The Challenge of Change
We face unprecedented challenges from multiple crises: fiscal, economic, environmental, social, political. The effect of the COVID-19 pandemic is worldwide, but we have felt its impacts locally. We have defeated many of them, but there will be more challenges to come.
The measures to deal with COVID have run down our finances. The “rainy day fund” has been exhausted and we will need to borrow to keep going. This goes against the grain – but it is unavoidable in order to survive. Along with the financial effects will come wider economic pressures: unemployment and reduced working leading to lower incomes, reduced tax revenues, and the chilling choice of austerity or increased spending on benefits and support schemes.
On top of all this come external pressures which will affect our economy whatever we do internally. Foremost are – Brexit; OECD and EU initiatives on tax; and, of course, climate change.
We cannot meet these challenges without significant change. Our old system of governance has patently broken down, and it has ceased to serve our interests. The future is at our back, tapping heavily on our shoulder, so we must turn to face it.
Meeting the challenges
We start with some great advantages – Guernsey is small and autonomous, so we can be agile and flexible. We can pursue our own economic and business policies without waiting on someone else. This allows us to innovate while remaining friendly to business.
EU, UK, OECD
Guernsey’s constitutional position is a great advantage and a powerful defence. It has been the foundation of our prosperity, but it is not immune from challenge. We must remain aware of international pressures
- from ever-tightening standards of international regulation
- from our rivals who continue to struggle in the aftermath of COVID
- from our competitors, some of them large players who can turn in an instant from partners to adversaries.
Unfortunately, we have no diplomatic service of our own, so it falls to our elected representatives to act as our ambassadors. Guernsey has already pledged to adopt disclosure of ownership information to EU standards, and act as a good neighbour by supporting the EU in the initiative to clean up finance across the single market. But we cannot stop here. Islanders and their representatives must continue to use every opportunity to dispel misconceptions and reinforce Guernsey’s growing reputation as a centre of excellence with a cardinal role in combating international financial crime – a “safe haven” not a “tax haven”.
The change of UK government at the turn of the year brought some limited certainty on this issue, but no clarity on the ultimate shape of our relations with international business partners. The threat of no-deal in the trade negotiations lingers. The current States have thankfully made excellent preparations to cope with a variety of possible outcomes. It is therefore essential that they continue to enjoy the full support of both the public and the business community.
Luckily, the current States have realised the nature and scale of the challenge and devised the Future Guernsey Plan “Revive and Thrive”.They have recognised that “Recovery will require co-operation, collaboration and genuine engagement … Collaboration is essential to connect government, and engage the public service, business, Islanders and the third sector in the recovery effort.” This Plan deserves our support – but the support of a “critical friend”, scrutinising policies for flaws or unfairness and keeping those responsible on track.
So far so good. But good governance needs good government, and this too means change.
Before the lockdown, complaints from the general public abounded about “the worst States ever”. However, the public might also have quailed at the thought of yet another governance review, yet another reform of the States. COVID, however, has taught us a lesson.
Under the Civil Contingencies Authority, important decisions were being taken with speed, direction and effectiveness. That was an emergency and right for the time. But it has shown the public that decisions can be taken swiftly and effectively if the correct structures are in place – and, importantly, it has whetted the appetite for more such efficiency.
Within the States
Most islanders would agree that more discipline is required in the debating chamber. There should be tighter agendas, time-limits on members’ speeches, and stricter rules for bringing requêtes and amendments and raising sursis. That, however, is only part of the picture …
At the top
Ultimately, we must allocate more executive power at the senior level and set timeframes for execution and implementation. Power must be coupled with responsibility and not diffused throughout the States. The attempt to impose discipline by combining control over policy with control of resources has foundered because it fails to channel responsibility to lower-level committees. Professor Staite, in her recent review of Education, Sport and Culture, has identified this very point as a major weakness in the operation of the States.
So, we need reform. But there is no time now for a detailed overhaul of the system. That can come later – and come it must. For now, we must give the senior committee a more binding mandate, making it something akin to a Cabinet. If we do not take this step, the lack of co-ordination will simply impede progress and undermine the Future Guernsey Plan before it even gets off the ground.
Governance, however, is one thing; policies are another. The remainder of this manifesto will summarise my principal policy interests.