Friday, 5 February 2016
Monday, 25 January 2016
Last week I brought forward a proposition to the States Assembly to raise the minimum wage in line with the latest increase for the UK's new "National Living Wage", set to be £7.20ph from the 1st April, meaning our own minimum wage will have fallen behind theirs for the first time.
Just 10 States Members supported this part of the proposition, however I won part B in a tight 25-23 vote to hold a review into the possibility of a significant rise in the minimum wage in the near future.
A small victory, but one which I'm proud of.
Here is my speech proposing this measure -
As I sat down to write this speech yesterday evening, the news headline that I could see on my computer screen read: “Wealth of the world. Richest 1 per cent now equal to other 99 per cent.”
This was the calculation that Oxfam has made using the data they acquired from Credit Suisse for the report which they released recently entitled An Economy for the 1 per cent. They also found that the richest 62 people in the world had as much wealth as the poorest half of the global population combined. Now just 5 years ago it would have taken 388 individuals to have had the same wealth as the bottom 50 per cent, so much worse has income inequality become in such a short space of time.
It is because I believe in equality and social justice that I find these figures to be absolutely grotesque. I believe wholeheartedly that it is the Government’s responsibility to do what it can to create a more equal and fair society and I believe that in Jersey, the picture is no different.
The Income Distribution Survey which was released at the end of last year has shown that inequality in Jersey has now become worse than in the United Kingdom when the previous survey 5 years ago showed then we were doing better than them. The average standard of living for the poorest 20 per cent in Jersey has reduced by 17 per cent over the past 5 years; 56 per cent of single-parent households are now living on a relative low income and so are a third of pensioners.
All of this has happened, as a Freedom of Information request has shown, that in the past decade the number of people in Jersey earning above £1 million a year has quadrupled.
I believe that, sadly, things are probably going to get worse from here on in. The Government, which is pursuing what some of us consider to be an ideologically-driven austerity agenda, has already decided to cut £10 million worth of support to the poorest and most vulnerable people in Jersey: that is the pensioners, single-parent families and disabled Islanders.
Now the world is becoming a more unfair and unequal place and it is getting worse because of complacent governments who, let us be perfectly honest here, are beholden to the interests of a small minority group in whose interests they serve, despite not having any real democratic mandate to do so, and despite any evidence whatsoever that this economic strategy will produce any long- term or widespread benefits for the population as a whole. In fact, all the evidence from the O.E.C.D. (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) and the I.M.F. (International Monetary Fund) shows that the exact opposite is true and it is the more equal societies which have better prospects for economic growth and happier societies as well.
Now Oxfam made several recommendations on how they think governments can reverse this trend and begin to make a tangible difference to ordinary people’s lives and to the economy. They made suggestions like ending the gender pay gap, reducing the price of health care, taxing wealth rather than consumption and using progressive public spending to tackle inequality, which is pretty much basically the Reform Jersey manifesto.
But one of the fundamental suggestions they made was to introduce a living wage so this is what my proposition today is about moving towards.
Now the Chief Minister said about a year ago that he was going to make reducing poverty one of his Government priorities. Then we saw a few months later the publication of the Strategic Priorities document in which the word “poverty” did not appear once and instead it laid down the foundations for a fiscal plan over the next 3 years which is probably going to make conditions for the poorest and most vulnerable people in Jersey much worse.
At the time I challenged the Chief Minister and said, when he made that statement at the time, to support Reform Jersey’s then proposition which was being brought forward by Deputy Southern to raise the minimum wage to demonstrate his commitment to reducing poverty, which he declined to do so then, and has indicated that he will be doing the same this time round.
Now at the time ... well there was a time previously when people like me could have just dismissed that and said: “Well, yes, it is just what you expect. It is the same old Tories ideologically attached to a broken economic model which serves the few above the many just like they always do.” But, no, not this time. Because even the Conservative Party in the U.K. is surpassing everybody’s expectations and increasing the minimum wage and setting out a path to a £9 an hour national living wage by the end of the current Parliament in 2020, not only outdoing what the Labour Party was suggesting they would do if they got into Government, but also leaving Jersey’s Government even more isolated in this political context.
