21st January 2022


Chief Pleas convened for the first time in 2022 this week at its Christmas meeting, one of the four statutory annual meetings. Apologies had been received from Conseiller Joseph Donovan whilst the acting Lt. Governor, Guernsey’s Bailiff, Richard McMahon QC, was on the dais and Marco Ciotti, Guernsey’s Lt. Governor’s Aide-de-Camp, sat in the public gallery with another dozen attendees. Many of the agenda items covered were mere housekeeping and procedural matters and reinforced the Speaker’s recent comments that Extraordinary meetings have been used far too frequently to address items that should form part of the statutory meetings as prescribed by the reform laws of Sark. This has included items such as the 2022 budget which would usually form part of the Michaelmas meeting but was instead bumped to an Extraordinary meeting in November 2021. This Extraordinary meeting saw only 11 Conseillers in attendance with five absent, likely due to arrangements and commitments made in advance of any notification of an Extraordinary meeting.

The Speaker opened the meeting at 5.00pm and confirmed that all Declarations of Interest had been received from every Conseiller before introducing opening statements. Conseiller John Guille, chair of Policy & Finance (P&F), commenced by referring to the upcoming census. He confirmed that they had been seeking a non-resident as ‘Registrar’, predominantly in Guernsey and Jersey, for some time. An application had been received from Gordon Snell, Guernsey’s Returning Officer in the first island-wide elections held in 2020, however, there had not been enough time to bring it to this assembly, causing another Extraordinary meeting to be held, now scheduled for 16th February 2022, in which a full report would be brought.

Conseiller Guille followed with a second statement to confirm that a special Constable’s Committee would be formed to organise HM The Queen’s Jubilee celebrations later this year. A report would also be brought to the February Extraordinary meeting.

A third statement was brought by Conseiller Kevin Delaney who confirmed the details of the lease on the Power Station held by Sark Electricity Ltd (SEL) in response to a question asked by Conseiller Edric Baker in the Extraordinary meeting in December 2021; starting on 1st January 1971, this agreement with SEL is due to expire on 31/12/2030. He added that the majority of Sark leases often include a clause stating that the property/land should be returned to the landowner in as good a condition as at the commencement of the lease. As a result of the recent asset survey in which concerns were raised as to leaks and soil contamination elsewhere across the Island from SEL infrastructure issues, Conseiller Delaney will be inviting the company to participate in a survey of the Power Station site.

Conseiller Guille then updated the House with regards to the ongoing SEL purchase negotiations and that they were continuing in a positive manner with progress being made. He requested that residents understand that not all aspects of negotiations are for public knowledge. He added:

· that assistance and advice were being taken from, amongst others, the Guernsey Law Officers and the States of Guernsey’s External Affairs;

· that Sark never again be put in the position to have its electricity supply, and subsequently its water supply, threatened;

· that Guernsey Electric has offered to assist in the management and operation of the company in the short to medium term following any purchase.

The matter is currently in a ‘delicate state of negotiations’ but would be returned to the House in due course. Conseiller Frank Makepeace asked as to the population of the negotiating party, before Conseiller Delaney observed:

“To date Chief Pleas has given its unanimous support to Policy & Finance in their pursuit of the above objectives. In doing so it has been necessary for not just us in the House but also the entire public to place their faith, indeed some might say, blind faith, in their actions.”

“Were they required to report publicly on their thinking, their strategy at every stage of the negotiations, they would be at an enormous disadvantage when trying to strike the right deal for the Island? However, I would ask that the chair of P&F, and he has gone some way to doing that this evening, and I am sure that many in this House will appreciate it, give assurances to the public-at-large that the committee has developed a strategy that is far and beyond that of simply acquiring the assets.

If they are considering bringing the company into public ownership, are they satisfied they have adequate lines of credit in place to not only purchase the business but to allow the investment into plant, machinery and the grid that is so obviously needed? Is the committee content that they have readily available access to the management skills and expertise that will be required to run the company?

If they are instead considering placing the company into the private sector, or ultimately into the private sector, will they have a tender process in place that ensures that the successful bidder is bound by law to guarantee security of supply so that we never have to live under the threat of the switch being thrown again?”

