Government Plan debate: Members to consider ‘immense borrowing’

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Covering the next four years, the Government Plan incorporates the strategic priorities of the Council of Ministers but has drawn criticism, including from one senior minister, regarding unprecedented levels of debt totalling £1.74 billion, which would be one of the results if the proposal is supported by the Assembly.

And 26 amendments have been lodged by States Members, with the potential to alter it significantly (full story on pages 8 and 9 of Saturday’s – 11 December – JEP).

Scrutiny panels, including the Corporate Services Scrutiny Panel, have also issued several reports.

CSSP chairwoman Senator Kristina Moore said she believed Members should proceed with caution, weighing up the economic advice included in the report against the decisions they were being asked to make.

She said: ‘The plan sets out immense borrowing and considerable capital expenditure at a time of considerable economic uncertainty.

‘We are concerned about the vast changes in the budget and the government’s preference for capital projects over service delivery.’

The plan outlines potential borrowing of £1.74bn by 2025 to pay for the Island’s new hospital, repay Covid debt and cover pension liabilities, although the levels of debt could be significantly reduced should Members support an amendment by former Chief Minister and current External Relations Minister Ian Gorst.

Senator Gorst has proposed cutting the scale of borrowing by £345 million, or 20% of the total figure. The projected spending in the plan is too high, he argues, with Jersey’s economic success being built on ‘controlled and balanced public spending and no, or low, levels of public debt’.

Among the recommendations put forward by the CSSP is a call for the Chief Minister to commit to greater accountability over projects relating to digital initiatives and the government’s investment in IT.

‘We are concerned about vast changes in budget and the proliferation of other projects,’ Senator Moore said. She added that she was supportive of Senator Gorst’s amendment to limit borrowing and would be repeating many of the arguments advanced in an attempt – narrowly defeated in an Assembly vote in October – to cap the amount of borrowing for the hospital project.

‘It is telling that a minister feels the need to step up and bring forward an amendment of this kind and has very different views to his ministerial colleagues,’ Senator Moore said.

The Government Plan also drew criticism from political party Reform Jersey, whose leader, Senator Sam Mézec, highlighted the number of ministers who were members of the recently launched Alliance Party.

Senator Sam Mézec. Picture: ROB CURRIE. (32230160)

Senator Mézec said: ‘After four years in office, we believe that this Government Plan cements the current government/Alliance Party’s record as one of failure.

‘Virtually nothing has been proposed at all in this term of office which has tangibly reduced income inequality, which was meant to be one of their top priorities, and despite declaring a climate crisis, there is nothing tangible in this plan to reduce our carbon emissions.

‘Despite pledging to “put children first” there are no signs in this plan of any attempts to get our education funding levels to where they ought to be, and our debt levels are being taken to extraordinary heights, with vanity projects like the new government office.’

Deputy Steve Luce, of the Progress Party, said that while his party was supportive of many of the amendments proposed under the plan, there were ‘mind-boggling’ levels of spending and an inability to deliver much smaller sums through government efficiency programmes.

He said: ‘The amendment about debt [brought by Senator Gorst] would certainly help, but as a party we have to decide if we can support the Alliance Party manifesto.’

A spokesperson for the Alliance Party refuted the suggestion that the Government Plan was the Alliance manifesto, adding that the party had no further comment on the Government Plan, but would be providing more detail on its policies early in the new year ahead of the general election in June.

The States Assembly sitting will begin with questions on Monday afternoon, with the Government Plan debate due to start on Tuesday morning.

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