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Amendment reminds P&R President of "Britain of the late 1970s"

Amendment reminds P&R President of

Thursday 31 March 2022

Amendment reminds P&R President of "Britain of the late 1970s"

Thursday 31 March 2022


States' members have decisively rejected an amendment which proposed giving them more influence over the development agency which the Policy & Resources Committee wants to set up to drive construction projects along the east coast.

Deputy Carl Meerveld's amendment would have required each project drawn up by the development agency to be approved by the States' Assembly before it could be progressed.

The Assembly rejected the amendment by 24 votes to 10 on Thursday afternoon after the President of the Policy & Resources Committee, Deputy Peter Ferbrache, criticised it as representing "hopelessness" and "despair" and rekindling his bad memories of Britain in the late 1970s.

Deputy Ferbrache said the development agency as proposed by his Committee would be "innovative and expansive unless it is unduly interfered with or restricted, in which case it would be a pointless damp squib and let's kill it before it's born".

Several States' members said they interpreted Deputy Ferbrache's words as a strong indication that his Committee would try to withdraw its proposals on setting up a development agency if the States changed its remit by supporting Deputy Meerveld's amendment. 

Under the Committee's proposals, land from the Bridge to the southern end of Town would be run by the development agency – a company owned by the States but with an independent board operating at arm’s length from government.

The development agency would produce plans for infrastructure projects along the east coast and work with private sector firms and community partners to deliver those plans.

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Pictured: When proposals for a development agency were unveiled at the end of January, Deputy Mark Helyar, speaking on behalf of the Policy & Resources Committee, said the idea had enjoyed widespread support for many years. 

Explaining the purpose of his amendment, Deputy Meerveld said: "Given the impact that the provision of additional or enhanced infrastructure along Guernsey’s east coast is likely to have, [we] believe that the States should have the opportunity to consider and approve each development proposed by the development agency".

But Deputy Ferbrache implored States' members to reject Deputy Meerveld's amendment, which he said would constrain enterprise and innovation.

"It really is a stark choice between two philosophies," said Deputy Ferbrache.

"The first is a practical one. Trust people. Give them certain parameters but then trust them to get on with the job. Then there is a chance to get something worthwhile done.

"Or adopt the second - it reminds me so much of the Britain of the late 1970s that I lived in: dull, dismal, despondent. The phrase that was put around then was 'let all hope be abandoned' because it was. 

"You went to Heathrow Airport and, if you got your suitcase back, half the goods were removed. People were dying and left to die - they were left unburied because the workers had gone on strike. Tax was at 90%. Incentive was at an end. That is what Deputy Meerveld's amendment reminds me of and it resounds with me so clearly.

"If the States believe there is merit in that amendment, vote for it, and go back to the 1970s."

1970s_UK_Winter_of_Discontent.jpg

Pictured: Deputy Peter Ferbrache told the States that Deputy Carl Meerveld's ideas about restricting the remit of the proposed development agency reminded him of attitudes which he felt led to difficulties faced by Britain in the 1970s.

On the eve of Thursday's debate, two business representative bodies - the Institute of Directors and the Chamber of Commerce - wrote to deputies asking them to reject Deputy Meerveld's amendment.

Deputy Ferbrache said: "I've quoted before from the update I saw today from the IoD and Chamber...and I quote: 'As previously stated, the IoD and Chamber believe that, by devolving a level of responsibility to the development agency, projects will be able to move forward more efficiently and utilise the expertise available from the private sector and social enterprises, whilst following the direction and operational principles set out by the States'.

"So these are people who are used to dealing with business, that we trust to deal with business...they believe the current [policy letter] sets out the parameters."

But Deputy Meerveld questioned why Deputy Ferbrache had not spent more time promoting his own Committee's proposals rather than attacking Deputy Meerveld's counter-proposals. 

"It's normal practice to sell your proposal, to promote it, to explain the benefits and how good it is. But Deputy Ferbrache seemed to forego that, instead trying to attack critics...if you can't defend your position, go on the attack instead," said Deputy Meerveld.

"I came into the States in 2016 believing that the States should operate in a more business-like fashion. While the desire is still there, I came to realise very quickly that government is unlike any business. Businesses are driven by very few objectives - principally making money for their shareholders.

"Government is everything to everybody. We have to be able to balance every decision we make with the considerations of all different sections of our community and how it affects them. You can't treat the operations of government like a business."

Deputy Yvonne Burford

Pictured: Deputy Yvonne Burford seconded Deputy Meerveld's amendment. She said that a development agency set up in the form proposed by the Policy & Resources Committee would in practice achieve much less than the Committee imagines.

Deputy Meerveld said that he was in favour of setting up a development agency at arm's length from the States to deliver projects, but he felt that the proposals from the Policy & Resources Committee would give the development agency strategic and policy powers which should be reserved for democratically elected members.

"This development agency proposal would establish a company owned by the States but with an independent board of directors and a subsequent transfer of a significant amount of property from the ownership of the States to a quango without any plans approved in advance regarding how these assets will be utilised," said Deputy Meerveld.

"We have grave concerns about this Assembly abrogating its collective responsibilities as custodians of public assets by delegating away authority for reviewing and approving major, far-reaching developments to an independent board of directors with an oversight group of three deputies plus the Policy & Resources Committee.

"Under the proposed structure, a majority of four out of just seven deputies would be able to approve projects to proceed, leaving over 80% of the States being denied any involvement in the processes and decisions. 

"Many people in our community are likely to be fiercely opposed to some of the quango's plans and would have very limited ways to influence those decisions, as will the vast majority of the members of this Assembly.

"When controversial plans to reclaim Belle Greve Bay were presented in 2006, an estimated 3,000 residents marched down the coast in protest on a chilly November day - and that may happen again. Deputies may join such protests, but the majority would have voted away their ability to directly influence the decisions."

Debate will continue on Friday on the proposed development agency and various other amendments submitted.

Pictured (top): Deputy Carl Meerveld (above) and Deputy Peter Ferbrache.  

READ MORE...

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