Deputy Steve Falla is the Government-to-Business lead and we asked him to share his thoughts on how its going and his plans ahead.
Minding my own business
In my 2020 election manifesto I wrote: “I believe passionately in two-way communication – the States should communicate loud and clear with islanders and listen at least as much as it speaks.”
For “islanders” in the above statement, I could quite easily have substituted “businesses” because the business community should be high on the list of Deputies’ stakeholders.
How have I done so far with keeping those two-way lines of business communication open? Not quite as well as I’d hoped – maybe I’d give myself 6/10 for effort – which is one of the reasons that I was grateful to be invited to contribute to Chamber communications. There is still a little more than two years to go in this political term and it’s time I upped the ante.
My election campaign, like those of many others, drew heavily on my own business experience and I pitched myself for the Committee for Economic Development as I saw this as one way in which I could maintain potentially helpful interaction with my existing contacts in the business community and make some new connections.
The “economic development” label is something of a misnomer, with the committee’s mandate being less about initiating economic activity and more about the regulatory and promotional oversight across multiple business areas that should help create an infrastructure within which private sector economic enablers can thrive.
When the roles were allocated around the Economic Development committee table I was given government-to-business lead which I readily accepted. There was no strict definition on what this should entail, leaving me largely to create my own job description.
I should add that my political colleagues at Economic Development are also very actively engaging with sectors of business: Deputy Nick Moakes with financial services; Deputy Sasha Kazantseva Miller with the digital economy and Deputy Simon Vermeulen with tourism, retail and construction.
Carving out my role and with a large amount of my focus being on listening, I set about attending as many of the business group gatherings as possible, including those held by the Chamber of Commerce and the Guernsey branch of the Institute of Directors. Apart from many informal exchanges with individual business people, I have tried to catch up more formally with those representing Chamber, IOD and the other local business organisations. My role as a director of Guernsey Finance, again representing the Economic Development Committee, gives me a line into the financial services industry.
Another helpful initiative is the programme of visits to Guernsey businesses, organised by officers of the committee, which gives me a chance to hear about the day-to-day challenges faced by those at the coal face and also, happily, to learn more about what are often very entrepreneurial companies on the island and their largely unsung but significant successes, for example those assembling very specialist respiratory equipment which was essential during the height of the pandemic. We are in the process of drawing up a fresh calendar of such visits which will also be attended by the Lieutenant Governor, His Excellency Richard Cripwell, who is very keen to gain an understanding of what makes the island’s businesses tick.
I also took a leading role in managing the stakeholder engagement with the business community on the anti-discrimination legislation, this time representing my other committee, Employment and Social Security.
And, with Chamber’s help, I organised a few drop-ins early in the political term where anyone involved in business could book a slot for an informal meeting. That fizzled out through minimal demand from stakeholders but I remain open to finding other forms of engagement that facilitate dialogue.
I have been able to help business constituents individually and directly who have contacted me about issues that are affecting their organisations or blockers to progress that my job sometimes makes it easier to fix.
None of the above is rocket science and some of it is downright obvious but I believe it is important to be proactive.
The overnight transformation from Guernsey citizen to States member following an election does not make deputies founts of all knowledge on every given issue. Far from it. That is why it is so useful to listen, learn from and sometimes communicate on behalf of businesses who may feel remote, even unrepresented by Guernsey’s government.
Of course, I don’t believe that everyone running a business in Guernsey is sitting at their desk waiting for a phone call from a deputy. They are “busy” (just like it says on the tin). Also, there will be those who are quite happy to leave their elected representatives to get on with governing and leave business alone, with minimal engagement and intervention and that is just fine.
Consultation is sometimes viewed as a dirty word in politics, where accusations of lip-service are often made, and the term can cover a multitude of sins. But, in these days of democratised social media effective engagement should not be that difficult, yet the States, and perhaps all governments everywhere, seem to struggle to do it well. It was quite clear that one of the barriers to GST was that Policy and Resources failed to communicate adequately, to take the wider community with them.
One of the challenges is that, even having consulted, as an elected representative I will not be able to represent the views of everybody I listen to quite simply because, whether or not they align with my own personal thoughts and opinions, there will usually be contradictions depending on who one speaks to. But dialogue and engagement will always help to better inform me on any issue.
There is a vast amount of expertise within Guernsey’s business community across a wide range of areas. Collaboration is to be welcomed and should improve the decision-making and direction of travel we adopt, harnessing intellect and entrepreneurialism which the public sector cannot hope to replicate.
A few models are emerging with the Guernsey Development Agency and the Guernsey Tourism Management Board, for example, which stop short of public private partnerships but I still believe much more can be done. Not least, for Guernsey to be able to maintain and further develop its physical infrastructure in a cash-strapped environment will need creative thinking about new investment models via which business can be offered a share of the rewards in return for experienced direction, input and capital investment. It could get things done quicker too.
One of the ways in which the States does succeed in tapping into private sector experience and expertise is through having non-States members (NSMs) sitting alongside politicians on committees. They are unable to vote on agenda items but their contribution can help steer discussion and thought processes in a very constructive way. There are two NSMs on each of the committees on which I sit and their expertise has proved invaluable by providing insight and non-partisan opinion on what are often complex technical matters.
So, how can government and business work better together? Well, sometimes it will be by simply leaving each other alone to get on with what it is that we are each charged to do. But we are all islanders together in this small community that often punches above its weight and we should be collaborating and drawing on the rich seam of resources around us.
With my earlier commitment to upping my business engagement ante in mind, I would be very receptive to meeting more business constituents over the remainder of this term and I look forward to hearing from anybody who would like to talk so that I can take the opportunity to listen.