Friday, 5 February 2016

Owen Jones and the 'Politics of Hope'

Last week the Guardian columnist, author and activist Owen Jones came to Jersey to give a talk at the Arts Centre on 'the Politics of Hope'.

The event was sold out with many people disappointed to not get tickets, and once Owen got into his stride it became very clear why.

Aside from being incredibly likeable and articulate, the message which Owen was here to spread is one which the people of Jersey have desperately needed to hear for a long time.

Jersey is a wonderful place with a beautiful environment and strong community spirit, yet we have been plagued by bad governments which have seen so much of our potential squandered.

Despite being one of the richest places in the world, we have rampant relative poverty. One third of pensioners live in relative low income, as do 58% of single-parent families. Over the past 5 years the poorest 1/5 of Islanders have seen their standard of living drop 17%. 

Financially, our government situation is a complete mess. We are facing a budget deficit of £145m because of government after government failing to make investments in education and health when they were needed, our social housing stock has been privatised after decades of neglect and, despite promises to the contrary, ordinary families are about to see their tax bill rise by between £1,000 to £2,000 (I'd like to be more specific on that figure, but even the government don't know what they're doing yet).

All of this happens whilst 70% of the electorate do not take part in the democratic process, boycotting elections and repeating the same old line "why bother voting, it won't change anything".

The Politics of Hope is about believing that we can do much better than this and that if you can tap into discontent and concentrate it's power into enthusiasm for a positive programme for change, then anything is possible.

It's about saying that one of the richest places in the world with some of the most sophisticated expertise and talent does not have to accept poverty as an inevitability and that we can and should look out for one another using the government as a positive tool to help create an environment in which anyone is able to achieve their potential, uninhibited by the circumstances of their birth and where we can together pursue our aspirations as a community.

Owen made the point that the current political status quo puts off ordinary people. Most people don't think in terms of left or right, they care about issues and how it affects their lives. Few politicians have been able to articulate their case in a way which genuinely inspires people.

This is how Jeremy Corbyn in the UK and Bernie Sanders in America have been able to inspire so many people who were previously apolitical to get involved, because their authenticity and values count for so much more than what mainstream politics has considered normal for too long,

That is why Reform Jersey does not define itself as left-wing.

After all, what's left-wing about wanting everyone to pay a fair rate of tax? What's left-wing about saying people who do an honest day's work should be paid a fair wage? What's left-wing about saying our democratic process should be open and fair, allowing everyone to have an equal say on the future of their community?

Reform Jersey represents a progressive vision for an Island run on principles of fairness.

The real extremists in Jersey politics are the Council of Ministers.

They are pursuing an economic strategy which has been shown to be a total failure in literally every single example of it being used since the 1920s. That is utter madness. They have cut £10m from the budget which is ring-fenced to protect the most vulnerable people in society. They are threatening to sack hundreds of public sector workers described by their own £650 a day advisor to be the "best value for money" out of all of our workers, whilst creating new £120,000 a year management jobs.

As every month goes past and we receive more news about how the government is trying to shaft the public, whether it's the outrageous theft of People's Park (the clue is in the name for goodness sake!!), the cuts to support for pensioners or the sleaze which is now associated with collective responsibility, we are gaining more members and finding more people who have not been turned off by politics but who have been spurred in to fight even harder.

We may now have the most right-wing government we have ever had, but I firmly believe that it is also the most right-wing government we will ever have, because the next election will see a democratic upsurge against the status quo by those who have never voted before and by those who have been fooled for too long.

There is hope. We can and will change things.

Thank you so much to Owen Jones for his support and his inspirational words last week.

Monday, 25 January 2016

Raise the minimum wage! - My speech from the States debate

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

One Year On - Examining The Record - Part 2

Following my examination of the records of the Senators over this last year, taking on their own interpretations of what they have achieved, I'm now looking at the Constables.

As you might have guessed, this post will be much shorter than the others.

It is well known that the Constables contribute very little to States proceedings. All the statistics demonstrate this and anyone who denies it is issuing a politically motivated lie.

