Doing it for ourselves

BEFORE reading Monday’s edition of this newspaper I had never heard of nurdles. Which is quite an admission given that heinous nurdles – small plastic pellets – are polluting our beaches to such an extent that only the States of Guernsey has the resources necessary to save us from them.

(Picture by Sophie Rabey, 29059023)
(Picture by Sophie Rabey, 29059023)

I rarely get to the seaside these days and obviously the selective editing by Smash Fishing of his YouTube beach foraging expeditions has hidden from me and the rest of the world the despicable state of our beaches, which only the resources of government can possibly restore to their once pristine condition.

Or possibly it’s my poor eyesight confusing the tell-tale sign of an excavated lobster hole being not in fact a pile of sand but instead a pile of heinous nurdles.

I salute the gallant volunteers who turned out to clear the beaches and I understand that given there were absolutely loads on Grandes Rocques and given the volunteers’ lack of a JCB and a lorry it would be impossible for them to clear it alone.

And therein is the rub. Whenever a good cause is embraced by volunteers, and I can’t thank them enough in this case for wanting to improve our environment, and they realise the resources available to them are insufficient to resolve the problem that they see, they invariably question why the taxpayer isn’t funding the solution to the problem.

I’m pretty sure a multitude of the services offered by the States of Guernsey were triggered by the activities of a few who identified a great problem, tried to solve it but then turned to the States, which rather than just helping took on the main role and the total expense.

This is all well and good, but I fear that what seems to be a heinous problem to a few is not even perceived to be a problem by the many. Is Smash Fishing presenting a false image to me of our gin-clear sea and pristine beaches, or do we need a beach cleaning task force on permanent standby to repel the nurdles?

Just as the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, so is the road to Big Government and bankruptcy for small islands like ourselves.

We have become so used to government providing for our every need that we may have forgotten that we do have certain responsibilities ourselves. Why is it so common for the States of Guernsey to be considered liable to provide us with solutions for all of our problems?

There are of course basic services that we accept are best delivered by the States. Although we must also accept that political belief influences the definition of basic service. The States of Guernsey, for instance, unlike the government of the UK, does not consider primary medical services a basic need enough to be delivered and funded by it. And yet some consider keeping our beaches clean to be more of a pressing need for States involvement and investment.

We have seen the growth of active travel units and biodiversity officers and so on and so forth, which are wonderful things to have, but as always I question should they be services delivered by government in one way or another?

I do apologise for poking a bit of fun at our valiant beach cleaners for doing their bit to keep our beloved island beautiful and our fauna safe and I do really appreciate their service. But I think post-Covid, if there ever is a post-Covid world, we must change our way of thinking if we are to survive as an independent community.

Asking the States for help has to be seen as the last option because we cannot keep our government growing at the rate it currently is. I recently wrote about overseas aid, but I would suggest that the majority of overseas aid funded by our community comes directly from the people and not via the States.

We are, generally speaking, a pretty nice bunch of people in this island and we do a lot to help others. We could do a lot more, but are restrained by the concept that government must provide. We have seen some projects where volunteers have taken tasks into their own hands and preserved parts of our heritage which were low down on the States agenda. And rightly so, in my opinion.

Governance requirements and health and safety has made it harder for volunteers to provide some services they did in the past and inevitably that means the States taking over more responsibilities.

Our population demographic is providing us with a growing source of retired labour that can be tapped into for the benefit of the community. I’m hoping in our New World, which begins tomorrow, that we can begin a process where the government provides only core essential services and a safety net for the most vulnerable.

Slowly, over time, we can rebuild the volunteer community involvement which was an important part of our ‘machinery of government’ in the past. And we need to be especially cautious about engaging the States in delivering new services which can adequately be serviced by the community itself.

Our ageing population points to our community becoming on average more time rich than it is at present but also more cash poor. We need to consider that those who have time on their hands but little in their wallets will find it easier to pay their dues in service to the community rather than with money they can ill afford to share with others.

Politically I feel we are less likely to inflate government going forward, but the pressures will always be there. We can help the politicians by first considering how we can help ourselves before going cap in hand to the taxpayer.

And so, Dear Beach Cleaners, I look forward to the day when I read of your gallant efforts, shed a tear at the state we have let our beaches get into and applaud when you call for more volunteers to tackle the problem and no longer turn to government as the easy option.

Happy New Year, everyone.

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