Wednesday, 18 January 2017

An Eye on Local Politics

Retconning the Past

Reconsider, v. To seek a justification for a decision already made. (Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary)

In his defence of the shambles of the Innovation Fund, Senator Ozouf says he is "disgusted and dismayed" that he was "given the responsibility" but not "all the information that was required".

But when the Logfiller managed to grab a loan which disappeared, he was much more bullish about his knowledge. In a JEP report of June 16, 2016, he said: “What I can say is that I am totally satisfied, and have been throughout the procedures. The ongoing review process of what’s happening with the company has continued and that continues to this day. Let’s be clear, there are going to be some businesses that are not going to succeed.”

Now he has said in his resignation speech and to BBC Radio Jersey, he was fully accountable for the period he was responsible for the Fund, which was from January 2016 - the Fund was actually set up several years before that. But here in June 2016, he said he was "totally satisfied" with it!

Now if the States Auditor General could look into matters to get relevant information, why didn’t he? Or to put it another way, if he said he was given responsibility, but not all the information, why didn’t he make plain his lack of knowledge rather than just saying he was “totally satisfied”?

Enough attention had been focused on Logfiller to make it apparent that something had gone wrong, so why not come out at that point and say it needed detailed investigation? It was well known that Mike King had a hand in the fiasco that was Canbedone Films, so shouldn’t that have raised warning flags?

He was saying that it wasn’t until 2016 that he got the control he needed, but this story broke after that date!

How it Works: The Board of the Jersey Innovation Fund

Quorum, n. A sufficient number of members of a deliberative body to have their own way and their own way of having it. (Ambrose Wilson, The Devil’s Dictionary)

It is instructive to see how the board said it was operating, from a JEP report made on February 2015 said:

“The board who would oversee the fund had to be seen to be robust, with a balance of non-executive private- and public-sector board members, with the ultimate decisions made by a States minister.”

The Chairman went on to explain how the team on the board looked at proposals:

“I review every application in quite some detail and categorise them, and then the board also sees every application. If an application looks promising, one of the non-executive directors will kick the tyres in terms of cash flow, costs, budgets and so forth, and that director will then act as a champion for that applicant.”

“Quite often there will then be a formal presentation to the board, and if the green light is still flashing, an economic impact assessment is carried out by the Economics Unit”

“‘I do think that having the States working with the private sector is a good notion, using the expertise – especially from the finance sector – to ensure an informed decision. We hope the States are encouraged that a number of pairs of eyes are looking at this”

The board apart from the Chairman whose job was to sift but not produce a detailed financial review (which task he delegated to one of the non-executive directors), included “experienced businessmen and private-sector members Tim Ringsdore, Aaron Chatterley, Peter Shirreffs and Dave Allen - the non-executive directors - and from the public sector States economist Dougie Peedle, Economic Development chief officer Mike King and an officer from the Treasury.”

Certainly as remarked above, “a number of pairs of eyes”. So who had their eyes shut? When they "kicked the tyres", did they spot some were flat? And why was it not “robust”? And what was Dougie Peedle doing?

Clearly not all the blame can be laid at either Philip Ozouf or Mike King’s door, as there was “expertise – especially from the finance sector – to ensure an informed decision” made  in terms of cash flow, costs, budgets".

Or in this case, some rather ill-informed decisions!

Domestic Waste Charge: Broken Promises?

Politics, n. A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles (Ambrose Wilson, “The Devil’s Dictionary”)

The Jersey Evening Post reported that:

“Last year the introduction by 2018 of new levies for commercial waste disposal was approved by the States as part of the Medium Term Financial Plan Addition, with £11 million of revenue targeted. Infrastructure Minister Eddie Noel, who is due to bring proposals to the States to finalise the details of the charges this year, said that unless such charges were introduced, the Island would fall further behind.”

And it goes on to say that:

“He would also not rule out the future introduction of a domestic waste charge.”

This goes completely against the rationale in the Medium Term Financial Plan and Eddie Noel’s arguments there:

“Introducing ‘user-pays’ funding in Jersey would not only encourage increased recycling rates and more efficient use of services but would also by charging commercial organisations it addresses the unfairness of the current funding regime. Currently businesses do not pay for these services and households bear the burden of paying for services through taxation”

This is making it clear that a waste charge levied on ordinary taxpayers would mean them paying twice, as they already pay taxes for the support of services provided by the States, including waste disposal. But most trading businesses now pay 0% corporation tax, so this is tipping the balance just a little the other way with a charge on commercial waste.

The plan went on to say:

“Charging for commercial solid waste transfers the direct cost from the taxpayer to business, many of whom do not pay income tax, and will also enable alternative business opportunities for recycling which are currently suppressed due to DfI’s free disposal option.”

While not explicit as a promise, it is very clear that the whole premise behind not having a domestic waste charge was that domestic users already pay tax.

The wording makes it clear that – contrary to Eddie Noel’s recent pronouncements – he was ruling out a domestic waste charge.

If not, the whole argument in the Medium Term Plan looks just like something opportunist to use at the time, and not genuine at all. Raising domestic waste – and hence taxpayers paying twice - goes against the heart of the case for business paying for waste disposal. Are we to understand that the whole argument was just an exercise in short term hypocrisy?

Rome was Not Built in a Day

“So much of government is collective decisions. All of us together, best minds in the country, hammering it out. Government is a complex business. So many people have to have their say. These things take time. Rome wasn't built in a day” (Jim Hacker, Yes Minister)

Hearing Senator Routier on limiting population growth was like hearing Jim Hacker returned from the grave. Here’s an extract from “Yes Minister”

Dr Cartright: I'm proposing that all council officials responsible for a new project list their criteria for failure before getting the go-ahead.

Jim Hacker: - What do you mean?

Dr Cartright: - It's a basic scientific approach. You must establish a method of measuring the success or failure of an experiment. When it's completed, you know if it's succeeded or failed.

On BBC Radio Jersey, he was busy extolling the virtues of the new system to contain population, but refused to be drawn on any numbers. As a result, there is, as Dr Cartright in “Yes Minister” makes clear, no method for measuring the success – or failure – of the policy.

Instead, we were told that it would take a lot of time for the effects of the policy to really kick in, and a cynic might think that was until after the next election in 2018. Or "Rome was not built in a day".

Paul Routier is responsible for the slap-dash way in which the previous policy was allowed to lapse with nothing other than laissez-faire to put in its place until now, which looks like too little, too late.

At least he has stopped bleating the mantra that we need to grow the population to pay for services for the ageing demographic, as a growing population will itself grow old, need even more growth. 

It hasn’t stopped the Chamber of Commerce, who still seem wedded to this Ponzi scheme idea, even though it makes no sense at all in the long term. It is about time we realised we cannot sacrifice long term targets for short term gains, and that the Island has only limited physical resources and infrastructure.

But as it stands, the new policy, like the old, is like the emperor's new clothes, with Senator Routier cast as the Emperor.

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