"Build better - but together" (Jersey Evening Post - 16 December 2020)

The fifth and final article in a five-part series ahead of the Jersey elections in 2022, by Lisa Springate, Chair of the Jersey Branch of the Institute of Directors.

I was shown some interesting data this week, something relevant to us all which puts into perspective the discussions that take place in our public domain, in particular on social media. If you look at Facebook, for example, a lot of the Jersey based groups are dominated by negativity. People criticising government or other public figures – or laying blame in response to news stories on whoever they can in the public eye. To an outside observer, it can look as though we are a very dissatisfied Island. To those in charge, it can be totally demoralising. I am not taking sides in any particular debate, but the interesting data I saw puts it all into context.

The Why

Daniel Rowles, who owns leading digital marketing training business, Target Internet, and is one of the architects of the Digital Leadership course here, has been using some sophisticated software to analyse the sentiment of these Facebook groups. He has found that the source of over 90% of those negative comments, come from just a very nominal group of people. While we are all for free speech and the need for everyone to have their views, what this means is that there is a potential for our public debate in Jersey to be dominated by a vociferous and negative minority. The majority of us, who may or may not agree with what is being said, similarly remain quiet or are drowned out.

This revelation shows the impact of what many people I have spoken to, already fear. Firstly, that a negative minority dominates the debate in Jersey, and secondly, that this unhelpful and unconstructive minority serve only to dishearten and disenfranchise those who put their time and effort into trying to run this Island. Please do not take this as me blindly supporting our Island’s leadership – whether elected or not – that is not what this is about. However, what I, and the team at the IoD, would like to see is a more constructive dialogue and informed discussions that can improve a situation, not randomly shooting at whoever appears to be the most obvious target.

The What

I have been a part of the Economic Council since its inception in June. It is a voluntary, non-government and independent group formed from a wide range of Islanders, to help develop some new perspectives on our economy. The Government established it to provide objective input, stimulate discussion and to offer a constructive challenge in the immediate situation created by the Covid-19 pandemic and also with a longer-term horizon.

The phrase, ‘build back better’, is particularly relevant in our thought processes. I do not expect everyone to agree with everything we have suggested, but our paper published yesterday, entitled “New Perspectives-Critical Considerations for Sustainable Economic Growth” has been put together after much group discussion and a significant amount of time given freely by all outside of other commitments.

One thing to make clear at the outset is that this group is pulled together from a diverse range of Islanders. This includes union representatives, those who work with youngsters, tourism, agriculture, arts and sports – not just those in finance and management. We are not an ‘elite’ group trying to maintain a status quo but one which is endeavouring to benefit each and every one of us in the Island. One which is also trying to benefit the next generation and ensure a prosperous society for them too.

The paper is forward-looking, seeking the reader to consider the long-term future of our economy. The Economic Council has already provided input into the Government on short-term economic stimulation measures. It is therefore very much hoped that all Islanders will get behind and support our paper and receive it in the spirit in which it is intended. I believe the last line of the paper sums up well our intentions, namely that ‘This report is presented in a spirit of positive encouragement and challenge’. One which is therefore ideally timed as we head towards the end of an exceptionally difficult year and the start of a new year.

The Economic Council has highlighted and elaborated its views on five interrelated strategic themes which we felt to be the most significant as drivers to future economic prosperity:

1. Jersey should stimulate growth by encouraging a more vibrant entrepreneurial culture and enhancing local innovation;

2. Sustainability is a huge force in shaping society and economies globally which Jersey needs to place at the centre of its economic policy;

3. Jersey must truly embrace the importance of the ‘new economy’, being created globally through technology, artificial intelligence and data;

4. For Jersey’s economy to flourish the Island needs regeneration from an infrastructure and quality of life perspective; and

5. Unless Jersey innovates and aspires to the highest levels in education and skills development across our entire population, our economy will not prosper.

The paper also includes eight concluding messages for Government, to help facilitate progress, four key ones being:

1. Jersey’s economy needs an inspiring and clear vision for its economic development with a twenty-year plus horizon;

2. The Government’s new “Economic Framework”, which is under development, needs to be accelerated and must include clear strategies for all key economic segments and industries (the ‘verticals’), that are maintained to ensure they remain current;

3. Government primarily needs to be a true enabler and facilitator of innovation – to help create the right environment -– and needs to accelerate its own orientation in this respect. The role of Government is not always to be the funder of initiatives as the private sector and private/public partnerships can sometimes provide more viable solutions;

4. Government should actively elicit reactions and responses to this paper from organisations and citizens as additional input and provide its own considered response.

In highlighting these themes and messages, and expanding on them in the paper, our intention is three-fold. Firstly, to challenge the prevailing orientation in political thinking and planning which is predominantly focused on the short term. Secondly, to stimulate a fresh discussion on the Government’s vision for Jersey’s economy and thirdly, to provide the Government with specific indicated actions. You can read the full report on our IoD.je website.

The Who

What we need next is leaders who can take our Island forward, build on these themes and put a strategy in place that ensures action and not just words. That comes back round to how I began in the first of my five articles. Ultimately, I ask you this, how can we expect to build back better, or even to progress in any form in Jersey, if we constantly denigrate those who are prepared to stand up and lead? Yes, mistakes are made, we all make them, we’re human. Yes, there are some who may not be the best fit for the roles they are undertaking, but if we continue to scatter-gun shoot anyone who is prepared to stand for election, or public office of any form, then we will make that situation far worse. The best candidates will simply not put themselves forward because why should anyone have to put up with that kind of abuse?

We have witnessed a great sense of community in Jersey since the pandemic reached our beautiful shores. My one ask is for us to all pull together as one for 2021. Yes, please continue to comment and offer your opinions, but let’s do it in a constructive way that is not driven by personal animosity, agendas and sometimes, misinformation. Our wish is to see a raft of excellent candidates step forward next year to lead our Island and stand in our elections. I hope you will support, encourage and continue to constructively challenge them.

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