Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Bad mathematics

I noticed some bad mathematics creeping into the States debate on 9 September 2009 (yes I do actually wade through them from time to time!) - see below.
This was a question and answer:

2.3.6  Deputy S. Pitman of St. Helier:

The Minister said that this rise in rents will not be affecting the poorest.  Could he clarify this for me because, as I understand it, those on income support have been given a 2.5 per cent rise and the next thing they hear is that their rent has gone up by 2.5 per cent.  These people are people who, through no fault of their own through illness, et cetera, are having to live off benefits.

Senator T.J. Le Main:
The housing component of low income and employment and social security has been increased by 2.5 per cent specifically to cover the increase of 2.5 per cent imposed by this Assembly upon the Housing Department, so those on low income should not be affected whatsoever in regard to this rental increase.

Now I have no idea what the housing rent is, or the income support component, but unless they are equal, this will lead to an increase in the difference between rent and income support because the same percentages do not automatically equate to the same value. The fact that the percentages are the same does not mean the absolute values will be.

To see this, suppose, for example, a rent of £100 per week, and an income support component of £50 per week. This becomes respectively £102.50 and £51.25, so that the difference has increased by £1.25 from £50 to £51.25.

On another mathematical matter, I heard a clip of Sean Power on BBC Radio Jersey about the need for more inspectors for non-States rental housing, saying there was only one part-time inspector, which seems a very bad situation.
I did a little calculation, and if an inspection takes an hour (including paperwork) - and probably more, and say an inspector works 4 hours a day, 5 days a week, that makes 20 properties a week, and allowing 50 weeks (probably less because of holidays), 1,000 properties inspected in a year. I don't know what the actual figures are, or the number of properties to be inspected, but that sounds very few.
Lastly, as I mentioned briefly in the "Guernsey Watch" posting, the figures on "maverick" bank staff giving "advice" about legal schemes to avoid paying tax are preposterous. The repeated mantra is that 99% of bank staff (or even 99.9%!) would not have given such advice to the Panorama journalist, because Jersey is well regulated and had a glowing report from the IMF.
Now I am all against baseless accusations, as for instance, about "hidden billions" in offshore bank accounts, for which there is about as much evidence as there is for the existence of the Higgs boson; in other words, theoretically possible, but evidentially weak. But in the case of Panorama, to believe a single reporter could go into a bank (of many), and find one employee (of many) who was a maverick, beggars belief.

Given the statistics of 99.9%, this is akin to picking a number in roulette wheel, and that number coming up. It does happen. But to happen in Guernsey (with the non-trading company dodge) and Jersey (with the Hong Kong paper transactions), is like picking a number and getting it right twice. For its reputation to be restored, Jersey needs not just training of staff to spot money laundering and suspicious transactions, but also courses in ethical fund management, so that the mindset of the employees who can come up with these schemes ("brainstorm" in the Jersey case) is significantly changed.

As Nick Spencer notes in the excellent booklet "Rebuilding Trust in Business":

A business system of enforced transparency, precisely articulated accountability, ongoing and detailed auditing, abundant legal safeguards, and slick PR campaigns is a valuable but expensive and ultimately ineffective substitute for the honesty, directness and integrity that breed and maintain trust. 'If we want to restore trust we need to reduce deception and lies rather than secrecy.

The task is not, however, to abandon these measures, which can and do contribute to a society's 'trust capital,' but rather to place them in their rightful context, that is, within a properly functioning, trust-building system. Current measures consist of more and more regulations to make a system work better; they are not measures to make a system work in the first place.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Guernsey Watch

There is a buzz word in Guernsey - "silo mentality". It comes with the inability of departments to co-operate with one another, and save the taxpayer money. I've not seen any figures showing how well Jersey's new Ministerial departments improve over that, although Chris Swinton has certainly said there are benefits for group spending. I am not yet sure we have seen any major improvement in interdepartmental working together - all the so-called "joined up" government.

One has only to look at the North of Town Masterplan which demolishes De Quetteville Court, with a complete lack of consultation with the Housing Department, who have just signed a deal to improve it. This is exactly what is causing problems in Guernsey, and before we get smug, we'd better look at our own problems.

I do agree with Terry le Sueur that Chris Swinton does an excellent job in highlighting all kinds of weaknesses and lack of controls in Jersey's system, and we don't really need outside reviews. He certainly seems quite independent in coming out with at times quite damming criticisms of Jersey's own departmental structure.

Meanwhile, this is the view from across the water, where Guernsey have a second spending review (after a Welsh one), and no one in the States there wants to know:

THE States' silo mentality is costing the island £51m. Tribal Consulting's Fundamental Spending Review, released this morning,  reveals for the first time how much the inability of government departments to cooperate is costing the taxpayer. Tribal's Ian McPherson (pictured) was highly critical of the States culture and insisted £70m. could be saved over the next five years if members supported his recommendations.Of that, 73% - or £51m. - would come from eliminating the culture of departments working in inefficient isolation.... Mr McPherson said: 'We discovered a number of operational issues on our  mission, such as a lack of corporate governance and any sense of identity,'  he said. 'People relate to the department for which they operate but not to the States - we have to break down the silos. There is no need for them to be there.' The report comes weeks after the Wales Audit Office gave a similarly damning verdict on Guernsey's government. Mr McPherson said Tribal Consulting had found very little evidence-based  decision making. For anyone outside the departments it was hard to see how decisions had been made because of the lack of transparency, he said. That does not mean IWV is not worth considering - at some stage. But with the majority of this Assembly reluctant to embrace a wholesale change in how the States functions, despite the overwhelming problems identified by Tribal Helm/WAO, the island must be wary it does not accept this placebo in place of a genuine cure. (1)

Guernsey was also mentioned in the Panorama programme, and came out with a very similar line to Jersey about "rogue" and "maverick" elements who are a minority. This kind of argument is a rhetorical trick, and just doesn't wash statistically. What are the chances of a reporter coming, picking a bank, and getting - purely at random, the 0.1% rogue element? It is a nonsense. Unless, of course, the Panorama investigator was tipped off about one individual in Guernsey and one in Jersey, and tried specifically to get hold of them, which certainly does not seem to be the case. And if that was the case, unlikely as I think it is, why haven't the Island authorities - the Financial Services Commission - been able to flush out the maverick if one lone reporter can?  What we need both here and in Guernsey, perhaps, is not just education in compliance, but education in not presenting to anyone the kind of scams that Panorama revealed.

BANKING scandals in the national media are damaging the island, according to Guernsey Finance. A BBC Panorama programme last night introduced Guernsey and Jersey as Britain's tax havens. It revealed that British tax officials were investigating Lloyds Banking  Group in the Channel Islands over allegations that rich clients were being encouraged to avoid UK taxes by channeling money through Hong Kong. The programme showed an employee at the Jersey Lloyds branch telling an undercover journalist it was of no interest to the bank whether the client  told the taxman about income. While the programme focused more on Jersey, the investigator also stated that a banker from Northern Rock in Guernsey told him EU tax laws could be avoided by opening an account in the name of a non-trading company. The member of staff said the client should inform HM Revenue and Customs, but the bank itself keeps the details from the taxman. The reporter said that it was strange that a bank owned by the British  taxpayer was encouraging him to avoid tax. The programme also highlighted that Northern Rock (Guernsey) had been doing  well since nationalisation, with deposits doubling over the last year. Guernsey Finance chief executive Peter Niven said the bad press would tarnish the island. 'It is extremely frustrating when this happens,' he said. 'About 99.9% of people on the islands do good business and very professionally and this is an unwelcome distraction and not the norm.'(2)

A really odd letter from Elizabeth Osborne in the Guernsey Press, which she says should be renamed " 'The Guernsey Depressed and Star' or maybe 'The Guernsey Oppressed and Star'." She mentions "Castel douzenier Dave Chester saying that because Guernsey is running out of space for people to be buried when they die, that an alternative is that people's bodies can be frozen, put into liquid nitrogen and then shattered into dust. So, not only are we being told how to live, we're being told how we must finish up." (3)

This has to be one of the most bizarre suggestions I have ever heard of, almost up the former Senator Averty who wanted to move the registry office in Jersey to the crematorium, in the 1970s, to save on resources!

