I do live in the real world, Mr Body

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From David Warr, chairman, Small Business Group, Jersey Chamber of Commerce.

I READ with interest Peter Body’s article (JEP, 2 September). Clearly Mr Body has something of an axe to grind with the Jersey Chamber of Commerce given that he mentions the institution five times in his article.

However, for the life of me I can’t see what his problem is. I own up to being the executive council member whom he quotes. However, I don’t recognise his statement – which was directed at some of my comments – ‘we live in the real world’ given that I’ve run my own business in Jersey for nearly 20 years now. But then it could all have been some terrible aberration, so thank you Mr Body for putting me straight.

From his comments in the article, Mr Body clearly hankers for the good old days of the 1960s and 70s, a time when the British State ran so many of those great businesses which couldn’t possibly be run better by private enterprise. British Leyland, British Rail, British Airways, British Steel and British Coal come to mind.

Now the people who worked in these venerable institutions, I’m sure, did their best, and in many cases gave up the best years of their lives but still these businesses were privatised. Why? Because taxpayers got sick and tired of continually pumping more and more money into businesses that were totally uncompetitive by any measure of economic return.

It’s interesting that MrBody should pick out the prison for special mention as an unlikely candidate for privatisation. Does Mr Body know that in the UK there are now 11 prisons run by the private sector, from HMP Altcourse to HMP Wolds? In fact, some are run by G4 Security who already operate on the Island, so maybe we’ve found that elusive ‘Fairy Godmother’ to which Mr Body refers.

I also note that like any good politician Mr Body couldn’t resist throwing his hands up in horror when nursery facilities appeared on my list. Whenever the word cut is mentioned (and by the way I never said anything about cutting services) the knee-jerk reaction we always hear is ‘well that means we’ll have to cut nurses, doctors and education spending’.

I think we now need to add ‘nursery facilities’ to that emotive list. It’s amazing how no one ever mentions privatising car parks – doesn’t quite have the same ring does it? I suggest that Mr Body’s talents are wasted in journalism and he should consider standing in the coming elections under a banner of ‘the States should run everything because they take a generous view’. Not that slick, granted, but could garner a few votes.

But there is a serious point to all of the above and that is, how do you manage the Island’s assets in the most effective and efficient way? Which areas are best run by the State, which by private enterprise and which by both?

The bus company is probably the most obvious example right now.

Although the set-up in some eyes is controversial, the principle that government helps finance rather than runs the service shows that it is possible for the public sector to work closely and effectively with the private sector to deliver a much-needed service that is both socially and commercially beneficial. If we take Mr Body’s argument, the State would be running the bus company as it takes ‘a generous view’. It doesn’t and incredibly it still works without too many complaints.

I don’t believe that there is a line in the sand which says some businesses should be run by the state and some shouldn’t. That may make a number of people feel uncomfortable; however given that we are all likely to be paying more tax in the future it’s increasingly vital that our hard-earned cash is being put to the best use for the benefit of all in our community.

Chamber House,

Pier Road,

St Helier.

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