Wednesday 28 April 2021
Thank you for the opportunity of making this Statement. It follows on from those made by Deputies Soulsby and Helyar earlier this year and by me last month.
The theme and message is the same. That is to be proactive, pragmatic, and realistic. I will cover some of the key areas of importance.
The first is that of public finances.I am grateful to colleagues for attending the session facilitated by Deputy Helyar and Treasury Officers recently. He alerted Members and latterly the public, to the critical fiscal challenges - both immediate and in the longer term - facing our community. These challenges have been with us for some time, but the actuality and reality of them has not been expressed with the clarity and reality now required. The pandemic has also had a significant impact on our revenues and expenditure both in 2020 and this year. We are also facing significant demographic changes. The increase in the numbers of our population over the ages of 65 years is large. The increase percentage rise in those who will live beyond 85 years is ever greater. Our already hard-pressed working population will also be declining numerically over the next 20 years. These factors, together with other outside pressures and challenges will also add to the strain on the public purse.
As will be seen on the 5 year baseline forecast for public finances indicates a worsening picture for public finances with a deficit now and growing so that in a few years it is forecast to be in excess of £56 million per annum - when we take into account the need to remedy our lack of investment for some years and thus invest in our infrastructure. We have no option but to act and without delay. The deficit is without taking into account inflation, many new reserve aspirations and significant pay increases.
The message is we simply cannot continue to increase spending in this term, and we will have to rigorously and ruthlessly prioritise the things we want to spend money on. There is no time or money for vanity projects. When we debate the Government Work Plan in July and consider funding and investment, we will need to carefully consider costs and benefits associated with our agreed priorities to ensure we can invest prudently and wisely within our scare resources over this term.
We continue to take our role as an Employer seriously and have recently introduced a process for political approval of senior officer recruitment. The need to monitor and control staff cost is both a political and operational imperative.
Deputy Helyar as you know is leading a Tax Review this term which will be published in just a few months, this Review will, if it is to be meaningful, which it will be, be far reaching and purposeful. The Review will seek to address the longer-term challenges. And propose actions which we, as a Government, will need to lead. There are not likely to be any easy solutions. This, together with the actions we take to reduce the cost of public services and promote economic growth, will ensure - as we must - we can balance public services in the longer term.
I now turn to the Government Work Plan. The Government Work Plan Sub-Committee established by Deputy Soulsby has already met twice and will continue to meet regularly to consider the impact, resourcing, cost and phasing of recovery actions for this term. As this work progresses it is increasingly obvious that the full areas of activity identified by Committees for this term are unachievable. We do not have the time, nor the resources, to do them all. That means that difficult decisions to pause or delay or even shelve work will have to be made. One of the main limiting factors for action this term is people. This will play an important factor in the prioritisation of work. We will need to deploy key skills and knowledge appropriately and effectively, and not in a 'scattergun' manner. The final proposals will need to be considered by the Assembly having regard to those realisms.
Balance will be needed between the immediate actions to support the economy and what will be needed to invest in the community and meet Assembly policy objectives. Together with the requirements to build resilience and establish foundations for longer term needs to address the cost of essential services as the Island's demographic changes.
There will be a need for discussion with the community about which services we need, and this will include the size of government and public services. States' Members will be busy with workshops and briefings during May as the work ramps up and escalates to inform and develop the final recommendations.
It is of paramount importance though, that we ensure we invest in economic recovery, and just as important, where practical, that we enable investment in economic recovery from outside government. We must remove red tape and barriers for business and must support the finance sector through enabling legislation where it is needed. We must also provide more financial support to Guernsey Finance. We believe we are close to finalising our discussions with Guernsey Finance on the uplift they will receive. The Broadband working Group we established will also be able to give an update in the next few weeks on how it is intended we will boost our digital connectivity.
Transformation is the next matter I will address. The Vice-President provided the Assembly with a detailed update on 1st February 2021[WS1] . At that time, she referred to the establishment of a States Portfolio Board as part of a single governance structure to ensure appropriate political oversight and a more coherent approach. That Board has now met with Deputies Soulsby and Deputy Mahoney in attendance and will meet monthly going forward. The Vice-President also referred to MYGOV which will provide a modern portal for digital interaction with the States. This is in the final stage of testing, with a view to 'go-live' next week. The first service, personal tax returns, will be operating on this new platform including the back-end technology to ensure it is safe and secure. More services will be added over the coming months before a more formal launch of MYGOV in September 2021.
