Wednesday, 12 December 2018

An Overview of Retail from Sandpiper - Part 1

Prefix: this was written before my cough and cold. I like to prepare blogs in advance, in case of illness!

An Overview of Retail from Sandpiper

The “Economic Affairs Scrutiny Panel” conducted a “Retail Policy Review”, and one of the witnesses was the CEO of Sandpiper.

There are some interesting nuggets which I have extracted and commented on after reading the review. The CEO's submission is in italics.

Freight Costs

It is clear that freight costs add a significant amount to the cost of food in the Channel Islands, although it should be noted that the Iceland franchise of Sandpiper.has managed to bring a good many products at UK costs plus GST.

Inevitably whenever you have a new entrant come into the marketplace there is always a challenge and of course every new entrant that comes in comes with wonderful promises about the price of food and the J.E.P. (Jersey Evening Post) is full of the fact that the price of food is going to come down and then the realisation dawns, whether it be when Waitrose come in or whether Tesco come in or when even Morrisons comes in, that the reality is that prices of food in the Channel Islands are more expensive.

So understandably people agitate but as one example when we are spending £8 million a year just to bring stuff across from Portsmouth to St. Helier in St. Peter Port that £8 million a year has to be paid for.

One matter not explored here is whether it would be cheaper to source some products from nearby France rather than the UK. Clearly, with impending Brexit, there may be difficulties here, but it would be interesting to know what the comparative costs are, as the distance is considerably smaller.

Retail Strategy

When you consider strategy with respect to finance as opposed the retail, I think he has a point. In fact there are out of town shopping centres, but with relatively small amount parking – even the Co-Op at St Peter’s does not have a huge amount of space – this was never going to be such a draw for town dwellers. It would be interesting to note if the vast Diamond Garden Centre in Guernsey has had any effect on retail there.

I guess for me the question is, how do government view retail? Are retail an industry to be looked after or are they an industry to be used as a cash cow. I have to say regrettably at the moment I see it as being pretty much as a cash cow. I have been here 11 years and if you look at what has happened to retail more by luck than sound judgment we have avoided the decimation of our town centre purely because we did not have the location for out of town shopping centres. No government strategy. No real thinking but it happened, thank God, and we therefore up until, I would say, probably about 18 months ago had a very vibrant town centre but inevitably as the pressure comes on particularly with alternative shopping channels that town centre is coming under more pressure.

My synopsis would be we have not had a retail strategy for years. There has been no grand plan to manage the reduction in space. No thought of the impact of attrition of alternate shopping channels. In essence, no joined up thinking and policy made on the hoof. I am sorry but that is my perspective. So retail closures continues. What do the States do about that? The States decide to introduce a 20 per cent retail tax on the very day that Mothercare and Thomas Cook … the very day Mothercare and Thomas Cook announced they are closing and leaving the Islands for good.

When he was in the States, Constable John Refault did comment on this line of argument, which had also been used by Senator Philip Ozouf. He noted that “Thomas Cook and Mothercare. Thomas Cook is not a retailer. They do not pay tax. Mothercare have not gone out of business because they pay retail tax in Jersey. I am just trying to read some of my own writing. BHS did not go out of business because it paid retail tax in Jersey, neither did Woolworths and neither did many others. Not one Jersey company has paid a penny piece in retail tax so far. None of the empty shops in St. Helier or anywhere else in Jersey has been caused by the implementation of retail tax.“

Internet Shopping

This is interesting, as he is aware of the advantages of internet shopping over the de minimis level reduction. It is partly a change in lifestyle, but what is also interesting is that he notes that going to town to shop means spending money on parking before you start, an extra saving made by shopping online, and one often missed.

There is no silver bullet, as I am sure you are all fully aware of. Therefore, it is not fine and dandy for me to say: “Well, government has not done anything for years” but in some respects what has been lacking is an attempt to try and get our arms around this situation and to understand it. In the U.K. internet shopping is accounting for 17 per cent of sales at the moment. I would think it is slightly higher here out of total sales by the nature of airfares etcetera. We are sleepwalking.

I will be true to form and say that no matter which way you cut it, I do it myself, it is easier to sit at home in your armchair and buy a product than it is to go walking round town, particularly when the wind is howling in, et cetera. What we need to do is to think about how we can make things more attractive.

I think my point [on parking] is less about the availability of spaces and more about the fact that you have to pay to use them. I do not have to pay to sit in my armchair.
So I think the challenge is there for us but equally, I keep on coming back to the point to say we can do as much as we can and we can do better, but it is coming … and it is a tide and we are not going to stop it. To my mind we are not together working with government to understand what measures we can take to improve the situation.

