Sunday, 14 December 2014

FinTech is no silver bullet

I was quite amused by the recent piece I read about the CoM creating a new minister for finance, digital and competition. I have no problem with the Island developing a bigger digital sector. I endorse diversity as a strategy but the conjunction of the item with the timing and other pieces has to be commented upon.

Conversations with former colleagues with whom I worked in the previous tech bubble made me aware a year or so ago we are into bubble territory, rather like the late 1990's. Stories of people pitching non existent projects and others of companies being bought without any technological due diligence abound. Valuations based on irrational projection of almost meaningless metrics. I've seen it all before and it is here again. So it is no surprise some in political circles want to jump on the band wagon. Of course a few will make it and some fortunes will be made, but many others will fail.

Locally the drive has focused very much on FinTech. This is understandable and is likely very sensible for individual companies, but it is probably a big mistake for the Island. I want to differentiate here between the more disruptive startup and the established support business role. There's a need and perfectly good business to be done installing networks, managing hardware and patching servers for local financial organisations. That's not really what we are looking at here. FinTech really is looking at the small disruptive start up software company.

Whenever I have been involved in such companies there has been a common theme to the successful ones. They have had ample access to and understanding of the domain knowledge and problem to be solved. Clearly locally there is specialised domain knowledge in financial services and it makes sense for a startup to utilise that. So what is the problem?

Risk is the answer to that, and specifically that it doesn't really represent an effective diversification of an already over balanced economic base. It does not matter that the skills are different and the business model is different the odds are that a problem in the financial service sector locally would also be a problem for the associated digital companies. It would be better strategically to concentrate the digital sector on the much smaller local industries like tourism and agriculture. There's plenty of opportunity, and some requisite local domain knowledge in both those areas. Just look at airBNB or this list to see just how big the opportunities might be.

I am also a little bemused at the decision to include competition in the responsibilities of the new minister. I can see how you might need to do something about its lack for the finance sector when we have seen so many scandals involving the fixing of Libor, Fx and gold prices. However software development is a highly collaborative, cooperative undertaking. That's one reason why people in the last tech bubble started creating incubators and hubs. We even have on here in Jersey see

 It is a little surprising therefore to see Digital Jersey and some others locally are promoting the Barclays accelerator. Good for a company that gets selected, but again not so good for the Island: “The 10 companies will be guided through the process of growing and developing their businesses with the help of funding of up to $100,000 from Techstars. They will have world-class mentorship from industry experts and will be based at the London Escalator, near London’s Tech City, giving them the optimum environment to thrive “.

Why on earth would we be encouraging the most promising local startups to upsticks to London if we are trying to build a local digital economy? It makes no sense to me. It is the sort of irrational thinking that happens in a bubble – anything that mentions the buzzword is talked up positively even if it is a pile of ordure.

Some relevant links

Sunday, 2 November 2014

The Chief Minister designate and the environment.

Sometimes it is what isn't said that tells you most about what is happening.  Read the Chief Minister designate's piece from the order paper for tomorrow's States  sitting at

If you want the key highlight, or is that lowlight?, I have written a short letter as Chair of the Jersey Climate Action Network to send to all the new Ststes members.  The second paragraph reads
In the Chief Minister designate's statement on the order paper for 

tomorrow's States meeting the word environment does not appear 

once in ten pages. Neither does climate. Sustainable does appear 

twice :

page 3 sustainable job opportunities 

page 5 for sustainable growth.   

That's it folks.  The environment, ecology, sustainability (in the real meaning - 'sustainble growth' is a contradiction) have no significant place in the next 3.5 years in policy in Jersey.

The only question we need ask is whether we take that lying down, or to paraphrase  Shakespear, in Hamlet

Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them?  To die, to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
the heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

What is the point of Government?

Is there any more fundamental a question as we approach a general election than to ask what is the point of Government? Many theories and forms of government hold that the primary purpose is to protect the members of the society. There are differences and nuances but generally they include protecting the weak and disadvantaged individuals from exploitation and worse by the strong and powerful, and to protect the society as a whole from external impacts such as invading armies, and diseases. Personally I would add protecting future generations from the inevitable destruction and consumption of the current generations lifestyle, but that is not commonly included.

Having read the manifestos for the candidates in our election, you might be forgiven for thinking the primary function of our Government was to manage the economy. I'm not intending to argue that here, nor am I going to review how well (!) our Government has done based on the above criteria over the lifetime of the last assembly. 

Maslow wrote his paper 'A Theory of Human Motivation ' in 1943. In doing so he outlined a hierarchy of need for human beings. The base consists of physiological functions: breathing, sleeping, excretion, water and of course food. The next layer above that, which can only really be addressed when the lower level has been satisfied, is safety. Included in that level are security of body, employment, resources, family, health property. You would think on the basis of that much quoted paper that food security would be a primary concern for individuals, society and indeed the government. It doesn't feel like that in Jersey. 

