|22nd January 2021
GUERNSEY 2021 AND BEYOND
On 16th October 2020 Peter Ferbrache was chosen by his fellow Deputies in the States of Guernsey to be the Island’s new Chief Minister. Many had seen the previous holder of the office, Gavin St Pier, as a shoo-in for the role. He had successfully protected the Bailiwick, Sark included, from the worst of the coronavirus pandemic. He had moved quickly to impose lockdown and was instrumental in introducing the highly effective COVID ‘track and trace’ system that has been so successful in allowing our frontline services to contain the virus. Nevertheless, when it came to selecting the man or woman to lead the Bailiwick through the remainder of the crisis and out of the other side, States members chose a different politician for the job. What did they know that the rest of the Bailiwick didn’t? Was it that it took a certain kind of leader to close things down, but an entirely different person to reopen the economy and guide us back to some form of normality? At the time, Peter Ferbrache gave as good an analysis as any as to why this had happened: “I don’t think that it was a choice between him and me; it was really a choice between two different ethos’s.”
Earlier this week Peter Ferbrache addressed members of the Guernsey Chamber of Commerce and set out how he would lead Guernsey, and, in certain areas of policy, the rest of the Bailiwick, through the remainder of the crisis and out of the other side. Today, The Sark Newspaper reproduces in full and unedited Chief Minister Ferbrache’s very candid and broad-ranging speech.
GUERNSEY 21 AND BEYOND
I refer to the title. The answer to that should be ‘Practical Politics’. Cast McWokeyism, naval gazing, self-congratulation and moral righteousness to the margins.
People say, and rightly so, that this is a beautiful island. People say, and rightly so, that we have come out of COVID, or we are coming out of COVID better than anywhere else. People say that there are many opportunities in the Island.
Again, that is a correct statement. We, though, will have to face the fact that this is the biggest financial crisis that Guernsey has had to face since just after the Second World War. Just after the Second World War there were reforms brought about by expectations quite properly raised from people coming back after the Occupation. People expected a more democratic and balanced and less patriarchal society. They got that with significant political reforms which were implemented in 1948. The Island in reality was taking its first steps towards a real democracy.
The other reality though was the Island was bankrupt. It needed and got massive financial assistance from the UK. I have recently read a book by somebody called Ralph Durand about just how difficult life was for Islanders who were subjected to the German Occupation. Mr Durand himself died in December 1945, effectively of malnutrition caused by the privations and deprivations of the Occupation. So things have to be put into perspective. When I read his book and I saw the problems facing both the people and the politicians then, I feel very lucky to be a politician now. We have our problems but they are first world problems of a first world jurisdiction and we should do our utmost to attack them.
I cannot say thus as Chief Minister that our problems compare with those of the Occupation. After all, we know that Brexit is now behind us, albeit we have to work out what our new position is in the World. I believe we can do that. Steps were taken for Guernsey to extend its territorial waters in 2019. Steps were also taken some years ago for Guernsey to establish, and continue to establish, as it must, its own international identity. We have in real terms little debt. We do owe money on the bond that was taken out at much initial cost and with little real thought as to what the money was to be spent on. Little research was done it seems to me. I can only say that those who profess to be financially competent and championed those arrangements in my view fell short of discharging their reputation – perhaps in some cases self-given – in that regard. We, though, have much less financial resource than we would have had if it had not been for the Pandemic. In any event, and despite the fact that our economy was growing, it was growing slowly and we were, as a States Assembly, piling further revenue expense on further revenue expense without any idea as to how those were to be paid.
In 2021 and beyond, not only if we are to prosper but if we are to survive we must change.
I hate to adopt the English classification of politics as Socialist or Conservative. I may hate it but I am going to borrow that classification just for a moment or two.
Guernsey people are naturally conservative with a small ‘c’. They are socially democratic and liberal in that they believe people should lead their lives with as little interference from the States as possible. They though want their bills paid and they do not want the States on their behalf to incur any debt, or debt which cannot be serviced.
Over a number of Assemblies the drift was leftwards with career politicians with supposedly high social consciences. When I became Chief Minister in October we found there were hundreds of Resolutions going back, in some instances, many years which had been passed and which had largely sat on the shelf. They sat on the shelf for a variety of reasons. Some was just that they never got around to being dealt with, and others were that they had really passed their sell-by date. Nevertheless, they were still Resolutions which have to be considered.
