28 April 2015

Is Government Built Office Space the right Gamble for Jersey?





Below is a copy of the proposition lodged on the Esplanade Quarter. It is my hope that the States will reconsider its decision to build offices once the Scrutiny Panel has reported back with its findings.



From a personal point of view, I am skeptical about the development for 3 main reasons:

1) The States do not have a good record of developing and maintaining such projects (including the Waterfront/Fort Regent).

2) Given the economic outlook, which is uncertain at best and given that other private developers are already building new grade A office space, it seems an overly risky entreprise for government involvement

3) Government should be concentrating on the areas it is duty bound to provide - affordable/social housing, a hospital and education facilities. Such a premium. public owned site could perceivably be put to much better use, with better social, cultural and even economic returns.
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THE STATES are asked to decide whether they are of opinion − (a) to request the Minister for Treasury and Resources to give directions to the States of Jersey Development Company Limited in accordance with Article 22(a) of the Articles of Association of the company that no binding agreements should be entered into by the company for the development of new office accommodation on the site known as the Esplanade Quarter, St. Helier, and no preparatory building works should be started, until the Corporate Services Scrutiny Panel has presented to the States the final report arising from its current scrutiny review of the project; 

(b) to agree that, following the presentation of the scrutiny report referred to in paragraph (a), no agreements for development of office accommodation on the site should be entered into, and no preparatory building works should be started, unless the development proposals in question have been approved by the majority of those voting in a referendum held under the Referendum (Jersey) Law 2002, and to request the Minister to give further directions to this effect to the company. 

REPORT 
Land in Jersey is a scarce and valuable resource. Whilst the majority of the Public may remain apathetic or disengaged from mainstream politics, the issues of planning and land-use remain hot topics in terms of interest and engagement – Plémont and Port Galôts are just 2 recent examples of this. In the last example, it was public opinion and pressure that caused a government to rethink its plans for that development, instead of charging ahead regardless. 

I believe it is important that any significant developments, particularly when they involve risk, need to have public buy-in. I do not believe that what is being proposed for the office development at the so-called business quarter has that. 

But aside from public opinion, there are other good reasons why we might want to reconsider our plans for this part of the Waterfront. 

When it comes to planning and building on the waterfront area, the States of Jersey does not have a great track record. After all, we closed down a successful and popular swimming pool only to open up a less popular, less successful – privately run, heavily subsidised alternative. Many have commented that the buildings and brands on the current waterfront are generic, and not the best use of the site. 

Criticism, scepticism and questioning of the viability and desirability of the proposed Esplanade Quarter (Jersey Business Centre) is understandably prevalent across Jersey society and the spectrum of political thought, which is partly what has set alarm bells ringing. 

There are those who do not believe that government should be engaging in State Capitalism – full stop. There are others, like myself, who are open to these kind of socialist initiatives, but only if they can be proven to work, provide a social, cultural need, as well as being economically viable, to bring a return to the taxpayer. 

There are 2 key questions to ask: is the scheme viable? Is the scheme desirable? 

On the first, it should be noted that there is a scrutiny review going on at the moment which will hopefully shed some light onto this area. We should certainly await the outcome of this, and use it to inform any debate on the merits of scheme. But it should be noted that there is already a brand new and extensive office complex being built now, privately, next to the Grand Hotel. This is in the vicinity of what has organically become Jersey’s Business Quarter. It is in the advanced stages of development; it will be ready much before our new building, and there is a suggestion that, on completion, it may not be fully rented out. 

So, the question remains: why are we competing with the private sector for the provision of office space, especially when there already appear to be others taking care of things on the supply side? If no-one else were building offices, maybe we would be justified in this speculative venture, but this is not the case. 

Now, on the second question, is it desirable? 

Well, it seems to me that, valid political differences aside, there are some things we can all agree on at a basic level: it is the role of government to provide basic infrastructure – schools, hospitals, roads, etc. There are things over and above that which government is bound to have regard and/or where government is best placed to provide for. Such things are social and affordable housing (Article 25 of the UN declaration on Human Rights makes it clear that everyone should have the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including: housing).


The strategic priorities recently outlined in P.27/2015 – the Draft Strategic Plan 2015 – 2018 focus on 4 key areas: Health and Well-being, Economic Growth, Education and St. Helier. 

