It’s good to be back with Chamber today. I’m looking forward to updating you on what your government has been doing since the election, and I would like to brief you on our priorities for the next three and a half years.
But first, a reminder of what we have already achieved. A good government always takes the time to reflect on what has been achieved, on what it could have done better, and on what it is now working to achieve.
Many of our discussions in the last few weeks have been focused on that. But, more importantly, building on our long and successful track record of thinking ahead.
My ministers are not thinking about short term fixes, we are thinking about the longer term.
- what are the challenges that will face Jersey in 2020 and beyond?
- what changes can we make in the next three years that will leave the Island in a healthier state and well prepared for the future?
Having a debate about the future, which many politicians are not prepared to do, is sometimes uncomfortable. It means explaining, consulting, discussing and deciding on changes that need to be made; like the decision, decades ago, to introduce a universal States pension; and like the difficult decisions made just a few years ago to avoid ongoing deficits.
The Island is in a better place because our responsible forefathers had the courage and the foresight to look to the future. That will be the guiding principle of my government over the next three and a half years. We are in a good place, and we want to keep it that way. We want to improve the standards of living for all.
I would like to spend moment looking back. Sometimes we can be too hard on ourselves, but just think what we have achieved together:
- 4,500 people into paid work
- more money into the economy
- increased financial incentives to work
- sanctions against benefit claimants who are not looking for work
- a Community Jobs Fund
- employment grants for employers
- incentive schemes for Youth and Hospitality
- a new construction training programme and a new apprenticeship scheme
- a £5 million Innovation Fund
- Jersey Business isupporting local firms
- a new financial services strategy; setting out how government, industry and regulator will work together to shape the future direction of the industry
- a new tourism organisation to better promote Jersey
- new homes for families
- a deposit loan scheme
- anti-discrimination and family friendly legislation
- a new charities law; to support the voluntary sector and the growth of our philanthropic wealth management market
- and one of the things I am most proud about – a long term care benefit
At lot has been achieved, but there's more to do. And my ministerial team is ready for the work ahead.
We are still operating against a backdrop of instability in the global economy. The UK Prime Minister has said he is determined that the UK will come out of the financial crisis stronger than it was at the start. That is what we have been saying since the start of the crisis.
We’ve taken steps to increase our efficiency, to cut costs, to encourage investment and innovation, and it’s vital that we stick to our long term economic plans. We must seize the opportunities to increase economic growth, and that means increasing productivity, encouraging inward investment, and dismantling barriers to trade.
One of our strengths is the enterprise of our people. Our latest figures show that of the 6,720 businesses active in the private sector, 3,320 of those were single-person undertakings. As we recover from a long and difficult recession, we should remember that we are a creative, innovative island community.
Our economy is showing signs of improvement:
- unemployment continues to fall
- employment was at the highest level on record in June 2014, with increases in both private and public sector employment
- average earnings across our economy have grown by more than inflation both this year and last; in stark contrast to the UK, where cost of living pressures continue to intensify
- in 2014 Locate Jersey dealt with 158 business enquiries, creating 361 potential job opportunities in areas as diverse as construction, retail and fintech
- retail sales are up for the first time in eighteen months
- 2013 saw Jersey’s GVA stabilising
- the latest Business Tendency Survey showed growing confidence among local firms
- our international credit rating is one of the best ratings possible for a jurisdiction of our size, AA+ with a stable outlook
- and figures for Jersey’s finance industry show the value of funds business in Jersey has reached its highest level for five years
We will continue to support what we hope are the first stages of economic recovery, delivering vital capital expenditure to lay the foundations for future growth.
But we are not complacent. We will keep working hard to create jobs and growth.
We will be open to competition and inward investment. We will promote innovation in new technologies and support Visit Jersey to bring new generations of visitors to appreciate the unique beauty or our home.
We will encourage every organisation and business to improve productivity and we will develop a coherent vision for St Helier that will turn our town into an economic powerhouse that people want to live in.
We must ensure that our legislation remains competitive, and maintain our focus on reforming the delivery of public services. Our public servants work hard with commitment and dedication, but with limited resources we need to control costs.
We are reviewing whether we are doing the right things and we will restructure the public sector so it is an efficient, modern, 21st century organisation.