We are seeking to get rid of many of those Resolutions and the able Vice-President of P&R and Deputy Chief Minister is devoting hours and days to consider the rescission of some and reassessment of others of those Resolutions. We are also seeking, and when I say “we” I am talking about the Policy & Resources Committee (and hopefully the majority of the States, but time will tell), to re-balance our aspirations.
We want Guernsey to have, if at all possible, a smaller Government. We certainly want to stem the tide of the growth of Government. In my view though that is not enough and we should be ambitious, and we have to be ambitious in the next four and a half years.
We do not want to create a Northern Ireland-type economy. We could be on our way. We now have as a percentage of our work force less finance sector workers than we did and more Civil Servants. That is not sustainable.
Democracy will make its own choices, but I would hope that we can embed in the psyche of the Guernsey voter the fact that, although we must always be a socially liberal society, we need to be proactive and our first concern must always be earning the money and creating opportunity for people. Without earning the money and creating opportunity, we would be living in a society that would be more dependent upon debt and the State. We already hear it too often ‘That is the States’ problem’. ‘The States will solve it’. No – No – No – I say – I am reminded here of Lord Kitchener’s famous poster from the early part of the First World War – ‘Your country needs you’. Now history has shown that he was something of a hairshirt megalomaniac but the sentiment rings true now. You are all clever people. If you have ideas put them forward. If you consider we are getting things wrong tell us. We need as many innovative entrepreneurs as we can, and businesses should be enabled to and encouraged to flourish. The State does have a role to play in social matters and I would like to mention something I said in a speech recently in the States.
I mentioned a seven year old. The seven year old’s father had broken his back and was in hospital in England. His mother had two other children who were younger. The only way she could survive was to go out cleaning five days a week and on Saturdays. She had to leave the younger children, who were little girls, with their seven year old brother. She had no option. She had to pay rent. She had to buy food for her children and clothe them. The father of the seven year old was a member of a large family. One of his brothers, who also had a family, used to give the boy’s mother a pound a week to help her with her bills. That was equivalent to one-tenth of his income. Another of the father’s brothers worked in agriculture and horticulture. He would regularly provide the boy’s mother with vegetables and meat because he had a few cattle and pigs and he would from time to time slaughter them. I was that seven year old.
That was me and that was my life and I do not want anyone to be in the position my mother was in. We now have a much more developed social benefits system. I wholly support the changes that have been made over the years, but we must now look at any further changes with rigour. We must always encourage people to work. I mention this because later on in this speech I refer to the fact that we are, and should continue to be empathetic to those that need and those that genuinely need help.
People will say it is easier said than done though, is it not, in the 21st Century to change the ever increasing dependence upon the State? Nevertheless we need to try and do it. We need to be nimble and fleet footed.
Guernsey does not have the ability that jurisdictions such as the USA and the United Kingdom have of simply printing more money. Our printing presses cannot be used for that purpose. We have to be more pragmatic.
We have to balance our books or we have to have debt which is manageable. One of the William Pitts created a national debt in the 18th Century which was supposed to be repaid within a few years. We do not want to repeat his historical mistake by taking on debt for no purpose.
We had a deficit last year. That was almost inevitable with COVID and all the various business assistance measures that have to be implemented, and the fact that the States also had to deal with much less revenue as people were not earning money and businesses were not being able to do their business as they wished.
We budgeted again for a loss, albeit a smaller one, this year. A budget is more than an estimate, but it is never a certainty. It will depend on a variety of factors, many of which are outside of the control of this Bailiwick. I would like to be able to say at the end of the year that we have done better than the Budget estimate. That may be the case, but equally the reverse and opposite may be the case and we must be prepared.
I do not want to sound like a crusty conservative (which I am not) or an elderly white man with ample funds and insensitive to the needs of the populous. That would be wholly untrue.
My background is not a matter for this speech, but it is certainly one which makes me appreciate the value of a pound. Also I bow my knee to no one when it comes to social policies. Some of those who have professed an affinity with the less fortunate in our society, although undoubtedly well-intentioned, have never experienced hardship in their lives and have text book consciences. I have had a practical experience of poverty and not a theoretical one.
