Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Guernsey Watch

Guernsey Watch

Another of my occasional looks across the water at our sister isle, and breaking news stories unfolding there.

Guernsey is taking in 25 migrants. Hundreds of people have offered to rehome them. These are not, however, refugees from Calais, but dogs. 25 dogs were brought to the island from Slovakia illegally, and are costing the Guernsey Society for the Protection of Animals around £400 a day to keep.

But what about migrants? The Guernsey letter writer, B.W. Tomkins does not think it is a good idea. He writes that “having a barbecue the other day here, close friends and relatives were as shocked as I was to read that Guernsey was contemplating taking in refugees.”

He has clearly been well-education by the Daily Mail, as he notes:

“Many of these refugees have ‘lost’ their documents and some, we are told, are cold-blooded trained groups. Well-known authors and security experts have declared this influx is unstoppable. Does the island have a strong security force/army personnel who could be flown in? If these organised refugees arrive in large numbers by their own boats, on the ferry, cargo, who will stop them? Tourism will be damaged, the economy, house prices will be affected.”

Jersey is closer, but I’ve not heard any talk of migrants trying to find boats to get over here. The reason is probably obvious, and it is this: if you manage somehow to smuggle yourself into England, and goodness knows people try, it is a large country with a big population, and you are a drop in the ocean, and may find work in the cash economy.

If you arrive in Jersey largely destitute, without any papers or documents, you will be spotted very quickly, especially as you need to register before being employed, or taking up housing. Mr Tomkins doomladen predictions are a fantasy.

And he ends with an almost apocalyptic warning: “Open the ‘charitable gate’ and Facebook and mobile phone communication will bring more from Calais. Be wise in advance.”

It’s a letter which invites contrasts, and I cannot help but think of migrants in “the Jungle”, with very little water (four standpipes), hungry, dependent on charitable food, and Mr Tomkins, well-fed and relaxing in his garden after his BBQ, smugly penning this letter while he reclines on his sun-lounger, and sips wine..

But leaving migrants aside, what is happening with housing for locals in Guernsey? Policy GP11 which is about “Affordable Housing of the Island Development Plan” is causing a rumpus among builders. It seems innocent enough:

“For the first time in Guernsey, in certain circumstances, housing development schemes will be required to make provision for an element of affordable housing to seek to address the challenge that appropriate housing is available to meet all of the Island community’s housing needs.”

As the Guernsey Press put it, Landowners not taxpayers will help fund new homes.

But it is the thin end of the wedge, according to Eric Legg, Chairman and spokesman for the Construction Industry Forum. In a letter to the Guernsey Press, he wrote:

“The Construction Industry Forum recently met and felt obliged to respond setting out the difficulties it sees with regard to GP11and the Environment Department’s single-minded determination to drive through a policy purely aimed at affordable or social housing.”

“The construction industry is a vibrant part of Guernsey’s economic landscape. It is currently suffering a slow down with a lack of major projects in the market at present or in the pipeline. This policy (GP11) will be a major blow to the industry and to the 3,000 people employed in it.”

Isn’t there such a think as corporate social responsibility? The policy, anyway, says “in certain circumstances”. But to read Eric Legg, you would think that Jeremy Corbyn and rampant socialism was loose in the Island.

Peter Roffey, meanwhile, thinks that the time may be right to revisit States loans.

“With the high price of property in Guernsey, and landlords expecting a decent return on their capital, private rentals don’t come cheap. So if home ownership is to remain beyond the reach of many Guernsey people, there are three basic options. Either we let islanders pay a very high percentage of their incomes on rent, which will inevitably lead to relative poverty and suppress the domestic economy. Or we help them pay their rent through some form of housing benefit, which would be a very big burden on the States’ revenue account. Or Guernsey massively increases the amount of social housing in the island – a huge capital cost.”

And he concludes:

“By and large, I prefer measures to help people who want to own their home to any of those options. Not only to help them fulfil their own aspirations, but also because I think Guernsey’s tradition of high home ownership has tended to have a stabilising effect on society.”

Housing and population may feature in the next Guernsey Institute of Directors talk. The focus of the debate is the key demographic issues facing the islands, with a talk on how the island can stimulate growth and prosperity in the face of the imminent demographic challenges.

Another assessment is coming from the EU via “Moneyval”. Moneyval is a body of the Council of Europe tasked with assessing the effectiveness of measures in place to prevent money laundering. The island was inspected by Moneyval earlier this year and it is understood that its findings will be discussed in Strasbourg. This is looking at Guernsey’s systems for preventing financial crime, and will be viewed with interest. I wonder if they’ll have noted the £2.6 million fraud committed against Guernsey States!

Meanwhile, cross-channel co-operation has been taking place over the winding up of cross-Channel shipping line Huelin-Renouf. Instead of both Islands being processed separately, “pooling” can take place. Law firm Ogier and liquidator Grant Thornton applied to the courts in Guernsey and Jersey to pool the liquidations of the long-established shipping lines. This means the Jersey and Guernsey companies would be treated as one for the purpose of distributing a dividend to creditors and the courts’ approval means that a dividend to creditors in the islands is due to be paid before the end of the calendar year, rather than be delayed.

Partner Mathew Newman said the decision demonstrated the flexibility of the Guernsey insolvency regime: “This cross-border cooperation develops insolvency law in both jurisdictions for the better. It provides a just, fair, cost-effective and reasonable outcome for creditors of the two companies”

Why can’t the States do what the private sector manages to do? All we’ve had so far are talks and meetings between Jersey Ministers and their Guernsey counterparts, and press releases full of that fake exuberance which evaporates like morning mist. For when fishing or air registries are on the agenda, and real progress could be made, the intransigence of one side or the other usually scuppers the deal.


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