E-petitions are a means by which Islanders can seek action from either the States Assembly or the Government of Jersey. When an e-petition attracts 1,000 signatures, the relevant Minister needs to provide a written response. If an e-petition attracts 5,000 signatures, the Assembly is obliged to consider whether to have an in-committee debate about the e-petition. This briefing summarises e-petition activity and trends in 2020.
Over the course of 2020, 323 e-petitions were created by Islanders using the E-petitions tool on the States Assembly website. Each e-petition created needs to go through a process of sponsorship and moderation before it can be made live for collecting signatures. Following this process, 120 e-petitions were made live online for signature collection in 2020. Of the 120 that collected signatures during the year, there were 28 e-petitions that gained 1,000 or more signatures, and 3 that passed the 5,000 signature mark. One e-petition was debated by the States Assembly.
How e-petitions are created:
Only Jersey residents over the age of 16 can create or sign a e-petition. Once an e-petition has been created on the
Petitions website, the e-petitioner needs to find 5 people to sponsor their e-petition. When the e-petition has been sponsored by 5 people, the e-petition is then flagged for moderation by States Greffe staff who ensure that it meets the
standards for e-petitions. Many e-petitions do not receive the necessary sponsorship to trigger the moderation process. E-petitions are made available to the public for signing on the Petitions website once they have been approved.
E-petitions that do not meet the standards are rejected, and the e-petitioner is advised of the reason for rejection. The most common reason for rejecting an e-petition in 2020 was where a new e-petition was duplicating the topic of another e-petition that was already open.
The top three e-petitions in 2020:
The e-petition with the highest signature count was
'Put Jersey on a lockdown during the Coronavirus outbreak', which reached the 5,000 signature mark within a month of opening, and closed with 6,048 signatures. This e-petition received a response from the Chief Minister, but was not debated by the States Assembly because the Island had already entered a period of lockdown to slow the spread of Covid-19.
The second highest number of signatures was for an e-petition calling for
emergency support for self-employed businesses affected by the pandemic. 5,876 signatures were collected, but again, there was no debate because Ministers had already implemented a business support package that included self-employed workers.
The third most signed e-petition created in 2020 was
'Write off income tax liability for prior year if moved to current year basis'. It opened for signing on 3rd August 2020. Within 10 hours of opening 1,000 signatures were collected, and in less than a week it had gathered 5,000 signatures. Having quickly met both thresholds for ministerial response and States debate, a ministerial response was published on 26th August 2020, which clearly noted that the Minister for Treasury and Resources did not support the petition. It was subsequently the subject of an in-committee debate on 21st October 2020, in which the Minister for Treasury and Resources and 11 other States Members participated. While Members appreciated that many would want to sign a petition to write off income tax liability, they were generally unsupportive of the petition.
In a subsequent States debate of the tax proposals that had prompted the creation of the petition, the Assembly considered draft options for tax reform that the Minister for Treasury and Resources lodged in response to a public consultation. The report accompanying the
Draft Income Tax (Amendment No. 46) (Jersey) Law 202- acknowledged the need to accelerate work to move all taxpayers to a current year basis in part due to the Government's post-pandemic fiscal stimulus measures, but also in response to the e-petition. These new options were described in a local media
article as a "climb-down" from original proposals, and stated that the e-petition "caused the department to change its position". In this instance, it is evident that an e-petition had some influence on Government action.
A list of the top ten e-petitions opened in 2020, ranked by signature count:
Put Jersey on a lockdown during the Coronavirus outbreak
Emergency support for self employed business affected by coronavirus epidemic
Write off income tax liability for prior year if moved to current year basis
Keep gyms open and enforce masks and 2-metre distancing for extra protection
Break up from school a week earlier
Legalize, Decriminalize and regulate Cannabis for Islanders
Reverse the decision to spend £200,000 on the child abuse memorial
Stop the de minimis level being reduced from £240 to £135
Follow Scotland and make period products free for all
Reconsider the childcare memorial
Note that the above list is based on petitions data downloaded on 12th April 2021, and signature counts for any petitions still open may have increased. For a snapshot of the current "top ten" petitions, including those opened since the start of 2021, see the Open Petitions page.
E-petition topic trends in 2020:
Over the course of the year, Islanders were motivated to create e-petitions on a variety of topics or issues, but issues relating to the Covid-19 pandemic dominated. Other topics that appeared multiple times during the year included: Black Lives Matter; taxation; the new hospital; and road safety. An overview of the top e-petition topics is covered in the chart below:
When measuring the overall popularity of petition topics it is helpful to look at all e-petitions created on the Petitions website (i.e. including any that were rejected or did not achieve sufficient sponsorship to be moderated). It takes more effort to create an e-petition than it does to sign one, and so when particular issues are the subject of duplicate petitions, this may give some additional insight into what matters to Islanders.