20% Retail Tax

There is a clear and I think justified criticism of Senator Alan Maclean for making a rather ridiculous statement in the States.

In spite of what has been said there was never one piece of single consultation and on that basis somebody comes along with no consultation and takes 20 per cent of your earnings away what is the implication of that? The implication of that is your capital investment gets slashed to pieces. You cut and run because you know you are not going to get the return on the investments that you were making before. You also have to balance your wholesale budget so when the Minister stood up and said: “And I can assure you there will be no price increases” my jaw almost fell open.

How on earth could that statement possibly be made? If you and your household income lose 20 per cent of that income overnight you either have to increase your income or you have to cut your cost base. So it is really simply economics.

I do not buy the justification but I also do not also understand why you would take one particular sector of the commercial make-up of the Island and say: “We will take retail. Not only will we take retail, we will whack a 20 per cent corporation tax on”, which is higher than the U.K. I used to own the largest pub chain in the Island as well. We used to run that. I can tell you I made more money out of pubs than I made out of retail. So how come the powers that be have decided that: “We will leave pubs … we will leave gambling shops alone but yet we will charge the people that supply food to the consumers. On top of the G.S.T. we will charge the people tax as well. By the way, prices will not go up.” There is just a lack of joined-up thinking here and it is more about the question about where is the priority.

I think it should be standardised and I think it should be applied across the board. Everybody who enjoys this Island should pay their share to enjoy. There is absolutely no justification for singling out one particular sector and overly-penalising a sector that irrespective of the retail tax is under huge pressure, as it is. We do not need this helping hand to fall down the hill. We are already falling ourselves. Just give us a break. We do not want any favours from you because competition is good but we do not also need you pushing us in the back.

I would in no shape or form be suggesting standardising of 20 per cent. I was thinking more along the lines of the finance industry are paying at 10 per cent, and if it is deemed that it is necessary for the States finances that tax is levied then I believe it should be levied at 10 per cent.

Deputy Eddie Noel commented on the 20% that it had been expanding already to encompass different companies: “Such efforts resulted in expanding the 20 per cent tax regime to include mineral extraction companies - that is quarries to you and I - fuel importing businesses - there is the La Collette Fuel Farm – and the like, bringing them into the corporation tax net along with utility companies, property development companies, property rental businesses, all paying 20 per cent”

So the question is what determines whether a retailer should be bracketed in the 20 per cent area, or the 10 per cent of finance companies? Fuel seems more akin to utility companies, as it is used for central heating, but what criteria are used for 10 percent or 20 percent? That’s something which still doesn’t seem to have been resolved. It seems a kind of fuzzy determination done on an ad hoc basis that something thought out from first principles.

If there was any kind of principle, it might be that the finance industry supplies services, and is regulated by the Jersey Financial Services Company with an annual levy but are ISEs as a result (and GST exempt), whereas retailers and utility companies supply goods, on which GST is levied. But this is looking at it trying to find structure, and as far as I am aware, there are no fixed principles on which the structure was built in such as way as to allow extending tax rates to new domains such as retail.

But when Senator Maclean brought in the tax, it seems more to have been an ad hoc tax grab to fill a hole in the budget, so that it would fit within the Medium Term Financial Plan. It highlights a significant problem with the MTFP. Just as people change behaviour to meet targets, rather than changing behaviour to address the purpose of those targets, so too politicians may well bring in stealth taxes, and retail taxes, to plug a hole in the MTFP, and that can be just as much based on short term fixes.

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Labour Government Takes Power

Labour Government Takes Power

After Mrs May had received yet another defeat in the Commons, this time on a vote of no confidence, a general election was called.

However the dying days of the Conservative government had one trick up its sleep. They passed the Parliamentary Medium Term Financial Plan. With wider remit than a budget, this imposes budgetary constraints for the next three years.

This means that under current rules, Jeremy Corbyn’s newly formed minority Labour Goverment will have its hands tied with regard to expenditure in its own budgets for the next two years.

Designed to give long term economic stability, over short term populism, the Parliamentary Medium Term Financial Plan has been criticised by the Labour left for not allowing the electorate to really make an immediate change in how the country is governed.

But the City welcomed the change, saying it introduced a measure of stability, and ensured that any change of government could not introduce any radical changes that broke with budgetary constraint.

Does this seem a little crazy to you? A new government constrained by the long term economic restrictions set out in law by its predecessor, and unable to make changes?

And yet that is precisely the situation in the Channel Island of Jersey, where a change of leadership in May 2018 saw a new Chief Minister and a very different Council of Ministers

But they have to fit any new budget for both November 2018 and November 2019 within the constraints of just such legislation – the Medium Term Financial Plan which was set up by the last government.

