Monday 01 February 2021
Alderney is pleased to have this opportunity to provide the Assembly with an update.
To do so means a certain amount of looking back and at least an equal amount of looking forward.
Looking back, 2020 was an eventful year in so many respects. That, of course, has included world events and matters closer to home, but perhaps the two most significant issues affecting the Island have been Covid19 and Brexit.
Dealing first with the pandemic. We have all witnessed the devastating impacts it has had on so many lives beyond our shores, and the resultant pressure on UK hospitals on whom we rely for off-Island treatment.
Nonetheless, while such an unwelcome event, it has led to a much stronger bond between our two Islands.
First, Guernsey's response to the pandemic through the Civil Contingencies Authority has on all occasions been swift, decisive and, importantly, very clear. This has been welcomed and as a result we remain in a strong position as a Bailiwick, even in the face of the current lockdown.
The Policy & Finance Committee has recognised the importance of remaining aligned to Guernsey in all the public health measures and controls, with minor variations as necessary where the Island's limited healthcare infrastructure mean greater restrictions have to be placed on the movement of people. That is exactly what we are now have with a quarantine requirement for all non-essential travellers arriving in Alderney.
The pandemic has not, however, been all bad and burdensome.
They say 'every cloud has a silver lining' and for us it was the Staycation initiative.
Around Easter, that doom and gloom was starting to pervade our tourism and hospitality sector. However as we moved into summer there was an increasing realisation that if you wanted to travel for a holiday and avoid having to isolate on return, then staying closer to home would make sense.
This prompted the Staycation initiative promoted jointly by both islands leading to many from Guernsey travelling up north to our beautiful Island, often for the first time.
And our visitors were made most welcome. This has helped see a step change in the relationship between our Islands... The focus has moved from the periodic sniping, for which I accept both sides share responsibility, to an appreciation that the best for all is a close partnership built on trust.
We have committed to forge a yet stronger constitutional and operational bond between our Islands. That conversation has begun and a meeting between representatives of the Policy & Finance Committee and the Policy & Resources Committee is scheduled for this month.
This is not a re-write of the 1948 Agreement, as on the whole that has served the Bailiwick well for over 70 years, but rather to see how we can be more efficient and effective and build the economy in a way that benefits both communities. It is also an opportunity for Alderney to focus on those things that are most critical to the quality of life and possibly let go of some of the more technical and international matters.
The other main challenge has been keeping pace with Brexit. Thankfully we have been well served by the Guernsey Committees, their civil servants and the Law Officers who have all helped steer a path through the legislative twists and turns.
We recognise that despite a deal having been reached there is still much more to do. We extend our thanks to all those who worked tirelessly to deliver an outcome for the Bailiwick, which whilst perhaps not ideal, is better than many had feared.
Turning now to other matters
The On-line regulated Gambling industry is still bringing in much needed funds through licence fees. The market has seen downward pressure in recent years due to mergers and from increased competition from other regulated jurisdictions.
Renewable energy, primarily from tidal resources, is a significant economic opportunity for the Bailiwick. We remain in contact with major businesses, but recognise that technology is still developing to be able to cope with the high and variable energy environment of our coastal waters.
This offers a bright future as energy is increasingly recognised as a high value, essential commodity. It behoves us all to work together as a Bailiwick so that we are ready to gain the most of this economic opportunity.
After years of uncertainty over Alderney's essential air links, this seems to be nearing an end with a 5 year commitment through this States to support the Aurigny services to and from Alderney within clear parameters. This will offer much needed confidence to those considering investing to have stability in terms of travel links.
Also of equal importance is for the long planned runway renovation works to be carried out soon. This has been on the table for years and there is recognition by the Airport authorities that the current runway is on its last legs, with the professional engineers advising that it cannot be patched or repaired any further.
There is a real risk of failure which is why the plea is that all the stops are pulled out in the procurement processes to ensure the works can begin this year. It is appreciated that in debates there will always be those who, understandably, want to explore one more option, or one more permutation, or have a view that there might be a more cost effective solution. The time however for that has past and the loss of the airport for many months should the runway surface fail, is not something that either Island can countenance.
We have continued to explore a number of regular ferry service options but it all boils down to financial viability. In 2019 and 2020 we were well served through the summer period by the Little Ferry Company with a 12 seater which was often full but, due to its size, had to cancel whenever the sea was particularly rough.
It looks very uncertain whether a service can be arranged for 2021 despite having had conversations with a couple of potential providers. That would be a real loss to the Bailiwick in a year when Alderney is likely to be a top travel destination for Guernsey residents. Hopefully with the assistance and input from those in this Assembly a way might be found to ensure there will be a ferry service this year.
Through working with the telecoms providers, Alderney now boasts enviable broadband speed and high capacity links. This is intentional as we seek to build and promote Alderney as an excellent place to live and to run your business, potentially from home.
This offers a powerful selling point and is a useful reminder that in tax terms it matters not whether a business trades in Alderney or Guernsey as it all goes into the same pot, but importantly if it encourages more people of working age and their families to base themselves on the Island, the benefits multiply - and of course it's a great place to live and work
The States of Alderney continues to support and promote our wildlife and the natural environment. Being on a major migratory route, we are visited by an incredible array of bird species and it is undoubtedly one of the best places in Britain to enjoy bird watching.
In addition we do not overlook the richness of the Island's history with our recent restoration of the Nunnery and we have plans to renovate and open up more historic sites to visitors.
As a small jurisdiction it is wise to keep the quantity and complexity of our legislation to the minimum. However we must do what is right and fair. In this respect the States of Alderney will be asked in the next few months to approve the contract of employment law.
This will create the right for every employee to a contract of employment setting out the terms of their employment.
We are grateful for the encouragement from of the Committee for Employment and Social Security on this journey.
From the start of this month we have made the change to a single property tax which along with other measures means the costs of running Alderney's domestic activities such as waste management, harbours, roads, permits, land management, etc. is now funded entirely by the local community.
Alderney residents, of course, pay income tax and social security in the same way as all in Guernsey and as part of this receive the benefit of, what are known as, the Transferred Services of Health, Education, Law Enforcement, Social Security and general taxation.
While there are fiscal parameters it is in fact a genuine partnership, which, although enshrined in law, emphasises the merits of the Islands working together for the common good.
I could not close without reference to the Alderney Breakwater.
As I am sure you are aware, the States of Guernsey took over responsibility for the ongoing maintenance of the Breakwater from Her Majesty's Government back in the 1980's, which along with the transfer of passport fees was to be provided in lieu of a payment for the national defence and international representation provided for the Bailiwick.
Again over recent years there has been a good measure of dialogue between the Committee for the Environment and Infrastructure over the regular annual maintenance and repair programme.
There does however need to be a longer term plan on three counts.
First, is that the structure is old and slowly being worn away. It needs significant investment to ensure it lasts as without it Alderney would not have a viable harbour.
Second, the Bailiwick struck an advantageous deal when it took over responsibility for the Breakwater. That will only continue to be of value if it can be demonstrated that the money it would otherwise be paying direct for defence and international representation is being invested into this piece of infrastructure.
Thirdly, the lack of commitment to a long term plan for its maintenance and protection creates uncertainty and reservations on the part of those who would be prepared to develop a marina or similar facilities within the shelter of Braye Bay.
We are in a good place at present, but our request is that E&I works with us and P&R to develop and implement a long term strategy for the preservation of this critical piece of infrastructure.
I hope that this report has been useful and that we can work together in the best interest of both our islands.