VIEWS OF A STATES MEMBER

POPULATION

Guernsey has had a concern about population and there has been legislation relating to it since the 1940’s. There were Housing Control laws post war and from the 1940’s which over the years suffered various manifestations and alterations until housing laws were no longer felt to be Human Right compliant so were replaced by the Population Management (Guernsey) Law 2016.

Guernsey’s population has undoubtedly increased since the year of my birth (1951). It was then in the early 40,000’s or thereabouts. By 1976 it had increased to 53,637. There was then a fall of 324 over the next five years, but it then steadily continued with its upward incline until the end of 2012, when the population was recorded as being 63,085. It is now somewhere in the order of 62,500 or thereabouts. It has not shown any significant increase thus in the order of ten years or possibly more.

It is true that we are more densely populated than Jersey. Although Jersey has probably an extra 44,000 people living on its Island than we have living on ours, it is nearly twice the landmass. That said, in my view the Population Law, as I will call it for ease of convenience, is a law that is too complicated and in some ways is past its time.

It is not just in Guernsey as it applies in lots of other jurisdictions, but there is a common problem: statutes which are enacted to solve a social issue, in this case to control population, are often outdated and the horse has bolted by the time the law actually comes into force. In my opinion that is exactly the position and situation that we are in in relation to the Population Law.

I have no doubt that the Population Law should be revoked or varied or suspended. There are precedents for laws being suspended when they are out of date. There was a law that was enacted in the mid part of the 1970s which sought to control people speculating in land. By this century it had served its purpose and the law was suspended. In theory it can be brought back into operation, albeit in practice in that case that is unlikely.

My conclusion would probably be that there should either be a replacement Statute or a radically revised Statute. This note, for the sake of brevity, deals with two of the provisions of the Population Law. They are though, probably, the two main provisions.

The first is how you become a permanent or established resident. There is a very complicated set of requirements which begin at Section 3 of the Law which sets out who are permanent residents. Some of the provisions are Stone Age in their creation.

One that particularly appals me, but there are others that concern me, is the provision under Section 3(A). This relates to somebody who was born in Guernsey on or after the commencement of the Law, and one of whose birthparents (note the words birthparents) was born in Guernsey and that birthparent was ordinarily resident at the time of the child’s birth, and that birthparent had one of his or her parents born in Guernsey. That person then from the moment of their birth, and however short their residence in the Island, becomes a permanent resident. They can come back to the Island at any time and live. Others have much stricter requirements applied to them.

The idiocy of that provision is apparent in my own family. Although in practical terms it has made no difference, only one of my four children would so qualify under that provision. His three siblings were all born in England and came here as young children. That in itself, and I cannot be the only person in that position, makes that part of the Law an absolute nonsense. I appreciate, of course, I can only trace my side of the family’s residence in Guernsey back to the early 1600’s. In fact my lot have been here much longer but they were humble folk who were probably not literate so their births were not registered.

I would get rid of the distinction between permanent residents and established residents. I would still keep the definition, or a definition of an Open Market residence. What I would say is that anybody who has lawfully lived in Guernsey, whether as a minor or as an adult for eight years, becomes a permanent resident once they have spent the specified amount of time in Guernsey, and that would include them going off to university or school. I would give credit for time in the Services. I would also have one or two other provisions (without making the requirement too difficult and the law too complicated) which would enable people to clock up their eight years in say ten or twelve or fifteen years. I would keep it simple. Laws that are kept simple are the best laws.

That would also enable an Open Market resident who had lived here lawfully after that period of time to become Local. If somebody lives in this Island and is ordinarily resident here for that period of time, then in my opinion they have put their roots down and they deserve to be treated equally with other citizens. I say that as somebody whose family has been here for hundreds and hundreds of years. We are all people and we all, once we have put our roots down here, deserve to be treated with equal respect.

Such a provision would keep alive the need for and the economic viability of the Open Market. It would though say to decent Open Market citizens “We welcome you and after a certain period of time you can become a permanent resident in this Island which is truly your home”.

Somebody may ask why eight years? It is an arbitrary choice of period but my understanding was, and I agree with it, that the fifteen year period that used to be specified in the Housing Laws as a period whereby you would qualify after being an Essential Licence Holder, was deemed to be too long by European Court precedents, and eight years was thought to be sustainable. In any event I think eight years is about appropriate. Five or six years is too short and ten years is too long. It is a matter of choice and when you pick any period of time for anything there is a degree of putting your finger in the air and hoping it is right. In my view, once a person has lived here for that period of time they are as Guernsey as me.

