Tuesday, 28 February 2017
Consultation, Consultation, Consultation.
If there is one thing the States of Jersey loves, it's a good ol' consultation.
Today States Members were sent an email to let us know that the Housing Minister is launching a consultation on the regulation of Jersey's letting market. They want to know what problems tenants, landlords and letting agents have with the current regulations and want to hear the public's views on how the market could be improved to provide fairness.
This wasn't too much of a surprise as I have twice asked questions in the States Assembly about what measures the Housing Minister was going to take to protect tenants from many of the unfair fees that are being imposed on them for no good reason by letting agents, and twice the minister had said that something like this was on the cards.
There is, I think, a widespread feeling amongst many members of the public that the States spends far too much time consulting and that ministers and senior civil servants use them as an exercise to absolve themselves of taking any responsibility on a particular issue.
There is certainly truth in this, but I think there is something a bit deeper that should be examined too.
Currently there are three main consultations going on -
1. Letting market
2. Family Friendly laws
3. Social Security contributions
On every single one of these subjects, both government ministers and Reform Jersey have publicly committed to particular changes we both agree on.
In the States Assembly I asked if the Housing Minister was prepared to follow the lead of the Tory government in the UK and abolish letting fees for tenants, instead making it a fee exclusively charged to landlords. She said "yes".
On several occasions the Social Security Minister and the Home Affairs Minister (who, for some reason, is in charge of initiatives connected to the '1,001 Days Manifesto') have publicly said that they support increasing the statutory maternity leave provisions in Jersey.
The Chief Minister said in his 500 word statement when he was proposed for a second term as Chief Minister that he supported introducing progressive rates of Social Security Contributions for the self-employed.
On all of these issues, Reform Jersey wholeheartedly agrees with the words of the government.
So why do we have to have these expensive consultations when the answers are staring us in the face?!
If you agree that letting agent fees to tenants should be banned, then ban them.
If you believe statutory maternity leave needs to be extended, then extend it.
If you believe that self-employed Social Security Contribution rates should be cut, then cut them.
Instead, we have policies which have been in the government's own programme since it's earliest days, that they have not delivered on after two and a half years in office, and are now putting those questions out to consultation rather than just getting on with them.
Obviously there is a legitimate place for consultation and I'm not knocking them on every single occasion. The consultation on the new Les Quennevais School was clearly a useful exercise and helped produce a good proposal (although it's up in the air at the moment, so maybe not a great example).
But when there are some relatively small measures that are clear on principle and which will clearly have a tangible benefit to people's lives, why not just get on with it? If there is a bigger picture, it can be dealt with separately, but the smaller measures can often be isolated.
Here's my theory -
It's all about re-election.
What do all of these consultations have in common? The results are all going to be released in the run up to an election, without enough time to have them implemented beforehand.
This means the candidates for the effective Jersey Tory Party can stand for (re)election with their policies already constructed for them. They will stand with a commitment to deliver the recommendations of these reviews and consultations. These policies will be paid for by Jersey taxpayers, rather than made by the membership of a party through a democratic process.
It is essentially establishment politicians feathering their own nests, with the connivance of senior civil servants who get to sit back whilst this happens, knowing that they won't be to blame for anything that could go wrong.
This is, I believe, a symptom of a broken democratic system in Jersey that leads to us taking years and years to make decisions which could be made much quicker, we spend so much money arriving at those decisions and the ordinary people of this Island have to contend with poor regulations and public service provisions whilst those politicians enjoy the view from the top of Cyril Le Marquand House.
So I say - cancel these consultations, stop hiring spin doctors and start hiring some law draftsmen to get these policies enacted as soon as possible, so you can then move on to the other important issues facing the Island.
Reform Jersey intends to stand for election in 2018 with a series of tangible policies set out that could be implemented in relatively quick succession.
Whether we win or lose that election, I hope we can set a standard of what the public should expect from election candidates. Politicians in Jersey lack credibility, and this barrage of consultations offers nothing to the public to help them regain confidence in those who lead them.