Does this seem a little crazy to you?

Monday, 10 December 2018

Hospital Review Board: Was Richard Renouf right?

"In science it is observation rather than perception which plays the decisive part. But observation is a process in which we play an intensively active part. An observation is a perception, but one which is planned and prepared. We do not ‘have’ an observation (‘as we may ‘have’ a sense experience) but we ‘make’ an observation. (A navigator even ‘works’ an observation.) An observation is always preceded by a particular interest. a question, or a problem - in short, by something theoretical." (Karl Popper)
A Comment on Richard Renouf’s Critique of the Policy Review Report

Terms of Reference: Hospital Review Board
To consider the available evidence in relation to the decision of the previous States Assembly to support the proposal of the Council of Ministers that the new hospital be located on the existing site, with a view to providing assurance over this decision, or raising issues of concern in relation to the evidence that led to this decision.
Of course how those are interpreted depend a lot on what is meant by “consider the available evidence”

In his critique, part of what Richard Renouf does is to critique the remit of the board, and to argue that it has worked beyond its terms of reference. He says for example that it:

“has not focussed on determining what might be considered evidence relating to the decision of the previous States Assembly to support the proposal of the Council of Ministers that the new hospital be located on the existing site. Instead they have to a large extent heard ‘opinions’ and ‘views’ about the merits of the decision”

“Evidence is constituted by a body of facts which supports a particular proposition. Facts are not asserted. They are verifiable, auditable and assurable. That is what makes them facts. They exist independently of the person who presents them. They are open to scrutiny.”

For instance, the report itself lays out some groundwork:

Part One (sections 3-6) deals directly with the evidence review of the decision points identified in the Board’s terms of reference and scope;
- does the evidence support a single or dual site?
- does the evidence support a town or rural based site?
- does the evidence support the current site as proposed by the Council of Ministers and approved by the States Assembly?

So let us look at a rural site. The report said:

"The clinical risks and benefits had a relatively low weighting compared to other risks, such as planning, in the site selection criteria, which resulted in the process being flawed and a number of potentially alternative rural sites being rejected at the outset.”

“The views of the clinicians were not properly considered.”

So now we have something which Deputy Renouf does not include in his discussion on facts, namely when there are differing facts which are both advantages and disadvantages, how does one weigh up them and prioritise them?

This is something which the Atkins and Gleeds report attempted to do, but part of the remit of assessing the evidence cannot just be about facts but about whether the criteria they used were flawed in some way.

As we now have reports – or perhaps “facts” – from some clinicians that they were strongly instructed not to speak out publically against the choice of site, it is hard to see that this is beyond the remit and terms of reference of the board.

Which is why the report states:

“With the notable exception of the Minister for Health, the majority of the Board feel that the conclusions reached are evidence based, as supported by the opinions of individuals”

In this respect, it seems that Deputy Renout's statement - “There is a sense amongst Board members that planning should be subservient to health and indeed this aspiration is recorded in bold print in the report” - is taken out of context as it has not directly to do with planning being overruled by health considerations, but as the report says is the result of a States Workshop in 2016, which also noted that “the rezoning of green fields for development where there are clear overriding community benefits, the future planning risk can be mitigated.”

And they say: “On this basis, the Board considers that sites such as Warwick Farm could have been seen in a far more favourable light if the clinical input had been given more weight”
So when Richard Renouf uses the statement ““Planning should be subservient to health”” and says:

“The fact of the matter is that planning is not subservient to health and was not in 2012. Government has to comply with the requirements of the Island Plan in just the same way as citizens.”
He is clearly ignoring the special provision in the Island Plan which allows rezoning of Green field sites for exceptional projects, and for that matter forgetting that provision was precisely what was used for the choice of Les Quennevais School site!

As my correspondent Adam Gardiner informs me, there's also something misleading about seeing Warwick Farm in terms of a Green Field site:

“Warwick Farm is only a partially Green Field site. About half is Brown > Field - which includes the greenhouses, low-level office buildings, and beyond a large storage/maintenance area and industrial shed together with various other structures. True, the site otherwise consists of 3 fields which have been spasmodically been in some sort of agricultural use - although not commercially. They were used for growing stock of various kinds or simply left fallow. I am the last person who would want to see fields built over, but rather like Quennevais School one has to take a pragmatic view on these things when it comes to essential public amenities.”

It should be remembered that Les Quennevais school also went through a selection process very similar with a “refurbishment” or current site option.

A concept study by Jersey Property Holdings (JPH) concluded: “Whilst it is physically possible to refurbish and extend, one must seriously question whether the end result would justify the expense.”

It noted that: “The need for demolition and asbestos removal would extend the construction time to five to six years.” 