The second part of the Law that I would alter is what I call the Licensing system. The Law provides for people to apply for Employment Permits. I should add that from what I know the staff that deal with it on behalf of the relevant body of the States of Guernsey are competent, fair and sensible. This is no criticism of them. Nevertheless this is still a bureaucratic procedure. Under Section 20 of the Population Law there are four types of employment permits, namely a long-term employment permit, a medium term employment permit, a short term employment permit and an Open Market employment permit. I would just have one employment permit. Call it whatever you will. Again, subject to deeper thought about drafting and some transitional provisions, there should just be one kind of permit.

People would have to apply for a permit if they were not permanent residents or spouses or partners or children of permanent residents. That would allow a check to make sure that they were decent people and did not have a litany of convictions and/or otherwise were unsuitable. There would have to be provisions in the permit that if they behaved badly during the term of the permit that the permit could be revoked.

That permit should be granted for everybody for eight years. That is whether they are a waiter or a bank manager or a doctor or even a lawyer (of which there are now far too many). Once that person has successfully completed their eight years of ordinary residence then they would become a permanent resident and free from such permits.

At the moment we have full employment. In fact we have had full employment for a very long time. We have a very high GDP. The economy though probably in real terms is not growing. There is not a queue of people wanting to come and work in Guernsey like there used to be. It is difficult for certain businesses, particularly in the hospitality/tourist sector, to attract people. That is not so much to do with the population but because of the shortage of skills and people available to do that work elsewhere, the lack of local people wanting to work in those sectors and the strength of the economy in other jurisdictions which used to supply that labour. Thus we do not need another bureaucratic hurdle. Whether we like it or not Guernsey is considered to be unwelcoming to potential incomers. We need to, therefore, disabuse people of that conception.

Thus we have a law, in my view, which is outdated, which is too cumbersome and which does not meet the needs of a 21st Century developed economy like Guernsey.

My proposals would enable us to be more flexible. If in the future there was a problem then we could bring in a law. We should be bringing in laws more quickly anyway to meet various problems that we have or requirements that we might want to achieve than our current process. That though should be the subject of another note.

The above is not meant to be a legal treatise. It is just meant to express my views as a Guernsey person who has lived here for the majority of his life and with the wellbeing of Guernsey very much in mind. It is meant to be practical. If these or like proposals were adopted I sincerely do not believe they would bring the walls of Jericho tumbling down or encourage vast swathes of unsuitable people to come and live in our lovely Island.

Deputy Peter Ferbrache

Principles and Objectives

The 2020 Association has formulated general principles and objectives which it intends to expand into a core manifesto to be presented before the 2020 Election.  We will lend our support to candidates for the States who subscribe to our approach and aims.

We aim to:

  • Bring into the States a cohesive group of politicians, who are both of demonstrated capability, and willing to act sensibly but decisively and to avoid procrastination and habitual recourse to expensive consultants, drawing on on-island expertise wherever practicable.
  • Invest in the infrastructure of the island to support economic growth, and establish a framework of reliable and reasonably affordable transport links to meet the needs and wishes of islanders, of business and of tourism.
  • Encourage and support the finance industry, especially world-beating green finance, and encourage new businesses, with a culture of positivity towards initiatives.
  • Promote “small” government, by reducing red tape, and regulation, and promoting “joined up thinking” across the States and the Civil Service.
  • Acknowledge the value of Open Market residents and use their skills; cautiously  relax, and if necessary suspend, over-rigid Population Management rules.
  • Cut waste and pollution, in particular by reducing non-degradable plastics.
  • Promote greater use of public transport, reduce transport dependency on hydrocarbons, and move firmly towards environmentally sustainable energy sources.
  • Strive to ensure a decent and uniformly available standard of primary and secondary health care, and a basic sufficient standard of living, for all.
  • Pursue the alleviation of real in-work poverty, and recognise the priority that should be given to the well-being of our poorer islanders.
  • Review the conduct of States Assembly business, promoting focus and efficiency by limiting speeches and timing meetings so as to enable participation, as Deputies, by persons in full time employment.
  • Respect broad public opinion, considering pressure from single issue groups with caution and objectivity.
  • Introduce a Freedom of Information Law.
  • Restore more local functions to the Douzaines, including enabling their input as to decisions on planning control, whilst enhancing their accountability.
  • Support the Colleges in providing further and adult education, and monitor the secondary education system to ensure that it best provides the skills, academic and technical training to equip all our young people for success in adult life.  
  • Ensure that tax is imposed fairly and reasonably as regards all strata of society, and that Guernsey retains its attractive and enterprise-encouraging character as a low tax regime, with no introduction of stealth taxes.

Briefing note 6

The briefing note below is the latest in our series summarising prospective business at States Meetings, to enable 2020 Association Members to be informed. It is largely self explanatory. It is regretted that this States Meeting has come closer on the heels of the previous one, such that it has not been possible to send out this note in time for member comments, but it will nonetheless at least keep members informed, in particular about the matter which seems to us to be the most concerning.

