Government

GUERNSEY’S new population management law needs to be reviewed urgently because the current delays in processing applications prove it isn’t working efficiently, according to a leading island business organisation.

The Confederation of Guernsey Industry said it was disappointed – but not surprised – that the new system wasn’t working well and it was worse than what was previously in place.

‘What makes the CGi so concerned is that the Population Management Office approach is overly bureaucratic and applications are taking too long to process, making some virtually impossible to deal with,’ said chairman Clive McMinn.

‘The fact is that the introduction of this supposedly improved law is actively damaging island businesses and affecting productivity. The harm being caused has to be stopped before it becomes terminal for certain sectors.’

Welcoming Economic Development Committee president Peter Ferbrache’s similar criticism of a law that wasn’t working, Mr McMinn highlighted three principal defects that needed rectification:

• A lack of clarity and flexibility built into the online tick-box application process

• Procedural difficulties with the law, including the time taken to process applications and the associated high cost of making one

• Damage to local businesses by the creation of problems that did not exist before by restricting skilled and hard-to-replace staff to terms of just five years.

‘Ultimately, the worst damage is being caused by the removal of the previous “nine months on, three off” regime combined with the removal of the ability to use the Open Market, especially in the hospitality sector,’ said the CGi chairman.

‘We know from our membership, which covers a wide range of island businesses, what damage this is doing to the island economy,’ he said. ‘Politicians and civil servants need to move quickly to reduce red tape and confusion and simplify the whole process of work permits and housing permission.

‘Our deputies have to understand the priorities here, get a message out that Guernsey is open for business, and prove it is business friendly,’ said Mr McMinn.

THE Confederation of Guernsey Industry has urged the States to take positive steps and focus on population, connectivity and growth as enablers of the economy.

This follows the current debate into the proposed extension of the airport runway and demands to spend taxpayers’ money on external consultants when, in the view of the CGi, the island itself should determine the priorities for the future.

In a letter sent to all Deputies today, Clive McMinn, CGi Chairman, believes the States needs to tackle the key issues of population, growth and connectivity.

‘We all share a common goal to see the island prosper, particularly at a time when facing considerable economic challenges. The States needs to focus on how the island should look in the future, how many people do we expect to live here and from there set realistic objectives and create the conditions for encouraging business.’

‘We cannot ask consultants to come in at great cost, time and effort without having our own firm ideas of where we are going. It is not just a question of money, it is a question of priorities,’ Mr McMinn added.

The CGi also distanced itself from calls to extend the airport runway and queried why other, more immediate options had not been taken.

‘It does seem odd that Guernsey will not support an inter-island ferry trial which would have brought visitors to the island and revenue to a struggling visitor economy straightaway, but is to consider spending a similar or greater amount on consultants to establish the viability of lengthening the airport runway with no guarantee of any future income.’

‘We are very much aligned with the views of Deputies Peter Roffey and Heidi Soulsby in that we should not be talking about a runway as the solution in isolation before we determine the problem and try to understand and solve it,’ he said.

Clive McMinn, Chairman of the Confederation of Guernsey Industry, voiced his concerns that far more information is needed and additional research required before a decision of such magnitude is taken.

‘In this era of financial constraints and belt-tightening, there has to be a clear business case that a runway extension offers value for money and that all alternatives are considered.

A key component of this is how the States proposes to recover the costs which is certainly not going to be through tourism. One should also examine the effect of an increase in air traffic on Aurigny, which as we are aware, is continuing to incur significant losses for the taxpayer,’ Clive added.

REPRESENTATIVES of the Guernsey Chamber of Commerce, the Confederation of Guernsey Industry, the Construction Industry Forum and the Property Forum met with the Committee for Home Affairs on Thursday 23 March to discuss the forthcoming Population Management and Control Law and the economic impact that it would have on Guernsey going forward.

It was noted that there was much within the law to commend, however further consideration needs to be given to lower skilled workers. The five year limit for lower skilled workers is a big departure from custom and practice within the seasonal working sector and formed one of the key concerns of the representatives present.

The discussion was both wide ranging and forthright, ranging from an ageing demographic, to the uncertain impact of Brexit. The consensus of the representatives is that the law as it is currently drafted does not take into account longer term economic impacts of the proposals, and that implementation of the law should be delayed.