A new build would not have those problems, which is precisely why the site chosen for school used the special provisions in the Island Plan.

And coming back to “facts”, there is, as Karl Popper noted, no such thing as unvarnished facts. Indeed there can often been hidden assumptions which skew how the facts are considered – the history of science, a subject where you would expect to find “facts” predominating, is testament to the weakness of an approach which assumed that facts are not theory-laden in some was, because how they are selected, interpreted and used is always in the context of some pre-existing ideas, and can be blinkered.

A reading of Popper ("Objective Knowledge") or Thomas Kuhn ("The Structure of Scientific Revolutions") would be instructive in this respect. For instance, Gleeds decided which facts to collect as significant, and how to weigh them in making decisions for choice of site. Whether this process was correct or not is not a matter of "facts" but of opinions which may be argued for particular choices made in how the facts fed into site selection.
That is important because there seems to be an unquestioned idée fixe that prioritises a hospital in the close environs of St Helier's rather than outside, which is seen as less accessible - hence Warwick Farm, Overdale and St Saviours all have flagged up accessibility issues, whereas Gloucester St, People's Park and the Waterfront don't. The Waterfront and People's Park have both fallen mainly because of political issues, leaving just Gloucester Street.

How they manage in Guernsey goodness only knows!! There is an inability to think outside the St Helier Town Centre Box, which seems akin to a kind of inherent weakness in terms of how facts are weighed. Guernsey clearly manages very well with an out-of-town General Hospital, and this was not considered in the factoring of site suitability, and yet they manage perfectly well.

In conclusion, by questioning the terms of reference of the Board, and by making an artificial distinction between fact and opinion, Richard Renouf's critique demonstrates methodological weaknesses of its own.

As Cortlet Novis points out:

"The traditional view of science, which largely endures today [in popular culture], is that theories and models are distinct from the observations we make. In other words, fact is independent of theory."

But he says that is mistaken:

"Science needs to start with more than just “observation” but rather with a pre-existing theoretical framework from which to seek out and make sense of observations. Scientists need something to expect and they need to know where to look. Two people may look down a microscope and see completely different things depending on what theoretical framework they are using. "

The distinction between "views" and "facts" which is made by the Health Minister, I would argue, is a similarly egregious mistake in method which vitiates much of his critique.

Sunday, 9 December 2018

Unmitigated Circumstances

This piece was written on an old electronic typewriter, which probably dates it to the late 1970s when we had that at home. A snapshot is given above of the original manuscript. Those were the days of "Tippex" for mistakes!

I rather think I was heavily influenced by G.K. Chesterton in writing style at that time, and I had also been reading works on existentialism at the time, including John Macquarie, and that also feeds through into this piece. I’d also read some Claus Westermann on the book of Genesis – a renown Old Testament scholar.

It’s an interesting vignette, a time capsule of my writing at the time, but a little bit too much “purple prose” for my liking, and while there are interesting ideas, I think they could be expressed better; as it is, the narrative arguments become rather difficult for me to follow now.

I was to be a lot clearer a few years later when I wrote my thesis at St Lukes, Exeter, “The Logic of Religious Discovery”, but by then my writing style had (I hope) improved, and I was probably more influenced stylistically by the unadorned prose styles of Karl Popper and George Orwell. That’s a style that I still feel happiest with today.

Unmitigated Circumstances.
The story of Cain and Abel is very old indeed, with roots stretching far back beyond the dawn of recorded history; it is very likely that this tale would have been part of a tribal tradition, passed ever on by word of mouth, until, eventually, it was written down in final form.

It is easy to spot the noticeable neglect of any clear details of time and place, and that lack of confusing cross-currents such as mark a recorded history; and this makes it certain that this is a folk-tale, or a legend, and not history.

To say this in no way depreciates the authority of the story; on the contrary, it is better understood as a cautionary tale than as an anecdote about ancestors. It is only a prejudiced materialism that dislikes legends, finding fault with them on the grounds that "they are not history"; yet it is just as logical to dislike Sherlock Holmes stories on the ground there was no real sleuth, or in other words, that those stories are also not history.

For the reasoning is the same in each instance, showing that the argument is groundless, serving only as an excuse to avoid any real thinking. we do not read the criminological exploits of the Great Detective to learn the history of Greater London; history has nothing to do with it, it is the Three Pipe puzzle which we ought to ponder. And, in like manner, reading a folk—story can provide plenty of food for thought, despite the fact that it is not history. The lesson is there, but it is up to us to find it. And the Story of Cain and Abel is a lesson of warning, a tale about temptation taking root.