So to partly answer the question of desirability in the context of the government’s own strategic goals, one has to ask the further question: could this prime site be better used for any other function, including one that ties in with the strategic aims? 

In terms of St. Helier, the aim is to ‘improve the quality of its homes … and the supply and quality of housing.’ Jersey has a chronic shortage of affordable and social rented homes. Could this site be better used for this purpose?

In terms of Health and Well-being, it is noted that social exclusion can itself cause health problems. An alternative use for the site, such as good quality housing, cultural/ community amenities or a mix of the two, could be a great alternative use of such a site, all in line with the strategic priorities. 

But, moreover, could this also be a new site for the Hospital? I would certainly like to see a viability study of this, with the possibility of regenerating the current Hospital site for other development. 

I have already touched on the suggestion of arts and cultural usage. Politics is the art of the possible, and many of us would like to see more done in Jersey to promote the arts, music and cultural diplomacy. Would a new Arts Centre, with integrated public gallery, installation space, concert hall, lecture theatres, etc., be something that was desirable for Jersey, and consistent with the image of the forward-thinking, cosmopolitan, vibrant successful image that we are trying to foster and project? Certainly, it is consistent with those parts of the Strategic Plan which seek to – 

• Promote sporting, leisure and cultural activities that enrich Islanders’ lives. 
• Promote Jersey’s positive international identity. (page 3). 

We have heard much scaremongering about what would happen if we did not push ahead with the Finance Quarter, that we would lose business from it. The lady doth protest too much methinks. Jersey’s success as an offshore centre relies on good regulation, a highly skilled and motivated workforce, good service and many other things that do not rely on States-owned office space. 

I, for one, do not want to be responsible for a costly white elephant being built on premium, public land. This is why I think urgent, informed reconsideration is needed, with the Public being given an opportunity to have their say via a referendum, if necessary. 

Putting the matter to a referendum will allow members to hear from a much wider scope of informed contributors than would be the case if this matter were simply decided in house. 

24 April 2015

Jersey's Political System Explained


This week, the Jersey Youth Parliament was launched, with 4 political Parties. The event, held at JCG was very encouraging and a breath of fresh air, from the usual backwards, stale Jersey personality based politics. The parties (seen below) can best be described as a right-wing, centre-right - although the Rose Party might best describe themselves as centrist (akin to the Liberals), a Green Party and a Left of Centre Alliance.


The Youth Parlianement, although only just starting, has managed two things that the 'real' Jersey Assembly has not: 1) It has parties, with meaningful manifestos, differing values and thought out policies. 2) It has a fair voting system - Proportional Representation. If a party gets 30% of the vote, they get 30% of the seats.

The Adult Parliament, however, battles on with its gerrymandered system designed to keep the far-right in power. As such, we at Reform Jersey have prepared a very simply diagram for distribution in schools and to give to newcomers to the island, so they may better understand our Assembly- which also has 4 basic groupings (above). We hope that you will share this with your friends in order that they might better get to know the 4 parties/group and what they stand for.

The four Parties of the Youth Parliament


22 April 2015

Reduce Social Security Contributions and Watch the Money Pour In

 
The typical cost of seeing a GP in Jersey is around £38 per visit
In his letter of 9 April to Jersey Evening Post, Mr John Davis of St Ouen presents a very prejudiced and, ultimately, untrue picture in relation to our Party and its policies.
He starts of by presenting a statement of opinion, his opinion, as if it were a categorical fact: 'It is a truth universally acknowledged that a left-wing politician not in possession of power will 'bribe' the electorate with unfunded spending proposals.' The first question to ask is 'Is it a truth, let alone a universally acknowledged truth?' The second question to ask is: 'why only a left-wing politician?' Why not a right-wing politician, a centrist politician, a green or a nationalist? The answer is, because (1) Mr Davis clearly does not like the politics of the left, or what he perceives to be the politics of the left and he is simply having a go.
 

Mr Davis needs to be corrected on several counts: Firstly, the idea that people's ability to see a doctor/nurse should be based on their need rather than their ability to pay is not the monopoly of left-wing thinkers or politicians; true, the NHS was conceived of by a Labour government after the second world war, but it is interesting to note that all the parties in the UK election are promising extra funding for it, as they recognise its inherent worth.

