An interview with Senator John Le Fondré, Chief Minister of Jersey
The coronavirus pandemic has presented a huge challenge both to public health and the global economy, and governments across the world have worked to mitigate its impact, protecting lives and livelihoods. As an island jurisdiction, Jersey has been faced with unique challenges and opportunities in dealing with the pandemic. The island has implemented a thorough border testing regime and secured its supply chains and the Government of Jersey has mobilised an unprecedented level of financial support to protect local businesses.
Senator John Le Fondré, the Chief Minister of Jersey, caught up with The European to explain how the island has supported businesses and its plans for the future.
What support has the government provided to businesses and what are your plans and priorities?
Senator John Le Fondré: The Government of Jersey has delivered an unprecedented level of assistance to our local economy during the crisis, with the largest business support package in our island’s history.
Our initial measures to assist local businesses were announced within 24 hours of the categorisation of Covid-19 as a pandemic by the WHO. This included the deferral of GST payments (Jersey’s local sales tax), the deferral of social security contributions and, in many cases, the deferral of rent payments in properties where the government acts as landlord. Less than a week later, on 18 March, we announced a £180m package of business support. At the end of March, a further £100m was committed in the form of a payroll co-funding scheme which ranks amongst the most comprehensive in the world. Through this scheme the government agreed to fund 80% of the wages of Jersey employees up to a maximum payment of £1600 a month.
As our lockdown measures have been eased, the government has initiated a coordinated and phased approach to recovery. The first stages of which have already begun and include:
- A universal voucher scheme providing £100 for each islander to spend in our local economy.
- Enhanced income support payments to assist the most vulnerable in our community.
- A proposal to reduce employee social security contributions – effectively translating into a 2% pay-rise for local workers.
Looking ahead to the end of the year, the government will be launching a comprehensive series of measures to support our island’s recovery efforts. In planning these stimulus efforts, the government has engaged with local businesses and employees, and utilised local expertise within Jersey through the newly formed Economic Council. This will be a significant challenge, however, we are confident that with the right support our economy will remain strong and local jobs will be protected.
How has Jersey’s government utilised the island’s digital infrastructure to help during this challenging period?
Jersey is fortunate to possess excellent digital infrastructure with 100% of premises connected to our world-class fibre network. Earlier this year our broadband speeds were rated as the fastest in Europe and the third fastest globally.
As readers will appreciate, the pandemic has compelled businesses to increasingly rely on virtual meetings, many employees have worked from home and children have engaged in distance learning.
To facilitate this, the government worked with Digital Jersey and telecom operators to upgrade the fibre connectivity of all islanders for free. This ensured that all fibre broadband users benefit from 1GB symmetrical speeds whilst tariffs paid by subscribers have not changed.
A separate initiative by the government, Digital Jersey, and all four of the island’s telecoms companies was launched in April. This project offers a free broadband connection to households with school children or to those leaving care. Laptops were also provided to children who did not possess devices at home to ensure that every pupil was given the opportunity to continue learning from home.
Alongside more conventional forms of engagement, the government has utilised mass SMS messaging to communicate updates to islanders directly. With the island’s borders now reopening in line with our safe travel policy, text updates are being utilised to communicate with passengers who are tested on arrival as they await their results.
Finally, our parliament, Les États d’Jerri (the States of Jersey) became the first in the Commonwealth to move its sittings entirely online thanks to the work of our Greffier staff and digital teams.
What is your message to companies considering Jersey as their corporate base?
Going forward, Jersey’s attractiveness as a place to do business remains strong. Indeed, many of our established USPs have been further evidenced throughout the experience of Covid-19.
Our special constitutional position gives us the legal flexibility to write our own laws and adopt best practices from other jurisdictions. Jersey maintains its international links through a number of bilateral agreements and overseas offices in the EU, France and the UK. During Covid-19 we have been able to monitor developments in other jurisdictions through our well-established communication channels, enabling us to adapt our own measures as new evidence arises. This has included regular communication with governments across Europe, especially the UK and France, as well as Guernsey and the Isle of Man. Our international position has given us the flexibility to rely not only on the NHS supply chain, but also to build our own through existing ties with friends and partners overseas.
Jersey has an outward-facing economy with a long tradition of trading in high-quality goods and services with customers from around the world. Historically, our strong position as a leading international financial centre, and one of the best regulated jurisdictions in the world, has meant that Jersey serves as a conduit for global business flows and acts as a facilitator for FDI. Jersey will therefore be well placed to assist in the recovery of other nations as the world emerges from this pandemic.
Finally, throughout this crisis Jersey’s government has proved its commitment to local businesses. Mobilising an unprecedented level of financial capital to support companies and maintaining close engagement with all sectors of our local economy. Following the Covid-19 pandemic, as the world rebuilds, Jersey is well placed to embrace the opportunities that will be presented.