Reform Jersey
Reform Jersey
Rob Ward

We begin States sittings again this month, after the summer recess. The summer recess gives time to look back and to think ahead about what can be achieved in the coming months and years. There was still work going on and people to meet and try to help. And of course we have first site of the much awaited government plan. Fourteen months after the elections. More on this later.

It’s been an interesting time since I last posted to this blog. My proposition for free bus services was defeated. Even the part that wanted free buses for children to school. Some strange arguments where made. That free buses would not attract people to use them. That buses were polluting. 

And one conflated argument that opposed funding this move because the state was prone to have investment cut. That’s good old neoliberalism at its best. The doctrine of private investment being the only successful way to run services and indeed our society.

Bus users are consumers, whose democratic choice to use the bus or not is entirely determined by market forces. So don’t waste taxpayers money on services like this. 

Instead, we can find money to subsidise electric bikes or even cars. Then let the consumer choose and the free market find the natural balance of things. Sorted. Everyone gets what they deserve. 

And that’s the neoliberal trick.  Give a sense of action, support and freedom whilst doing absolutely nothing to deal with the inbuilt inequality of the action. And nothing to improve the lives of the majority of our society. Climate change confuses the issue, but the principles remain.  And its because the underlying principle is that everyone does indeed get what they deserve. The rich deserve their wealth and the poor deserve their poverty because they are feckless or lazy. A simple analysis that fits everything. 

Now I do not buy into this doctrine. For numerous reasons. I grew up in a working class household and saw my father work all the hours under the sun and just not be lucky at the right time. There are many other examples I could list.

So can neoliberalism save us from climate change. Here come the controversial bit. 

I would suggest that the vast majority of states members would subscribe either consciously or not to the principles of neoliberalism. 

Neoliberalism sees competition as the defining characteristic of human relations. It redefines citizens as consumers, whose democratic choices are best exercised by buying and selling, a process that rewards merit and punishes inefficiency. It maintains that “the market” delivers benefits that could never be achieved by planning.

But climate change is running a coach and horses through the all pervading need for us to be consumers and highlights the need for a genuine and government level plan to tackle it. 

And the State’s Assembly voted to declare a climate change emergency. But at the first chance to take action it failed. Instead it voted for another sustainable transport policy. Somebody very cleverly suggested that this was the third sustainable transport policy, so I get to keep it. 

But what will it mean. I suggest virtually nothing if we think the free market and competition will really give us a sustainable transport policy that will address our commitment to tackling our Carbon emissions. One trial of an electric bus is not enough! 

Although I support initiatives to cut car use. I am unsure that £150 grant for ebikes is the best way to spend money. I bought my bike on an interest free scheme over 12 months from the powerhouse. This made it manageable for me and encourages me to save on not using my car. I do not think I should benefit from this scheme and have not applied for the subsidy. 

The £150 would be better spent on free traditional bikes for those who benefit from them because of real need. 

Or on a subsidised annual bus pass. It would cut the cost from £495 a year to £345 - under a pound a day. This too could be an interest free monthly cost of £28.75p for free bus travel. Perhaps accompanied by a car scrappage scheme for a free bus pass. I feel a proposition in the making.

I am pleased to see the shoots of investment in the government plan. £5 million from the consolidated fund into a climate change emergency fund. And a system for future funding from a small increase in fuel duty. But is this enough? How will it be spent and will the current structures that have failed us remain in place and be an unbreakable obstacle to progress? 

We will need  the department for infrastructure and the environment department to really open their minds to new ideas. We must return to subsidised or ideally, free public transport. We must consider ways to draw down Carbon from the atmosphere to offset emissions as we move towards lowering them. Will we subsidise electric heating in homes? Or will the drive for competition get in the way of this? 

There is so much to think through. But we have a starting point. I do believe that the Council of Ministers are at last waking up to the issue of climate change and starting to take our responsibilities seriously.

So what else is happening? Well the Government plan of course. There is a lot of work to be done. Analysing, understanding and working out the good and bad parts. My initial reaction is that it is short on detail. Particularly on how £100 million of “efficiencies” will be made without cutting services. I will write more on the plan in the coming months. Deputy Southern has lodged a very clever proposition to ensure that all “efficiencies” come to the assembly every 6 months to show what they are and their effect on services. This is surely the transparent government we always talk about. 

I have a few propositions and amendments to the government plan developing. I will let you know about them as I confirm the details. 

So, enjoy the changing seasons. And get involved in politics. Join Reform Jersey here

Finally, I have avoided BREXIT on purpose. But what an interesting few months we have ahead.