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Jersey Chamber of Commerce

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Category: Local Business News  States of Jersey

Chief Minister Chamber Lunch Speech

Feb 04, 2022


Good afternoon everyone.

Thank you for coming today, and thank you to the Chamber of Commerce for this event, and in-particular for their work in ensuring that it is COVID-safe.

The purpose of the video which was initially released some 8 months ago was part of a plan to try to show Islanders what we do. What we are responsible for…and even now, when I watch that video, I still find it exhausting!

[.and before going any further I do wish to reflect on 2 people in that video, who are no longer with us, namely Connétable Len Norman, and Gary Burgess, and they are both missed]

The Business-as-Usual activity of the Government of Jersey is to look after an Island which is in effect an independent jurisdiction, with its own laws and constitutional status, with a population of around 107,000, and lead and oversee an organisation of around 7,000 staff and which spends around £1B per year.

That brings its own unique challenges even without Brexit and Covid, and so today I am going to look back over the past 4 years, and give a flavour of what we have done, and what it has been like.

It would be an understatement to say it has been a tough 4 years, but it might surprise you to hear that, even with the disagreeable nature of certain personal politics, it has been a privilege to lead the Council of Ministers during this time, and I believe there is a lot for us as Ministers to be proud in our time in Government.

Before I go any further I (too) wish to welcome our new permanent Chief Executive Suzanne Wylie who has joined us this week. She will be tasked, amongst many other things, to ensure that our public sector is as effective as it can be in coming years.

Suzanne is here with us today and I hope you will all join me in wishing her the very best in her new role.

But let’s go right back to the start.

I was elected CM on 7th June 2018. However, the first actual budget we could put in place was after the END of the extant MTFP – ie 1st Jan 2020.

The Hospital planning application on Gloucester Street was rejected for the second time. Work started on long term policies for population, early years and housing.

On the day I started I was told we faced a lawsuit for £230 million pounds. We were also told of another law suit, and we were told that something could be done about the second matter, and that it needed urgent legislation which could have been drafted some 2 years before.

I stepped in as Chair for the SEB at the end of 2018, facing a number of employment issues, pay negotiations had not been settled for previous years, and you will recall the various disputes that took place. Risk registers, health and safety and some other legacy issues were also glaring in their deficiencies. We also had a significant gap in what is referred to as equal pay for equal value, potentially adding up to tens of millions of pounds.

The IT systems were outdated and deficient we were not GDPR ready.

Once the new damages law was introduced, we reduced legal claims by around £45m within the first six months.

During the course of 2019 we resolved all of the legacy pay disputes, and indeed settled 2020 ahead of time. The difference in equal pay for equal value had been reduced to a negligible amount. A lot of work has been done on culture. We have a diversity program, the I WILL Group and apprenticeships programme launching this year following a successful pilot in 2021, and a growing internship program.

We launched Zero Based budgeting; and commenced the roll out of Office 365 (and Teams) in November 2019, under some criticism for the amount of money we were spending.

As we debated our first Government Plan in December 2019 the first people infected with COVID-19 in Wuhan China, were beginning to show symptoms.

It would have been difficult at that time to have predicted just how much COVID would change our daily lives or the sheer scale of the threat to our public health and impact on our economy.

The rest as they say is history.

It is just under 23 months since we reported our first case of COVID-19 in Jersey.

It’s often forgotten just how quickly we had to move in those early days, between the first positive case detected in the UK and the imposition of travel restrictions, Whitehall took 46 days. Jersey took 10.

Within 24 hours of the WHO declaring COVID-19 to be a pandemic, the Emergencies Council had convened and announced a suite of new measures including a business support package.

We have worked across Government and indeed across our Island to safeguard our public health, to support businesses, livelihoods, and those who might struggle, and to ensure our healthcare workers have the equipment and resilience they need.

Together we have delivered more than 200,000 vaccine doses, conducted close to one million PCR tests and mobilised an unprecedented level of financial support.

