Sunday, 30 October 2011

Party Funding: a Defective System?

There is no law or rule that requires any political party to disclose the source of any funds provided to it for any electoral or pre-electoral expenses. In my last but one blog I raised the issue of how timing electoral propaganda expenditure could

"... very adeptly sidesteps the rather archaic rule that any expenditure incurred prior to 30 days before the election does not fall to be calculated within the limits imposed on candidates by the Parliament Act. A reading of section 14(2) is also indicative that, if any expenditure is incurred on materials and services before the prescribed period, then it is not to be taken into account, even if used within the prescribed period (although this depends on the interpretation of the word "expenditure" and "incurred")."

It is also true that the only further control that exists on electoral expenditure is an absolute limit (section 14(1) Parliament Act) of £3,000 per candidate. This limit only applies during the prescribed period stated in my quote above. 

What these rules do not deal with at all is, first disclosure of who is making donations to any political party in Gibraltar. Secondly, the perception that arises that any individual or business that makes a substantial donation to a party does so in anticipation that he/she or it will receive an appropriate favour in return. In the UK there is a requirement for disclosure of any donation made to a party in the sum of £7,500 or more. Making rules to oblige disclosures in Gibraltar needs to be looked at urgently. Obviously the minimum amount that would need to be disclosed needs to be appropriately scaled down from the UK amount, in line with the limit on expenditure per candidate.

Expenditure by the GSD in an effort to get iteslf re-elected has already begun. It seems to be very lavish. Who is providing these funds to the GSD? Soon other parties, the GSLP/Liberal Alliance and the PDP, will be incurring expenditure. The public is entitled to know who is making donations to each political party to enable it to fund its election and pre-election campaign. For example, it would be very telling if the same individual or company were to be funding both major parties. It would be evidence of large favours being expected in return for the donation. There would be no other explanation for a desire to fund both main parties.

The issue of political donations to parties has been debated for years in the UK. The Committee on Standards in Public Life is now looking into it, once again. It is recognised, now, that the current system of allowing donations has to be discontinued. The only alternative is public funding. The debate is how the level of such funding can be determined? The favoured option seems to be to base funding on a per vote levy. The levy may or may not be what is introduced. Any system adopted will have its detractors but that is no reason for not finding a solution to such a palpably obvious defect in the electoral process. The same issue of finding an alternative method of party funding exists in Gibraltar. It is time that it be carefully looked at and debated with a view to resolution. Perhaps, waiting for the solution given to the problem in the UK may be wise. Waiting for the UK to resolve the election funding issue in order to follow it's example does not mean that making compulsory disclosure of donations public in Gibraltar should be delayed.

There is no doubting that putting a cap on expenditure has some small effect. A cap has always existed in Gibraltar. It does not exist in the UK at present, although one may be introduced. However, the cap does not resolve the issue of how funding affects politics nor unfair expenditure for the period immediately preceding the announcement of an election by the Chief Minister. However, what can or could influence policies and decisions is the source and level of largesse shown to a political party (especially if, as in Gibraltar, both factors remain secret), a cap on expenditure does little or nothing to prevent this but funding parties from public funds would.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Suspension of Blog During Election Campaign - CANCELLED!!

The main reason that I have concluded that it is best to suspend publication during the election campaign is that the primary purpose of this blog has been to stimulate new ideas in the political arena and also some debate. It is pleasing to me that many of the ideas put forward in this blog are now actively in debate in the political arena. Many have also been adopted as policy, primarily by the GSLP/Liberals but all the ideas published in this blog were available for all and any politician or political party to adopt. None were the exclusive domain of one party as against another. 

Publishing during the campaign will involve making partial value judgments on policy statements and policies of one or other party. This will result in acrimonious exchanges between persons who comment. I do not wish to participate in that divisive exercise. I will leave that to those politicians who are fighting the election. I will make one exception to the suspension of this blog, that is reserving my right to comment on any dirty or vicious campaigning, because Gibraltar really does not need that. If that sounds patronising, so be it

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Glossy Propaganda and Social Issues

This is the week that the GSD governing party published its booklet "Celebrating 15 years of success for Gibraltar". The timing of its publication must raise eyebrows. It is not illegal but its timing certainly smacks of sharp practice. The only person who knows with exactitude the date of the impending General Election is the Chief Minister. It is his party who makes this publication available on the eve of it being called.

