27 October 2015

Is Jersey a One Party State with its own Radio?

Political debate is common elsewhere, even in Legoland
So just where is the political debate? We are often told that 'choice' is what distinguishes democracies from dictatorships, but what happens when those in power refuse to engage in political debate with those in opposition?

Again, as is usually the case for the representatives of the de facto Jersey Tory Party, when asked by the BBC to join Reform Jersey in the studio for debate, they refuse. To make matters worse, the presenters of the local BBC seemed to take personal offense, this morning,  when I challenged the Ministers on their continued absence and their lack of mandate, to the point that the usually cheery and polite anchor chose to keep his head down and ignore me rather than engage in the customary civilities.

On top of that, there was an attempt to frame the debate as an 'abstract argument' which had already been dealt with in the States this month, rather than an ongoing reality, which was only now starting to afflict suffering on real people, in the real world.
BBC Jersey's Ashley Tracey and Tim Pryor

The BBC in Jersey must really up their game and shame politicians who consistently refuse to engage other than on their terms. They should offer truly insightful, incisive and interesting political discourse, rather than trite, lazy apologetics.

It is the job of any [indepedndent] media to act, as a check and balance on Government, as a Fourth Estate. In Jersey, they may as well be on the States payroll.

But the Government themselves must also interact.

I or Reform Jersey do not claim to have all the answers, but we can't always be wrong! Let's have meaningful debate and let people decide for themselves what to think.

29 September 2015

In Politics, Talk is Cheap

These [disabled] people need to have access to public transport which is free.Deputy E.J. Noel of St. Lawrence, seeking election as Minister for Transport and Technical Services, 6th November 2014. 

Today, I lodged an amendment to the Medium Term Financial Plan asking for the £100, 000 that was to be allocated by the Privileges and Procedures Committee to States Members Pensions to be put to the (arguably better) cause of providing free bus passes for disabled residents in Jersey. As I explain below, this sum may or may not be enough, however, it will be a start and, more importantly, it will force a States decision on the matter and keep the pressure up on the Minister to deliver on his election promise.

Anthony Lewis receives national award presented by Australian
rugby player, Michael Lynagh on behalf of the Stroke Association
The issue of free access for disabled people to public transport came up at the very first senatorial hustings at Grouville in 2014 when well known Jersey man, Anthony Lewis, whose courage following a stroke was an inspiration to all, asked 'I have not been able to get a disabled bus pass; do we do enough for disabled people in Jersey?'  The responses were interesting;  What is particularly striking  is just how many established and long-serving politicians - including the Treasury Minister and a Former Social Minister - were unaware of the fact that disabled people in Jersey do not and did not (then) have free concessionary passes. Strange that.


Responses from successful candidates:
Senator Ozouf: "I didn’t know you couldn’t get a bus pass. Many of us would want to fix that. More money is going into healthcare spending."

Dr. Cameron: "We can do a lot more. I have concerns over the way the Impairment Benefit is assessed, it’s not fit for purpose. The Jersey Disability Partnership is there and we do need to listen more to people like you to inform our policy in future."

Senator Routier: "No we’re not doing enough. I am the Chair of the Service Users’ Forum and wasn’t aware of this issue of not having a bus pass. We’re having a Transport Policy Review which I’m sure will put that in there."

Senator Farnham: "I’m embarrassed to learn you couldn’t get a bus pass, you should be able to; something has to be done about that. A lot more could be done, keep campaigning and I’m sure you’ll continue to get results."

Senator Bailhache: "I never thought about the question of bus passes. I’m sure we should be thinking about it. I’m sure there is more to be done, the question has certainly stimulated me and I’m sure others I think about the question for the future." (A great answer which can be given to almost any question)

Senator Maclean: "The question is why you should have had to come to a Hustings to raise this issue, you shouldn’t have had to, we should’ve known about it and been able to deal with issues to do with disabled people, if we can’t help as a government people who are in genuine need, what are we here for, if something needs to be dealt with? I might add that the system of support is sometimes too rigid, people feel almost criminalised at times with genuine needs who need genuine help and other people are abusing the system, so that needs balancing out to ensure we don’t waste money."

Deputy Green: "No we don’t do enough, not focussed on what disabled people can do we concentrate on what they can’t do… nor do we look after the carers. There’s a lot more work to be done."

