The hotly anticipated population policy – which is now likely to face a vote early next year – will not be a "silver bullet" that will solve all the island's problems, the politician responsible for it has warned.
Assistant Chief Minister Rowland Huelin, who was put in charge of the policy when Constable Chris Taylor stepped down in the wake of his dangerous driving conviction, said it was important that expectations were managed, as he gave an updated timetable for the "framework"-style policy.
Earlier this year, politicians supported a proposition by Deputy Jess Perchard that the policy should be debated by 31 December, but this will not happen now.
Deputy Huelin, who now plans to lodge the policy in early December for debate on 18 January, said this was due to a busy States Assembly schedule this term – which included the recent hospital funding debate and the next Government Plan – and the high volume of responses to a public consultation on population.
He and his policy team received more than 1,700 responses and well over 5,000 comments from islanders.
While he declined to share the details of what will be proposed, as the policy is yet to be finalised, Deputy Rowland said that, rather than set out exactly how the island's population will be managed in future, the policy will establish “broad principles that will create the framework" upon which future Council of Ministers and States Assemblies can make future decisions.
Pictured: How Jersey's population has grown since 2001.
“I think it is important to say that this isn’t going to be a silver bullet that solves all of our problems. We have 107,000 people who all have different views for different reasons," he said.
“However, it is a very meaty problem and for every single problem and challenge, you have to make that first step. And hopefully this is a big positive first step. It will be the foundations of population policy for years to come.”
The Government believe that the population policy will coordinate new ‘tools’ that it has created.
These include new migration controls, which have been agreed in principle with legislation being lodged imminently; a new IT system, which will be up and running in the new year; and more frequent reporting of manpower and other figures.
This year’s census, however, will not feed into the debate as it will not be ready for publication until March.
Unlike previous population policies, the new policy will not propose any set figure or cap.
Pictured: The Government's new migration controls, which come under the Control of Housing and Work Law and have been approved in principle.
“If you set an unreasonable target then expect to fail,” said Deputy Huelin. “It is not our intent to deliver detailed numbers, which we cannot be assured of meeting. Instead, we will be delivering the principles by which our population can be manged and monitored.”
He added: “We mustn’t get tunnel vision as to the fact that we have a growing population, and we will continue to have a growing population. Some of the comments we’ve received say that we’re going to be the new Hong Kong, we’re going to have a population of 140,000 people and we’re going to run out of infrastructure.
“That’s the perception but the reality is that it could go in the other direction. I’m not saying it will, but we need to be cognisant of that and may need to respond in a different way.”
The Assistant Chief Minister said that he hoped that the Assembly would understand and accept the delay, despite its approval of Deputy Perchard’s proposition.
“We have gone out of our way to contact Members and advise them of this," he said. "I think the Assembly gets cross when they hear nothing and get naught. We have taken that on board and have advised politicians through Scrutiny. So far, we have had no adverse feedback, but that’s not to say we won’t get any.”
The Assembly has already agreed that the policy – in whatever form it takes – will be reviewed on an annual basis by the Council of Ministers.
Population and workforce management has been a hot topic in recent weeks, with numerous areas of the public and private sector experiencing staffing shortages.
Deputy Huelin's announcement on the next steps for the population policy came after Senator Steve Pallett, the leader of a panel tasked with reviewing the Government's population and migration proposals, wrote to Deputy Huelin last week to ask for an update on when the population policy debate would take place.
Deputy Huelin's response, issued yesterday, can be read here.
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