As I have said, the story is a very ancient one, and as scholars have surmised, may well have had its origin in Babylonian tribal customs and rituals; it is related that Abraham came from Ur, and certainly Ur had known of many barbaric practices, perhaps derived from Babylon. So we may suppose that Abraham brought some tribal tales from the city; yet it also seems, as when he began a holy pilgrimage, those same tales were also purged and purified of all the stench of the city, all the evil of Us.

That Ur was an exceedingly wicked place is well illustrated by the "Death Pit of Ur", in which there were found the remains of seventy-four women, laid down as a human sacrifice in front of the king's grave.

As scholars say, there may remain traces of some such horrid rituals in the story of Cain and Abel, of a preference for a bloody, living sacrifice over the good grain of the land, yet such has faded into the background of the story as we have it now. It cannot be, as has been suggested, that Cain's ritual was unsuccessful because it did not involve a living sacrifice; the ending of the tale is with a living sacrifice, and a greater one than that of Abel, and no good came of that shedding of blood; it was not a triumph, but a tragedy.

Reading the story as it is, what is striking is the apparent unfairness of God. And I have noticed people give many excuses to explain away this apparent unfairness. Invariably, Cain is made to look the villain of the piece, he is given a jealous character, always displeased that Abel was given more attention as a child; or, alternatively, he is not the obvious ‘perfectionist that Abel was, and only brought any old crop to give to God, uncaring about its excellence. This certainly provides plenty of reason for God's rejection of his offering; yet, unfortunately, it is all groundless. There is no clear evidence one way or the other.

But when the question is asked: would such an imagined history of Cain's character give God some mitigating circumstances for acting as He did? - then it becomes all too readily apparent that the idea that Cain was already a bad character is only a device to get us out of a tight corner.

After all, if Cain was as wicked already, why did God bother to give him such a stern warning about not going off the rails? If we assume that Cain was a good-for-nothing lazybones (perhaps with a grudge against his brother), then that would lead us to expect God to give him an explanation, in the form of a harsh telling off; instead, we have what appears like a provocation, almost inviting Cain to feel worse about the matter. So in honesty, the idea that Cain was already flawed is a too simplistic solution, which really raises even more ponderous problems.

Let us assume that both brothers came to God with the same good faith, each bringing the best instance of offering. Had God rejected both, God would act fairly; if He had accepted both, God would act fairly; but to accept one and not the other seems to display an unfair favouritism. And given such a situation, the question must be asked: is God really good, fair, just in all his ways?

Certainly that was the problem posed for Cain; and with it arose that terrible temptation - to doubt the goodness of God. Had he overcome that temptation, had he trusted in God, then surely his trust would have been that much the greater, for having been tested, and found true? Yet he was found wanting: he distrusted the goodness of God, and sought a scapegoat to blame for what had happened. Seeing this, God warns Cain, that emphatic and terrible warning. But the warning went unheard; the only cry that arose was the sound of his brother's blood, crying out from the ground, that justice be done. So God punishes Cain with that harsh punishment that God alone may give: the brand of Cain, where justice is done, but mercy also leaves a mark.

It is when we refuse to take refuge in excuses, when we do not defend God by mitigating circumstances, that the whole actually fits together; then the tale is told: temptation in thought leading to temptation of action. But we are left to wonder of how mighty a man of God there might have been, if Cain had been tested but held firm to God's goodness; and how wise we would be to avoid the path he did take, that bloodstained road to hell.

Saturday, 8 December 2018

The Gift of Sight

As I'm a bit under the weather, a very advent poem from 2004, based on Matthew 9:27-31. It can be understood as literal or metaphorical, or indeed both. The quote above I came across trying to find something suitable in a picture, and isn't it so true that we take sight so much for granted, and so little as a gift? 

In Astronomy Club, when we have visiting cubs, one of the questions is what you can use to look at the night sky? We have telescopes, binoculars, cameras etc, but almost always needing prompting for that one means they all have  - eyes. I say to them "everyone in this room has this", and at that point the penny drops, and (in a metaphorical sense), their eyes are opened and they can see.

The Gift of Sight

In darkness, we stumbled and fell
Trapped in our very personal cell
Unable to see, a world of darkness
Landscapes unseen like wilderness
And we cried for pity, gift of sight
We might once gaze upon the light
He heard our cry, and sight returned
Eyes opened, such faith unearned
It was as if shadow passed away
Upon that brilliant light of day.

Friday, 7 December 2018

Jersey Our Island - Travelling Blind Part 3

Published in 1950, this book is an interesting snapshot of the Island and its customs as it was in the immediate post-war period, and not without humour. Most guide books of the time give the tourist information, or give the impressions of an outsider to the Island, but this is in "inside view", which is rarer.

