Sunday, 22 February 2015

Be afraid, be very afraid... - Deputy Geoff Southern Guest Posting

The Chief Minister has a problem with his fiscal policy. The problem is an £80m shortfall in the 2015 budget. The Chief Minister would have us believe that the problem is one of excessive spending by a bloated, inefficient public sector. On the contrary, the evidence shows we have a highly efficient public sector workforce. The public sector workforce as a proportion of private sector numbers is as follows: Scotland 20%, Isle of Man 18%, Guernsey 17%, Jersey 13%.

The real problem for the Chief Minister and the island is that after 8 years of recession, both profits and wages have shrunk year on year, and with them, tax revenues. This has been made worse by the increasing use of insecure zero-hours contracts. Unfortunately, the Chief Minister and his colleagues, in order to get themselves elected, have promised not to raise taxes. This they cannot do without a further swathe of savage cuts to public spending and ultimately to public services.

The “guru” chosen to deliver these cuts, Mr Keen, has a track record in the private sector which needs scrutiny:

As CEO of Jersey Dairy, our guru’s response to cash-flow problems was to scrap home deliveries, (and school milk) and to make redundant over a dozen milkmen.

Then he moved on to Jersey Water where he saved costs through sacking the drain-digging team, and replacing their long serving workers with cheaper ones on much reduced terms and conditions.

At Jersey Post, far from taking the workforce with him, he bullied workers into accepting massively reduced pay and conditions by sacking them and making them all re-apply for their jobs. The result was a reduced workforce on reduced pay; butalso, critically, a reduced service (no Saturday delivery; reduced collections)

Most recently, we have seen Mr Keen use his methods on the Tourism department and yet again we see some 18 States employees laid off. Not one has been re-engaged with reduced terms and conditions on the new “Visit Jersey” team.

Here we can see the method. It is not rocket science. Sack staff; reduce wages; privatise or outsource to reduce conditions. The end result has always been reductions in the level of service, both in quantity and quality.

Of course it will not be the likes of Mr Keen, on £650 per day, who will suffer from this new round of cuts; it will be the most vulnerable in our society. We have already seen the start of this process with the introduction of sanctions against those with a disability and the scrapping of widows’ pensions. To the poor, to the sick and to the elderly in Jersey, I say “Be afraid; be very afraid.”

Friday, 20 February 2015

The Ugly Side of the Jersey Conservative Party

This past week has been by far the most difficult I have faced since being elected as a States Member almost a year ago. Not because I have faced any particularly difficult circumstances personally, but because the sheer gall of the Jersey Tories has disgusted me more than it ever has.

If a government wants to screw up it's tax priorities, that is irritating and an injustice, but we'll find a way of dealing with it and keep up the fight.

If a government wants to mess up a development project, it'll be an eyesore for years to come, but at least no one will be hurt by it.

If a government wants to damage a relationship with an important partner, we can rebuild it over time.

But what I absolutely cannot stomach is a government which has no regard at all for the needs of vulnerable ill people and is quite happy to propose and consider measures which will directly cause them unbearable hardship.

What we have seen virtually non-stop from the government over the past few weeks has been an unapologetic attack at some of our Island's most vulnerable.

It started when our Social Security Minister made the news (11th February) claiming that there would be no money to fund any potential surge in GP visits, after another GP's surgery had announced it would allow free appointments for children.

This came after the Health Minister Senator Andrew Green had said that he wanted to see an increase in the subsidy to GPs so that they could lower their prices to the public to make it more affordable, but had backed down after discussing it with the Social Security Minister.

Reform Jersey's Deputy Geoff Southern had to publicly intervene to point out that actually the Health Insurance Fund has reserves of around £86m, and could easily fund any potential surge, and that the Minister's comments were scaremongering and irresponsible.

We had the front page headline on 17th telling us that Islanders may face extra charges for health care. Finally an admission from the Treasury that we are scheduled for a £50m budget deficit by 2019 if action isn't taken now, but instead of a progressive solution, the targets are the sick, who may have to face user-pays services. The Health Minister said that all options would be on the table, when any Health Minister worthy of the title should have the guts to say that no option which includes charging vulnerable people for services should be on the table.