So I say if Reform Jersey can plagiarise George Osborne’s policies, surely it is not too much to ask the Council of Ministers to do it just this once as well.
So, as my report says, if you take the current trends we have seen in the nominal increases in the minimum wage since it was introduced, it is going to take Jersey an entire decade before we reach the U.K.’s level of £9 an hour. We are not going to get there until 2030. Now surely that cannot be right to say that we are going to allow the situation to develop where we are an entire decade behind the U.K. on how we pay the lowest-paid workers in Jersey.
So the question I ask to States Members is this, is it acceptable for Jersey to have a minimum wage which is a decade behind the U.K.’s? I do not believe that there will be Members of this Assembly who seriously believe that that is a tolerable situation. If you accept that it is not tolerable, as I suspect most Members do, then surely the position, the automatic position, is to support at least part (b) of this proposition because we all accept hopefully that there is a problem with the minimum wage which is going to have to be addressed in some form or another.
Because the fact is that the campaign for a decent living wage is not going to disappear any time soon. The principles of it are becoming more mainstream every single day and more and more Governments of all political persuasions, politicians, businesses and economists are understanding the value of the concept and working towards putting it into practice.
So, the minimum wage is never going to go down; it is only ever going to go up. The question is by how much and how fast?
That question of speed is a fair question and it is one which is alluded to in the Council of Ministers’ comments.
They talk about giving appropriate notice for businesses and they also refer to the legitimate worries which were expressed by the Chamber of Commerce about getting it right with sensible increases rather than big jumps. Of course, I completely agree with what they say in this area as, to be honest, I often do.
But the fact is, because we are set to be a decade behind the U.K. unless we take action, and the timetable that is given in the Council of Ministers’ comments shows that we might not make any meaningful progress until 2018, that means that we would end up with just 2 years to catch up or we would fall behind, neither of which, to be perfectly honest, is an acceptable situation. So this proposition means that we would have double the length of time to spread out these increases which would surely make it easier for businesses to cope with it. So I do not particularly buy that argument being pursued by the Council of Ministers.
So I know when I sit down and the debate begins we will hear, I presume, from the Minister for Social Security, who will lay out the position of herself, her department and the wider position of the Government, and I want to ask Members when she speaks, or when the Chief Minister speaks, to listen to the words being used and, in your head, work out what is being argued. Is it an argument against the proposition or is it an argument against the living wage altogether? I think we are likely to see that most of it will be an underlying distrust of the idea that paying our lowest workers a bit more would be good for the economy.
So the comments which were lodged by the Council of Ministers at the last minute - which seems to be what they do as a matter of standard practice now - a couple of times it refers to businesses offsetting the increased wages with job losses which, to be frank, is the same old tired line that has always been used about the minimum wage. It was said before the minimum wage was first introduced that it would cause mass unemployment, and the same Doomsday predictions are made when it is suggested that it is raised, and every single time they are proven to be either complete nonsense or fantastically simplistic.
The evidence shows that when unemployment is able to be attributed to a rise in the minimum wage it is usually offset by the employment that is created by the extra economic growth, which is inevitable when the lowest-paid workers get more disposable income. So the idea that it creates unemployment simply cannot be demonstrated to be true in any way which is not a simplistic, overly-simplistic, and therefore inaccurate way of looking at the situation.
I find it strange that when the Government proposes its own increases to the minimum wage, which it does more or less every year, that this argument does not seem to be raised. It is only when we talk about doing further rises to it that that somehow comes forward as an argument which shows to me that the position is held disingenuously.
So, this proposition, part (a) of which is to agree that from 1st April next year we are not going to let Jersey’s minimum wage fall behind what will be the effective minimum wage in the U.K. Okay, they are not calling it a minimum wage, it is the national living wage, which is a title that they have been criticised for giving it because it is misleading at the end of the day, but it is essentially what the minimum wage will be for the vast majority of workers in the U.K. It is about saying: “We are not going to let an Island which has a cost of living which is much higher than the U.K. fall behind.” I think that is an entirely sensible position and that is what part (a) is about.
