When it comes to debating tax, it’s been a long couple of months, off the back of a long year. But what really matters is what happens in the next few days, when the members you elected to act in the best interests of Guernsey must make a very big decision in the face of some difficult questions.
Are we willing to take on this problem? What really matters to us and our community, right now and over the coming decades? Which direction does the Island move in? What kind of Island will it be?
I can’t predict exactly what the outcome will be but we know we go into this debate as underdogs.
We’ve spent a year speaking to Islanders, businesses, and our political colleagues trying to persuade them that we have a package of measures that really does tick
all the boxes: it reduces the burden on low income households, brings in more from businesses and high earners, keeps us competitive with rival jurisdictions and – most importantly of all – ensures we can provide the essential services people rely on. Not goldplated services by any stretch, but good quality healthcare, reasonable pensions, social services for the most vulnerable, and basic things like free education, law enforcement, and working infrastructure.
But we’ve struggled to persuade people.
We’ve struggled to convince people to see past the dreaded letters ‘GST’. Despite the numbers, the hefty analysis in the 200+ page policy letter, the input from world-class experts like EY, the hundreds of questions we’ve answered at public meetings, drop-ins and online, we know some Islanders and some of our own States colleagues say they just don’t believe us.
Pictured: Policy and Resources are the underdogs according to President, Deputy Peter Ferbrache.
They don’t believe we face all that big a shortfall, they don’t believe failing to raise revenue now will mean no funding for essential services in the future, they don’t believe our government is already pretty lean and cutbacks will be felt by the community, they don’t believe that those on low incomes will really be
better off. They just don’t believe it.
It’s against that backdrop, I prepare for this debate knowing the odds are against us. So we can’t help but ask ourselves ‘why are we doing it?’ Why are we spending any remaining political capital we may have, walking past the angry shouts of protesters, only to take an unpopular policy to be butchered in the States Chamber? If we lose, (or in the unlikely event we win), we’re incurring the wrath of many islanders, including in some cases friends and colleagues.
Why on earth are we doing it?
The six of us who’ve fronted this policy letter, the five Policy & Resources members and ESS President Peter Roffey have very different backgrounds, come from different parts of the political spectrum and have varying amounts of political experience.
For my part, I have devoted nearly 13 years to serving Guernsey as a States Member, and this may be my final term. I’ve never viewed the role as my career, which has been in law and business, but instead as an opportunity to make a contribution. Whatever our backgrounds, the six of us have a shared belief when it comes to this debate: The proposals we are presenting are the best way to ensure the next generation of Islanders can hope to enjoy at least as good a quality of life as we have, with access to services we all genuinely need, and in an economy where our businesses can still compete.
Pictured: Deputy Heidi Soulsby quit P&R over the Tax Review. She's now fronting a challenge to the policy letter in the States this week.
Some of our political opponents in this debate have called us ‘desperate’ as we’ve tried to highlight the risks with some of the alternatives being put forward. I won’t go over those arguments again here, but I will admit we are desperate. But we’re not desperate to win this debate for the sake of it. We’re not desperate to sacrifice our political reputations for an unpopular new tax.
We are however desperate to avoid a future where the government, which provides some of the most fundamental services that many of us couldn’t do without, can no longer afford to fulfil its purpose. We’re desperate not to leave the next generation with unsolvable financial problems, both on an individual level and as a community.
We’re desperate not to sleepwalk into a situation where our biggest sector and the thousands of jobs it creates is jumping ship to jurisdictions that are more politically and financially stable.
I hope that isn’t taken as scaremongering.
To be honest, if we lose this debate, I hope all those who haven’t believed us are proven right! Because what I really want is to know that Guernsey will continue to be the uniquely special place to live and work that it has been throughout my lifetime.
That’s what I want for my children, grandchildren, and on and on into the future.
So I will go into this debate standing by the plan that I believe gives us the best chance of doing that. As long as all States Members are also entering this debate with
that same ambition in mind, and a willingness to look analytically and honestly at all of the arguments and evidence presented, then I wish them the best of luck too, whichever way they ultimately decide to vote.
This feels like a political battle that we enter today, but really it is an opportunity to give Guernsey the future it deserves. That’s what we were elected to do.
Deputy Peter Ferbrache, President of the Policy & Resources Committee