An interesting question was asked in the leader comment about where loyalties belong when there is a conflict. With the much tighter link to Parishes in Jersey, with a few notable exceptions - former Deputy Jerry Dorey being one over the incinerator location - most Deputies take care to "look after" their constituency, even when it means placing parish matters before Island ones, because however unpopular they might be if they stood as Senator, it is the Parish vote which gets them in. Guy de Faye notably lost the public confidence on transport in the Senatorials, then got back in as a Deputy, a much safer option, as you have fewer people to please. This is what the editor of the Guernsey Press has to say about pleasing the voter:

HERE'S a question: who do People's Deputies serve - their constituency or the whole island? The right answer should be obvious. While it's quite proper that deputies take a particular interest in issues affecting their electoral district, their first responsibility must always be to Guernsey. That means that on those rare occasions when parochial and island interests may clash, they really must take the wider view. That's easy to say, but at times some deputies seem to find it hard to put into practice. Whether that's because of a laudable passion for their home patch or a craven fear of losing precious votes, I leave you to judge. Whatever the reason, there is a whiff of hypocrisy about those politicians who call (rightly) for a more strategic approach to policymaking but then suspend their own strategic judgment because an issue generates strong feelings in their own backyard.(4)

What have you read on global corporation tax? Not a lot in Jersey, but in Guernsey it has made the headlines. Here is the story from Peter Roffey (Guernsey's answer to Peter Body!):

The news that the G20 has been discussing the idea of a global, minimum rate of corporation tax is a potential "exocet" for Guernsey's tax system. In international politics, might may not always be right, but it usually prevails nevertheless. So if the group of countries with the world's largest economies really does reach agreement on minimum tax rates for businesses, then any smaller country which ignores that code will find themselves in a cold and lonely place. Constitutionally the big boys may have no right to interfere with other countries' internal tax systems but that's fairly academic. Once they start to say, 'if you don't comply then we'll make it very hard for our nationals to do business with you', then it would be a very brave/foolish minnow which replied 'do your worst'. However before we get to that situation they will have to agree among themselves. That may not be so easy. While they might be in accord over squeezing very low tax regimes, where the standard rate of corporation tax is zero, some of them will be very nervous about where it could all end. What if, in the future, countries with really high tax rates start to resent the loss of business to other countries with relatively competitive regimes?  Will the USA really agree to harmonise with France? Let's assume they decide that's a risk worth taking and they should start by  setting a global minimum rate of corporation tax at, say, 10%.  How will that affect Guernsey?  Well clearly unless we take a huge and reckless gamble and tell them to 'go forth and multiply', then we will have to dismantle the zero-10 tax regime.   Does that really matter?
Well it wouldn't if we were able to revert to our old tax regime, in fact in many ways that would be a huge relief, but I'm afraid we can't. To put into context the impact on Guernsey of any international minimum rate of corporation tax we have to remember the two reasons why we brought in zero-10. Firstly because it was regarded as vital to our finance industry to be able  to offer a 'zero product'. In other words, there were some businesses which we didn't want to tax for the sake of the broader economy. We used to achieve that by offering a limited range of companies 'tax exempt status'.  The OECD and the EU called foul. They said 'set whatever tax rates you like, but don't tax anybody less than your standard rate, that is just predatory behaviour designed to steal business'.

We really had two options.  Firstly we could have made the previously tax exempt companies pay our standard rate of corporation tax - then 20 The perceived wisdom was that would lead to economic ruin.  Secondly we could [and did] reduce our standard rate of corporation tax to zero. This was deemed the best long-term option, despite making a huge hole in the public finances. Of course if nowhere in the world could offer a 'zero product' the situation would be slightly different. The idea that Guernsey would lose lots of business as a result of taxing the  previously tax exempt companies would give rise to the question - lose it to where? The same applies to the second reason for adopting zero-10. Our competitor jurisdictions such as Jersey and the Isle of Man had already decided to go down that route so we had to maintain our competitive position. That was true then, but that rationale disappears if they too are forced to comply with a new minimum tax rate.
The only problem is that it might mean that all three territories, and others like us, start to lose their competitive edge over traditionally higher taxing countries. At 10% we may still have considerable allure, if it was set at 20% much of that would disappear, at 30% it would be gone. What it would do is test the often made claim that our competitive tax regime is only one reason for business coming here....A major exodus because of a high minimum tax rate, amounting to global harmonisation, would hole us below the waterline. Viewed from Guernsey, the G20 just became a very exciting white knuckle ride.(5)

Having worked like mad to get everyone on board for zero-ten, it will certainly be ironic if it has to go in five years! As Peter Roffey notes, getting agreement from all the countries, certainly those in the OECD, will be difficult if any has a lesser rate of Corporation tax. In the USA, for example, the company may not be taxed, and instead the shareholders are taxed on the profits of the business, not on distributions. This method is adopted in the USA only for companies owned by a small number of shareholders (less than 100), so-called S corporations. But there would be a considerable impact on small businesses in the USA if this was removed. But if the USA came on board, and suppose a minimum of 10% was set, then with Ireland at 12.5%, the Channel Islands would certainly face major problems on competition.


Monday, 28 September 2009

Weekend Musings

Recently I visited the new Cantina style El Tico, with a friend all the way over from Australia. She had a cooked lunch quite early, and this was around 4 pm in the afternoon. As she had a flight to catch at five back to the UK (where she was based), all she wanted was a sandwich, as she might might not eat again until quite late. I had been assured by John Le Fondré (the owner) that the El Tico did do baguettes, but contrary to what I had been told, there was only a cooked menu available, or various cakes on the counter. The staff gave very much an attitude of take it or leave it, with no apology, and my friend certainly formed the opinion that while the building was nice, this was a place to avoid if she comes back to Jersey with the rest of her family.

One disgruntled tourist! What one really wants from a beach cafe is the option of a sandwich, which we found at the cafe at Braye slip, freshly made. While she was eating it, she told me that she thought El Tico seemed more like an restaurant going up market. I wonder how many holiday makers will go there, when they just want something light, cheap, and possibly to take on the beach if sunny? Sunday breakfasts do seem busy, but be warned, they finish early. This is not a place for all day breakfasts either, like most other beach cafes!

The Jersey Hospice Charity shop is looking for new premises because of the volume of stock. I went there on Saturday, or tried to. Apparently it is only open 10 to 4, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I appreciate the difficulty of volunteers at a weekend, but for an out of town charity shop, I would have said it was a necessity, at least once a month. Unlike the Salvation Army shop, by Minden Place, which is in town, no one is really going to commute to the wilds of St Ouen in their lunch hour. Nobody working can get there. I suspect the real reason they are looking for new premises is not because they are doing especially well, but because all the stock which is donated in the clothing bins outside just doesn't get a look at by most of the general public.

I watched Derren Brown on Friday night, and the scariest part of the show was when he used "mirroring" to put a member of the public in a cafe in a trance, then primed him to steal a TV set when he came across a shop with a small girl dressed in pink holding a pink balloon outside. The good news is that two people he tried the technique on were not susceptible, but it is still amazing what he got the third to do, on impulse, with no thinking that this was illegal! Uncomfortable viewing.

The previous week, Derren attempted and appeared to succeed at using the "collective unconscious" of a group of people to guess the winning numbers of the National Lottery. Live, as it happened, he read out the numbers and wrote them down, then moved over and turned a display of white table tennis balls (seen before) round to reveal the numbers, and an unseen crowd clapped. That was a clever touch. Whenever you hear a crowd clap, you assume there is actually someone there who was watching him, who would have spotted anything as simple as an assistant replacing the balls with correctly numbered balls while the camera focused on Derren writing lottery numbers down - and calling them out.