I was in the States in the 1990’s when the reforms to the Dickensian/ Victorian/illiberal abortion laws were made. Those of us that were on the side of change received much abuse. I was also in the States in the last Assembly when reforms were made to update the law. I said on both occasions, that is both in the 90’s and recently, that I did not find the decision a difficult one. I voted unhesitatingly for the changes.
I also was in the States in the late 1990s when requete was brought to lower the age for male consent to sixteen rather than twenty-one. Again, I had no hesitation in supporting the same and was an advocate of the same. The States Debate was a fudge and a compromise. Speeches from people who should have known better, and are generally good citizens, were along the lines of either “This is an abomination” or “Let’s reduce it to eighteen" (which was the result then but thankfully has now been changed) because they, whoever ‘they’ are, might be influenced when they are young and might regret having gay sex. That was the attitude we had to deal with.
I was also an Advocate, well I have been an Advocate for a long time. I can remember in the Divorce Court, even with uncontested Divorces, the Petitioner used to have to go before the Judge in Court, and in the presence of others waiting for their divorces to be heard, and go through all the facts as to why they should get a Divorce. I have seen grown men and women in tears. It was an abomination. I brought a Requete to change that. It was successful. The judiciary at the time, ie the then Bailiff and Deputy-Bailiff, were very much against it. I am not sure what justification they could have had for that view, but the point I am making generally is that it is unfair to criticise me and others who have always realised that bills have to be paid, as being some kind of Anti-Christ and opposed to any kind of liberal change. I and others believe changes should be made but they have to be balanced, realistic and in line with the hopes and aspirations of our community.
Our greatest resource, and it is always said but it is true, is our people. We destroyed an education system without having a single idea as to what we were going to end up with. We are still some years on from that without achieving it. What we need in 2021 and beyond is an education system fit for purpose. I have every confidence in the very able, proactive and sensible President of the Committee for Education, Support and Culture. She will achieve things. She needs your support though. It is not enough just deciding whether we want two schools or three schools, and there is still a body in the States that wants two schools despite the overwhelming wishes of the populous, that we create the right educational environment. Just putting the same teachers doing the same stuff is not going to improve our educational product. Let us also see what the report from former Advocate and Politician Peter Harwood may bring.
I saw a letter in the Sunday Times recently signed by David Davies MP, Sir Anthony Seldon, the Association of School and College leaders, Lord Puttnam and many others. This said, amongst other things, “Debate about reform often focuses on two opposites, knowledge and skills. This is a false divide. Knowledge is only relevant alongside the skills to interpret it; skills are only useful when there is knowledge to draw on".
They also said of the English system which we have sought to follow:- “Our current system is not fit for the 21st Century”. Their words but my emphasis: “Social mobility continues to decline and even before the Pandemic we faced significant skill gaps.”
The letter went on then about the shortage of millions of skilled workers. It also referred to the fact that technology was out of date and continued: “The UK is 31% behind the organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development average in this respect” (referring to the technology). It said urgent change was essential, which included the scrapping of GCSEs. It continued: “In their place we need a broad Baccalaureate incorporating academic and vocational education at age eighteen”. It continued: “The factory model – where each pupil advances at the same pace in every subject regardless of ability and interest – must be swept away forever. Instead we should enable personalised education through the use of new technology”.
It then discussed in more detail Education Reform. That is what we need here. We are a small Island community of less than 65,000 folk. We need to encourage our students who are performing just above average compared to the UK. That is not good enough. So currently we are just above average in an education system not fit for purpose in the UK. We need to do better. We need to be looking beyond mere buildings and technology, albeit we must have good buildings and we must have good technology. Also the role of teachers is vitally important. Perhaps not the best person to quote but what he said is true. Stalin said “Teachers are to be regarded as ‘Engineers of the soul’”.
Perhaps now quoting Stalin more appropriately we want a revolution. We truly need to make our Education System world class, not just above average.
We need a completely new ethos. Social mobility is mentioned in the letter. That is so important in any society. In Guernsey it does exist but not to the extent it did years ago.