It should be noted that St Maglorius is largely a legendary figure, and there is no evidence of druids on Jersey, even though older Neolithic monuments, such as Faldouet, were called "Druid's Temple". But the story, as told, with its humour (and Irish steriotype!) sounds just like something to be spoke by the fireside, in a dark winter's evening, at one of our older pubs.

Jersey Our Island - Travelling Blind Part 3
by Sidney Bisson

It is on this rocky beach of La Rocque that St. Maglorius is reputed to have landed when he visited Jersey before St. Helier had converted the inhabitants to Christianity. (He is also reputed to have landed at Grosnez, as I have already told you, but that must have been some other time.)

Maglorius was a bluff Irishman, quite a different type of saint from the ascetic Helier, and he had got tired of preaching in Gaul because none of the Gauls could understand a word of Irish. His witty sermons were just being wasted. Also Maglorius was a great chatterbox, and it was difficult to chat when the people you were chatting to could not join in the conversation.

Having a mistaken notion that Jersey belonged to England and that the Jersey folk would therefore probably at any rate speak English, he got hold of a couple of fishermen and by gestures made them understand that he wanted them to row him across to Jersey. Which they did, and landed him at La Rocque. As it was low tide he viewed the long journey over the rocks with misgiving, until his Irish logic told him that the shore would be nearer the water's edge at high tide so that he would not have so far to walk. So he sat down to wait for the tide to rise. At least he intended to sit down, but the rocks being steep and slippery he slithered into a crevice. As he was picking himself up he became aware of a terrifying noise that was rapidly getting louder. He soon discovered the cause of it. An enormous giant with flaming eyes was approaching, yelling at the top of his voice and brandishing a fairsized oak.

`May the grass ever grow at your door,' said Maglorius, crossing himself.

This seemed to pacify the giant, who stopped and greeted Maglorius as a heaven sent helper. His mission in life, he explained, was to exterminate Druids, who (as his Holiness no doubt knew) feasted on Christian priests. But the more Druids he ate, the more there seemed to be. He simply could not keep pace with them.

Maglorius did not quite see how he was expected to help, but the giant forestalled a possible argument by picking him up and carrying him ashore in a couple of strides. Here he left him whilst he went off to have another feast of Druids to keep up his strength.

Maglorious could hear their pitiful wails as they were swallowed, which made him feel quite sorry for them. Until he happened to look round and saw a dozen ancient Druids with long snowwhite beards trailing down their long snow-white robes advancing on him stealthily from the rear.

`Arrah ! And it's Druids' meat you'll be being yeself,' said the saint, crossing himself again.

Then taking a leaf from the giant's book, he sprang round in a threatening attitude and let out a blood-curdling yell.

The Druids sank to their knees and joined their hands as if in prayer. But, of course, as they spoke neither English nor Irish Maglorius could not understand a word.

`Och ! Hold your noise, ye good for nothing divils,' he said impatiently. Then as an afterthought: `Can't ye spake Latin, at all, at all?,

And they could ! Many a Christian priest they confessed having killed, but now that the giant had been sent to eat them as a punishment they were ready to repent. And if only Maglorius would help them to overcome the monster they would become good Christian clergy and serve him in any way he wished.

The saint thought for a moment. Then: `Have ye got spades?' said he.

They had. So lie set them to dig an enormous pit, which took them a day and a night. When Maglorius was satisfied with the work he spread branches over the opening and carefully replaced the turf. Then they all went and sat on the beach and had a meal.

Presently along came the giant, idling along the sea shore, hands in pockets and dribbling a Druid's head. The Druids dived for shelter behind an enormous rock, but Maglorius held his ground.

'Ah-ha! Eating with heathens, eln said the giant.

`No,' said Maglorius. `The heathen divils were after betting me half of the island that you couldn't be carrying this great rock to Verclut.'

`What ? This tiny rock?' said the giant, picking it up and balancing it on his shoulder.

And with that, Maglorius ran ahead, encouraging him and taking care to lead him in the direction of the pit. Into which in due course the giant fell with the rock on top of him. The Druids were converted and learnt to speak English with an Irish accent.

The rock became known as La Rogodaine. It stood there until the middle of the last century a twenty foot lump of granite sticking out of the sandy plain when it was quarried and used for building stone.

Near here the road turns sharply north for the final stage of its journey to Gorey. Soon I shall be able to open my eyes again, for Gorey Common brings the ribbon building to an end.

Here on the windswept gorse-dotted dunes the famous Jersey school of golfers (Harry Vardon and his followers) taught themselves the game. Where once was a race course, a rifle range, and a review ground for the militia, the Royal Jersey Golf Club holds undisputed sway.

