Guernsey Press

Popcorn at the ready

This week’s States debate could prove fit for a big screen – complete with superheroes, drama and a rebranded tax trilogy, says Deputy Gavin St Pier

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HERE we go again.

Sequels are rarely better than the original. Just think of the Jaws series. Tax Review 3 is in the mould of Jaws 3, although unlike Jaws, the original in our series was so bad it would take little to beat it.

Despite an extra day being bolted on to this week’s meeting, it seems very unlikely that all the business will be concluded by Friday evening. The programme is not that long, but what’s there is going to consume hours of debate.

As ever, the show will begin with two routine committee update statements. This time from the Committee for Employment & Social Security and the Development & Planning Authority. Then we have ESS’s policy letter, setting out its plans for 2024 social security contribution rates and the benefits that flow from those contributions, the most important of which is the States’ pension. The recommendation is these benefits increase by 6.8% in line with core inflation. In the absence of an agreed tax strategy, the ratchet up on contribution rates continues unabated, taking employees’ rates to 7.2%, employers’ to 6.9% and the self-employed to 11.9%. ESS is also proposing its pursue its own reform of social security in the absence of a wider tax strategy having been agreed.

Next up is the Government Work Plan, again. Having only debated a previous iteration in July 2023, it’s a demonstration that this Assembly appears happier to spend time talking about plans than actually delivering them. The GWP faces three amendments. Deputies Kazantseva-Miller and Soulsby want to redirect more family allowance into funding childcare. This is essentially an economic development measure, given its purpose is to increase the number of parents – mothers in particular – able to participate in the workforce.

The second amendment will unusually screen the president of the Committee for Education, Sport & Culture, Deputy Dudley-Owen, and ESC’s own bete-noire, Deputy Cameron, in the same scene at the same time, to secure ongoing funding for Active8, ESC’s sports strategy. Having faced a wall of criticism for fronting, and therefore apparently endorsing, P&R’s proposal to cut funding, the committee’s amendment was all but inevitable, as is its likely success.

The final amendment is from the Assembly’s self-styled Batman and Robin duo, Deputies Meerveld and McKenna. If you can picture the lycra and capes, they are swinging into action, this time to save the Assembly from the evils of Policy & Resources failing to endorse their strategy for offshore wind. Their ‘kerpow’ knockout blow to P&R would be to create a special committee with Batman as its chair. P&R really only have themselves to blame for the situation they face, having created their own Frankenstein of sundry P&R energy ‘sub-groups’ without any clear terms of reference or States’ endorsement, despite the Committee for the Environment & Infrastructure having the mandate and States’ direction to deal with energy strategy.

At some point, debate will begin on Tax Review 3, now re-named the Funding & Investment Plan, perhaps in a forlorn attempt to rebrand the trilogy.

In a quick recap of its awful predecessors, Tax Review 1 was so badly produced that P&R lost confidence before it premiered and down-graded it to a ‘green paper’. The critics still panned it with a clear message to P&R that they really hoped the next version wouldn’t contain their nemesis, GST.

P&R’s screenwriters didn’t seem to receive that memo, so Tax Review 2 was so long that, like the original cinema version of Gandhi, it stretched over two meetings in January and February this year, with an intermission in the middle.

The plotline then was that our demography was such that the long-term public expenditure and revenue challenges were so dire, GST was the only solution. The public stayed away in droves, preferring to wrap themselves in red ribbons and sing ‘Sweet Caroline’ in Market Square, rather than listen to the opening theme.

Undeterred, the directors of GST rushed production of the FIP, albeit with an unsubtle change in plotline. This time the bogeyman that GST was needed to conquer was delivery of the island’s capital programme. Much like someone imagined Jaws 3 would be better in 3D, P&R decided that throwing in £350m. of borrowing – having previously told everyone that borrowing was not needed – would make the whole spectacle more enjoyable. The fact that government is demonstrably incapable of managing and delivering the capital programme at the scale and in the timescales set out has the audience choking on their popcorn.

So the FIP faces a phalanx of amendments, some familiar, some new.

The Committee for Health & Social Care is, unsurprisingly, attempting to secure the remaining phases of the hospital.

Deputy Matthews is striving to halt the move of the Sixth Form Centre from Les Varendes to Les Ozouets, which will no doubt produce howls of protest from (most of) ESC every bit as dramatic as the closing scenes from King Kong on the Empire State Building being strafed by bi-planes.

Deputy Parkinson is replaying his much repeated message that corporate tax reform is needed. (He first started thumping out that tune when films were silent and cinemas still had organs.)

The team (including me) that first brought you the Fairer Alternative back in the new year, that got closest to audience acclaim, are returning with another package of measures, albeit we’ve needed to present ‘scenarios’ rather than ‘options’ to keep up with P&R’s shift in script.

Deputy Trott, a one-time cinema idol known for delivering pithy one-liners and plot twists, is unexpectedly leading the charge for a 2 or 3% increase in income tax. It’s conceivable that this amendment might scoop all the awards on the night.