Sark's Seigneur says the island's government is so focused on day-to-day problems that it spends almost no time planning for the future.
Major Christopher Beaumont, who became Seigneur in 2016, said that the island's government, Chief Pleas, lacks "much of a policy on anything you might consider to be forward-looking" and does not encourage engagement with the public of Sark or representative groups like the island's Chamber of Commerce.
The Chamber represents local businesses and lobbies Chief Pleas on their behalf. Last week, it hosted an event called Building Sark’s Future at which the Seigneur was invited to speak.
Major Beaumont is the 23rd Seigneur of Sark. The powers of his role have diminished since the island voted to replace its traditional form of feudal government in 2006. However, he remains known as the 'head of Sark' and has a figurehead and representative role.
Prior to the Chamber's event, he also gave a talk in January called A Time to Build.
"What I was doing at that talk [in January] was to give a bit of history of why Sark has ended up in the position it has ended up in and to suggest that we really ought to plan for the future," said Major Beaumont.
“I suggested that Sark needs to plan its future. That means putting in policies on a whole range of issues that you might consider useful.”
Major Beaumont claims that there is no government policy in Sark on anything except education.
“There’s no policy on energy, there’s no policy on housing, there’s no policy on employment, there’s not really much of a policy on anything you might consider to be forward-looking,” he said.
“Clearly, it’s the government’s responsibility to get on with doing this and it has stopped doing it.”
Pictured: Dozens of people attended the event held by the Sark Chamber of Commerce.
At the event last week, there was a board on which attendees were invited to stick post-it notes of ideas. It was an event for members and non-members to share thoughts and discuss the future of the island.
Major Beaumont said there was not an adequate government presence at the event.
“It presents a problem if government don’t engage with the process, but it may come as a bit of a surprise… there is absolutely no link between the government and the economy [in Sark]," he said.
“Whereas in Guernsey and Jersey, you have business taxes, Sark doesn’t. So there are no economic levers Sark’s government can tweak."
He says this puts the Chamber in “a unique position to be much more useful to the business community”.
Pictured: Major Beaumont is a former British Army officer.
“Where you would expect [there to be] a government department interested in business, there isn’t one, and there is a complete void.
“So the Chamber can gather support for particular ideas and really put on a good lobby.”
He said there has been a disconnect between Chief Pleas and the public for quite some time.
“I think they are busy firefighting. They don’t seem to have the bandwidth to do the planning I think is necessary".
Chief Pleas' current tasks include trying to resolve the future of electricity in the island, potentially by nationalising Sark Electricity Limited, although it is understood that discussions between the government and the company still have some way to go before a deal could be concluded.
Express invited comments from Chief Pleas. They said no response would be forthcoming until after their Policy and Finance Committee has met this evening, Tuesday.
Despite his concerns, Major Beaumont is not cynical about the future of his island. He said there are positive vibes in the community.
He said those who attended the Chamber event discussed setting up a company register in Sark, developing its port to allow ferries from France, and creating an online sales website for businesses in the island - “like Amazon for Sark”.
However, he said these changes could come about only through the support of Chief Pleas.
“There is an active population and it’s a great shame that the government didn’t witness that,” said Major Beaumont.
“The ideas can only really come to fruition if the government takes them on.”
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