No happy ending in sight
Saturday 22nd December 2012, 10:00AM GMT.
FOUR new Chief Pleas members will take their seats when the assembly sits next month and I wish them – and their 24 fellow conseillers – an enjoyable and fruitful term of office.
Whether it will be a happy one may well be determined by the amount of vilification and personal criticism they receive if they have the temerity to raise their heads above the parapet. In the light of that, and without exception, they and those who stood unsuccessfully in last week’s election are deserving of thanks.
As with any legislature, they will have important decisions to make, not least in relation to the implementation or otherwise of recommendations contained in the report by former Whitehall civil servant Belinda Crowe.
Inevitably there will be a temptation to take the easy route, as they are frequently urged to do from certain quarters, and implement Ms Crowe’s recommendations in their entirety. Economically, that will lead to a significant increase in the cost of administration – she advocates a chief secretary and two policy professionals – and, with ideas about other revenue streams sadly lacking, that means tax increases.
However, the implementation of the recommendation that reduces drastically the number of committees is at least as significant in a political context. It would see the current number of close on 20 (including two sub-committees) cut to just three.
I say that simply because, cynical political observer that I have been for almost four decades, experience suggests it is a good deal easier for a government led by three committee chairmen to be swayed and/or influenced by vested interests than it is for a government led by three times that number, which would be the figure involved if the number of committees were halved.
I have no doubt at all that others think along similar lines, but will not thank me for mentioning it.
Then of course the 28 conseillers will be urged to introduce full-time policing and border controls from Guernsey and – in a line which is being frequently and actively pursued – with the automatic conclusion that ‘Sark must pay’.
Quite how 24/7 policing at hundreds of thousands of pounds a year will benefit Sark is for the moment lost on this former police officer.
Similarly, how at least similar amounts on the salaries, equipment and infrastructure essential for Sark to accept fare-paying passengers from French ports will be translated into revenue is also lost. Even if financed by a £1 per head visitor tax, it would need at the very least double the number of visitors we currently welcome to pay for one border control officer – and many more than one will be needed.
I don’t know whether this is rocket science or not, but I doubt that anyone need be particularly bright to think – perhaps wrongly, but it’s the perception which is important – that the objective of all this suggested expenditure may well be to drag Sark to its economic knees. Given that it’s the panto season, cue for a knight in shining armour to enter stage left, galloping to the rescue of our depleted reserves. Or perhaps even two of them.
The trouble is that if the events of the last 12 months are anything to go by then this is not a fairy story and, so far at least, no happy ending is in sight.
This is the last column of 2012 because there won’t be one next Friday. Sark is gearing itself up for Christmas as only Sark can, with Christmas lights along The Avenue, carol singers out and about and the promise of a free bar at most business premises on Christmas Eve.
I hope Sark, its residents and readers of this weekly offering – no matter who and where they are – have a peaceful, prosperous and healthy Christmas and New Year.
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