They make up almost 25% of the States and are not responsible for anything close to 25% of the questions, speeches or propositions.

I am totally against paying States Members different amounts, however the Constables presence in the States makes me question that point of view. They all admit in their contributions how much work they dedicate to their Parishes. That work is supposed to be honorary and all their honorary colleagues do not get paid for it. Yet they receive a wage for being States Members, despite dedicated much more time to the Parishes.

The time when the Constables cease to be ex officio members of the States cannot come soon enough.

I suspect that once the issue of the Bailiff in the States has been dealt with (will happen shortly after the next election I believe) it will pave the way for sorting out the Constables. That will be in time for the 2022 election.

Although that's just a prediction, don't hold me to it!

Here are the high/lowlights -

Being chair of both PPC and the Comité des Connétables has led the weird situation where Len has had occasions where he has had to write letters to himself in different capacities. I'm not making that up. Bizarre.

I don't agree when he says we have made progress on reform of the States. The substantive issues have not yet been debated. We've only held consultations with States Members in which many of them have demonstrated how utterly clueless and conflicted they are.

Some members genuinely believe that apportionment of Deputies should be done based on voter turn out, instead of population. You just can't reason with people like this.

Thankfully he and his colleagues are dealing with dog mess though. Thank goodness the big issues are being dealt with.

What exactly does Simon get for being so complementary about a Chief Minister who hasn't actually done a single damn thing for St Helier yet?

He's singing his praises for saying he'll support St Helier and will get the States to pay Parish Rates, yet nothing has tangibly changed yet.

Save your praise until positive change actually occurs. Until then it just looks weird.

The Future of St Helier group has demonstrated to me that it simply wants to tinker round the edges without any serious consideration about giving St Helier itself the powers and responsibilities it needs to deal with the issues we face ourselves without being told what we can and can't do by a Chief Minister from St Ouen and a Planning Minister from St Martin.

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.

I copy John Refault's statement for one reason only.

He mentions at the end that he is looking forward to his Parish senior citizens Christmas lunch.

Refault voted to abolish the Pensioners Christmas Bonus and next week will be voting against Reform Jersey's proposition to reinstate it on a means tested basis so poor pensioners still get it.

I hope they give him an absolute earful at the Christmas lunch. He deserves nothing less.

Having said that, I have nothing else to add to any other Constable's statement as very few of them actually attempt to answer the question they were asked.

Coming soon - St Helier Deputies.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

One Year On - Examining the Record - Part 1

The Jersey Evening Post has quite sportingly offered each States Member up to 200 words to be published on what we have been up to since the general election now almost 14 months ago.

The first instalment was published today and I thought I would produce some commentary on them given the total lack of any sort of concrete analysis of the political landscape today and how some members have just been plain dishonest with the public in what they have written.

Things should get even more interesting tomorrow when they publish the Constables responses. I'd be amazed if they managed to produce 200 words between them, let alone each!

I won't repeat this commentary for every States Member, but will just stick to the highlights.

"The first task of each new Council of Ministers is to develop a plan for Jsrsey, to consult with Islanders on the plan and to present it to the States Assembly."

In his very first sentence Senator Gorst has demonstrated already why he has no right to describe himself a democratic politician.

Developing a plan for Jersey should come before the election, not after it, like virtually every civilised democracy on the planet does it. Is he honestly suggesting that it is normal in a democracy for politicians to get elected with no plan, then make it up afterwards? That is the precise opposite of how it's meant to work.

The whole point of elections is that different political factions consult with the public, draw up plans and then put those plans to the public. The one who presents the most appealing plan will win the election and be able to crack on with implementing it.

In Jersey we instead elect people based on who seems like a good bloke, then let them waste hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers money producing a plan over several months where our government operates with no overall strategy.

It's utter madness.

"Now we have proposed detailed tax and spending plans for 2016 in our budget."

They have also announced plans to extort £40m from you with a new Health Tax, £10m with a Waste Disposal Tax and who knows what else in userpays charges. So far they can't give us an ounce of detail on what form these taxes will take (some of them haven't even admitted they're actually taxes yet) and none of which they gave even a fleeting mention of in their election manifestos.

