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2021 REVIEW (July to Sept): Sand, a new CEO, and a farewell to Len

2021 REVIEW (July to Sept): Sand, a new CEO, and a farewell to Len

Thursday 30 December 2021

2021 REVIEW (July to Sept): Sand, a new CEO, and a farewell to Len

Thursday 30 December 2021


For a supposedly seasonal virus, Covid elbowed its way into summer-story headlines like a desperate Z-list celeb clamouring attention before the paparazzi.

For example, through STAC minutes, we learned that there had been a cluster in June on the set of the Real Housewives of Jersey, with the crew passing it on to each other during those close-up shots of wobbly jelly and pampered pooches.

It taught us that even those at the pinnacle of televisual art were not immune from this most pervasive of viruses.

Track, with traces of chaos

covid test track and trace contact tracing

Pictured: The track and trace system descended into chaos in early July as the number of direct contacts grew.

In early July, the total number of direct contacts passed 3,000 as the island recorded 370 covid cases. With so many people being caught in the web, the tracing and testing system ground to an asthmatic snail’s pace, compounded by technical glitches and a lack of staff.

With the start of the summer term just around the corner, reports emerged of parents taking their kids out of school early to avoid them being pinged before the Great Escape to the Sun. 

Facing pressure from backbenchers, teaching unions and the Children’s Commissioner, ministers changed the rules so that direct contacts didn’t have isolate as long as they were tested.

Later in July, the travel policy was also changed: we waved farewell (for now) to the traffic light system and welcomed a criteria based on vaccination. In those heady days, everyone with two jabs felt they were impregnable. As we know now, two-jab protection is soooo yesterday.

Building sand in the pits

Some of the island’s long-taken-for-granted natural resources made the news when Jersey’s only sand quarry failed to get a permit to expand. For centuries, local buildings have been constructed using Jersey’s very own beach and dune sand. 

With the long-term future of another quarry in St. Peter’s Valley only secure by blasting into a nearby field – something thousands of islanders oppose – Jersey is reaching the extremities of its own resources.

And at the same time, it has developed an insatiable appetite for development, which in turn has driven up demand for builders and materials. 

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Pictured: Jersey’s only sand quarry suddenly closed in August.

Is this the final binge before Jersey gets indigestion and promises to go on a diet? Or is the island a nine-mile-by-five Mr Creosote, poised to explode in a violent and ugly fashion? 

Facing a sand shortage, concrete producers and the building trade organised a bulk shipment from Holland. Unsurprisingly, it’s more expensive than sand quarried in Jersey.

The long-term implications are yet to be fully worked out, with trials taking place to extract sand from glass and recycle it from rubble, but Jersey’s eye-wateringly high costs of houses – which shot up by £100k in a year – don’t look like coming down anytime soon.

Belfast to Broad Street

In September, news broke, via the Belfast Telegraph, that the next boss of the Jersey civil service was to be Suzanne Wylie, the head of Belfast City Council. 

To add to the complexity, Deputy Kirsten Morel had called a States debate proposing that interim CEO Paul Martin’s tenure should be extended beyond June’s election to offer continuity

Also, the Government’s watchdog had make recommendations for reforming the CEO selection process in the wake of the Charlie Parker’s controversial contract.

suzannewylie-CREDIT-BelfastCityCouncil.jpg

Pictured: The Belfast Telegraph reported that city council chief was to be the next head of the Jersey civil service.

Queue a Government not prepared to confirm the Telegraph report and a debate that raised as many questions than answers, with confidentially considerations promoting Voldemort-style referrals to “she who cannot be named”.

In the end, Deputy Morel withdrew his proposition after unambiguous legal advice from the Solicitor General, and Mrs Wylie’s was formally appointed soon after, with a March start-date.

The Chief Minister also said that the Comptroller and Auditor General’s urgent recommendations to tweak the CEO appointments process had been put in place before Mrs Wylie was offered the job.

Ms Wylie will be Jersey’s first female civil service head and she comes with a glowing CV. The Government will surely hope she brings long-term stability to the role. 

Free to speak his mind …

With Ms Wylie appointed, interim CEO Paul Martin – who did not apply for the role – spoke about a wide range of topics at a Chamber lunch

It was an interesting take from a relative newcomer at the centre of decision-making. The growing “gap between the asset rich and cash poor” was at risk of “doing great damage to the island’s economy and future growth,” he said.

Mr Martin said he hoped that the upcoming election would lead to “clarity and definition to the debate over the island’s approach to tackling housing affordability.”

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Pictured: Interim Government CEO Paul Martin shared his view of the island at a Chamber of Commerce lunch.

“Of course, increased housing supply is the crucial response to this challenge, but there are others that I will touch upon today including the island’s population policy and also the need for us to adopt a more strategic approach to the usage of capital gains from selling public owned land as well as capturing planning gain more generally,” he added.

Turning to the public sector, Mr Martin explained that £100m in savings was being made to balance necessary growth in areas such as Children’s Services and cybersecurity, but was nonetheless clear that “the net growth in headcount is clearly unsustainable.”

Telling words from the interim CEO on matters that, as he predicts, will surely become hot election topics.

The non-rebel Alliance

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Pictured: Jersey Alliance is Headed by Home Affairs Minister Gregory Guida who said their manifesto was the Government Plan.

In preparation for next year’s elections, a new political party was formally launched in July with the registration of the Jersey Alliance

Headed by Home Affairs Minister Gregory Guida, the party contains a number of sitting Ministers and Assistant Ministers, prompting it to be branded ‘the Government Party’ by some backbenchers.

Describing itself as ‘centre-right’, the Alliance Party said it represented around ten sitting Members and had at least five fresh faces willing to stand on its ticket. 

The strong representation of incumbents means that that the party is likely to succeed or fail based on the electorate’s interpretation of the current Government’s record of performance.

Farewell to Len, a master of the political arts

In June, Jersey’s longest serving politician of the epoch, Constable Len Norman, passed away after a battle with cancer.

For anyone under 50, Len had been a political figure for as long as they could remember, fully deserving of that rare title of ‘statesman’

len norman.jpg

Pictured: The island lost a great statesman in Len Norman in June.

A master of consensus politics, but able to make a clear decision when needed, Len was as personable as he was shrewd, as sharp as he was affable.

Understandably, the tributes were lengthy and heartfelt.

He was also one of the last bridges linking the old-style committee system with the more adversarial ministerial set-up.

Len’s passing not only meant the end of a well-lived life but also, quite possibly, the end of a political era.

READ MORE...

January to March: Constable, CEO and unwelcome visitor exits

April to June: Lions, fish and quarries

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