Thursday, 30 April 2015

The No Blame Culture

A “retcon” is described as follows: (in a film, television series, or other fictional work) a piece of new information that imposes a different interpretation on previously described events, typically used to facilitate a dramatic plot shift or account for an inconsistency.

Having some experience of film series, with the responsibility as Minister for Economic Developments for throwing £200,000 at a fantasy film whose production turned out to be a fantasy, the Treasury Minister has come up with his own “retcon”.

We are now being told that the marginal rate will increase to 27%, which is understandable given the need for a larger tax base. But the “retcon” is in the explanation given by Senator Maclean that the reduction in 2014 to 26% should only have been a temporary decrease anyway. Is that there in the original budget proposals? I think you would have trouble finding it. This is a “retcon”, plain and simple, but don’t be conned by the smooth talking of Senator Maclean:

It’s worth noting the words of John Boothman in last night’s JEP: “At the Treasury, a Minister who specialised in sleight of hand has been replaced by one whose main reputation is for niceness and pliability.”

All the indications were that it was permanent, and indeed it appears that Senator Ozouf would have like to reduce it to 1% in an election year but was prevented in doing so:

"The assistant minister and myself strongly maintain our position on this important and landmark decision. We have also have signalled our desire to go further to a rate of 25%."

Speaking of Senator Ozouf, Richard Pirouet has a few comments to make on the profligate way he wasted money on fanciful schemes. In the JEP, he writes:

“The ‘road improvement’ schemes in St Aubin and St Mary have been publically ridiculed but now we discover that the former Treasury Minister allocated £500,000 annually for those and similar schemes”

Well, Richard, you might add millions spent on Plemont to that list, because I for one do not believe the Treasury Minister was clueless about the state of the pending deficit in States finances when he proposed spending money on that. Strangely, when critical of spending on the Jersey Care Inquiry, Senator Bailhache forgot he had backed spending four million on Plemont last year, and a blank cheque in his previous attempt.

As John Boothman notes: “We pay the price for years of wishful thinking and the lack of restraint that could have saved us from our present predicament

And the Waterfront Scheme has still not ruled out a sunken road, despite an answer being given to Constable Philip Rondel in June 2013: “An indicative estimate of £500,000 per year was put forward at the time for the overall tunnel maintenance which would have included the running and maintenance costs of the extract system. No detailed design was finalised nor approved for the extract system but it was conditioned to meet the appropriate air quality standards.”

A sunken road means an extra £500,00 a year sunk without trace. We just don’t have that money to spend, although apparently the States of Jersey Development Company does. Perhaps they could save the money and increase their paltry return to the States. For the past few years, it has been just £816,400. Not a lot when profits are £2,783,456 and the company receives £759,000 per annum from the States in respect of a licence to operate the Esplanade Car Park. Not to mention the salaries of the Executives in charge, and Mark Boleat trousering another odd £40,000.

The following letter in the JEP earlier this week gets to the nub of the problem: “our system doesn't link action and responsibility.”. Instead we have a "no blame culture", and a "retcon" when it comes to who made decisions in the past, and why they made them. Who do they think they are conning?

Letter from Tim Godber.

How did we get it so wrong? (JEP 22 April). I was waiting for the first `told you so' ever since the above headline - it could have been anyone from a large cast. I was sorry then that it came from Richard Murphy, traditionally no friend of Jersey.

I just took a look at my own letter of July 2007, and I said something similar. In short, we voluntarily gave up a source of revenue which was abnormally high for a population our size, but ignored the consequence of failing to adjust our cost base. I see that I noted that the case for abandoning: that income was far from clear cut, that the consequences would be painful, and it would come from the man in the street.

So, back to your headline and its accompanying picture of a forlorn Finance Minister and a puzzled Chief Minister. Each bear their own responsibility, and each will hide behind the same excuse, it didn't happen while they were in charge.

The first point, regularly thrust down their throats by my good friend Mr Boothman, is that our system doesn't link action and responsibility. The above three gentlemen will no doubt say it wasn't them, but collectively they are part of a system that has ignored all those obvious signs that something is very wrong.

The second is that we are stuck in a merry-go-round where the only solution will be to increase taxation, while the real answer is to address the main issue of cost. Why is that the only solution?

Because the real solution is deep in the too difficult pile. We have a civil service based on far larger population bases, and it is beyond our rather lacklustre politicians to control those who control that system, the senior civil servants.

How did we get there? Well, we were a rich society (see the first paragraph), and like lottery winners we didn't need to worry about cost, so when the answer given to the politicians was to increase staffing, particularly at management levels, rather than taking a closer look at how we could perform better, the answer was simple. We got it so flaunt it. We haven't altered that thought process despite throwing away the income base.

Take just one example. We have a minister that considers we should address the outside world as though we were a real country. Answer, a Foreign Office. Yes, I know it isn't called that, but that's what we have, fully staffed with very senior people and attached pensions. Will someone please cost that, and come up with a more viable alternative? Well that would have to be done by the department itself because nobody else will. Makes you think of Christmas and turkeys doesn't it?

Now, it would be nice to be able to look on the bright side. We can now see the problem, we have excellent people advising, Kevin Keen, for example, so will the politicians act to control costs? I don't believe so because the tail now wags the dog. We have a bunch of -politicians that barely rate the description who have hired a team of civil servants that will beat them every time. So, the only alternative will be to increase the tax take, and that means us.

It's started already, and will first manifest itself soon in property taxes, see how you feel about it then. I will end, as I did in 2007. If you have been, thanks for reading.

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