It’s logic, Jim, but…

PERMIT me to pass on an under-appreciated piece of information: States members, by virtue alone of their high office, have access to privileged parking close to the centre of Town.

Places like North Beach, expensively reclaimed from the sea, represent a double cost to the taxpayer. (Picture by Adrian Miller, 27368277)
Places like North Beach, expensively reclaimed from the sea, represent a double cost to the taxpayer. (Picture by Adrian Miller, 27368277)

Untroubled by time restrictions or parking discs, they can stroll the 300 metres (according to Google Maps) to the Royal Court in a leisurely five minutes, knowing a slot is available for them.

Insulated from the real world of leaving way too early for fear of Not Getting A Space, they go about the arduous task of running our lives, spending our money and cocking up education.

Thanks to former deputy Yvonne Burford, they now pay for that privilege. And this being the States, dragoons of officials laboured mightily to arrive at a fair price for using the spaces, based on median parking costs – not average, lest that be influenced by very high and/or very low rents elsewhere.

That price, users tell me, is high. But most stump up because the convenience is worth it.

I’m not sure if there is such a thing as unconscious reverse hypocrisy but all those using the Lukis House spaces in the Grange are unwittingly recognising certain immutable facts they actively deny elsewhere. Like land being scarce. And having intrinsic value. If you own it, it can be used to generate income. If government owns it, it can be utilised to generate a return for the public purse. In short, if you want it, there’s a price to pay.

Unless it’s a public car park. Because in the arcane world of the States, rather like a black hole, the laws of nature don’t apply. So places such as North Beach, expensively reclaimed from the sea, represent a double cost to the taxpayer, because it has to be maintained at our – not motorists’ – expense. A ‘user doesn’t pay’ principle if you will.

There’s actually a third cost because instead of using property it owns to generate income to subsidise the bus service, that comes out of our back pocket too. But let that pass for the moment.

The point is, States members are viscerally opposed to paid parking because it is a vile and loathsome thing. Except when they benefit from it.

Elsewhere in the parallel world of government logic we have another States asset. Officially, it’s known as the airport. Most of us know it as the place where hope dies, where airlines enthusiastically remove from your wallet what little government has left, and security blinks wonderingly at all these people disturbing its day and lethargically stokes the coal-fired baggage scanner.

Its boss, a civil servant, declared a while ago that he was about to run this £92m. behemoth on a commercial basis. It now makes a loss. On the plus side, nowhere near as much as Aurigny, but a loss nevertheless.

The solution is to destroy a property – which Employment & Social Security, before discrimination and inclusivity strategies became more fashionable, used to use to house needy families – and turn it into car parking.

Like Lukis House, it is acceptable to charge people quite large sums to leave vehicles at the airport for long periods of time and earn money – but not if a similar-sized piece of public property is close to the sea, especially on the east coast.

Officially, the reason for this is that paid parking would be unfair on shop staff who are, supposedly, on low wages. Yet bafflingly, States members themselves are on the equivalent of median earnings (and complain bitterly over how miserably they’re treated) but pay over the odds for the convenience of a 300m trek to their place of work.

To paraphrase Mr Spock, it’s logic, Jim, but not as we know it. Which is why a group of deputies – the Flat Earthers – are demanding involvement in the roll-out of 5G technology.

I don’t know whether, like paid parking, it’s vile and loathsome to them, but their interest is about control. Why is anyone’s guess. After all, the competition authority is already on the case regarding licence conditions and criteria and Team Heidi at Health & Social Care is all over any safety issues.

So there’s very little a States debate can add to what’s essentially a market-driven, customer-led step-change in technology. But, as we have seen so vividly these last two States terms, deputies have opinions that need to be shared with and imposed on us. And we deserve to know their views on Huawei and whether the Chinese are eavesdropping on Mrs Le Page.

The flat earth requete is self-effacing in scope – that policy governing 5G is debated by the Assembly – recognising, we assume, the contribution Guernsey has to make globally on the take-up of technology ushering in the internet of things, self-driving vehicles and a connected future.

I mustn’t be too negative. The island’s input on the global governance of 5G for smarter mobility, the future role of energy and its storage, digital connectivity, new markets, and the part fin-tech has to play in mitigating climate change is clearly valuable and any reservations we have will be swiftly acted on by America and China.

But, like Education’s pause and delay, the earlier reputational damage (and cost) caused by withdrawing from incinerator contracts and the looming rerun of the L’Ancresse wall, you do wonder about the island’s capacity for running itself or even identifying real priorities.

We have to trust States members to do the right things to keep this community safe, secure and prosperous; yet they don’t trust each other. And on the evidence of the schools debate alone, half the House is certain it knows better than the other half.

And as former deputy Yvonne Burford argued here on Wednesday, come the next election and political groupings, you won’t even be able to trust members to vote for what was in their collective manifesto.

Seen through the prism of this Assembly’s conduct, islanders are increasingly starting to believe Guernsey’s best days are behind it.

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