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EXPRESS OPINION: It's not about 'exit'

EXPRESS OPINION: It's not about 'exit'

Monday 27 April 2020

EXPRESS OPINION: It's not about 'exit'

Monday 27 April 2020

Whisper it quietly, but this week we might see a plan for getting Jersey out of lockdown.

Express has been calling for that plan to be published for two weeks now, and so far Guernsey has done just that, with a phased approach beginning over the most recent weekend.

Once again, Jersey has waited, and businesses across the island will be hoping the delay has been worth it.

This week, many will be trying to bridge the cash-gap between paying their staff at the end of the month, and actually getting some support money back from the government, which they have been told is coming... in just a few more days. 

If it comes, that cash will be a lifeline for some, but we need to recognise it is only the first step on what will be a long, and rocky, path of economic recovery.


Pictured: testing is likely to play a big part in Jersey emerging from lockdown.

Many businesses have been starved of cash, either because they have no customers, or the businesses who owe them money don't have the confidence to part with it. Either way, they are in serious trouble. 

Giving them taxpayers' money helps them survive, just, but it doesn't help them recover. 

That is why this week's Ministerial plan needs to be specifically about 'recovery' not 'exit'. We will not simply throw open our doors, walk back out on the street after lockdown, and step back into Jersey as it was on March 29 2020. There will be no 'Back to the Future'.

What's actually needed is a comprehensive program of economic recovery to provide the jobs, which pay the taxes, which fund the services. 

I hope Ministers, and their advisers, have spent the time we have been waiting for this plan thinking of clever ways to stimulate the economy. Top of that list has to be restoring confidence - in many ways, that is the beginning and end of economic success. 

It's a point which has been clearly forgotten by some in their promises to reward those who have had the temerity to get through this crisis with... a nice big tax burden. Well gee, thanks, there's nothing much more likely to persuade investors that Jersey is the place to be, than a hearty dollop of higher taxes, with a liberal sprinkling of 'uncertainty' on top. Brilliant. 

Oh, and while we're at it, there's this phenomenon called 'the internet'.

It allows the words you say in Jersey (like "get ready for some shiny new taxes" or, my personal favourite, "we're thinking about creating lots of doubt with a thorough review of our corporate tax structure - and we'll do it during the first year of Brexit, and when the economy has just tanked") to be beamed around the world, so everyone globally who supports our local economy can be properly unsettled. Again, brilliant. 


Pictured: Jersey's Emergencies Council discussing the response to covid-19.

This crisis will create the opportunity for every single person around the Council of Ministers' table (sitting suitably distanced) to justify and promote their personal agenda. And if you think we will get to the autumn without some form of Chief Ministerial contest, then you haven't been watching the riveting "who can be the most 'statesman-like'" show at the regular media briefings. 

Behind the scenes, two different plots to defenestrate the Chief have so far hatched, built, and ebbed away; at some point, for someone, it will be third time unlucky. But perhaps not for Senator Le Fondré, who has so far weathered incessant, and increasingly personal, attacks and faced down his challengers.

The events of the next two months will dictate whether he can continue to do so, bringing as they do the long-awaited plan for Jersey to recover from lockdown, and the actual health effects created by loosening those restrictions.

It is quite literally a matter of life and death, and, despite all our planning for a pandemic (which was listed repeatedly in official documents as the biggest threat facing the island, but not actually accompanied by an updated plan), there is no sure route to success. 

This week will see the crucial next step on that path.

Ministers must cut though the current orgy of opinion, set aside their personal political ambitions, and focus single-mindedly on 'recovery' not 'exit'. That journey is longer, it is more expensive, and it is harder to get right. But the island's future depends on it.


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