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PUBLIC SPENDING AND PUBLIC SERVICES

Introduction

I will stop the debate being hijacked by the cut and cut brigade, raise the status and public understanding of shared public provision, whilst reviewing how these amenities can be provided in a time of global economic slowdown which will affect Jersey. Note that Green policies save money, a lot of money. See below, Some Points, point 1

The need to defend public expenditure

Public expenditure is what we all, as a society, agree to spend on public amenities, events and services which benefit us all. It is the main way to provide equal opportunities for everyone and so is the main weapon against inequality and exclusion in our society. Tackling inequality builds community.

Public expenditure protects the vulnerable such as prisoners and the elderly, it funds arts and sport and environmental protection which enrich our lives, as well as the essential infrastructure of our society.

And yet it is constantly under attacks, from the Chamber of Commerce, for example, who seem to regard it as a cost, and not as an investment. But without an educated workforce, transport facilities, the rule of law, where would businesses be? For example, all business depends on trust. That trust is built up on a foundation of social cohesion. See here.

Or from the JEP with their disgraceful “Public Purse Campaign” where the public were invited by the island’s monopoly newspaper to send in suggestions to “save money” and stop”States waste”  Where was the option to send in examples of praiseworthy people or worthwhile services? Or examples of where we needed to spend more? So important is this that I wrote to the JEP editor, see here: letter-to-chris-bright-re-public-purse.

Or Deputy Ferguson’s proposal for a 20% cut in States spending across the board. Maybe children and sick people do not matter. Or maybe “luxuries” such as the Sports facilities, and all public support for heritage and the arts should go. Clearly she and States members who think like her do not value the public sector as they should.

Then there is the strange nonsense that States expenditure (demand) contributes to inflation whereas private expenditure (demand) does not.

We need a sensible debate, not an ideological biff-baff along the lines of public expenditure bad, private spending good, but rather: what do we want to do and what is the best way to do it?

Value for money, waste and accountability

A lot is being talked in this election about efficiency and accountability in the public sector. The people who go on about this are playing on your fears that “government is wasting your money.” Why?  Because their real agenda is to keep public spending at its historically low level (Jersey is one of the lowest, if not THE lowest – taxed jurisdiction in the OECD).

Some points:

1.   Greens are the true anti-waste candidates: Forskitt, Palmer and Wimberley. Remember this when one of the establishment is banging on about waste. Green policies reduce spending. They conserve resources instead of burning them or throwing them away.  Investing in a tip-top bus service, insulating every building and not turning resources into rubbish to be burnt will generate massive savings.

Vibert, Routier, Ozouf, Ferguson and Maclean all voted for the £106m incinerator. I suppose they cannot believe that you can and will reduce, re-use, and recycle.

2.  Mistakes like the steam clock are very handy for people whose agenda is to cut and cut again public expenditure. “Look at how the States waste your money” they say. And then you start to say it too, because in that spectacular case it is true.  But it does not follow from that one mistake that all public expenditure is as mad as the clock. But that is how they spin it, to make you think that.

3  Of course we need States accountability. We need to know how much was spent on what. This is not the case now, and must be put right. How long have we lived with accounts like a sieve? And whose fault is this? Not the fault of the new candidates surely?

4.  Featherbedding, where it exists, cannot be tolerated. It detracts from the high regard which I want us all to have of public servants, it is wrong to pay people for not doing a fair day’s work, and it destroys their own self-respect. You can rely on a staunch supporter of public service to be tough on those who abuse their position.

what do we want to do and what is the best way to do it?

1   Throwing public money at a problem is not always the answer – quite the reverse. Grand capital schemes like the incinerator are always more expensive and easier to do than changing people’s behaviour. We need to have a culture of reflection and consultation before embarking on these vast schemes like the waterfront, the incinerator, the underpass. Far far better and cheaper to take a little longer and avoid the mistakes than to rush ahead and get it all wrong.

2   If we can throw out simple ideology like “public expenditure bad, private spending good” then we can have a rational debate about the best way to do things.. This is absolutely essential as we enter a period in history when we will consume less and less each year, both as individuals and as a society.

We are going to have to rethink everything, and be really more efficient. More than half of all work is done in the informal unpaid economy, it always has been. It just hasn’t counted in the statistics, as it has not had a money value attached. Just think of people cooking and serving community lunches, volunteers at the Hospital, people running sports clubs, singing in choirs, mums and dads at home looking after their children, growing food n the garden . . .

We will evolve far more in this direction. You need politicians who have an understanding and the imagination to lead the island in the new thinking required.

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