Whilst now is another challenging time, to date we have succeeded in keeping the schools open more effectively than any other jurisdiction in the British Isles, and indeed better than many in Europe…and I do want to pay tribute to the dedicated teachers, education staff, and parents who have enabled us to achieve this.

We have worked with international partners such as Mastercard and Microsoft to develop a globally recognised border testing programme, a world class contact tracing regime and a spend local card – a global first – which, as a result of me presenting it at the British Irish Council, has now been adopted elsewhere in the British Isles.

Additionally we have put in place practical measures to deal with the indirect impacts of COVID-19. We have earmarked £5m this year on projects to assist with Health and Social Recovery from the Pandemic, including closing attainment gaps in education; building on the success of our ConnectME initiative and supporting those Islanders with Long-COVID.

There are still risks, but thanks to our fantastic vaccination rollout and the lessons we have learnt over the past two years, we are in a good place. We know we will not have got everything exactly right, but we have consistently taken well evidenced, proportionate and timely actions to support businesses, to minimise the disruption to our children’s learning and to protect Islanders. I am proud of our record in Government.

Let’s not forget Brexit.

Since before the 2016 vote to leave, Ministers and officials have worked tirelessly to ensure Jersey remained well placed to deal with post-Brexit uncertainties, including the ‘Ready for Brexit’ Campaign, the EU Settlement Scheme, and the dispute resolution MOU with the UK.

In 2019 the longstanding objective of the UK extending its membership of the WTO to Jersey was achieved, at a time when a ‘No-Deal’ departure could still have been on the cards.

…and External Relations is therefore one example of how the role of Jersey politicians has evolved. In my father’s day, it was quite unusual to meet (for example) a member of the House of Lords. Today, Ministers are called upon to represent Jersey on the global stage - we have regular engagement with UK and European Ministers and indeed with international media.

Just to give one example, when the fishing dispute made global headlines. Senator Gorst, Deputy Guida and myself were asked to deal with a whole host of international interviews - for example CNN which has an audience of 180 million people.

Separately we continue our European engagement, which will need to develop even further, but obviously includes French meetings with our regional neighbours - I HAVE held a bi-lingual press conference –

We must not forget what is called the FRAAK agreement with Kenya and others which was the first of a kind in relation to the confiscation and return of stolen assets. We also host a large number of Ambassadorial visits from EU (and other) countries, including China, the UAE and the US Ambassador.

Separately in relation to International Development and Overseas Aid we are doing important work on Island Identity, and we deliver approx. £12m of aid in over 21 countries. We make a real difference, and we are reversing the historic decline in our overseas aid contributions.

…and if you do not know the impact of the Jersey Cow project, then look it up – it is a fantastic story – and it strikes a chord, in all the circles I have worked.

Jersey is on the global stage and faces global challenges but also global opportunities.

We are small, but we have a really good story to tell.

Brexit and COVID required an agile and fast-moving approach.

One should in no way underestimate how much time and resource they have diverted from our other objectives.

Nevertheless, we have also made significant progress on the key objectives we laid out in the Common Strategic Policy back in 2018.

We have Put Children First. As well as keeping schools safely open during COVID (recognising the short and long term damage on educational outcomes) we have implemented new family friendly legislation, increased the number of free nursey hours for all children aged 3 to 4; rolled out French lessons to all year 5 pupils in 21 Primary schools and are piloting schemes for school meals.

We launched a landmark £1.7m Corporate Parenting Package to support young people in care and care leavers and as a Corporate Parent we guaranteed all care leavers an apprenticeship should they want one, with permanent roles guaranteed following a successful apprenticeship.

£13.4 million is allocated over the next four years into our Children’s Health Recovery Plan which will see improved access to and quality of mental health services for young people including funding for a dedicated CAMHS Home Treatment Team.

And we have significantly increased spending on Education from £5.8m in 2018 to around £25m a year in 2022.

Again we have worked hard to improve matters in these areas.

