There is, however, another important element of our foremost economic sector that is all too often overlooked.
International businesses and wealthy individuals make full and mutually profitable use of the facilities that the Island’s financial institutions are able to supply, but ordinary Islanders also have need of banking, savings and investment opportunities and insurance cover. Most of the time, such services are provided without a hitch, but, like it or not, mistakes are sometimes made, bad advice is sometimes given and disputes arise.
At present, the resolution of disputes in the sphere of personal finance can be a hit and miss affair. Generally speaking, it will not be the concern of our financial regulatory body, the Jersey Financial Services Commission, which, quite rightly, has its eyes on the big picture rather than individuals’ small-scale complaints.
Against this background, yesterday’s States decision that, at long last, the Island should have a financial ombudsman will be widely welcomed. Anyone who has lost money through what they consider to have been ill-considered financial guidance or has argued with a bank over apparently misapplied charges will easily appreciate the value of an independent arbitrator.
That yesterday’s ombudsman decision was passed by 32 votes to 13 can be regarded as a reward for much effort expended by consumer champion Senator Alan Breckon. He pointed out that the idea of an ombudsman for the man in the street had been on the table since the Edwards Report of 1999. He also laid the responsibility for stalling the creation of the post squarely at the feet of ministers and their predecessors in the executive.
Unfortunately, an ombudsman will, as matters stand, arrive on the scene at a cost. He or she will be funded with cash that would otherwise have been used to pay for a plant varieties law. If that sounds obscure and marginal, we should remember that this law was expected to be one of the cornerstones of the full development of intellectual property legislation.
With an ombudsman now on the way, the States should clearly revisit the abstruse but essential plants law with a view to seeing that this, too, can be funded in the interests of expanding an area of the economy which many believe has tremendous potential as a major source of new revenue.