With Guernsey's first island wide election now looking likely to be held in October, Nick Moakes wants to explain why he thinks that could help the wider plans to 'revive and thrive' the island's economy post pandemic.
In his own words, he explains why:
Island wide voting is a step in the right direction.
I originally wrote this article in February 2020 which was before the full impact of the Covid-19 pandemic became clear. I read it again recently and decided to update it to reflect how the fallout from Coronavirus now needs to be factored into future plans.
2020 was set to be an important year for two reasons.
First of all, Guernsey was due to hold a general election using a new island wide voting system. Secondly, the economy was coming under the spotlight due, in part, to a £77m deficit in 2018. Then Covid-19 appeared, the island went into lockdown, and the focus quite rightly shifted to protecting lives. From a public health perspective, the island has done a remarkable job. Good medical advice supported by political leadership and the communities backing proved to be a potent weapon in the war against Coronavirus. As restrictions are lifted and things start to return to normal, the focus is turning back to the economy and how we can ‘Revive and Thrive’ in a post-Covid-19 world. There now also seems to be a possibility that the election will take place later this year.
So, 2020 could still be an important year for the same two reasons but with the added complexity of the fallout from Coronavirus.
Pictured: The decision to introduce island wide voting was made by the public through a referendum.
Island wide voting represents a big change for islanders but, on balance, I think it is better than the current system and I will try to explain why.
Until now, islanders have voted for Deputies at a parish level. Whilst this gave each parish an opportunity to vote for its very own deputy / deputies, it meant that people were limited to voting for candidates standing in their local parish which some might argue limited their choices. Not surprisingly, some candidates focused on the needs of their immediate area and not on the needs of the island as a whole. It also meant that, when elected, some deputies were great at speaking out in support of their local community but were completely out of their depth when it came to understanding the details around some of the bigger issues facing the island, such as the economy, jobs, health, housing and of course education! As a result, some of the most pressing issues faced by Guernsey have not been addressed.
This is important because, whilst Guernsey is a small island, it is also a nation state which means it has many of the complexities of a far larger economy. So, with limited resources, whilst local issues are of course important, it is critical that politicians and civil servants focus on national issues as a priority. This is more important than ever as we move into the post-Covid-19 world and have to decide which projects / investments should to be prioritised.
Some people argue that island wide voting will mean that Deputies will no longer look after the needs of their parishes because there is no ‘mandate’ to do so under island wide voting. I disagree with this analysis for two reasons. Firstly, the interaction between deputies and their parishioners has varied greatly under the current system; some deputies are proactive whilst others are not. Secondly, voters will be able to read candidates’ manifestos and judge for themselves whether they are likely to support the people in their local parish or not.
Pictured: Until 2020 Guernsey's deputies were elected by their parish or district.
It is true that voters will have a longer list of candidates to choose from than in the past, but that also gives them more of a choice. The key benefit of island wide voting is that, instead of picking from a small pool of candidates, within their own parish, people will be able to vote for up to 38 deputies from across the whole island. If a voters priority is the economy, he / she can select candidates with commercial / financial experience who understand and support our business community (both large and small companies), along with the thousands of people whose jobs depend on it. Likewise, voters who feel strongly about education or a runway extension can pick candidates who share their views on these subjects. Remember, you do not have to vote for 38 candidates. There is no minimum number but don’t vote for more than 38 or your ballot paper will be invalid!
Why does this all matter?
It matters because the economy matters. Even before Covid-19, it was clear that we were going to hear a lot more about income and expenditure over the next few years. This is the second reason why 2020 is important.
Income - Guernsey has grown into a successful economy driven, predominantly, by its Finance and Professional Services sectors. These sectors have created many thousands of direct and indirect jobs which have generated income (taxes) that has funded public expenditure. On the face of it, the economy has performed pretty well. Based on 2018 figures, GDP continued to grow with our Finance and Professional Services sectors achieving double digit growth.
However, some sectors did not fare so well. The Wholesale / Retail sector continued to decline and the impact of this can be seen in the number of vacant shops in town. Hostelry, which should be a success story, given the islands natural beauty and climate, also declined despite the release of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society movie. Finally, the construction sector, often seen as an economic barometer, was flat. It is these same sectors that have been most adversely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Shops, restaurants and building sites were all closed until very recently and it is not clear when inbound tourism will resume. So, the after effects of Covid-19 will be felt for some time. We have already seen a number of businesses close down and people lose their jobs. GDP will also suffer which means that States revenues will decrease in the short to medium term.
Pictured: Guernsey's economy is in the spotlight more than ever thanks to the pandemic impact.
Expenditure - In 2018, public expenditure was higher than revenue resulting in a deficit of £77m* which is more than £1,200* per islander.
Using 2018 numbers, Health and Community Services, Pensions and Social Welfare Benefits made up over 63%** of public expenditure. This is going to keep rising as more people need access to these important funds and services.
Managing income and expenditure is basic economics and Guernsey cannot continue to operate at a loss. Therefore, our politicians need to find ways to generate additional jobs / income and reduce inefficiencies in public expenditure so we can afford to cover these increasing costs. This is all the more urgent given the eye-watering amounts of money that the States has borrowed to support the economy because that money will need to be repaid.
Some deputies seem to think that raising taxes is the only way to close the gap between States income and expenditure but this will take money out of the economy when our local businesses need it the most. Not only that, it will also damage Guernsey’s hard-won reputation for being a ‘stable’ and ‘low tax regime’.
I stated at the beginning that I thought island wide voting was a better system than the current one. That is because it means that voters can choose the best candidates from right across the island and that is really important if we want to deal with the economic challenges that Guernsey and the wider world now face. I said that local issues are important, and need to be addressed, but I hope that you will agree that what we need today are effective politicians who understand the issues that we face and can work together. Deputies need to focus on repairing / growing Guernsey’s economy by supporting business, investing wisely and closing the gap between States income and expenditure. These are island wide issues and they affect everyone, young and old, in every parish.
For more information contact Nick Moakes at Unlock Guernsey’s Potential.
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Pictured top: Nick Moakes.