Jersey and Guernsey have taken different approaches to population management, but now is the time for us to work together

Gavin St. Pier (31637430)

As always, despite similar goals, Jersey and Guernsey have pursued different political options over the years. Jersey with its “J cats” and old business regulation legislation; Guernsey with its “free market” and its licenses, a demographic “ceiling” of ten years more honored in its violation than in its respect, followed by the inglorious introduction of work permits and a population management office very efficient, much appreciated but not cheap. Both are currently determined to develop new population policies in the not-so-distant future.

Since the most important determinant of population is the state of the economy and – as we all know – economies experience cyclical ‘ups and downs’, even though ours have managed in recent years to avoid “booms” and “collapses” at full speed. ‘. But with upward and downward lags, the two islands have struggled to find population management policy solutions dynamic enough to respond quickly enough to turn the taps on or off, as the case may be.

Free market economists would say we don’t need an additional bureaucratic overlay – just let the market take care of it. This argument is based on the assumption that the interaction between an individual’s ability to obtain productive employment and his ability to finance his cost of living, in particular housing, which generally represents the largest household expenditure, will be all that is necessary to determine whether he is coming or leaving the islands. If you can’t afford to live in central London, you will be living elsewhere in the UK; if you can’t afford to live in Jersey or Guernsey, moving to either end of either island doesn’t help much – you will end up leaving. In a sense, this market “safety valve” theory that determines population numbers has served the islands well. If people can afford to live on the islands, they contribute to taxes and the economy; if they cannot afford to live on the islands, they no longer demand any public service – schools and hospitals in particular. However, the safety valve is also a real challenge for planners and policy makers to guess how much housing and services will be needed in five, ten or 15 years.

A liberal laissez-faire view of the world also ignores the political reality that our communities like the comfort blanket of population management policies. The islands have been conditioned by 50 years of population management policy making to believe that such policies are absolutely essential to avoid being overrun by the hordes waiting on Poole Docks to come and grab benefits or take local jobs and housing, if at all not for the existence of those shining legislative ramparts against such terrors. Much like the ban on cannabis over a similar period, it can be difficult to definitively prove the effectiveness of population regimes in achieving their political goals.

Interestingly, this is a policy area where the consensus – not unanimous at all – is that the other island was wrong. So, in Guernsey, the consensus says that Jersey’s policy has just sucked in a lot of lower-value labor, which has lowered the gross value-added per capita measure of economic performance, while making increase housing prices. , requiring more expensive school places and taxpayer funded hospital beds. In Jersey, the consensus appears to be that Guernsey’s population policies have stifled the ability of businesses to grow the economy, aging the demographics, thereby increasing the dependency ratio of unpaid dependents to workers, making the finances public. more unsustainable.

When we then project onto this canvas a post-Covid, post-Brexit economic recovery which seems ardent in certain sectors, defying all logic and expectations, it becomes almost impossible to identify the determinants of work constraints. The hospitality and hospitality sectors are experiencing visible labor shortages, especially as island students leave after working during the summer to resume their studies elsewhere. The construction industry has many supply issues and labor is just one of them. While the financial sector shows classic signs of wage inflation. Is it only because of Covid, which has prompted some workers to keep their families safe “at home”? Or is it Brexit, with its somewhat less welcoming (to the EU) face, increased visa bureaucracy and costs, and a lower value pound sterling? Or is it the regulatory straitjacket of population management policies that hinders business activity? In truth, it may be a bit of all three.

This is an area of ​​politics where islands working together could indeed make sense. While economies compete at the macro level, these are common shared issues. It’s a complex thing. If you pull a lever, does it actually do what it intended? And what are the unintended impacts? And how does population policy interact with other policies? The need for additional housing and the demand for utilities are obvious, but what about the other issues? Is Jersey really better positioned to access low cost airlines simply because it is able to deliver higher demand from a larger population?

It seems that an obvious first step might be to jointly commission a comparative analysis going back decades to examine the effectiveness and impact of respective island population management policies. It would be an opportunity to learn from each other what worked and what did not. Will it happen? No, I very much doubt it. For two reasons: first, there has been no obvious appetite for such work as both governments are greatly distracted by their own priorities; and second, I suggest it – especially on this side of the water – is a kiss of death. Maybe someone else could do it instead?

Gavin St Pier is a politician from Guernsey. He previously served as Chair of the Island Policy and Resources Committee.

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