During the last election, it was the right of centre candidates who were promising all sorts from 50meter swimming pools to free disabled bus passes. We're these costed? And where are these policies now?

Secondly, the policy that everyone - rich or poor - should have free-at-the-point-of-access - is not an attempt to gain popularity; it is something that we and are members resolutely believe in. In a wealthy island such as Jersey, it is unacceptable that every year people are dying prematurely from curable illnesses because they could not afford to see, or were put off seeing a doctor, due to the high cost.


Thirdly, the idea that this kind of policy would 'sacrifice the economy' is simply scaremongering and false. Late diagnoses are very expensive to treat, compared with ones that are picked up earlier, not to mention the additional suffering for the individual and their family and friends. In such cases, the taxpayer picks up the bill. Conversely, a workforce which is able to see the doctor from time to time, as and when it is needed, will be a healthier and more productive one, ultimately benefiting the economy and community.

He talks of means-testing, but apart from the very poorest and sickest, means testing does not exist.  The multi-millionaire pays the same rate as the single working mum and receives the same subsidy, meanwhile the higher earner pays a lower rate of Social Security above the £47,016 threshold. Means testing is often bureaucratic, costly and a blunt tool. We say, better to have universal benefits - including the State Pension.

But Mr Davis is right in one respect. The public should demand costed policies of all their politicians before they are elected. These should feature in manifestos in the run up to elections, however, they can only work if like-minded candidate work together on common policies, thus forming parties, to give the public real choice. Currently, this does not happen. And this is why in States Assembly after Assembly ends up sleep-walking from one election to the next, never tackling the underlying issues of Health, Housing, Education and Environment - because policy is made up on the hoof after the election, and the public never get to cast a verdict on the finer detail.

 


Reform Jersey is the only official political party in Jersey. We want Jersey to be a fairer, better palce in which to live and work and as such, we aim to improve the life of working people & fight for the
 interests of the most vulnerable in society.



However, Reform Jersey, prior to the election, did make sure it got the figures it required from the outgoing Social Security Minister so it could start to make costed policies and free up new, fairer, funding streams to fund much needed public service improvements. In September 2014 we asked the Minister to provide projections for income yield if social security contributions were set at 4%, 5% and 6%, respectively, with no Standard Earnings Limit  or Upper Earnings Limit, with employer contributions remaining unchanged? (Currently, a lower employee contribution of 2% is paid between the SEL of £47,016 per year and the UEL of £155,568 per year, with nothing paid above this 'ceiling'.).

The answer showed that, based on 2012 figures, it would be possible to introduce a flat rate of social security contribution at 5% (thus reducing contributions for the vast majority of workers, who currently pay 6%) whilst still increasing the contributions yield by £7.5 million. This, clearly, would be a win/win as it would allow more people (the vast majority) to reduce their contributions, thus putting more money in their pockets (a good right-wing principle - 'because they can spend their own money better than government can'), potentially stimulating the economy, as more people will have more disposable income. Yes, it would mean that the highest earners would start paying the same rate as everyone else and I am quite comfortable with that.

Given that in 2013, the total subsidy given over to GP visits was £8.8m, this additional sum would go a long way to reaching the goal achieving free or near-free GP visits for all.

However, we realise that social security contributions are limited in their scope as they do not capture unearned income. If Jersey is to have a truly more progressive system to fund improved an improved Health Service, we must start looking at making the tax system more progressive, so that those who have the ability to pay more do pay more. We will be looking carefully at the latest figures that have been recently released by the tax office (following an Freedom of Information Request) with a breakdown of earners in different bands.

So Mr Davis can rest assured, that populist or not, our policies will be both costed and based on the greater social good. We only wish the same could be said for the policies of other parties, when the next elections come around.




13 April 2015

'Moderniser' to stand for Jurat

Tim Kearsey (41) today announced his nomination for the position of Jurat
Jersey Cricketer, Tim Kearsey, has been nominated for the role of Jurat. The 41 year old,  who was born in Bristol, has been resident in Jersey for 22 years.


