Monday, 24 November 2008

Accidents happen, but some could be avoided.

This week in Jersey, a newly qualified driver's first experience of the rain-sodden leaves, so typical of country roads in autumn, was a spectacular crash. Fortunately she and her passenger, who had recently also survived a similar incident, walked away with trivial injuries; a vindication of the modern cage-and-crumple-zone school of car design. One wonders if the requirements of contemporary driving tests are quite meeting the needs of the general public, or whether they are encouraging instructors to teach a narrower range of skills and knowledge, than their pupils will need, when they become everyday road users. The Compulsory Basic Training inflicted on learner motorcyclists these days may be tiresome and expensive, but one does not seem to read of accidents to young bikers so often as one used to. Perhaps it should form a model for the future of car tuition, in which key skills for coping with difficulties could be taught without the overload of learning general traffic techniques at the same time.

Possibly, we should rethink our whole approach to a variety of traffic offences from scratch: Speeding has become a team sport with motorists on one side and the police on the other, and sometimes the point of why one should not go too fast gets a bit lost.A radical thought I have, and it is so against contemporary culture that the kite needs to be flown for a long time, before anyone seriously tried to implement it, is that all speed limits should be abolished. Instead the responsibility should be placed firmly on the driver to match their speed to the circumstances. If drivers faced a mandatory ban on a similar tariff to drink-driving for contributing to an accident by inappropriate speed for the conditions, then a lot of people who now just glance at the speedo and think that they are alright, because they are legal, might think a little harder as to whether they are actually driving safely. In good conditions, of clear roads, long sightlines and firm grip, traffic could move somewhat more briskly than it does, but anything that persuaded drivers to be more wary of other traffic, especially pedestrian, blind bends and slippery patches would surely be a good thing.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

New Broom Sweeps Clean. Or Maybe just under the mat?

it is a great relief to learn that the possibility has been eliminated, of the remains found under Haut de la Garenne being the result of foul play in our own time. If it has been eliminated, and not just denied, that is.

However, the reporting so far has left a few matters unclear: We have been led to understand that there is a great deal of evidence for criminal mistreatment of the home's clients, in its last few decades of operation. Now that the distraction of the murder question has been removed, one would hope that the investigation into this mistreatment, and into the connivance of those who should have put a stop to it, could proceed with more focus. In fact the credibility of the new people in charge will depend upon this happening. But, the removal of Mr. Power, who has hitherto been conspicuously firm in dealing with corruption cases, does not send a very reassuring signal.

Surely, thoroughly investigating small bones found in a place where violence is known to have been committed against children, and from where other children are reputed to have vanished without trace, is such an obvious necessity for the police, that it would have been a sacking offence for their Chief Officer, had he not done so. To remove him for properly carrying out his duty seems, on the face of it, to be somewhat perverse. There is clearly more going on behind the scenes, than has officially been made public. Senator Syvret's conspiracy theories may not be the only possible explanation as to what is really happening, and I would be hugely reassured to see them disproved, but the picture that the public are being shown at present is, unfortunately, wholly compatible with his sinister suggestions.Perhaps Mr. Power has done wrong in subtle and technical ways beyond my lay understanding. Or perhaps he has just been stubborn about going where his masters told him not to.

The public of Jersey must be given much clearer explanations than we have seen this week, of why so many of this year's shocking revelations are now seen as unusable evidence, or else, contrary to our government's desires, we shall lose all faith in the integrity of our police. Are the items found now known to be not what they first seemed, and the statements given revealed as packs of lies? Or is it all still sound stuff, but just not quite enough to keep a defence lawyer from claiming that the case is not proven to the proper standard of beyond all reasonable doubt? If it is merely insufficient, then the rationale remains, for bringing surviving abusers, and any others, who shirked their public duties as a personal favour to the abusers, to belated justice, and the investigation must continue, vigorously.

