Questions have been raised over how far the Government’s £23m funding for 30 local projects will achieve its goal of providing a rapid, post-covid boost to the whole economy – because the majority are focused around construction and maintenance work.
Senior Scrutineer Senator Kristina Moore said she was disappointed at the lack of diversity in the nature of the projects granted a chunk of the Fiscal Stimulus Fund and raised concerns that the money pot may be financing projects that should have instead featured in the Government Plan.
The criteria for the first phase of the fund was that applicants must be Government departments, non-profits or arms-length organisations, and that the projects must provide "targeted" and "timely" support to the economy.
The largest chunk of funding - £3.15m – is going towards the refurbishment and improvement of facilities at Oakfield as part of the wider strategy to move sports out of Fort Regent and create a network of training locations across the island. Springfield, meanwhile, is getting £1.96m for an upgrade as part of the plan.
A total of £5.1m is going towards refurbishing the Jersey Opera House (£2.2m), which has been closed since the start of the pandemic, and Jersey Arts Centre (£2.9m).
£1.31m is going to Jersey Heritage to allow for the creation of an agricultural museum at Hamptonne.
Other construction, maintenance and refurbishment projects awarded funding included church and youth facility upgrades, and creating a new donations hub at Acorn (£808,336) and disabled changing room facilities at Winston Churchill Park (£87,000).
Only four projects fell outside of this category: an employment support package (£1.25m), a technology-focused skills programme (£1.7m), and improvements to the websites of Jersey Citizens Advice (£50,000) and the Jersey Consumer Council (£37,000).
The selections were made despite a warning from the Government's independent economic advisers - the Fiscal Policy Panel - that more capital projects would put pressure on construction sector resources at a time when it was already likely to be stretched due to upcoming projects like Fort Regent, Our Hospital, and builds from Andium and the States of Jersey Development Company.
Pictured: The majority of projects appear to be construction related.
In an earlier letter sent to Treasury Minister Deputy Susie Pinel, the Corporate Services Scrutiny Panel, who had advance sight of the shortlist, also warned that money from the Fund would be allocated “without a great deal of diversification of benefit across sectors and demographics of the island”, adding some of the allocations “failed to seize the opportunity to use public finances in a visionary and innovative way, to benefit the island in both the short and long-term”.
The Panel’s chair, Senator Kristina Moore, said it was hard to understand how some of the projects would benefit the whole island.
“Events and hospitality have been really affected,” she said. “There are great things we could do to help their industry and the benefit the community would not be just financial but also emotional and in terms of wellbeing.
“We should also be measuring the community benefit and performances, for example, could help left spirits and get the events industry working. It would be great to have a 'feel good factor' and some added colour within the projects.”
Senator Moore also said she would have wished to see more projects supporting education and the upskilling of islanders, especially young people who have struggled in the past year with studying at home or to get employment.
“We are disappointed with the lack of these aspects,” she said. “At the high level, the majority are construction projects. We are not clear on the economic benefits for the island per se.”
Pictured: Senator Kristina Moore, the Chair of the Corporate Services Scrutiny Panel.
Senator Moore said she was particularly disappointed over the lack of diversity among the projects given that Economic Development Minister Senator Lyndon Farnham, who oversaw the shortlisting process, had pledged to give “the right blend of stimulus”.
It came after the Panel had highlighted that more women than men were actively seeking work, and recommended that the issue of gender should be incorporated into the decision-making process for projects requiring fiscal stimulus funding.
“As part of the Fiscal Stimulus appraisal process it has been agreed that we will seek to collect summary information about the age and gender of the people most likely to benefit economically from the project,” Senator Farnham replied at the time.
“It was highlighted that there is likely to be a degree of subjectivity in this data and there may be difficulty in matching the objective to reflect diversity with the over-riding requirement of fiscal stimulus. There is also some difficulty in ranking and assessing the relative economic benefits of the recipients. It has been agreed that the Fiscal Stimulus Oversight Group will ensure there is consideration of projects across sectors with spare capacity and that the mix of projects gives the right blend of stimulus," he added.
Senator Moore also raised concerns that the Use of the Fund within States’ Bodies and arm’s-length organisations has risked financing projects that should appear in the Government Plan.
Contacted by Express, the Treasury Minister said all applications were assessed in line with a criteria set by the States Assembly and that she believed the successful projects would all provide the island with economic benefit.
“These criteria were applied against the applications, in particular whether the project was timely, targeted and temporary, and the level of economic benefit from the project," she explained.
“In making their decisions, the Fiscal Stimulus Oversight Group (FSOG) have considered the balance of construction projects and how they might benefit the Island. FSOG have taken a holistic approach to considering the spread of benefit of each project.
“Overall, the Group is of the view that the recommended projects meet the criteria as agreed by the States Assembly and will provide economic benefit to the island."
Culture and sport big winners in Gov's £23m funding boost - click to see the full list of funding recipients
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