The latest fiery debate over fiscal responsibility and funding the island’s educational offering has been left in no man’s land for two weeks when the States meeting closed yesterday before the 2024 Budget was agreed.
Deputies will now resume debate on an amendment over whether to re-fund the building of a post-16 education campus at Les Ozouets on 22 November. That meeting has already got a stacked agenda with deferred and new government business.
A major decision on whether to borrow up to £200m to fund the Transforming Education Project, and whether to extract additional annual revenue out of companies to service some of that debt across several decades, will need to be concluded before a vote of no confidence in the Policy & Resources Committee is considered.
The States also need to approve the 2024 Budget, debate the Government Work Plan which sets out the government policy priorities for the rest of the political term, as well as several other items.
More amendments seeking new ways to deliver or prevent the project going ahead could also be drawn up during this limbo period.
An audibly frustrated Bailiff batted down deputies past 17:30 as they scrambled to find an alternative date to consider the rest of the Budget before the next States meeting in two weeks.
The States could’ve sat late into the evening or today, but several members were unavailable - as was the Bailiff and Deputy Bailiff to act as the Presiding Officer - so those ideas were scrapped.
Senior States members who can act as Presiding Officer in their absence were either unavailable or concerned they wouldn’t be able to vote on the Les Ozouets borrowing amendment which looked to be resting on a knife edge at the close of yesterday.
The States chamber was also unavailable for use today due to a scheduled court hearing requiring an alternative venue such as St James.
Pictured: The States of Guernsey remains split on numerous issues.
Deputies prioritised spending on the hospital project instead of Les Ozouets for the coming years just weeks ago, but the Budget debate which started this Tuesday saw two attempts to get Education’s flagship project moving again.
The Bailiff ruled that debate on the two items would be considered at the same time as they both sought to put the campus back on the agenda this term.
The first brought by Education seeks the £111m spend for the campus through borrowing, while the other, mentioned below, involves expanding the total yearly amount raised through a corporate levy by £5m to support such borrowing.
Deputy Sasha Kanzantseva-Miller, who brought the latter, warned that the social and economic costs of not delivering Education’s plan could be greater than the debt taxpayers would be straddled with.
The £5m additional revenue was a conservative estimate, she added, saying it would generate “more than enough” over the 60-year lifespan of the campus to repay loans and interest accrued.
Education President Deputy Andrea Dudley-Owen said annual repayments of £3m would kick in from 2027 with the loan expected to carry interest of around £10m per year, as she scorned accusations the borrowing was unfunded and dangerous.
But several deputies expressed serious concerns about such high levels of borrowing without a secure income stream to service it – with Deputy Carl Meerveld saying the move would leave the next Assembly with no option to use GST to repay the debt.
Policy & Resources, which previously argued strongly against the “financially unsustainable” decision to deliver both the hospital and education projects, seemingly changed its mind in the space of three weeks.
The President, Deputy Peter Ferbrache, said "there are some things that are more important than money, and education is more important than money”.
Deputy Yvonne Burford labelled that change in position “astounding” and warned the island would more than triple its annual deficit over the next 10 years if they backed the borrowing.
If P&R’s votes went in favour of the amendments “they are not fit for office”, she said, indicating her voting intention when the States consider removing the committee at the next meeting.
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