The Treasury Minister has distanced herself from her second-in-command’s announcement of a “bold” economic recovery package at a press conference last week, branding the policies 'options' rather than elements of a concrete ‘New Deal’.
The major climbdown from what was pitched as an imminent package for economic recovery, including temporary tax reductions and the promotion of green lifestyles, came during a virtual Scrutiny hearing yesterday afternoon.
Questioned by a panel of politicians, Deputy Susie Pinel undermined what were described as a series of “bold" plans to revive Jersey’s economy in the wake of covid-19 by her Assistant Treasury Minister, Senator Ian Gorst.
Announcing the 'New Deal' in response to a question from Express during Friday's press conference, Senator Gorst said: “Be in no doubt: the Treasury Minister, myself, and the Economic Development Minister will be bringing forward a package of bold measures that get the economy out of the doldrums that it’s in, that puts money into islanders’ pockets and helps stimulate right across the economy.”
Video: The economic recovery package was announced at a press conference last week (Facebook/Government of Jersey).
He went on to detail the elements of this package, saying: “And that will be a combination - and I won’t say much more than this - a combination of reduced taxes which are targeted, timely and temporary; it will involve the capital projects that the Economic Development Minister’s spoken about; it will involve some money for training and retraining; it will involve stimulating green lifestyles and the ability for greening right across our island; it will involve support to introduce technology which will drive to improved productivity.”
The proposals were welcomed by many islanders on social media, with some comments praising their "progressive" nature.
But cracks are already beginning to show in the plans just days later, with the Treasury Minister now framing the proposals unveiled by Senator Gorst as mere ideas.
Asking about the “New Deal” yesterday, Corporate Services Scrutiny Panellist Constable Karen Shenton-Stone questioned the Treasury Minister: “Why was the announcement made now when the recovery plan is still several months away?”
In response, Deputy Pinel said that she was “not quite sure it was an announcement of a 'New Deal'”, but rather an announcement by her colleague “that this is the sort of thing that we are looking at".
Pictured: Senator Gorst pledged that a new package would include temporary tax reductions and money for the training and retraining of islanders., while also promoting green lifestyles.
She continued: “We have to tread a very, very fine line between lives and livelihoods... and it’s the livelihoods that we need to concentrate on because we need to work forward with an economic recovery because people are going to be suffering hugely, especially parents with children at home, from mental stress, all sorts of reasons why we need to move forward.
"And it was just, I think from what I read, the Assistant Treasury Minister was saying that these are ways that we’ve looked at that we could help with the economic recovery.”
Senator Gorst, who was also in attendance at the virtual hearing, added: “I alluded to the work that is being done in Government and I think it was a media outlet that referred to that work as a ‘New Deal’. It might, of course, be a fair description of it, but I would hope that those around this virtual meeting will be aware of existing Government policy, aware of the principles of fiscal stimulus and let’s remember the answer was about fiscal stimulus, not about the long or medium-term economy, so coming out of the health effects, coming out of lockdown following the ‘Safe Exit’ strategy, what sort of measures Government is thinking about?”
In an apparent backtrack, he then suggested that it was only his personal view that these kinds of measures would be appropriate - despite stating during the press conference that the proposals would be brought forward alongside the Treasury Minister and Economic Development Minister.
“And I for one personally support [the measures]. Of course, they’ve got to go through the process, which is why I alluded to them at a high-level. I think it is important for Ministers to speak in public about what the direction of their policy is and the ideas that they’re asking officials to consider.
“So, it wasn’t an announcement as perhaps it’s been picked up in the media, but I did say that for my part, a bold package of measures, which included those elements would be and should be appropriate and should be brought forward."
Video: The virtual Scrutiny hearing focused on economic recovery after the health crisis.
During Friday's press conference, he also stated that a local market bond to finance projects like the regeneration of Fort Regent should be created. However, unlike the "bold" measures, this was clearly presented as a personal view.
Senator Gorst emphasised this during yesterday's Scrutiny hearing: "I was also asked about the creation of a we might call it a local market bond and again I made it very clear what my position was, but that that wasn’t the position of the Government or the Ministerial team.”
Later in the hearing, Constable Shenton-Stone asked the Treasury Minister if she felt Senator Gorst “should continue to give his personal views when representing you at press conferences?”
Deputy Pinel did not answer the question, instead going on to defend her Assistant Minister's contrasting comments by suggesting the media was at fault for reporting the covid-19 recovery package as Treasury policy.
She maintained: "It’s very difficult at a press conference, because you don’t know what the questions are going to be, obviously, and I think the Assistant Treasury Minister made it quite clear that it was his personal view, not that of Treasury.
“But I think it’s difficult to fend off answers and if the media wish to take it as a representation of Treasury then that’s exactly what they’ve done, rather than a personal view.”
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