Obviously, this includes our pandemic response, but it also includes more long-term improvements to Islander’s healthcare.

When we started, we committed to bringing Mental Health up to parity with physical health including a redesign of CAHMS, establishing of a dedicated CAMHS helpline, opening the Listening Lounge and passed a new Mental Health Law.

We have established on-Island nursing qualifications for both general and mental health nurses with over 50 students currently enrolled.

All boys aged 12 and 13 are now eligible for the HPV vaccine. We have delivered a new town based hub for Age Concern. and waiting lists are now back to pre pandemic levels – which is far better than the UK, separately.

The implementation of the Jersey Care Model is starting its second year, that will expand primary and community care services for a more accessible and patient focused model of healthcare, particularly given the ageing population. There is way more to do, but change is happening.

The sports strategy has been launched – investment is happening at Springfield; I am delighted that Oakfield was approved yesterday. 

Investment into areas such as Education and Health are only possible because of Jersey’s strong economic foundations.

So other than the huge support package of nearly £250m we have given in the last two years, what else have we done ?

We have financed the creation of the Digital Skills Academy in association with Digital Jersey. We are proposing a £20m Tech Fund to support our Island’s adoption of emerging technologies and fresh opportunities.

We have issued the first licences for medicinal cannabis enabling local companies to access a global market measured in the of tens of billions.

There is obviously an overlap with our external and international activity which support our economy. We supported the new JFL office in New Jersey – something I was particularly keen on. We have the National Risk Assessment and the overall preparation for MoneyVal. We have maintained our pre-pandemic credit rating. We have invested in arts, culture and heritage.

And before the end of this term of office we will be delivering Jersey’s first Economic Framework providing a common vision for Jersey’s future economy, and we have developed and lodged a population policy.

Last year, I restructured a Ministerial position to create a new Ministry for Housing and Communities to focus on improving the provision of housing in our Island and let’s be very clear there is a lot more to do. But quick political fixes won’t do it – and I will refer later to things we have done which will assist in increasing supply.

Within 100 days of his appointment Deputy Russell Labey had presented his Housing Action Plan with a clear timeline for introducing new measures to help Islanders. Before our current term expires, we will be implementing a brand-new affordable purchase product backed by £10 million of investment to help more Islanders own their own homes and we have established a working group on modern methods of construction to prove the case for the use of new technologies in Jersey.

We have set new minimum standards for rental properties, froze Andium rents in both 2021 and 2022 and launched a Rent Safe Scheme.

We have introduced a new health access scheme to provide subsidised GP visits to 12,000 people and provided free bus travel to Jersey residents with long-term disabilities.

We have increased the Minimum Wage by 23% since 2018, three times faster than the rate of inflation…

And despite the dislocation of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have reduced unemployment to below where it was when we took office in 2018.

We adopted the goal to be Carbon Neutral by 2030 and commissioned a Citizens Assembly to bring forward recommendations for change.

We obviously have the Bridging Island Plan – which is a huge piece of work.

We have a trial hoppa bus service presently due to start in April.

Durrell has received just under £1m for a new gorilla house, and we moved to protect Atlantic Blue Fin Tuna

We have also put forth a 100-year shoreline management plan that sets out in detail how we will protect Jersey’s coastline from rising sea levels and erosion this century.

I began this speech by referring to a number of the problems we were faced with when we started.

This is why modernising government has been one of our key objectives. It is about making the organisation fit for purpose for the 21st century, and thereby ensuring that Islanders get the quality of service that they should.

This is also about becoming an employer of choice for Islanders and I have already alluded to the various programs we have undertaken. Again, there is more to do.

The whole One Gov restructuring was critical to address the silo mentality we were facing. I genuinely believe that if we had not done that, and not had the IT investment, we would not have been able to respond as well as we have to the Pandemic. I am delighted, that having tried at various times to achieve a consolidation of the office estate, after something like 12 years it is happening with a delivery date set at 2024. You might want to reflect on the reasons behind that delay, on the tens of millions of pounds that delay has wasted and hopefully recognise that one key feature of this Council of Ministers is that we have taken a lot of decisions that might have been politically difficult, but which are for the longer term, and are for the ultimate benefit of Islanders.