Food security is a huge topic in itself. There are many aspects and factors involved in thinking about it. I have sometimes been upbraided by people when I talk about it that I don't understand it and we would be able to organise a mini armada of small boats to bring stuff from France if it came to it. That is a very narrow and specific aspect of food security entailed in emergency planning. If you are relying on an emergency plan, you do not have security, you have contingency. Food security is much more than just can we get over a short term difficulty should it arise.

Appreciating where we are in respect of food security requires some understanding of food as an industry of many interacting parts. The old days of a patchwork of small family farms feeding themselves and selling surpluses locally have been long dead in much of the western world. We have mega farms larger often than our whole island, half a dozen seed merchants who control over half the world's seed supplies, distributors, processors of scale like Unilever and Kraft, retailers in the UK dominated by four big companies, wholesalers and others. Like any supply chain it is only really as strong as its weakest link and there are many links here that could be a bottleneck. All of that is of course today; there is also a future thinking dimension – changing diets round the world, loss of cultivatable land, water stress, soil erosion, pest and disease susceptibility, population increases.

Jersey is a small place, minute population, surely such global issues wouldn't affect us? I hear this little Jersey argument a lot about all sorts of things, but I would suggest we are are more susceptible than other places when it comes to food security. Apart from some dairy, selected marine items and Royals, we import almost everything edible. Probably over 95% of our food is externally sourced. In August there was a significant debate in the UK over their food security with the NFU worried that the UK's food self sufficiency had fallen to only 60% ! See It has been used to argue for increased technology usage and GM. I don't agree with that as a solution, but I do agree there is a problem.

In an article in the Guardian, 10th October, Jay Rayner wrote about the declining UK self sufficiency: 'Almost all of that decline is down to supermarkets pushing deals on farmers that have made their industry financially unsustainable. The only kind of land use to have increased in the past 25 years is of farmland that is no longer being farmed. In an age of rising population and an exploding global middle class – factors that will fuel demand for 50% more food from the same amount of land by 2030 – that isn’t merely a cause for concern. It’s a catastrophe.' If 60% self sufficient Britain is concerned and facing a catastrophe, what does 5% self sufficiency in Jersey say about our near future? Clearly transport links are not the only issue. The UK is worried about food security even though they are not reliant on one port. There is a lot more to food security than its distribution.

While we often talk of food and food security as though there is just one entity, there are in fact several food types that we have to consider. There is the fresh fruit and vegetables, the stuff that the 5 a day campaign and dietitians urge us to eat more of. They are the source of much of the vitamins, minerals and micro-nutrients we need for health, often with a very short shelf life or storage potential. At the other end there are the staples- wheat , barley, rice etcetera that provide energy dense food like bread. Typically they require special processing to turn the raw grain into edible product. These grain products is where the bulk of the dietary calories come from. There is the dairy sector providing significant contribution to dietary protein. Often shorter life products require chilling, except perhaps for the more processed items such as cheese and UHT milk. Somewhere in between we have frozen and tinned vegetables, processed meats, ready meals that are the specialist domain of the processors. Some can have a long shelf life, though possibly at the expense of taste and nutritional value.

When WHO looks at food security they focus on calories.  You need vitamins etc for health and vitality long term, but without calories starvation ensues in short order. Some foods are far more efficient and effective at supplying those.  To get the 2500 kCalories recommended in a day as an adult male, you would need:
Just over 2lb of modern white processed bread or
8lb of potatoes for same or
16lb carrots ! or
25lb lettuce (!!) or
2.5 lb steak. or
0.7kg vegetable fat.

It should be clear from that list that what we have to ensure is supplied by way of food security is highly dependent on the diet we are fulfilling. That in turn affects the land area required to supply the food (ignoring sea food elements of course). Currently the average American consumes about 2000 lbs of food per year, which works out to about 5.5 lbs and 2700 calories per day. Very crudely eating their body weight in food per month! Europeans are a little more moderate, at about 4lbs of foods each daily. In 1993 the FOA reckoned the minimum amount of agricultural land necessary for sustainable food security, with a diversified diet similar to those of North America and Western Europe (hence including meat), is 0.5 of a hectare per person. This does not allow for any land degradation such as soil erosion, and it assumes adequate water supplies. 0.5 hectare is 53,000 square feet. Some implications if that were adopted across the world are at However that is one extreme, and there are other diets and assumptions that others use, eg Pimentel and Jeavons.

There was a very good article by Simon Fairlie in the Land magazine, Winter 2007-2008 entitled Can Britain Feed Itself? He looked at the basic Mellanby diet ,and a number of other options including permaculture, meat, and vegan options , and the implications for land usage. “In 1975, Britain grew 15 million tonnes of cereals on less than 3.6 million hectares at a yield of about 4 tonnes per hectare. This was the equivalent of 283 kilos per person a year, which is about 2,700 calories a day — comfortable enough for every man, woman, child and elderly person in the country. The total population was 53 million .”

