Guernsey Press

Where’s our sense of adventure?

Our geriatric States seems to have given up on economic growth and is no longer willing to embrace risk and seek new opportunities, says Horace Camp


BACK in the good old days before the woke, politically correct, puritanical revolution, when humour wasn’t a capital offence, there was a popular saying that you were only as old as the woman you feel.

Very recidivist I know and I’m sure all my readers under the age of 65 will still be in a state of shock, but I will continue anyway while I wait for the rozzers to take me away.

Assuming the old joke had a whiff of actuality within it, then I see Guernsey as a man older than Methuselah who is dating Methuselah’s older sister. Describing Guernsey as geriatric would be a tremendous understatement. Moribund is a far more apt description. Guernsey is waiting for God.

Let me describe my reasoning. When you are at the beginning of your life journey, full of energy with countless opportunities, you are willing to embrace risk and seek new opportunities and experiences because you have dreams and aspirations for the future.

Conversely, us old people can’t afford to take risks. If we dive off the end of the pier we may break a bone which we know will never properly heal. And just in case, we campaign for high railings with barbed wire at the top to prevent anyone falling off.

Teenagers strive for independence and their goal is to live autonomously from their parents. They want to be out of the door and living the high life at the first opportunity. Their elderly grandparents are requiring greater assistance and care, having accepted that their days of independence are in the past.

Money is viewed differently at each end of the age spectrum. For the young it is about spending it. For the very old it’s something to worry about. The young can earn and spend and then expect to earn more and spend more. The old believe their earning days are over and worry that what money they have may not last for however many years they have left.

I see nothing in the general direction of government policy that makes me think for one moment that P&R believes there are limitless possibilities out there which could make our economy grow as fast, or even faster, than the cost of government. As our life expectancy has grown, it seems to have reduced the risk-taking, adventurous spirit which had our boats travelling to Newfoundland for fish or fighting the French for prize money.

The States is like a bent old man shuffling along with the support of his walking stick to his counting house where he likes to personally count his coin and it would spoil his fun to spend a single one on coal for the fire. Our States sits on a fortune in the bank, hundreds of millions of pounds, but like the old man it takes comfort from having it safely under lock and key because it knows we will never be able to replace it.

Guernsey has achieved its life aims, or realised they are unachievable this late in life. Earning potential is frankly over and now it is important to stay friendly with younger folk who can protect and care for us in our dotage. Independence and autonomy is for the young, not for us. We need to work closer with Jersey. Yes, it means we become the junior partner, the Jersey Alderney, but they will look after us. We should let Jersey sort out our electricity strategy as well because it will take a lot of hard work and our States gets very sleepy after lunch and needs a good, long nap with Jersey Electricity tucking it in.

Imagine if, after growing failed spectacularly, we had just given up as we have now. A finance industry was completely unexpected and the great minds of government were working on growing Chinese gooseberries to save us. I suspect if a rule-based, risk-free environment had existed in Guernsey back then, we would have refused to take the risk of finance.

Anyway, back to the present. Our geriatric States, having given up on economic growth, hasn’t given up on a comfortable lifestyle – which has left it with a dilemma. Rather than becoming frugal and living on its pension, it is reluctant to change unless it is a change for the better. After all, iPhones and Teslas don’t come cheap.

What is the solution? Of course the answer is to twist the screw on the taxpayer. With no hope of the island earning more money, then the answer is the States needs a greater share of what we do have. Realising future growth is an impossibility, it is imperative to protect what we have. Independence and autonomy go out of the window and so we amend reams of our legislation, effectively driven by the European Union.

I’m sure Daniel de Lisle Brock will be spinning in his grave. I’m a bit out of touch with finance these days but it has far less of the pioneering feel than it did in my day. That’s a fair analogy actually. The pioneers could have stayed out east, working in drug stores and factories, safe but boring. Instead they travelled hundreds of miles into the wilderness, facing innumerable perils. They cleared forests with axes, ploughed the fields with mules and suffered plagues, drought and fires but kept clearing more. They built communities and the communities built a nation.

Now that land is in the safe hands of large corporations. The communities dispersed and the heirs of the pioneers now work in drug stores and fast food outlets. Similar to our finance industry?

I’ve got this awful feeling we are living off past successes. I keep my eye out for reports of new fund business and I don’t get the impression it is coming in fast enough to replace existing business coming to the end of its natural life. I hope someone is keeping an eye on this and I hope I’m wrong but relying on annuity business does not fill this old business developer with confidence.

It’s a great shame that this elderly States of inaction has a five-year term instead of the usual four because we have two years before we can elect a more gung-ho government which goes for economic prosperity for all through growth, rather than focusing on human rights that we didn’t even realise we are lacking.

Our elderly-minded States believes the answer is to hold on to what we’ve got for as long as we can. If it only would give Methuselah’s older sister her marching orders, perhaps it could be revitalised and build a new Guernsey based on growth. Wagons, ho!