Timing it in this manner very adeptly sidesteps the rather archaic rule that any expenditure incurred prior to 30 days before the election does not fall to be calculated within the limits imposed on candidates by the Parliament Act. A reading of section 14(2) is also indicative that, if any expenditure is incurred on materials and services before the prescribed period, then it is not to be taken into account, even if used within the prescribed period (although this depends on the interpretation of the word "expenditure" and "incurred"). This loophole must give the incumbent government from time to time some advantage. 

The content of the GSD booklet says much. It certainly says that an enormous amount of money has been spent on tangible assets. It boasts that "Our economy has tripled in size, the number and quality of jobs has grown very significantly, our income tax rates have fallen dramatically, standards of living and take home pay have risen sharply ... We have invested most heavily in modernising and upgrading the most important things: our health service, our care services, our education and housing". Undoubtedly an impressive past record.

However questions need to be asked as to who has made it possible government or private enterprise? It would, however, be churlish not to recognise all the progress that has been achieved by Gibraltar, whether with or without the intervention of Government. It may be that those readers with specific knowledge of each "achievement" will reveal that all that glistens is not gold. I will leave that to them. It is also true to say that elections are fought and won on policies about the future not just past performance.

I will concentrate in this blog on a specific social issue. The issue that I want to focus on is the issue of housing and its impact on unsocial behaviour. It is an area in which I have anecdotal knowledge only, from reading the English press and watching current affairs programmes on TV for the last 40 odd years. My clear recollection from these sources is that high density housing, which is the only type of housing of general availability in Gibraltar, gives rise to many a social evil. These evils include vandalism and criminality, especially (but not limited to) amongst the youth. There is much comment  in Gibraltar that unsocial behaviour is growing, certainly the Magistrates and Juvenile Courts seem to be increasingly busy.

In many parts of the UK one solution found was to demolish what has come to be known as "sink estates" and to rebuild more "user friendly" housing. In the UK this has often been found to be prohibitively expensive. In Gibraltar, expense aside, space limitations completely preclude this alternative. What I do not know (but it cannot be beyond the wit of man to discover) is what other solutions have been found in the UK where expense has precluded demolition and redevelopment? My belief is that if future governments of Gibraltar do not give this growing social problem attention but simply carry on building high density estates, the day will arrive when the problem will be beyond reasonable and affordable management.

In part some assistance in solving the issue could be found in an educational policy, that does not only encompass academic achievement, but also is empowered to teach moral and social values. Educators will also need to be armed with adequate discipline and disciplinary powers. The carrot alone is not enough, however, there must be a stick and that stick is already sorely missing.

I refer to the need to provide a facility to which the courts can refer juveniles and children for corrective therapy. I am being overly polite, what is needed is an appropriate "boot camp" to send offenders to, so that they can have education and discipline instilled in them. Many suggest the reintroduction of compulsory military service. This is neither permitted nor feasible. It also affects and imposes upon youngsters who are positive and beneficial members of society without need, rhyme or reason.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Pre-Election Party Posturing ... Where Might it Go?

In this blog, I will review what each party has said so far on the eve of an announcement of the General Election. The future looks bleak for the GSD according to Opinion Polls but the GSD has not yet been defeated at the ballot box. Many commentators on this blog and word on the street is such that the GSD is not being seen as a potential winner at the forthcoming election. Most polls support this view. It would be foolish, however, to discard the GSD so early on.

PRC is a wily, cunning, intelligent individual and a politician with experience. The GSD will run an aggressive election campaign aimed at having a ruthless effect. All the signs of this are there, just read the 7 Days if you doubt that. The GSD has the advantage of an electorate that is conservative in its voting habits. The GSD has the advantage of having been in power 16 years and having spent our money generously. 

The GSD has made at least one massive political error: it has left itself open to be crticised for that which it criticised the GSLP in 1996, namely, lack of open, transparent and democratic government. The other two parties, the GSLP/liberals and the PDP have piled in to fill this void. The GSD has no answer. The GSD has made a second massive error: to beleive that by last minute profligacy with our money it will redress its electoral deficit. I believe that voters in Gibraltar are not so gullible: many see it as a final ego trip for the CM. Let us see what alternatives are on offer from the other parties before returning to the GSD "offering".

The PDP have been at the forefront of preaching reforms that would lead to greater democracy since its inception. In fact long before that, because Keith Azopardi was a GSD Minister. He is the person in the 1996 GSD manifesto who was advocating democratic reforms. Also Nick Cruz was a member of the GSD Executive before the schism. It seems neither was able to deliver on the democratisation front but an analysis of the reasons for the schism may provide a clue. They disagreed with the opportunism of an absorption of the Gibraltar Labour Party and the lack of democratic processes for leadership change within the GSD.

