Report on Attac Meeting held on Saturday October 2nd 2004
The Social Effects of the Present Taxation Policy
The purpose of this meeting was threefold:
1. to participate in a Europe-wide decision to mark this day in a special way.
2. to bring together individuals and groups to look at the present local situation in
a non-confrontational way and so be equipped to move forward together.
3. to prepare for the European Social Forum which will take place in London
from 14th - 17th October.
Pat Lucas, President of Attac Jersey, welcomed our guests which included invited speakers, some Members of the States and others with particular concerns about the social well-being of the Island. John Christensen of the Tax Justice Network Secretariat set the scene by looking at Jersey in the context of Europe and beyond. Jacques Harel of Attac Saint-Malo and professor from the University of Rennes spoke about the Regional Tourism Development in Brittany and how Jersey might benefit from a closer association with a new flow of tourists coming to Brittany and Normandy. Members of Attac gave short presentations on the following subjects. Each presentation was followed by a few minutes general discussion.
Organics and the Health of the People
Alternative Island Industries
Poverty in Jersey
The Psychological Effects of what's happening on our Island
Where do we go from here?
Welcome and Introduction:
Pat started by saying that this was a very hopeful moment. However, if you find a stone in your shoe it must be removed before progress is to be made! By looking at some of the problems of the Island together perhaps we would see the way forward much clearer. There were many positives but those things which hampered a healthy way ahead need to be looked at seriously. This is what the day was all about.
Setting the Scene: John Christensen
John began by showing us a picture of a large elephant in a sitting room. Everyone is sitting and talking about important matters but failing to recognise the glaringly obvious elephant! Until the elephant is removed precious little else can happen. Jersey is in denial that it has an enormous problem. John proceeded to place Jersey in the context of the wider world. Internationally profound economic and social changes are taking place. In the last 60 years there has been a demographic shift with the post-war baby boom now becoming an ageing population. Governments are coming to the top of revenue streams and middle and low-income households are being targeted.
A number of international organisations are now looking at tax havens as positively harmful, as they provide a safe place for that money which rightfully should be contributing to national tax revenues. He spoke of the awakening of civil society and the growing resistance to the power of Big Business which has eroded the space which is essential for democracy to flourish.
A recent survey carried out by the Financial Times showed that of the 70 existing tax havens only about 10 will survive. Higher cost centres such as Jersey are vulnerable. There is need to plan for a post tax haven world and right here for a post tax haven Jersey. The recent announcement in the JEP that the average annual income per capita in Jersey is £4,000 makes one wonder why such regressive tax measures are beginning to be put into place if Jersey is such a great place to live?
It is imperative that we begin to talk about a post tax haven Jersey. One young participant pointed out that there were a number of exciting possibilities outside finance - oceanography, educational opportunities, environmental movements. John summed up the strengths of this resilient Island by saying that it sits next to the world's largest tourist market, that its soil is amazingly fertile and that neighbouring political regimes are enormously friendly. His plea was that we should all work together towards a Jersey which is not utterly dependent on one, precarious industry - that of the tax haven.
" Three days rather than three minutes are needed to talk about housing! " began the first speaker. Many in the audience are aware of the problems relating to housing - rents are too high and the private sector rent rebate is spiralling out of control.
Recently we have been told that the States Housing waiting list was very low. Would this be because a number of families who have applied to the Housing Department have been told that they cannot help them? Another reason surely is that what with so much choice in the private sector people are choosing this option rather than States Housing.
Over the years the Housing Department seem to have been under the misapprehension that States rents should be approximately 10% lower than the private sector. But the private sector thinks differently! As a result every time
States rents go up so private sector rents increase thus adding a further burden to the private rent rebate scheme which we see increasing year on year. ( The estimated figure for the private rent rebate scheme for 2002 was £.32 million. )
Whilst many go to private landlords, the Housing Department is struggling to make ends meet and in turn properties are not being maintained and general maintenance is falling by the wayside.
Private sector rent rebate was a good idea when first introduced but obviously no thought has been given to the future. How would we now stop this as it will affect so many people? Yet the money should go to where it is desperately needed for the upkeep of States Housing.
Housing is a social issue. It exists to help low income families, the elderly and disabled - the most vulnerable people within our society. Rents are hurting them badly. Change is needed.
In response to this presentation it was suggested that a way should be found to enable the States to buy land for building first time buyer homes.
2. Organics and the Health of the People:
Since the July meeting when this speaker first spoke about organics we have seen a step forward in the promotion of organic produce. Recently the magazine ' Jersey Now ' produced a very good article on fruit and veg. The public are demanding more organics.
In view of the reports of the serious damage being done to public health by preservatives and pollutants contained in packaged and processed food, there is a growing tendency towards people taking responsibility for their own lifestyle and general well-being. Growers and retailers of organics are now making themselves heard. One retailer made the point that by eating healthily people were also taking care of Mother Earth and the environment. The problems of obesity in children and the harmful effects on behaviour of certain additives in food need to be responded to in a practical way. Supermarkets are now producing ' healthy eating ' lunch-boxes for children. These may not yet consist of organic food but it is certainly a move in the right direction.