We will also reduce barriers to employment; we have already extended the qualifying period for unfair dismissal from six months to a year. I hope this will encourage employers to take on more staff.
We will introduce exemptions to the Employment Law for small businesses and reform self-employed Social Security contributions for low earning individuals. We need to boost growth, and to do that we need to get more people into work.
Digital Jersey and Jersey Business are promoting new technologies and supporting innovation in Fintech. I am committed to supporting this work to realise our potential in the 'digital ecosystem' and to expand activities that improve the environment for our digital businesses.
In financial services we will build on the partnership between government, industry and regulator to protect existing markets and products, develop new ones, and promote our services to new markets overseas. Relying on our previous success is not enough - we must stimulate forward looking growth through sensible innovation, investment and enterprise.
I see the digital industries as central to this new world and I want to use our traditional strengths as an international finance centre to provide ‘incubator’ space for digital business in Jersey.
Retail and tourism
One of the initiatives we have been pursuing in 2014 is to invest money and professional expertise into the retail sector. We launched the Interim Retail Development Plan and allocated up to £150,000 to support local retail in 2014 and 2015.
We invested £70,000 in initiatives like:
- Shop in Jersey (encouraging islanders to shop locally)
- professionally managed Twitter and Facebook pages to support marketing
- Love shopping, Love Thursdays campaign (encouraging late night shopping)
- Christmas switch-on parade
- training in customer service
We have now committed £30,000 and are considering another £50,000, for Jersey Business to support the retail sector in marketing, digital and customer service.
In the end though, it is for shops to adapt to shoppers’ preferences. If people prefer shopping online, that is what retailers need to offer. John Lewis’ latest report highlights the many different ways people can now shop, browse and engage with retailers.
Browsing and shopping on the go, from smartphones and tablets, is now the norm. We are seeing the same shift on our government website and we have just redesigned the site to ensure it works as well on mobile devices as it does on desktops.
Flexibility and convenience are what customers demand. I know we are a small island, but people are busy. I know I rarely have time to browse in St Helier. Perhaps click and collect would be popular here? We already have a place where people can pick up their parcels – it’s called the post office!
We need to grasp the coming opportunities with optimism, and there is cause for optimism. Anecdotal evidence tells us that turnover in town was encouraging in 2014, there were more visitors and people are starting to spend a bit more. And I am excited about the future of tourism in Jersey. The new Chief Executive of Visit Jersey, Keith Beecham, starts in March, and I am sure he will inject new ideas into the sector.
Whenever we talk about economic growth, population rears its head. Throughout our history, we have welcomed many different communities and we have built a successful, diverse democracy.
I can understand that people are worried about the future of this small island, so it is fundamental that we get this issue right. We already have strong controls in place. We limit who can receive benefits:
- income support claimants need to have lived here for five years
- sickness benefit is paid out to people who have paid in
- affordable housing is only available to people who are residentially qualified
- you need to be here for six months before you're eligible for subsidised GP visits
This year we will see work starting on a number of large scale building projects and we will be working with construction representatives to make sure the industry can plan ahead for its staffing needs,
We are committed to limiting immigration but the hard work of people who have come to live and work in Jersey has benefited the Island over many years, and we should continue to welcome immigration that adds significant value to Jersey.
A modern, knowledge-based economy like ours needs some immigration of skilled staff if we are to maintain a successful economy.
In business you have to have a plan in order to deliver success. I want to tell you about the plans being formulated by the Council of Ministers.
We have four months to develop our ideas into a plan of action and we are due to publish our initial priorities next week. I believe those priorities will provide a clear strategic plan that is right for this island and I want to explain some of the main points today.
The really big debate is health. The financial demands of a modern health service tower above all others, and because health matters so much to islanders at every stage of their lives – young people starting a family right through to our elderly community - this is a debate that deserves significant attention.
How do we implement the agreed changes? How do we fund them and how can that funding be sustained?
I can’t help but notice that when I look around neighbouring jurisdictions, most are not discussing the financial realities of the changes in health care that will be needed as people live longer.
Our population is ageing, which is a great achievement. We all want to live long, happy, healthy lives and continue contributing to our society for as long as we are able. But with longer lives come chronic, complex health conditions that need to be anticipated and treated. And as medical science enables us to successfully treat more illnesses, health services become more specialised and more expensive.
