Wednesday, 2 March 2016

News or Noise?

Today's blog looks at how sound-bites and headlines on stories can lead to misleading impressions to the average reader. It is surprising how a headline can actually distort a more detailed story below it by how it places the emphasis. It is a reminder that there is rarely such a thing as value-free news or history. As soon as we select, we make a particular interpretation, and way of reading the story.

Student Loans in Jersey?

The BBC report on the possibility of a student loan scheme for University quoted Rod Bryans as saying that it was something he was not ruling out. And while I was driving in, that was the headline sound bite on that news story – “Education Minister does not rule out Student Loans”.

There is a danger in taking sound-bites at face value. They try to compress a more nuanced position into a single sentence.

In fact the BBC gave a longer and more useful interview with the Educational Minister in between the bare headlines. He said both that he hadn’t ruled a student loan out, but also that he was aware of the problems involved, of which he stated two. Firstly that he didn’t want students to be saddled with massive debts – as happens in the UK. Secondly, as a result of that debt, that they would be less likely to return to Jersey, and more likely to emigrate elsewhere, as also happens in the UK.

This was highlighted in a recent article in the Daily Mail

“Graduates who move abroad and refuse to pay back their student loans will be traced and tracked down by debt collectors under new government plans. The business department hopes to claw back millions in unpaid loans from UK and EU students who leave the country after graduating and simply disappear.”

Repayments begin when earnings exceed £21,000 per annum in the UK. It was supposed to increase in line with average earnings but has now been frozen at that figure.

But if there is to be a loan system here, why not provide incentives for those who return to the Island? A reducing balance on what is needed to be repaid on a sliding scale for locals who return – much as is used for France with Capital Gains tax – would mean students who returned to the Island would have a much greater incentive to come back here than work away.

There also need to be provisions, as the UK is belatedly looking at, for sufficient data sharing to enable tracking down students who have migrated to far flung corners of the globe.

Moreover, the UK has the great advantage that the cost of recovery for “home grown” students can be done via the UK tax system wherever the student lives and works in the UK.

The report, “Student Loan Repayment for Sustainable Higher Education: Joint Repayment Strategy, February 2016” notes that:

“£1.9 billion was recovered in 2014-15 for an operational cost of around £11.4 million. However, given the relative efficiency of using the tax system in the UK, the costs of overseas collections are higher per borrower.”

How much would it cost to pursue student loans from students who left to work in the UK rather than Jersey, and would the UK tax system be able to help with collection? That is something which is as yet unclear, and would need to form part of any package.

Whatever happens, I am sure that Rod Bryans will investigate these matters thoroughly. Unlike other Ministers who seem to bring proposals one minute, and backtrack the next because they have not fully thought them out, he is bright and savvy – a good combination in a politician.

Winners and Losers

ITV News reports the headline “Children under five to travel on buses for free in Jersey” while the BBC has “Jersey short bus journeys cost to increase by 50p” as its headline.

It shows how a headline can skew how we see the news. One is upbeat, another suggests the misery of rising costs.

On the whole, when you look at the detail, the ITV headline probably captures more of the truth.

Liberty Bus are set to change their fares from the 1st of March, including a new island-wide adult flat fare of £2 but only £1.50 for those with a loyalty card – that means many commuters with cards will pay the same if they take short hops, or less if they travel further. It is a net price reduction for card users.

There will be a price freeze on student cash fare and all unlimited top up cards. And the company has also increased the age before children are asked to pay for the bus from three to five-years-old.

I think I'd go with the more upbeat headline.

A Comment on Yesterday's Blog

Deputy Eddie Noel has emailed me with this comment on my blog yesterday, and given me permission to share it. If the Unions also want to comment, I'd be pleased to publish that too. Eddie says:

Just so you know, re your blog yesterday, that the leaked document was given to the unions in confidence on 2 December 2015 during a meeting which was open and honest of where we find ourselves and the figures quoted were to illustrate a worse case picture of the potential compulsory redundancies (CR's) at that time.

The BBC did not get the document from DfI [Department of Infrastructure]. Since then DfI and the unions have been working to bring that number of CR's down. It is currently estimated that there will be between 30 and 50 members of DfI staff to be "at risk" of CR.

BUT we are working to bring this figure down even further by slotting in staff from the less secure areas to more secure roles both within DfI and in other departments such as HSSD.

We are trying to make our £4.6m of year in year savings by 2019 which will result in some CR's. It is about savings and NOT about head count reductions, in prior savings reviews we have taken out much of the non staff expenditure, we cannot save more without unfortunately some staff leaving States employment.

Officers have been having open and honest conversations with the staff in the areas under going the service reviews as well as regular, almost weekly, meetings with union reps so that the staff effected can make informed choices and access advice about their future prospects, pensions etc.


Nick Palmer said...

The AA's table of total vehicle running costs (includes depreciation etc) suggests that 50-60p a mile would be a fair amount to work on for vehicles in Jersey. If the flat fare for any journey on a bus has now gone up to £2, or £4 for a return journey, that would seem to suggest that it's only economic to take the bus for journeys over four miles. Short hops are therefore now relatively very expensive.

TonyTheProf said...

Nick the point I am making is that with an Avanchi card, short distances cost £1.50 and they still cost £1.50. They are no more expensive if you have a card than before.

Nick Palmer said...

With a card, then, it would only make sense to take the bus regularly for 3 mile+ journeys?