Why aren’t we more ambitious?
Guernsey needs to step outside its comfort zone and come up with a bold plan for the future, says Hayley North
WHAT would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?
It is a question often asked by life coaches, trying to encourage people to reach their full potential and push themselves outside their comfort zones.
It is likely we will all fail as we try new things but by eliminating that initial negative thinking, which can stop us starting something in the first place, we can think clearly about where we truly want to be and what we want to work towards; what the rewards might be. This then makes it much easier to take the plunge.
I remember one such trainer I encountered in my early banking days getting us to draw a circle around where we stood – this was our ‘comfort zone’ where we felt safe, where we did not take risks and in which life was easy, safe but not exciting. If we were to make that circle bigger it would initially feel uncomfortable, we would be ‘outside our comfort zone’ but then, before long, our comfort zone would grow larger along with our confidence and it would no longer feel so bad. That was the time to draw a new circle and push ourselves a little further again.
I can testify that this does, in fact, work. My most exciting, fulfilling, rewarding, useful and frankly fun experiences have been well outside my comfort zone – at least to begin with. It is with this in mind that I turn to Guernsey and our current big dilemma.
Guernsey has a history of bold actions, resilience and creativity. This is a tiny island that survived a brutal occupation during the Second World War and bounced back into an island bursting with agricultural trade, tourism and optimism. Newcomers to the island are quick to become loyal to their new home and those born here are naturally protective of what they have.
Our airport, schools, hospital, town drains and roads we use today were all once ambitious ideas outside someone’s comfort zone when they were conceived and how very grateful we are that previous generations were bold enough to push ahead, despite not being entirely sure how to make it work. It was a surprise to me to learn that Guernsey’s old age pension came much later than that in the UK but it improved the lives of many pensioners here and for that we should be very grateful. The fact that it might need a rethink in current times is not surprising and we need to embrace this need for change and improvement rather than fear it.
With this as background, I am forced to ask why, in the context of the current debate around the immediate funding of essential services, we are not being more ambitious? Do we want Guernsey to just get by or to once again set an example of how communities can thrive and plan ahead effectively?
We have a dynamic and diverse community, many of whom feel under increasing financial pressure, and we need to invest and improve the island to both avoid losing young islanders to the UK and elsewhere and to attract people to come to work and live here. A bold plan for the future could galvanise support and inspire the next generation of islanders, serving as a blueprint for other jurisdictions.
Olive and Jan Grubiak, in their 1960 paper on Guernsey’s ‘experiment’ just after the Napoleonic wars, described the island at the time (in the early 1800s) thus: ‘Apart from the natural beauty and pleasant climate, there was precious little else to attract visitors to the island, or indeed to keep her inhabitants from removing to the mainland. The deep roads were mere cart-tracks, only 4ft 6in wide, which in wet weather became muddy rivers between steep banks. The town was ill-paved and unattractive and there was not a vehicle for hire of any kind on the island. There was no trade, nor hope of employment for the poor. Worst of all the sea was fast encroaching on the land and washing away large tracts of it, thanks to the sorry state of the dykes. The States debt of £19,137 bore an annual interest charge of £2,390; the annual revenue was £3,000.’ They later comment: ‘It was found that further taxation on the impoverished island was impossible.’
Those in charge in the early 1800s took the initiative to issue States Notes, which they used to effectively borrow money from themselves to pay for the building of the market and Elizabeth College among other things. This made the whole thing much more affordable and it also meant all the labour and materials were sourced on-island. Banks soon put the brakes on their ambitious project as it was eating into their own profits, but not before it had done a great deal of good. By paying workers in a currency they could then use to repay the States when paying rent on their market stalls, high interest costs were avoided, debt repaid quicker and work could be done faster. This also fostered a strong sense of local community and empowered those local people doing the work. It kept money on the island and improved our lives for the better.
In our now globalised economy, things are more complicated, yet we do have the option to take back ownership of our own currency in new and different ways and with some sensible negotiating with other central banks, private banks and other interested parties, we could both redistribute wealth and generate more revenue, building a more sustainable future not just for Guernsey but also setting an example for others. We could comfortably build critical infrastructure, housing and more and build future revenue streams for the States.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) (essentially a lender of last resort and provider of support to member nations) is already working on digital currencies in certain countries and in such a small place like this, we could really put some of the current ideas to the test, fostering a greater sense of community and fairness locally.
Martin Wolf, chief economic commentator at the Financial Times, is among those who regularly highlight the concept of governments taking back control of their own money as a critical step for a sustainable future. It is a complex area but one worth exploring. Few among us understand exactly how money works and the current model is definitely not working for many islanders.
The world is slowly beginning to realise that the downside of the rapid globalisation that began in the late 1980s is that local problems fail to be addressed and many communities like Guernsey are now without many of the varied trades they once relied on as a key source of revenue as it is hard to be competitive on such a large scale.
It is unlikely we can turn back time but we can look forward to new ways of doing things. We have natural advantages and opportunities based on our location and climate and once we step out of that comfort zone, who knows what ideas we will come up with. Our insurance industry alone could easily be another source of innovation if they looked at healthcare and long-term care for the elderly, for example, in new and creative ways.
Our thriving financial sector is not our competition, rather a key part of the solution.
When looking to the future and thinking what to do next, we really do need to be brave and do more than just tinker with the current model to solve short-term issues as fast as we can. It is not easy making these decisions on behalf of a population, I recognise that. We need to banish the fear of failure from our minds – we’ve survived before and will again.
As a community we need to support those who are brave enough to propose ambitious plans, even when they go wrong, keep our minds open to possibility and trust that we will make it work. Let’s plan to leave the kind of legacy for future generations that our predecessors left for us.