Cliff Richard is persona non grata for Radio presenters like Chris Evans, according to him. That seems grossly unfair, as Cliff has some great songs, and has mellowed in his faith, telling Piers Morgan that he was in favour of same-sex civil partnerships, because he could see the commitment in friends of his. Cliff is celibate, and of course has had the accusation levied at him that he is gay, which he says is not true, and doesn't hurt him anyway, and why are people so hung up about sexuality when there is so much more to life than that. Walking around St Clement's Green Lanes this weekend, watching the birds, finding the Millennium Standing Stone, enjoying the wonderful views from those heights, and having a tasty sausage roll at the Le Hocq beach stall, while watching boats on the water, I was inclined to agree.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Light Matters

Deputy Phil Rondel (St John) raised a question about floodlighting Victoria College:

Would the Minister advise what action, if any, he has taken to review the floodlighting of Victoria College and indicate what savings, if any, could be made to the school's annual electricity bill, should this practice be curtailed, for use by Victoria College towards the cost of other school resources.(1)
 The Minister, Deputy James Reed, replied:
On 10th March 2009, during Questions in the States, Deputy Rondel raised the subject of floodlighting at Victoria College. At that time I advised members that floodlighting had proved to be effective as a security measure at the College, as well as being appropriate for a prominent and historic building. I did not undertake to 'review the floodlighting at Victoria College', as implied by Deputy Rondel in his question, and remain of the view that the use of floodlighting is justified.
As indicated in my previous answer, the cost of floodlighting is minor in relation to the total cost of electricity for the school, and is considered to be cost-effective in terms of deterring vandalism and theft.(1)

But what is the cost? It is not just Victoria College that is lit - Parish Churches and the Castles are also lit up at night. This floodlighting was put in place many years ago, and I don't know when it has been updated. If it has not been, it could be quite energy inefficient. There is now available low energy Halogen lighting for spotlights, for example  (2)

Alternatively there are even forms low energy LED floodlighting with new technology to give the same degree of brilliance as older floodlights, but at a fraction of the cost. One such example is the Stringray LED Floodlight, of which the details are as follows(3):
Stingray LED Floodlight
Created: 08 April 2009 by Advanced LEDs
Typical applications:
External building floodlighting
Existing technology to be replaced : 150 and 250 Watt Halogen floodlights

A revolutionary new LED floodlight. This is the LED replacement for the150 and 250 watt floodlights. The performance far exceeds any otherequivalent high powered LED floodlight on the market. This uniqueluminaire can be fitted with combinations of ultra high power LEDs andin corresponding combinations of colours to give complete control overthe colour of projected light from either advanced leds own high powerRGB control system or through DMX interface.

Key Benefits,Features & Energy Savings 
Low maintenance and energy efficient
Low energy product.
Also on the subject of lights, there is an interesting note on street lighting in the 2008 Minutes of Enfield Energy Committee. This is a town in the USA (New Hampshire), which is looking at energy savings, and has noted the methods used by another town to achieve this end. Some interesting snippets:
Alisa offered information on Jaffrey, New Hampshire which is in the process of reducing the number of streetlights in their town.  The number of streetlights in their town is comparable to what we have in Enfield. The methods used by the Jaffrey Energy Committee involved taking late night tours of the town to collect information on necessary lighting at intersections and crosswalks.  The Jaffrey committee found that money would be saved by removal of 61 of their 225 streetlights and installation of lower wattage bulbs in those remaining.  The Jaffrey committee will consult with other towns for information on lower wattage.  They are looking for the balance between saving money and energy and keeping the town lit. (4)
Rich provided information on types of light bulbs, rated in lumen, from the Nationalgrid web site.  He noted that changing from mercury vapor to high pressure sodium bulbs would provide an energy cost savings, however, the initial installation would be costly.  High pressure sodium bulbs can be identified by a yellow hue while mercury vapor bulbs have a bluish glow.  There may be an individual preference in light "color".(4)

The Jaffrey plan (5) looked at the Street lights following a set of specific guidelines (6):

Goal: to identify and meet street lighting needs in Jaffrey so that only that lighting (measured in brightness and color) that is necessary is provided, and the lighting that is provided consumes the least fossil fuel derived energy of the available alternatives at the lowest possible cost.

Intersections: In general, there should be streetlights sufficient to signal the location of each intersection of major public roads where there is significant vehicular traffic.

Sidewalks: In general, there should be streetlights sufficient to illuminate sidewalks in densely populated areas where there is significant pedestrian movement.

No Wasted Light: The light provided by each street light should be no more than what is necessary to accomplish its purpose, should not illuminate the night sky, and should not shine into neighboring windows or yards.

Energy Efficient Lighting: The Towns new street lights should be state-of-the-art in terms of the light (lumens) provided per watt of energy consumed and in terms of their long-term durability and maintenance needs.

Consistent Lighting: In general, there should be one consistent type of street light, providing light of the same color (whether yellow-looking as in high pressure sodium lights or white-looking as in metal halide lights), used throughout Town.

I wonder if any assessment like that has been done in St Helier or St Brelade, for example, which are well lit areas, but probably have not had a detailed survey done of the lights for some time. When was the last time - if at all - such a survey was carried out? Are our street lights, like those of Jaffrey, USA, using low wattage lights?

These considerations come into the Jaffrey "Masterplan", which also notes that

In many areas of Jaffrey, street lighting utilizes technologies dating back 20-30 years or more. In some areas street lighting produces annoying glare by shining into pedestrian or driver fields of view. Excessive and unwanted light shines directly on property beyond the intended target and unwanted atmospheric lighting contributes to sky glow. Older lighting technologies utilizing mercury vapor lamps and high pressure sodium lamps offer poor color rendering qualities as compared to more modern metal halide systems.

Today's lighting systems employ design and efficiency features that were virtually unknown as little as 10 years ago such as optical controls that maximize lighting in targeted areas while minimizing undesirable glare and light "trespass". Modem lighting technologies are producing lamps that are more energy efficient by utilizing "pulse starting systems" and moving away from incandescent and mercury vapor lighting to more efficient and color balanced metal halide systems.

Returns on modern street lamping capital costs whether new or retrofitted are more quickly realized because of reduced energy usage and proper layout design reduces the frequency of lamps required for the same level of lighting in a targeted area.

A well planned street lighting program to replace and/or retrofit existing old technology lamping would be a desirable venue to pursue for Jaffrey and the accelerated return on investment would be well worth the initial capital cost.

Now that's what I'd like to see as part of our own St Helier "Masterplans"!

