After 13 years on Legislative Council and in the new Legislative Assembly, I have given the forthcoming election a good deal of thought. We face in the next few years a period that will be interesting, exciting and challenging in equal measure, and I have decided to stand again because I think I can still help to provide the experience, commitment and resolve that we will require, as well as the positive and forward thinking necessary, to take our country through the next stages of development.
The main challenges are obvious to all. In a world economy that is struggling we have seen public finances come under pressure through reduced income from reserves and investments, as well as persistent reductions in illex license fees. The Argentine Government continues to be oppressive and seeks every opportunity to try to undermine and unsettle our economy and daily life, and its Government is unstable and unpredictable. We will need therefore to be vigilant, consistent and pro-active, and to work closely with the UK Government and international partners to keep them at bay.
But there are also exciting opportunities. Tourism will continue to offer good prospects, particularly for smaller businesses, the fishing industry retains significant potential to expand further if given the right policies and structures, and a new drilling round will provide new opportunities and new jobs. The service sector in Stanley has seen strong and sustainable growth over the past few years, and will continue to make a major contribution to economic development.
Government, Structure and Democracy
The role of Government is to provide the framework and structure within which we can all work productively and co-operatively; to provide the community services which we all require and benefit from, to make the laws which maintain a safe and orderly community, and to provide the environment within which all businesses have the opportunity to flourish.
I firmly believe that we should continue to push the boundaries of internal self-government; we should have confidence in our own ability to run our own country to the maximum extent possible. In this context I continue to support clear elected leadership, to provide more of a focus on the prime role of elected Government in running the country. As I did in my 2005 manifesto I propose that one member of Exco should be the Government spokesperson from year to year, to provide a focus for that elected authority.
I believe the existing system of portfolios and committees has begun to work well, and sets out clear responsibilities and accountabilities. It remains important that the public can see Councillors leading the key areas of Government decision making, and leaving implementation and management to the public service who are paid to do it. I will continue to be a prime mover in openness and transparency of Government, and remain convinced that some parts of Executive Council could and should be held in public.
We have made significant progress through the new Constitution in improving the democratic nature of decision making, but there remains more to do. The creation of strategies and policies which form the mandate for the Government are the responsibility of the elected members; the Islands Plan forms the basis of this mandate, but it is for each new Government to review and revise that plan, and to ensure it delivers what is required by the community. The public service (or the administration as many think of it) is there to advise on the options, and to carry them out. But it is for Councillors to take those decisions, and make sure they are carried out effectively and efficiently.
The Economy and Economic Planning
Our economy remains strong, with significant reserves and no borrowing. And whilst public finances have been stretched in recent years by reduced revenues and excessive demand, the economy continues to grow and we enjoy an excellent standard of living.
I have been a strong supporter over the years of the production of national statistics, which better describe where we are and how our economy functions. This enables us to make more informed plans for future growth in our key industries. The Economic Development Strategy, being developed by the Government and the private sector working together, is a key piece of work, and I will strongly support the production of an economic strategy document that is ambitious but realistic; that is affordable without risking our reserves; that is based on real evidence of past performance and future prospects; that enhances the local ownership of all businesses but allows controlled inward investment; that challenges the Government to provide a regime that is supportive of business development; that challenges the private sector to take on the responsibility for growth in existing areas and in new businesses; and that overall delivers the type of egalitarian and supportive community that I believe we aspire to.
That the EDS must provide a strategy that promotes long term sustainable growth, that provides opportunity to the whole community, and not just the fortunate few, is absolutely fundamental.
I will continue to support balanced public sector spending budgets, even when this requires cuts in expenditure, and reduction in non-essential services. Investment in the future should remain our principle priority. Support for properly directed education and training, provision of essential infrastructure including affordable port development, and support to industry are the key priorities. But the Economic Development Strategy must create methods and mechanisms to encourage greater private sector investment, with the necessary incentives and rewards for initiative, with the public sector taking an ever decreasing role.
Camp. I am a strong supporter of rural development and re-population of the camp, so that people in camp can have similar economic expectations to those living in Stanley. In particular I will continue to support the abattoir project for so long as it continues to make a positive economic contribution, and investment in improved grazing and animal genetics to generate better income.
We are one country, and it is both politically and economically essential to keep Camp productive and well populated
Fisheries. The new ITQ system has begun to encourage some restructuring, without adding pressure on fish stocks. The current review of resource rents and the introduction of economic efficiency tests will be important in formulating the correct strategies to enable local companies to fully control their own businesses, and make an increasing economic contributions through profitability. The possibility of major port development can help to unlock considerable additional potential if it is economically viable.
We need to continue to campaign vigorously to establish a high seas fishing regime to protect illex squid and other migratory species.