Sometimes topics receive several similar or duplicate petitions, which ultimately means that the duplicates will not make it through the moderation process. A prime example of this occurred in the summer, when Black Lives Matter activities, together with an increased public awareness of Jersey's historical links to the slave trade meant that when 6 e-petitions were submitted calling for the removal of a statue of George de Carteret, 5 had to be rejected. In the instance of duplicate e-petitions, the petitioner will be advised that theirs cannot proceed, and that they can still show their support of the issue by signing the e-petition that theirs duplicates.
Most petitioned Minister:
Part of the e-petition moderation process includes assigning each petition to the relevant Minister or committee for action, in the event that it attracts sufficient support. The majority of Ministers were called on to respond to an e-petition during 2020. The only ones that did not receive an e-petition that collected 1,000 or more signatures were the Minister for External Relations and Financial Services and the Minister for International Development.
In spite of the restrictions placed on daily life by the global health pandemic, there were only 3 e-petitions that required a response from the Minister for Health and Social Services. However, on closer inspection, over half of all e-petition responses that were issued by Ministers were related in some way to the widespread effects of Covid-19 on Island life. All four of the Chief Minister's e-petition responses were pandemic related, as were the three responses issued by the Minister for Education.
Petitioning in a global pandemic:
The Covid-19 pandemic prompted Islanders to start 138 e-petitions in 2020, and it continues to generate petitions in 2021. A variety of factors influence the specific nature of the e-petitions, for example: the number of known active virus cases; emerging epidemiology studies; press reports; and any notable development in government strategy or capability to manage the pandemic, such as improved testing facilities, or the introduction of a vaccination programme.
The figures for each pandemic-related topic shown in the chart below are indicative of what mattered most to Islanders during 2020. These figures show the number of e-petitions created rather than the number that were ultimately made live to the public for signing. It is worth noting that nearly half of the Covid-19 e-petitions did not receive sufficient sponsorship to be moderated by the States Greffe, and of those that were moderated, several were rejected on the basis of duplication, or calling for action that was either not clear or was already being dealt with by government.
In addition to looking at the specific issues that sparked e-petition activity, it is also worth viewing the volume of pandemic-related e-petitions per month over the course of the year. In terms of numbers alone, the most e-petitions created in any month was 36 in March. December saw the second highest number, when 24 e-petitions were created. The first e-petition that had any link to Covid-19 was created on 31st January 2020, coinciding with the date the first cases of the virus were found in the UK.
Looking at topic trends over time, 5 of the 13 e-petitions submitted in February called for school closures. In March, Islanders' focus shifted from schools towards financial support provision for businesses, together with a flurry of requests for parking to be made free of charge for essential employees and healthcare workers. In the lead into the summer months, a number of petitions were created seeking measures for border control, and by August petitioners were keen to make changes to hospitality restrictions.
The most noticeable shift came towards the end of the year, when known case numbers grew significantly, and a hospitality "circuit-breaker" was introduced in early December to control any further spread. The effects of the circuit-breaker on local businesses triggered several petitions, with over a third of all those created in December focused on either gym closures or the hospitality restrictions.
E-petitions and States Members' Propositions:
There are parallels between issues that the public raised in creating e-petitions and some of the Propositions that Members have brought independently to the Assembly for debate. As previously noted, there are standards for e-petitions which mean that some topics are ruled out from being dealt with through the petition process, for example, a petition cannot ask for a person to lose their job, call for someone to resign, or ask for a vote of no confidence. E-petitions calling for the removal of the Chief Minister were submitted in the later part of the 2020. These were all rejected in line with the petition standards, however, around the same time a vote of no confidence [P.149/2020] in the Chief Minister was lodged.
Other examples of occasions where Members' propositions echoed petition topics include:
Banning the sale of single-use carrier bags [P.64/2020], which was similar to a petition raised in February, and from which the Minister for Infrastructure was able to outline in his response to the petitioner to explain the action being undertaken;
Jersey and the Slave Trade [P.78/2020], which was lodged around the same time that the 6 petitions calling for the removal of the George de Carteret statue were submitted;
Secondary employment of public sector employees: review of policies [P.146/2020], this proposition was lodged at a time when members of the public were using petitions to challenge the position of the CEO of the Government of Jersey. Although those petitions did not meet the standards and had to be rejected, P.146/2020 sought to address a root cause (i.e. secondary employment) that motivated petitioners' actions;
School Closures [P.163/2020], which referred to an e-petition signed by more than 4,000 Islanders, requesting that schools close a week earlier for the Christmas holiday, and was subject of an emergency debate on 10th December 2020.
E-petitions and Scrutiny activity:
The issues raised in e-petitions have also informed and influenced the work of Scrutiny Panels, as e-petitions highlight matters of public importance and interest. Examples of this from 2020 include the following references in quarterly hearings:
An occasion on which detailed reference was made to an e-petition appeared in the Corporate Services Scrutiny Panel's "Prior Year Basis Tax Reform Review" [S.R.7/2020]. The Panel interviewed the petitioner in a public hearing, which explored the reasons for the creation of the petition, feedback that the petitioner was personally given by Islanders in response to the petition, and queried whether the petitioner was satisfied with the Minister's response to their petition. The content of this interview formed part of the Panel's report on the review.