Part (b) is about saying: “Right, well, we know what the future of the effective minimum wage in the U.K. is going to be. We know it is going to be £9 an hour by 2020.” It is about saying: “Right, knowing that that is the context that we find ourselves in, we need to look at ours because we cannot have the situation where we end up falling 10 years behind it.” So that is what this proposition does. It gives the States an opportunity to debate that and consider those points. I hope that at least one part of the proposition can be seen as acceptable and therefore adopted. From my point of view, I am doing it to show my support for Jersey’s lowest-paid workers who are struggling more than ever to make ends meet.
I hope that Members are not too ideologically aligned to an economic ideology which is being shown all around the world to be a complete failure. I hope Members will demonstrate on this argument to be on the right side and to support our lowest-paid workers.
Thursday, 10 December 2015
Lisa Simpson: You promised to take us to the lake.
Homer Simpson: I promise you kids lots of things. That's what makes me such a good father!
Lisa Simpson: Actually, keeping promises would make you a good father.
Homer Simpson: No, that would make me a great father.
Tuesday, 8 December 2015
Tuesday, 17 November 2015
As I read the JEP coverage of Senator Maclean’s new idea to tax foreign companies trading in Jersey I couldn’t help but feel a sense of déjà vu. Haven’t we been here before?
I remember in September 2008, when I was 17 years old, sitting in the hall at Hautlieu School for the senatorial hustings hearing Alan Maclean and the other ministers giving exactly the same platitudes they are giving today. 7 years and 3 elections later and we are still not an inch closer to a solution to our tax problem. In fact, things have steadily gotten much worse under these ministers’ leadership.
How long are Islanders prepared to put up with election after election of candidates coming forward with all sorts of nice statements like “I’ll find a way to tax foreign companies”, “I’ll support moves to take GST off of food” or “I’ll oppose the development on the Esplanade” only for those candidates to break every one of those promises and expect to get re-elected 3 years later by just repeating the same lines again and hope the public have forgotten all about it?
Sadly this is what inevitably happens when we have a system of so-called “independent” candidates who can get away with simply saying whatever it takes to get elected, then go ahead and do whatever they wanted anyway.
Deputy Vallois made it clear when she resigned that she doesn’t believe the ministerial system can work without party politics, and she is absolutely right.
Some who don’t like the idea of parties might therefore suggest that we go back to the committee system. But of course the problem there is that it was the committee system that dreamt up the 0/10 tax system which has caused this £145m black hole in the first place!
Whatever your views are on Reform Jersey’s particular brand of politics, it is clear that the Ian Gorst-led government is failing this Island and has been dishonest at every step of the way. Islanders who are more ideologically aligned with Gorst’s brand of conservatism (as opposed to Reform Jersey’s social democracy) should demand better from these people.
We need a system where competing visions for the Island contest power with comprehensive packages that have been subject to consultation before the election and which they are ready to just get on with and implement if they are elected to government. We spend far too much time talking and not enough time doing. Full party politics would streamline our government system and produce better results.
Gibraltar is currently having a general election where the main parties have produced manifestos of over 50 pages, analysing every detail of the current government’s record and providing all the minutia for their plan for the next 4 years. The best vision will win and Gibraltarians will get what they voted for.
If a rock with only 30,000 people can do it, Jersey with 100,000 people can do it even better!
Deputy Sam Mezec, Chairman of Reform Jersey
Thursday, 15 October 2015
So it's been exactly one year since those who came out to vote in St Helier No. 2 district put their faith in me to serve out a full term in office, just a few months after offering me a trial run after the March by-election.
Although it's been one hell of a learning curve and a (mostly) enjoyable experience on a personal level for me, I believe that this has been the worst year for Jersey politics in a very long time.
The one thing I can't stand in politics is people who break their promises and just say whatever they think the person listening to wants to hear.
The past year has already shown that some candidates elected never meant a word of what they said and for them the political office is merely about their personal aspirations and not about actually playing a part in the democratic process to further the causes that the community are concerned about.
I won't name them but it's obvious who they are. To those who voted for them and are now disappointed I say - don't become disillusioned. Angry, yes, but not disillusioned. Your vote is your weapon and the experience of this States Assembly should motivate you to wield it differently next time round.
