Opinion: Gary Burgess
I’m just home from quite a week away. I’ve been in Blackpool spending some very special time with family and close friends. It’s been a week where every second has mattered so much to me, and the value of the people I care about has only been magnified.
But, while away, I can never truly switch off from life back home. I had a self-imposed social media break for the week (more for the benefit of other people than anything else) but I did remain a ‘lurker’ checking out what was getting people talking, having a good read of the JEP digital edition each morning, as well as the websites of our other island media outlets.
Things kept jumping out to me as unusually odd. What I don’t know is whether it was just another business-as-usual week that felt different with the advantage of distance between me and said events, or whether it really has been a funny seven days on Planet Jersey.
First up the new chief executive of the government. We know Charlie’s gone. We know Paul’s holding shop in the meantime. And we know there’s been a push for a good while to delay any permanent appointment until after the next general election to avoid all the catastrophic failures of last time around where your top civil servant is appointed under the dying days of one regime only to find themselves working primarily under a completely new one with different priorities and personalities.
Indeed, I wrote a column on 12 June extolling the merits of a delay in proceedings, with a formal push for that delay to be enacted through a States debate (due today as it happens) tabled by Deputy Kirsten Morel on 30 July.
I’d heard the rumour around three weeks back that the chief executive of Belfast City Council had been offered the gig in late July. Earlier this week the Belfast Telegraph splashed the story of Suzanne Wylie’s imminent move on its front page.
A day or two later, after a classic government wall of silence, the Chief Minister confirmed the job offer had been made.
As ever, blood out of a stone, on the back foot, and looking like yet another States Employment Board shambles. Imagine being offered the job, and then finding out there may be a political block on your appointment, and the government was evidently trying to keep the whole thing on the QT. I genuinely feel for Suzanne Wylie in all this.
Anyhow, that was oddity number one. The recurring “can we ever get anything right when it comes to a chief executive” merry-go-round.
Next up was a truly odd assertion from somebody I don’t know – Paul Sangan – that he was going to stand as a candidate for the Alliance Party at the general election because he was fed up with the empty promises of politicians. It may just be me, and if it is I apologise, but the Alliance Party is effectively a coming together of the current ruling establishment. So if you’re fed up with empty promises, it seems an odd place to stake your claim. Anyhow, I wish Mr Sangan well and it will be a great addition to the States Assembly to have any additional candidate focused with laser-like precision on the environment.
And third on my list of weird stuff was a social media post from the government which had the effect of saying “we don’t want migrants in Jersey”. It was actually part of a campaign to get us contributing to the debate on population controls but, amid all that’s happening in the world right now – and at a time when hospitality is on its knees due to chronic staffing shortages – it was at best tone deaf. Surely there’s quality control and a sense check in these processes? Surely someone looked at the post and did a hasty intake of air through their teeth? Evidently not.
We’re at a strange time in this four-year political term.
There was a reasonably good population management plan on the table just before the last general election but here we are, nearly four years later, and we’re no further on. There has been a long, drawn-out policy review process, a short public consultation, and a promise of something tangible before we all trundle to the polls next June, but that really amounts to an entire political term achieving the square root of naff all.
The same applies to the so-called housing action plan. Light on action. Heavy on things to launch review after review on. In the meantime this island faces a chronic housing shortage, property prices just don’t seem real, and we hear story after story of young people leaving the island at the earliest opportunity to set up home anywhere but here because you have to be born into money or have a lucky inheritance to get a proper foot on the ladder. The multipliers of salaries to mortgages are just unreal. Something has to give. Yet, again, nearly four years into this government’s reign, there does not appear to be a plan.
I must, at this point, make mention of Andium Homes, who continue quietly and effectively continue to try to roll out their housing developments, even in the face of what seem like ridiculous reasons for projects being delayed or declined at the planning meeting stage.
Oh goodness. Have I returned from Blackpool with my glass half empty? I hope not. And I don’t think so. I remain optimistic about all our island can and does achieve. But I remain concerned that the dying days of this government continue to be characterised by inertia dressed up as action, more reviews dressed up as decisions, and some ministers genuinely believing they’re the best thing since sliced bread when both their ministerial colleagues and the hard-working civil servants who do the real work despair at their focus being more on claiming credit and creating photo opportunities for themselves than doing any actual hard work.
I name no names. But if you’ve even a niggle that it might be you I’m talking about minister… you’re right.
Let’s get this chief executive situation sorted, based on how today’s vote goes. The whole public sector deserves clarity while it remains in the very good interim hands of the talented Paul Martin. Let’s see our political parties truly set out what they all stand for so we can all engage fully in the democratic process. And let’s give our government a hard time about getting things done. They’re now spending a mind-boggling billion pounds a year of our money running the show. We have every right to know they’re more than a talking shop.
Actions not words, please.