The PDP has indicated its five key pledges for the forthcoming election:
  • A new style of politics- accountable, inclusive, responsive and constructive;
  • Lower personal tax and better economic management;
  • Better opportunities for young people;
  • Better quality of life for all and sustainable use of our environment;
  • Better public services.
All very laudable sound-bytes. We now need the PDP's manifesto to understand and assess how it intends to achieve these pledgesm and what the detail of these is. They are achievable with strict and proper prioritisation. What I believe in and commend the PDP for is playing the longer game rather than the short game that was played by the Gibraltar Labour Party. If the GSD were to lose the forthcoming election, then the PDP would be perfectly poised to become the second party in politics in Gibraltar for the next but one election. It is difficult to see the GSD surviving an election defeat: it simply is not a party in the sense of the word as I understand it.

Preparation for the forthcoming General election by the GSLP/Liberals has been more precise, specific and focused than the general pledges of the PDP. The first move was to amicably replace Joe Bosanno by Fabian Picardo as leader of the party. The second move has been the reinforcement of that change of personality with a marked change of politics and attitude. This change is best summarised by quoting Fabian Picardo from the GSLP/Liberal press release "Democratic and Political Reforms" of the 1st September 2011:

"Democracy is principally about the people and not just about politicians hence it is vital that every person who has a view is heard, not just the GSD government and the political parties ... we [GSLP/Liberals] have to  ask what parliament should be, what it presently is and what it should be in the 21st Century, democracy governed by the rule of law and a commitment to openness and devolving government to the people. ... in a true democracy a Parliament is is the voice of the people ... [and] about holding government ... to account ...

These are words backed up by specific policy announcements:
  • immediate monthly meetings of Parliament;
  • dedication of funds to Parliament;
  • full time Speaker with a Deputy Speaker and adequate staffing;
  • independent website to broadcast meetings of Parliament;
  • personal emails for all MPs for direct access by constituents;
  • better public, media, staff and MP facilities;
  • the appointment of an Independent Commission on Democratic and Political Reform to report on ALL aspects of the electoral and parliamentary system.
In addition the GSLP/Liberals have made the following policy announcements:
  • a Ministerial Code;
  • a Freedom of Information Act;
  • a 20 year rule for publication of "secret" papers;
  • a Whistleblowers' Protection Act;
  • greater access to Civil Servants by the public; 
  • a Citizens' Charter for Responsive Government;
  • reform of the planning system with true and greater public participation;
  • support for the call for a Financial Services Ombudsman;
  • a stand alone anti-bribery and anti-corruption law.
Impressive stuff from both parties opposing the GSD at the forthcoming election but what is the response of the GSD to date? Well it is certainly not any indication of a change in Leadership. Why would that be important? I leave aside the issue of personality, as each person will have his/her own opinion on that subject. Lack of change of the leader of the GSD is an important consideration because the failure of the GSD to change the style of government to date, by introducing more democracy, transparency and openness, must rest fairly and squarely on the shoulders of the GSD's leader. 

Why should anyone believe that the GSD will make any change on democratic reforms under his leadership, when for 16 years the GSD has reneged on its promise? In fact we know already that it will not. The GSD has forced a Motion through Parliament setting out its parliamentary and democratic reform agenda. This programme, outlined in the Motion, not only fails to deliver much of what is desired but, as an additional criticism, most of what it covers has been in the power of the CM to implement without legislative change throughout his term of office. Why should anyone believe that he will now deliver on any of it? Harsh criticism? Perhaps but, think about it, is it valid and deserved?

So what are the pre-election signs for the GSD so far:
  • rush to provide public toilets;
  • rush to provide playgrounds;
  • rush to provide more parking;
  • rush to to finish the Mid-Harbour Housing Project;
  • rush to finish the air terminal;
  • failure with airport tunnel/ring road.
The question on many people's lips is: how much is all the above costing us, the taxpayer?

