Thursday, 8 August 2013

Twenty Years Adrift in the Past

I've been looking back 20 years ago to 1993. In Jersey, the States sat just 24 times, which is an average of two days per month.

In February, we read that "The Defence Committee by Act dated 28th January 1993, presented to the States the reports of the Working Party on Policing in the Island concerning the establishment of a Police Complaints Authority. The States ordered that the said report be printed and distributed."

But the law - Police (Complaints and Discipline) (Jersey) Law 1999 - didn't come into effect until 1999, when it established "The Jersey Police Complaints Authority" which is an independent organisation set up. Procrastination is nothing new!

There are a number of land transactions carried out by standing order, of which one of the most interesting is:

"as recommended by the Island Development Committee, the acceptance, by way of gift, from Mr. Stuart Smith of an area of land known as `Le Reste du Côtil des Vaux', Egypt, Trinity, on condition that the land would never be developed and that an active and continuing nature conservation programme would be carried out"

This was added to governance of States parkland in 2003 under Policing of Parks (Amendment No. 14) which mentions "An area of wetland known as La Reste du Côtil des Vaux situated above the woodland at Egypt and south west of La Pierre de la Fetelle."

It was also was mentioned in Hansard in 2011 as "PSSI, Conservation area, Trinity" in an answer to the question "Can the Minister provide members with a map showing all the small pockets of land maintained by Transport and Technical Services, whether directly or indirectly, throughout the Island, and advise whether steps are being taken to rationalise this effort?"

Senator Dick Shenton asked Senator Pierre Horsfall, President of the Finance and Economics Committee several questions relating to Tourism, and to the differences between certain areas of legislation here and in the UK.

"My visits to Holiday Shows in London, Manchester, Dublin and Belfast have established that past visitors to our Island have noticed an increase in shop and public house prices that almost put them on a par with more highly taxed areas. Would the President supply details of the comparative Jersey, United Kingdom and Eire taxes on goods and drinks?"

This is interesting as the reply it gives some actual prices. Obviously they have all increased, but it would be interesting to know the price differential, and how much that has changed. At the moment, however, just marvel at how cheap prices were 20 years ago!

Commodity:  Jersey / UK / Eire
Spirits (bottle) £3.30 / £ 5.94 / £8.60
Light wine (bottle) £0.55 / £0.94 /£1.64
Cider (pint) £ 0.11 / £ 0.12 / £0.15
Beer (pint) £ 0.08 / £ 0.25 / £0.42
Cigarettes (20 k.s.f.) £ 0.49 / £1.35 /£ 1.43
Cigars (25g) £ 0.64 / £ 1.70 / £1.97
Unleaded petrol (gallon) £0.17 / £1.06 / £ 1.29

Petrol, using one of the "what is it worth today" says that the relative value of £0.17 from 1993 ranges from £0.26 to £0.39 today. Peak oil and extra taxes have pushed that considerably higher.

The reply goes on to note that:

"In addition to the above excise duties, goods and services in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland are also subject to value added tax. "

"In the United Kingdom most goods (food, children's clothes, books and newspapers being the notable exceptions) and services are subject to a VAT rate of 17.5 per cent. I n t he Republic of Ireland VAT is applied at a standard rate of 21 per cent. Reduced rates apply to certain goods and services. Most food, books and oral medicines are zero rated. "

That is not the case now, as we have GST, and while it is considerably lower than the UK at 5%, it does apply to food, children's clothes, books and newspapers.

This extract is also interesting in showing how Jersey compared to the UK in 1993.

Consumer credit legislation Jersey - no UK -yes
Trades description legislation Jersey - no UK -yes
Fair trading  Jersey - no UK - yes
Sales of goods legislation Jersey - no UK -yes

Equal opportunities Jersey - no UK -yes

PAYE returns Jersey - no UK - yes
Quarterly VAT returns - Jersey - no UK -yes

There is been some progress in the area of trading, with various laws introduced over the past decade, such as the Supply of Goods and Services (Jersey) Law 2009 which came into force on 1st September 2009. The Law introduces statutory rights for consumers similar to those found in the UK Sales of Goods Act.  It took 16 years from 1993 to get that in place, which begs the question of what the States were doing in the intervening period.

Equal opportunities has not progressed much, except with regard to racial discrimination over employment which has just been passed - a gap of 20 years - but still lags seriously behind the UK.

The one area where there has been marked progress is taxation. We now have ITIS (Jersey's PAYE on the cheap), and Quarterly GST returns. Whether the latter constitutes "progress" is another matter!

Pierre Horsefall also said: "My Committee is initiating with the co-operation of the suppliers of building materials an enquiry into the cost of building materials/supplies in the Island compared to the United Kingdom and France"

No change there, as enquiries of this sort seem to pop up virtually every decade, and I hesitate to mention Gino Risoli's favourite term, but there always seems to be a lack of transparency in the results, and the whole business fizzles out like a damp squib until the next decade.

And Deputy Stuart Syvret of St. Helier asked the Attorney General the following questions -

1. Is there a detailed code of conduct that States' Members must adhere to when carrying out their duties?
2 . Does a similar code of conduct exist for civil servants?''

The Attorney General replied as follows -

1. There is no single code of conduct dealing exclusively with the conduct of States Members, but the
States of Jersey Law 1966 and Standing Orders made thereunder, in addition to determining the constitution of the States and regulating their proceedings and business, include provisions intended to ensure the honourable conduct of members and to uphold the integrity of the States Assembly.

2 . Rules for the conduct of civil servants are set out in Part IV of the Civil Service Administration (General) (Jersey) Rules 1949, as amended. Civil servants are also required, on ente ring the employment of the States, t o sign a declaration acknowledging the Official Secrets (Jersey) Law 1952, and the serious consequences of breaching its provisions.''

There's a little bit more clarity nowdays on States member's code of conduct, but the record of Privileges and Procedures, the committee tasked with seeing to these issues, is rather like a toothless crocodile. Complaints are glossed over, and it is very rare that apologies are made. I can't remember (although I may be mistaken), Ben Shenton apologising for recording Freddie Cohen's phone conversation, or for that matter, Terry Le Main ever apologising for anything; yet these were subjects of complaints to PPC. The recent apology by Sir Philip Bailhache was not the result of any request by PPC, and the whole matter by which businessmen's reputation could be scornfully dismissed seemed to have passed them by.

All told, looking back at 1993, I am struck by the long passage of time before legislation which we have now took to get passed. Either the States should have sat more often, or put more resources and effort into that legislation. Instead, they seem to have been content to largely let the status quo drift along. It's a salutary reminder of how the often rose-tinted view of the States assembly of the past, under the Committee system, made procrastination a fine art.

It is also notable how the benefits cited regarding tourism of lower prices, no VAT, have largely evaporated with the introduction of higher duties on tobacco and drink, and GST thrown into the melting pot. Quite often there are letters from tourists in the JEP saying how expensive the Island has become. 20 years ago, there were concerns,  but they had not yet materialised.

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