Motor tax

At its States Meeting to be held this week, the States are to consider a proposal to proceed with investigation of a ‘distance charging mechanism’ for motor vehicles on Guernsey’s roads.

In our survey, which concluded on Monday, 2020 members voted overwhelmingly (41%) to develop a holistic approach to energy, transport and revenue (which was the suggestion of the 2020 Association) whereas only 13% wanted the P&R preferred choice to investigate a distance charging mechanism. Results were as follows:

After consideration of the policy letter entitled ‘Taxation of Motoring’ dated 23rd May, 2019 States Members are asked to decide: “To agree, in principle, that a distance charging mechanism should be introduced as soon as possible and direct the Policy & Resources Committee to report back to the States with detailed proposals to introduce a distance charging mechanism.” Our members say ‘NO’, overwhelmingly.

https://gov.gg/CHttpHandler.ashx?id=119371&p=0

Briefing Note 7

Given the foregoing, the obvious immediate & logical solution appears to be to retain the existing fuel duty arrangements (26% of votes), and probably adjust this to retain revenue level (21% votes).

 

Briefing Note 7

The briefing note below is the latest in our series summarising prospective business at States Meetings, to enable 2020 Association Members to be informed. 

(We did not present a briefing note on the recent interpolated States Meeting of 25th June. The business of this Meeting was to present and discuss (and accept) the annual report on the Policy and Resources plan and (newly and with commendable transparency) the States Annual Accounts, which had already been signed off. Owing to the shortness of time after the meeting of 12th June, and the complexity of the agenda for this Meeting as it developed, with over 20 amendments being proposed for discussion, we were unable, regrettably, to provide a meaningful briefing in the time available. Members will hopefully have been able to follow the account of the debates in the Guernsey Press.) Of note was the Inder/Soulsby amendment requiring regular progress reports of the Future Digital Services project for which the States gave the go-ahead, at an estimated £200M worth of expenditure over 10 years, at its Meeting of 12th June. Members will recall that we had grave concerns over the lack of detail in the Policy document laid before the States on the 12th June, and this amendment should to some extent address these concerns.

Future States Business brief (7) – Meeting of 17 July 2019

The business for this meeting returns to the usual general format. The routine matters which are effectively to be ratified unless some objection is raised include measures relating to the introduction of a Highway Code and particular forms of traffic signs in Guernsey, relaxation of the Misuse of Drugs legislation to permit the controlled use of medicinal cannabis, some (very dry) adjustments to Data Protection regulations and the laying down certain forms and procedures with regard to mental health treatments. There is also a proposed law being laid before the States in order to enable the seamless transfer of employment of IT personnel from the States to the new entity which is now going to take forward the all-embracing Future Digital Services project.

There are three noteworthy items for debate. The first concerns “taxation of motoring” and is a proposal to change the present system of a motor fuel excise duty (petrol and diesel) to one of taxing based on mileage. This is apparently driven by concerns about falling revenue, owing to fossil fuel consumption falling. The proposal is to investigate potential systems and bring forward proposals for changing fuel duty to a mileage tax. The grounds are that continuing to raise the (necessary) revenue – some £20M annually – through increasing fuel duty is unfair on those who cannot afford to change their vehicles to electric ones, but that it is still assumed that a flat rate annual tax on vehicle ownership is objectionable, on the grounds that “road tax” should be paid by actual users. A tax on mileage is seen as the most “fair” way forward. The 2020 Association is of the view that the proposition is too narrow and needs to be part of a holistic approach to energy, transport and revenue thereon, and in the interim the current fuel duty rate could simply be increased to retain current revenue.

The supporting materials contain interesting comparisons on the costs of motoring in the UK itself, and in the various Crown Dependencies. Looking at the wider picture, though, the proposals illustrate the common taxation dilemma of the conflict between trying to raise revenue by taxing an activity which people wish to enjoy, but at the same time wanting to minimise the harmful effects of their doing so (compare alcohol and tobacco taxes). Guernsey needs tax revenues, but at the same time it surely wants to discourage, not only the use of fossil fuels, because of pollution and greenhouse gas effects, but reduce the very use of private cars generally, because of traffic congestion and health effects. These proposals seem to be aimed only at trying to tweak the system to produce a supposedly “fairer” way of retaining current revenue in the relatively short term. Given the sensitivities of motoring as a political subject, the debate on this topic should be interesting.