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

The Killing Fields

"The Killing Fields: The Facts Behind the Film" by Sydney Schanberg & Dith Pran: A Review
This book is not concerned with how the film "The Killing Fields" came to be made, but with the background story which formed the basis for that film; it is about true events which one of those involved, Sydney Schanberg has described as "a story of war and friendship, of the anguish of a ruined country and of one man's will to live."
The book is about Cambodia, from the time of the fall of the corrupt regime of Lon Nol, in 1975, through the atrocities perpetrated by, the communist Khmer Rouge, to reflections on the tragedy of Cambodia today. But it is no abstract commentary on history: it gives the events of those years as experienced by two men who were in Cambodia when the crisis struck in 1975; each relates his personal insight into that time.
Sydney Schanberg was a reporter with the New York Times, stationed in Cambodia in the early seventies; there, he made the acquaintance of Dith Pran, a Cambodian, who began by acting as Schanberg's interpreter, then became his associate, and finally his friend.
What was it like, living on the edge of a battlefield, reporting on innocent civilians - men, women and children - being caught up in the horror that is modern warfare? Schanberg comments; "Our lives proceeded in this fashion - from one intense experience to another, an unnatural existence by the standards of normal life, but perfectly natural when living inside a continuous crisis. We broke our tension - we had to, for psychic survival - to push away the bloody images with good food, laughter that was often too loud."
Schanberg and Pran often visited the hospitals of the city, Phnom Penh. Pran recalls that this caused great anguish to Schanberg, seeing people lying there, helpless, suffering, and being able to do nothing about it. Nevertheless, they continued with their visits: they knew that they must try to bring home to people the human realities of war.
The anguish that Schanberg felt is visible in his newspaper articles, reprinted in the book. After a visit to one hospital, he wrote: "The tile floors are slippery with blood. They have long since run out of pain-killing drugs. Bodies are everywhere -some people half conscious crying out in pain, some with gaping wounds who will not live. Some are already dead and, in the chaos, just lie there with no one to cover them or take them away."
In the last days of the Lon Nol regime, the evacuation of the Americans began. Both Schanberg and Pran could have left the country, but - although Pran saw his family off safely - both elected to stay. But when the Khmer Rouge forces took over Phnom Penh, Schanberg was unable to help Pran - no Cambodians were allowed to leave the country. All the other journalists were taken out of Cambodia, and the friends were forced apart.
In the book, Schanberg reflects honestly about the guilt he felt when he and Pran were separated: "I've often asked myself whether he would have stayed had I not been so driven to stay. When he was missing, maybe dead, it was something that I stayed up a lot of nights thinking about. How much did I influence him? Maybe, if I had gone, I could have probably talked him into going with me."
The Khmer Rouge were systematically killing all the intellectuals, so Pran disguised himself as a taxi driver and hid his intelligence. He was placed in a village commune where he helped to farm the land - it was heavy, manual labour - for the Khmer Rouge turned their back on any machinery as contaminated by Western influence. In the commune, any who showed an independent spirit were weeded out. Pran recalls that "They didn't kill people in front of us. They took them away at night and murdered them."
Finally, he escaped the commune, and the book tells of his journey across Cambodia, suffering from malnutrition, and full of sorrow at what had become of his country.
It was near the town of Siem Reap that he came across the "Killing Fields" - the site of the Khmer Rouge's purge of any tainted by old ideas. "There were two main execution areas," he recalls, "and these alone must have held four to five thousand bodies, barely covered by a layer of earth. in the water wells, the bodies were like soup bones in a broth."
Finally, he made his way across the Thai border, to a Red Cross camp. In 1979, he was reunited with Schanberg, and returned to America, where his family, supported by Schanberg, had waited so long for his return.
This is a book that recalls a tale both courageous and honest. Often, we hear of wars in far off countries and are too distant from what is happening there to understand or sympathise. This book brings us that much closer to events in Cambodia, and shows us both the effect of modern warfare, and the destructive nature of an ideology, on people just like ourselves.


Monday, 21 September 2009

Amos Minutes 9 Sept 2009


Minutes of meeting on Wed. Sept. 9th at 5.15 at  Pastoral Centre.

1.   The opening reading came from "Eternal Springs" on hope for the present.

2.   ELeQ went to the consultation on migration policy on Tuesday lunch. It was disappointing to learn that the suggestion of a welcome pack for new arrivals when they register for their card is merely a pious hope with little intention of actually doing it.  It was good news to learn that our children, who were not Jersey-born but did all their schooling in Jersey, who currently lose their "quallies" by living away for over 10 years, will retain them for life with the new law.   Apparently some people are strongly against any sort of card, but we are happy with this minimal card.  AW produced a copy of the response of Concern, which confirms that the proposed law will enable an accurate count of Jersey's working population and the means to control it, without setting any targets for the actual level.

3.   We are aware of a number of pending items and wonder why they are not yet on the statute e.g.
- a depositor protection law for accounts in Jersey bank accounts up to £50k.
- a review of the licensing law with the aim of reducing harmful levels of alcohol consumption. (and goes nowhere near as far as the recent UK proposal to ban alcohol adverts)   
- a strategic plan that has no focus on housing at a reasonable rent but instead delivers high-priced, undersized units.
- implementing a new gambling law after a review a couple of years ago.
- a Sunday trading law  and probably others.

4.   A call to the Statistics unit says they only collect total wages  and total number of workers in each company, thus can only calculate a mean wage,  not a median.  Work is going on to discover more detail of  the distribution of wages within companies.

5.    A Child protection conference is being run on 9th Oct. by Hanson Renouf, though the fee is ?175!  A letter by Barbara Corbett to the JEP in Aug. set out the need for a no fault approach to divorce.  This sensible letter is attached.  Lady Oppenheimer also sent in an excellent letter but I currently don't have a copy.  We also hope that the States will pass a law agreeing to recognise civil partnerships.  Anti-gay rhetoric reveals a bigoted reaction contrary to the image of God we get in Jesus.   We are less certain about how to protect the rights of sisters or friends who share a house for a long time when one of them dies. Perhaps it can be done through a will.

6.     Ian Le Marquand sent a letter appreciating the input of Barbara Corbett and saying that he favours the Scottish system (based on mediation, I believe).rather than our present top heavy Royal Court based system.  Perhaps he can move us this way.  

7.     AW suggested that we write to the Associations page of the JEP to raise our profile. .

8.     J.O.W.G. now has a base at the Town Hall, with an opening ceremony on Fri. 18th Sept. for official guests and members.  We shall be open for primary heads and their PSHE teachers on Tues.22nd and Wed 23rd sept. from 3.30 to 5.00.  We have 2 applicants so far for the post of Centre Manager for 3 hours /week.  We hope an appointment can be made soon.  The New Internationalist are offering a catalogue of diaries, books and calendars  + Amnesty items at 35% discount, so sales of these items may be a function of the JOWC.

9..    We are glad that the sex offenders register is going to be extended to Jersey, though it is important that there are clear guidelines to limit the disclosure of the information

10.    Dates of next Amos meetings  Wed. Oct. 7th, Nov. 4th, Dec. 2nd at 5.15 at Pastoral Centre
Ed Le Quesne   10 /  9 /  09

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Autumn Days

Autumn Days
Blackberry picking at Noirmont common
Children move from bush to bush, upon
Each outstretch bramble, the ripened fruit
Waiting for picking on rambling route.
Leaves turning brown, and golden hues
St Catherine's woods has lovely views
Time to walk amongst the fallen leaves
The waning sun still warmth achieves.
Pine cones fall on the Railway walk
Where we stroll slowly, time to talk
The trains long gone, rambler's delight
The winding path to lighthouse sight.
Acorns falling from oaks by the school
Holidays ending, as the days grow cool
Squirrels storing nuts away in a nook
Glimpse of red, if now you look.
Maize is ripening, fields are ready
Harvest time has come already
Farmers working out all day
With cider later, lest they stray.
The year grows old in Autumn days
Bonfires of leaves, and harvest praise
Drink cider made at Hamptonne farm
Eat cabbage loaf, enjoy its charm.
(from Jersey Wonders, 2004)

