TOUGH immigration controls in Guernsey have been blamed by multi-millionaire Guy Hands for the island’s struggling economy with a warning that the ‘downward spiral’ would continue.
He contrasted the situation with Jersey, whose economy, he said, had rebounded strongly, as a warning for what lies ahead for the UK after Brexit.
Writing in The Independent, the Terra Firma boss, who lives locally, urged ministers to look at Jersey and Guernsey if they want to see the wider economic impact of controls to limit foreign workers to short periods.
But Policy & Resources member Jonathan Le Tocq defended the island’s policies, saying that with limited physical space and resources, a carefully considered approach to population management was absolutely necessary.
Mr Hands said the two Channel Islands had a great deal in common, but it was the big differences in their approach to immigration in recent years which should give UK ministers pause for thought.
‘Guernsey, where I live, has adopted a tough stance. Those coming to work in lower-skilled jobs face very tight restrictions – curbs which are being further toughened. In future, even those who have worked regularly here in the past will find it hard to return,’ he said.
‘These tight controls are already having an impact. Figures published last month confirm the island’s population was lower in March 2016 than three years before with net migration over the past 12 months reaching only 121 after three years of being in the red. It is an outcome to delight those pressing for similar controls in the UK.
‘But the result is that the number of people of working age has fallen and firms are struggling to fill vacancies. Businesses have reduced opening hours and some are being forced to close. New curbs preventing regular workers returning will mean a further loss in skills and experience with the downward spiral looking set to continue.’
He said Jersey had a more open approach.
‘Far from pulling up the drawbridge, net migration in 2015, at 1,500, was at record levels. This follows three years when it added 1,900 to the island’s population. And this is not just about attracting high-worth individuals or those in the professions.
‘Jersey has made it easier, too, for those who work hard and progress at whatever level they start to build a life on the island. They see the benefits of encouraging those with drive and talent to stay rather than having to rely on a very transient workforce.’
There were many different reason why economies grow, he said.
‘But there is nothing I have heard or seen which makes me doubt that immigration has helped Jersey’s recent growth outstrip that of its neighbour. Jersey’s economy has rebounded strongly with GDP growth of two per cent in 2015 following an exceptional four per cent rise – among the very best in Europe – the year before. Guernsey, in comparison, saw its economy grow by 0.4 per cent in 2015 after flat-lining in 2014.
‘Both islands face major problems including how to fill a worrying shortfall in government revenues. But I believe Jersey has a better chance of overcoming these challenges by encouraging those who can contribute to their economy and island life to stay.’
Deputy Le Tocq said that, like many other jurisdictions, Guernsey is facing an ageing demographic. ‘We recognise that these challenges need to be addressed, but just because we might be taking a more cautious approach than some would wish, it doesn’t mean we have got it wrong. The island has limited physical space and resources, and therefore a carefully considered approach to population management is necessary.
‘With that in mind, the States of Deliberation approved in December 2015 new strategic population policy objectives, more flexible and focused than in the past, which clearly established that the island must have a strong and skilled workforce.
‘The States’ policy is therefore not anti-population growth. The 2015 population objectives, combined with the new population management system, enables strategic growth in the right areas – those which will help strengthen the economy and serve the community.
‘Working with the business community to ensure the population grows in the right areas is crucial to that, and I understand that the population employment advisory panel has been undertaking significant work in that regard, ahead of the new system starting in April.’