Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Fantasy Island: The Fallacy at the Heart of My Jersey

Imagine being asked where you would like to live, where you would like to go on holiday, what kind of house – and grounds you would like, what car you would like to drive, and even what boat you would like. Money is no object. You can spend what you like. What is needed from you is to find out what you want in the future: what kind of lifestyle you would like.

It is all a bit of a fantasy isn’t it, unless one wins the UK lottery. And yet just such a fantasy is being perpetrated by the My Jersey Survey when they ask people about the quality of life, without considering population. This is their rationale, and it is pretty thin:

“The My Jersey survey is about the quality of life we want in Jersey. This isn’t determined by setting an arbitrary population target. Let’s think first about the difference we can make on key issues that influence population policy such as improving the skills of our home grown workforce, creating more rewarding jobs, making the best of our built environment, improving our health, and managing our demand on our natural resources. Then we will be able to develop an informed population policy that puts migration into a proper context.”

That’s like saying you have unlimited funds, so let’s think first about what kind of life you would have, rather than the more mundane and prosaic task of saying: this is our annual income – how can we live within our means. It is putting the cart before the horse. It is nonsensical. It is Fantasy Island, where people from all walks of life could come and live out their fantasies, presided over by the Chief Minister in the role of Mr Roake.

Incidentally, the Survey conceals its authorship very well, but it would appear to be coming from Jersey Business Limited. Jersey Business launched its services from premises in Gloucester Street taking over a lease from its predecessor, Jersey Business Venture, and appears to be another semi-automonous government Quango.

It’s 2014 Enterprise Plan, presented by Senator Alan Maclean, states:

“Given the constraints on population in Jersey, enterprise and the achievement of economic growth will require a specific focus on firms having the potential to make a significant impact on the Island’s prosperity, primarily utilising the skills and experience of local employees.”

It is strange the survey ignores the “elephant in the room” which the Jersey Business team are acutely aware of, an omission which is so blatant it was spotted by the people asked by Radio Jersey to comment on the survey!

Deputy Murray Norton, in his role as Assistant Minister, asked me to send him my concerns over the survey, and I suggested starting with this. He said he would get back to me, and I'm hoping that he will, although it was the 4th July when I asked the question, and so far I have heard nothing.

And that brings me to this little piece by Sarah Ferguson:

A prophet is seldom without honour save in his own country
By Sarah Ferguson

Priority 5 of the Strategic Plan stated specifically that there should be a limit on population growth. Last week, at a briefing on the Medium Term Financial Plan Addition, the Chief Minister was asked for the population size used to calculate the Plan. The answer was not specific and it appears that each Department used what figure it considered to be appropriate.

There are a number of statistics required to plan the future of the Island and population is a vital one. Given that land is limited, the availability of it dictates the possibilities for providing housing for a growing population. If the population keeps growing at the present rate then there will always be a housing shortage.

Allied to this is the intention of the Education Department to ensure that the population is sufficiently skilled to provide a workforce for both new and existing businesses within the Island.

Some of the required skills can be learned within the on Island system but some, by their very nature must be learned off Island. These are usually so skilled that both the qualification and the experience must be acquired off Island before the individual returns.

One of the major problems in this is that the expansion of the Population makes it so difficult for these individuals to afford housing should they want to return to the Island yet it has been a strategic aim to ensure that many of the job opportunities available can be filled by Island natives.

We therefore have a situation where a lack of coherence between policies means that we educate youngsters and send them to university using the taxpayers’ money and then, by this lack of coherence between the operation of policies, we make it extremely difficult for them to return. This difficulty is compounded by the ingrained attitude to new ideas and change which can often be found in a small community such as ours.

There is currently an extremely strong report by the Complaints Board and the only reaction by the SEB and the Health Minister is to rubbish the Board’s report.

It is worrying that there is no specific comment about the apparently deficient manner of handling of the recruitment. It has been mentioned elsewhere that the level of absenteeism in the States is highest in Health. On the basis of these two factors alone it seems that SEB and the HR function may not be carrying out the responsibilities which are expected of a good employer.

We are assured that lessons have been learned and procedures improved. It would give the public confidence that this is the case if the workings of the SEB and HR in the States were thoroughly examined by Scrutiny or the Comptroller and Auditor General.

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