He graduated from Oxford Brookes University with a degree in Estate Management , then went on to gain a diploma in International Trust Management at Central Law Training, in Birmingham. He is currently studying part-time for an MBA with Exeter University, with a view to becoming a University Lecturer in the island.


His work background is in the finance Industry having worked for UBS, Barclays and Smith & Williamson.   

Mr Kearsey has served island sport for 20 years as a cricketer and hockey player, coaching and developing young persons for the majority of that time. 

He has recently returned from a trip to Uganda with the Charity Cricket without Boundaries, where he was part of a team training teachers and coaching children in basic cricket skills, as well as spreading the word on AIDS/HIV prevention.

'Service to the community is an integral part of what makes Jersey such a special place. Alongside my professional career development, I have always tried to give back to the community that has offered me such a good home. I have always been interested in the roles that Jurats play: it extends past simply work in the Royal Court, to the administration of elections as well as the Prison Board of Visitors. As such, Jurats are busy people, and the time they give is not always appreciated or understood by the wider community.'

But Mr Kearsey also said there was a need for the role of Jurat and the Courts to evolve if it were to stay relevant to the modern, cosmopolitan place that the island had become.

'There is a perception - not completely unjustified - that Jurats come from a very narrow demographic: they tend to be older/retired and from a certain background. This is understandable, as the demands of the job requires one to have a certain amount of free time. I am unusual in that I am only 41, but I am fortunate to be in a position to have the time, energy and wherewithal to offer myself for the job.'

'Many of the island's institutions are in need of urgent reform; we can no longer simply put Jersey's various anomalies down to a 'quaint' way of doing things. The roles of the Bailiff and - I would suggest - the Attorney General should be separated with immediate effect. We have had two reports by eminent panels - Clothier and Carswell - telling us quite clearly what needs to be done. 

We also need, I believe, an Independent Crown Prosecution, a Department for Justice, an Independent Prison Monitoring Board, which will allow lay members to serve on it, as well as a new appointments panel for all judicial appointments. This will not necessarily endear me to some of the more conservative elements of the Jersey Establishment, but change is already underway, and if elected, I would want to swim with the tide of change, not against it.'

'In providing justice to the island, I would give a high level of understanding to the importance of safeguarding and protecting young people.  Also, the importance of ensuring the island becomes a leading jurisdiction in ensuring organisations have frameworks to ensure that vulnerable and young people are protected.  This also requires recognition of rehabilitation and tougher sentencing on perpetrators of abuse within the community against all persons.  In all areas of law I would endorse empathic understanding and rehabilitation through the penal system and mental health system, which requires further support and resourcing.'


Mr Kearsey takes time out to relax with his friends in Uganda
after a hard week of Cricket coaching

07 March 2015

Let the Independent Jersey Child Abuse Inquiry do its Job

 
Islanders are invited to the Royal Square tomorrow morning (Sunday) at 11am to mark the 7th Anniversary of the Time4Change rally which was held on 8th March 2008 to remember the victims and survivors of Jersey child abuse, past and present.
 
Much has happened since that date, and with the help of campaigners, bloggers and former States Members, we were able to secure a Committee of Inquiry to look independently into these serious matters; to shine a light into one of the darkest chapters in Jersey’s recent history, and to seek to bring redress, justice and healing.
This brief memorial will allow the focus to be put back where it belongs. On the victims and survivors of abuse and there will be a minute's silence as a sign of respect.
 
Recent Events:
I am very concerned at recent developments to sabotage the Committee of Inquiry, made by some elements that have never wanted the Inquiry to happen – individuals who themselves have questions to answer under the Committee’s Terms of Reference.
 
‘The Committee is just about to look at some of its key terms of reference, including [No 13. to] Establish the process by which files were submitted by the States of Jersey Police to the prosecuting authorities for consideration, and establish –
Whether those responsible for deciding on which cases to prosecute took a professional approach;
Whether the process was free from political or other interference at any level.'
 
It is to be expected that some people may not want this to happen and will try anything to obstruct the Committee from being able to do its job.
 
But, for my part, I will resolutely oppose any suggestion that the Committee not be allowed to do its job.
Anyone wishing to attend is invite to bring a daffodil as a sign of respect.

