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.

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