There are many notes and comments, but very crudely the outcome was:

Land used for food
Fed per hectare
Jersey population fed
Mellanby 1973
53 million
11 million hectares
~5 per hectare
Conventional with livestock 2005
60.6 million
10.8 million hectares
~5.5 per hectare
Conventional vegan 2005
60.6 million
3 million hectares
~20 per hectare
Organic vegan 2005
60.6 million
7.3 million hectares
~8.3 per hectare
Organic with livestock 2005
60.6 million
15.9 million hectares
~3.8 per hectare

We can do a quick conversion to give Jersey equivalents, assuming 35,000 vergees agricultural land and 5.5 vergees to a hectare for numerical convenience.

By contrast Jeavons in his biodynamic approach claims a sustainable (organic) vegan diet is possible on 4000 square feet per person, equivalent to 26 people fed per hectare. The difference between Jeavons and Fairlie here is that Jeavons is labour intensive, hand tools only, whereas Fairlies figures use normal tractor based agriculture. 

However such figures are not too useful on the small scale. Soil conditions, micro-climate and seasonality all play a part.   Even if you could grow your vegan diet locally, you would still have to deal with the realities of the hungry gap in early spring and the glut in late late summer/early autumn. Greenhouses and glasshouses can mitigate some of that seasonal production and diversity problem, but we have abandoned them commercially. You need storage and processing to make pickles, jams, chutneys and freezing other stuff. If you want to make you own bread it is even harder. After you have dried the grain, threshed it somehow and winnowed it you could store it for sometime as long as the weevils and vermin don't get to it. You could mill it to flour right away but it goes rancid in a couple of months and wont store anywhere near as long as it does as grain. You can grind some every day for your own use. On a hand mill it might take you an hour a day to mill flour for a family. It is a chore – hence the daily grind.

That is all fine for a smallholder who has a bit of land, skills and knowledge, tools and equipment, but it wont run on a societal basis. The smallholder family might have food security, but they are not going to produce much surplus. It is hard work and there is very little money in it, see .One of the reasons for the decline in worked farmland in the UK, touched on in the Rayner piece and it might well soon apply here too, is that it is simply too difficult to make a living farming. Children who have seen exhausted farming parents working long hours just to stand still are not enthusiastic about taking up the challenge when there appears to be so many easier ways to make a living. There is an inherent conflict here. In general small integrated farming or horticulture operations are more productive in yield per unit area than large operations, especially when sized right to the equipment deployed. However they are more labour intensive. I estimate that if we were to use the Jeavons approach to maximise producing our food and diet requirements locally , we would need about a fifth of the population involved in food production. Even if we could produce the grain, we have only one working mill , and that operated part time by volunteers. The only working threshing machine is a piece at the Pallot steam museum used as an annual attraction.

The only options that could provide all our food locally are the two vegan options, plus any marine produce. Even if we were collectively happy to all turn vegan overnight , in practice it isn't going to happen. Leave aside what happens to the Jersey cow on a vegan island, it is simply not going to happen on any scale, not while they are comfortable well paid office jobs in existence. Even if you thought finance was about to collapse and bring down the local economy with it forcing us back to the land, there would be plenty of practical problems, starting with simply educating and training enough people to make it work.

So we have to deal with the reality that in Jersey we are going to be importing a significant amount of our food for sometime to come. In particular we are very dependent on imports for processed packaged items, meat and grain based products. This is the area that particularly concerns me – bread. You can freeze it , but otherwise it does not keep for long, even when made with the Chorleywood process. Of course as I alluded to above if you have the flour stored you could bake it on demand, but that would require either significant commercial bakery facilities, or almost every house in the Island home baking. We no longer have the commercial option since CI bakeries closed down. That closure was said to be because for price competition from imported supplies. The remaining on island bakeries could probably produce no more than 15% of our island's daily bread requirements, even working flat out. As recently as the 1970's bakeries were expected to carry over a month's supply of flour on premises to ensure supply of that most essential of commodities - bread.

Even if we had the storage for flour we no longer have the capacity to process it. I cannot yet see hoards of eager home bakers baking bread daily, nor does it seem an efficient use of energy. In fact home food production seems to have declined remarkably. People in the UK generally no longer cook at home – they heat stuff from packets and tins. Even if we had the raw materials available locally it seems a growing army of people would not know or not be inclined to turn them into food. There is a different weakness there. The number of processing companies is small, and they operate a few large factory units. The problem was brought to light most clearly with the horsemeat scandal.

What should be clear to readers is that our food security in the Island has been eroded steadily over many years. It needs integrated thinking on food for a system that works for the island, from growers to processors to retailers to the public. Matching facilities need to be in place to make the whole work. There is no point in farmers growing wheat other than for export unless there are facilities to thresh and mill. There is no point to setting up a bakery unless you have flour supplies on hand. The evidence is we are losing it. We used to have 40 mills in the island, we now have one run part time. We no longer have a canning factory for potatoes and carrots - that closed in the '70s. We have lost farmers, we have I believe narrowed our crop and produce range gearing it for export, we have lost bakeries, converted glasshouse and nursery sites into building developments and now we are about to lose food warehousing. Each step, each loss, has lessened the resilience on island to provide for ourselves and increased our dependence on others outside.

