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Comment: look at the bigger picture

Comment: look at the bigger picture

Wednesday 06 November 2019

Comment: look at the bigger picture


As the board of Jersey’s States-owned social housing provider continues to change, and the war over what 'good governance' looks like rumbles on, a stalwart board member is making the case for focusing on the 'bigger picture.'

Having sat on many boards throughout his career, Express columnist Kevin Keen gives his personal view on the escalating row between Andium and their shareholder, the States of Jersey...

“As someone who has previously been a director of companies owned or controlled by the States of Jersey and still on the board of an 'arms length' organisation, it might be considered that any comment from me is due to self-interest but be assured it is not. 

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Pictured: Express commentator Kevin Keen gives his take on the Andium row.

As far as Andium goes, I have never met Mr. Hamon, and only vaguely know Mr. Gallichan although I do know former Chief Minister Frank Walker, who was until recently Chairman of Andium - but not well.

In all the arguments about what Messrs. Hamon and Gallichan should be paid it would be very easy to forget what Andium has achieved. I grew up on Nicholson and Grasett Park and as an adult watched with sadness and concern as these important assets were subjected to States 'money saving' initiatives, or more correctly, neglected.  

To be honest, I was not totally sure the creation of Andium was the solution, but have been very pleasantly surprised by their achievements. I don’t think it is an understatement to say that Andium has totally transformed the island’s social housing stock, making it something Jersey can be proud of. 

At the end of 2017, Andium were responsible for £850million of property, and during that year invested getting on for £50million in the properties, and returned £28million to their owners, the States of Jersey. Well done, Andium. 

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Pictured: A dispute has broken out between Andium and their States shareholder. 

What would have happened if Andium had not been established? I think there is a fair chance we would still be talking about what needs to be done. The hospital is the obvious example, but there are others.

Another example of why companies like Andium are the right way to go is JT. Would we have fibre-to-the-home, and among the fastest broadband in the world, if JT was still a States department? I very much doubt it. 

When I was Chief Executive of Jersey Post a long-serving colleague told me that when the postal service was a States department, matters for key debate by the political board of the day was what colour vehicles should be (red or white); and few if any decisions could be made during the period preceding an election. 

Like any old story, it was probably embellished a bit, but it certainly had a ring of truth for me.

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Pictured: "What would have happened if Andium had not been established?"

Of course, the shareholder needs to monitor the public’s investment but the best way to do this is appoint a competent and diverse board with some strong independent (or non-executive) directors to supervise, challenge and of course, support, management.

The shareholder (and therefore the politicians) should be clear why they own the companies and can specifically approve really big decisions, but they must avoid micro-management. 

At the end of the day though, if the company does not deliver on its plans, the shareholder can easily change the board, as has been very sadly demonstrated recently. 

The alternative is tie these organisations up in the red tape and procrastination they were originally created to avoid; which I really do not think is a good idea.”

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Bailiwick Express.

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