01 January 2015

Out with the Old, in with the New




It's January 1st. Again. So let me start by wishing you all Health and Happiness for 2015! 
2014 was an interesting year and busy year and it was a campaign year. Not only were there general elections in Jersey, but also two by-elections early in the year, which saw two progressive candidates elected, and one hold onto his seat in the Autumn.

For me, the 15th October 2014 marked the beginning of my third consecutive term as a States Member. However, it was the first time I had stood and been elected as a member of an official political party, namely Reform Jersey. I was particularly pleased to have had an excellent running mate in Beatriz Porée. Although she did not get elected this time around, it was the first time that electors of St Brelade no. 2 district were able to vote for two Party candidates of the left. 391 voters chose to vote for Beatriz, in a very tough field of runners and a total of 1281 were cast for Reform Jersey in our district.



Reform Jersey Candidate, Beatriz Porée
The results overall were modest. Whilst the party did not managed any gains in terms of seats, it did manage to hold on to its three existing members and their seats. At the same time, thousands of votes were cast throughout the island, for the first time, for the five female candidates: Anne Southern, Laura Millen, Shannen Kerrigan, Debbie Hardisty and Beatriz (above). But one is reminded, that it is not unusual for parliamentarians not to get in at their first attempts. 

So the challenge for us at Reform Jersey in 2015 and beyond is to keep up the hard work and build on current successes. This is a challenge which we three States Members - (Deputy Mézec, Deputy Southern and myself) relish - and in which the wider membership will also be involved.

I would like to thank all of those who have provided personal and political support throughout 2014 - you know who you are. I and we could not have done it without you.

If you would like to join us in 2015 in our efforts to bring greater accountability, transparency and fairness to Jersey and its government, then please do get in touch.


Dates for your diaries:

We will be having a social and fundraising evening at the Town Hall on Saturday 24th January, including a Pub Quiz. More info to follow.

Surgeries:

Drop-in clinics for St Brelade no.2 constituents will be held every Monday from 12-1pm at Communicare, starting on 19th January. 






06 December 2014

Unfair Dismissal

As Jersey's new Social Security Minister proposes extending the 'qualifying period' for unfair dismissal from 6 months to a year, the questions surrounding workers' rights on the one hand and burdens placed on employers on the other once again come into question.

I have written a letter (below) to the Minister raising my concerns. But before we go onto that, I think it is necessary to briefly ask: what is the common ground and what is the problem, if any, that we are trying to solve?

Unfair dismissal is not something that we should be encouraging.

I hope the above statement is something that any fair minded person can sign up to.

However, it would seem that the decision of the Minister flies in the face of this self-evident truth. If the Minister's proposal is implemented unchallenged and unamended, unfair dismissal will become more common, as the employer will have 12 months to dismiss unfairly, not six.

The Ministers rationale for the move is to 'encourage employers to take on more staff' and ' remove one of the perceived barriers to employing staff'.

So my questions remain: is this the best way to do this? What is the common ground? What are we trying to acheive?

Well, let's start with the law: Article 61 of the Employment (Jersey) Law 2003 states:

'An employee shall have the right not to be unfairly dismissed by his or her employer.'

So, this is pretty clear. However, currently, you cannot challenge a dismissal you feel to be unfair until you have been employed for 6 months (with some exceptions - see below). This 'right' is therefore being futher restricted if we extend the qualification period to a year.

To put the other side of the argument, it is my understanding that some employers think that (1) the process which one has to go through to dismiss an employee who is (a) either not performing well enough or (b) not suited to the job is too onerous;  warnings need to be given, and due process observed, etc.

(2) There is also the perception that on occasion vexatious claims can be made against the employer and that the agreived party has 'nothing to lose' by making a complaint. It would be interesting to get the stats and more information on this, but it seems to me that if this is a genuine concern, there would be other ways to address this issue than by extending the qualification period. It is a blunt tool which does not differentiate between legitimate claimants and vexatious ones.

It seems to me, if a more acceptable definition of what constitutes 'unfair dismissal' could be agree and an acceptable way of ensuring fair safeguards and process for both parties, then unfair dismissal could be effectively prohibited from day one. I am certain that no reasonable employer wants to act in an unfair way.