I do not want to sound like the Agatha Christie character Miss Marple who learnt all her wily skills of investigation from what she saw in her little village in St Mary’s Mead, but I go back to my own childhood. Because of the 11 Plus, and I accept that selection in the way that it was promulgated and operated has now gone, my life changed. I then met people from different social environments who were no better than the people I had been brought up with and played with, but they were different and it encouraged social mobility. Many in the States and many in this room educate their children privately and have little to do with children from disadvantaged backgrounds, or less advantaged backgrounds, or less privileged backgrounds. That is not good for us. We need to change that this year and beyond. So let us turn to where I think we ought to go with the economy and other matters.
I have been reading Tom Bower’s book on Boris Johnson recently and he quoted Boris as saying this that in America they regarded making money as “a good thing”, while in Britain it excited “chippiness and disgust”. I never thought that that would be descriptive of Guernsey but, because of the way that the States has developed over the last two or three Assemblies, that was the sentiment they left in my mind as we approached the Election in October 2020. Island-wide voting, which many were sceptical of and which I was the vocal and focal point of in its campaign and, I should add, together with many other able people, was concerning to lots. I believe it has brought about a more proactive, a more balanced, a more sensible but equally decent States.
The next sentence from Boris could be said to have summed up Guernsey recently: “We are hostile to risk and more hostile to reward”.
Oh dear, we need to change that and we need to change it now in Guernsey in 2021 and beyond.
As I have said earlier, we are going to have, or likely to have a Budget which will be in deficit this year. We do not have sufficient monies for even the approved Capital Projects. We have about £130 million or so in the kitty to finance even the capital projects that are already in the system. That is just over half the money necessary to do that and there were many millions and millions waiting in the wings of projects that may need to be done or people wish to be done.
So in 2021 and beyond we will have to persuade people that some things will have to wait.
The biggest way to create change is to create the mind-set which is different. I recently attended the Third Sector presentation at the Peninsular. It was excellent and exemplified why we need to be a social and liberal society.
There are two instances though amongst the many that stuck in my mind. These relate to the need to change the mind-set.
The first was from Malcolm Woodhams when he talked about the bureaucracy and that charities having to fill out a form from Guernsey Registry now to renew their Annual Validation has now expanded to one that is nine pages long and contains fifty questions when it used to be four pages long. Why? Why are we allowing that? How have we created that? How can we let that continue?
The second was from Mark Dunster who is the Chair of GROW. Grow have an innovative project where they want to re-develop their premises at a cost of I think of about two and a half million pounds. I hope many of you will contribute towards it. GROW provides work activity and it will be extended if their proposals go through in the sense that they get the money to do what they want to do for people whose development is such that when they leave school at, the oldest at eighteen, they need an environment to work and feel valued in an environment which allows them to work. They are valued members of our community and we must value them but otherwise, unless something is done, they will be left at home from the age of 16, 17, 18 or whenever. He praised Jim Rowles who is Head of Planning, and rightly so. He said though there were others involved whose job was worth more than common sense. They had to climb many a Himalayas, my phrase not his, and almost conquer Everest before they could get the necessary permissions to do what they want to do.
A nonsense. We need to review our planning legislation now. Not just piecemeal, we need to do it now. We need to change the mind-set from ‘No can do’ to ‘Let us get on with it’.
But more than that, we have to invest in our infrastructure. There has been almost no investment in the infrastructure in recent years. Infrastructure also includes basic repairs and maintenance. The Harbours need over £35 million of repairs done in early course.
Our schools need maintenance. We at P & R have had proposals brought to us recently for a £4 million renovation project in the old Guernsey Telecoms building at Upland Road. I am still waiting to see where the money trees are which are going to provide all the money for all these projects, but some of them are absolutely necessary. We have got to do the necessary things. We have got to do the proactive things. We have got to, in 2021 and beyond, bring in a tax regime which is protective of those who are low earners, but does not dis-incentivise the middle earners and the higher earners. We cannot pretend that that will not be challenging. We cannot pretend that we will not, sooner rather than later, have to consider some kind of borrowing. It must be specific and relate only to core infrastructure projects which we should have, both now and/or for the future, for example perhaps a third harbour, but more of that later, will be developed in 2021, and/or are income producing. You can help us with that. Ideas please and constructive not negative ones as we recently received from a new pressure group which should know better. We need to look forward, not only for the next two to five years, but the next ten years, twenty years, thirty years, forty years.