In the U.K. the organic food industry has grown to £.7 million a week. This can only be good news as growers will be encouraged to expand and this in turn will eventually bring down the price of organic produce. This continuing trend gives hope that our community may become ever more healthy.
François Dufour of the Confédération Paysanne visited the Island two years ago. At the time he remarked on the richness of Jersey soil and the potential that it had for organic farming. The response was made that however desirable organic growing was, it had to be economically viable. Such growth in the industry would depend on subsidies.
3. Alternative Island Industries:
A direct plea for balance - balance for Jersey and balance for the world economy was made from the word go. At the moment the Island seems to be suffering from self-inflicted stress - something from which we must pull back. While the finance industry has had generous support from government over the past 30 years, any voices raised to say we should diversify our industries have been ignored. As a result to all intents and purposes we have lost most other business
e.g. canning, knitwear, tea factory, R.C.A. shock absorbers and aviation engine overhaulers. All this genuine export business has gone.
The speaker felt strongly that a diversified economy should be encouraged by the States - an economy which nurtures light industry, tourism and agriculture. Where will the money be found to do this? Perhaps the civil service would need to be streamlined? The Rolls Royce services we have enjoyed can no longer be justified. Somehow we must provide a climate in which new industry can flourish - a climate which is quite different from the present one. A one stop shop to help the businessman with problems of red tape would be a start.
Mr. Peter Ricou's letter to the JEP on 25th September is excellent. He understands that the climate for innovative ideas is not at all positive. He commented that in Guernsey a spokesman from the I. O. D. was interviewed on local radio about the lack of diversification there.
The speaker emphasised the first point he made - that we should return to a balanced economy before our mega finance industry is decimated by action taken against it from overseas. The E.U. will push to raise living standards in the developing world. This in turn will reduce international tensions and help everyone, including ourselves.
The fact as to whether we did indeed have Rolls Royce services was put into question. What was evident was that the gap between the rich and the poor was very large.
4. Poverty in Jersey:
The speaker began by asking the gathering if any of them knew what it was like to live on a fixed income, where often you have to take from Peter to pay Paul? This is the situation of over a quarter of the families in this Island. It's a situation in which whenever they've managed to save a fiver it's taken from them. It's almost as if someone " up there " knows you have 50p. more in your pocket and say that they must have that as well!
Most of these people have not had a holiday in years. As a lone parent the only holiday I have had is union work in the UK this year. In addition, on my low income I help two families - by paying the car insurance for one and the TV license and car insurance for the other. All this is on £30 a week. You can see there is very little left over for extras.
There are many people hurting in this Island and many doing two or three jobs in order to pay the bills. According to figures in the JEP the cost of living here is 18% higher than in the U.K. When I was in England bread was 30p. while here we pay £1.49
The rents here are so high that when Deputy Southern tried to bring in a tax on landlords it didn't happen as this was too much for the landlords to pay. The rich are getting richer on the backs of the poor. It is time for the people of our Island to stand together and say, " No more! ". We have had more than our fair share and it's time for the rich to pay theirs and so honour the social contract.
The argument often put forward by the super-rich and big companies is that they do not use public services. But I don't see these people flying down the street with their car wheels not touching the ground, do you? Of course they use the services like the rest of us do. These services are there for rich and poor alike.To avoid high prices high earners can go to France to do their shopping. But the poor can't afford the boat fare to get there. It would be interesting to know how many high earners and rich people spend their money on the Island? They are reluctant to pay the high prices their companies impose on the rest of us.
One participant responded by talking of a two- tier society where there are the " have nots " and the " have yachts " !
5. The Psychological Effects of the Present Situation on the Population:
We could discuss a form of group megalomania amongst those with the power - Big Business and certain members of the States who like to have the whip-hand. We could examine the wholesale denial by those who believe that all is well when the reality is that society is splitting apart and needs help. But I'd prefer to touch on a few of the effects felt by many hardworking and decent people on this Island.
If when people make suggestions but get very little come back from government authorities, if the machine grinds on as if their thoughts and wishes were of no importance then people lose an essential sense of purpose and give up bothering to speak out. It's understandable. Isn't it? If known and loved landmarks are knocked down, if the mania for replacing the old with the new continues then people feel there is no place they recognise as home and are alienated. Saint-Malo somehow manages to keep its charm while still being modern enough to operate as a 21st century port.
If outsiders outnumber Islanders and replace local ways then people begin to feel strangers in their own homes. Jersey people are often passed over for the top jobs and made to feel like an ethnic minority when the reality is they are the host community. If people are overworked, some doing 2 or even 3 jobs as well as looking after young children, then they have to run to stand still and may soon lose heart. Many have a precarious existence - high mortgage, high cost of living. This indeed can become a "Treadmill of Fear " for many, the many who do not have a voice. This often results in an " every man for himself " attitude which is destructive of community and alienates people from each other. Sadly, " divide and rule " is in the interest of those in positions of power in the current system.
