Looking ahead to 2019, Chief Minister John Le Fondré said that Jersey is well prepared for any Brexit challenges but he, and other senior politicians, would be continuing to promote the Island’s constitutional identity.
The UK parliament is set to begin the debate on Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal in early 2019, but with a number of politicians opposing her plans, the threat of a no deal Brexit appears to be growing.
Senator Le Fondré said: ‘The big challenges that we are dealing with are the hospital, Brexit and organisational change. These are all things that we have to keep moving forward on.
‘In the near future, the obvious issue is Brexit. That is externally the biggest issue we face.
‘We have to make sure we are visible and talking to UK politicians. We will keep reiterating the constitutional position of the Island and what the Jersey message is and our value to Britain – which is around £5 billion a year through the Exchequer.’
He said recent States approval of a new Customs arrangement with the UK had put Jersey in a ‘solid position’ and added that the settlement scheme for EU citizens living in Jersey was now underway.
External Relations Minister Ian Gorst has recently visited the Middle East to expand business links with the region, while Senator Le Fondré visited China in November. The Chief Minister said ministers had to continue pressing ahead with plans to diversify the ‘source of business that comes to the Island’.
He added that the new hospital and the ongoing States modernisation plans were among the key internal challenges facing Jersey’s senior politicians in 2019.
And the Chief Minister spoke of the financial pressures the States is facing – with a potential £30 to £40 million black hole next year.
‘Internally, we obviously have the government plan,’ Senator Le Fondré said. ‘That is the next bit which will give us the authority to set our spending limits and decide how we raise the money to cover that.
‘We have funding pressures and I want to make sure the money is targeted better at key areas such as education, mental health and Children’s Services.
‘That money has to come from somewhere.’
During a Chamber of Commerce speech earlier this year, the Chief Minister said that he had tasked States chief executive Charlie Parker with delivering £30 million in staff savings next year.
And with ongoing disputes with public sector staff over pay, the financial constraints on the States could be heightened.
Senator Le Fondré said: ‘We already have big, red figures [in the Budget] of £30 million. If we add another £9 million on top of that then we have to find that money somewhere. It is either further efficiencies or we then have to put taxes up.
‘If we add a recurring £9 million on pay then that makes those funding difficulties even worse.
‘We will have to take stock of the [union] ballot results and the States Employment Board will have to have discussions. There is a lot of passion around and we have to look at it fairly.
‘If we have recurring sums of expenditure coming through we have to be honest and say we genuinely don’t believe we have that sort of money around.’