What I have always realised is that no one man or woman can do everything. When I became President of Policy & Resources I was fortunate enough to have four very able people on that Committee – or I am fortunate enough to have very able people on that Committee.
The five of us divided up responsibility for certain functions.
The Vice-President, Deputy Soulsby, has considerable political experience and ran Health & Social Care with aplomb and real ability and foresight in the last Term. She is going to do various things and I am not going to name them all. She is going to lead on Civil Service reform which we, Senior Civil Servants and the public believe will be necessary. She will do that ably and she will do that purposefully and that is already on foot. I do not want this to be seen as a criticism of our Civil Servants because we have very many able and hard-working Civil Servants. For example, and this is just a for example, our External Relations Team were truly brilliant with Brexit. They were comparable with anywhere at any time.
That said, I noticed some time ago that the increase in Civil Servants earning £80,000 a year, and that took account of their pension rights, etcetera, and above increased in four years to the end of 2019 from 226 or thereabouts to 325 or thereabouts. This is not all people just wearing suits and shuffling paper, and does include lots of professional people with professional qualifications doing certain jobs, but, but, but that was taking the tide the opposite way to where private industry had to go. There are not that many people earning £100,000 or more in the private sector and those that are, are under considerable challenges. She is therefore looking at how can we get more for less; how can we still get a first-rate and high quality Civil Service.
She is also leading on Douzaine matters and as part of that we want to increase the involvement of Douzaines in locally sensitive decisions.
Deputy Le Tocq, when he is well, and he is on the mend, will continue to deal with External Relations as he has done so ably, and that will continue to be important because of the challenges post-Brexit.
Deputy Helyar is the lead on Treasury matters and also dealing with our relationships with Alderney and Sark. In relation to Alderney we are going to need to look at the 1948 Agreement and that is being done. In the short time we have been in Government we have resolved, via Aurigny, the PSO which had been hanging around for years. That is now agreed for the next five years. Sark will need our assistance. Both will remain independent jurisdictions in the sense that they are, but there needs to be closer liaison between them and that is something of a challenge for Guernsey and the Bailiwick for 2021 and beyond. It is important it is done, and well, both for our internal and external well-being.
Deputy Helyar will also be coming up with proposals which will be put before the States in due course concerning tax reform, post the fiscal audit, and he is always open to ideas and suggestions, as we all are.
Deputy Mahoney, a newcomer to the States, like Deputy Helyar has many responsibilities and those include property. He is actively reviewing our portfolios in the States, and also he is dealing with employee matters. You will see what we have recently done in relation to the pay of public sector workers. It is not something we like doing and there are many valued members of the public sector that should have got rises in an ideal world but will not because the money is not there. Financial strictures are very much part of our purview and our ethos and our rationale and will continue to be so.
I am concerning myself, amongst other things, with Air and Sea links, the visitor economy and regulation.
Let me say some of things that I hope we do in Guernsey in 2021 and beyond. As I have already said, some things need to be done now, some the next two to five years and some for the period beyond. I would like you and others to contribute. Too often I have asked in the past for assistance from those who say they have knowledge. The financial sector have been lacking in their contribution of new ideas. They have benefited greatly from where Guernsey has been for the last forty years and I would hope for their assistance. My request for ideas is not just limited to them though. This request applies to educational matters. It applies to regulation or should I say de-regulation. It applies to business generally. It applies to the hospitality sector. It applies to so many other facets of our society and our economy. We do not have all knowledge and we need your assistance and those beyond this room.
You should have ideas. Contact me on my States email address [email protected]. Referring back to earlier tell me how we can remove obstacles and how we can help. I expect our Civil Servants to assist in that too.
Now I am speaking for myself. I cannot commit my colleagues in P&R without further discussion, but let me give you some of things that I would like to see done.
I would like to see us change our Open Skies policy which I voted for, but I think has now moved on. We need to realise that Aurigny, either on its own or perhaps with another entity, is the way forward for our air travel. It needs to be run efficiently. We cannot continue to have multi-million pound losses as we have had in recent years, and we are predicting again for this year. It needs to be altered and revolutionised. We have a new Chairman and a new Chief Executive and I am confident that something will come from that. Air links are vital to the continuance of our prosperity as a community.