Senator Gorst:

"Should we put more money into disability? The answer is yes… so we are going to need to put more money in certain areas. We are not doing enough for the disabled. Senator Routier and I have allocated some of our budget now to start a mapping process of disability. We do not know what all the conditions are, how many people there are, therefore we can’t even properly plan all the services that we need or make the changes to the buildings. So we’re starting that work and it’s got to be done in conjunction with business as well; it’s about public awareness… and what businesses are going to need to do as well to look after the people who are working for them, because it’s about ability. We’re not doing enough but we are absolutely committed to doing more… and once we’ve done the mapping and research we’re going to have to spend a lot more money, is that the right thing? I believe it is."


Clearly, there is a lot of support in the Council of Ministers for this issue. The same sentiment and commitment to action were conveyed only a few weeks later when in Deputy Noel was making his pitch to the States Assembly for the job of Minister for Transport and Technical Services –
"I was appalled when I heard that at the Grouville hustings and I have had another. Yes, that is going to be high on my priorities… We will find a solution and implement that in short order."
Deputy E.J. Noel

With this in mind, the Council of Ministers, and the Assembly, should welcome the amendment which I lodged today, reallocate a starting sum of £100,000 to be used for the purposes of the Minister delivering on this election promise. I shall be very disappointed not to receive unanimous support for this, although such disappointments are not uncommon.

It should be noted that the wideness or narrowness of any proposed scheme (i.e. how many people are likely to be eligible) will have an effect on the overall cost of the scheme. It will also depend on what level of subsidy/discount, if any, the current bus operator will give, but it should be noted that Liberty Bus’s own website confirms that CT Plus is committed to Social Enterprise (presumably a modern phrase for Social Corporate Responsibility). It may well be that part of that Social Enterprise can be to offer free bus passes for the disabled, or at the very least, offer a discounted fair, with the rest being funded by Government.

People in Jersey may disagree on how much money we should spend on Income Support, who should qualify for free TV licenses, and how money should be spent generally. It seems to me, however, that in a decent, civilized society, decent provision should be made for those need assistance to do other things that many of us take for granted. It is important too, as the Health Minister Andrew Green has said, that we focus on what people can do and not what they can't, and this initiative recognizes the courage and resilience that many in our society show in the face of (sometimes hidden) physical and mental adversity.

The people I have spoken to overwhelmingly support the idea that disabled people should be given free travel on public transport (i.e. buses). I hope the States will endorse this amendment and send a strong message of solidarity to these people who play an active role in our society despite the challenges they may face. 

15 September 2015

Les Quennevais - Time to move the Parish Hall?

Today, the public consultation on the possible sites of a new Les Quennevais School has begun. As a former pupil, someone who grew up in the area and, of course, in my capacity long-standing political representative for the area, I am keen to make sure we get this right. 

I believe a new school is long overdue.Teachers, parents and pupils must be commended for their continuing efforts in the pursuit of excellence and the current school achieves excellent results, but it is despite the inadequate 1960s building, which is no longer fit for modern needs, and vastly undersized. 

A balance will need to be struck to mitigate any loss of green fields, and I believe the way to do that is to avoid high density housing on the current site, which will no doubt be the preferred option, given the current housing shortage. 

I am calling for serious consideration to be given to moving the Parish Hall to that site, right in the heart of the Community, where the vast majority of people live - not tucked away in the village of St Aubin, far from most residents, with its parking issues. 

I believe to win around public opinion from the area, people will want to know, quite rightly, what will happen with the current site and that thought has been given to a decent community space, yes, with some quality housing (preferably affordable, sheltered and social), but moreover, open green spaces, allotments and shared community facilities. 

If Education, Planning and Ministers can aspire to this, then there is no reason the new plans cannot be a win-win for everyone.

15 June 2015

Quango Unchained: The Death of Democracy

Tomorrow, I will bring my projet, p.44/2105, to the States Assembly. It should be considered a very moderate proposition asking two things: that the Treasury Minister instruct SoJDC not to proceed with any buildign work, or further binding agreements, until the Corporate Scruinty Panel have finished their review, and presented their findings to the States. This should be done in approx 6 weeks, if they are given the information they need.
Secondly, it asks the Council of Ministers to subsequently bring the plans back to the States for approval. This request is more likely to succeed that asking for a referendum, which I had done previously.
Below, is a short video provided courtesy of Voiceforchildren. I thank him for kindly facilitating this posting, which is really a follow up to my earlier interview on 5th June.

I hope it is helpful. Please take a chance to watch, share and leave a message.

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.

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. 

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.