‘MISLEADING’ government comments about efforts to combat supply-chain and resilience issues following a winter of empty shop shelves have led to a call for ‘immediate’ engagement with industry heads from the Chamber of Commerce.
Daphne East, chair of the organisation’s retail and supply committee, spoke after Brigadier Nigel Hall – who has experience of major crises during his career with the British Army, NATO, and the United Nations – raised concerns over Jersey’s ‘chronic resilience vulnerabilities’, citing food and energy security as some of the most acute problems.
The government has said the matter of resilience is taken very seriously and, in a recent written response to a States question from St Brelade Constable Mike Jackson, Chief Minister Kristina Moore stated ‘close dialogue’ was being maintained with the logistical, retail and wholesale sectors.
Mr Jackson’s question – about the Island’s access to food and medical supplies – came in the wake of continuous weather disruption, which impacted upon the Island’s freight shipments and left shelves bare on several occasions.
However, Ms East said there had been little or no engagement with industry leaders ‘who are surely key stakeholders in this situation’ and branded the government’s comments as ‘misleading’.
In an opinion column written for the JEP, Mr Hall said that the government had yet to take any action to improve food and energy resilience, arguing that one of the ‘quick and relatively cheap’ mitigation measures available was to increase food supplies held in Jersey.
Currently, local stocks typically vary between two and 21 days for food stored at room temperature and three to 21 days for frozen food.
Ms East said: ‘The retail committee agree with some of Mr Hall’s points of view regarding his concerns that government have not been taking the Island’s vulnerability seriously enough.
‘There has been little, or in some circumstances, no engagement or discussion, with industry leaders across retail and logistics who are surely key stakeholders in this situation. It is these Chamber of Commerce groups at the frontline that should be engaged with – government and industry need to think outside the box as global warming and disruptive weather patterns will only continue.’
She added: ‘Retail and logistics providers work closely to ensure shelves are filled and there is a reasonable back stock of long-life and frozen food products.’
After the JEP asked for a response to Ms East’s comments, the government announced that it had asked two highly experienced ‘resilience experts’ to develop proposals for a new civil contingencies law.
Bruce Mann and Kathy Settle – who previously led the Civil Contingencies Secretariat in the UK Government’s Cabinet Office as director and deputy director – will also deliver a report on the Island’s current civil contingencies arrangements.
The government has said the study will take place from January to June 2023 and involve engagement with various stakeholders.
One of Mr Hall’s criticisms was that Jersey has failed to prepare for the possibility of a major international crisis – and could face ‘dire consequences’ as a result.
In a letter to the government’s chief of staff, Catherine Madden, Public Accounts Committee chair Deputy Lyndsay Feltham has asked for a confidential update on the measures in place to safeguard the Island.
‘Whilst the committee is aware that this is the opinion of one individual [Mr Hall], it does raise points which the committee has previously discussed in relation to the overall risk management approach adopted by the Government of Jersey,’ Deputy Feltham wrote.
Infrastructure Minister Tom Binet said: ‘The government is currently doing a lot of work on resilience – every element is being analysed.’
Addressing Mr Hall’s comments, he added: ‘I’m hopeful that in very short order there will be a meeting of minds so that the good work that government is doing will be complemented by Nigel’s considerable experience.’
Ms East said: ‘Both government and service providers need to engage immediately with the key stakeholders (both in retail but primarily in supply-chain and logistics) in an open and realistic manner, to work through the major concerns that have been identified which are critical to the Island’s way of life.’