Tainted legacy

DEPUTIES Sherbourne, Gollop and Brehaut have a point.

DEPUTIES Sherbourne, Gollop and Brehaut have a point.

Huge amounts of time and energy are being

put into delivering the much-vaunted Financial Transformation Programme but we’ve no idea if the current States actually agrees with it.

The last assembly did, and it’s still States’ policy, but that doesn’t mean it has majority support among our present government.

Of course, that’s always a problem when there’s a general election. A fresh assembly always inherits a raft of policies and projects from the last lot that they may not necessarily agree with.

That gradually gets resolved as the new States debates all of the big issues of the day, moulds policy to fit their consensus thinking, and then repeats history by leaving their own legacy programme to the next lot. So is the current situation with the FTP any different?

I think it is in two ways.

Firstly, most new States Assemblies are made up of a majority of deputies from the previous administration with perhaps 12 to 15 newbies. This time around the change was far greater and therefore the validity of old, inherited policy must be more questionable.

Secondly, the FTP is so fundamental, biting on nearly every area of States activity, that if the new States are not four-square behind it then it’s best we find out sooner rather than later.

In those circumstances it’s also vital we know what the doubters’ alternative is.

Let’s remind ourselves what the FTP is all about. The original idea was to try to find efficiency savings that could reduce States spending by about 10%. That in turn was one plank of the strategy for filling the big black hole in States finances created by zero-10.

Another strand was a return to trend economic growth. We know that hasn’t happened, which makes keeping down States spending even more important. But of course that’s not the only way to balance the books and perhaps the present States should be free to devise its own way forward.

What the alternatives might be are unclear. Perhaps 5% efficiency savings coupled with higher taxes. That would be deeply unpopular in some quarters, but so would any cuts in vital frontline services.

Already Education is warning that it will struggle to meet its FTP targets without such cuts. I hate to say ‘I told you so’, but a while ago I predicted that 2013 would be the year when universal support for the FTP started to crumble, with either Education or HSSD being the first to break ranks. It looks as if I over-estimated how long the unity of purpose could be maintained.

Of course, if any deputies do fundamentally disagree with the thrust of the FTP they are free to try to alter it. Remember how Scott Ogier brought a requete soon after first being elected in 2004 to overturn the decision of the previous States to buy an incinerator?

Changing subject, a while ago I chided Deputy Kevin Stewart for being a bit of a wimp when he said his department were going to park the issue of Sunday trading because whatever they came up with was bound to upset lots of people.

Well, he’s certainly proved he’s not scared of his own shadow by advocating the reclamation of Belle Greve Bay. That doesn’t make him right, but he definitely isn’t shying away from a controversial subject. When it comes to upsetting lots of people, filling in Belle Greve is right up there with removing the Model Yacht Pond.

This latest bit of kite flying by the Commerce and Employment Minister is the third time major land reclamation on our eastern seaboard has been suggested in recent years.

First time round it was Amec, supported – after a fashion – by the Board of Administration. Then it was Longport with the ‘Little Venice’ concept.

That got some political support on the strength of the sewage treatment aspect of the scheme. But this is really the first time we’ve seen a politically led suggestion to fill in Belle Greve.

Will it succeed? No way. Not only is the view out to sea from Guernsey’s east coast the finest in the island, but the inter-tidal zone at Belle Greve is a hugely important habitat. Those who dismiss the beach as ‘tatty’ just because it’s not sandy or used by bathers have really missed the point. Deputy Stewart may well have shown some political courage but he’s just plain wrong. It’s time to dust off those placards.