Thursday, 20 October 2016

No, Ministers

There is a consultation out on pay, technically actually remuneration, for Ministers. Ministers are past holders - usually such people are not paid for work, they are remunerated. (The same is often true for directors of companies, but the Manpower returns seem unable to grasp the essence of post holders are not employees).  It isn't a States consultation, but the States Member's Remuneration Body.  The details are at States Members Remuneration beyond 2018.pdf

The consultation quite explicitly asks about the Chief Minister's  remuneration because they have more responsibilities.  "In the first instance we suggest that pay differentiation should apply only to the Chief Minister, who undoubtedly has significant additional responsibilities when compared with other members. In our view, a supplement of 15% of salary (in other words £7,000 (after rounding) at the present level of salary) would be appropriate. This would apply from the election of the Chief Minister in 2018".

A lot in that proposal rests on what is meant or understood by responsibility.  For the longest time in politics generally to be responsible meant to be answerable for , to be held accountable for.   Especially in British parliamentary system , the Ministers were the temporary public face while the unseen unheard civil service was the  semi permanent advisory and implementation mechanism.  If things went wrong in their department, the Minister was held responsible, could lose their post, though more likely would  be expected to resign. It may not even be  mal administration,  just error of judgement. 

In theory the tough sanction on the Minister puts  proper focus on them properly and fully scrutinising what happens in their department.  Ignorance is no defence.  There is a feeling these days that far from taking responsibility, Ministers are inclined to try to defend the failings.

It is arguable under such a system when working as intended more responsibility, ie more things to  take the flak, and possible lose your position for, deserves a higher remuneration to compensate for the higher risks.

The question now is are Jersey's Ministers, including the Chief Minister, really responsible, accountable for anything?  Just last night we saw civil service officers being put up in front of camera to defend policy, not the minister. When was the last time a Jersey Minister resigned over failings in their  department?  Are they accountable, really?  I'd say not, and if not, the argument for increased remuneration is  faulty.

There are other arguments for not increasing, or actually decreasing, Minister's pay relating to research on performance and incentives.  See
But that's a different debate and not one the SMRRB is ever likely to want to consider - being composed largely of the very people who would under such  logic be paid less.....

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Not good enough to be true?

It is often said that if an investment looks too good to be true it probably is.  I read in  the  report of the winding up of  Lumiere Wealth that investors were being offered 14% return on their money from a couple of Brazilian investments.  See  That may well sound too good to be true in the current low interest rate environment.

It is of course very sad that people have lost significant sums of money in the scheme .  However it is not really fair to say the investors were being unrealistic in hoping for a 14% return.  To add great insult to injury, the Brazilian stock market index has gone from 45,000 in  October 2015 to around 60,000 today - a gain of 33%. See brazil stock-market

Monday, 3 October 2016

No stamp of approval

Jersey likes to crow about the various companies based here, everything it seems from African mining to international arms traders. Here's one that many people have heard of, Stanley Gibbons.   But I'm guessing this wont make the headlines of the local commerce friendly media.
The board of directors are listed You might recognise a few local names, a former chairman of the JFSC, and another former chairman of CI Traders. . It has been going 150 years, though was only brought to Jersey about 5 years ago as I recall.

Nothing dodgy there, surely a sound investment prospect?

So here's the annual report out today. Not good.

Most of the directors listed on their web site stood down over the year it seems. Rats jumping the sinking ship is the metophor that springs to mind. Actually the company appears to me to have come within a day or so of being suspened from AIM for not producing the report on time. Here are a few snippets.

Following its acquisition of Mallett plc in October 2014, the Company learned that government regulators in the United States were investigating transactions that had occurred since 1 January 2010 involving a former client of Mallett Inc., Mallett's New York-based subsidiary. The former client is not a related person or affiliate of the Group. This issue had not been disclosed to the Company by the directors of Mallett plc during the due diligence process prior to the acquisition.

Buy back
In fact, whilst the new management team has already acted swiftly to resolve the first two cash outflows detailed above, it is the last element which has both proved more complex to isolate and represents a more fundamental deterioration in the Groups core business. It is now clear that the non-cash sale/reinvestment profile of the Stanley Gibbons Investment division`s investment contracts, sold between 2005 and 2013, which also retained an element of contractual buy-back, also fuelled the worsening net debt position. The Group no longer offers investment plans with contractual buy back options of any kind .
 A number of the Groups previous investment contracts, Guaranteed Minimum Return Contract ("GMRC" and the Capital Protection Growth Plan ("CPGP") both were contracts that had an element of contractual buyback. The contractual buy backs within the CPGPs were at a level of the original purchase price and within the GMRCs were above the purchase price to include a finance charge. This finance charge is recognised in the profit and loss throughout the period of the contract. These contracts were sold between 2005 and 2013 and have resulted in a restatement of prior year earnings relating to open contracts as at April 2014, as described in note 31b).  The GMRC and CPGP contracts ceased to be sold in April 2011 and December 2013 respectively.
Revenue recognition
 The Board has revisited the accounting treatment previously adopted in connection with certain transactions and has concluded that it was not in accordance with the applicable accounting standards. Accordingly the Board has decided to adopt some, significantly changed, accounting policies in the presentation of the accounts. These have resulted in a restatement of prior years' results and a substantial write-down of balance sheet assets. These changes stem largely from fundamental errors in the accounting treatment previously adopted, most notably of investment product "sales" recognised in previous years. 
Comments from the  auditors 
 Matters on which we are required to report by exception
In respect solely of the limitation on our work relating to the matters identified above in the Basis of Qualified opinion paragraph:

    we have not received all the information and explanations we require for our audit; and
   we were unable to determine whether proper accounting records have been kept.

