Halfway through and nothing to show for it
LAST FRIDAY, BBC Guernsey broadcast a programme in which various deputies were asked what they thought were the achievements of this States at the halfway point in its four-year term. The conclusion was regrettably lamentable. It boiled down to: absolutely nothing.
The fact that the president of the Committee for the Environment & Infrastructure cited the take-up of the electric bicycle initiative as an example of his achievements would be laughable if it were not so depressing. Of course it was a success; it was a handout. All it did, apart from increase the profits of a few bicycle vendors, was to provide a handful of middle-class islanders with a new luxury toy, or a taxpayer subsidy for purchasing a means of transport that they would have bought anyway. Indeed, we learn that several used this initiative to acquire a second bike to take to their holiday homes. As to the greater good, this initiative has made not one jot of difference to the island’s problems of traffic congestion or pollution, or improving public transport or general health standards. It will not have taken a single car off the roads. It has been yet another total waste of money – £100,000 that could and should have been put towards providing electric charging points across the island, to encourage the use of electric cars. This, at least, would have been a step towards a coherent and worthwhile infrastructure policy.
Regrettably, this is just another example of the chaotic and misdirected efforts of the current cohort of deputies, or at least those possessed of any actual power. The most egregious of these has, of course, been the recent assisted dying debate. Here, the States wasted not just three days of States debating time, but a vast quantity of time and resources behind the scenes (not to mention printing ink) on an abstract and controversial proposal which had been on no deputy’s manifesto – only to come to the obvious conclusion that any required resources would be better devoted to providing improved palliative care. At least that was something to show for the effort, although some may question whether the international publicity was a good or a bad thing for Guernsey. More depressing, though, is the fact that this proposal and its attendant use of taxpayer-funded resources was promoted and driven by the elected leader of the States, showing a worrying failure to appreciate the appropriate deployment of the privileges of a leadership position in the face of all the other, hugely more pressing and significant, problems which concern the future well-being of the whole island.
These two are just recent examples of the waste of money and resources and general lack of coherent policy arising from the current system of government. Others include the total lack of any tackling of Guernsey’s unsatisfactory transport connections including failure to direct and control the conduct of Aurigny, the see-saw ideological in-fighting with regard to secondary education policy (why, one marvels, is Guernsey now adopting a change of policy with regard to grammar schools which the UK adopted 50 years ago and has just recognised to have been a mistake), the absurd adoption of a waste disposal strategy which will probably see the island held to ransom by commercial counter-parties in the course of time, and the wasteful legacy of the famous States Bond, taken out, against the clamour of commercial opinion, at a rate of interest which predictably then became higher than generally available borrowing rates, and without (it turned out) having taken full account of the costs involved.
This island is facing significant problems, principally arising from a stagnating economy. Yet its system of government, whatever its sociological credentials for inclusivity, or consensus, produces procrastination, waste of resources and generally amateurish ‘village pump’ decisions where any are taken at all. The sooner Guernsey can be run on the basis of sensible business principles, by those with some appreciation of these, the better. At least then, deputies might be able to point to real achievements in the first half of their term of office instead of casting around and finding nothing.