A Turning Point
Passing unnoticed last year was the 25th anniversary of an event that had a truly lasting impact on the finance industry in Jersey.
This was the publication of the Edwards Report into the Crown Dependencies by the UK Government in November 1998.
At the time, there was no government communications unit in place and no Jersey Finance either, to handle the response to this comprehensive assessment of the Crown Dependencies’ regulatory capabilities.
I recall sitting around a table with representatives from the Jersey Bankers Association, the Jersey Funds Association and the Jersey Finance Industry Association (JFIA) agreeing how we should react to the findings. The JFIA had been established by the industry to more effectively communicate with government and the regulator but it was soon drawn into responding to issues detrimental to the industry which surfaced regularly in the national media at this time.
And the big one was the potential findings of the Edwards Review, conducted by Andrew Edwards, a former HM Treasury official. His remit was to examine the quality of regulation and make recommendations for improvements, prompted by consistent but ill-founded accusations of tax evasion and a lack of transparency.
Once published, those of us round the table had to be quick to formulate a media response and arrange to issue it to national, trade and local media, through Crystal’s network of media contacts. Fortunately, there was much in the report that was positive about the current standards of regulation in Jersey and we were largely successful in conveying a positive message about the industry and in responding effectively to this Report.
Ironically enough, Edwards produced one particular recommendation which had a lasting impact on Jersey’s approach to PR. He considered it inappropriate that the regulator should also have responsibility for promoting the industry and so Edwards was a catalyst both for the formation of Jersey Finance in 2001 and no doubt added to a growing consensus that government needed to recruit its own professionals to handle communications.
The idea of ‘keeping our head below the parapet’ which had been a feature of the thinking in the 80s and 90s was not going to cut it as the spotlight was increasingly turned on the offshore jurisdictions by governments and pressure groups. The commissioning of the Edwards Review by the Home Office served to highlight how little Jersey had invested in communicating the value of the industry to the wider world. It would prove important for Jersey to be better equipped to defend the reputation of its finance industry in the years that followed because pressure for regulatory reform continued to emerge, especially from left wing politicians and pressure groups, the EU and later the OECD. Responding to Edwards demonstrated it could be done effectively.
25 years on and we still have national media reports demanding that the Crown Dependencies are more transparent but now at least we have the mechanisms in place to swiftly counter any misrepresentation, to point to actions the Jersey authorities have taken over the decades to remain at the forefront of international standards and to the extensive research undertaken, not least by Jersey Finance, to show its value to the global economy. The Edwards Report was a turning point largely forgotten today.