JOINED UP THINKING
Our economy, our community and our environment are all connected: we need to take a joined up approach to make sure they are pulling together in the same direction rather than working against one another. We also need a sharp focus on delivering mutually positive outcomes through decisive, effective and pragmatic government. There is no time to waste: we need to move forward, together.
As a small jurisdiction, we can’t ignore the very significant factors that affect us from beyond our shores: Covid-19 and its global economic ramifications, the uncertainty over the Brexit trade deal, and climate change to name a few. How we respond to them – as a government and as a community – will shape Guernsey now and for the future.
Here in our Bailiwick bubble we face equally significant pressures: the local economic climate, our changing demographics, the resilience of our infrastructure, the suitability of our fiscal framework, the growing demands on and accessibility of our health and care services, the transition to a low carbon future, the lack of clarity over our education system, the anomalies in our justice policies and the threats to our natural environment,
to name a few.
Here are some of the issues on Guernsey’s immediate political horizon, and how I will approach them if re-elected to the States.
Our finance sector is of course the engine room of our economy: it generates by far the largest share of gross value added (GVA) and supports the biggest contribution (through income tax) to public revenues. I am glad to have helped strengthen and diversify the sector through green finance, which I have championed: it’s a growth area with plenty more exciting potential, and it aligns perfectly with our environmental policies too.
With a professional background in the creative industries, I believe these also have potential to grow and diversify our economy. Unlike some industries, creative jobs are likely to prove more resilient to the longer-term threat of automation. We can better support this varied sector – encompassing everything from architecture and animation to writing and web design – by supporting our arts culture, nurturing our local talent and incorporating the development of creative thinking into our education and training schemes – all worthwhile social objectives in their own right. Measures to incentivise making empty commercial properties available to creative start-ups are also worth considering.
The cannabis industry has plenty of unfulfilled economic potential here in Guernsey: cultivation and processing CBD and THC can now be done legally and makes great use of our growing heritage and infrastructure, but our licencing systems need to be better much co-ordinated and streamlined. I would like to see the various policies and regulations clarified and brought under the administration of a single body.
We are not and never will be a destination for mass tourism, but we can further develop our niche. Our culture, heritage and gastronomic offers are the obvious areas for expansion, as set out in our tourism strategy, but the natural splendour of our environment is another area I think has great potential. Eco-tourism is something I have been proactive about this political term, and would very much like to develop further. The proposed Centre for Energy, Nature, Tourism, Research and the Environment would be the perfect keystone.
Our air and sea links will need to be reviewed once we have a better picture of the post-Covid landscape. I am watching developments with electric engine technology with interest.
The current circumstances have certainly underscored the need for universally good digital connectivity; following my successful political petition, a telecoms & 5G strategy will be brought back to the States by the end of the year.
The next States Assembly will need to make some difficult decisions about our tax structure. The challenge is in reconciling the need for increased revenue – to meet the increasing demand for vital public services such as healthcare, pensions and long term care – with the need to remain competitive as a jurisdiction. Fairness must be a fundamental principle of the review.
The introduction of Zero/10 saw the tax burden fall more heavily on individuals to help compensate for the loss of revenue from the corporate sector. This has had a very real impact on household budgets over the last ten years or so, especially for low- to average earners; for this reason, I would go to great lengths to avoid GST, which would further increase the cost of living for those who can least afford it.
Efficiencies are part of the equation: further savings can be delivered through the modernisation of our health and care services, education system and other public services. However, efficiencies alone cannot meet the long-term spending pressures, so more revenue will have to be raised somehow unless we as a community are prepared to make some serious cuts to frontline services.
Taking a joined up approach, I would look for revenue-raising measures that could also help achieve positive social outcomes such as healthier lifestyles, and deliver on our environmental objectives, such as the transition to decarbonisation or minimising waste and pollution. Any changes to corporate taxation will need to take into account international standards and our competitive position as an offshore finance centre.
