ESS head shocked by Chief Minister's suggestion for States housing

A FLABBERGASTED Peter Roffey has labelled Peter Ferbrache's out of the blue announcement that all States housing should be handed over to the Guernsey Housing Association as 'bizarre and discourteous'.

The Policy and Resources president told a recent Chamber lunch that he believed it should be passed over 'lock, stock and barrel', but has never discussed the idea with Deputy Roffey, who is president of Employment & Social Security which has political responsibility for the issue.

'It hardly bodes well for the collegiate, team effort, approach to politics in this new term which Deputy Ferbrache himself has advocated and which I very much support,' said Deputy Roffey.

'I am particularly disappointed that as an aside to his personal policy announcement Deputy Ferbrache launched an implied attack on the efficiency of the ESS’s in-house housing team. Something I regard as unjustified and unwarranted. The president of P&R is in a leadership position. He is not a back-bencher firing off random ideas from the hip.'

Policy & Resources president Deputy Peter Ferbrache at the recent Chamber of Commerce lunch where he said he believed States housing should be passed over to the Guernsey Housing Association. (Picture by Peter Frankland, 29143687)

He assured the public that the concept was not official States policy, but stressed he was open minded on it.

It will be discussed with the GHA.

'The tax payers of Guernsey have paid for the current stock of States housing and they get a return on that investment. Currently the rental income from States housing is more than £20m. per year which goes directly to general revenue. Clearly the tax payer would have to make up that shortfall in other ways if it was simply foregone.

'So obviously our States housing stock could not be simply gifted to the GHA. Rather, in order to realise good value for their present owners, the tax payer, they would need to be sold for several hundreds of millions of pounds.

'That may be the best way forward. Equally it could be a “smoke and mirrors” way of avoiding large scale states borrowing in response to covid-19. Get someone else to do the borrowing, we still get the injection of capital, we don’t have to service or repay that debt, but instead we lose a large revenue stream.'

He believes the move would leave the tax payer worse off, but could help with the provision of social housing because the rents would be paid directly to the GHA.

'I look forward to that proper assessment being made before my committee can come to any firm, informed, policy position but I have one real fear.'

That is that investment in the current housing will be delayed because of the fear of an impending major policy shift.

'For example we have been waiting for some time now for a response from P&R to a request to spend about a million pounds to significantly upgrade an estate of 50 properties, and greatly improve their thermal insulation. Such a cost-effective scheme could prove a template for similar improvements on several other of our older estates.'

The price paid by the GHA for any possible stock transfer would take fully into account the condition of the properties, he said, so cash spent now on improving housing stock will not be wasted if and when any transfer takes place.

Deputy Ferbrache said he meant no discourtesy to anyone when he made the comments.

'I also made no allusions implied or otherwise on the efficiency of the Employment & Social Security in-house housing team. Indeed, having regard to my comments which I have re-read, I cannot see how any reasonable person would conclude that I have.'

He stressed he was speaking for himself when making those comments in the speech, not P&R.

'What I don’t want to see happen is a disagreement between me and Deputy Roffey or any other States member. I regard this issue as closed unless he or anyone else wishes to continue it.

'I value the contributions and free expressions of opinion made by anybody, including myself. I have never needed or expected to receive the permission of anyone to express any opinion I hold.'

Deputy Peter Roffey's letter will be published in full in the Guernsey Press on Friday.

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