Difficult Covid balancing act for our small administration

IT is easy to talk about strength and resilience but it is rather more difficult to be strong and determined in the middle of a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.

St Ouen's Parish Hall. Senatorial Hustings                                                             Picture: ROB CURRIE. (29986991)
St Ouen's Parish Hall. Senatorial Hustings Picture: ROB CURRIE. (29986991)

The feeling of helplessness can overwhelm you, whether you are on the frontline trying desperately to help save lives and repair the damage, or just a frustrated observer unable to do much to make a difference. Both groups have to focus on the future while they cope with the present.

One way of coping is to appreciate that we are considerably better off than most people and that Jersey is lucky, even if at sometimes it doesn’t seem so.

We get frustrated by isolation and petty, sometimes illogical rules, and there is still considerable suffering often very close to us. But, as an island, we are doing quite well under enormously trying circumstances.

Politicians and public servants are easy targets for criticism at times like this but they are also among those working hardest to do something about it.

It would be close to a miracle if there were not a few things that the government could have done better. However, I would suggest that there is nothing substantial that would have produced a far better outcome.

That’s hardly surprising as the government, along with the rest of the Island, was swept along by events outside our control and choices were limited.

The medical battle has been quite difficult, partly due to the selfishness and stupidity of some Islanders, which means that the government cannot trust some of them to do what is best for themselves or the community. They have had to be told what to do (which they obviously don’t like) and the police have been forced to visit nearly 2,000 premises in the past month just to check that the people inside are being responsible.

Of course, all this raises important issues for the Island in the future. First of all, everyone has got to be much more prepared for crises like these, and even tiny islands with little outside influence should join this international effort. As a rich, sophisticated island, we might even be able to play the role of a leader, working with the many other small islands telling them about our experiences and how we coped.

On a domestic level, the pandemic has laid bare many of our weaknesses. A considerable number of those struggling with isolation and seemingly petty rules live in cramped conditions where a garden is just a dream. Income inequality and lack of opportunity is a serious problem in the Island, meaning that the pandemic is having a far greater impact on some Islanders than others.

The government fully appreciates this, which is why it has tied itself up in knots trying to balance the economic needs of Islanders with the overriding need to protect them from Covid-19. They have, therefore, opened themselves up to criticism from both sides of the health-versus-wealth argument. The fact that the argument is fairly well balanced may indicate that ministers have got it about right.

It’s doubtful they expect any thanks for this but perhaps they don’t deserve to be constantly attacked by one group or another for either losing control or being too strict.

The latest barrage comes from another configuration of hoteliers, restaurateurs, publicans and café owners who feel the need to fight their case outside their representative organisation.

The hospitality sector is suffering, as we would expect in a lockdown, and it is obvious it needs more help. But was it really necessary for a whole bunch of them to get together to write to the Chief Minister in very strong terms as though he did not already understand their predicament?

The government’s record of helping all sectors with payroll support schemes is pretty clear and quite generous so, if there are any outstanding anomalies, you could reasonably expect them to be sorted out eventually, without the need for an unnecessary fuss.

Unfortunately, we all sometimes forget that, particularly at times like this, our very small administration in Jersey can become overwhelmed. That’s because some of us have got used to believing the notion that we have a bloated public sector. In the post-Parker era, that is no longer the case – and could now be the reverse.

Some would contend it was never the case in the first place but the result is that there are not many people working on the coal-face combating a pandemic, saving the economy and setting a new direction for the Island at the same time as managing a complicated, very demanding community. The hospitality sector will be looked after eventually and we might then appreciate that a relatively large public sector can be a good thing, rather than a handicap.

There are quite a few lessons to learn from the tragedy of a pandemic. More of us have even started taking the climate crisis seriously, although there will always be those with their heads stuck in the polluted clouds. The coronavirus crisis is going on for such a long time, however, that the message should eventually become clear to most of them.

Those looking for something to do during the lockdown could always think about the future and plan for it, rather than simply moaning about the present.

The government has already started the hunt for a new long-term vision, while not many of us even know what the current one is. All we can remember is trite, meaningless phrases like putting children first.

There is an election due in a year and a half so any possible candidates, or even embryonic political parties, could use the spare time in the lockdown to think about what they want Jersey to be in the near future. They might even have the time and the resources to devise some workable policies, even though that would be a bit of an innovation in Jersey politics.

In order not to waste any time, they should start pushing those policies now and contributing to the process of finding a new vision as the government is a bit busy at the moment.

It might even be better if, once the pandemic is under firm control, the government calls an early election to hurry on the process of creating a new economy and putting into effect the lessons we have learned during Covid-19.

Top Stories

More From The Jersey Evening Post

UK & International News