I asked at the top of the piece, what is the point of government. In respect of food security I would say in Jersey it has shown itself to be an irrelevance. Yes there has been some support for farmers and for some facilities like the dairy. It has been heavily biased towards export activities, to the monetary aspect of the industry. Nothing aimed at staunching the disintegration of facilities we would need if we were forced to rely on ourselves. An no, an emergency plan is not food security and isn't good enough.  There is a price to 'cheap' food and it is the risk of no food.

For me the fact it is the Co-op closing the on island warehouse is particularly ironic. Until the recent sale of their farms to pay for the disastrous foray into banking, the Co-op group in the UK was effectively the countries largest farmer. The group had a degree of vertical integration of supply , distribution and retail of a portion of its food supplies. That exactly parallels what needs to be done to ensure we have food security.
 (proportion processed food bought and food prices)

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Too small to matter?

Earlier this week a note was sent to all the usual broadcast media.  That I am aware not one has commented or picked up on it. Just today I came across a piece from the other side of the world that gives a very interesting  light on the contents.

Jersey Organic Association 
“Small changes, big difference” is the slogan of the Soil Association's Organic September campaign. It is ironically appropriate to the organic market in Jersey, for both consumers and producers. The recent proposal from the Environment Department for ongoing support for organic producers most definitely feels like small change.

The payment offered to the producers is £11 per vergée split over 2 years. To qualify, the seven or eight local producers will have to be organically certified and supply accounts. Soil Association certification costs a minimum £400 per year for a licence, and accountancy costs would probably be more. For a number of those growers, the payment over two years won't even cover the licence for a single year and for the smallest the payment works out at less than £1 per week. In Germany and France, annual maintenance payments for organic producers can be 900Euro per hectare, approximately £100 per vergée .

For consumers this is also a loss. There are many varied reasons people choose organic, but concern for the environment is one. Many of us want local produce, knowing it has been grown to the best standards of protection for our own wildlife, environment and biodiversity. Already we are witnessing a decline in the area of organic land in the Island. There will be consequences to the continued neglect of this part of our economy. I predict that two of the local producers will have either given up organic status, or possibly left farming altogether, by the time the policy is reviewed in the Rural Economy plan of 2016. That would leave local consumers with less choice.

A small change making a big difference indeed, in the wrong direction.

Mark Forskitt

Chair, Jersey Organic Association

I should clarify.  I don't qualify for any of these payments.  My land is organically certified, but I am not considered commercial, and do not qualify.  Obviously I am not one of those who might go out of business as I am not technically in business to begin with !

A couple of smaller growers going out of business won't make much of a dent on the size of the economy, it wont affect tax revenues much.  But just how far are we prepared to see one of the few legs of our our economy wither?  How much choice are we happy to see removed from the local population.

Here's the contrast  Hong Kong has numerous parallels to Jersey.  It is one example of where we might very well end up if we continue with  growth and eating away at green zone and agricultural land.  They had a problem with farming becoming non-viable in the face of land prices and wages from the burgeoning financial economy.  "By 1980, 40 percent of farmland in Hong Kong was reported as abandoned and rice paddies made up less than one percent of what was in use. Today, a total of just seven square kilometres (2.7 square miles) is actively farmed." That's out of a total of 426 sq m, a touch  under 10 times the area of Jersey.

"But the number of organic-style vegetable farms has increased from a handful of trailblazers in the 1990s to several hundred today -- of which 130 are certified as fully organic.

While still flown in to the semi-autonomous southern Chinese city, homegrown organic vegetables now make up 12 percent of the 45 tons of vegetables the city produces daily." How does that compare with us?  Who's looking to our future, our food security, our land and ecology?

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Say when.

I did not have an invite to attend the Chamber of Commerce pre-election debate. Doubtless my views on growth would have been most unwelcome at an event billed 'How do we promote growth? What are the implications? What are the Social and Environmental impacts? ' Did you spot the underlying assumption?

The chamber are not alone in this. If you have a spare £75 to attend the Institute of Directors annual debate, you can be enlightened by an esteemed panel on 'Should Jersey Relax Its Immigration Policy?; which goes on to ask 'what sort of impact a relaxation of immigration volumes would have on island life, and how a policy might be articulated that balances the needs of businesses, economic growth and islanders'. See it's there again.

 Politicians do the same. This is from the Treasury minister's blog 'The treasury principles include..... Competition - property taxes should support the competitiveness of the economy and promote jobs and growth; '

 It is the sine qua non of Jersey government, the underlying unimpeachable, beyond question assumption: growth is good, desirable, the principal imperative.

Fortunately there was quite a good running commentary on twitter of the Chamber of Commerce debate. I was struck by a couple of the post event comments along the lines that there seems to be no way to resolve the problems. My logical head wants to point out what should be obvious when such a scenario arises : check your assumptions and review your constraints. Is it really true that growth is necessary, is it really the case that you need to increase the population to achieve growth? For many years I have held the answer to both of those questions is no. I find it of note that the view has gained considerable ground in the last decade, to the point where it is now possible to discuss it without simply being declared an economic ignoramus, or dangerous lunatic, possibly both.

