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Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Why the government is responsible for our high food prices

So today it is time to look back at one of my favourite subjects, the Public Markets, founded on its current site in 1804 and left more or less untouched since it was rebuilt in 1884. It is now 2014 so our ancestors 130 years ago built something which has stood the test of time and weathered everything that has happened in our island in all that time. The Public Markets Law and Regulations are available on the Jersey Law website. 
Article 3 of the Law states 
"The States of Jersey have the right to make regulations for the order, policing and maintenance [of the Markets], and may, as in the past, rent shops, stalls and floorspace in order to meet the expenses of the administration and maintenance of markets.

States are also authorized to establish regulations for the control and maintenance of Public Abattoirs, and to regulate the flow of meat, both within and outside [the] markets.  
Regulations emanating under this Article shall remain in force until repealed or modified."
Expressio Unius Est Exclusio Alterius means that because they list administration and maintenance they can only use the proceeds of the rents for those purposes and no other.

There is a simple beauty in this law, it is far more simple than modern laws and yet is far more all-encompassing. It states what is to be done and how it is to be paid for. Modern laws separate the act of collecting money from the act of spending money.

Article 2 of the Regulations states
"2 Inspector of Markets 
(1) The Minister shall appoint an Inspector of the Markets (hereinafter referred to as the “Inspector”) to superintend the general administration of the Markets, and to perform such other duties as are imposed upon the Inspector by these Regulations, and such appointment shall be on such conditions as the Minister may determine.
Provided that the Inspector of the Markets in office at the time of the coming into force of these Regulations shall be deemed to have been appointed to that office by virtue of these Regulations. 
(2) The Inspector shall, upon appointment, take oath before the Royal Court well and faithfully to discharge the duties of the Inspector’s office."
So the legal position is quite clear, but in order to overcome the limit to the authority of the government included within the law they have simply increased the cost of administration and maintenance beyond that which is indicated as demonstrated by the following diagram.


So the rents charged are used to pay for (in whole or in part) the wages of five unnecessary managers/supervisors, significantly increasing the cost of the rents on the Public Markets beyond that which was intended by the Law.

You may consider that the Inspector of Markets needs such supervision, but I would contend that he is supervised sufficiently already by the 47 Members of the Public who are the leaseholders of the stalls, shops and floorspace in the market.

The regulations stipulate that the Inspector must prepare accounts annually, in a similar manner to the Parishes of the Island, the 47 small businessmen with a vested interest in the efficient administration of the Markets as well as the individual experience and business know how will offer a far more effective and far cheaper method of oversight than anything paid Public Servants can provide. Just as our Parishes are more efficient than our government thanks to the oversight of parishioners, albeit largely on an annual basis, the same would be true for the Public Markets.

If States Members were genuinely concerned about the price of food, then they would be examining ways in which to bring down the cost of providing that service, instead they are increasing the cost of the service with unnecessary government.