Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Eye on the States

Reduced Starting Salaries

The proposition to reduce the starting salaries of teachers is thought not to impact on recruitment, and it was considered that the differential between teachers pay in the UK and in Jersey was larger than deemed necessary.

I will be reviewing the subject in teachers pay in a later blog, but in the meantime, we can see a principle established here. Now there are other professions where there is a differential between pay in the UK and in Jersey.

In the case of nursing, it is clear that pay is not enough. Recruitment, even despite Island training, is still far less than required, and the hospital has to rely on “nursing banks”, bringing in nursing staff on hugely expensive rates.

But what about the police? A policeman’s pay in Jersey, starting out, is still in excess of the average in the UK. There does not seem to be any problem in recruitment. With savings needed from Home Affairs (or whatever the rebranded department calls itself now), why not consider that? Do we have trouble recruiting police locally?

So can we expect to see the States apply a principle consistently with recruitment? Or are teachers a soft option?

The Health Charge Voted Down

Following the voting pattern on propositions and amendments to the Medium Term Financial, Plan, even when there was some opposition to the plans, the best the opposition could muster was around 17 the voting pattern seemed firmly embedded at around 29 /17, with the establishment taking 29.

It must have come as a shock when this pattern was not repeated over the health charge, and the extraordinary result of a tied vote was obtained. It is interesting, therefore, to see who changed their voting pattern:

The Senators are all, apart from Sarah Ferguson (who is always often opposed or abstaining), effectively a “block vote”. There is no change there, and as all of them are part of the Council of Ministers, there is no likelihood that there will be a breaking of ranks, especially as “collective responsibility” locks them together; there will not any “rogue” element, as in the past.

Neither Rob Duhamel, nor any of the moderating influence of an Ian Le Marquand or Francis Le Gresley who did not always keep to the party line. Le Gresley, as a former manager of Citizen’s Advice, was uniquely placed to bring the impact of changes to the Council table, but that connection with the poorer sections of society has been lost. That disconnect comes because the "mission to explain" the MTFP is purely "them telling us". It is not a mission to listen as well: that skill seems to have been lost.

With regard to the Constables, there has been a pretty solid split in the vote. Sadie Le Sueur-Rennard St Saviour) and Chris Taylor (St John) have pretty consistently voted against COM proposals – so much for the myth of a block vote! As Chris said on BBC Radio Jersey, his parishioners repeatedly call it a "tax" - he has listened to them. It is clear that in general the propaganda about it being a "charge" peddled by the Council of Ministers is not being swallowed by the general public.

With the health charge, they were joined by Juliette Gallichan (St Mary) and Michael Paddock (St Ouen), two very rural Parishes. Whatever the reasons for their voting, and hopefully Hansard will clarify that, it has perhaps more to do with the impact on “Middle Jersey” than the urban poor.

It is interesting that the Town Constable, Simon Crowcroft, has consistently towed the Council of Ministers line, despite the fact that probably more of his Parishioners than any others would be impacted by the tax.

Moving to the Deputies, Carolyn Labey voted for other MTFP proposals but against this one, as did Deputy Richard Rondel, and Deputy Scott Wickenden.

Constable Philip Le Sueur and Deputy Jackie Hilton were excused attendance on both votes I examined, but I suspect they would have cancelled each other out.

Which only leaves Deputy Andrew Lewis, who decided to abstain. A cynic might have suggested that he may have considered a vote against a Council of Ministers a step too far, as it appears that he would like to join their ranks, but also with an eye on the electorate, a vote in favour would have done him no good at the polls. Had the result followed its usual pattern, his vote would have been insignificant, but as it turns out, it was the deciding factor.

Nursery Care and Fair Shares

In 2008, I commented on the run up to the elections:

“Mike Vibert brought in some free nursery places, more or less on a postcode lottery basis, and then having created the problem, and caused the demise of several worthy private nurseries, tried to secure last minute funding for extra nursery places just in the run up to elections, which by any standards, appeared to be a blatant attempt to secure popularity”

That is precisely the problem with free nursery education – it has was related to school catchment area, with elements of a postcode lottery, and also on a first come first served basis, totally unrelated to the means of parents, whether well off or not.

Changes were made after the election so that some element of fairness should be brought back into the equation by subsidising a proportion of free nursery education for all, including the private sector. As one Senator commented at the time.

“Last Friday we agreed, very substantially - I supported it - to give all children of nursery age in the Island access to 20 hours of free nursery.  Now, was that targeted?  Is that going to benefit only the poor or those on middle incomes or are the wealthy, are the better-off going to also benefit from that blanket policy decision?  Of course they are.  So it is amazing, is it not, to compare and contrast the highly flexible thinking and approach of this Assembly when it comes from one policy decision to another, when it is something as politically high pressure and of such concern?”

John Le Fondre’s amendment to the MTFP set the cat among the pigeons, and caused a rethink to have to be made about this, not before time. He quite rightly pointed out that it was unfair that parents accessing free nursery education should be treated in a different fashion from those having to use the private sector when it came to means testing.

Allow inconsistency to come in, become acceptable, and reasonable, and, as Chesterton pointed out, you are on the road to injustice, where people will accept anything, because there is no yardstick to measure against it, no rules, but just ad hoc actions with no rhyme or reason.

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