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.