This begins a significant change to how services will be accessed by our community, particularly administration and transactional functions of government which we will see build and evolve over the coming months. The facilitation of this portal is a major enablement to the next stage of the reform and transformation of public services. A round of engagement is currently underway in order to brief all Presidents and their Committees. The recent issue regarding use of an out-dated system, in need of replacement, has only served to highlight the urgency of this reform.
Now to Covid19. I am pleased to report that as of the 22nd April it has been 55 days ago since we last had a case of community-acquired COVID-19. A single travel-associated case of infection was identified on the 12th April 2021. This person was in self-isolation after arriving into the Bailiwick, and therefore did not pose a risk of infection to the community.
During recent months the vaccination programme has continued at pace. As at Monday 26th April 39% of the population have received one dose and a further 25% have had two doses. This means that 64% of the population over the age of 18 have received at least one dose of vaccine.
We are amongst the world leaders in the efficacy and roll out of our vaccination programme. Surveillance testing across the Bailiwick, aimed at the early detection of any infection in the community, has been and remains extensive and vitally important. We have developed programmes for key worker groups such as teachers, people working in hospitality and law enforcement to name but a few. The East Arm testing facility has been used to support much of this work and I take the opportunity to thank them and all the other staff at the hospital, the pathology laboratory, and in Public Health, as well as many others who are involved in delivering this programme for their magnificent efforts.
Last Friday, 23 April we reduced the requirement to self-isolate from 14 to 7 days if you travelled from a region in the UK or country which has a prevalence rate of less than 100 in 100,000 cases. Subject to things progressing well we intend to introduce on the 14th of May, a further reduction for regions that have prevalence rates of less than 30 per 100,000 cases which will only require the traveller to self-isolate until they receive a negative result following their day of arrival test. So there is no misunderstanding, people travelling from regions and countries who have prevalence rates greater than 100 per 100,000 cases will still be required to observe the full 14 days self-isolation until July when further changes are anticipated where travel restrictions will be orientated around a combination of measures, including the vaccination coverage in the country where traveller originates from, together with individual vaccination status.
We are so grateful to the community for its support and understand how difficult it has been but as I said recently at a press conference as our excellent vaccination programme progresses we will soon reach a point when we must change our approach and learn to live with the virus without the need for lockdowns. We must all continue to act responsibly and observe all the very sensible measures such as hand washing and hygiene precautions which Public Health recommend we do as part of our normal way of life, to help keep us safe from Covid and other viruses such as the flu. We also ask people to stay at home if they are unwell to protect our community.
Air and sea travel must be mentioned. Both are slowly returning to normal. We are grateful to Condor and Aurigny for all that they have done in such extreme circumstances. They have, and are, taking steps to ensure we are ready to move back to a more normalised transport connectivity as soon as possible. The Committee will shortly conclude its thinking on an air policy. Discussions have been ongoing in respect of Aurigny's shareholder objectives and we welcome the development of their business plan, which will be aligned with the developing air policy. We also welcome the business plan from the airport, and the development of an approach to maximise the benefits from the land and buildings at the airport.
As to sea links, work is ongoing with Condor, their owners and the Jersey authorities on a long-term operating agreement. Members will forgive me for not setting out our commercial position in a public forum, but be assured that this is an area of work that retains a high priority, and that the relationship with Condor and their owners is positive and based on ensuring we have long-term objectives to support the residential and visitor market.
Another topic I wish to mention is Royal Assent. The External Relations team is in discussion with officials at the Ministry of Justice about the delegation of Royal Sanction from the Privy Council for the Lt Governor. The Committee is seeking an approach that builds on that taken by the Isle of Man and taking into account the proposal put forward by the Constitutional Investigation Committee agreed by the States in 2016. Once these discussions have concluded a Policy Letter and Propositions will be finalised for consideration by the States. It is still envisaged that this will be during 2021. The Committee discussed this with representatives of Alderney and Sark in the Bailiwick Council, with a view to making any new arrangement a Bailiwick-wide approach.
Another important and much neglected topic is the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Law. The Policy & Resources Committee has already indicated that amendments to Guernsey's insolvency legislation are to be treated as a priority. As reported in March, an industry-led working group is considering potential changes to Guernsey's personal insolvency regimes. The working group is on course to submit a Report, containing proposals on debt relief, to the Committee for Economic Development by the end of this month. The group will continue to look at Individual Voluntary Arrangements and reform of the bankruptcy regime during quarter 3 of this year.
Sir, that concludes my Statement.