We have nothing to report in respect of the following matters where the Companies (Jersey) Law 1991 requires us to report to you if, in our opinion:

    proper returns adequate for our audit have not been received from branches not visited by us; and
   the financial statements are not in agreement with the accounting records and returns.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Greenacres Farm

Autumnal rain has arrived finally.  I'm not complaining - the soil needs it and I have made great progress in the field while the dry spell lasted.  Wet weather jobs have been piling up so it is a chance to catch up on those.

Things are not loooking so rosy elsewhere however.   People may be aware that Brian Adair has had his organic business up for sale for a while.  I know there have been interested parties, but so far nothing has materialised.  He was the first certified organic producer  in the Island and has a well established  business with a strong customer base.  If thats not viable or attractive as a business , then some serious questions need to be asked politically of ministers about what they do think is valuable and worthwhile in the Island. 

 In reality the answers will be made obvious today in the States  with the MTFP  debate.  It comes down to one thing  economic growth - the magic fairy dust that, like entropy in thermodynamics and dark matter in cosmology, has to be conjoured up conceptually to make the number work according to the the theory.

Unsurprisingly  I have been asked by a number of people if I am going to take on Brian's business.  I suppose it is an obvious question as I do go on so much about organic food, have some experience as a smalholder and  have run a few successful businesses in the past.   I have not entertained the possibility previously.  There are several reasons.

What I do in my own field is not a commercial operation  - I don't intend it to be. It is informal research based on my observations of that might constitute a bioethical food production system.  It is deliberately small scale and  in the last few years devoid of all mechanisation.  There's the first problem - scale.  Brian's operation would need at least 2 people to work as a  market garden/horticultural  concern, based on Eliot Coleman's maximum 2.5 acres per person observation.  Plus of course I'd still have my fields to manage and maintain. That means going back to a walk behind tractor at least, and that takes me away from the direction I have been experimenting on.

Another reason I havent entertained it  was commitment.  I am at an age where I have probably energy and time for one , perhaps  just two big projects left in my life.  Big projects I think of as those that require 'all in' effort - typically starting a new business  is like that - certainly those I have done before have been.   In the current state of organic production locally it certainly would  have to be an all consuming commitment.  If I were to do that it would have to be the right project.  There is a sort of opportunity costs here - other projects would have to be ditched or forgone.

All that  (and more) before even looking at the commercial figures and viability.  It is a fact that in Jersye  access to the land is controlled.  Even if you own fields you are not allowed to work them unless  you have permission! There are financial requirements of marginal profit  be a bona fide farmer (£40,000 per year) and to occupy  good agricultural land, or even more than a few vergees of less favoured land you have to qualify financially (interestingly they appear to have dropped the main income from farming  obligation that used to exist, I wonder why ;) ) See Land Control

There is a facebook group looking at the possibilities for saving the farm .  See  The groups s interested in a Community Supported Agriculture model. It has worked elsewhere. There's a useful UK site on how that might work  at  Community Supported Agriculture.  The Soil Association also has promoted CSA for organic production.  It is certainly a better bet than hoping the States of  Jersey will support organic agriculture in the Island!

I posted on that group some  thoughts about how this might go forward.  I've reproduced them below.

I know people are interested in CSA, but there may be another way to do this. If you have seen any of my rantings over the last 2 years you will know we have been losing certified organic land and growers for some time. Warnings fell on deaf ears politically. We have long had a problem in Jersey that farming and horticulture is viewed as a purely commercial activity. It can be done that way of course- that's how you get the agri chemical industry. But it needn't be. 2,500 years ago Hippocrates said (in greek of course!) Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food. I've posted a link below to a scheme in the USA taking that literally.

It isn't just immediate human health we need to consider either. There is the health of the soil and less well known to many is its ability to sequester carbon from the atmosphere. Possibly the last great hope for avoiding significant climate change. And there is the diversity and abundance and health of the eco system and biology around agriculture and horticulture - the water quality, wildlife and the psychological benefits of access to deep nature.

Put that lot together and it suggests to me a different approach , a different mind set is required. Not a commercial venture but a social one. Not a financial imperative, but a health one. If you think of it as a business the particiapnts expect a return. If you think of it as a charity , you get a different answer. Its not incompatible with CSA you can have supporting subscribers and charities can and do have volunteer workers and paid professionals. 

The question is whether you are in it just for what you can get out of it, or for what good can come out of it.

