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OPINION: The States of Ditheraton rides the hype train

OPINION: The States of Ditheraton rides the hype train

Tuesday 14 February 2023

OPINION: The States of Ditheraton rides the hype train

Tuesday 14 February 2023

Ahead of tomorrow’s tax debate, Nick Mann argues P&R has created its own problems which won’t end when the votes are counted

The States of Ditheration are back.

Public trust ebbed away as they spent two years skirting around or even willfully ignoring spending control, so when Policy & Resources came to find another £100m. to put in the kitty they got the reception they deserved.

It’s not so much that no-one believes them when they say there is a storm on the horizon largely caused by increased health care costs for an ageing population, it’s just that not enough have faith in them to execute a plan that is fair and balanced.

It is condescending to say that the thousands that marched against GST simply don’t understand the full package that is on the table, yet that is the tone that underpins all this.

Does action need to be taken because of the financial implications of an ageing population? Definitely.

Do we need to widen our tax base to guard against a dependence on income taxes? Yes.

Is P&R’s package, which alongside a sales tax of 5% includes changes to income tax thresholds and contributions, the answer? Hmm.

Only if you believe that the public sector is efficient, working in the right areas providing the right services and that future administrations will continue to hold the line that means that  GST is not disproportionately affecting the poorest members of our society.

When members file back through the doors of the Assembly on Wednesday morning, they will have options on the table - don’t they just love that whenever there’s a difficult decision to make, it helps them not make one.

Last month they failed to come to any resolution on what we kept being told was the most important decision this term because the personalities on the three sides of the debate couldn’t see beyond their own silos.

Too much time was spent trying to score points about who said what when. It quickly became irksome to anyone listening as deputies puffed up their chests to quote their colleagues and imply that they are hypocrites for changing their minds.

It achieved nothing. They should save it for the campaign trail.

There are areas of agreement and that is what should be the basis for reform.

The corporate sector needs to make a larger contribution and there are plenty of options for that.

Downward pressure is needed on public sector spending and we should ignore the voices that give you all the impression it's not worth the effort because it won’t fill the hole alone, they simply want to make their political lives easier.

The savings that could be achieved by working with Jersey are immense if they could be unlocked - they have gone unmentioned, put in the too difficult drawer.

It seems to be understood that some realism with our capital spending programme is needed because what has been achieved so far this term, and this mirrors previous administrations, is a big list and lots of cash being put in a pot but very little in the way of actual projects.

The public sector pension scheme needs to be reformed.

On the revenue raising front, it is a question of timing.

GST - or some other measure if you have one - this term, next term or beyond that. 

It would be an easier sell if all the other actions had been taken and there was therefore a better understanding of what revenue was needed.

A problem P&R faces is the same as anyone trying to address something that is happening in the long term - there is just enough uncertainty for detractors to cling to, the feeling that it might not happen, that it is better to wait to see how things play out.

They compound this by both arguing about the immediate need to fill the hole when trying to detract from other deputies’ plans, while their own package does no such thing.

If accepted, it would not put £85m. in the pot tomorrow, but set in train more work and reviews. 

P&R is walking along a cliffedge largely of its own making having failed to stay in touch with and win over a sceptical community before launching its tax package.

Nothing has happened to address that because right now it is all a political game of brinkmanship to win a majority of States members.

There has been too much hype and scaremongering and people see through it.

Whatever decision the States reaches - and it must come to a conclusion - there is much to be done to reconnect with the public to make a success of it all.

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