As to Sea Links, I would like to see, if we can negotiate it, a long-term deal with Condor. If that is not possible we will have to look elsewhere. That is a deal though that takes note of Guernsey’s interest and does not favour those of Jersey. That is a deal that enables schedules to be in operation and we need the assistance of Economic Development and their politicians and advisers which meets both our requirements for the northern route and for the southern route, ie to England and to France. I would like to see ideally, but only if we can negotiate it on appropriate terms, a fifteen or twenty year agreement. That would need to secure our freight services which I believe it can and they are profitable, and our passenger services. It would have to be something that meets the needs of our community. Now whatever we are told about the Liberation, the public do not have confidence in it and although it has escaped criticism recently, because there has been so little sea travel, that vessel needs to be replaced. We need a fleet of vessels that gets here regularly, except in the most extreme of circumstances. We need a fleet of vessels that, or ships or whatever they are called, that will serve our needs for years but which we may as a community need to contribute towards the cost of.
Air and sea links are vital to the prosperity of this community going forward. They must be given high priority and they must be run efficiently. We are never going to be able to, whether we extend the runway or not, have people travelling here at the cost of £10. That is unrealistic but we need to take steps now while the time is right to liaise with Gatwick Airport, to liaise with Heathrow Airport, to do all the relevant things that we need to do, to secure our future while the opportunity is there. That must be something we should be doing now as the time is right. We need, both on this issue and others, to be ambitious.
We need to be realistic about our hotel stock. Most of our hotels are not purpose-built. They grew over the time because the economy changed and people were travelling here. People will say I have a personal interest because of my shareholdings in various entities. I do, but that does not influence the view I take which is that those that cannot make a profit in the industry should be allowed to leave the industry now without the unfathomable and unrealistic requirements currently in place, and those premises should be used for other purposes which meet the needs of our community. Cut out the bureaucracy. Cut out the nonsense about taking years and years to be able to prove, whilst you are in financial difficulty, that you need to leave the industry. There are lots of people that want to make the industry successful. Let them do it, they know what they are doing.
Take the State out of the hospitality and tourist sector as much as possible. Let it be run by the people in the hospitality and tourist sector. Cut down on State involvement altogether.
As regards housing, people always need, and the States must encourage the provision of affordable and decent housing. To get it done efficiently our social housing stock should be passed over to The Guernsey Housing Association which is well run and has good leadership. Let them deal with, but with our encouragement and our assistance, also with our affordable housing requirements. Let them deal with the social housing issues. Take it away as much as you can from the State.
Review, and urgently as I have said before, the Planning position and laws. The IDP was meant to be fluid and flexible and is not really. Understand though that I do not want to see building in green fields and I do not want to see houses and clos created down lanes in, say, St Sampsons or the Vale or wherever, where there is inadequate infrastructure and the roads are just saturated. With innovative planning that can be changed, and can be changed soon. Do not make people wait sixteen weeks before they get a decision on their planning matters. I do though commend the words of Mark Dunster to you and say we are very lucky to have somebody of the quality of Jim Rowles as the Head of our Planning Service. He needs the tools though to be able to change things.
As to Town, there are too many empty shops. Let them be changed if necessary. Encourage the development of Mill Street. Make it a place where young people starting out on their professional lives or their married lives can live. Create a mews and artisanal-type environment. Do it now, not in five years, do it now.
Mill Street used to be vibrant when I was a boy and walked down from Charroterie but it was a different kind of life then. People didn’t have the money and we did not have cars and my mother had no option but to walk to the market to buy her meat and to town to buy her groceries. We have changed from that and we must recognise that. “Action this day”, said Winston Churchill. Well perhaps not everything can be achieved in a day, but action this year and action next year and action the year after. Not lots of commissions and Royal commissions like Tony Blair brought in when he became Prime Minister in 1997.
