Not at any price

THE Guernsey Policy and Economic Group is totally in favour of putting in place appropriate and proportionate anti-discrimination legislation, full stop. We believe that Deputy Roffey, however, is completely missing the point.

Deputy Roffey’s blunt response (his words) to GPEG’s article in the Press of 24 March [Think tank questions basis of anti-discrimination legislation] tries to appeal to the ‘good’ employer who respects and supports their workforce, saying they have nothing to fear from this new legislation. Legislation does not guarantee a ‘good’ employer, but it can sometimes influence behavioural change. GPEG wholly agrees with ‘bad’ employers being sanctioned but there is no current evidence that employers in Guernsey are behaving badly towards their employees.

It is worth noting that Deputy St Pier, the then chief minister of the States, in his letter to the consultation said: ‘P&R is concerned that the proposals are, in a number of areas, or can be perceived to be, disproportionate for the size of the island.’ These proposals were slightly amended before finally being passed by the States – however not significantly enough, in our opinion, to be considered proportionate for Guernsey.

To clarify, GPEG’s concerns are directly related to proportionality and the unknown cost of implementing the legislation as currently intended. Deputy Roffey made assumptions in his recent Press article that GPEG were referring to the cost to employers in the private sector of making reasonable adjustments to accommodate disabled employees and service users. Employers will bear a lot of other costs to comply with the legislation. Its not just the private sector that will be affected by these so called ‘reasonable adjustments’ – the public sector remains the largest single employer and therefore these costs will be felt there too. Additionally, the increased costs will not only apply to reasonable adjustments – there is a lot in this legislation.

The States has a duty under its Rules of Procedure to fully cost a proposal before it goes to the States of Guernsey for approval. This was partially done but not completed. The largest employer on the island is the States of Guernsey. Their probably very considerable costs as an employer in complying with the proposed ordinance are incorrectly absent from the required cost information. All this will have a direct impact on the public purse, i.e. the taxpayer. One of the costs that was published in the proposal budget was an allocation of £100,000 per year for five years to the States Property Department to undertake a review of how much the adjustments to public property will eventually cost in the future – thus, pushing the cost of these adjustments out to the next Assembly to deal with.

However, a massive bill will eventually be a reality, and this information should have been made available to the Assembly before they voted to approve phase 1 of the legislation.

To quote the then president of the STB, Deputy Ferbrache, in his response to ESS as a result of the public consultation in a letter dated 16 September 2019: ‘Consideration should be given to include a budget for implementation of the legislation for accessibility surveys of approximately £500,000 over five years and an allocation of a significantly larger sum for the necessary adaptation.’

Deputy Roffey maintains that ‘more often than not, reasonable adjustments are inexpensive. Plenty of research has been done and concluded that workplace adjustments not only are low cost, but also positively impact the workplace in many ways’. The real problem with this statement is that it is not backed up by proof of costing, or presumably he would have made this available to the Assembly last year. If in fact he has that data, then we would welcome him sharing it with us.

The cost of reasonable adjustments is not the only cost likely to hit the Treasury. The proposal document’s provisional budget ignored the full cost implications of the Employment, Equality & Opportunity Service, all the additional staff that will be required, training for members of the Employment & Discrimination Tribunal Panel or the Conciliation Service proposed. Substantial costs for the States will doubtless arise in defending and settling all kinds of discrimination claims. To put it frankly, it will be a litigators’ paradise. There is more, such as the un-costed Access to Work Scheme which appears to assume public funding for expensive adjustments for private-sector employers who presumably cannot afford it. Quite what is proposed or how it may work is not certain, but it could potentially be an open cheque book.

It should also be noted that the ESS along with other committees signed up to the Medium-Term Financial Plan 2017-2021 which agreed to find £26m. in savings by improvements to public service reform and to maintain a moderate, balanced and reasonable approach to the fiscal position which recognised the need to restrain public expenditure and to raise additional revenue. This legislation does nothing to meet those objectives but rather adds a whole new layer of expense to the public sector which will need to be funded. All at a time when the current Assembly is trying to reduce the size of the civil service and dealing with the effects of the last year, which must clearly have blown any financial budget out of the water.

GPEG has studied the proposal document presented to the States last July in detail and is well aware of the amendments to the original documentation as a result of the public consultation and that some elements of the UK Equalities Act 2010 were introduced to replace elements of the Irish and Australian legislation, but it arguably did not go far enough to bring Guernsey in line with a more pragmatic approach to such ordinance.

Whilst Deputy Roffey seeks to reassure the business community in his response, it cannot be ignored that so few Guernsey-based businesses responded to the public, complex and extensive consultation and therefore it must be assumed that they are unaware of the real impact awaiting them. A total of eight local companies responded directly and most of them were substantial businesses. Deputy Roffey says that you the employer have nothing to fear, but perhaps you would rather know what the future costs and impact on your businesses are before this legislation is implemented?

With respect to Deputy Roffey’s idealistic view of society that ignores the real world, on what basis and with what credentials does he conclude that a good employer has nothing to worry about? The hidden cost is enormous; small businesses simply don’t take on one more person for fear of being caught in vexatious ‘gimme money and I won’t sue’ litigation; large employers (specifically including the public sector) become less productive; and the largest hidden cost of all (and the greatest damage to the livelihoods of every single person reading this, even those Deputy Roffey affects to champion) is that Guernsey would just lose out in attracting internationally-sourced inward investment – and that, in a post-pandemic, post-Brexit world, would be a disaster.

I will leave you with the final quote from a letter to ESS from Deputy Dudley Owen as follows: ‘It should also be noted that the combined response from the Guernsey Institute of Directors, the Guernsey Chamber of Commerce, the Confederation of Guernsey Industry, the Guernsey International Business Association and the Guernsey branch of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development represents the views and interests of a majority of businesses across Guernsey, both large and small. They are speaking with a united voice that the proposed legislation would have a negative impact on business confidence and on our longer-term competitiveness.’ That is where the greatest cost will lie.

GUERNSEY POLICY AND ECONOMIC GROUP LBG

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