James Le Gallez has been a busy man during 2018, since winning the first Bailiwick Academy earlier in the year, but we stopped him for a cocktail and asked him what he would change about Guernsey.
He's already in the festive mood, with the opening of his Noue by Aperitif Cocktail bar, serving Christmas themed drinks and treats.
But he kept his Santa hat off, and his business hat on, when he gave us his five ideas.
1) Town & Parking
Town is very quickly losing its appeal and there appears to be nothing on the agenda that will really help solve it. Whilst the current 'See potential in our seafront' campaign is somewhat encouraging, it’s not radical enough. We keep removing parking spaces on the piers and have a real lack of short-term spaces - why? Because it’s to encourage more people to walk or take the bus. But what really happens? People drive around for longer looking for spaces or use the much needed unloading bays (pet hate!) for their quick stops or just don’t come to town at all and then local retailers lose out altogether.
Instead, reclaim some land around Trinity/Charotterie area and put in a multi-storey car park with free parking for the first hour or two and chargeable for long-term; plenty of firms will happily pick up that bill, all-the-while giving much needed foot traffic to The Old Quarter, reduce the traffic on Fountain Street (another pet hate) and stop people driving around the piers searching for spaces. Commercial estate agents should also be more welcoming to pop-ups and startups offering more short-term spaces for new initiatives (akin to “Fresh Friday”), there are no shortage of empty shops in the Arcade, Pollet and High Street.
Also, close the seafront on Sunday more often for the popular Seafront Sundays, this should be a weekly thing from May till September.
Pictured: One of James' ideas would free up the public car parks.
2) Look after low-earners
Guernsey’s cost-of-living is increasing at a rapid rate over the past few years, with petrol at almost triple what it was 10 years ago, transport links at over double and excise duty rates ranking among the highest in the world. All these increases are under the guise that it will put people off things like cigarettes or driving cars, but all this does is squeeze low-income individuals and families.
I won’t pretend to know the solution to this growing problem, but it should be taken account of. If you can’t afford to live in London, you move a bit further north where the cost of living is cheaper, that’s not something we can do here. If you can’t afford to live in St Peter Port you’re going to have the same experience in another parish and many people just don’t have a choice.
Pictured: Guernsey's lowest earners need looking after said James.
3) Making an education curriculum fit for the future
Unfortunately I am going to have to pick on my old school here, as it’s the only one I’m familiar with, but I’m sure the rest of our schools are the same.
Looking back to my time at Guernsey Grammar School I think about how pointless the content of my mandatory subjects were. In short, I left school understanding that the three corners of a triangle would add up to 180 degrees but not how to manage finances or complete a tax return form. Isn’t the latter what should be taught in schools?
I thought ten years on from this, the curriculum would be a bit more fit for the future, but after looking online at Grammar’s curriculum, I see that IT is still a short course, algebra is still a module in maths, religious studies is still mandatory but food and nutrition (the foundation of a healthy life) is optional. I needn’t say any more.
Pictured: James went to the Grammar School but he's not fully supportive of its curriculum.
4) More transparent and modern communication from government
Reading 'Guernsey People Have Your Say' (a Facebook forum) can sometimes be enlightening, sometimes frustrating but more often than not just hilarious, with 90% of the comments being people calling for our government to be ousted when they themselves don’t even know what night they should be putting their blue bags out...
But, an overarching theme in public groups like this is the lack of trust for our people in power to do the right thing. Yes, sometimes they really get it wrong (remember the town seafront road changes), but sometimes they get it right.
The runway extension debate is a perfect example, there are plenty of arguments in local media and online sources both for and against the change - but I’ve struggled to find an honest unbiased piece on the matter that lists the actual facts, something our government should be doing. It is key that our government should take a more proactive role in communicating and educating the general public in various decision making processes. The UK.GOV website for example has over 100 blogs - Gov.gg has a grand sum of zero.
Pictured: James would like the States to be even more transparent.
5) Tax incentives for local businesses
Having been self-employed in one way or another for the best part of five years I must have met well over 100 local business owners and it is truly an inspiring thing to watch all of these people starting journeys in things that they love to do. But, like all things in life, they come with their own problems, we have a great network of support from the likes of Start-Up Guernsey, Bailiwick Express’ Business Academy and plenty more initiatives but it’s always money that gets in the way.
Firstly, I’d introduce a tax incentive for investors to invest in local businesses where a true case can be demonstrated to benefit the island, something like the UK’s Enterprise Investment Scheme could be a good blueprint.
Secondly, financial assistance from the government, once again if a case can be demonstrated that the business can benefit the island (whether that is economically or socially), can the government offer grants or zero-interest financing?
Thirdly, this one affects me directly with my ownership of Haut Maison, but a closer look at how alcohol duty is charged locally. Whilst the average consumer won’t really notice a bump in spirits duty (your gin & tonic might go up a few pence), producers such as myself, Wheadon’s, Blue Bottle and Unit Six certainly do. Spirits duty is now at a whopping £37.44 a litre, almost £10 more than the UK (which itself is one of the highest in Europe), meaning we’re hit with a £7,000+ bill for our drums of alcohol upon importation. For comparison sake, your average bottle of £30 gin contains £11-13 in duty. Jersey, on the other hand, offer a 50% reduction on spirits duty for small-batch producers and as a result I am able to sell my liqueurs £1 a bottle cheaper in Jersey, cover freight and still make the same profit. A move like this would greatly benefit local producers, something that I put forward to ED for this year’s budget but unfortunately rejected on this occasion. As all local spirits producers continue to grow and continue to struggle with high freight costs and obscene duty charges, will we continue to see a benefit of producing on an island that, realistically, isn’t that well known beyond our shores?
Pictured: James would like tax breaks for entrepreneurs.
Pictured top: James Le Gallez, from Aperitif, the winner of the first Bailiwick Academy.