 How does a concept like growth gain such an insidious hold on us, collectively? I think the answer is two fold. One part is in human psychology, the other in the nature of a society and particularly the experiences of those who influence and make decisions.

 In psychology related terms we have two well known observations. First, people tend to believe numerical evidence more readily than quantitative evidence, even though the latter might be better evidence Believe me, I was a research engineer, its true. They also like to have simple ways to rationalise and evaluate complex systems and data. It is far easier to point to a single measurable quantity such as GDP or GVA and see its value increasing as a good indicator, than it is to think through the interconnected web of resources and impacts. It is so much easier for a politician to sell growth than it is to debate the physical resource allocation that economics is really about.

 The second factor is that there are circumstances , not in government, where growth is almost always validly seen as good. It is not hard to grasp that for business owners growth is an indicator of success and unless handled badly (eg cash flow failure) is for them a desirable, enriching thing. Transposing that perception into government is easy, but it is incorrect. What is good for a business is not necessarily good for a society. A lot depends on externalities.

 A business is broadly in inward looking entity. Generally unless constrained by law, it is not concerned with what goes on outside of itself. Historically that lead to pollution and contamination problems as enterprises exported the waste and an external body picked up the costs of dealing with it. It is also the case that if a business grows by taking market from another and driving it out of business that is an externality. There is no cost born by the growing entity, but the tab for the resulting unemployment of former employees of the ceased business falls on the government. Similarly if a business decides to shed a stable but unprofitable operation in favour of a growing option, many of the costs are borne by society. Government does not have the same luxury. Civilized societies cannot simply shed 'excess' 'unproductive' people, any more than they can simply pollute their neighbours without consequence. Decisions in government are different from those in business, with different constraints, objectives and consequences. It is much more a zero sum game than for a business. Assumptions that are workable , even useful, in business are potentially a hindrance when applied to governance of a society.

 Organisations like the Chamber of Commerce and Institute of Directors promoting growth comes as no surprise in the light of the above. Of course we have many people of a similar background in the States. I have even heard people state that we need a States composed only of (successful) business people! What a disaster that would be; we already have a dearth of scientists, philosophers, artists etc to give a balance of outlook and experience.

 The inappropriate transference of the concept from business to government is not the only problem with growth. There are many. I do find it irritating when the term is used as some vague expression almost like a magic potion that when swallowed will simply make things better. What such people often mean is they want the expected and desirable results of economic growth , such as higher employment. Economic growth doesn't necessarily mean that will happen , it is quite conceivable of a situation where one has growth and fewer employed people.

 How growth is measured or determined is a further issue. Typically gross domestic product or some derivative of that is used. It is a measure of size, but it is crude. All paid activities count positively to size, even when they are clearly destructive in nature. Car accidents are a good example, obviously undesirable, but making a contribution towards GDP. David Suzuki has another example: that a corporation polluting a river. If the river has become polluted, an expensive program will be required to clean it up. Residents might buy expensive bottled water rather than cheaper tap water. Suzuki points to this new economic activity will raise GDP, and though the GDP has risen overall in the community the quality of life has decreased.

Third in my concerns over the use of growth as a measure of success or progress of a society is that it is significantly correlated with resource consumption. Logically when dealing with finite resources there has to be a limit to consumption, growth only hastens the depletion. I believe we are rapidly approaching a strongly resource constrained world, be it agricultural land, fresh water, oil or wood. We have faced single resource depletion before, such as whale oil, but to face several occurring concurrently is beyond humanities experience. Of course not all activities entail much, if any, material consumption or waste production. There is one hopes no limit to love, compassion, art , knowledge or understanding. It is a concept so important that it has its own term – sustainable development

 There is also a philosophical point about growth that really needs to be made. I observe that we live in an age of immense material wealth compared to any other in history, at least for us in the 'developed' world. So wealthy that we discard more useful resources than most have ever had available to them. We have a society that frets and consumes resources to treat the symptoms of overindulgence, especially in health care. There is surely a point where our material appetites are satiated. There is a point, I hope, where we realise we do not need more stuff, we don't even want more stuff. It is more possible than most realise. If you find it hard to believe, and you might want to look up the Endowment Effect eg

I have a simple question for those who want more growth. What is the criterion, the point at which we have grown enough? I have asked it numerous times of those who espouse growth and growing the economy , and never yet heard a solid answer. That ought to indicate something. The implication frightens me.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Utterly incomprehensible ineptitude

I am astounded that two director level staff from the Health department have been drafted in to collate evidence for the , ahem,  'Independent' CoI.  One of the two is a witness, the other probably should be.  That ought to be enough to rule them out. I cannot figure how anyone in their right mind could think that two people  from the department that back in June tried to deny  the CoI documents and only complied after a summons could in anyway be the people to do this sort of thing.

The very best spin you could put on it is that someone has been very inept thinking about how this presents to the world.  The alternative: there is something explosive to hide and someone is doing their level best to try keep it buried.

