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.
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