Finally we had the news yesterday that, from Monday, the Social Security Minister has decided that more people on Long Term Incapacity Allowance will be required to look for work, or face their Income Support being cut, and on top of that, we might reintroduce prescription charges too!

This truly is the ugly side of the Jersey Conservative Party.

If you didn't believe it before, it is now surely undeniable that austerity has hit our shores.

When discussing the prospect of raising social security contributions to fund the projected benefits/ pension shortfall in the future, not a single word was said about targeting those rises on those who are most able to pay.

You know, in Jersey social security contributions are capped on incomes up to £150,000. That means somebody earning above that amount will personally be paying a lower rate of contributions than their cleaner will (as well as paying about half the amount of income tax they would be in the UK, but that's another matter).

Rather than indicate that the government will raise necessary funds by raising that cap, instead their first option is to target people with physical and mental illnesses.

When I received the email to inform me of this (which I received just two hours after the deadline for me to lodge a question in the States on it, obviously just a coincidence...) my stomach turned and I could not believe what I had read. I passed it to a colleague who exclaimed "oh my God" as she read it.

If the first port of call to make savings is for the social security department to target sick people, then there is no greater evidence of the moral repugnance of this government. I utterly condemn anyone who, when asked where they would make savings, their first answer is "let's cut benefits for sick people".

Whilst there are indeed many people who suffer from illnesses who could work, the arbitrary answer that has seen the minister randomly choose 350 people to be targeted, seems to me to be destined to cause trouble and hardship for people who don't deserve it.

The minister says this is about encouraging people into work. But it is actually about threatening people into work, at a time when there is no anti-discrimination law for disabled people, and when it is difficult enough for people to get into work even if they aren't sick.

Deputy Tadier makes this point well here -

There are many vulnerable and disabled people in the Island who are being let down.

Myself and my Reform Jersey colleagues regularly meet people who suffer from disabilities, cannot work and are not getting better, but because of the illogical tick-box nature of impairment assessments, they can lose their benefits and there is nothing they can do about it, except just descend into greater poverty.

I know of one woman who was downgraded every year running for several years, until the department realised they had got it wrong, just 5 days before she died of her illness, having spent the last years of her life going through unimaginable stress as a result.

I know of another person who has ended up in hospital as a result of the stress that she could not handle with her mental illness when the department told her she would lose her Income Support if she didn't start looking for work.

In the UK we have heard all sorts of horror stories of people who have been forced into work after medical reassessments were made by a private (profit-making) firm seeking to meet targets, who have died from their illnesses, or even committed suicide because of the stress.

This is not the road to follow.

I say to the government, have some compassion for goodness sake.

Illness affects everybody in different ways. There is no possible arbitrary form that can decide whether someone is fit for work or if they aren't. And if they are fit for work, how do you know that the stress of being forced to look for work and failing time after time because of the state of our economy isn't actually going to affect their mental health and make them worse?

By all means encourage people into work, but you have to create the jobs first, otherwise you're simply setting up vulnerable people to face failure after failure whilst the shadow of destitution and poverty looms over them.

This is not the moral way to act.

Jersey is in difficult financial times, and there must be a serious discussion about how we get out of the situation which has been caused by successive Jersey Tory Party governments. Those discussions have to include the option of raising taxes on those who are most able to pay, otherwise it is the poorest in our society who will be hit the hardest, like they always are.

Austerity causes misery for the most vulnerable in our society, and I and my party colleagues will fight to oppose it with every last breath we have.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