Children are often left to go wild or into a state of silent despair. The pace of life makes it impossible for problems to be sorted out and often as a result we see addiction problems, eating disorders with the consequent cost to the state. If young people fail to study hard, show a destructive and uncaring attitude towards property and people which is reinforced by a selfish ethos at the top end of society what hope is there for the community of tomorrow?
If people live in overcrowded conditions we should not be surprised if they become aggressive and protective of the very little space they have. Trust is lost. If people pretend not to come from Jersey when they are on holiday because people think they are either millionnaires or part of the pinstripe mafia then what has happened to the pride of this beautiful little Island? Shame is a terrible thing.
We end up with a host of negative energies which then feed back into the Island and so it becomes worse and worse. Either people accept this sorry state of affairs which can result in depression or frustration or they can refuse to accept it.
Say what they think. Stand up for what they believe in. Accept a short-term bout of being labelled an agitator so that in the long-run values of fairness, real community spirit and decency prevail. This latter is what we in Attac are happy to do.
A contribution from the meeting. It has been said that Jersey has " the social cohesion of the lobby of the Hilton hotel ".
6. Where do we go from here?:
The speaker started by saying that recent political events in Jersey had been repugnant to everyone. He suggested the following political landscape - get rid of the Senators - the best of them will win seats easily under the new scheme. The proposed size of Deputies' constituencies will allow everyone to have three or four representatives and we would do away with the rotten boroughs of Jersey where parochial cliques vote in one member term after term. Joining St. Martin and St. Saviour for example, you could beat crony power. It would be more open, everyone would have a choice of candidates and the challengers would not feel that they are opposing an old favourite which could inhibit people from standing under the present system. As for the Constables, let the people decide on their future as opinions are divided, although, in my view, why should Constables be paid when they are the peak of the so-called Honorary system?
Some of the politicians being put forward for Chief Minister are unacceptable. The ideal person for Chief Minister would be a consensus creator, someone who has the ability to get people to work together. But what can we do? We in Attac need to co-operate with the Public Services Union, Manual workers, nurses in particular, teachers, States tenants, the elderly and possibly the local BMA - those who are likely to suffer in future from Government cuts.
Together we need to decide:
Which members we wish to say goodbye to.
Those we wish to retain. Don't forget, we will not agree with everything they might say. We must be tolerant.
Back new members to replace those who leave.
Publicise our findings and we can do this objectively in some cases by reviewing their voting record or indeed sending questionnaires to them on sensitive topics.
We need a committee to work on this and create liaisons with other groups.
We need to advise our new candidates not to use terms indicating class war, as this will not go down well in Jersey. Jerseymen have more pride. Perhaps they echo the Irish song " God's greatest gift is a working man ". They don't want to make a " poor mouth ".
We need to specify groups in peril through Government cuts.
We should make it clear that we are not against the rich if they pay their fair share of taxation.
In response to this short speech the plea for party politics was very strong.
7. Regional Tourism Development in Brittany and how this might be expanded to include Jersey: Jacques Harel
Jacques told the gathering about the European project " Route des Estuaires " , a tourism project which spans the area from Holland and Belgium right down to Spain. Local and national government have invested in this bold project.
Together with the promised arrival of the high-speed train, TGV, as far as Saint- Malo, tourism has received an enormous boost. As a result of this the value of houses in the Brittany area has gone up 25%.
Mt. St. Michel in Normandy is the second favourite tourist spot in France after Paris and there is lots of potential for Jersey and the Islands to participate in such a vibrant tourist market. On the subject of trade between the Island and Europe he pointed out that 80% of products on the Island are imported from the U.K.
Why is Jersey not making greater use of its closer neighbour? The lack of a freight service is one obvious answer and it was encouraging to hear that plans for a daily freight service from the Islands, to Cherbourg and Saint-Malo are in the pipeline.
While the number of tourists visiting the Island from the U.K. is slowly declining, French maritime activity to the Island has increased by 10% every year over the past five years. On average each person visiting the Island spends about £50. 55% of the sailing yachts are now coming from France. The potential in this market needs exploring.
Contributions by Guests and Discussion:
Discussion continued over a delicious buffet lunch and in the afternoon a few States Members and other guests were invited to offer their views on these and related topics. Some of the points made were:
We need to return to real values - spiritual wealth as well as material wealth.
The more we exploit one another the further away brotherhood is. We must trust the reality of belonging together more than our differences.
Where necessary we need to be critical of policies, not personalities.
There are many young people in the Island with ideas for an alternative future.
A pensioner was fuming on hearing three millionaires boasting that they are not paying tax while he can't afford to run his heating system.
A lone parent said she was worse off now than she had ever been before.
A participant's grandparents were far better looked after in their old age in the U.K.
Many were truly annoyed by the way the Island's money has been wasted. 3.6 million has been wasted on projects.
Such contributions reinforced our conviction that the only way forward for the Island and its people is by groups working together. This social movement has already started.