I don’t want to be involved with that. I want to talk to my colleagues in the States and listen to them so that we can take action. I have already set up Presidents’ meetings where the discourse between the various Presidents is excellent. We do not always agree but the conversations are civil and respectful and I find them beneficial. We need to listen to each other and we are doing that. We need to work together if we can. People do not want theory, they want houses, they want a job. They want their children to be well educated, they want a future, and I want this Island to have the future. If there was more time there is much more I can say and I am quite prepared to speak to anybody at any time. We want to be open and transparent and we have started but need to do more. As an example, I would like to see States meetings at least some in the evenings. P&R is going out and meeting the people and will continue to do that.
We have done some things already and I am emphasising some of the matters I referred to earlier.
One of things I announced back in January was a Broadband Working Group, led by Mark Helyar and Neil Inder.
They have set out a clear set of objectives for our future digital connectivity, drawing on the representations that have come from the business sector and the wider community. We will be committing Fibre to the building. The Working Group is holding a round of meetings with telcos in the next few weeks and we will then be in a position to announce a significant investment in the island’s digital connectivity before the end of Q1.
We are prioritising work into our air and sea links. In respect of air links, we are finalising a clear air policy framework that will provide clarity to Aurigny, enable new routes to be developed when the world resumes to something that looks like normal, and ensure that we restore links that support business travel and the visitor economy. We will be sharing that draft policy within government and with Aurigny over the coming weeks and expect to be able to make an announcement before the end of Q1 2021.
In respect of sea links, discussions with Condor’s owners have begun. There is map starting to be set out that could allow for investment in a second ro-pax and an increase in capacity, with flexibility to ensure services match demand. However, as I said earlier, we need to ensure we have a schedule that supports our tourism sector. Any three-party discussion is complicated – a three-party discussion over Teams and Zoom is a pain in the backside, but we will make further progress.
I know that Neil Inder is working hard to ensure that when tourism is back up and running and its promotion will be first class. I echo that with Guernsey Finance as well. We have seen a draft business plan and funding proposal from Guernsey Finance that looks to promote Guernsey as a competitive jurisdiction in a post-Covid world – not just green finance, but private wealth, investment management, insurance, banking and professional and legal services.
There are things that the States does not need to do – where other types of management might work better. I have directed officers to look at these opportunities and report back to the Policy & Resources Committee in the coming weeks. This is not about privatisation – but what can we do differently and take some of the burden off the taxpayer. Starting points for consideration include social housing, as I said earlier, where have established an excellent model with the GHA. Let’s avoid duplication, remove cost burden from the taxpayer, and increase efficiency. But there are other areas too where we can benefit from external expertise and investment. One of those is seafront enhancement. We made not far off zero progress in the previous term. For that reason, having discussed it in detail, the Policy & Resources Committee will not be repeating the mistake of setting up another States Committee to look at this. Instead we are aiming to take a policy letter to the States in March setting out the establishment of a Regeneration Board. This will bring together the community to develop a vision for the seafront; and it will provide a vehicle to enable private sector investment in the seafront. In June the STSB will be bringing options for future development to the States, and we want the Board established ahead of that so it can pick up the baton and make something happen.
I also want to touch again upon planning. The planning team is now looking at ways we can fast track the planning process, remove unnecessary and costly steps from it, including changes of policy. This willingness to support change is a good start, but this must be a consistent area of focus in this term. We want planning to support the economy, through regeneration areas, and I confident we will do that. I am especially keen to champion the revitalisation of the town centre, and in February want to call together a small group of people who can share their ideas. Come and talk to me if you want to be part of that.
I have recently come across a quote from Winston Churchill when he was speaking about appeasement when he was spending his decade in the wilderness and I am going to quote just parts of it. He said this:- that “a society should be for the greatest good of the greatest number. It should be an ideal for a fertile, tolerant, progressive and infinitely varied society”. I share that sentiment.
We have shown we have dealt with COVID better than just about anybody else. We have shown that this is a great place to live and to do business. We have shown that we can do things as well as, and in fact better than most other places. We need to build on that at the present time whilst that is still fresh in peoples’ memories. We need to encourage the development of this society. I am going to use all my efforts to try and ensure we will be doing that in 2021 and beyond, or for the next four and a half years at least, to the best of my ability. I do not know what I will achieve but I know I will try. I need your assistance and I need the assistance of people not just in this room, but who have Guernsey’s interest at heart. Let us make Guernsey a prosperous, healthy, wise and beneficent society in 2021 and beyond.