The new HQ will provide an easy one-stop shop for Islanders seeking to engage or utilise Government services, it will deliver savings to the taxpayer of between £6m - £7m every year, excluding productivity savings. Importantly, particularly in the context of today, it represents a medium-term addition to the supply of housing units, by freeing up sites in St Helier for development.

…and we have also introduced Independent Taxation, which represents a massive change in a century old taxation law.

Of particular interest I would suspect to a number of you in the audience is savings and finances.

To date we have achieved recurring savings of £55m a year against a target of £60m I am pleased with that, and whilst this year and next year will be harder, the steps we have taken of investing in the estate and the IT systems should start to bear fruit thereafter.

In terms of finances and debt.

I have presided over the biggest deficit this Island has ever known. But despite the extraordinary impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our economy and our spending, our Island’s main reserves are in a very strong state, having risen to over £3.3 billion, an increase of just over £600 million since 2018… we have maintained Jersey’s credit rating despite the seismic shock to the global economy and are showing good surpluses from next year.

Now it is true that we have approval to borrow some significant sums. .I shall try to be brief , and can give more information later if you are interested.

Despite the estimated cost of the pandemic of approx. £550m, our borrowing for COVID will peak this year at less than half of that figure.

In order to repay that figure we have actually implemented a long-standing recommendation from my former role in Scrutiny, to change the tax system to move everyone to paying on a Current Year Basis.

Ultimately, this will raise £340m as a one-off cashflow gain. It is NOT a tax increase.

Which means in summary we have not needed to borrow for the full cost of COVID and can pay back this debt sooner than originally intended and without need to raise taxes.

As regards the much needed Hospital (about which I believe Senator Farnham will be speaking to you in March) the associated debt will be financed responsibly using the excess returns arising on the Strategic Reserve. This method will save us £1.7bn over the long term when compared (for example) to just directly using the rainy-day fund to pay for the project.

The third and final tranche is refinancing an existing pension debt on which we are presently paying around 5%.

By borrowing a small amount now, at historically low interest rates, we can save the taxpayer £3.6 billion over the long term.

This is a truly impressive sum, and even in the medium term will leave the next generation of Islanders around £300 million better off by 2053.

I hope that briefly explains that all of these tranches are well thought out, and carefully considered, and are consistent with our normal financially prudent instincts, given the extraordinary challenges we have faced.

One thought as I start to conclude – in response to those who have permanently criticised and denigrated – whilst I get the politics, particularly in the last few months before an election, can I suggest the following – the question you might want to ask of those who are being critical – is what would you do differently, OR , you were there previously - what did you do when you held the power ?

…I would like to paraphrase something the new Connétable of St Clement (Marcus Troy) said in a speech at the end of last year in relation to a debate brought by a back bencher.

Yet, some of us here who have not run so much as a tuckshop, never mind build one, think otherwise. They argue with international bankers… with experts, and say that they know better. I do not understand it. [A sound proposal] is being taken over by people in the States of Jersey who frankly do not know what they are talking about.

So a final thought with one eye towards the elections – you as voters, might want to ask candidates – what is your experience, your ability , your life experience that demonstrates your capability to run the most important tuck shop on this Island ?

I have met some of the wealthiest people on the planet who have all been fantastic – and we have helped some of the poorest. It has been an extraordinary experience and a privilege.

In my view a politician is in effect a trustee – a custodian – who has the responsibility to look after this Island, and Islanders, and hopefully to do their very best to leave this Island in a better place than when they started and building on the work of their predecessors. Having had the biggest peace time challenge literally in generations, and considering everything else we have done – and let’s be clear – there is lots more to do - I believe that I as CM, we as Ministers, and the teams we have led can all hold our heads up high, and say that is what we have done.

Thank You

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