President's speech at Chamber May Lunch

Thursday 22 May 11:10

Chamber breaks with tradition and holds the AGM before the lunch event this month. The Chamber President continues to believe that 2014 is a fundamentally important year for Jersey and the collective focus should be on catching the coattails of what looks like a recovery in the UK.

Ladies and gentlemen, thanks for coming and welcome to the May Chamber lunch.

In a break with tradition, we held our AGM immediately before this lunch, so I’d like to start with a very brief update on that.

In short, three Council members were re-elected for further three year terms, they are our Retail Committee Chair Gerald Voisin,  Jim Hopley who is the chair of our Sustainable Business Committee, and Chamber legal advisor Advocate Olaf Blakeley.

Members also confirmed the seat on Council for our new chair of the Building and development committee, Tim Hicklin.

I’m really looking forward to continuing to work with all of them, and I’d like to thank them for the time they put in on behalf of the business community.

Now, onto today’s event. Once we’ve eaten I’ll be welcoming Sebastian Burnside, a senior economist with RBS to give us his views on the economic recovery in the UK, and perhaps also what the implications are for us here in Jersey.

As I’ve said at previous lunches, I think 2014 is a fundamentally important year for Jersey,  and I think our collective focus should be on catching the coattails of what looks like a recovery in the UK.

If we don’t do that of course, the longer-term implications for jobs, and general prosperity, are really concerning.

Which is why you’re going to here me talking a lot about economic growth this year. If you look at the GVA numbers (which is the States preferred measure of economic success), we haven’t had a year of growth since 2007.

Now I don’t mention that to have a go at the States or anyone else, if you’ve heard some of my previous comments at these lunches, I think we all have a role to play in solving these problems for the good of the Island, and lumping the blame at any one door is usually misguided.

To try and focus minds on what I think is actually the main issue facing Jersey, Chamber will holding a question-time event in early July, provisionally titled - Economic growth: benefits and pressures.

We’ve picked the title, ‘benefits and pressures’ as I don’t think anyone would seriously argue that a growing economy doesn’t pose potential issues which need to be worked through such as wage inflation, increasing house prices, pressure on land-use.

But to my mind, and hopefully to yours, the problems caused by a stagnant, or a shrinking economy are far far worse.

Jersey isn’t there yet – I think we still have the opportunity for growth. But will we take that opportunity?

Whether we do or not, doesn’t just depend on the 51 people in the States chamber. They may be convenient targets, but ultimately, we are the ones who put them there.

Responsibility does lie with us.

That’s why the purpose of this event is unashamedly to try and flush out this issue of economic growth and put it on the agenda for the elections in October.

In some way you might even say we’re a bit late in the day to do that, because for some time those elections have been influencing behavior.

I’ve lost count of the number of times since January I’ve heard the phrase  - “it’s a good idea but it won’t happen in an election year” – or – “that’s only being done because the elections are coming up”.

It’s almost attained the status of urban myth than one in every three years is practically lost, simply because we vote for new politicians that year.

When you analyse it, that’s a really interesting point of view, because it assumes that the general public are unlikely to vote for initiatives that are actually the right thing for the Island!

Really? I don’t believe that. And in some ways its quite patronizing, because that would mean voters aren’t clever enough to work out the right things to do.

Well I hate to break it to you, but we are all the electorate.

So, what I think that “it won’t happen in an election year” comment tells you is that we all need to get more involved– because if we don’t, that opportunity for growth may be lost.

It simply isn’t good enough for us all to shake our heads at the decisions of the States, and then get on with the day-to-day work.

If we think that a particular proposal will damage the engine of the island, which is how I think of our economy, then we should say so, to any politician who will listen – if we can find one!

We won’t always win the day, as recent population debate showed.

The States came to what I think was a very poor decision, and believe me it wasn’t for want of trying from either Chamber, along with the IoD, to try and persuade them otherwise!

But we accept it, and we move on. We regroup on the other major issues facing us this year…like economic growth.

At that point I’d like to pause and bring in a phrase I used this time last year, which is creating a commerce-friendly culture.

To be clear, that’s not a place where negative corporate practices run riot. It is a place where we encourage and celebrate commercial success, because we recognise that’s where the good jobs come from.

It’s a place where responsible business is actively encouraged, as it creates prosperity for all.

I’m not sure we’re near that place yet.

Of course, we could do nothing about that, that’s certainly the easiest thing to do, and there are always the very best, and most tempting reasons for doing nothing.

It’s much harder to take on the argument, and try and change hearts and minds.

So, since this is a lunch immediately following our AGM, and we are naturally looking at the year ahead, I would like to ask you all to do one thing. 

Chamber will continue to make the arguments which we believe to be right for the future prosperity of the Island. We can do that, because your membership gives us the independence we need to do so.

But we need your support - both in terms of membership, but also attendance at events, responses to consultations, and also back-up for the positions we take in public, where necessary.

That will enable us to make sure that 2014 isn’t just a year when nothing happens for fear of upsetting the electorate.

Actually it should be a year when the electorate are in control, and we need to step up and accept that responsibility to get involved.

What an election year really means is that there is no excuse for standing-by and leaving the health of our economy to chance – it really is too important for that.

But right now, all I would like you to get involved with is your lunch – I hope you enjoy it.




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