Social Security Minister, Deputy Susie Pinel


So without further ado, here is my open letter to the Social Security Minister:

 -------------

Dear Minister,


I was concerned to learn via the press release yesterday that the ability for an employer to dismiss someone unfairly, without challenge from the employee, is to be made easier. And that this significant and controversial  decision should be made solely by Ministerial decision and not the Assembly as a whole.

 
There remain sound reasons why such a decision – with the potential for both intended and unintended consequences – should be subject to scrutiny of the wider membership as well as, potentially, official scrutiny from the relevant panel.


Some points for consideration are as follows:
 
-          The second, third and fourth elements of the discrimination law have not yet been brought forward, so whilst it will still be possible for a dismissal on the grounds of racial discrimination to be challenged as unfair (and illegal), there will be no such possibility for a woman who is dismissed after 11 months because she becomes pregnant. Employers will still be able to be sacked on the basis of their gender, age, disability or sexual orientation – now for up to a year.

-          As such, comparisons with the Northern Ireland and the UK (which has had discrimination legislation for 4 decades) does not tell the whole story.

-          Your statement says that you are ‘confident that a one year qualifying period will encourage employers to take on more staff.’ However, there is no real evidence has been provided to suggest that this will be the case.

-          Similarly, your press release talks about removing one of the ‘perceived’ barriers to employing staff, without scrutinising whether that perception is a valid one.
 
The reality of your proposals is that it will make it easier to dismiss an employee, without due process, for up to a year on grounds which any fair-minded individual might term ‘unfair’.

This will not affect good employers, but it will make life easier for less professional employers to tout best practice, without any recourse from the worker.

As such, I would ask you:

1)      to consider extending the criteria for which a case may be taken to the Employment tribunal from day one (without a qualifying period) to include other appropriate provisions (including those listed above).

2)      to bring this proposal to the States, with a full report and proposition, for the consideration of the Assembly as a whole. 
 

Kind regards,

 
Montfort

 
Deputy M. Tadier

 --------------------
Press Release from the Minister - 5 December 2014
 

Embargoed until 00.01 hours on 5 December 2014
5 December 2014



Minister changes rules for unfair dismissal claims





The Minister for Social Security has decided to extend the qualifying period for unfair dismissal complaints from six months to one year.

Currently, an employee who feels that they have been unfairly dismissed may make a complaint to the Employment and Discrimination Tribunal if they have 6 months’ service with their employer. The Minister has decided that, from 1 January next year, employees must have one year’s service before they are entitled to make a complaint.
The change will only apply to new jobs that start on or after 1 January 2015. Employees who already have a job will retain the right to claim unfair dismissal after 6 months’ continuous service.
Minister for Social Security, Deputy Susie Pinel, said "I am confident that a one year qualifying period will encourage employers to take on more staff and will make a real difference to locally-based small businesses. The additional six months to assess whether a person is right for the job should increase the number of employers who are willing to give a local jobseeker a chance through one of our Back to Work initiatives. I also believe that this change has the potential to motivate employers to offer more permanent terms and conditions of employment to employees, rather than entering into casual staffing arrangements."
The change has been endorsed by the Council of Ministers. The Chief Minister, Senator Ian Gorst commented, "During the elections, I pledged to support local businesses and I have made it clear that one of my priorities as Chief Minister is to promote growth and create employment opportunities. By extending the qualifying period for unfair dismissal claims - to a period that is in line with our competitor jurisdictions - we are sending a positive signal to businesses and removing one of the perceived barriers to employing staff. We need to boost growth, and to do that we need to get more people into work. This amendment will help us achieve that priority."


-ends-

Notes to Editors




1. The qualifying periods for protection against unfair dismissal in other jurisdictions are;

 One year in the Isle of Man
 One year in Guernsey
 One year in Northern Ireland
 Two years in the UK
2. Employees will continue to be entitled to take an unfair dismissal complaint to the Tribunal from day one of employment in certain circumstances. There is no requirement for an employee to have a qualifying period of service in any the following circumstances;
 dismissal for asserting a statutory right
 dismissal for being or proposing to become a member of a trade union
 dismissal for representing or proposing to represent an employee in a disciplinary or grievance hearing
 selection for redundancy on grounds related to union membership or activity, and
 where the reason for dismissal is a prohibited act of race discrimination.
.