Those who stood for senior positions in the States had a very clear and effective election plan and it was this - lie and prevaricate as much as possible.
You can still find most of their "manifestos" online and can see that they contain virtually no mention whatsoever of the plans that they must have had in store since well before the election.
When you have been in government for 3 years and know that you are facing a forecast blackhole of £145m, you know exactly what the score is and you know what the direction will be to solve it. Yet not one of these people decided to put it in their manifesto what their plan would be.
There was no mention in any of them of the £45m worth of tax rises and userpays charges. There was no mention of £10m of cuts to benefits for the most vulnerable Islanders. There was no mention of the hundreds of people who they intended to sack.
I can only think of a few commitments which were actually made.
One was Andrew Green's commitment that if he was made Health Minister he would commit to reviewing the options for a site for a new hospital in the first 100 days. It's now almost 365 days and we are still waiting.
Senator Ozouf made the "1,001 Days Manifesto" one of his pledges. So when Reform Jersey lodged a proposition to put that commitment in the government's Strategic Plan document, he and his colleagues all voted against it.
Today one former candidate has suggested that members should do a report card to show their progress in achieving what they had set out in their manifestos. So here is my attempt.
Both of my election manifestos are available by clicking on the "Election History" tab at the top of this page.
Since my elections were so close together I will refer to both.
My Report Card -
From my manifestos
"If elected, I will be active from day one, looking out for your interests".
Promise kept. Immediately after being elected I was contributing to States debates. I lodged a question for my first sitting (some members have never asked questions at all), I gave my maiden speech in my first sitting (some members took years to make theirs) and my first proposition was lodged within a few weeks of being elected. Being a States Member is a privilege and I have used my position to attempt to advance the causes I was elected to pursue.
On the States paying Parish Rates - "The Treasury Minister has committed to bringing forward a proposition to achieve this. If he does not fulfill this promise I will lodge it instead"
As other members have lodged propositions to achieve this it was not necessary for me to do it myself, but I have supported every single one.
"I will propose that the Chief Minister is directly elected by the public".
Promise kept. I lodged a proposition to this effect just weeks after being elected. Sadly a majority of States Members voted against me.
"I/Reform Jersey will oppose any attempt to increase GST and support any measure to remove it from food and utility bills".
Promise kept. Shortly before the general election Deputy Tadier (on behalf of Reform Jersey) lodged a proposition to remove GST from utility bills which we supported. However it was a majority of States Members (many of whom had previously promised to support removing GST from food and utility bills) voted against it.
"We support the introduction of a 'Living Wage', higher than the minimum wage, enough for someone to live off without having to rely on Income Support"
Promise kept. We have previous proposed increasing the minimum wage to a higher level than the government proposed, and it is my intention to see us do this again when the next opportunity arises.
"I will oppose cuts to public services that will hurt the vulnerable and those on low incomes".
Promise kept. I have consistently done this at every single opportunity and have lodged my own propositions in support of this. Most recently I opposed every single part of the Medium Term Financial Plan and supported all amendments designed to make it more progressive.
"I will oppose the proposed development at Gas Place. Instead, I support extending the Millennium Park with an underground car park".
Promise kept. I have attended and spoken at planning application hearings on this subject and have supported every proposition in the States to prevent the development from going ahead and to commit the States to extending the park over the site.
From Save Our Shoreline's pre-election questionnaire -
(On the Esplanade development)
"I am skeptical of the need for such a drastic development and the risk of the States taking on such a large project without any certainty about secured tenants for the offices etc."
No promise made, but I voted in the States to halt the development on these exact bases.
Whether you agree or disagree with my politics and my policies, at least they are clear and I have stuck to them. That must surely be worth much more than somebody who stands for nothing and achieves even less.
Opposition is frustrating because you don't have the power to enact what you said you would, the only thing you can do is vote according to those promises and hope the rest of the States does the same. Sadly this isn't the case in Jersey. The only possible solution is to pledge to support my Reform Jersey running mates in the 2018 election to stand on a joint platform that we have a clear track record of sticking to.
Tuesday, 11 August 2015
Last night at the Town Hall I proposed Geraint Jennings for election to the office of Procureur du Bien Public of St Helier.
