Paying our Deputies - is Less Really More?

How we can we control spending without driving out talent

Tony Hemans    26nd February 2010

In every democratic society, the question of the remuneration levels of our political masters is keenly debated. Should rewards be benchmarked against payments within private industry? Should one consider a public service to be above strict monetary rewards? Will excessive salaries corrupt recipients, or will insufficient remuneration result in lower quality holders of office, incapable of good governance?

While many of the above factors will be relevant to most jurisdictions, the problem is to decide what is best for Guernsey and the unique nature of its government and its traditions.

There seems no question in my mind, that where the recruitment of quality politicians competes against high achievers and high salary levels in, for example, our finance sector, we must pay salaries that reflect this and persuade individuals of talent to enter the political arena. But remuneration levels are not the only consideration of an aspiring politician. Who will wish to bear the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune from a sceptical public, to have their policies and decisions pilloried, their position in society devalued? Without a substantial improvement in the perceived status of our deputies, we will never attract the quality political entrant we so sorely need.

One can point to a chicken and egg syndrome here. First, recruit people of ability, then the political perception of the public will be enhanced, government will improve, the Island will be more prosperous, the electorate will feel the benefit etc. Unfortunately, however, current public opinion of our political class is at a worryingly low level. This can only deter new entrants, unless we take radical action.

I am also sympathetic to the argument that Guernsey has a number of highly talented residents who have achieved their goals in life and, although comfortably off, feel they can contribute to the Island’s prosperity and do not seek large monetary rewards. In other words, they are happy to put back into the community. their experience, their knowledge and their time. We ignore this sector at our peril and need to take full advantage of this public spirited body.

In an ideal world, a mix of the above two cultures would be an excellent way forward. Though not easy, I believe we should seek to bring this concept to fruition.

First, let us urgently look at remuneration for all serving Deputies. At the risk of being too contentious, but in order to establish parameters, let us benchmark the remuneration of a senior manager in our major finance houses against the pay of a Deputy without portfolio. If the current level is, say, £100,000 per annum, we would not be profligate in paying our Deputies £80,000 per annum to serve the public, and we would remove, at a stroke, the financial disadvantages of entering politics in the Island. Let us reward our portfolio holding deputies in line with directors and chief executives of our finance companies or major industrial concerns. Who will begrudge paying our Chief Minister, £200,000 per annum if we attract a top quality individual who can steer us through an increasingly difficult and competitive commercial environment?

It might be argued that such remuneration levels could attract people of lower calibre, unworthy of holding office. But, in any democracy, all persons are entitled to stand. We must trust the electorate to choose between a person of quality and one of lesser talents and ability.

We should not be surprised to see our senior, elected Islanders offering to reduce their remuneration entitlement in line with their own adequate financial position, nor should we criticize them for taking their full salaries. If quality people can take our Island forward and build on our success, their financial rewards will be fully merited and will benefit us all.

One sting in the tail. I have long argued that, for an island of 60,000 people, 45 Deputies are far too many. No board of directors, in the private sector, could operate efficiently and effectively, with so many executives seeking to be heard and, thereby, muddying and delaying the decision making process. By all means give more of the day-to-day governance to our civil servants, but the interests of the electorate are far better served by an elite corps of highly intelligent, motivated men and women, who can reach right decisions speedily and cost effectively.

If we were to reduce our deputies to no more than 30, it would still mean one deputy would represent 2000 Islanders, against a UK number of 68,000. Because we would be attracting first class talent, we could reduce the current number of departments/committees to possibly five “super ministries” which should be efficiently run by these high achievers. The savings we would make from these reductions would go a considerable way towards the extra cost of acquiring high quality politicians and governance and which would be the envy of other democracies far larger than our own. We need to remember we are a population of 60,000, not 60 million and plan our size of government accordingly. We should also bear in mind, with pride, that, unlike other countries, we do not, fortunately, have a problem of graft or corruption within our political establishment. We need only concern ourselves with successful government.

Realistic Islanders are moving increasingly towards the necessity of adopting a limited form of executive government for Guernsey. It will not make sense to employ a hugely talented Chief Executive if we refuse to let him govern, asking him constantly to refer to the other Deputies to implement important policy decisions. As long as he and his executive body are fully accountable and members of this body can be summarily dismissed from office for poor performance, or at the next election, we should see very much improved decision making. We must install the appropriate checks and balances so that the government can be called to account.

As ever, we will need to overcome the apathy of the Guernsey voter to implement these changes. I hope sufficient interest will be forthcoming, so that we can present to the States the will of the electorate for a radical change in which we are governed.

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Paying our Deputies - is Less Really More?
How we can we control spending without driving out talent.

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