Something feels different right now

Oct 31, 2021

When I first took on the role of Vice President of Jersey’s Chamber of Commerce, the then President, Kristina Le Feuvre and I visited the Jersey Archive – a fantastic asset and one I suggest you visit if you never have – and looked through some old material – newspapers, magazines, minute books – from the past 250 years. One thing that was consistent was the island’s collective displeasure with the government and how things were better in the past. Some of the articles, had you covered up the date, could have been written yesterday. Until now, I had attributed the general displeasure we would read about in the press and on social media to an inbuilt pessimism and need for islanders to vent. But something feels different right now.

The cost of living on our beautiful island has never been higher as is the high cost of doing business. Inflation is expected to rise and settle to levels above that seen pre-pandemic. The cost to the island of the pandemic is already in the hundreds of millions of pounds and rising.

As the world continues its recovery from a difficult 18 months, Jersey finds itself in unfamiliar territory. Our island is relaxing many of the necessary restrictions we placed on ourselves during the worst parts of the pandemic, but now we are facing challenges we have never really had to face before. We are facing labour shortages, businesses unable to find the skills they need and many forced to reduce opening hours, or shutting the doors for good. Taking out loans to pay for our hospital, the paying back of which will be the responsibility of our children and our children’s children. Falling productivity in our precious finance industry and what feels like an inevitable wave of scrutiny and change in the global economy focussing on tax matters that directly challenges how the island does business internationally.

So how do we deal with the situation? There’s no silver bullet, but here’s a couple of ideas.

First, we innovate – Innovation has difficult connotations in Jersey in the recent past because of the Innovation Fund and the public and media attention that surrounded it. But what it set out to do was spot on. Unfortunately Jersey’s appetite for any sort of failure is pretty much zero – and where you have true innovation, you inevitably experience some failure. Interestingly of the six businesses supported by the States through loans from the Innovation Fund, only one business actually failed. The trick is to fail fast, learn and try again. In order for that one massive success, you may need to try, learn and re-try many, many times.

Jersey must drive innovation in every corner – be that productivity in our financial services sector – bring us back to the levels of GVA we saw in the last decade. Innovation in our retail and hospitality sectors – finding ways to lower reliance on immigration. Innovation in our fields and farms – bringing technology to improving yield and ultimately profit to our farmers. Innovation in renewable energy – We have the one of the largest tidal ranges in the world, surely Jersey’s an ideal place for a world leading tidal research facility?

Innovation is happening all around us, but we need more – we need to protect ourselves against external factors that are out of our control but affect business and ultimately income for our island. We need another export industry that we can rely on for the coming generations whilst we nurture and develop our current industries. But we mustn’t be afraid of failure – we try, we learn and we try again.

The second way we deal with our situation is to get nimble. Jersey has delivered some significant successes in our past, but many of them have come when decisions have had to be made quickly and we are forced to do something – just look at the response we had to Covid in our testing and vaccination programme, and the rapidity with which we implemented the Nightingale hospital – and contrast that with the long, slow, painful and expensive decision making about our General Hospital, and that hasn’t seen its last speedbump yet, I’m sure.

We find ways to support rapid decision making and quick execution – and not just when our backs are against the wall – we must find ways to make being nimble just a normal part of what we do. Many of the most successful businesses on the island already think and act in this way, but it needs to permeate every corner of our island. Think quick, act quick. Decisions around improving productivity, around how we support the creation and growth of local businesses, how we deal with labour shortages – allowing and supporting our leaders, both public and private – to make decisions and execute them quickly.

Eliot Lincoln | Party Chair 

First published | JEP 31 October 2021

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