What else does the GSD offer to date:
  • reminders of long past pre-1996 events as a reason to keep the GSD in government;
  • personal attacks on Fabian Picardo, not least in the 7 Days Newspaper;
  • Motions in Parliament against Fabian Picardo are ruled out of order as containing "unparliamentary" language, which exemplified the GSD's undemocratic attitude to politics ;
  • boast after boast about what has been 'achieved' in the past at the cost of taxpayers;
  • a trilateral process that is no longer working;
  • questions about the propriety of the last minute application of taxpayers' money to enhance electoral chances;
  • no future policies.
What is the GSD byline for the coming election? "Gibraltar has never been better - keep trusting". Certainly the money that has gone into the coffers of government and more that has been borrowed has been spent with great alacrity. You will need to decide whether it has been spent applying the appropriate priorities. "keep trusting" ... well we would have to in the absence of democratic, parliamentary and electoral reforms, wouldn't we?

What is the GSLP/Liberals byline for the coming election? "Vote for Change". I agree with the GSD that change for the sake of change is not a good reason to change a government but that is to miss the point. The point is that if what is promised is policies that are good and with which voters agree, then it is change for a better alternative. Well look at what the GSLP/Liberals has promised already, in that alone it is highlighting issues promised by PRC's GSD and not delivered by it. Look at the manifesto when it is published. Then and only then decide whether it is change for the sake of change or change for the better.

What is the PDP byline for the coming election? "The Real Change". Well, I repeat everything that I have said about change in the previous paragraph. My problem is that it is little change in fact. It is a reversion to what the GSD should have done but did not do. This does not reflect well on those members of the PDP who were Ministers or members of the executive of the GSD: they all failed to change anything on the inside of the GSD. They need to persuade voters that they have the strength that they lacked on the inside to change things from outside of the GSD. It is a party that will initially attract disaffected GSD voters who do not want to shift across to the GSLP/Liberals. It is a party that may prosper, as I have already suggested, if it plays the long game. It has indicated that it will by discarding the possibility of a pre-election merger with the GSD.

Well the election has not been announced yet but the battle lines are being drawn. There will be a lot more to go on to decide who to vote for once the manifestos are published and each party's candidates are announced, but already there is enough to start making one's mind up. Elections are about the future not the past. What has been done in the past can be the subject of praise or criticism but voters already have the benefit or harm of what has been done or not done that should have been done. I know the GSD are not often amenable to advice but my advice to them is: come up with new policies because boasting about the past will not win you the election. Coming up with new policies under the same leader is a difficult, if not an impossible call, but the GSD may succeed in achieving it.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

The Polls: What do I Think they Mean?

The most interesting aspect of the recent GBC/Chronic opinion poll is, not so much that it predicts a GSLP/Liberal win, but the poll related to issues that people consider important. This merits some thought and discussion, both in regard to the general replies and the specific replies on a party allegiance basis. In this blog I make first observations on what people consider to be the important issues and then on the poll that predicts the possible election results.

It is a salient feature, in light of anecdotal historical evidence, that "relations with Spain" comes fourth in importance after "style of government" (first), "employment" (second) and "health" (third). What this does not make clear is whether it means that people want a continued dialogue with Spain on the basis of the trilateral talks or the other end of the scale, namely, a wish to continue a rejection of any rapprochement with Spain. In that sense it is a meaningless statement. The only hint that there may be a desire for rapprochement with Spain is that GSD supporters place this issue third, after "style of government" (first) and "employment" (second). This is indicative of support by GSD supporters for the trilateral process pursued by the GSD, whereas GSLP/Liberal supporters do not include this option in their three top priorities.

The most important revelation in my mind is that "style of government" comes first in importance by a full 2% differential. Again "style of government" is not a very precisely defined issue but it is precise enough to gather that there is general disappointment in the manner in which we are governed. This is a major criticism of the GSD administration. In 1996 it promised more open, transparent and democratic government. This result shows that people consider that it has failed to deliver on this promise. Undoubtedly the prior GSLP administration also failed miserably, in my view much much more miserably, but that is no consolation for those of us, me very pointedly, who expected a change in this regard. That change is now promised by the GSLP/Alliance. What is significant is that GSD supporters put "style of government" as the most important issue; that is also an indictment. I would suggest that this is one important reason for some defection of support from the GSD. The GSD now persist on offering too little too late. Perhaps, it should rethink on this issue before the election, if it is to offer the electorate any hope of real change.