The job of a Procureur is to look after ratepayers money better than they would their own. They are also able to deputise for the Constable in his or her absence. The role is honorary and they receive no payment for their services, merely the gratitude of a grateful public for their service.
Geraint is the author of a paper (see Appendix 1 here) written on the history and potential future of municipal reform in St Helier, to enable the capital of this Island to take on more powers and responsibility in affairs which concern residents and businesses and to provide a better democratic framework to allow this to happen.
He envisages a 'Conseil Municipal de Saint Helier' to replace the currents odd and incoherent system of Roads Committee and Procureurs. In other words, he will be the turkey who votes for Christmas, as he believes in a new system which is fit to meet the needs of St Helier for decades to come.
I stress that he is not a Reform Jersey candidate, however I am supporting him in this election as I believe his manifesto is the one which, if implemented, would best secure the ability of St Helier to provide for our residents and businesses what they need.
The election is on the 9th September at the Town Hall. I hope those who support positive change will vote for him!
Whilst this was going on, in another Parish they were holding elections for Centeniers (the senior honorary police of the Parish).
In St Helier our three incumbents were re-elected and those who were there were very grateful for their voluntary service over the past three years and for their commitment for another three ahead of them.
However, in St Saviour they once again failed to find a single candidate for the vacant post, having missed their previous deadline and having to be fined £5,000 by the Royal Court.
This follows a huge amount of work done by Constable Sadie Le Sueur-Rennard and the Parish to engage with the public and attempt to find a candidate who was willing to offer their service.
Previous to that St John had also come very close to being fined, having only found a candidate just before the deadline.
So naturally there has been a whole lot of talk about the future of the honorary system.
Various commentators have come forward with various suggestions. Hugh Raymond (President of the Honorary Police Association) has said that the age limit for Centeniers could be lifted and perhaps restrictions on which Parish you can service in may be lifted.
I think there may be some merit in those suggestions, on the basis of practicality, however I have yet to see any commentator get to what I believe is the real issue here.
Jersey has a long history of honorary service. Most of it I believe is something to be proud of, with only a few elements having an overall negative impact.
The fact we have so many people who are willing to give up their time to take up a community policing role is good, not just for that community, but also saves a huge amount of money that would have to be spent on extra professional police.
In our municipal administrations we have many people who have given up time to serve on the Parish Roads Committees or as Procureurs. The equivalent positions in the UK also do not accord salaries.
Historically being a States Member was also an honorary role. This, in my view, was always wrong and Jersey paid the price for it. We did not have a working class member of the States until 1966. Right up until the early 2000s when salaries were introduced, the public of Jersey were denied a proper democratic choice by the fact that an office carrying such a workload was not remunerated and therefore something that only those of an independent means could do so effectively.
I recently heard a Constable say that he considered his role to be honorary. I had to bite my tongue to avoid pointing out to him that that was nonsense, but those who believe things like that aren't often open to allowing facts to change their mind.
You would think that because Jersey's population is the highest it has ever been, and that these offices have existed for hundreds of years when our population was minuscule, that the greater pool of people to ask to volunteer, there would be a greater number of candidates, yet the opposite is the case.
Here is the elephant in the room that no one has thought important to mention yet -
People are more stressed out about their jobs, pay is worse and poverty is up.
Years ago most families could get by with one breadwinner, unemployment was lower than it is now and finding a new job if you lost yours wasn't so difficult.
We had the news today that unemployment has risen once again. This follows further news that of the jobs which have been created over the past year, 50% of them have been zero-hours contracts.
Is it any wonder why somebody who is struggling to pay their extortionate rent, is stressed out by their job and is facing even further tax rises might not have the inclination to want to take on the burden of giving up lots of hours of volunteering?
What will revitilise our honorary system is to accept that Jersey has been letting down our working and middle class residents and been decreasing their standard of living for years. It isn't a uniquely Jersey problem as many other places have seen that cultural shift too, but we have the ability to turn our economy round by pursuing policies which will actually improve ordinary people's lives, not make them harder.
If the government makes people's lives easier they'll be more likely to want and be able to volunteer to do something good for their community.
It's not rocket science.