Juvenal had the right question.  Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Thursday, 28 August 2014

All political careers end in failure

“All political careers end in failure” is a maxim usually attributed to the logical genius but politically ineluctably detestable Enoch Powell.

May 2015 will be the 30th anniversary of my first candidature in a public election. I had of course already been a candidate, and often successfully so, to various bodies and organisations, including the National Union of Students and the national Liberal Ecology Group. This year it happens is the 25th anniversary of my election as a County Councillor. Contesting elections is in my blood. I think it is a service to democracy when standing offers the electorate a distinctive choice they would not otherwise have. Given the peculiar first past the post voting system used in the UK, as here, that word distinctive is crucial. Having candidates of similar views standing against each other does not give more choice other than in the narrow sense of which person they 'like' more. In other places they either use primaries to sort out the differences upfront, or they use a preferential voting system.

People do not always stand to win the election. There are times when you are campaigning for a big challenging change and use the platform of an election to raise issues that are not otherwise being considered. I did that the last senatorial elections. And while the JEP delighted in repeatedly calling me a 'failed senatorial candidate' , it was only by standing that I was able to identify and contact like minded people and help use that to form Jersey Climate Action Network and Jersey in Transition.

Sometimes, however, the opportunity arises to go into the election with the purpose of winning and being in a position to argue and influence the course of policy and having a voice to raise issues in the public arena as they arise rather than being constrained to triennial  elections. When the current deputy of St Ouen declared he was not standing again, the possibility of standing with the aim of winning was clear. Of course there was much speculation about who might stand, and at least 7 names were mentioned. Of those only two were strongly progressive and ecologically minded. One was not standing for sure, the other I offered if they declared early on I would not stand against them. After some reflection they decided against and I then committed to standing , being as sure as I could be that I was likely the only environmentally minded  candidate, probably the only progressive.

Dutifully I notified the connetable so that I could be taken of the policing rota, I sorted out a proposer, who was very on board with the sustainability message (Thanks Mr R), and even had my pony tail cut. Helen and the children have never known me without it. Then things started to take a negative turn.

If you are unaware of it, a key prerequisite for standing, here as in the UK, is to have a proposer and 9 seconders on a duly completed form. I've never had a problem doing this, and it does not commit anyone to supporting you , to the extent I wonder if it really serves any purpose. Perhaps in the days when the number of electors would have been a couple of hundred, but not when it is in the thousands. I drew up a list of people in the parish I know and who have been supportive previously or made public comment in the past compatible with my campaign points. A couple had recently moved out of the parish, or taken a job with the States, and were unable or ineligible to sign. Fair enough. What did surprise me was that handful who said they were not prepared to sign as they were intending to vote for one of the early declared candidates because they were at school together, or think he's a nice person, even though they disagreed with them politically. I had no idea I was such an odiously disagreeable person that statement implies. Given what most people seem to think of politicians perhaps that should be taken as an unintended endorsement!

And then I heard the Russell Labey really was going to stand for deputy of the parish too. Given his high profile from the reform referendum campaign, and having been on local television for much of the '80's, I expected he would stand for senator where recognition is absolutely essential to being elected, and a real asset.

Having spoken to Russell about his standing it is clear we share a broadly liberal outlook on politics in general and would be campaigning on the same side on a couple of critical parochial issues, such as field 622. We would be seeking the same voters, and in doing so almost certainly let in one of the previously declared candidates with whom we both disagree on these points. So for some weeks now I have been struggling with the decision I have to make. Do I give up what is very likely my last and, until Russell declares, my best chance of being elected to the States, or not? From what I know of the declared candidates across the Island so far I do not see a likely champion for sustainable living, the organic growers, implementation of climate change plans, ending our mercury emissions, etc. There is no win-win scenario here. If this election is to be about personalities rather than policy then Russell is the better candidate. If it is to be about policy then both Russell and I lose if we both stand.

This is an incredibly hard thing to do personally. Assuming Russell does stand for deputy, as I believe , in effect it marks an ignominious end of my 30 year involvement in public elections. I feel wretchedly sorry and apologetic towards those people who desperately wanted to see a deep green voice back in the States (though Russell is far from a 'grey'!) . I have let them down. I am embarrassed at having to disappoint people in the parish who would have supported me. I feel so deflated. Much as I would love to carry on to have the platform and profile to raise in the States  those big issues on which our future depends, logic dictates the only sensible course of action for this election.  There are other ways of campaigning and there are other means to the end. 

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Do not blame the victims

Public sessions of the Committee of Inquiry have started. What is clear to me is that a number of potential witnesses have not made submissions. This is a difficult problem. In a detached , logical analysis one would argue that witnesses should make submissions. The only way the COI can get to the whole truth is to have all the facts, and to do that they need the witness testimony. However we are here dealing with people, moreover people who have been in care and abused. The trust issues care leavers have with authorities are well known. One top of that there are various reasons I have come across for non participation in the COI. Some are simply disillusioned with the whole protracted proceedings, others fear that in our small island there will be reprisals and repercussions for them and their families if they tell what they know. Some think the set up is biased and just another level of cover up, while some simply cannot face going through it all again having already recounted their abuse to the police, and then again to the compensation scheme.

