Yes, we like change, but we also enjoy stability...
By Chris Clark, chairman of the Jersey branch of the Institute of Directors
I DON’T know how readers of the JEP feel, but it seems to me that March has passed in the blink of an eye! The month included a dusting of snow and announcements from at least five Members of the Assembly who said that they are not standing in May’s election.
Thankfully none of them have a track record of maintaining the Island’s reputation beyond our shores, our fiscal stability or ‘status quo’ in policy – nor do any oversee important portfolios within the Council of Ministers such as Treasury, Infrastructure or Housing. Thankfully none of them are responsible for the Island’s population policy or may once have had oversight of financial services, competition, innovation and the digital sector. Oh wait a minute…
I know many are concerned with Island life and I acknowledge the disparity that seems to be growing between the very affluent at one end and those caught in a spiral of poverty at the other.
However, the Island works by means of a simple calculation – people working contribute taxes to support those who are unable to work. For the first time in several years I believe those making an economic contribution make up around 60% of the population and they in turn support 40% (children, elderly people and those in need of social care or support). This means that government can balance the books (maybe even contributing to the ‘rainy-day fund’, thanks to a currently thriving economy) while providing good public services to all, despite our ageing population. So on the one hand the Island is working economically, if not being perceived as delivering for the whole community politically.
I suppose our concern at the IoD is that while we are keen to see reform within government – to reduce the cost and complexity of running the Island – the IoD genuinely wants the Island to function effectively and efficiently for everyone.
While deriving comfort from the States of Jersey’s new CEO and his announcement that the transition team (aka ‘the Dream Team / Charlie’s Angels or Four Horsemen’ – depending on where you stand on public sector reform) is to change into a reduced team, shifting their focus from ‘research and strategy to action’ and delivering their reform programme over the next 12 months.
We are concerned that if five of the 11 members of the Council of Ministers are not standing (and one in charge of the Education Department has presently stepped aside), then from a continuity perspective there are only five members of the current government who have a chance of being re-elected. While we like change, we also like stability in policy, which provides comfort to industry, business owners and ‘external eyes’ considering investing in the Island or through the Island.
I am sure many will say ‘great, about time, off with the heads of the old guard’. But wisdom is gained throughout life. It is easy to shout with confidence on social media a populist statement such as: ‘We can change the world,’ but such slogan shouters may not have actually ever worked within the broader economy and thus may not understand the implications of our actions, nor the machinery of government. While it might appear that this is a criticism of our younger, aspirational elected representatives, this is not the case either. As that wise chap Confucius is once said: ‘A youth is to be regarded with respect. How do we know that his future will not be equal (or greater) to our present?’
This election, more than any other in recent history, will see a significant shift in ‘elected personnel’. Only time will tell whether this shift results in a positive or negative impact upon Jersey’s reputation and attractiveness to ‘do business’ beyond our shores or to live and thrive within this beautiful Island.
In closing, the IoD politely requests the following of every business owner: please permit every colleague to vote in May. Voter apathy and complacency will not enable the government or our Island to evolve, embrace change and understand real issues. That includes migration, sexuality, discrimination, poverty, Island life, education, the rural economy, housing, taxation, through to protecting this beautiful Island. These are all diverse, often conflicting issues which a new look, yet a balanced States Assembly can endeavour to champion for continued prosperity.