Monday, 9 August 2010

Power, Responsibility and History

SOME of the States' highest earners are to be targeted in a major States redundancy scheme being launched today. Every public sector worker was this morning offered voluntary redundancy as part of a programme of cutbacks to find £50m worth of savings. Treasury Minister Philip Ozouf said: 'The voluntary redundancy scheme will be particularly useful for slimming down management.'(1)

The island is facing unprecedented financial problems. There are moves afoot to increase taxes, and attempts are also being made to curb expenditure. Part of the rationale for this is to fill the "black hole" caused by the introduction of the 0/10 tax reform.

Unlike governments in the United Kingdom, in Jersey the Council of Ministers has really only themselves to blame. They cannot blame the problems of the present on the previous political regime. This is because the Chief Minister was part of that regime himself, and until recently, the same was true of Housing (Senator Le Main) and of education (former Senator Mike Vibert), where Ministers had previously been Presidents in pre-Ministerial government, and yet, despite their long tenure of office, had failed to solve problems or (as with maintenance of buildings) simply procrastinated.

For example, if there are now problems at the Treasury, and Senator Ozouf has to bring in outside help (as reported in the JEP), then the problems must have arisen when Senator Terry Le Sueur was Minister for the Treasury, and he must be responsible for the current mess that Senator Ozouf says needs to be sorted - namely, the inability of the Managers at Treasury to do their job, and the necessity of an outside appointee as Acting Chief Officer.

Likewise, on a Talkback programme, earlier this year, it was amusing to hear Deputy Sean Power tell the listeners that many of the problems at housing were long-standing over a period of 10 years and not of the Department's making. The listeners may have been forgiven for remembering the considerable period for which the then Minister, Terry le Main, had been in charge, which was almost ten years. If he had been there so long, why had he not done anything about these problems which were being highlighted by Sean Power, and which Deputy Power himself described as long-standing?

So if the blame cannot be placed on the previous political regime (where a portion of the blame must surely lie), who can the Council of ministers blame? In part, the issue of blame is avoided by them, and the problems of the present are put down to changing external circumstances.

Sometimes these can be specific as with the European criticism of the tax regime which led to 0/10 and the "black hole". This neatly avoids considering who was responsible for the choice of 0/10 as a taxation strategy for silencing external criticism from Europe, and noting that the idea was promoted and came from the time when Terry Le Sueur was the Minister at the Treasury.
As it 0/10 failed to silence the external critics of harmful tax practices in the European Union, and angered many local businesses who see themselves taxed on their profits - while businesses that are literally next door (but owned in the UK) pay nothing, it is not surprising that the political architect of the scheme would wish to retain a modest silence rather than seeking plaudits.

Other problems are blamed on more general circumstances such as the economic recession. While it is true that the economic downturn has meant a need for austerity, it can also be seen as bringing to light all the deficiencies within the public sector which had been cheerfully left alone when times were good - by the previous Treasury Minister, Senator Le Sueur - and which now have come home to roost.

While the politicians in today's states need to seek solutions to current problems, and while merely blaming the Chief Minister for past mistakes solves nothing, it is important not to forget how the mistakes of the past led to the mess of the present.

We need to ask the right questions: why was such mistakes made? How could they have been avoided? How can future mistakes be avoided? Those who enjoy power must also take responsibility for their own past, and they can learn from the past if they are not afraid to confront whatever imperfections in their actions or inaction may come to light.

And on the subject of history, the current freeze on taking on new employees in the public is nothing new - while perhaps not as extreme, the same policy was adopted in the 1980s. New staff were taken on, however, but as temporary staff, and therefore not included in the figures for permanent public sector, while in practice, their "temporary" status was effectively permanent as it was always renewed. It was a good example of how targets (such as freezing recruitment) can be reached by the expedient of sidestepping the real aim of the target. It will be interesting to see if the same fudge is adopted by some departments today - and the figures may be lost from wages into the classification of "subcontracted" work. Certainly the next set of States accounts will need very careful scrutiny.



Anonymous said...

SoJ HR are staging would you believe, a "HR VR Clinic", where a person concidering a package on leaving can have a face to face consultation with a HR Officer.

Makes you wonder if the high earners will be dealt with this way or will they, [the high earners who are not needed anymore and a good excuse to now get rid of] be told to go quietly and without making a fuss, behind closed doors?

Anonymous said...

Tony, could I please use your blog to a make a quick but important point unrelated to this entry, but related to local bloggers?

I use various browser add-ons to block annoying adverts, pop-ups and suchlike.

I'm finding these add-ons to be incompatible with a number of the comment systems used on local blogs.

With those blogs the only way I can comment is by messing about switching browsers, cutting and pasting URL's etc, which most of the time I won't bothered to do.

Rico's blog is one example of the "bad" comment system. Yours is one example of the "good" comment system.

I've tried reconfiguring my ad-block etc. software to allow me to post on those blogs using the "bad" system, but with no luck. I can type my text into the comment box, but the second I hit preview it all disappears into nothing. I'm left staring at an empty comment box and wondering why I wasted my time typing.

I don't believe I can be the only person experiencing this.

I would politely suggest to all local blog owners, if you want to offer the highest possible level of accessibilty to people who may wish to comment on your blogs, please set your blog to use the same simple comment system as this blog. It's a simple system that seems to work no matter what add-ons a browser is using, unlike some of yours!


Nick Palmer said...

Tony - did my comment yesterday about recessions/depressions not "work"?

TonyTheProf said...

Sorry Nick, it didn't show up - perhaps you could post again, or I could cut/paste and say it was from you?

Nick Palmer said...

Part 1

"Other problems are blamed on more general circumstances such as the economic recession."

Hmmm. There are quite a few "knowledgable" pundits who are speculating that we might be heading for a double dip recession which is where you have a recession, then see "green shoots" for a bit but then the recession carries on down. A bit like a "dead cat bounce" in an individual share on the stock market.

We keep hearing about the "green shoots" from our economic advisers, and those who trust in them, as they continue to believe, like Annie, that "the sun'll come out tomorra - bet your bottom dollar".

The likes of Ozouf and Maclean are wedded to the hope that a resumption in economic growth will solve all ills and they think it's just a matter of the Island/World bunkering down until then, however significant figures are whispering the "D" word - Depression.

We've got to this point because of centuries of economic growth, fuelled by relatively easily available and cheap fossil fuels, combined with a global population and average international "standard of living" which meant that the available resources of Planet Earth were ample (ish).

We are now at the point where we can say that Peak Everything will dampen the growth party - maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of our lives.

Nick Palmer said...

Part 2

The United Nation's Environment Programme (GEO4) identifed that we we are living 25% beyond what the Earth can sustainably supply. Global population is only forecast to stabilise at 9-10 billion using the assumption that developed world standards of living spread to the "undeveloped" world as a higher standard of living (=impact on resources) is seen as part of the reason why population growth falls in developed nations. Clearly the "necessary" growth in the undeveloped world that is "needed" to stabilise global population will send us careering wildly even further into ecological overshoot mode. Click for graphic

In short, we cannot afford economic growth any more. Further conventional economic growth would be "uneconomic growth" where the bad consequences outweigh any benefits.

Back to the recession/depression. Here's a couple of sites to make Geoff Cook's toes curl. The first - The Energy Report - is relatively optimistic (although you'd never know it until you read the second, much longer, one...).

Brace yourself for The Automatic Earth (which references the first article).