Conseiller Guille responded to Makepeace’s question that the negotiating team would be populated as directed by the House under Andrew Ozanne, a Guernsey arbitrator, who has been assisting to date, though Ozanne’s appointment is yet to be officially approved by Chief Pleas. This response caused a little confusion in that the House had earlier been informed that negotiations were already at a ‘delicate stage’ - leaving many to ponder how can that be so when a negotiating team is yet to be approved?

Guille stated that Delaney would not have been aware of the written statement that he had delivered a few minutes earlier and that all of Delaney’s questions had been answered in his earlier statement. It appeared to many in the House that merely some, and by no means all of Delaney’s questions, had been answered. Guille added that any future decisions would be brought back to the House for approval. Makepeace furthered that he felt his question had not been answered fully at which point the Speaker judged that no purpose would be served by Makepeace requesting further information, suggesting instead that he put any further query in writing to P&F.

Conseiller Guille, in a further statement, confirmed that the restructuring of the Isle of Sark Shipping Company Ltd’s (IoSS) board was underway and for residents to expect a maildrop to every household advertising the position of a Sark-based Non-Executive Director.

Conseiller Helen Plummer then made what was to be the final statement under agenda item one to reassure residents that the search for a new ambulance was ongoing with the help of St. Johns and Guernsey. A press release has also been published on the Chief Pleas website in relation to this. Makepeace observed that it was an urgent priority for a new ambulance as members of the public had concerns that the current one was not fit-for-purpose.

Thus, the agenda commenced with Matters Arising, of which there were none, also with no Questions Not Related to the Business of the Day.

The Speaker then put it to the House for the addendum item to be inserted into the agenda after item nine which was duly carried. Agenda item three from the Medical & Emergency Committee was to approve ‘The Capacity (Bailiwick of Guernsey) Law, 2020 Commencement Ordinance, 2022’ and Sark’s 2022 commencement ordinance. Minor amendments were made and both propositions were carried.

The fourth agenda item attracted considerable debate with regards to the proposed by-election to be held on 23rd March 2022. Conseiller Sandra Williams told the House that she felt a group of Conseillers should potentially meet with possible future candidates to offer encouragement to stand, something she had done in previous years. She further added that, due to the lack of candidates in recent elections, some form of remuneration should come with the role of Conseiller to encourage more people to stand citing that the Sark community recognises the Island’s volunteer politicians and the hard work and time that all Conseillers dedicate to the position. Several members of the assembly signaled their agreement to some form of recompense, Guille, Plummer and Delaney amongst them. Conseiller Frank Makepeace however, made it clear that he was vehemently against the idea. The Speaker had to interject when debate between Frank Makepeace and Sandra Williams became heated, with Williams accusing Makepeace of discouraging candidates from standing by calling them stupid when he had raised the spectre of a salary attracting potentially the wrong candidates. Mr Speaker went so far as to declare that he would not allow a punch up in the meeting!

All at the assembly failed to reference the results of the 2021 Future Shape of Chief Pleas consultation paper, with sadly only 27 residents responding out of a possible 371 questionnaires that had been sent out, this is not what Islanders want. The number one item that discouraged respondents from standing for election was the time commitment/workload, whilst a lack of reimbursement had the joint lowest response alongside ‘unqualified to do the role.’

As encouragement to would-be candidates, Conseiller Guille listed recent positives achieved by the current House that could make the role of a Sark politician rewarding, including the imminent recycling programme, the first census, the restructuring of the IoSS board for the benefit of Sark residents and businesses, as well as securing Sark’s electricity supply. The proposition for a by-election to be held was subsequently voted through. The Speaker then reminded the assembly that the Electoral Register is currently open but would close on 18th February 2022.

Agenda item five saw things heat up a little further, with Conseiller Delaney stating that he was in support of the census but asked for reassurances from the chair of P&F that the census data would only be handled off-Island and, more importantly, that no one on Sark, including civil servants, government officials and politicians, would be able to see the contents of completed census forms. Conseiller Makepeace sought clarification as to the role of the enumerator, asking if they, in keeping with the census registrar, would also come from off-Island.

The questions appeared to exasperate Conseiller Guille. He stated that he had repeatedly given assurances that responses would be sent off-Island and that all data would be collated off-Island and then, and only then would the data be forwarded to Chief Pleas. Guille accused Delaney of throwing shade at the exercise, stating that he had dangerously suggested that residents would incorrectly complete the census form before announcing he would not give further reassurances. However, Delaney appeared to get the confirmation from Guille that he sought, namely that anyone in Sark who so wished could fill in a census form and post it directly to the census registrar in Guernsey secure in the knowledge that no one in Sark will have access to the confidential personal information contained within their completed form.