Unless you have been in care, suffered abuse or been on the receiving end of an establishment vendetta I dare say those objections might sound far fetched. However evidence that they are not has been in the UK press just this week. It is not comforting reading. I'll start with the death of Frances Andrade, who had given evidence about the abuse she suffered as a teenager at a music school. See The coroner criticised mental health services for failing to provide proper care to her and he demanded that new rules are put in place to ensure that vulnerable witnesses are given better support when they face often traumatic trials. If the recent scrutiny report on CAMHS is any guide, the support here isn't great. See The answer to a question asked April 1st is also revealing. See , where the minister does not refute that there is a significant waiting list for PATS.

We also had a critical report this week on the actions of the police in secretly gathering intelligence on justice campaigners. It wont surprise anybody that the UK police were engaged in this activity. The investigating officer said "I cannot justify the way this information was subsequently handled. Quite simply put, unless the information could have prevented crime or disorder, it should not have been retained and certainly not for the period it has been.” It reminded me of Operation Blast where Jersey police were keeping secret files on States members. Is it so incredible to think that witnesses whose testimony reflects badly on the police would be worried?

What of the political angle? Again just this week we have a national paper story “ Cover-up to protect politicians after abuse claims” see Nigel Goldie, former assistant director of social services at Lambeth Council, said it appeared "high level decisions" were made not to explore allegations against public figures. Where have we heard that before? 11 cases prepared by police that were not prosecuted by the unchallengeable decision of the AG. We also had an sight into just how brazenly and unabashed the UK can be in looking after its own establishment interests. Baroness Butler-Sloss was eventually forced to step down from chairing the UK CSA inquiry. It is claimed she kept allegations about a Bishop out of an abuse report. The coup de grace however came when it emerged she might have to investigate decisions of her late brother, Sir Michael Havers, who was attorney general in the 1980s. It is widely reported that he actively limited the investigation into sex abuse at Kincora Boys' home. See Siblings of a judicial dynasty covering the tracks of one of them covering up abuse couldn't possibly happen in Jersey , could it?

That UK inquiry isn't quite the same as ours in that it is focussed on child sexual abuse, rather than all abuse in care. Clearly though there is some significant overlap. If the UK inquiry were to encompass Jersey too some of those witnesses who have not come forward locally might feel more inclined to do so to the UK inquiry. I don't think there would be any problem having Jersey included in the UK inquiry, after all the UK government is responsible ultimately for Justice and good governance of the Island. And there most certainly are links between Jersey and the UK relating to child abuse. We know 5 children were sent here from Birmingham, one of whom has never subsequently been traced. We know that children from Islington, itself mired in abuse, were brought here by Rabet. Jersey born Rabet was charged in Thailand in 2006 with abusing 30 local boys. Jimmy Savile was a regular visitor here, and we know accusations were made concerning Wilfred Brambell while he performed here. When you see headlines like: “ David Cameron's historic sex abuse inquiries must find out if former prime ministers were involved” ,( ) you have to think that other frequent visitor to Jersey, a former UK prime minster, is another link.

When the scale of Savile's abuse finally emerged (perhaps 1,000 victims, ) it must have been quite apparent than a widespread and systematic cover up was happening over decades. That sort of thing does not happen unless it is sanctioned by very influential and powerful people. That's where the real blame lies. Perpetrators are of course the source of evil, but those who turned a blind eye, ignored or covered up the evidence or had investigations stifled and trashed are no less culpable. Had they acted properly the criminals would have been outed and jailed and there would have been far fewer victims. However these inquiries turn out it is not the victims who are to blame in any way.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Self-immolation of States members.

I had the radio on much of today to listen to the States sitting, in case they got to the Energy Plan. That's the one that finally lays out a strategy for us to meet our CO2 emissions reduction obligations under the Kyoto protocol . What I heard instead was the internal dialogue of States members debating (I use that term in its loosest sense) the machinery of Government. In practice they spent the morning debating whether to debate the issue. They then decided they should and proceeded to vote to give the Chief Minister much more power over his ministers. Note the wording I chose there deliberately for they become in effect the CM's minister, not the Assembly's.

The other day they voted not to have a public election for Chief Minister, it is going to remain the preserve of the Assembly. They also rejected a proposition to restrict the Chief Minister, Treasury Minister and External Affairs Minister to senators. While there would have been definite logic in that it also would have had the odd effect that next election at the same time as doing that we'll have a referendum on implementing Clothier, that if passed would extinguish the role of Senator. I cannot say I am surprised – that's what happens when you try to piecemeal implement something that really has to be done as a coherent, designed, interacting working mechanism.

Today's pièce de résistance, in the ongoing soap opera that is States reform of itself, was to implement collective responsibility within the Council of Ministers. No longer will Ministers be free to speak or vote against the policy of the politburo. That guarantees 11 votes in the bag for the CM's party, barring absences. In theory when you have collective responsibility if there is a failure of Government you don't just sacrifice a minister, the whole government goes. That might work in a place where there is a party system with an alternative shadow Government in place ready to take up the gauntlet, but in our system?