The second notable item is a general review of intentions with regard to International Development Aid. The proposal advanced is to fix a target of 0.2% of Guernsey’s GDP to be given out in overseas aid by 2030, but in the meantime also whilst spending is below that target, to allocate a proportion of any budget surpluses achieved, in addition to budgeted overseas aid in that year. 

Overseas aid is, again, a sensitive subject on which opinions vary greatly. No-one can decry or denigrate charitable giving, but there are good reasons for keeping governmental charitable giving well restrained. First, there is a huge private charitable ethos in Guernsey already. This is to be encouraged, for its fostering of good works and communal spirit, but the important thing is that it is voluntary. Quite apart from people reasonably wishing to be in control of where they give away their own money, rather than having its direction foist upon them, if the States starts making greater aid donations out of taxation, this is all too likely to lead individuals to reduce their own charitable involvement. Next, the adage that “charity begins at home” is a forceful one. The States is elected to improve the well-being of the people of Guernsey, not the people of other lands, and there are many deserving causes for States’ bounty to be found in Guernsey itself. Third, the States are, in effect, trustees of taxpayers’ money, and the justification for handing out trust money other than to the beneficiaries of the trust can only ever be that there is some demonstrable and actual indirect benefit to the beneficiaries from doing so. Where the only suggested such benefit is enhancing the “reputation” of Guernsey, this owes more to rhetoric than to any evidence of tangible effects. Fourth, but particularly important, there is the further very forceful adage that it should be “trade not aid”. 

The proposed target is, in fact, the lowest of the suggested possible targets as a percentage of GDP (up to 0.7%) put forward in a previous States resolution of November 2018, but there is the question whether even this lowest of percentages is really appropriate for the finances of such a small economy as Guernsey. It is interesting that 0.7% of GDP is £21.35m, which is oddly about the same amount of fuel duty that the first proposal above is trying to replace. (Figure based on the latest available GDP of £3.05bn in 2017). We, of course, have no responsibility to “lead by example” in this international field, and it must be highly questionable whether Guernsey’s population gains anything by doing so, even if it may satisfy the personal consciences of some Deputies. It smacks of ‘virtue signalling’ with other people’s money. Once again, the debate on this topic will be interesting.

The third matter of major interest is a Requete which has been raised in relation to the Island Development Plan, to enable policy adjustments to be made before the end of its present term of application. In particular, this wishes to stress the importance of considering the combined impact of multiple small development schemes, preferring brownfield sites over greenfield sites, promoting the development of the Bridge area, and making it easier for third parties to object to planning decisions which affect them. After the well-publicised recent outcry against certain planning decisions, and the approach and procedures applied, this is not at all surprising, and is probably to be welcomed.

Other matters to be dealt with include elections to the Guernsey Competition and Regulatory Authority, to the Monitoring Board of the Prison and to fill vacancies on the Committee for Home Affairs. The annual report on Guernsey Prison is also presented to the States for consideration.

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

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

Airport Runway (Part B) Tender information request

2020 Association demands to see PwC Part B Tender docs.

The 2020 Association has made a request under the States of Guernsey Code of Practice for Access to Public Information (2014) for information for tender documents and information relating to Part B (business case) of the PwC island’s air and sea transport links report, with a view to general disclosure to the public.


James Collings, the Chairman of the Association, said “Following our successful request to have the PwC Report into Air Links Infrastructure Report released, The 2020 Association now requests further information relating to the tendering and costing of Part B of this Report, which the States voted not to pay for on the 26/04/2019. These are documents that can be released to the public in a redacted form at least. They have been paid for from the public purse. The taxpayer has a right to see them, and P&R have an obvious obligation to produce them. The 2020 Association has therefore made a request for production under the States of Guernsey Code of Practice.”

The improvement of transport connectivity, and the implementation of a full Freedom of Information Law are among the foremost stated objectives of the 2020 Association.

A copy of our letter is here.

On the 24th May 2019, P&R declined to provide any further details on the airlinks tender.

Meeting 2 May 2019

We are having our first public meeting at Les Cotils on the 2nd May 2019 at 7pm, in the Harry Bound room . Anyone is welcome to attend and it’s free.

The question of airlinks will be one of the subjects on which discussion will be invited.

Policy and Resources say a runway extension is not worth pursuing, that there is no appetite for it and there would be no return on investment.

2020 thinks differently. We have read the evidence based reports, we have listened to the representations from the business community and we back a connected Guernsey to secure our future.

Please click on the link to confirm your attendance.