In Jersey we have low-income people with diabetes and high blood pressure. So what about this bleedin' obvious idea from the USA. Load fresh fruits and vegetables into a refrigerator truck and drive it to a health clinic. To improve the diet have a doctor write a “prescription” for food . Even better if it were local wholesome organic produce.

Monday, 12 September 2016

An interesting informal scale

I came across this idea a few years ago, but I've realised more recently it is probably applicable rather more widely than  its original purpose.  I have a dim recollecton of something similar applying to communication and IQ. 

It is important to point out that this is an informal scale.  There is no science or  evidence behind it, just observation that it kind of fits.  It is a logarithmic scale in 10 divisions and it applies to people so level 10 is just 1 person , level 9 10 people, level 3 100 and so on.  As it happens level 10 would be 10billion, a very crude approximation to the humans on the planet.  That's one reason the scale has appeal.

The other observation is  that wherever you are on the scale anyone a level or two higher is sort of cool, 3  levels higher is a touch nutty, and more than that is crazy. Similarly,  one level lower are ignorant, three levels back are all but intolerable!

The original scale was done by Paul Wheaton and refers to permaculture .  I was rather amazed to see I have had meetings with and have conversed and corresponded with two of the 10 people at level 9 on the original scale.

 There is an easier to read version of this graphic at Wheaton Eco Scale

I haven't done the figures, but I suspect global wealth fits a similar pattern.  I can imagine athletic ability is also similarly distributed.

If you  want to know where I fit on the eco scale,  I'm not saying!  Judge where you are and figure out if I am a nut  or intolerably far behind.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Who is this 'no hoper'

It is quite excruciating when former States members display their  disregard or ignorance of democratic concepts. So I wasn't  impressed to  read Mr Shenton's view on hustings at
no hopers are ruining the political hustings for voters

There are a few problems  not just with the principle as it applies to proper democratic processes, but also with a few practicalities.  I'll start with a couple of them.  Take Donald Trump.  Widely perceived as something of a joke candidate and no hoper at the start of the process he is now a contender for president of the United States.   Or what of Abraham Lincoln who was a serial election loser before he was eventually elected to that same office.   See Abraham Lincoln failures  And what about the psephologists predictions for the last UK general election or the BrExit referendum, both of which they got wrong.  So how do you determine a priori who and who is not a no hoper, or indeed a shoe in winner?  If you cannot do that  Mr Shenton's proposition is a farcical piece of nonsense.

It may surprise Mr Shenton to know that hustings are not principally about entertainment.  They are historically for the benefit of those voters who wish to see the candidates perform and hear their views, deriving from a time when many voters might be illiterate.  Just as elections are not reality TV pop culture voting , not least because it is about a lot more than simply winning. People can and do take to the elections process to argue a political case - it may be unaccepted by the electorate, but nevertheless very useful and important.  It takes time to gain widespread support for change and new ideas.   We use democracy to do that as it is the least worst option, and it enables those ideas to be raised and tested in public.  That's a good thing, not to be suppressed, Mr Shenton.

The former Senator  bemoans the lack of engagement with the public, yet he proposes a mechanism that  would do nothing to increase the choice and variety on offer to the electorate. Indeed his main aim seems to be to narrow the options  by excluding what he concludes to be no hopers.  I ask how is that going to increase participation, who is going to turn out to vote if there is no one presenting a view they support (as indeed some have commented about the absence of a deep green candidate at the last general and this recent by election).

Another problem with his proposed mechanism is the fixed rate.  It wouldn't put off wealthy  'no hopers' but it would be disproportionately  arduous on poorer candidates.  Perhaps if he had proposed a deposit of  1%  of gross wealth that would be more equitable, but still contrary to the democratic  philosophy.   And I guess that's where we really see what is going on here.  Mr Shenton would have an election limited to the choices of comfortable off candidates who subscribe to a narrow view of politics .  More a personality selection process than any political choice.  That's one sure way to undermine  the whole system, including the participation rate.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

By election result

Congratulations to Senator Ferguson, shame on you Jersey.

An abysmal turnout, a lack of factual background material available to the public on the candidates and their past voting and political records and a situation not helped by an outdated first past the post election system.  

The outcome.  We elected a senator who said on radio she'd have supported UKIP at the last UK election, is sceptical to put it mildly on climate change, and opposes most renewable energy options. Of course none of that was mentioned on her election leaflet.  She did talk and write about opposing new taxes/charges, but forget to mention she voted for GST  and against exemptions when she had the power to do so in the States.  Maybe she has changed her mind, we might have known had there been anything like debate in the election and detailed reporting in the press on issues rather than caricatures and snide observation on husting attendance.  

This isn't working, but how to change. It isn't arguing about  electoral change and constitution . It isn't angry letters to the JEP (though that might help you feel better), it is to take back the communications between the activists and the public, not let intermediaries and commercial interests have a stranglehold .  Online helps a little with that, but not enough  - it needs activists on streets year round connecting with  people  face to face , door to door.  Very old fashioned, very effective, almost impossible on any meaningful scale without structure and organisation and resources.   
Don't get mad, get active!