I could go on about the poll that classified issues in order of importance in the opinion of voters but it is also worth putting some aspects of the poll on election results in perspective. I cannot agree with the CM's argument that the methodology used to undertake the poll on the election result is flawed. 
  • First, it reproduces the accurate views of those asked their opinions: that cannot be flawed. 
  • Second, it asked a sample of 3% of the electorate: that is a huge percentage compared to the sample used e.g. in the UK. 
  • Third, it is as flawed or as little flawed as the Chronic poll that had the GSD ahead (well received by the GSD) shortly after a Chronic poll that gave the GSLP/Liberals a lead. 
  • Fourth, the Panorama poll has the GSLP/Liberals ahead as have several other polls including the Vox poll: one might be flawed (the Chronic one putting the GSD ahead, which is the odd one out of 4, perhaps?) statistically it is unlikely that the majority will be flawed. 
  • Fifth, it cannot be as flawed as the anecdotal evidence that the CM uses to support his comment that "We don't believe the poll accurately reflects the feedback that we get at all levels of the community": perhaps it is they who are seeking the views of sycophants. 
  • Sixth, the CM never comments on polls, he has this time: a sign of concern, perhaps? 
  • Seventh, the CM's criticism that a 12 point lead (or 16 point lead depending on what figures are taken into account) is not a good result for the GSLP/Liberals is clutching at straws: that size of lead for an opposition party in the UK is unheard of. A 2 to 3 point lead is the usual margin of error. Even if there is an unheard  of 50% margin of error (in statistics), namely 6 to 8 points the GSLP/Liberals would be ahead.
  • Eighth, arguing, as the CM does, that change has to be for the better is to argue a truism. Another truism is that to vote for stagnation is also not an option, so the GSD had better come up with new ideas. It cannot just promise, again, to do fundamental things that it has failed to do in 16 years. It cannot rely on boasts of what it has done. I think that the GSD has a more difficult task to convince voters that it should remain in power than any other party has to demonstrate beyond doubt that change will be good, which is the challenge made to other parties by the CM. This is one thing that comes through on an analysis of the poll on issues.
  • Ninth, to make the comparison of the past in terms of what 16 years of GSD government has meant compared to the pre-1996 GSLP administration is negative, stagnant  and stale politics. Everything has moved on but one problem for the GSD is that debating anything else might be to highlight what it promised to do and has not done.
What all recent polls on the election results show is a clear trend. A trend that favours the GSLP/Liberals and should worry the GSD. I can agree with the CM on one observation that "We [the GSD] believe that it's all to play for" but the GSD are not the favourites to win right now. That the GSD is reacting is palpable. Belatedly it has discovered the power of the internet in politics. I am glad to have been a pioneer of politics in this medium by writing this blog. A pioneer in the use of the internet in Gibraltar for the expression of opinion by the public. A pioneer in breaking the hold that exists in Gibraltar of the rather staid press. 

A pioneer also in making my views so openly and widely known without fear but, unfortunately, with personal repercussions to me. I believe that these consequences are to the shame of the Government and the FSC; to the FSC because of it's biased retrospective rules on political involvement developed following receipt of a letter from the CM that has been kept secret. These are crafted to avoid repercussions to other local members but to capture my blog. For those who are interested, weeks ago I provided to the FSC a 5 page critique of those rules. This week, I received the FSC's reply which informed me that the FSC had decided not to change it's rules and that accordingly it was not necessary for the FSC to comment on my criticisms at all. I have replied to the effect that I understand the FSC's inability to justify its decision. I used the word inability advisedly meaning that it is unable to provide a coherent explanation. I now publicly invite them to do so.

It is my belief that the now widely used and accessed political sites and pages on the internet dedicated to political comment and debate has had a marked and positive effect on policies that will be pursued by political parties, a fact admitted by the CM as being beneficial. It will also ensure that parties promise what they can deliver and no more and that they will deliver to us what they promise in their manifestos. Irrespective of reforms to Parliament and the electoral system politics in Gibraltar have already been revolutionised in this manner. This statement is not an excuse not to undertake meaningful and not superficial reforms. Internet punishment will follow if reforms are not effected. I am glad to have been one small cog in this small revolution. The CM has admitted that he and the GSD are now reacting to it.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

The Politics of Economic Success and Social Conscience

On several occasions I have written about the need to help the needy and disadvantaged. I have referred to prioritising expenditure accordingly and thinking hard before spending on luxuries. The basis of my belief is that in a wealthy society like Gibraltar, and we are constantly reminded that our economy is buoyant by the GSD Government and the Chief Minister, we should be able to devise a social care system that is accurately aimed and pinpointed at resolving specific problems faced by specific persons and families. Social deprivation should be capable of being eliminated in situations where there is no substance abuse. 