Tourism. The tourism industry is a major employer of both full and part time workers, particularly in the summer months, and it makes significant contributions to the retail sector and to Camp businesses. At the correct time new investment will be required in sites and facilities for both land based and cruise vessel tourism, but the initiatives and investments must be private sector led. We have a unique product and I have no doubt it will establish its place in the world market.
Tourism is also a valuable tool in getting a wide range of people to the Islands to see what we are really all about.
Oil and Minerals. The threats and opportunities offered by the exploration for and extraction of oil and gas, will increase significantly during the life of this next Council, and will increase political pressures from Argentina and the UK. It will remain my policy to promote Falklands based business in support of the industry, and where appropriate give priority to local enterprise. I would also reaffirm and uphold the right of the Falklands Islands to choose how it disposes of its natural wealth from oil revenues, if and when they occur.
In the mean time we should continue to discount the potential of oil revenue from the budget until such time as it is a reality.
The level of aggression of the Argentine Government is at its highest level for many years. There can never be any compromise on our absolute right to self determination, and with the continued support of HMG, and the universal acceptance of the right to self-determination promoted by the UN and responsible democracies, we have a solid base.
However it becomes ever more evident that we will need to do more for ourselves in the international sphere, not just the “soft” PR like the CPA, but getting out into the key capital cities in Europe and elsewhere to make sure our message is fully and properly understood. For most of my time on Council and before I have represented the Falkland Islands overseas, in the UK at official level and in Parliament, in Europe and the European Union, at the UN and at international conferences. I believe that I am well known and respected in many of these key areas, and can continue to promote the Falklands message and defend our right to live in peace in our own country. If elected I would hope to continue this work in the next Government.
It is essential that to support the right to self determination, we help the UK to help us. That means acting decisively, but responsibly and in measured terms to threats from the neighbours; it also means maintaining the widest possible support in Parliament pre and post UK election, and developing stronger relations with the European Community through the new EU/OTC decision due in 2013, and with other key allies.
Social Development Issues.
I am happy to borrow heavily from my 2005 manifesto in this areas, because my approach has not changed.
We have a strong community and a good way of life in the Falklands, that citizens must be allowed to enjoy, and which should be protected from some of the more pernicious trends in European society. To my mind that will continue to require pro-active approach to policing the community by all parties (Councillors, police, Government agencies and community bodies) with the community itself very clearly taking the lead in dealing with unruly, anti-social or unacceptable behaviour.
We must continue to support individuals and families in need, but we should also seek to interfere as little as possible with the role and responsibility of the family and community in providing the social support to each other, which creates our strength. Nor must we allow the intervention of Government through intrusive social policies to undermine this basic strength, or to unnecessarily restrict our freedom as individuals to live as we choose. Once that community responsibility is lost, it is gone forever. And the maintenance of pensions at reasonable levels is a pre-requisite to securing the livelihood of the elderly within the community.
The country needs a constant source of skilled labour to fill jobs, particularly in the service sector. It has always been thus throughout our history, and I will continue to support a measured and controlled approach to immigration. New arrivals however must take time to adjust to our way of life, to our culture and to our moral values, before they can become permanent residents. Those responsible for the approval of new applicants for residency (whether temporary or permanent) must have very clear guidelines as to the qualities required. I am happy we now have a points system to provide consistency in decision making and better guidance to applicants on their prospects of success. What we now require as part of the Economic Development Strategy are broader policy considerations on more targeted immigration and the people we need.
I strongly support the delivery of high quality primary health care free of charge to all permanent residents, though I have major concerns about the burgeoning costs. In particular areas priorities will have to be set and adhered to. Nevertheless continued high levels of investment in primary and preventative medicine will be required to maintain a healthy society. We need to review our social care policies to ensure that we are targeting limited resources to those most in need, and not spending public money supporting the idle and unwilling.
Equally I am a strong supporter of education policies which provide opportunity to young people to do the best they can, and also provide the training necessary to adults to achieve their potential. But again not everything is affordable, and priorities will have to be orientated towards those subjects and courses that have relevance for the Falklands, and can help Falkland Islanders play a full role in their own community, instead of recruiting from overseas.
I would like to urge all electors to use their right to vote in this election, to be an active part of the democratic process, and to vote only for those candidates who you believe have the ability, commitment and energy to implement the strategies and policies that are necessary to take our country forward. If elected I will once more serve with a style that is robust but fair, and as part of a team with an important job to do. For my part decisions will be taken on the basis of knowledge, information and experience, not personality and prejudice. I am not afraid to take difficult decisions where they are required for the national good, to explain why they are necessary, and to take responsibility for those decisions.
I look forward to serving again if that is your choice.
Tags: Candidate - Stanley