Future States Business brief (6) – Meeting of 12 June 2019

Apart from routine matters such as elections of members to committee places, and the usual array of statutory instruments on such routine matters such as animal and plant health measures and formalities for import duties, there are only three items of substantive business which really merit note or comment. (We therefore mention only in passing measures to coordinate the timing of meetings of certain States Committees with budget dates, and to make minor amendments to anti-money-laundering legislation as a result of practical experience. )

The three items which deserve actual note are, first, the approval of a measure to formalise the constitutional position that Westminster cannot impose legislation into Guernsey’s domestic law without the specific approval of the States of Deliberation. This is obviously to be welcomed in the light of the well-known hostility to the Island on the part of certain grandstanding politicians in the UK.

The second such item is approval being sought to bring forward legislation to re-organise the provision of health care funding in Guernsey by bringing all aspects of this (including associated aspects such as medical benefits, medical travel funding, and suchlike) under the umbrella of the Committee for Health and Social Care,rather than with the current split between that Committee and the Committee for Employment and Social Security. This is an obviously sensible measure of efficient rationalisation, but apparently (if unsurprisingly) requires a good deal of legislation to provide for the mechanics of budgeting and of setting up and controlling the appropriate funds, including the destination of existing funds. It is not expected to make any very obvious difference to islanders in everyday practice. It is to be noted, though, that, within this legislation, the way appears to be being paved for the relaxation of, or the introduction of flexibility into, the present rules specifically limiting what medicines or drugs will be provided at States expense, and also that the proposals include the giving of authority to press ahead with a complete review and overhaul of the present system for levying social security contributions, in pursuance of a resolution passed at the time of the Personal Tax Pensions and Benefits Review of 2015. So watch this space.

This brings us to the third item, which is that of the most concern on this States Meeting Agenda which is the Policy and Resources Future Digital Services document, which can be found here. In essence it asks the States to decide:

 

  • To enter into a ten-year contract with Agilisys Guernsey Limited following P&R’s approval of the Full Business Case.
  • To transfer States staff to this new entity of which the States would have a ‘golden shareholding’, thereby providing the States with a degree of control
  • To approve or acknowledge various funding amounts of: £1.4m, £2.0m, £26.9m, £16.7m in the short term, with total costs over 10 year span of £200m+.

After careful analysis of the 63 page policy document we believe that the The Future Digital Services policy, in its current form, is too vague on the transformation it is seeking to achieve.

For the States to enter into a partnership with Agilysis for the purpose of achieving vague, aspirational goals has all the appearance of a commercial disaster waiting to happen. We feel that it is premature, highly risky and almost certainly doomed to failure. It is disturbing that the States are seeking to have their hands held without specifying accurately what they want or where they will be led.

Whilst a detailed analysis is beyond the scope of this briefing note, we suggest that further work to identify the need and a specific plan to address the States’ requirements is needed before entering into a 10 year contract, especially where £200m of tax payer’s money is at stake.

For example, there appear to be no specifications for each major area/project (for example: Revenue Services, HSSD, Education, Planning, Cadastre and general document storage inter alia) and there is no clear indication of how such new projects (if they are indeed created) will interoperate, what platforms they will use, and little detail of how they will be provided (except that they may be ‘cloud based’). Indeed we would expect such areas to have been the subject of detailed analysis before seeking any tender bids or entering into any partnership.

One might well ask how it is possible to make the jump from deciding to enter into this partnership and drafting contracts to ensure adequate performance? Where are the fully formed terms of reference? How will it be enforced? What happens if it goes wrong?

Some parts of the document appear to seek to have a ‘feel good’ factor instead of substance, and appear to be deviating into joint venture areas instead of concentrating on core States IT systems.

IT projects are infamous for going over budget and failing to deliver the benefits promised. This is in no small part due to their complexity and the lack of specific IT knowledge in decision makers. Consequently, we believe the appropriate response is a detailed scoping and planning exercise by experts that can help reduce the risk before committing to such a vast project. We welcome the work done thus far but feel there is still a further stage of planning before awarding such a large contract.

The perils of vague IT projects: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/sep/18/nhs-records-system-10bn

This article highlights the financial risks of lofty & vague IT projects. The Institute for Government also offers some sound advice on how best to approach them: https://amp.theguardian.com/technology/2014/aug/19/costly-trail-british-government-it-disasters-universal-credit
 

Tom Gash, the Director of Research at the Institute for Government: “There are some patterns here we’ve seen in a lot of other failed projects,” he says. “The one that stands out is doing a ‘big bang’, announcing it all at once.”

(Further information regarding future States Business can be found on www.gov.gg under “Search States Meetings Information.”)