On the substance abuse front credit must go to the GSD Government, specifically at a political level to Hubert Corby, for funding much needed facilities. Also to all those who are involved in helping those who suffer from addictions. I do not wish to concentrate on this problem, although it may well be that more needs to be done. I am, also, in writing this piece not being party political or critical of any party. My intent, based on my limited anecdotal knowledge, which I admit to immediately, is to try and offer constructive ideas, stimulate debate, bring the issue to the fore and hope that adequate solutions and measures can be found by those who are so much more knowledgeable than me on the subject.

There is, however, one factor that needs to be understood, it is that without a successful and growing economy, money is not available to dedicate to the less advantaged or for necessities. In my last blog, I identified the various "natural advantages" that Gibraltar has and can exploit to increase the wealth of our society. In order to ensure the success of those sectors of our economy, there is a need to encourage the availability of certain facilities. Two of these are luxury housing and office space. It is easy to criticise any government for getting the mix wrong. or supposedly wrong, but without such investment there would be a reduced ability to provide affordable or rental housing, health services, social care services etc. etc. It is the provision of certain physical facilities that allows our economy to grow.

Another essential element is to provide adequate and properly trained human resources in the public service. Adequate training comes with education and knowledge but also with experience. It also requires a helpful and positive attitude. A major government expenditure is the public service, in which there is much room for improvement. Unfortunately, despite the massive effort made by some public servants in certain sectors, it has to be said that the overall impression that this service gives is one of overburdening, unhelpful and reluctant bureaucracy. 

Leaving aside that savings and therefore better prioritisation of resources could be achieved, an improved service will help to stimulate and accelerate economic activity. A service improved by more and better knowledge and specialisation and also by the public sector giving a better and more helpful impression. It can easily do so by providing a speedy cheerful service. Remember most of what the public service does is to administer entitlements (as opposed to discretionary privileges) that people have in law, so much can be achieved by a change of attitude that assimilating this fact would bring about.

The public service is largely paid for by the private sector. The more activity that is permitted in the private sector the more wealth that will be available for distribution. This wealth can them be applied for the benefit of the wider community and more importantly the needy and disadvantaged. This alone is not enough. It is in the application of the money that decisions are taken by governments. My belief is that in the longer term education and employment are central to reducing the call on social services. In the interim the need is to have a very focused social care system, in which I include any payments or rent reliefs given to individuals and families.

I cannot believe that it is beyond the wit of persons engaged in helping the needy and disadvantaged within society to individualise the social care system in Gibraltar keeping 2 aims in mind. First the relief of poverty and hardship. Second to reduce the call on public moneys by preparing these same people for and finding them employment. Giving people money is the first stage only. That is "nanny state" stuff, which is a necessity but cannot be the end objective.

Gibraltar employs thousands of non-Gibraltarians, so it cannot be impossible to find all Gibraltarians jobs. Please let us not get into the EU freedoms debate again. That is not where I am going. I do not agree with giving preferences, what I agree with is not to encourage the choosy job culture that exists amongst many in Gibraltar. There is no shame in working at any job. It is worse not to work. Any individualised system of "hand outs" has to have safeguards and restrictions. These should be aimed at encouraging the taking up of employment by, aside from providing help, the punishment, by partial disentitlement, of those who refuse to work for no discernible good reason.

It is this point that brings me round to education as the longer term road to reducing the call on social services. I notice that from a political viewpoint education seems to concentrate on statistics: statistics that revolve around exam passes and grades. The education system seems to be directed at academic results. Undoubtedly academic prowess is the primary and most important objective but not, as seems to happen today, to the exclusion of a broader educational experience.

That wider experience should include the moulding of social skills and the encouragement of aspirations tempered by individual ability, then complemented by appropraite training. The teaching of what one's duties and responsibility to society are and of discipline. Yes many an educationalist will say that this is all the responsibility of parents. I agree, primarily it is, but it is also the duty of society to fill in the gaps left by how this is done in any particular home.

I realise that there may be a great deal of idealism in what I write but, absent initial idealism, usually a practical solution to a problem will not be found. It is likely that I will be criticised by both social care and education professionals for what I argue. I hope that I will be; it will mean that a debate will kick off. Then, just perhaps, our politicians will be helped to put together a specific solution to a specific problem in a small jurisdiction that fortunately has the wherewithal to do so, namely a buoyant economy.