Opinion: John Henwood
IS it me, or was the silly season really not very silly this year? Traditionally August is the time when politicians and other movers and shakers who make news, take holidays. The government machine and corporate activity slows down. It is during August that editors are usually scratching around for stories, and so it tends to be the month in which skateboarding pigs, vegetables with amusing appendages and clouds which look like a map of New Zealand find their way onto newspaper pages and TV screens.
Nowadays, with computer-generated images no longer the preserve of Walt Disney, it’s impossible to tell which of these images is real and the amusement they once generated is replaced by the passing thought that they must be fake. This year, though, August didn’t seem to offer many opportunities for silliness. Perhaps fewer politicians went on holiday and here in our little corner of the universe the purveyors of news and information didn’t seem pressed to discover a parrot that could recite Baa, Baa, Black Sheep. Two stories in particular seem to have acquired persistence.
The belief that all is far from well within the Health Department was bolstered by news that some, possibly many, of those working within the department would quit their jobs if they could find another. That this view seems prevalent among clinical staff is particularly worrying. These are the doctors, nurses and others at the sharp end dealing day by day with sick people. If they are deeply unhappy in their work it is likely they will not perform to their best.
The People and Culture Review, published by the States Corporate Services Scrutiny Panel earlier this month, did not reflect the depth of concern among Health staff, but its publication triggered the inevitable leaking of further details. In its analysis the review reveals the level of antipathy between government and Scrutiny. It lists 41 key findings, too many of which are simply nit-picking criticisms, and similarly some of the 24 recommendations are mere political point-scoring. Nevertheless, it is clear there is cause for concern about the inadequacy of the mechanisms for dealing with the people employed by government. Scrutiny would have us believe it’s all the fault of the States Employment Board and they are accountable. Of greater concern in my view is the apparent poor quality of leadership at management level in some departments, where there appears to be very little accountability.
In Health in particular it is suggested that managers can’t or won’t manage, are deficient in basic skills and that some resort to bullying, and these shortcomings are overlooked by their senior line managers. It bears the signs of failing leadership at the top trickling down through the whole department. And these are the people responsible for the Jersey Care Model already adopted by the States.
The other story that rumbles on is the housing shortage and how to resolve it. Of course, the answer is easy – build more homes. If only it was that simple. The politician at the centre of this issue is Environment Minister Deputy John Young and he is a lame duck. It’s not because he was rejected by voters last time he faced a contested election, rather the fact that he has declared he will not be a candidate next year that makes him a lame duck minister. He won’t be there by the time his policies come to fruition. In this instance the policy is the Bridging Island Plan. At its core is the proposition that 1,500 new homes must be built in the next four years and this has proved controversial. Inevitably, it involves the sacrifice of what some regard as untouchable land. During the public consultation, twice as many people expressed concern about this than the future of the Coastal National Park. Pressure started to build and the usual tripe about Jersey being covered in concrete was trotted out. In addition to public opposition, 60 amendments to the proposals had been lodged last time I looked, but the Deputy remains unmoved, claiming that the present housing crisis was created by earlier governments which had failed to deal with population growth. In continuing to promote the need to rezone some agricultural land he maintained that a balance had to been struck and pointed out that much of the land was around existing urban areas, with only limited expansion in four rural parishes.
I have made no secret of my view that Deputy Young has not been a success as Environment Minister, but on this issue, lame duck or not, he’s right and I offer the evidence of the past to support his position.
From the mid-to-late 1960s the post-Occupation baby boom was resulting in a huge spike in demand for new homes and the Island Development Committee of the day struggled for a solution. The one they settled on – and it was controversial – was village development. Carefully situated, well-thought-out development on agricultural land was allowed around points which already had a cluster of buildings and were already provided with supporting infrastructure.
My own first home was built in such a field in St Lawrence, where dozens of houses were built around Six Roads to Carrefour Selous. Today, no one could reasonably suggest they had spoiled the rural nature of the area. And so it will be with the proposed rezoned land.
I have little regard for those who object to new development from the comfort of their nice houses and considerable sympathy for young people desperate for their own first home. In this instance, the minister’s plan deserves support.