The decision to cut £65 million, or 10% of our public services, or to find efficiency savings of this size, is the biggest political question of a government. In a small island like Jersey, which prides itself on its level of democracy, surely the Ministers would enter a genuine conversation with the public about services, facilities, what level of public spending was appropriate, etc.
I asked Senator Ozouf to explain what consultation took place with the general public about the cuts (or CSR in States-speak). Of course there is scope for some efficiency savings, and indeed the public have been asked about that. But they are NOT asked about whether cuts are the right thing to do, and if so, which cuts and how much.
I asked him the following detailed questions:
- “What specific consultation was undertaken with regard to the 50/50 split between tax increases and spending cuts?
- What form did the consultation take?
- What documents were published as part of the consultation?
- How were the benefits of public expenditure of different types explained?
- What steps, if any, were taken to ensure that all sections of society were reached during the consultation?”
Here is the answer from our Minister of Treasury and Resources:
“I have already responded to a number of questions to the Deputy on CSR and consultations. It has already been explained that whilst no formal consultation was undertaken on the CSR proposals there was clearly a wide public debate when the 2011 Business Plan was lodged. It is expected and indeed welcome that there will be a further public debate when the budget is lodged with the CSR 2 proposals for 2011.”
NOTE: You can check the full text of the Question here.
The fact is that as the Senator Ozouf knows perfectly well, there was and is no such public debate. The public leave it to the politicians. You only have to look at the Island Plan process to see what genuine public consultation and engagement looks like.
So why the absence of any consultation? My belief is that public consultation on this question is avoided by the old guard, because it might come up with an answer which does not fit their ideology, which is basically to spend as little as possible. That is a tenable position, it is one way of doing things , but it is WRONG not to test it in the fire of public opinion through genuine consultation.
I believe it is WRONG to put your personal private ideology and interests above those of the community as a whole.
Instead we see the management of public opinion. See here.
Lessons for the voter? Do candidates genuinely believe in listening? Do they want to honestly engage with the public and find out what is the best way forward? That does not just mean holding surgeries or talking to people on the bus as certain States members seem to think, although that is fine and important. It means real, structured, consultation aiming to reach all sections of the community and with proper information.
Even if we do increase public spending, the fact is, there is a big question which someone asked me today in a jokey sort of way: “what happens when the money runs out?” You sort of know what he means – and that scale of looking things in the face will only be done successfully if we have humble, intelligent politicians genuinely motivated by the desire to serve the public and not to rule them.