Guernsey Press

Horace Camp: Make Guernsey Affordable Again

Horace Camp has a suggestion for Guernsey’s new chief minister...


As all you classicists will know, Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus was a Roman politician of the republic revered for his outstanding leadership, service to the greater good, civic virtue, humility and modesty.

Even if you are unaware of his existence I’m certain on reading the list of his virtues you immediately thought of our own dear leader, Lyndon Trott.

Cincinnatus is remembered not only for accepting dictatorial powers to solve a great threat to the republic, but especially for at the end of the crisis renouncing his absolute powers and returning to his small farm to complete ploughing the field, which had been interrupted when he reluctantly took on dictatorial powers.

Like Lyndon, he had no further ambitions beyond the crisis. He was chosen by the people to solve an immediate problem and, having done so, stood down. Lyndon doesn’t have the same power of life or death over everyone of us, nor sweeping dictatorial powers. Some may say, ‘Thank the Lord for that’. However, the analogy holds true. His eyes are not on the prize of another term of office. No matter how much we beg him to stand again, he has vowed to return to his metaphorical field, throw the reins across his back and follow the donkey and plough down its perfectly straight furrow.

Now is the hour and Lyndon is the man who cometh for it. His wilderness years are over and, like his hero Churchill, the full limelight is now upon him.

Cincinnatus was clear that the problem to solve was to defeat the Aequi. He did it in 16 days, and who remembers the Aequi now? Churchill knew he had to defeat Hitler and it took him five years. Lyndon has only 18 months to defeat… And here’s the problem.

What does he have to defeat? The States sausage machine that rolls out policy letters based on States resolutions of years ago when the world and the issues facing us were very different to where we find ourselves today? The perceived fiscal problems of some time in the future predicted by experts who never predicted the mess we would be in now? Or should he focus on the here and now, the real problem and the greatest risk to our community, which is no one will want to live here because it is completely unaffordable for the average donkey.

It’s all well and good enticing transient people here to fill jobs that half of the States-educated children couldn’t even apply for training in because they don’t have a decent GCSE maths grade.

We have ambitions based on a completely spurious GDP. On the face of it we are all rich. An island where, by GDP per capita, a nuclear family of four has an average household income of nearly a quarter of a million. Does that sound likely? And do you think Ireland, which also has a large finance industry, is almost the richest per capita in Europe? Of course not.

My fellow columnist, Hayley North, wrote a piece about being alone at Christmas. It was heart-warming and I hope you read it. States policy over many decades will make such Christmases far more common for many islanders. The family is dying. One, youngsters can’t afford to have them, and two, they couldn’t afford to house them here.

Once it was go away, become qualified, get experience and come back here to raise a family and repeat the cycle. That cycle is broken. The new cycle is the young go away for opportunities and to start a family and eventually their oldies leave to join them or else will rarely see the grandchildren.

From the technocratic States point of view, that isn’t a problem. Guernsey plc needs a workforce and there is a huge global nomadic workforce that can come here to fill the public service roles. Most will stay three years and move on, but it’s not a problem because someone from out there will fill the slot. I often wonder if it is harder to keep short-term professionals in the winter than in the summer? I think if I was a nomad I would follow the sun.

I want Lyndon to define the problem he will solve in 18 months as saving the Guernsey community. Guernsey is more than public service jobs being filled. Guernsey is a people, not a rock in the channel. And the people can be made up of any race, colour or creed, as long as they sink roots here and do everything to make those roots deep. I usually sound insensitive, but trust me, it is always for the best intentions.

Eighteen months is not long. The task I would set Lyndon is to make Guernsey a friendly, affordable, long-term home for people under 30. With protection for them and their children who cannot compete as ‘the best candidate’ for our higher paid jobs against the billions of people they are potentially competing against for those jobs.

Is our aim an efficient island or a community with roots?

Lyndon, start building the 1,000 new States homes we need to bring the housing market back to affordable.

Lyndon, stop your civil servants basing what we can afford on a meaningless GDP. Perhaps finance can be stripped out of GDP – it won’t be there one day anyway – and comparisons of what our government costs made against that. Perhaps 2% of a modest but more realistic GDP is what we should spend on infrastructure, which I guess means more ‘make do and mend’ than new-builds every 30 years.

Throw out discussions on long-term care, future fiscal policy and so on, which will only depress the people more. Stop inventing new charges or contributions to prove you can take on more fiscal responsibilities. A small cut will smart but the 1,000th small cut will kill. Set a policy that taking on more cost has to come out of an overall fiscal surplus and not a hypothecated charge or duty.

Let the parked policies become election items, which will give substance to questions for candidates for the first time ever.

I think you have already been in office longer than it took Cincinnatus to defeat his foe, but I expect it will take you the full 18 months to Make Guernsey Affordable Again.