The chair of P&F’s exasperated tone attracted the ire of Conseiller Nichola McHugh who stated that she had read section six, the relevant section, and aspects of the legislation were still not clear to her and therefore possibly others - she could not be expected to be a lawyer and that the questions being asked were perfectly reasonable. Back and forth exchanges between Guille and McHugh continued before the Speaker intervened and asked for the House to go to the vote and the census proposition was duly carried.

Agenda item six saw the transfer of the safeguarding function from the Education Committee to the Medical & Emergency Committee as agreed at the 2021 Michaelmas meeting. The seventh agenda item covered solely the change in the Education Committee’s mandate as a result of the transfer of the safeguarding function and the increase of membership of the Committee, with the caveat that no more than two of the five members can be parents. Debate became more heated as Conseiller Sandra Williams, former Education Committee chair, took aim at current chair Conseiller McHugh. In a tense exchange, Williams demanded an update on the role of Director of Education (DoE) and the chair of the Board of Education. Former DoE UK-based Beverly Gates resigned in late 2021 with the role coming to an end this month. In previous assemblies, chair of Education, Nichola McHugh, had stated that the position was under review. The Speaker interjected that he did not feel that this was the appropriate meeting for an update on the DoE, that this item was purely the changes to the mandate. Williams countered that the DoE was covered under the mandate.

McHugh confirmed the two changes to the mandate, before giving a brief update on the DoE: Conseiller Joseph Donovan has been in communication with the Director of Education in Guernsey to finalise a Service Level Agreement (SLA) with Guernsey plus a plethora of other benefits from liaising closely with Sark’s neighbouring Island but did not want to commit too much until matters had been confirmed with Guernsey. The Speaker confirmed that one would assume that both mandates of the Education Committee and the Board of Education have now been aligned. Williams concluded her contribution to the debate by stating that she was not seeking to belittle the role of the Education Committee. The proposition was carried.

The eighth agenda item followed: changes to the Medical & Emergency Service Committee mandate, again, as a result of the transfer of the safeguarding function. Conseiller Plummer read the report and the item was carried with no debate.

Addendum item 15 came next which was the Code of Code Report concerning complaints made by Alan Witney-Price, formerly Jackson, against Conseiller John Guille, who excused himself from the assembly. Whilst Conseiller Guille has been cleared of any wrongdoing, the report appears to fail to address the two complaints (one and three) which the panel stated in its report were pertinent to the Code of Conduct. Conseiller Makepeace suggested that the complaints should have dealt with by an off-Island panel before highlighting the lack of an amalgamated tribunal panel which has been discussed for some time. The Speaker highlighted that the complaint had been investigated as prescribed by law and there has been no appeal by the complainant. The report was carried.

Agenda item nine was the annual information report from the Agriculture, Environment & Sea Fisheries Committee; Conseiller Plummer thanked those involved in all related aspects across the Island.

The tenth agenda item was a Top Level Domain Special Committee report updating the House. Conseiller Le Lievre introduced the report and referred to the series of articles recently published in The Sark Newspaper, also available at: Sark Identity Group - Welcome to Sark. Conseiller Guille enquired as to its future management to which Conseiller Le Lievre confirmed that it was too early to say, and he would of course return to the House with further details.

Agenda items 11 and 12 - housekeeping - were the Road Traffic Seasonal Regulations for tractor drivers and carriage drivers. Conseiller Drillot asked that any tractor and carriage owners highlighted these rules to any drivers that may change seasonally. Agenda items 13 and 14 were again housekeeping items electing Conseillers to committees and Non-Chief Pleas Members and Panel Members to Committees and Panels, as required; Conseillers Le Lievre and Bougourd were subsequently voted onto the Douzaine’s Public Works Sub-Committee. Regulations were then laid by the Speaker.

With the Christmas Assembly over, an Extraordinary meeting was immediately convened to elect the deputy Speaker of Sark’s government, the term of office having expired. This position only had one applicant, the incumbent Mr Paul Armorgie, who was proposed by Conseiller Pippa Donovan and seconded by Conseiller John Guille. The proposal was accepted by the House, and it was confirmed that Deputy Speaker Armorgie be sworn into office some time after 26th February 2022.