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Pay Benchmarking

I've been looking at the addendum with the Hassell Blampied Associates information on pay benchmarking which is available at:.
From their website I notice the blurb:
Because of the simple, straightforward but robust methodology adopted in comparing jobs, we believe we have the best range of market information available in the Offshore Islands to ensure that businesses can take strategic decisions about their reward policies for their staff. Our survey data takes account of the differing needs in organisations from the most senior staff to the most junior, together with the clear reports that pinpoint the market information (1)
I can't see any explanation of this methodology, which means there is no way of checking what they mean by this at all! The survey itself says that:
Forty-five private sector employers participated in the survey, providing data on 3,583 jobs, and these were drawn from a variety of sectors, including Finance, Retail, Construction and the Utilities.(2)
Quite how there is a chief officer comparison with anyone in those areas is beyond me, especially as there are no details of what counts as "like for like". This is a complex problem which is extremely important. As the statistician Professor Joel Best notes:
Statistical comparisons promise a bit more-at least two numbers that might reveal a pattern: things are getting worse; or things are worse in one place than another; or this group has it worse than that one; or even this problem is more important than some others. But comparison depends on comparability. Unless each number reflects the same definitions and the same methods of measurement-unless each number is an apple, and not something else-comparisons can be deceptive. Unless the numbers are comparable, the pattern apparently revealed through comparison may say more about the nature of the numbers than it does about the nature of the social problem (3)
The report gives different grades of job, but nowhere does that state what the tie up is.
On Talkback (13/09/2009) Senator Sarah Ferguson had a solid figure for a policeman with two years training in London and Jersey, which showed a differential of £1,000 of Jersey over London in like for like occupations with the same experience and training.  That is a clear like for like comparison. In fact, police, doctors, nurses and teachers are excluded from this survey, which compares private sector to public sector pay.
But where do you compare, for example cleaners when there are a variety of rates and part time jobs in the private sector? Is a clerical worker at the hospital equivalent of a doctor's surgery receptionist? How do you compare catering staff (where there are staff canteens)? Is there an equivalent of a hospital porter in the private sector?
With a sample, normally some degree of stratification needs to be in place, over perhaps gender and age, so that the comparison reflects the private population in employment as a whole. The accompanying table gives no indication of gender, and yet other studies have shown this is important. In the USA, for example, studies noted that:
Men earned about the same, or less, in state and local government as comparable men earned in the private sector, but women earned more in state and local governments than in private firms.(4)
This means that a sample which is not stratified, and which has more women in the public sector sample than the private sector sample might well be skewed to show the employees in general in the public sector are paid more, whereas this may reflect the prevalence of better paid jobs in the public sector, where salary is awarded on the basis of grades, while in the private sector it is well known that women often receive less pay than men in comparable jobs.
Moreover some studies have noted that:
Marital status was an important influence in pay rates in the private sector, but not the public sector, and was more important for men than for women.(6)
Another area is part-time work, where a UK survey showed that:
Part-time workers received higher pay in the private sector. (6)
There is no breakdown of part-time employees in the table, nor is there any breakdown of the type of work, just the grade of work. And yet this too can be significant:
For some occupations, such as accountant, attorney, engineer, and personnel supervisor/manager, the data appear to support pay compression: the private sector pay advantage indeed rises with grade level. But for other occupations, such as computer programmer, computer systems analyst, and computer systems analyst supervisor/manager, comparisons do not show any wage compression.(6)
Because the table just shows the grade, and not the kind of occupation, it is impossible to see if the differentials between public and private sector are across the board in a grade, or whether part-time, female workers, different occupations may all give different results, some being more highly paid than the equivalent in the private sector, some less so.
Until the mid-1980s, all studies implicitly assumed that workers chose whether to work in the public or the private sector without considering pay differences between the sectors. A variety of studies since then have argued that differing pay structures attract different types of workers (e.g., if the public sector pays minorities better than the private sector does, it will attract more minority applicants) and that this will in turn affect the pay differences observed.(4)
This, of course, also counts for legal positions like that of the Solicitor General, Attorney-General, Deputy Bailiff and Bailiff. A lawyer may earn more in the private sector, but if they want both to be in public service, and also perhaps (because they are human, after all - and why not!), enjoy the limelight and unpaid kudos that this involves, perhaps with a knighthood, the opportunity to meet Royalty etc, the choice may not be entirely pay related.
Without some detail, the nice table we are given looks very solid and professional, but may simply be reflecting in part a social disparity between pay. We just do not know how the comparisons of like for like are made, and if we are in fact looking at apples and pears, both fruit, but only marginally comparable.
The words "simple, straightforward but robust methodology" used by the survey bring to mind the deficiencies that are often noted in surveys of this kind. The lack of transparency means we cannot tell what this is, but here is an example of how other surveys have been conducted with what one person may describe as "simple" but another as "crude", like a blunt instrument:
The crude measures that are used to establish comparability of individuals provide for only gross equivalence. The measures of work experience are often rough estimates that cannot separate unemployment or time out of the labor force from paid employment; they never distinguish between related and unrelated employment. Education typically is assumed to have a log-linear impact on salary, which builds in the assumptions that an additional year of education has the same percentage impact on salary whether it is at the high school, college, or postgraduate level, and that a bachelor's degree in literature increases salary as much as one in engineering does.(4)
The size of the firms in the sample may also be significant. Again other critical studies of comparisons have shown that:
Most studies do not control for the size of the employing establishment, although large companies typically pay better than small ones.(4)
Once more, the lack of any transparency in the published results means that it is impossible to see the size of the companies in the survey of private firms. And yet, as Joel Bests notes, this is extremely important:
Whenever there is disagreement about the statistical evidence, it is possible to look more closely, to discover how different measurement choices, different definitions, or other factors can explain the disparities. But, of course, this can be a lot of work; few people will make the effort to examine original sources. And, even when it is possible to clarify a specific statistical disagreement, that clarification will not resolve the larger debate about the broader social issue. Again, debates over broad social issues have their roots in competing interests and different values. While advocates for different positions tend to invoke statistics as evidence to bolster their arguments, statistics in and of themselves cannot resolve these debates. This is important because we often equate numbers with "facts." Treating a number as a fact implies that it is indisputable. It should be no surprise, then, when people interested in some social problem collect relevant statistics and present them as "facts", this is a way for them to claim authority, to argue that the facts ("It's true!") support their position
The table provided looks very authoritative, but how were the comparisons of like for like made? How were the private sector jobs chosen? What proportion of the whole, and how representative are they? Were there any refusals in the survey? What total percentage of jobs in the private sector does 3,583 represent? How many of the lower ones were on income support?
Once those questions are asked, and there is no information available that I can see for them, it seems that a lot is being taken on trust regarding the "objectivity" of the survey.
I have only considered the statistics, and not the causal factors behind them. But that might also be worth research. Deputy Daniel Wimberley has suggested that the higher rates of pay in the survey (given its limitations) may be due to the fact that the market goes for a race to the bottom, so that there are more private sector workers at the bottom of the scale on the minimum wage. It is not clear how many of the sample were on the minimum wage, and as he pointed out, possibly costing the State as a result of claims for income support which higher paid public sector workers, still at the bottom of the pay scale, do not. This illustrates, however, how a survey on pay alone can overlook other factors which should be considered, and begs the political question over whether low scale public sector pay should be reduced given that it may lead to more payments under income support. A single focus on pay and not income support may miss this completely.
I would like to end by noting Joel Best's comments on the problems that beset single studies:
Single studies, then, can't do the job. Absolutely every study every test, every piece of research-has limitations and flaws in its methods that make it a target for legitimate criticism. Studies should be replicated, and they should also inspire further research  that uses different methods (with, presumably, different limitations and flaws). When replication and differing methodologies confirm the same result, confidence in that finding grows. The results of' a lone study, particularly if the research raises serious methodological concerns, should not, in most scientists' view, be treated as authoritative. Only time and further research can sort out the erroneous findings from the more reliable.(5)
Now I am not saying that the results have been deliberately spun, and other surveys may well come to the same conclusion about pay. I am not aiming to discredit Hassell Blampied, merely to point out that one survey, with limited transparency, and no scientific peer review, can hardly be taken as authoritative, and there are weaknesses which should be addressed.
All I would say is that in the studies I have reviewed, the sample data and the sampling methodology has all been transparent, and published in peer reviewed journals so that other statisticians can check the results and replicate them, or test the assumptions of equivalence and parity. The note by Hassell Blampied that they have been doing these surveys for some time is not relevant to this - they could have been prone to the same methodological flaws every time through no fault of their own, and despite their complete professionalism.

3) Dammed Lies and Statistics, Joel Best, 2001
(4) Pay, Productivity, and the Public Sector: The Case of Electrical Engineers., Langbein, Lewis, "Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory."Vol 8. Issue: 3. , 1998
(5) More Dammed Lies and Statistics, Joel Best, 2004
(6) "The Public-Private Pay Debate: What Do the Data Show?. Michael A. Miller,  Monthly Labour Review. Vol 119. Issue: 5. ,1996

Sunday, 13 September 2009

United 93

United 93

They prayed for submission and death
Gave themselves, to their dying breath
To kill for the sacred cause, a holy way
When from the Tao they came to stray
And so it was on the flight, they killed
Took over, cowed others, and stilled
The voice of conscience. Not in vain,
Was their possession of this aeroplane,
Their martyrs death to come in glory
A burning pyre, one final offertory
To their god, last judgement day.
In ancient times, like pagans, they
Would have been seen so obsessed
By their god, that it be as possessed
By a spirit of evil, only to be cast out
With faith, hope fighting every doubt.
They felt panic, weakness, every fear
Against the violence taking all so dear
Captive. They learnt of the other planes
Taken captive, flown onward in chains
Into oblivion. At first, they just sent on
Messages to those they loved, rent
With grief and tears, a time of sorrow
Knowing but little hope of the morrow
And then they set to work to take back
Their freedom, and if that meant attack
So be it, for this was a day of redemption
Of redeeming themselves, a vindication
And they would not submit, but fight
With all their will, for all that was right
Against a spirit of evil, to be cast out
with faith, hope fighting every doubt.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

The States of 1981

Some interesting snippets I've culled from the States Minutes of  early 1981, 28 years ago.