Gorey Village is quiet to-day. Once it resounded to the ship-builder's hammer and the oaths of the rude oyster fishermen. For shipbuilding was once one of the island's principal industries. When, in 1713, the Treaty of Utrecht brought to an end the War of the Spanish Succession, Jersey believed that her future lay on the sea. Ever since the sixteenth century Jersey ships had sailed to Newfoundland and Labrador and returned with cargoes of salt cod to be sold in the markets of Europe. The absence of a suitable harbour at St. Helier made no difference.

Chevalier tells us how in his time the ships were laid up at St. Malo to be refitted during the winter, whilst their crews, numbering five or six hundred men, came home in smaller vessels.

Throughout the eighteenth century and well into the nineteenth the trade prospered. The principal customers were France and the Catholic Mediterranean countries, though at one time it was even found profitable to bring cod all the way to Jersey for packing and reexport to South America in tubs.

The increase in the fish trade stimulated other forms of commerce. Instead of returning empty to Jersey after discharging their cargoes in foreign ports, the cod-carriers began to bring back other wares which were sold in the island or re-exported. The expansion of shore establishments in Canada and Newfoundland brought still more trade.

In a note to Falle's history of Jersey, Durell tells us that Jersey employed over 2,500 `natives' in their fishing stations , who were supplied with a variety of goods from the island. Between 1817 and 1865 Jersey's merchant fleet grew from a mere handful of vessels to over four hundred and fifty, making the island the fifth port in the United Kingdom. Shipowners grew rich, and as labour was cheap in the island, shipbuilders flourished in sympathy.

As far as I know, no one has studied in detail the reasons for Jersey's sudden and dramatic renunciation of the sea as an avenue of profit. In twenty years the number of vessels in the island dropped by half. In another twenty it was less than in 1817. The change from sail to steam and from wood to steel certainly killed shipbuilding in the island. But one might have expected the local shipowners to invest in English-built steamers in order to keep up their carrying trade. It is significant that in 1877, when one seventh of Britain's merchant navy was propelled by steam, the only steamer registered in Jersey was a tug.

And here at Gorey Mr. Picot was still optimistically building a couple of schooners and Messrs. Belot and Aubin a ketch apiece, whilst at other yards in the island four schooners were on the stocks.

Obstinate we Jerseymen are usually held to be, or as Sir Gilbert Parker put it, `self-reliant even to perverseness.' Can it have been this native trait in their character that made the shipping magnates of the sixties pin their faith to sail and wood in the face of all the world? Until it was too late, and Jersey was driven back to the land.

Thursday, 6 December 2018

Sofa Surfing in Jersey: Are there over 250 long term homeless?

Sofa Surfing

To quantify homelessness, it is first necessary to define what it is that is being counted. Whilst people sleeping on the streets are more visibly homeless, there are a variety of precarious, insecure or unsatisfactory living conditions often termed “hidden homelessness”

A report by BBC News in December 2017 on the UK noted that:

Ursula Patten, operations director at The Key (drop-in centre for young homeless people in Leyland), says sofa surfers should definitely be considered homeless. "You are homeless if you haven't got a place you can stay on a consistent basis - somewhere that you can call home." She says about 70% of the homeless young people on the charity's books have sofa-surfed before running out of options and seeking help.

Centrepoint chief executive Seyi Obakin said: "Goodwill is the only thing keeping too many young people from sleeping on the UK's streets. It's frightening just how many are trapped in a cycle that is detrimental to their health, sees them struggle to keep up in education, and where outstaying their welcome can mean becoming exposed to dangers no-one should have to face."

Estimating the scale of youth homelessness in the UK

How does one quantify the data?

How do you go about allocating resources to solve a problem when you don’t know the scale of it? That’s the reality facing any charity, government or local authority who wishes to tackle youth homelessness.

The report “Estimating the scale of youth homelessness in the UK” by Anna Clarke, Gemma Burgess, Sam Morris and Chihiro Udagawa of the Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning looked at this problem.

The report notes:

Centrepoint commissioned Cambridge University to calculate an estimate of the true scale of youth homelessness. As part of this, we sought to understand the extent of all forms of youth homelessness, including the numbers of young people in hostels or supported accommodation services, and more hidden forms of homelessness such as sofa surfing, where young people move between different friends’ and family members’ sofas because they have nowhere else to go.

To assess levels of hidden homelessness among the wider population of young population not in contact with homelessness services, a UK-wide survey was carried out with young people aged 16-25. This found much higher numbers of young people who reported having slept rough than are known to have done so from published data:

Overall, 26 % of young people said they had ever slept rough or in unsafe such as cars, nightbusses or on the streets because they had nowhere else to go: 17% had slept rough (including unsafe places such as in cars) during the last year, with 10% having done so for more for than one night. 20% had sofa surfed during the last year, with 16% having done so for more than a week, and 4% for over three months.

