Thursday, 1 October 2015

Unhealthy Choices

Tom Brossman's Panoramic view of the People's Park

I’ve just been reading the leaked information about the real choice about the new hospital.

“The final report is due in around ten days on where Jersey’s new hospital – expected to cost up to £400 million – will be. Health Minister Andrew Green says that there are four sites in the running: Overdale, the current site, the Waterfront and Peoples’ Park. But Bailiwick Express has learned that the real choice boils down to the Waterfront and Peoples’ Park – and there’s already a public backlash building about the idea of building on one of St Helier’s few open green spaces.” (Bailiwick Express)

Like Christian May, who was with me reviewing the papers last Sunday on BBC Radio Jersey, I was appalled by that suggestion. Who on earth came up with that as an option? Not only is the People’s Park a green space, which I understand is gifted under covenant to the Parishioners of St Helier; it also has a green backdrop.

Unlike the Millennium Park, whose central location always means that there are buildings every way you look, when you look at the People’s Park, as you drive through, or walk there, and look west, you see a green hillside and trees. That’s not the area where people walk, but it provides part of the total “green lung”, and makes the park feel as if is on the edge of the urban built up area. I cannot imagine any other St Helier site within easy walking distance which will have that backdrop.

Regarding the hospital, I’m glad to see the dual site has been rejected, and wish that somehow Senator Ozouf would apologise for coming up with such an expensive and costly option. I doubt if he will, however, as he has moved on to greater things, and is now basking in the reflected glory about the finance industry.

He certainly is spending as if the States will benefit from this. Never mind austerity! From January to November Minister Ozouf spent £16,576 in his role as Minister of Treasury and Resources. He then became Assistant Minister in the Chief Minister's office and spent £10,697 from November to the end of the year.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m very pleased if the finance industry is showing signs of recovery, especially since that news is breaking at the same time as the news breaks of 63 bank jobs at risk in Jersey. What is needed, however, is for the boost to the economy to transfer into tax take into revenue, and since the advent of zero-ten, that just doesn’t seem to be happening enough to clear the black hole.

Meanwhile, on BBC Radio Jersey, Senator Maclean was talking about a "trickle down" effect. Economist Kenneth Galbraith said the older term for this was the horse-and-sparrow theory: "If you feed the horse enough oats, some will pass through to the road for the sparrows." That probably accounts for the Senator saying there would be a time lag before we all would benefit.

While the States are talking about austerity measures, and cutting expenditure – which strangely seems to translate very visibly to front-line staff like police or fire fighters, rather than back office middle management, the recent survey sent out to businesses paints a very different picture.

Cutting States expenditure is not on the agenda, and the question is extremely biased towards two alternatives – increasing tax or increasing the population. This is the question:

“7. The States has confirmed that Jersey is faced with an increasing welfare burden as a consequence of the changing demographics of the Island's population attributable to an aging population, with fewer people working and fewer people paying tax, but with greater demands on our health and pension services and other related welfare services.”

“To what extent do you believe that this challenge should be addressed by increased taxation or by an increase in population? “

“On a scale of 1 - 10 where 1 indicates that the challenge should be addressed solely through increased taxation, and 10 indicates that the challenge should be addressed solely through an increase in population.”

No room for comment, either, if you wanted to suggest other ways of meeting the challenge! Who devises these forms? I think they should own up. This  is what is known as a bipolar question - one having two extreme answers written at the opposite ends of the scale.

Unidimensional concepts are generally easy to understand. You have either more or less of it, and that's all. You're either taller or shorter, heavier or lighter. But, if the concept you are studying is in fact multidimensional in nature, a unidimensional scale or number line won't describe it well.

Because this survey uses unidimensional scaling for this question, it is assumed that the concept it wants to measure is one-dimensional in nature. But dealing with an increasing welfare burden does not have two solutions on a line, even though the question forces respondents to choose as if that were the case.

It palpably is not a set of two alternatives, and I would have hoped they would have learned not to do this since the fiasco of Imagine Jersey some years ago, in which questions were full of biased alternatives just like this one.

Publishing the results from this survey as if they mean something would, in my opinion, be grossly irresponsible and totally unprofessional. 

They will probably still publish, but when you read the published statistics, bear in mind that they come from a very biased set of assumptions that force people to take particular cards, rather like a clever magician cheating with sleight of hand in a card trick. Of course some people will believe it, especially when it is reported in the media, just as some people believe you can actually bend spoons.

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