The fundamental issue is that the economic circumstances that existed when this law was initially proposed and being drafted are very different to those being faced by Guernsey today.

There is considerable uncertainty surrounding Brexit, immigration visas, and the potential impact that it will have on Guernsey and it is vital that Guernsey remains totally flexible to accommodate change and secure its own future.

It is our recommendation that the States of Deliberation reject the Population Management and Control Law, as currently drafted, and that they instruct the Committee for Home Affairs to revisit the law with a view to introducing simple, understandable legislation that reflects the needs of both the business and wider community and takes into account the uncertainties facing Guernsey in the light of Brexit and changed economic circumstances.

GUERNSEY is in grave danger of damaging its way of life unless it changes the proposed population management legislation.

The stark warning comes from the Confederation of Guernsey Industry, which says that the new law on short-term employment permits will open a ‘skills drain’, leaving island businesses chronically short of trained and experienced staff.

And that will impact all those employers offering cleaning, catering, care, hospitality and other vital services to islanders, says CGi chairman Clive McMinn.

He is seeking an urgent meeting with Committee for Economic Development president Deputy Peter Ferbrache to press for a fresh look at elements of the new law and believes other business associations support the CGi’s concerns.

‘The people who are affected by this are classed as unskilled, but they are not. They are absolutely essential to Guernsey’s economy,’ said Clive. Unless the law is amended, the infrastructure and the way of life of the island is in peril.’

That is because so many businesses rely on the skill and knowledge of seasonal staff who work here for nine months, leave for three and then return for a further nine months.

Many have been doing so for years and that level of training and experience cannot be replaced by recruiting new people ‘off the street’, even if they could be found. The new population management regime allows for a fresh annual application for the same individual up to a maximum of five years, after which they cannot return, and the CGi says some staff have already received letters warning they have reached their five-year limit.

As a result, many other employees are already approaching the end of their five-year maximum, or else part-way through it, and are questioning whether there is any point working here at all, said Clive.

This uncertainty is compounded by the Brexit-linked fall in the value of sterling, making wages here less attractive for guest workers making it even harder for Guernsey to recruit the staff it needed.

He rejects suggestions that the CGi was consulted on the proposed population changes. ‘Individual members may have been, but we as a body were not,’ he said, ‘and in any event, we now see that the views of industry have been ignored.

‘We only realised that when the proposals were published, hence the urgency to address this potentially catastrophic draining of skills from the Guernsey economy.’

The CGi, which says the hospitality sector raised these concerns last year but was also ignored, has written to all deputies outlining the difficulties and urging a delay in implementing the regime for further consideration of the five-year rule.

‘We had just five responses,’ said Clive, ‘which is why we are looking to take this up with Deputy Ferbrache and Economic Development because the risk to the island’s economy is so widespread and risks turning the restaurant and hotel sector into a second class industry.’

These fears also reflect feedback from care homes, the care industry generally, growers, light industry, construction, retail and the financial and general service sector.

‘We have even lost the safety net of the open market,’ said Mr McMinn, because the five-year rule also applies to short-term staff living there.

He also rejects claims that amending the five-year rule will increase the size of Guernsey’s population. ‘We are talking about people who want to work here, not settle here, he said.

THE Confederation of Guernsey Industry has called on the States to consider changes to the new Population Management Law being introduced in the spring of 2017 to prevent an outflow of skilled, seasonal workers from the island.

In a letter written to all Deputies, new CGi Chairman, Clive McMinn, urges them to reconsider the decision to restrict staff from outside the island to a maximum stay of five years.

‘In our discussions with member firms, it is clear that in many sectors of industry employers are greatly concerned the consequences this Law will have on the recruitment and retention of employees on short term licences.’

‘Many businesses have established a stable workforce of staff whose repeated returns to the island over many years have enabled them to become skilled and valued workers. Recruitment from other jurisdictions is becoming increasingly difficult and it is important we do not prevent the continued return of those who have been coming here to work and make a positive contribution to the economy.’

Mr McMinn added that particular sectors could be hit particularly hard.

‘Businesses that employ care-home staff, HGV drivers, the hospitality and tourist industry and horticulture for example, rely on a workforce that now faces an uncertain future to the detriment of our economy at a time when Guernsey is facing considerable economic challenges.’

‘We are therefore asking for the States to support our proposal to reconsider that relevant part of the law or at least delay its implementation.’