Of those who had slept rough the most common location was in a car (55%), followed by in a tent (34%), on the streets (18%), in a car park (16%) or in a park or other open space (15%).

The report concludes by estimating that in 2013-2014, around 1.3 million young people aged 16-24 had slept rough or in an unsafe place, and just under 300,000 had doing so on any one night.

What emerged from the survey was that the main reasons for young people sofa surfing related to negative home environments or having been asked to leave by their parents. 

However there were also substantial numbers also indicating that they had sofa surfed after a period of living independently, and were made homeless by a tenancy ending, splitting from a partner or no longer being able to stay with friends or extended family. Overcrowding was a reason in eight percent of cases. 

We can take it pretty much for granted that the same kinds of reasons apply in Jersey.

Lack of Data in Jersey

There has been no comparable survey with Jersey, and recent Freedom of Information requests have elicited the response that no statistics are kept, except for numbers at the Shelter, a response given in 2015, and simply pointed to in a 2017 request. It was a very poor reply, because the Women's Refuge also is likely to have numbers of temporary homeless women, while Sanctuary House has the same in respect of homeless men. It is pretty poor that the FOI reply did not look at those.

But any estimates of sofa surfing have to be based on other means, especially as no surveys have been commissioned.

If we assume that with the UK demographic, that large scale data will smooth out any large local deviations to give an average, we can perhaps make a start. If we take the Cambridge percentages as a baseline, then we would have:4% as long term sofa surfing.

Looking at just men (who tend to sofa surf more than women) and the census data for 20-29, we have a total of 6,357, giving at 4% around 254 young men who don’t have a permanent bed for the night and depend on the hospitality of friends for at least three months.

Now the Cambridge Survey was based on an age demographic of 16-24, so this loses some numbers from the start, and adds some to the end. It is by no means perfect, but it gives some idea of the scale of the problem. 

I suspect personally that the figures may well be higher locally, but I would think that such a cautious estimation must at least supply a minimum figure, especially as anecdotal evidence includes higher age ranges, and I have not factored in women.

Guernsey: Better Statistics? 

The report “Guernsey Indicators of Poverty Report 2015” was not issued until1st February 2017. Guernsey seem to have been more proactive in trying to see the extend of poverty within the Island. It looks as such matters as:

  • Household overcrowding as percentage of households 
  • Affordability: annual rent to earnings ratio 
  • Affordability: purchase price to earnings ratio 
  • Affordability: percentage of population in affordable housing (rented from the States or GHA) 
  • Affordability: percentage of households receiving assistance with social housing rent payments 

It notes that:

“Homelessness is used as an indicator in the UK, but the level in Guernsey is challenging to quantify. The organisations dedicated to providing temporary housing or shelter keep records of numbers but there are many reasons why people seek temporary housing and not all are due to homelessness. As such, this indicator is not included in this report, but attempts will be made to develop a method appropriate to Guernsey for monitoring levels of homelessness, perhaps including an estimation of the number of people with no permanent residence who may “sofa-surf” for future editions.”

Another report, “Social Housing Allocations and Eligibility Policy”, published in March 2017 looks at different banding for poverty and housing, and sets out a policy which defines a single point of access for social housing, a single set of eligibility criteria and a single waiting list based on an agreed method of prioritisation.

Under Homeless, they have

  • Applicant living in St Julian’s House, the Women’s Refuge, or Sarnia Housing accommodation. Anybody in this category should engage with the relevant identified services as required. 
  • Applicant is of no fixed address and is reliant on the goodwill of friends and family for somewhere to live – do not have a bed of their own. Sofa surfing is distinct from living with friends or relatives (Band Applicants in this category are frequently having to change address. 
  • Applicant has no option but to sleep on the streets, a tent, car, or boat unless social housing is provided. Applicants in the ‘homeless’ group should be put in contact with providers of crisis accommodation in the first instance. 

Now Andium does also have banding for criteria, and it has homeless under band 1, but it does not have any detailed breakdown which includes sofa surfing in quite the same way that Guernsey does,.

But better reporting may be on the way. Sam Mezec, the Minister for Housing, speaking at a Scrutiny Hearing in October 2018 said:

"We have also decided that we will not just be looking at those who are at risk of sleeping on the street but also those who have accommodation that is so insecure that they do fulfil a definition of homelessness as well; if people are sofa surfing, for example, and do not have secure accommodation. I want the States of Jersey to have a decent homelessness strategy and we are in the early stages of getting stakeholders around a table to work out what exactly we have got to do to fulfil that. "