Four years ago, in 2011, I sat in a coffee shop as Chair of the Public Accounts Committee with the then Comptroller & Auditor General and we discussed the economy. The Public Accounts Committee, whilst achieving a number of notable successes over the years, had been heavily defeated in all its attempts to control spending, having listened to false promises from the Council of Ministers that placated a very compliant States Assembly – albeit one that was not as pliable as the Assembly that we have today.
I remember likening the Jersey economy to “ a car crash waiting to happen “, where we were both helpless to do anything about it. If you “talk the economy up things will fix themselves” seemed to be the mantra of the then Treasury Minister. I had a quick look at the Hansard speeches in 2010 where the Corporate Services Scrutiny Panel and the Public Accounts Committee sought to limit expenditure – often receiving just a handful of votes. Five years ago I warned the States Assembly that if no action was taken “the cuts, in 2015 and 2016, will be much, much deeper and much, much more severe and hit the very people that they say that they are trying to protect.” No action was taken in 2010 and I’m not convinced that real action on expenditure will be taken in 2015..
It really is no surprise that we are in this mess, and you cannot blame the economy or global politics as the journey here was pretty obvious. The blame clearly lies with those charged with getting us out of the mess, the Chief Officers that grew their Departments and resisted change, the politicians that thought the best thing to do was to stick their head in the sand, blame others, and send out a message that things were great.
Jersey can emerge from this but the well paid Chief Officers must start walking the walk. The Unions also need to wake up and realise that the majority of their members are outside of the public sector and they will suffer considerable hardship if matters are not addressed. The public sector have two years to sort themselves out and prevent a car crash. If they do not then necessity will force through Irish style public sector salary cuts that will be both very deep and very painful – you have been warned.