Firm Foundations?

The 2017 IoD Annual Debate certainly shook the foundations of my views on Guernsey’s infrastructure. Though air links was a hot topic, it transpired that the sky’s not the only limit for Guernsey’s infrastructure - digital connectivity and education were also scrutinised by our panelists and business representatives. Guided by moderator Alastair Stewart, I think the debate raised some valuable ideas about building a solid future for our island.

Our keynote speaker, Richard Abadie, and guest speaker, Deputy Gavin St Pier, set a forward-thinking tone for the evening with both asserting that a clear ‘blueprint’ is essential. 20 years was the proposed time-frame but Mr Abadie was quick to highlight the problems that may arise from long-term planning. Drawing on his global experience, Mr Abadie claimed that rapid technological development has major implications on both the focus and purpose of an infrastructural model. Unfortunately, despite the resemblance between Deputy St Pier’s head and a crystal ball, our deputies cannot predict the future; in the absence of fortune-telling powers, I think the States must adopt a flexible approach to cope with the growth of 3D printers, autonomous vehicles and the like. Reflecting upon the keynote speakers’ points, a wealth of local knowledge is evidently essential for developing suitable infrastructure especially for a unique island jurisdiction. However I believe that Guernsey could benefit from greater consultation with globally-experienced individuals, such as Mr Abadie, for a fresh perspective on the island’s future.

Doug Perkins’ letter in the Guernsey Press was an interesting starting point for debate. Ironically it didn’t take the chairman of an optical giant to see that the States are ‘putting obstacles in the way of businesses’; there was a strong consensus in the room that greater liaison between government and business is necessary. Deputy St Pier emphasised the importance of an ‘efficient’ and ‘effective’ government, but this exact point arose as one of the greatest concerns regarding the States’ functionality. In my view, whoever decided to assemble 40 strong-minded deputies to make Guernsey’s decisions certainly should’ve gone to Specsavers; this hefty government make-up doesn’t lend itself to ‘efficient’ or ‘effective’ decision-making which is a danger when ‘infrastructure takes longer than the political cycle’, as panellist Fiona Le Poidevin maintained. I think that considering the bigger picture is key in planning sustainable infrastructure and I believe that business can and should bring this angle to the political table.

A survey released prior to the debate revealed that 90% of the evening’s attendees deemed air links to be Guernsey’s top priority. David Falla’s sentiment that there is simply not enough traffic coming to Guernsey summarised the situation. Having spent time with Guernsey Finance this summer, it concerned me to think that their promotional work abroad is almost worthless if the logistical barrier of flights becomes too great. Therefore, I was surprised that the vast majority of the floor was against the idea of a runway extension as a solution. Instead of focusing on increasing international traffic to the island, most favoured strengthening inter-island links. Mr Stewart was particularly taken by the new company ‘Waves’; as an ‘air-taxi’ service, it is ideal for business day trips which many people agreed was a positive step for increasing business links between the islands.

Further debate highlighted that the separate topics of discussion were by no means mutually exclusive. For instance, if the island had the ‘leading digital infrastructure’ that Deputy Lyndon Trott so claimed, then perhaps flights and face-to-face conversations could be replaced by a trusty Skype call? However, a sea of amused faces in answer to the question ‘is technology sufficient on Guernsey?’ suggested otherwise. This disgruntlement was mirrored by students from Elizabeth College and the College of FE who complained that their ICT lessons had poorly prepared them for the world of work; it was interesting that an employer in the room testified that many young people are inadequately skilled in this field. It was a fantastic (if not slightly daunting) opportunity to voice my own views on our education system. Reflecting upon the employer’s concerns, I expressed that the education system should offer specialised practical pathways from an earlier age; this style of education would benefit both the employer and the student who becomes more engaged with their learning. This also supports the notion of ‘lifelong learning’ which was subsequently raised by the panel.

I feel that our moderator was greatly responsible for the evening’s success. His dynamic and charismatic delivery provided a masterclass in public speaking and I was truly fascinated by how he elicited information from the panellists. His final, and perhaps most crucial point, was money: how do we pay for Guernsey’s infrastructure? There were simply not enough hours in the evening to answer this question. However, I hope that with help from global experts, Guernsey’s businesses and perhaps even our Directors of Tomorrow, we can economically implement sustainable infrastructure to solidify the future of our island.