Strong social fabric
Social policy has had some catching up to do in recent political terms, but there has now been some good progress: health and care services are being modernised and brought more into the community, there’s an increased focus on mental health, income support has been introduced and appropriate housing has become more accessible. Work is underway on equality legislation, and the States have committed to the principle of equal pay for work of equal value.
Key decisions in this next political term will include how we provide and fund our long-term care, how we make primary care more affordable, how we organise secondary education and how our justice system should be improved.
Secondary education has been caught in a political spin cycle for too long: it’s an issue on which we urgently need to move forward, as it is affecting staff morale and children’s education – my own included! The review currently underway will enable four core models to be compared across a range of criteria covering the quality of education, value for money and infrastructure and organisation. Crucially, the review will allow for different permutations of each model to be evaluated: each model can be interpreted in many different ways – for example in terms of sites, student numbers, facilities, staffing and cost – and these variations fundamentally affect how each model works, which is why it’s important not to pre-empt the report and jump to conclusions on the number or size of schools before comparing the information and taking stakeholder feedback into careful account.
We need a secondary education system that gives children the skills and knowledge they need, in a healthy and productive environment, to thrive in the 21st century. All students should be able to access a similar range of opportunity in terms of subject choice, facilities and pastoral care: I would seek to avoid a postcode lottery situation. Higher and further education through the Guernsey Institute should be progressed without any further delay.
The next States Assembly will also need to consider evidence-based proposals to minimise the harm to our community by crime, prioritise financial and cybercrime and review sentencing law and outcomes, among many other aspects of our justice review. One of the priorities will be to look at the personal use of small quantities of illegal drugs, including cannabis, especially taking into account health, wellbeing and safety as well potential regulatory options. A review of all the evidence and the results of community and stakeholder consultation will help to inform debate.
Our natural environment underpins our wellbeing, our economy, and so much of what is special about Guernsey, but it’s under threat from development, climate change and invasive species, to name just a few of the problems.
Environmental policy is my particular area of knowledge and expertise. Our new energy and climate change policies – both of which I worked very hard to develop – have been strongly supported and provide a sound foundation on which to base our transition to a cleaner, healthier, smarter, more efficient, more renewable and more sustainable future. With the approval of the high level policies we’ve agreed where we’re going, but the next steps are crucial because they will decide how and when we get there. Community and industry input, as well as independent advice, will shape the steps we take on that journey.
Both policies focus on resource efficiency, which can have beneficial economic and social effects as well as positive environmental impacts. Measures to make homes more energy efficient, for example, can help create new jobs locally, reduce running costs for householders and reduce emissions whilst improving air quality – a win-win-win scenario across economic, social and environmental objectives.
Our high recycling rate attracts lots of attention, and deservedly so as it’s one of the highest in the world, but what’s more important is that our waste strategy achieved a reduction in overall waste of a whopping 11% in its first full year of implementation, meeting its most important objective in style. The challenge now is to reduce costs, both for the States and for individuals. There are some exciting areas of potential innovation in both the household and commercial sectors that could help us drive down costs and waste volumes simultaneously.
Transport is our biggest source of both carbon emissions and air pollutants. Improving the sustainability of our transport system would not only reduce emissions and improve air quality but it would also increase personal choice and lessen the cost of getting from A to B on-island, improving safety and convenience for every mode of transport (including cars) in the process. This is another example of a joined up approach with multiple benefits.
Our natural environment needs not only greater protection, but proactive restoration and enhancement. There are some fantastic opportunities through the climate change policy and the Strategy for Nature to do both. We are working on mechanisms, for example, that will enable planners and developers to take the economic, social and environmental value of land into account before submitting or responding to a planning application, and our climate change policy can support schemes such as growing more food locally and sustainably – an initiative with clear social and economic benefits too.
If you’d like any more detail on these or other issues, please feel free to contact me via email or give me a call. You can also reach me through social media. All my contact details are listed below.
Finally, thank you for making the effort to vote: every vote counts and each one could help to deliver the candidates you feel will make the best deputies in the next political term.