PARISHIONERS in St Brelade turned out in force for their first in-person hustings of the 2022 election campaign.
The event in the parish hall in St Aubin was attended by eight of the nine candidates hoping to be elected to one of four available Deputy positions for the St Brelade district, which has the same boundaries as the parish. Reform Jersey candidate Nigel Jones sent his apologies, having tested positive for Covid-19 in the run-up to the meeting.
Karl Busch (independent) was the first candidate to give an opening address, saying he wanted to empower the community through the themes of health, combating financial inequality and keeping Islanders active and socially connected.
He said: ‘I have addressed all three areas through my community interest company hosting tea dances and line dance workshops across the Island but now specifically in St Brelade at Communicare, keeping us happy, active and connected, especially as we age.’
James Corbett (Jersey Alliance) said that his vision was for a ‘vibrant, economically successful and fair community committed to preserving the best quality of life that residents can enjoy’.
Mr Corbett said he would prefer to see government ‘get out of the way’ in many respects and focus on key areas such as education, housing, healthcare and the environment.
‘We have to ensure equality of opportunities so that all people are given a fair shot,’ he said.
Helen Miles (independent) said that in recent years the government had lost focus on the issues that mattered to the public.
A ‘parish improvement project’ would be a priority if she was elected, Mrs Miles added, including the trial lease of an empty unit in the precinct at Les Quennevais to provide a hub for government and community services in the west of the Island.
‘It would be great for people out west to go through a real front door and talk to a real person about the real things that matter to them,’ she said.
Steve Bailey (Progress Party) ran through key tenets of the manifesto produced by the Progress/Jersey Liberal Conservatives coalition. He said there should be no barriers stopping people accessing high-quality education at any level or any age and added that government should listen to the views of teachers and healthcare staff.
Financial prudence, support for environmental initiatives such as a National Marine Park and the phased move to raising the minimum wage to the level of the living wage were other themes mentioned by Mr Bailey.
Moz Scott (independent) said that she wished to harness the skills gained as a finance lawyer and business owner to the States Assembly, alongside a focus on the environment that had driven her to campaign against insensitive coastal development.
New opportunities identified by the Economic Council had to be seized, Ms Scott added, and there should be work to fund and improve essential public services, reducing tax anomalies and excess red tape.
‘We need to right-size and redirect our public spending,’ she said.
Steve Pallett (Progress) focused entirely on healthcare in his opening remarks, saying that increasing numbers of Islanders were putting off visits to their GP because appointments now cost more than £50.
He said: ‘Ministers and officers have misused our Health Insurance Fund by using £58 million of your money on unconnected issues rather than supporting affordable GP appointments.
‘Cost should never be a bar to seeing your GP, so we will bring the subsidy back to at least the 2012 level by using the Health Insurance Fund in the way it was intended.’
Jonathan Renouf (independent) said that he had found that many of the columns he wrote for the JEP since returning to Jersey three years ago were complaining about various issues.
‘I thought either I could go on writing miserable columns for the rest of my life, or I could actually try and do something about it,’ he said.
Mr Renouf called for clear thinking by the new government on key issues such as housing – with development on brown-field sites and stopping tax relief on buy-to-let mortgages – population and the environment.
Montfort Tadier (Reform Jersey) said he was pleased that changes to the electoral system made St Brelade a single electoral district, having formerly been divided into two.
Housing was the main topic addressed by the serving Deputy.
He said: ‘There is a real crisis and a need for people willing to grasp the nettle, for States Members who don’t have vested interests – the Assembly couldn’t even bring in minimum standards and regulations to ensure rental tenants have somewhere safe and warm to live.’
Deputy Tadier spent the last 60 seconds of his allotted three minutes highlighting the credentials of Reform colleague Nigel Jones, who was prevented from attending the meeting as a result of the positive Covid test.
He said: ‘Nigel has a focus on positive community values and ecology and takes these areas very seriously. He’s 67, but he’s a young pensioner and did 24,000 steps during the first day’s campaigning.’
Accountability and transparency
Greater accountability and transparency from government was called for by many candidates in response to a question from parishioner Lesley Bratch about how improvements could be achieved in this area.
James Corbett said Members had to recognise their ‘supreme responsibility’ to those who had elected them, adding that he would like to see a proper code of conduct for ministers, and highlighting the importance of Scrutiny ‘to tear the hairs off the neck of every minister’.
Helen Miles lamented the shift of power in recent years from ministers to civil servants and said this had to be reversed. Having departments with one minister and one chief officer was essential so that lines of responsibility were clear, she added.
Having worked in business for many years, Steve Bailey said there was direct accountability which was lacking in government, with former chief executive Charlie Parker having ‘closed down’ much of the interaction between ministers and government officials. ‘Everyone reported to him, and that has resulted in less accountability,’ Mr Bailey added.
Moz Scott said there were flaws in the Public Finances Law that should hold senior officials to account. Officials should provide written reasons for major decisions which could then be scrutinised by an ombudsman, she said, with a need to reduce the number of exemptions applied in answering freedom of information requests.
Steve Pallett said it was important to start as you intended to carry on, and pledged that there would be no secret agreements by those elected under the Progress/JLC banner. Mr Parker’s system had undermined ministers and when things stopped working the response had been to bring in more civil servants and consultants, he added.
Jonathan Renouf said ministers and senior civil servants needed to set the tone through communicating openly with the public, not hiding behind press officers. Simple basic rules could be brought in to make clear who was responsible for key decisions, he added.
Montfort Tadier said that the 2018 proposition on the new machinery of government, initiated by Mr Parker, had been a ‘big error’ which he had voted against at the time, as it had taken power away from ministers and assistant ministers and put it in the hands of chief officers and other senior officials. Constituency surgeries were an important tool for individual Members, he added.
Karl Busch said that the right tone had to be set from the top and would then permeate down through the system and ease the current disillusionment. ‘You need strong governance and policies that mean everyone knows where they stand,’ he added.
Candidates at the St Brelade hustings were in broad agreement on a number of topics raised. These included:
– Calling for high-net-worth individuals to pay more tax and be required to buy houses above a higher threshold than current limits. Many candidates wanted a full review of the costs and benefits of the current system, while Montfort Tadier said he objected to the term ‘high net worth’ when some Islanders were having to leave Jersey as a result of the high cost of living.
– None of the candidates specifically backed a call from the floor to bring in a minister with specific responsibility for old-age pensioners, but there was widespread support for a communities minister focused on ensuring all vulnerable Islanders were supported and represented.
– Although many of the would-be Deputies said they had previously had reservations about the choice of Overdale as the site for the new hospital, none were in favour of re-visiting the site selection issue now planning permission had been given. Jonathan Renouf said that the desire to ‘get on with it’ might have to be reconsidered in the event of any surprising factors coming to light following the election, while Steve Bailey said he did not think it was right that planning permission had been given during an election period by outgoing Environment Minister and St Brelade Deputy John Young.