The lie at the heart of politics - JEP Editorial

There is a lie at the heart of our political system. That deceit concerns party politics. 
Today, the Council of Ministers lodged a proposition entitled Code of Conduct for Ministers and Assistant Ministers. It might well have been called the Ministerial Rubber Stamp (Jersey) Law. 
This draft piece of legislation starts well, setting out the seven principles of public life; selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership. 
As maligned as they are, those rise to the top of the greasy pole of Island politics - and indeed those who sit on the backbenches - generally do so because they want to make a positive difference to Jersey. 
Some, however, seem to struggle with the fifth virtue, openness. 
As ministers become caught up in the civil service machine, a bureaucracy prone to secrecy, they run the risk of forgetting that they serve the public and that they are custodians of information owned by all of us. 
But that is not why the proposition sounds alarm bells. 
It spells out how collective responsibility should work. Ministers will speak publicly with one voice and assistant ministers will not against their minister when that minister tables a proposition. 
The reality is likely to be that assistant ministers will support the Council on the majority of issues, giving Senator Gorst a potential block vote of 21. Add the usually compliant Constables to the mix and the Chief Minister, who now has the authority to sack his ministers, sits at the head of a very powerful political party. 
It has never been more important that Scrutiny, the media and, increasingly, Islanders on social media to hold ministerial government to account. 
There is no doubt that we have a party of ministers, a corporation on whose board senior civil servants sit as non-executive directors. Reform Jersey, the three-man left-of-centre group, is not the only party in the States. 
For years, candidates, including many ministers, have argued at the hustings for our system of independent Members who have the freedom to say what they think and truly represent their electors. 
There are many women an men of great integrity and duty who serve Jersey as ministers and assistant ministers. Voters elected them and others to speak their minds on a whole host of matters, not simply those which are deemed 'issues of conscience' by the Chief Minister and his whips.


Not my words, but the words of the editor of the Jersey Evening Post Andy Sibcy (who kindly gave his permission for me to display it on my website).

There is virtually not a single word of this that I don't agree with, and I think it adumbrates the situation in Jersey politics very accurately.

When "independent" politicians are constitutionally bound to align themselves in the way that our new collective responsibility doctrine enforces them to, then we no longer have independent politicians.

They become, if only for the duration of the term, members of the Chief Minister's party. This despite many of them being elected on manifestos which will have had differences of policy.

There was one candidate at the previous election who was standing with the overt intention to then stand for Social Security Minister, yet his manifesto included pledges to support taking GST off of food. Had he been elected and become a minister, he would have been banned from supporting any proposition (no matter how well argued) to do so, because the Chief Minister would not have wanted it to happen in line with his policy vision.

So we end up with candidates standing making disingenuous promises.

When we have a voter turnout of just 32%, the last thing we need is a system which actually encourages more broken promises like this.

To that end, we have a party system in Jersey already (even more blatant than was the case before collective responsibility was introduced) where Senator Gorst leads a Jersey Conservative Party with a very strong whip system and loyal backbenches to secure his parliamentary majority.

But the problem is, because the lie that they are 'independents' is insincerely persisted, we have actually ended up with a very inefficient party system which leads to us ending up with the worst of both worlds.

The obvious example there is that we vote for candidates in an election without a definitive declaration of what party or grouping they would tend to align themselves with once elected. So voters can inadvertently vote for somebody, thinking they would side with those with social democratic views, but once elected realise that they were actually a staunch Jersey Tory (or vice versa) who just knew how to use their words smoothly. This ultimately puts voters off politics, makes our system over-complicated and is, in my view, responsible for our embarrassingly low voter turnouts.

But an example on a more practical level -

A few weeks ago we saw the Council of Minister unveil their Strategic Priorities Document, outlining what they want to focus on in this term and what they want to achieve.

There was absolutely no detail at all on how they would achieve what they wanted to achieve.

We saw this tax-payer funded nauseating party political broadcast -

Our election was on the 15th of October, yet we don't actually get to see any definitive statement on what the government wants to focus on until almost 4 months later. We won't get a vote in the States to endorse this until 6 months into the term.

If we want efficient and effective government, this should be considered totally unacceptable.

In a party system, all of this work would be done before the general election, and would be done as an extra-parliamentary engagement (i.e. not funded by tax payers), with party grassroots involvement and wider public consultation. This would then be presented either before the election, or directly after it, so that the newly formed government can crack on with it straight away (they may even have the draft legislation ready to go) without wasting so many months.

Instead, you and I and funded the Jersey Conservative Party coming up with this document and we have so far had no say whatsoever in what the document contains.

There will now be a public consultation, but we know how much of a waste of time that will really be when the Ministers have already set out their key visions, they won't be backing down on them.

When you compare this, in terms of timeline, level of detail, and mandate, our system fails to deliver on all counts.