So if we are to achieve our other priorities, we need to tackle the way we provide health services to our population. The Assembly has already agreed a plan for restructuring our health services and the background work has been done. Now it is time to forge ahead - and that will cost.
So one of the issues we will be grappling with in the coming months is how we can fund the work needed to keep people healthy and treat them when they fall ill. We are working on the figures and will publish our proposals to meet these challenges when we lodge the next Medium Term Financial Plan in June.
We have already explained, as part of the 2015 budget, how we would deal with a forecast drop in income. We will also be focusing on finding savings in the public sector to help us safeguard the funds we will need to invest in health services as our society ages.
Which leads me to another important priority. We want to achieve sustained, productivity-led, economic growth. That means making the best use of our available resources, land, people and capital, to produce goods and services.
It’s not about working longer but working smarter. It’s about finding new and innovative ways to do things better. It’s also the best way to remain competitive and to maintain decent incomes for Islanders.
Our capital, St Helier, is central to our economic growth agenda. St Helier is the engine of our economy, where most of us work, live or socialise. We want to rejuvenate St Helier so it becomes a modern, vibrant town that preserves the best of its history, accommodates high quality homes and offices and provides great public amenities.
I want a vibrant and attractive town, a place that people feel proud of, a place people want to work, live and visit. A properly planned town can provide good quality homes and open spaces while protecting the coast and countryside from development.
I am determined to build a new partnership with the constable of St Helier and ministers to make St Helier a better place. We will work closely with the community to develop a new masterplan for a future St Helier. Our shared vision will incorporate the new finance centre, decent homes, parks and open spaces, a distinctive retail centre and a clear transport plan.
A successful community requires people with the right skills to sustain it. We need our schools to provide a great education that prepares young people for the jobs that a modern, island economy can deliver, so we will be focusing on standards and skills.
Our economy is globally competitive and needs a highly skilled workforce. The education minister is setting up stronger links between schools and businesses and I am strongly supportive of his initiatives.
I want young people to leave school with an understanding of the world of employment, a good grasp of technology and a ‘ready for work’ approach. And we must maximise the potential of our children by ensuring that all our young people have a great start in life.
That is why we have committed to supporting the 1001 Critical Days agenda. Investing in the very early years brings returns for the child, for the family and for the wider community.
We have made great strides in this area in recent years:
- the Sustained Home Visiting Scheme supports vulnerable mothers of young children
- the new Child and Family Centre provides easy access to all our services under one roof
However, there is more we can do. I spoke this morning at a conference organised by Brighter Futures and announced that I will be establishing a Task Force to analyse what is needed in Jersey, to identify gaps in our services and propose solutions that will suit our community.
Next week we will be publishing our priorities in more detail, and we would like to know what you think of them. We will be arranging a series of meetings with interested groups, so we can incorporate any good ideas into our strategic plan. I hope the business community will engage with this process so we can make sure our plan is as good as it can be.
It’s important, as once the plan is approved by the assembly, it will inform the government’s activities for the next three and a half years.
Jersey is in good shape. We have made significant progress since the first days of the downturn, and our economic performance has held up well in the circumstances. But there are challenges on the horizon.
In common with most jurisdictions, after what has now been dubbed the 'Great Recession', we are having to deal with the consequences of a world that has changed. All around us, governments are dealing with declining tax revenues, deficits, and increasing demand on services as society ages.
We are not immune from these external influences. Just as we have always done we will look ahead and deal with them. Putting a problem off just means it becomes more difficult. We will work hard to set out the policy options that will secure a sustainable future.
As the leader of Jersey’s government, it's my role to chart a course through these changing times. I am determined we will work together with the whole community to listen, to debate, and to make decisions that will ensure better lives for all our island community and secure an even better future for Jersey.
I would welcome a strong partnership between business and government. I would go so far as to say that it is one of the key ingredients for future success. I am as optimistic about the future of Jersey as I have ever been.
In 2015 we mark the 70th anniversary of our liberation. It is a time to reflect on what we have achieved, to recognise the sacrifices of those who were here during the Occupation, the sacrifices that allow us to enjoy what we have today.
We have much to be proud of, and providing the right decisions are made, 2015 will see the next chapter in the story of Jersey. I hope all of you in this room, and our whole community, will join me and the council in starting to write this new chapter.