In January, "THE STATES, adopting a Proposition of the Broadcasting Committee, agreed to invite the BBC to establish a Community Radio Station in Jersey to be operational by the end of 1981 and, for this purpose, to allocate to the BBC the medium wavelength frequency granted to the Island until November, 1988."

Terry Le Main, then a relatively young Deputy, was notable as a member of the present assembly who voted against this proposition!

Unemployment benefit came up for the first time, with a proposition of Norman le Brocq. If the house is divided now, it was certainly not divided
then. Apart from Jane Sandeman, who abstained, the sole person in favour of the proposition was Norman himself; everyone else voted it down.

"THE STATES rejected a Proposition of Deputy Norman Stuart Le Brocq of St. Helier that the Social Security Committee be instructed to prepare legislation for the payment of unemployment benefit, such benefit to be limited to unemployed persons with at least three years' Jersey residence, and such other qualifications as the Committee considered necessary.

It was the Royal Engagement, and the States also sent a message of congratulations in February:

The Members of the States of Jersey assembled, having learned with profound pleasure of the announcement of the engagement of Your Royal Highness to the Lady Diana Spencer, offer your Royal Highness their loyal and affectionate greetings and their good wishes on this joyous occasion."

It is bittersweet to read that, and think of all the hopes there were that year for the Royal family and its future, only to end in the acrimony of a
messy divorce, and the tragic death of Diana.

The provision of milk at a reduced price came up again. It is worth noting, if only for the fact that the present States Assembly may well vote -
again - to remove this on spurious health grounds. The latest research (a study in 2008) supports the health benefits mentioned here, but it was clear when Mike Vibert (as Education Minister) tried to get rid of school milk,  that the advice coming from the Medical Officer of health had not caught up with that.

The President of the Social Security Committee made a statement in the following terms -

"Children under the age of five, expectant mothers, persons over the age of seventy and certain categories between sixty-five and seventy may on application receive a specified quantity of milk at a reduced price.The scheme is based primarily on health considerations and since the economic value to the individual beneficiary is relatively small, the Committee hitherto has tried to encourage take-up by keeping the application process simple and free of any sort of income test. This has also helped to keep down the administrative costs.

But the statement went on to target pensioners by means testing, in a manner which would not be out of place in today's cost-cutting assembly:

In the present economic climate it is open to question as to whether there should be an opportunity for all persons over the age of 70 on application to purchase milk at a reduced price. The Committee therefore seeks the co-operation of all persons over 70 who are currently recipients and who on reflection feel their financial circumstances are such that they really do not need the circumstances are such that they really do not need the benefit, to withdraw voluntarily from the scheme. Should this approach not prove successful, the Committee may, regretfully, have to consider the introduction of some kind of income bar.

Nothing much has changed there - the targets are always the weaker members of society, who in their twilight years, can be penalised for having scrimped and saved so much. The Spirit of Scrooge is still alive and well today in the States Chamber.

Another matter in February was heavy goods container vehicles. This question asked of the Defense Committee which was in charge of roads. What it had to do with defence, I never quite found out. Iris Le Feuvre asked:

Would the President [of the Defense Committee] agree that there is a need to introduce restrictions on the overall height of lorries carrying containers as already exist on their length and width?

The president, John Riley, replied

The carriage of freight, particularly perishable or fragile items, in standardised containers, is now a universal system of transport: to forbid the use of them in the Island would be to add dramatically to the cost of delivery, use of labour and to the number of commercial vehicle journeys on our roads. To restrict their use to the main road from Gorey to Corbière (that authorised for double-decker buses) would be equally unacceptable as many of the unloading points are not on this route.

The 'immovable object - irresistible force' syndrome is brought about by the fact that whilst the height of a standard container on its transporter is 13ft. 6ins., the Branchage requirement is only 12ft.

The Defence Committee does not intend to recommend any change in the Branchage Law as it would require not only the 'lopping' but removal of many trees.

Little problem arises from 'visiting' vehicles as these are vetted prior to arrival and their intended routes checked for safety. By far the largest
number are operated by local companies and the Committee believes that it is the responsibility of management and drivers to use only those roads which, from their local knowledge, they know to be safe.

The Committee is seeking legal advice as to whether the 'hitting' of a tree constitutes an offence under either: Road Traffic Law Articles 14 and 15 - 'Reckless or Careless driving'; or alternatively Construction and Use Order Article 53 - 'Conditions of loading so as not to be a danger'.

What that legal advice was is not recorded! I do like the way in which the problem is stated as an "immovable object - irresistible force' syndrome"! The question may have been prompted by one container lorry which did  catch a tree late in the previous year.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

The Pick and Mix Approach to Reporting

I was listening to BBC Radio Jersey this morning, as they finally caught up with the entry of Lenny Harper on Stuart Syvret's blog, with a presentation. It was quite disconcerting, as having read the entire entry, it was clear that it was being quoted in an extremely selective manner, a "pick and mix" approach to reporting. Here are the details.

First, they took the audio clip of Mick Gradwell saying that going into Haut de La Garenne and starting an excavation had been a complete was a complete waste of time and money. Then they quote Lenny as saying:

"we received a positive reaction from the dog trained to find traces of human remains. This reaction came at the same spot as the builders had found the bones mentioned above. At this point, I took the decision to authorise the archaeologists to dig at that location. I would do the same again."

The suggestion from this is that it was the dog that was the prime indicator of whether to dig or not. What was missing was the following detailed explanation of why they went in, which was based on many other more weighty considerations:

The decision made at this meeting was that we should carry out an initial reconnaissance of the site over a short period to seek to clarify a number of objectives. It was decided that we would deploy several different assets, to be deployed in a "systematic fashion using best value and best practice guidelines." In simple terms, we wanted to establish if there was anything there which would need further investigation - or if we could "walk away" from it -without further investigation.

Two weeks later we moved in to the grounds of HDLG. We deployed Geophysical assets and Ground Penetrating Radar in order to identify anomalous areas for further investigation. We also used Gridded probing techniques to assist the dogs, and of course we had the anecdotal evidence of witnesses and victims. We decided we would not at any time carry out speculative searching but would deploy the forensic and archaeology assets in areas where there was corroboration that something needed further investigation. Before we excavated, we would give full consideration to possible explanations given by earlier work or utilities. We also studied in depth building plans and maps.

Lenny Harper also notes - again missed out of the BBC Report, that the ACPO team fully endorsed his decision. I have yet - as I have stated in blog entries before - to see any local journalist who has looked into this aspect of the investigation. The ACPO team seem to have been airbrushed out of history, apart from the Sunday Times reporter, who painted quite a different picture of the investigation, probably as a result of having seen the reports.

My decision was fully endorsed by the ACPO team who were mentoring us and this team included the former head of the Met Homicide Department and a vastly experienced Senior Investigating Officer. It was also unanimously supported by all of my senior team including the UK Homicide Search Advisors. The dig was necessary because there were matters which needed further investigation. Indeed, the advice of the ACPO Homicide Team was that we had no choice but to treat the scene as one of a potential homicide. This advice was expressed frequently, and I know it was given to Frank Walker.

The ACPO team come up again, and again have not been mentioned by Mick Gradwell, who really does not seem to have done his homework properly when it comes to investigating what part they played at Haut de La Garenne.

Gradwell bitterly criticised my media strategy and one press conference in particular came in for strong criticism where they accused me of brandishing a tooth in front of the media. The truth is simple. It was an excellent idea but it was not mine. I was at HDLG and it was just after we started finding the teeth and were being told that some of them could not have come out from children who were still alive. I was going out to answer questions at the demand of the media. The head of the ACPO team suggested that as a means of showing just how small the teeth were, and of illustrating what a good job the Archaeological and Anthropology teams were doing, I should show the media a tooth. He suggested displaying it alongside a five pence piece. I did so.