Contrast this with the party political system of Gibraltar which saw a multi-party election in 2011 fought by 4 parties, the governing Gibraltar Social Democrats fighting for another consecutive victory, against the opposition Gibraltar Socialist Labour Party (in coalition with the Gibraltar Liberal Party), and the new Gibraltar Progressive Democratic Party giving it a shot.

Here are their manifestos, just to give you an idea of how credible the options for government are there -

Gibraltar Socialist Labour/ Liberal Parties
Gibraltar Social Democratic Party
Gibraltar Progressive Democratic Party

In that election, the people of Gibraltar turned out in huge numbers (81%) and voted to kick out the GSD in favour of the GSLP/Liberal alliance.

How in Jersey are we able to do such a thing? It is impossible without an overt party system.

One criticism that is sometimes (unfairly) labelled at Reform Jersey is that a party is an artificial construct. But nothing could be more further from the truth. The party was simply a gathering of individuals who were already like-minded, shared the same set of political values and who realised that working independently would be far more ineffective than officially working as a team to try and get our values featured in the laws of Jersey. That is exactly what the Council of Minsiters is, they just aren't open about it.

Mr Sibcy calls us "left-of-centre". I am comfortable with that description.

Reform Jersey's constitution does not assign ourselves any party ideology, but does commit us to a set of progressive values which are, I think, relevant to anyone who might consider themselves a liberal, a social democrat, a green, a democratic socialist, or progressive independent.

Senator Gorst's party is a Jersey Conservative Party which does not appeal to the politically disengaged Jersey people. Our challenge as a party is to spend the next few years showing that we can operate effectively together to demonstrate that there are more ways to politics than just toeing the Establishment line.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Ed Miliband and the Storm in a Teacup

Dear xxx 
More than 18 months ago, David Cameron announced that you and he had reached agreement on increasing transparency around the ownership of companies based in your jurisdictions. This was to reduce the opportunity for them to be used for tax avoidance, evasion and other illegal activity. 
He said that you and he would focus on beneficial ownership, and that you would publish the true owners of shell companies based in your jurisdictions. He claimed that this was a “very positive step forward” ahead of the G8 meeting in June 2013, and followed it up with a letter saying that 
“Beneficial ownership and public access to a central register is key to improving the transparency of company ownership and vital to meeting the urgent challenges of illicit finance and tax evasion”. 
However, since then no Overseas Territory or Crown Dependency has produced a publicly accessible central register of beneficial ownership. And, despite his initial enthusiasm, David Cameron has done nothing to ensure that they are produced.
Ahead of the General Election in May, I am writing to put you on notice that a Labour government will not allow this situation of delay and secrecy to continue. Labour will act on tax avoidance where the Tories will not. 
All UK Overseas Territories or Crown Dependencies will have to produce a publicly accessible central register of beneficial ownership within six months of the election of a Labour government. If any Overseas Territory or Crown Dependency does not meet this deadline, we will ask the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to put them on the OECD’s tax haven blacklist. 
Yours sincerely,
Ed Miliband 

First, I have a few interests to declare -

I have been a member of the Labour Party since I was 18 years old.

The second declaration to make is that I have stood for election to the States of Jersey twice, where my campaigns received donations from individuals whose employment was in the finance industry (or at least dependent on finance), a trade union which represents hundreds of finance workers in the Island, plus my own person income which until that point had been from employment in finance and law.

That interest combined with the fact that the majority of my friends and family (and no doubt constituents too) are either employed in finance or employed in industries which are dependent on finance, and the fact that the tax revenue we make from finance funds the public services that I want to see protected, is why I make no apologies for holding the view (and policy) that maintaining a strong finance industry is fundamental to our Island's economic future.

It is precisely because I hold that view that I have cringed at virtually every statement and comment I have seen issued since Ed Miliband sent his letter to the heads of government of the British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies, and why I believe that the media have deliberately fanned the flames of hostility to generate more hits for themselves.

The most important fact surrounding this situation is this - Ed Miliband is most likely going to be the next Prime Minister of the UK. Whether you like it or not, Labour has consistently been ahead in the polls since Ed Miliband took over as leader of the party, and is most likely to emerge from the forthcoming election as the largest party (with or without a majority).

