Thursday, 21 January 2016

The New Rural Economy Strategy: A Movable Feast

I made this Freedom of Information Request:

I notice that Delta Innovation have on their website:

Project: A draft Food Security Strategy for the States of Jersey
Client: Department of the Environment, States of Jersey

I have not been able to track down this document which sets out:

• To secure the availability of food
• To secure the affordability of food
• To secure the ability to produce food
• To secure against supply shocks.

As the client is “Department of the Environment”, I ask for sight of this document from the Department of the Environment, or details of when they plan to make it public? Or if it is not complete, the estimated time for its completion and submission to the States of Jersey?

Please note that this deals with food security, including overseas supply chain, and is not the same as the Rural Economy Strategy, which I have located but which is much more limited in scope.


We can confirm that the public authority holds this information.

However, this information is exempt under Article 35 of the Freedom of Information (Jersey) Law 2011 and cannot be released. See explanation details below. FOI exemption applied: Article 35 - Formulation and development of policies

Information is qualified exempt information if it relates to the formulation or development of any proposed policy by a public authority.

Justification for exemption

A draft food security strategy is being prepared and will be integrated within the new Rural Economy Strategy (RES) due to be published in Autumn 2016.

Having considered the public interest, the public authority's decision is to withhold the information.

My comment:

Given the empty shelves on supermarkets, and a lot of food heavily discounted as a result as it has a very short shelf life in chill cabinet, I really think we should have more information, and a response now. Instead of any response, we have to wait until Autumn 2016, which gives Ministers a good excuse not to be proactive. Is that really in the public interest, or in the Council of Ministers interest, which, as we have seen, parts company from the public on a number of matters.

There is also support needed for the farming community, which has been under intense pressure in the past years. Promises were made last year by both Steve Luce and Lyndon Farnham, and it would be good to see how this is developing.

But what is truly bizarre is that on 30 December 2015, the Jersey Evening Post reported this:

“Leading figures in Jersey’s farming industry are to be invited to join a new board which will promote the rural economy at national and international level. Economic Development Minister Lyndon Farnham wants farmers and food and drink producers to form the body, named Farm Jersey, which will work closely with Visit Jersey.”

“Senator Farnham said: ‘I see the board as an advisory panel of a mixture of people from the rural economy, including farmers and people who really understand the rural economy and our Island economy.'”

“The proposed Farm Jersey board will form part of the Rural Economy Strategy which the Senator intends to present to the States early in 2016.

So at 30 December, the Minister is telling the Island that the new Rural Economy Strategy will be presented to the States early in 2016, and yet the Freedom of Information Request says it is due to be published in Autumn 2016! That is a huge slippage for just two week!

Easter moves around, and is early this year. It can vary by a month. That is what is termed "a movable feast". Clearly, moving from "early in 2016" to "Autumn 2016" is an example of the States emulating the shifting date of Easter.

It confirms what I suspect, that the responses to Freedom of Information requests are not robustly checked before being sent out to ensure they are consistent with the information being given by Ministers to the public domain. Either the date has shifted, or the person drafting the response to me is shifty. Either way, it is a sloppy response, and hiding behind a supposed "public interest" really does the Council of Ministers no favours.

One of my correspondents also comments:

This response is quite bizarre given the Rural Economy paper draft was due out September last year and should have been implemented by now. The consultation started in 2014 - I know because I coordinated one of the submissions. I cannot see how a pre-existing document should be restricted.

Imagine if that applied to the Island Plan - no one able to access any public planning document that might go into the policy! I can see logic in a draft policy document in preparation being covered - it could lead to problems with inconsistencies with the final version, but a properly formulated input is another matter. And on a point of pedantry is a strategy a policy?

1 comment:

James said...

It could only be serendipity that the absence of a Rural Economy strategy provides the States with the ammunition to keep the minimum wage for everyone down below £7/hour... could it?