We often hear it said that Guernsey and Jersey should pool their resources, and work closely together. Certainly, in the fiscal sphere, Philip Ozouf tells us on his website that "I am working closely with my colleagues in Guernsey".
In 2009, as Economic Development Minister - that is only two years ago - Senator Ozouf went over to look at areas in in which Guernsey and Jersey could better cooperate have been identified, and talked to Guernsey's Treasury minister Charles Parkinson; they committed the Islands to greater cooperation. Here are a few quotations from Senator Ozouf:
"Times have changed - we have a real drive and determination to work together, to be much more rigorous and detailed and dedicate time and resources to move the cooperation agenda forward, with the objective of efficiency and savings for both islands."
"Competition helps in some fields but that doesn't mean we can't be very cooperative and friendly and share information about better ways of doing things."
"I am not going to tell Guernsey how to run its affairs at all, but I will talk about how we can run things together" (1)
But I wonder exactly how well we have since "run things together"? How close Senator Ozouf worked that is? Unknown to the Treasury Minister, or even the Economic Development Minister, Alan Maclean, Guernsey was unilaterally negotiating its own position for fishing rights, regardless of the fact that this would seriously damage the livelihood of Jersey fishermen, who have fished in those waters for many years unimpeded, and who would now have to apply for licences, with the very real chance of those being rejected.
At the moment there is a three-mile protection limit around Guernsey, but the island has agreed a deal with the UK to extend it to 12 miles. Don Thompson, Jersey Fishermen's Association president, said it was "an erosion of the rights of fishermen". He said: "They have been fishing there legitimately for decades." Mr Thompson added: "It is not as if we should be on our hands and knees begging for the right to carry on doing something we have been doing legitimately for decades and decades.".. The agreement licenses UK fishing boats to operate within the three to 12 nautical mile zone around the bailiwick. Dougal Lane, president of the Guernsey Fishermen's Association, described the move as a "very good deal". He said local fishermen had been kept informed by the States throughout the negotiations. (2)
The news report tells us that local fishermen "had been kept informed by the States". Perhaps Senator Ozouf or Senator Maclean could ask the States of Guernsey why they neglected to tell the States of Jersey, who were not kept informed. How are we to have co-operation between the Islands if these kinds of issues are not resolved?
The situation at the moment is that "positive talks" are now going on, which Alan Maclean says are "a step in the right direction", even though he is in fact not attending the meetings!
Senator Maclean who, like Mr Thompson, did not attend the meetings, said: 'My understanding is that they were positive discussions. This is the beginning of the process and there are many more discussions to be had, but both sides are working towards a sensible solution that suits both parties.' (3)
Let us hope that a sensible solution is found, and that the discussions don't break down, but perhaps mechanisms could be put in place to ensure that this kind of event doesn't happen again. Otherwise, all the trips across to Guernsey, the good photo-opportunities, the cheerful sound-bites making it sound as if the Islands are co-operating, are just hot air.
And in the meantime, another story says that "The Channel Islands competition watchdog is looking for more ways for Jersey and Guernsey to work together."
The Channel Islands Competition Regulatory Authority wants to address issues in both islands at the same time to make sure people get a fair deal. Executive Director John Curran said some issues will be different in the two islands. But he added he wanted both offices to work together to promote value, choice and quality in goods and services. He said: "Reducing our costs further, sharing our resources where possible and engaging in joint working are all integral in fulfilling our mission." (4)
Fishing might be seen as a competition problem between Jersey and Guernsey, where a little bit of sharing resources and "engaging in joint working" might be useful. If the Channel Island really want to work together, perhaps the competition watchdog should broaden its scope to look at a situation which could well mean that Jersey fishermen do not "get a fair deal".
It is ironic that " looking for more ways for Jersey and Guernsey to work together" has come up at the same time as a story which shows that there is at least one way for Jersey and Guernsey to work together, and that is to develop a joint fisheries policy. At the moment, the plight of the fishermen highlights a significant lack of communication in areas outside the finance industry.
And so for the moment, the fishermen are left with "positive talks", by Senator Maclean, who is not, we are told, attending the meetings. Perhaps he should take note of what Senator Ozouf said in 2009 about closer co-operation between the Islands:
"Talk has been cheap and now we need to roll our sleeves up."
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