That Gradwell could have missed this means that he clearly had not contacted the ACPO team to review his statement for accuracy before making it, and nor, it appears, did the JEP journalist Diane Simon think to cross check the story.

Regarding the dogs, again missed from the presentation, is the note by Lenny Harper as to how they were deployed, which indicates, if there could still be any doubt, that the dogs were only an indicator, and not proof that there were dead bodies or anything else. Common sense would suggest that, but the presentation of the dogs has been highlighted so much in the media as if they were the litmus test of homicide. As Lenny makes absolutely clear, he did not see them this way:

Firstly, they [Mick Gradwell and Diane Simon] fundamentally misunderstand the role of the dogs. They do not, and cannot tell us that has happened at a location nor indeed, if there has been a murder or even a dead body there. What they tell us is that there is something which needs investigating. They are trained either to detect the presence of the scent of dead human flesh or blood. This they did, as in the cellar where they reacted and led us to all the bones and teeth. There were thousands of animal bones in that area and we recovered many hundreds. The dogs ignored them all.

The BBC will be giving further coverage to other parts of the rebuttal by Lenny Harper.

This is in contrast to earlier in the week, when they stated that "BBC Jersey says it can not and will not report on this posting unless Lenny confirms it was written by himself." Lenny commented that:

The BBC know very well that this entry is from me. None of the material on there is new. I have given it to a number of their journalists, local, regional and national, before. It is still on record on their own website. I will not speak to the Jersey media. Their coverage last week went beyond news reporting to being gratuitous and personally insulting. I am not tarring them all with the same brush - Chris Stone for example, I have always found to be a tough questioner but fair and objective. The same cannot be said about many of the rest. Me talking to the BBC will make no difference other than to give them something to fill space with. They did enough of that last week.

It seems strange that the BBC - especially Chris Stone - did not contact Lenny simply to confirm for themselves simply confirm that the presentation came from him, or notice that most of the details (although not their collation) were . Instead of taking the initiative (as you might expect from a news service), all they quoted this morning was "I will not speak to the Jersey media", which again is wrenched from the context above, and given at the start of their presentation, without any explanation, but with an implication that "we tried to contact him but he would not speak to us" - in other words, a surly individual who had a chip on his shoulder about the media, because he didn't want to face a direct question. Given the selective coverage of Lenny's rebuttal this morning, and his comments above, I think it is quite understandable.

Obviously any presentation on the BBC would of necessity have to be a summary, although that did not stop them presenting a lengthy press briefing from Mick Gradwell, which seems to have been only lightly edited. But what is interesting to me is that we have the original source, and we can compare, and see what is selected, even if the reasons why must remain speculative. By doing so, it is clear that their presentation is deficient in omitting various salient aspects of the story, not least the ACPO team's oversight.

Will they contact the ACPO team to ask them questions - as one would expect a professional journalist to do so, simply as a matter of checking Lenny's story and either corroborating or disconfirming it? That remains to be seen.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Harcourt Briefing - September

A NEW question mark hangs over the Waterfront finance district scheme after developers Harcourt apparently missed their final deadline to prove they had the money to build it. It is understood that the Irish developers did not meet their final deadline of last Friday to provide the Waterfront Enterprise Board with a bond to prove that they had the funds to carry out the scheme. If that is the case, WEB could have to negotiate with other developers to build the 14-block finance district on the Esplanade car park. The developers missed a deadline to supply the bond at the start of the year and were dropped as 'preferred developers' for the seven-year scheme. They were then given a second deadline of 4 September to come up with the money, but apparently failed to do so.(1)

It remains to be seen if yet a third deadline will be given, but it seems poor government to keep on extending deadlines continuously. The message that this gives is surely that the deadlines are a fiction, and do not really mean anything, rather like one country saying they will impose sanctions on another, and then always finding the justification for not doing so. I would not like to draw a direct parallel with Neville Chamberlain, although it seems appropriate, given this is the anniversary of the declaration of war in 1939, but this is like a policy of appeasement, of foreoever giving ground, making allowances and excuses, and never drawing a line and saying so far and no further.

In Ireland, Harcourt are facing a problem in having taken contracts with buyers who now cannot afford the mortgage on the full cost:

Plummetting property prices in the North have created a web of despair for buyers who are trapped in negative equity even before they have taken possession of their new home. But that is not the worst case scenario for purchasers in Northern Ireland today. The nightmare that some now face is the possibility of legal action by developers who want to force them to complete on deals agreed at the top of the property price boom....Belfast, which witnessed some of the sharpest rises in value, was overrun with new property developments. It seemed as if there was not a corner of the city which was immune to the charms of a new "luxury" apartment development. They were inevitably launched in a blaze of publicity and naturally "sold out" a few hours later.

Developers are now pressurising some of these people, who have failed to complete purchases, to do so or face legal action... A group of purchasers of apartments in the Arc in Titanic Quarter fear they could face a similar scenario, and they have formed the Titanic Action Group. In this instance the developer, Titanic Quarter Limited, a sister company of Dublin-based Harcourt Developments, has not taken any legal action to date but the completion date is drawing near for apartments agreed in the first release, and some of the buyers involved are growing anxious. The action group wants to meet with the developers to discuss the fall in apartment prices and the impact this has had on them. (2)

The BBC news also reports on writs being issued by some of the developers. Harcourt is playing a waiting game at the moment, because the completion date has not yet come, but it is clear they are not budging on this matter:

Around 100 purchasers have formed the Titanic Action Group, which is being coordinated by Brian Speers of CMG Solicitors. He said the developers, Harcourt, have simply said that if the purchasers honour their obligations they will adhere to theirs.  "I don't think that's an adequate response in the exceptional circumstances we have in the market - an unprecedented collapse in valuations," he added.  "It seems to me more attention should be paid to resolving the dispute through discussion, dialogue - mediation if necessary - than by involving legal action."

In a statement the developers said that they had not started any legal action and were happy to speak to individual purchasers about any queries they may have relating to their property.  The statement added: "Contracts relating to the first residential phase were entered into freely, and in the knowledge that property values can rise and fall. "Titanic Quarter, therefore, anticipates that those contracts will be honoured." (3)

Another news source gives some personal stories, which explain clearly the predicament the buyers are in:

One member of the group, known as the Titanic Action Group, is Ben, a 26-year-old from Coleraine who paid a £20,000 deposit on a one-bed apartment two years ago, but now finds that the apartment is valued at 35 per cent less. Speaking to the News Letter, Ben said he bought the apartment when his work re-located him to Belfast two years ago. "I purchased a one-bed apartment priced at £200,000. At the time there seemed to be no problem. Now the recession has hit and I can't get a mortgage now. Nowhere near it." Ben, who is due to complete his purchase in November, said that he just  wants to talk to the developer. "They're not talking to us at the moment and they're just saying we're tied into the contract," he said.

"I understand that a contract's a contract, but I don't think it's going to benefit them taking 100 people to court. This isn't just any situation - the whole world is in a recession and we need to be realistic."

Brian Speers, the lawyer representing the Titanic Action Group, said that the group did not want to "knock" the developer but merely wanted to open discussions. "The developer has done a good job and finished it well," he said. "The problem is the financial shortfall. I believe that a meeting with the bank and developer and a degree of imagination in these exceptional times could bring about a way of meeting any shortfall." Mr Speers cited a deferred purchase payment or a variation of the co-ownership scheme as possible measures.

No one from Harcourt Developments was available for comment. (4)

Why I think this is important is twofold.
First, it indicates that Harcourt may be facing a financial squeeze, because if people cannot afford the appartments, and it cannot sell them, it cannot recoup its investment.
Secondly, and just as importantly, it shows whether Harcourt will just stick to to the letter of the law, or are prepared to see the wider picture, and give consideration to other people's problems - in other words, apart from legal rights, there are also ethical responsibilities, and a question to be raised is whether how they behave should also be considered in having them as developers in Jersey. Are they a responsible developer?After all, what would their stance be against locals who found themselves in the same predicament?