There were some bits I missed, but from what I could tell they were arguing about who appoints the Ministers. If I have it right the plan is that the CM proposes a team and the assembly votes for it en bloc. Currently each post is voted individually. If the CM's proposed team is rejected three times, he gets to choose whomever he pleases anyway.

They haven't finished chewing over the changes yet, but I don't know it much matters what they do with the rest. As of the next election, the only time an individual States members who does not end up a Minister gets any meaningful say over anything is when they sit as an electoral college to elect the Chief Minister. After that it is out of their hands, just like WEB, SOJDC, Andium Homes and all the other arm's length, commercially confidential bodies that handle so much of the people's assets and interests.

I did hear a number of people lamenting the demise of the old committee system that preceded the current ministerial approach. I guess if they can make it work in New York, we could have made it work here (See But of course a committee system is very much a council sort of thing, not what you expect of a national government. I suspect so much of what is happening here is that egotistical puffery of bigging up their role and the importance of the Island and the pursuit by some of a notion of independence.

For my part I think the whole approach is the wrong way round.  The way to resilient political process and participation lies in devolving decision making to the people.   This further centralisiation of power and abstraction of control flies in the face of that.  In the extreme imagine we could now have a deputy returned unopposed in St Mary who is elected CM  then selects the Ministers and has an 11 vote head start in any debate.  Even if there were a contested election there, less than 5% of the electorate would arguably have decided the whole Government.  All in your name and quite democratic!

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Not so Joined Together?

Does anyone know how well the roll out of fibre (Gigabit Jersey) is going? The declared plan was to get all 42,000 domestic properties, plus businesses connected by 2016 (apparently regardless of whether they wanted to be connected!). We taxpaying public put £19million into the project, so I sincerely hope someone in the States is on top of the project plan, progress,and value for our money. My experience and intuition indicates things are perhaps not going too well.

On the recent Bank Holiday Monday we had 3 men from a contract company at our house for 2 hours. It cannot be cheap to pay contractors to work public holidays, so I'm guessing JT wouldn't unless they had to. Another small indication that things are not quite running smoothly is that they went to the wrong address initially (there is another road in the parish with the same name in common usage). Astoundingly given they were working in behalf of the 'phone company is they didn't have our line number (you know the one they were coming to work on) so they could call to locate us! Goodness knows how much more time was lost while they located the right address.

They explained they were trying to locate where the phone lines enter the house, and to do that they proposed pushing the rod from the road end and locating the point from the sound of it hitting the wall. I pointed out there wouldn't likely be much noise if the ingress was, as suspected, below the decking on the wood cladding. Besides I couldn't see the benefit as the first team who had visited had run the rod (a yellow cable like set up on a drum) from inside the house for the 40 metres I told them it would be from the DP to the road. I showed them the DP and conduit. So then they went on the locate the junction box the plan shows is somewhere in the garden garden. I told then we had had had a team up last week to do that too and they had located it in the corner of the garden. (Fortunately Helen had been here to relay that info on that occasion). After some digging about toing and froing they found the junction box and scraped a little soil from the top of it. They then informed us they would have to get a different team out to raise the box and negotiate with us to move some fencing. Net result they had replicated the work of the three previous teams and progressed the whole by the magnificent achievement of removing a couple of inches of soil from a small part of the junction box. It was quite clear they had no idea or paperwork about the previous visits or what they had done.

There's more! The Friday before they turned up we had a letter from JT asking us to confirm their given date for final installation, and saying they expected us to have completed all necessary work for their people to do the install. Bit tricky that as the JT people themselves have not yet worked out what needs doing and are going to have to send at last one more team to us to advise/agree work to be done.

I would like to say at this point that a couple of the individual technicians who tuned up in the different teams were pretty on the ball. They understood it really wasn't a good idea to run cable up the outside of wood clad buildings, especially ones on a timber frame. Everything moves, and unless you use shaped copper fixings you are likely to split the wood, and any hole lets water in and rot begin, oh and the cladding has to be replaced every 20 years or so. Definitely not the place for laser cable.

I have since discovered a couple of other things. First we are certainly not alone in having multiple teams coming each not aware of the other's work on the property. I am also told that the contractors are paid per installation, with JT picking up the problems. The contractors have a quick in quick out mindset and are looking to do the simplest, least work option possible, which of course may not be the sensible or appropriate long term option. That is quite consistent with our experience. Something I have not yet identified is whether the contractors are local companies using local people, local companies using temp off island staff, or even UK companies. I did note two of the teams who turned up here were driving local hired vehicles.

The most recent info I could find on progress was from October last year, saying they had connected 5,000 properties and were on track.
Lets be generous and allow that was December, that means in 10 months they had connected 4000 customers. At 400 per month, it will take over 92 months to connect the remaining 37,000 residential customers. There may be some room to play depending on whether they have for example connected more businesses first. Let's say I have a few doubts about the Gigabit project being completed by 2016.