Given that this is not only a possibility, but a likelihood, the last thing Jersey should be doing is ridiculing what a potential Prime Minister says. We must treat what he says with absolute seriousness. Ed Miliband has already proven that he has no problem whatsoever taking on the Establishment over an issue of principle, as he demonstrated with his stance against Rupert Murdoch and News International. Despite his geeky exterior, he is a formidable politician who puts action behind words, doing what is morally the right thing, even if it is politically the harder path to go down.

If Ed Miliband becomes Prime Minister and decides to put Jersey on the UK's blacklist (which is separate from the OECD blacklist) then our finance industry would be practically wiped out over night and, no matter how unfair Jersey may consider it, the UK government has the power to do that so we must be wary.

So when he speaks, we must listen and respond calmly and reassuringly. Playing party politics over this (which is some of what we have seen so far) is the wrong way to deal with this.

If the UK government says they want us to create a publicly accessible central register of the beneficial ownership of companies, then rather than kicking our toys out of the pram and crying "no, that's not fair!" (which, by the way, carries no sympathy whatsoever amongst ordinary UK voters) we have to adopt an approach that is more conciliatory and responsible, where we demonstrate our willingness to cooperate so we can negotiate constructively over either how we implement such a register in a way that doesn't harm Jersey, or alternatively (and probably preferably) act to reassure the UK that it isn't necessary for us to do so for this reason or for that reason.

Our finance industry operates in a global market, and you cannot expect to be allowed to play the game if you aren't prepared to accept the rules agreed by all the players. Since 2008 international perceptions and priorities have changed and we are kidding ourselves if we think we can ignore what the major economic players have to say about how we provide our services.

We must swim with the tide, not against it. The yah-boo jeering from the media at Miliband is completely destructive, does not represent mature politics and does not secure Jersey's position because in the UK it will either be ignored or it will be treated as a sign that we don't want to co-operate.

We are an Island of 100,000 people when the UK is a country of 65 million people. Defiance will not get us anywhere. It is constructive engagement with all UK parties that is necessary to see that any potential UK government is content with how Jersey operates.

The Jersey government has officially made this (quite measured) response -

Jersey Finance has made this (slightly less, but still quite measured) response -

Whereas the JEP's editorial comment today was embarrassing to behold, not least because right under the headline "Get your facts right, Miliband", the JEP proceeded to then refer to him by his brother's name David, rather than Ed. You just couldn't make that sort of comedy gold up.

But the JEP response (which inevitably helps shape the tone of the public discourse) was, in my view, irresponsible, and will have helped turn the public against Miliband, when the last thing Jersey needs is for there to be widespread hostility against the British Prime Minister, and for there to be mutual distrust.

This is the exact sort of destructive response that has prompted me to write this blog. Other media (ITV in particular) has been particularly inflammatory, hysterical and inaccurate.

So I want to go through some of the accusations labelled at Miliband and show why they are complete nonsense and why our approach to these sort of things needs to be more mature and less inflammatory if we are to secure our finance industry for the future.

First, here is the full press release (including the text of the letter) sent out by the Labour Party, most of which the contents have been ignored by the media, both local and national -

The first point to address is the claim that "this is a cheap shot at Jersey by the Labour leader".

This is demonstrably nonsense.

The letter that has been sent out has been sent to 10 different jurisdictions. It has been sent non-discriminatory to all Crown Dependencies and major British Overseas Territories.

This is not a unique letter to Jersey, based on a purely Jersey context, but a blanket letter to encapsulate a broad issue across the board.

Jersey has not been singled out in any way with this letter.

In fact, the only time the word "Jersey" appears once in the Labour press release, is when they are actually specifically saying that we are ahead of all the other jurisdictions (including Guernsey) in terms of where we are with a public register, but that we had set ourselves a deadline to report back to the UK which we have missed.

When a letter is sent to the heads of government of 10 jurisdictions, each with unique economies and regulatory systems, it is blatantly obvious that not all of what is said will apply 100% to Jersey.