A second area where Harcourt are facing financial problems is in the Bahamas, where the Royal Oasis development seems to be on hold:

With regard to the construction and reopening of the Royal Oasis Country Club, Casino and Golf Resort, Prime Minister Ingraham simply said, "insofar as the Princess is concerned the persons who bought it have not yet indicated their ability to proceed at the moment." He noted the Government expected Harcourt to develop the Princess property, "but we also understand the financial difficulties that they are facing with the economy of the world.(5)

This seems to have been frozen because of bank lending policies, that Harcourt cannot get the lending needed to move on with the work, which is certainly of interest to Jersey, where they are not only due to put down a substantial bond, but also pay for the development themselves on the basis that they can sell it on. Moreover, the promotion of the development is couched in very similar glowing terms to that of Jersey's proposed waterfront, albeit for tourism rather than finance.

Tourism's Director General for Grand Bahama is suggesting any construction at the Royal Oasis hotel won't likely come before a change in current bank lending policies - a move analysts peg for late 2010. "The point at which this and other major developments can resume is the point to which we get back to pre-2008 equity cash input levels," David  Johnson, Tourism's Director General of Grand Bahama, told Guardian Business.

"The degree to which we can see a rebound in construction and other new developments like the creation of new businesses is tied to equity. Hopefully that would happen by the end of 2010." Johnson's comments come as government awaits an outline from the Irish company Harcourt Developments on how it intends to redevelop the property, which closed four years ago. Earlier this year Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham confirmed that he had not  heard anything from the purchasers that suggests anything will happen in the near-term. With a total investment pegged at $400 million, the redevelopment of the Royal Oasis has been touted as the key jump start for the GB economy. "Harcourt is very important to us in that it will generate a lot of jobs for people who are out of work at this present time and who are looking forward to the reopening of Royal Oasis," a Tourism spokesperson told The Guardian in an earlier interview. "Not only will it create employment, but also it
will create opportunities for us to increase our tourism product."

Just last fall, Ingraham was briefed on whether there was still full funding in place for the project and on the timelines for moving ahead. Guardian Business understands the developers had committed to starting work last October, but the construction start never materialized.In a statement sent last Fall, Harcourt tried to reassure residents of its commitments, asserting that Royal Oasis represented a major expansion of its interest in Grand Bahama, and the sale reflected the company's commitment to the island. (6)


Thursday, 3 September 2009

Hidden Fame

Did you know that
Ronnie Barker wrote "Tendency to Corrupt: A Novel"
Alan Bennett wrote "Outlook for the Small Business"
Billy Graham wrote "Smoke Abatement in Manchester"
Benny Hill wrote "The Moral Responsibility of Civil Rulers"
They didn't really, of course, it was authors with the same names as the celebrities! With that in mind, I did a survey and managed to glean a few surprising local names:
Pop star Michael Jackson, of course, did not die, but retired to relative obscurity as the Constable of St Brelade. He may stage a come-back at Jersey Live! Watch out!
Relaxing in his spare time, our former Chief Minister, Frank Walker, appears to have penned the scholarly work "Annals of Opera, 1597-1940"!
His wife, Fiona Walker, former BBC Radio Jersey Presenter, went more down to earth writing books like "Kiss Chase" and "French Relations", described as "a sizzling summer read of love, sex, passion and soaring temperatures." Lucky Frank!
Alan Maclean, the Economic Development Minister, wrote an autobiography called "No, I Tell a Lie, it Was the Tuesday: A Trudge Round the Life and Times of Alan MacLean" in which he details his exploits before becoming a politician as "a film extra, a wartime soldier, a temporary post-war diplomat and a publisher." Be prepared for carefully staged press conferences in which he fires off his latest strategy!
Geoff Southern, meanwhile, is the secret author of the rather managerial work "Strategic Marketing Management: A Process Based Approach".
His fellow member of the JDA, Trevor Pitman, is an alumni of Magdalen College Oxford, and served as their soccer club secretary and Commemoration Ball secretary. He also briefly served as a Conservative Councillor in the London Borough of Southward between 1987 and 1990. So much for the working class!
The Education Minister, James Reed, published a slim volume of "Border Ballads" in which he looks at the singing down the centuries "of strange and melancholy tales of love and hate and longing, of thieving and killing, of jealousy, incest, witchcraft and revenge". When will this be on the curriculum in local schools, I wonder?
Lastly, for music lovers with long memories, our Lieutenant Governor, Sir Andrew Ridgeway, was once a teen idol for many, when with George Michael, he founded the pop group WHAM!, and had a hit song with "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go". I'd love to see him singing that at the next garden party at Government House!

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Association of Chief Police Officers Review was "A Waste of Time"

Readers would be surprised to see this headline in the JEP, and yet the logic of it is clear.

THE excavation of Haut de la Garenne was a complete waste of public money, time and effort, the senior police officer who led the historical abuse inquiry for the past year has said. Det Supt Mick Gradwell, who left the Island yesterday when his contract ended, told the JEP that there was no justification for the police excavating at Haut de la Garenne as part of the abuse inquiry. Mr Gradwell said that there had been no hard evidence or intelligence indicating that such a search should take place.(1)

Now - after the excavations of the floor had begun - Lenny Harper had called in a team from ACPO. The general brief of the organisation is as follows:

The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) is an independent, professionally led strategic body. In the public interest and, in equal and active partnership with Government and the Association of Police Authorities, ACPO leads and coordinates the direction and development of the police service in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. In times of national need ACPO - on behalf of all chief officers - coordinates the strategic policing response.(2)

This is relevant, because the review covered the period after the excavations had begun, and hence the period where Mick Gradwell said the investigation had gone off the rails:

Wendy Kinnard [Home Affairs Minister] said she had commissioned an independent review from the Association of Chief Police Officers to look into how Harper's team had handled the inquiry so far. The first, confidential report from Acpo, which covered the period between February 29 and March 2, showed the police were doing their job well, she said.(3)

This was also noted in The Times this year:

During the press conference, and in subsequent briefings and interviews, Jersey police have sought to create the impression of Harper as a maverick, bullying figure. Yet, far from going it alone, Harper early on sought the advice and support of the homicide working group of the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), who sent a team of three officers to Jersey to monitor and review the inquiry. The team was led by one of the country's most eminent detectives, André Baker, now a deputy director at the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca). The others were Anne Harrison and John Mooney of the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA).

If you mention this team to the new Jersey police, they will say they were not there to review the inquiry and only had a limited role. This, so far as I can tell, is not true. I have seen the team's terms of reference, and they clearly state that its role was to "quality assure" the investigation. They did indeed make many recommendations, and all were implemented except, by mutual agreement, two or three that were deemed not relevant.

The team made four visits. Its role was to "monitor the 27 recommendations, to maintain the role of mentors, and to identify any further work". Later it reported: "The recommendations from the initial visit have been acted upon, some within a very short period. The States of Jersey Police are to be commended for their positive reception of the report and for their extremely prompt response in implementing recommendations."  Two team members also gave a private briefing to Frank Walker, the then chief minister, and some of his most senior colleagues, which would have presented another opportunity to report concerns. There were none.

Mention was made of these visits briefly by Graham Power, after his suspension. If they did not comment in depth on the enquiry, then there can surely be no problems with releasing their reviews into the public domain so that we can see that this is the case. If this was, then it is clear that Lenny Harper and Graham Power may well have "gone off the rails". If they are not released to the public domain, and not even mentioned in any of the briefings I have read from Mick Gradwell, perhaps because it would be an embarrassment to lambast that body, then clearly we are still not getting the full picture, and the arguments that this is a smear campaign may have some truth.

I have not made up my mind yet on the truth of the matter, but without those detailed reviews, it is impossible to know who is telling the truth. Mick Gradwell was extremely forceful in his presentation on BBC Radio Jersey today, and in the Jersey Evening Post. He mentioned the press reports as unusual, although again these came before the ACPO review and do not have been critiqued by that.
The fact that was no mention of the Association of Chief Police Officers and their part in the affair makes the press briefings by Gradwell seem rather like the curious incident of the dog in the night time. Where was ACPO's bark?