"I am proud that ministers are working together as a team [read as 'party'] to support out economy, protect the vulnerable and ensure Jersey is fit for a successful future."

Protect the vulnerable!? REALLY? Protecting them by forcing through £10m of benefits cuts to pensioners, the disabled and single parents without doing any research whatsoever on the effect on poverty levels this will have.

With that final sentence he has insulted the intelligence of every single Islander.

Not much to say here apart from providing the following link -

There isn't a huge amount to say on this. Much of it is very agreeable. We all support improving and modernising regulations to allow emerging industries to succeed and much of that legislative change would be happening regardless of who is in power.

The one point to make is that Senator Ozouf exercises an incredibly large amount on influence on the government's agenda, yet he is not accountable to the Assembly because he is merely an assistant minister. This is clearly unacceptable.

"It concerns me how difficult it is for politicians, workers and the general public to be heard by those in the executive and make a meaningful contribution."

Got it in one.

It sounds like Senator Routier is involved in a whole host of long running projects which so far all appear not to have amounted to anything. Maybe it's time someone else took up his role and started actually achieving tangible improvements.

"Meeting service users has improved our understanding of the needs of people with disabilities."

I wonder if they mentioned anything to Senator Routier about him breaking his election promise and voting against a proposition to secure a commitment to introduce free bus passes for disabled Islanders?

"We've agreed a workable Strategic Plan and set out in the Medium Term Financial Plan how we intend to fund our priorities - health, education, infrastructure, economic growth and St Helier."

Actually the MTFP did no such thing. It set out spending for 2016 and left us with no detail for the following years.

Of the little detail the MTFP actually revealed, it demonstrated an effective £250k cut in the education budget. My scrutiny panel lodged an amendment to restore that funding and avoid a cut this year, which he voted against. So much for supporting investment in education!

"We have identified an extra £20m over the next four years to allocate to new policy initiatives that aim to boost Jersey's economic performance."

He has also done no impact assessment whatsoever of the potential effect on economic growth that will be had by increasing taxes on middle earners (reducing their ability to spend in the economy) and increasing unemployment by sacking countless public sector workers, sticking them on the dole and therefore reducing their spending power.

"We are now seeing wages going up,"

This is simply not true.

"record levels of employment,"

Yes but only because we have a record high population. This is statistical sophistry.

"and economic growth of five percent in 2014."

Yes, which was acknowledged to be because of one-off changed to business structures in the finance industry. We are scheduled for 0% growth next year.

More dishonesty from one of our most senior ministers.

I like how his first listed achievement is the setting up of a quango (i.e. a body which will take responsibility away from him) and then lists all the new quangos he hopes to create.

The Island is in deep trouble if these people think the answer to everything is to just set up a new quango.

I'm also not sure he should be boasting about plans to create Film Jersey, given his predecessors record on this...

As usual though, there isn't an ounce of substance in any thing Senator Farnham has said. He literally has no policies whatsoever (apart from setting up quangos) and just got elected by saying "I'll support tourism" without saying how he'll support tourism. This is partially why the Island is in such a mess.

Interestingly Andrew makes no mention whatsoever of the fact he is about to land you all with a hefty bill for a new Health Tax.

Does anyone remember him mentioning this plan before the election? I don't.

He says he wants to raise £40m with this new tax. We don't have any detail whatsoever about what form this will take so we can't calculate exactly how much extra you'll be having to pay, but it equates to about £1,000 for every home. But then they can't force the poorest Islanders (who don't earn enough to pay tax anyway) to pay it, and they'll probably exempt their rich mates like they did with the Longterm Care Charge, so it will more likely be £2,000 for each middle class family.

Who here voted for Andrew Green so they could pay an extra £2,000 a year in tax?

Stay tuned for further instalments in this commentary over the coming days!

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

"Our failing government system" unedited letter to the JEP

The unedited version of my latest letter to the JEP on our failing government system -

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

One Year On - My 'Report Card'

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

The Future of Jersey's Honorary System

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.