Monday, 10 November 2008

And another thing about the Waterfront

One could find fault with the aesthetics of Jersey's Waterfront development – blotting the main aspect of the town with drab, grim and oversized commercial buildings. One could question the environmental quality of the deliberately crowded office and apartment blocks - afraid to sacrifice any saleable floor space to make the area as a whole humanly comfortable. But, most of all, it is the economics that seem absurd. Our ministers talk in awed and reverential terms of the mighty sums of money at stake, but the hypnotic effect of reading all those noughts on the ends of the figures seems to stun them beyond any grasp of the who and how.

For a start, the future of the finance industry, that it is meant to provide a new home for, is currently looking a lot less rosy than its immediate past has been. Expressing official confidence in its continuing health can only help with damage limitation. However, backing the words with nine figure investments is gambling with imprudently high stakes for the unfavourable odds. Beyond that, though, nobody is explaining how the economics work out to Jersey's benefit in the long term. I think that is because they actually do not.

For a start, the States would like Harcourt to invest about a third of a [financial] billion pounds in constructing the monstrosities in the first place. All that inward investment sounds impressive, so long as you don't think about it very hard. But, not all of that vast sum of money is going into the local economy – much will pass straight through. Many of the contractors will be temporary migrants, just here for the job, and spending most of their earnings, and paying their taxes, back home, wherever that may be. There will, doubtless, be a good bit of Ronez concrete and Simon sand used, but the rest of the materials will come from off-island, perhaps with a little mark-up for a local builders' merchant, but more likely bought direct. The architects and other providers of professional services will also be off-island. In fact, the money that is actually injected into Jersey's economy by the development will probably be an order of magnitude less than the headline figure.

Even that much would be nice, if only it would stay in circulation for a little while. However, all that inward investment was just the sprat to catch the mackerel. (Or sand-eel to catch the mackerel, to Jersify the cliché) Harcourt are going to want to see their third of a billion pounds coming back to them, with a nice fat profit on top; say half a billion altogether in property sales, or fifty-odd million a year in steady rents. If they don't, there is no point in them being in business – they might as well put their money in safely guaranteed Irish bank accounts. They will have sucked more out of Jersey's economy than they ever put in, before the fresh, new look has faded from the buildings in the salty air. And, if they sell, the buyers will doubtless finance their purchases with loans that pay interest to bank owners elsewhere, while draining the money to service them out of Jersey's economy. It all adds to Gross Domestic Product, which makes the economy look bigger, but if you look at the flows, instead of just the totals, it begins to look like a lethal wound bleeding it dry.

Or maybe the offshore finance industry has fewer years of large scale operation left in it, than it will take to build the Esplanade finance quarter. Then will we be left with unfinished blocks looming over the town, as signs that we are now closed for business? Even if we had to pay to soothe Harcourt's burned fingers, it may be the better value option.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Yippee!! Er, but...

After so many years of George W Bush's abominable disregard for both non-Americans and even the humbler members of his own nation, it is heartening to see the American people turning to a President who promises a more principled, enlightened, informed and caring approach to his duties. Not only will the United States of America become a more agreeable place than they have been, but he is placed to exert a beneficial influence on almost the whole wide world.

I say almost: Obviously, there are a few isolated dictatorships that do not engage with international affairs enough to care what leads America takes for better or worse, and sadly, there are a few places that engage with the world in a negative and harmful way, and would lose out by a raising of standards in international trade and economic interactions. That bit is a worry to me: Much as I applaud Obama's positions on everything I have seen him quoted on, I happen to live, comfortably and happily, in one of the few places that his just and principled policies could seriously hurt.

So, pleased though I am, as a citizen of the world, to see the best man win, my joy is tempered by looking around me, and wondering who and what would be left in Jersey, should he see through his ideas on fair taxation, for, despite all the sophistry with which our “finance” industry defend their activities, and the willingness of us all, myself included, to share in the trickle-down, it is all about finding alternatives to fair taxation for the clients. If their loopholes get bricked up, back home, then what else do we have to offer? It will be years, rather than months, before he could turn the status quo around on tax avoidance, but we need to start preparing against it, instead of blithely charging on with “business as usual”. It will never be how it was for the last thirty years again, and if a layman like me can read the signs, so, surely, can the expensive advisers to our government. How long before our ministers take them on board, too?