video at 02:26:47
Deputy Mezec responded in Royal Square here. See here what he said. Did he really believe that? Is he going to apologise?
The Jessica Simor QC Report
Taking responsibility also does not automatically mean the individual is to blame – especially when they inherited the problem and were prevented from doing the job. The Jessica Simor QC Report has not even been read by many commentators. I was shocked to find out over the weekend that many States Members have not read the report. Some who have read it claim it says something different from what has been clearly explained to me by experts.
Jersey Action Group
There is a specific online campaign group, which has published an ‘Ozouf Dossier’.
This alone has generated a significant amount of social media comment – much of it by anonymous, shadowy figures hiding behind aliases.
The Waterfront Action Group or Jersey Action Group is attacking me again after ditching its obsession with campaigning against the International Finance Centre.
This group has said the Finance Centre was going to bankrupt Jersey, wasn’t needed, and prejudiced the private sector. They have said:
• Jersey’s Public Finances had a massive inherited and previously hidden black hole which I was responsible for and we were going to go into massive debt;
• The Finance sector is going into melt down and zero-ten is a disaster and
• The Police Station was a disaster and should have been built at Lime Grove and the existing site.
And so on, and so on.
There are certainly some issues, which should not have been allowed to happen by this, and the previous, Council of Ministers. The Group’s grievances have caused huge angst and arguably have been an extraordinary waste and diversion of valuable time.
This group appears to be riding on a wave of global dislike for the ruling establishment – as they see them – and riding the crest of the wave of a dislike of politicians.
Who are they and what is there real motivation?
This group appears to be an alliance of the genuinely dissatisfied, often undisclosed, conflicted and self-interested and those with vested interests. They are supported and cheered on by a very vocal minority and flotsam of people who all criticise with the benefit of hindsight, and who offer no credible solution to anything.
It’s fine to be dissatisfied with decisions and mistakes. I am too.
We need a proper debate on the facts, not fake news. Communication of Government policies and decisions has been woefully lacking, although this is not the fault of The States’ Communications Unit.
The facts not fiction about the Jersey Innovation Fund
It has become clear to me there is still significant concern about the Innovation Fund.
I was asked to take responsibility for this Fund from Economic Development. Taking responsibility is the right thing to do as a minister or assistant minister and I have never shirked from that. In fact I have been criticised for taking responsibility for the actions of officers and others. I have been punished and pilloried for taking responsibility for something that was an inherited major problem and then sorting it out.
You have to take responsibility, account for it, answer questions and if problems are found you have to sort them out.
Taking responsibility does not mean an acceptance of blame.
The report by Jessica Simor QC found no blame with respect to my actions regarding my oversight of the fund. Indeed, it is clear that the blame lies elsewhere.
As Jessica Simor QC said in her report:
“From the documents I have seen and the interviews I have conducted it cannot be said that ministers failed to carry out their functions or breached their duties under the Code of Conduct or otherwise. From the evidence I have seen, it is clear that the ministers took advice from their officers and were acting in good faith. As the C&AG herself pointed out, ministers were not informed of the difficulties posed by the OTRs and I have seen no evidence to suggest otherwise. Indeed it is clear that Senator Ozouf understood on the basis of what he was told that the JIF was functioning effectively and took action as soon as he discovered otherwise.” P9, Para 20.
The next few months
We can build an island with a competitive knowledge based services economy that means a diversified Finance and Digital Economy – I have been asked to work on this but am now being effectively hounded from office. The island can have a great post-Brexit future working in close partnership with The United Kingdom as an economy that works for all islanders.
The mood of the Public
States Members understandably appear to believe – maybe using this online campaign is evidence – that the public mood is against me, and my reappointment. I have been given no opportunity to explain my actions and defend myself as any individual accused of wrongdoing surely has a right to do. Despite the Jessica Simor report, which many people appear to not have even read, or even understood, I am castigated for actions that were not mine.
Three weeks ago I celebrated my Civil Partnership. I’m a private person so did not publicise this important event in my life, and I took a week off after it. The attacks on my reappointment and on my integrity intensified whilst I was away, and they became even more intensified during last week after I returned from my week’s break.
Just as most of the leaks about the Jersey Innovation Fund were made whilst I was supposed to be on holiday (and necessitated spending hours of my time dealing with the problem) this time my known week’s absence was used as an opportunity to build support against me and denigrate my reputation.
Machiavelli supporters may be proud.
I have worked with and for many Members over the past (nearly) two decades of my public service. Being thorough, asking questions and being persistent is not bullying.
Some people may feel threatened by questions – we all need to respect one another and have training, where needed, to work as teams for the benefit of those we serve.
The conduct of certain members, however, feels tantamount to bullying.
It’s the kind of behaviour they suggest is wrong, yet to be clear: I’m the subject of a determined witch-hunt to oust me whatever the price.
It’s personal and appears to be the continuation of a number of personal vendettas for past decisions taken, coupled with the rule of the mob. The roll call of regular contributors to this campaign should be analysed for the interests that are held by these people.
I hope that a solution to what is an unfair vote of no confidence in CM is not used as an opportunity to take revenge on difficult decisions I have had to take in the past. I’m not perfect. I make mistakes and admit them. But I make decisions on advice.
I respectfully suggest others look in the mirror, as I have had to do. They should bury their personal vendettas and get on with the real job of serving Jersey.
I sincerely hope a solution which is fair to all is taken and the talents of the many not the few are used.
Things have to change.