The JEP editorial goes on to say that Miliband should get his facts right, as Jersey meets all international best-standards practices... despite the fact that at no point has Miliband ever suggested that that wasn't the case! A total strawman argument. He's proposing a new standard, which he has every right to do.

ITV has claimed that Senator Gorst has "rubbished Milibands claims" without once referring to what those claims actually are (as I've said, there is only one clear claim and it is true), followed by an interview where the Chief Minister speaks very calmly around subsidiary matters of Jersey complying with international standards, and not the specific issue in the Miliband letter.

Such a headline from ITV is not just factually incorrect, but is deliberately attempting to muddy the waters and make an enemy out of the Labour Party.

Jersey Finance in their statement have made the point that Jersey already collects all of the information that the Labour Party want to be accessible, but that it is only available to law enforcement agencies, rather than on a public register. They argue that a public register would be of dubious value.

That is a fair argument for them to make.

Their job now (in conjunction with the Jersey government) is to make that case to the Labour Party so that we satisfy them that it is not necessary in Jersey's case, and the other jurisdictions will have to do their own thing.

But if the UK is adamant that they want the register to be public, then it doesn't matter one iota that no other jurisdiction does it, we either have to implement one, or we risk ruining our relationship with our single greatest economic partner.

It will be up to use to decide how we best approach that issue in a calm and measured way. Slinging mud will not help us.

Jersey has absolutely nothing to fear from a Labour government in the UK led by Ed Miliband, unless we specifically create a conflict which is not in Jersey's interests.

What everybody needs to understand is that there is no future for a finance industry based on tax avoidance. Tax avoidance is out of fashion. When the government of the UK is inflicting austerity on it's people, every pound that is avoided in tax is a pound that has to be taken out of the local school, or the NHS, or fewer police on the street etc.

The UK, and all countries, have every right to ensure that they collect all the tax that is due, whether it is evaded or avoided.

Jersey has cleaned it's act up a lot, and is rated highly by the IMF and OECD. But to say we are completely without problems is to be dangerously complacent.

When things like Jimmy Carr's K2 scheme are linked to Jersey, the UK gets annoyed. If we can demonstrate ourselves to be willing to work as a partner to ensure that sort of thing doesn't happen in the future, then we can be in the UK's good books.

What will place the Island in real trouble is if we have a repeat of what we had last year when Senator Bailhache attempted to delay the implementation of a Tax Information Exchange Agreement on the basis that it would be bad for Jersey for us to go ahead with it when other jurisdictions were lagging behind.

Thankfully the States showed it's contempt for his proposition, but had it been accepted it would have sent out a message to the world that we were uncooperative and had something to hide.

The Chief Minister was utterly spineless and naive for re-nominating Senator Bailhache for the position of External Relations Minister after this whole episode, where he is essentially in charge of the Jersey London office (which I recently visited and is very impressive) to spread the word for Jersey there.

That is the real threat to our finance industry that we face. The Jersey Nationalists who are stuck in the old days and don't realise that the new market is one based on transparency so that legitimate businesses benefits from the services that Jersey provides, and absolutely mitigates the chances of dodgy business going on. That's what the world wants to see and we are right when we embrace it wholeheartedly, rather than drag our feet in the ground like Senator Bailhache wanted us to do.

If the media wants to find the real threat to Jersey, they should start by looking within our own shores first.


[Edit 10/02/15]

The story continues and the media continues to do a terrible job at reporting it.

Here is another ITV article but this time from Guernsey's point of view -

Here they again say that Deputy Le Tocq has hit back at the claims made against Guernsey.

So here is the letter that Deputy Le Tocq has sent to Ed Miliband -

No where in this letter does Deputy Le Tocq hit out at the single claim that Miliband has made about Guernsey, which is that Guernsey has not introduced a public register of beneficial ownership. Why has he not contradicted that point? Because it's true!

Yet ITV have simply allowed the Chief Minister to get his own message across, without even attempting to challenge him.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

A brief look at the start of 2015

With a new Council of Ministers composed solely of Jersey Conservative Party members, we find ourselves in a position where taxpayers' money is able to be spent on increasing their public profile (you actually paid for this nauseating party political broadcast!), where they are able to set the agenda and continue to feed the public the lies we have been fed since before the election, where the opposition is left to find alternative (and cheaper) means to get our message out.

The club of the Jersey Tories is exclusive. They don't issue membership forms and their party socials are normally too expensive for most Islanders to attend.

That is why this year Reform Jersey, if it is to be able to continue to float a message of truth in a sea of lies, will need to be innovative and will need to find new ways of getting our message out there, so that Islanders realise that we are being run by a circus, but there is an alternative.

Thankfully Facebook has been a God send. Reform Jersey is close to receiving our 1,000th 'like' on our Facebook page. It also must be said that the Jersey Evening Post has seen a remarkably positive shift since Andy Sibcy took over as editor. Twitter is... well... Twitter.

Alongside holding more public meetings, we are wanting to hold more social events (our Party for the Party before the election was fantastic, and we've done a few pub quizzes too), I intend to start blogging more and more this year after having a relatively quiet year in 2014.

So far at every States sitting we have had since the election, Reform Jersey has proven itself to be the main voice of opposition in the States (every single backbenchers proposition since the election has been lodged by us and we have asked 31/40 questions).

Not bad considering we only have three States Members!

The party membership will be meeting on Thursday 26th February at 7:30pm upstairs at the Post Horn Pub (St Helier) to talk about moving the party forward this year, holding events and compiling our comprehensive policy statement.

The meeting is exclusively for party members, so if you would like to join, you can sign up for free by filling in the online form on our website -

Let's compare the record of the Council of Ministers with Reform Jersey so far since the election -

- The Council of Ministers led the attack on workers rights and job security by increasing the qualifying period for unfair dismissal claims, despite not a single shred of evidence backing up their lies that it would help create jobs. Reform Jersey proposed the annulment of that move and led the fight back.

- The Treasury Minister has so far barely lifted a finger to assist the workers from JT who are being suspended left, right and centre, not being paid for hours worked and subject to exploitative zero-hours contracts. Reform Jersey has been fighting their corner and facilitating the communication from workers to government.

- The Council of Ministers, despite making it a "priority" to secure more open green space in town, refused to back the residents petition against the proposed Gas Place development. Reform Jersey supports the residents to the hilt and we have publicly represented them at planning department hearings.

- Despite the Chief Minister announcing his intention to focus on reducing poverty throughout this term he and his ministers opposed Reform Jersey's attempt to increase the minimum wage by 10p.

- The Council of Ministers insisted that a sick woman who uses cannabis for medicinal purposes to treat her terrible disease would be continued to be criminalised, where Reform Jersey was seeking to provide her with a licence so she could attempt to live a normal life.

- The Chief Minister sent a grovelling letter to the Saudi ambassador to lament the death of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarch who led a country which flogs women for being raped, publicly beheads criminals and amputates their limbs and executes gay people. All Reform Jersey had to do there was simply point it out.

On all of these occasions, the Council of Ministers has shown itself to be nothing more than a circus, so detached from the reality that most Islanders live in, but more impressed with looking good, rather than actually doing good (a criticism I am aware several local charities silently agree with). Ian Gorst believes he is some sort of Tony Blair, but doesn't realise he is more of a Gordon Brown.

We have seen the publication of a planned Strategic Priorities document which does not once contain the word "poverty", showing just how honest Senator Gorst's pledge on poverty was in the first place.

We also see a new revelation from the Ministers that there is a place in Jersey called "St Helier" where apparently a lot of people live. When I asked the Chief Minister at a private briefing what he was going to propose in his work on St Helier to ensure that there are good communication streams from the residents and businesses in St Helier to the top, so that nothing is imposed on the Parish against it's will, he answered (and I quote) "oh, I hadn't really thought about that". When I have asked him this in the States, he hasn't even listened to the questions put to him (as hansard will show) before spouting some pre-prepared lines, thus showing that his commitment to St Helier is totally disingenuous.

If all of this doesn't embarrass you, it really should.

But we will be there at every step of the way to provide more analysis on the failings of this government but, most importantly, let Islanders know that there is an organisation out there which isn't interested in platitudes, but wants to propose the measures that will make their lives better.