By Keith Azopardi
In 12 months Gibraltar will be leaving the European Union. Many of you will be tired of hearing about BREXIT. But the truth is that how that happens and how our new relationship with the EU is defined will affect our future. So we need to get it right.
Its been nearly two years since the BREXIT Referendum. In all that time progress towards knowing where we are going has been painfully slow. We are now getting to the crunch time.
The EU has published the Withdrawal Agreement which will be concluded in a few months time. Our task is to ensure that Gibraltar is not only included in beneficial transitional arrangements but that we have achieved an enduring new relationship with the EU that is lasting and sustainable for decades. What would be the point of only agreeing something for 18 months?
We did not want to leave the EU but if we are going to leave it is necessary to recalibrate our relationship with the Union and indeed with Spain if things are to work in the future for all sides. This is, in fact, an opportunity to do so and we should see it positively because it can allow us to emerge with more security and prosperity and without having compromised our core position on sovereignty, jurisdiction and control.
Our objectives of permanent freedom of movement for Gibraltarians and UK nationals living in Gibraltar and single market access are clear. The Spanish Prime Minister has said Spain wants to discuss tobacco, fisheries, fiscal issues, the environment and the airport. Equally however they will want to protect their thousands of cross-frontier workers and will know that this is only possible if a reasonable agreement is reached with Gibraltar.
The public in Gibraltar are entitled to know more about what is being discussed before any deal is done. It is not enough for the public to be told that the Government cannot say more. We understand that these are delicate discussions but blind faith in politics is a dangerous request. In our view the Government can and should be clearer with people (if not now – soon) about what is being contemplated and in exchange for what.
We must be vigilant but have much to gain if we do things properly. Let me be very clear. We want the Government to succeed in achieving an agreement which is lasting and beneficial for Gibraltar. When we are critical about what is going on it is because we want to ensure things work. We all want there to be a good agreement for Gibraltar but we will oppose a bad agreement.
BREXIT is taking up a lot of the Government’s time. They need to be careful they do not neglect other areas. When I speak to people about their concerns rarely does the issue of BREXIT come up except in certain sectors.
People are worried about the quality and delivery of healthcare especially to the vulnerable and elderly, social care, mental health or misuse of drugs. People are worried about the standard of maintenance of housing or the lack of affordable housing or rental accommodation. People are worried about traffic and parking issues, the environment and the pressures of the urban jungle. People are worried about jobs, about the lack of real opportunities for our young people. People are worried about zero hour contracts or the increasing tendency to introduce parallel lower paid labour through so-called recruitment consultants to work alongside civil servants or other public employees.
In all these areas people deserve better. These arrangements through companies to introduce labour into Government departments benefit those companies more than the worker who generally receives less pay or holiday and has less prospects of career advancement.
We need to do much more for our young people – in terms of creating real opportunities for training, jobs, housing and ensuring that we are responsive to the challenges and pressures created by social media. Our young people are much more exposed to pressure, anxiety or bullying through social media than would have been the case decades ago. We need to reflect on what we need to do as a society to handle and manage the impact of technology on social development and on their lives.
The programme of projects announced by Government is looking less credible by the day. Have you noticed how everything announced is scheduled to be done by 2019? Whether it is the new schools or the refurbished schools or the Europa and Lathbury sports facilities or the new primary care centre the magical date of 2019 always appears. The timetable is not credible.
In all these projects unrealistic deadlines and cutting corners will result in high cost and mistakes. The schools project is rushing ahead at a pace where errors are inevitable. This will affect thousands of our children. So again, it is important to slow down and get it right. There has been no real public debate about the location of schools or the effect on transport or other infrastructure.
And of course when you look at the cost of all these projects in education, housing or health it is easy to see that the cost to the tax-payer will reach hundreds of millions of pounds very quickly. This is only being managed though debt and borrowing. That is the reality. Our public finances need to be managed in a way that does not constrain future generations because of the excesses of the current administration. And public money must be managed prudently and not flashed around at pointless cocktail parties or for entertainment whims.
In all these areas the GSD will be robust, critical and constructive. Because we believe in doing things better, managing our economy better and organizing our social policy in a more responsive way.
I have been GSD Leader for scarcely three months. In that short time we have reorganized and restructured the Party, started our review of policy, encouraged participation of new members and commenced a rolling programme of community outreach. I promised that we would renew our message, renergise and rebuild. I maintain an open door policy because I wish to see the return to active participation within the GSD of members and former members who drifted away in the recent past. Change takes time but I believe the groundwork we have done already and that we will do in the months to come will bear fruit.
We will now be entering a new phase of development for the GSD where we will be more proactive in making exciting policy and other announcements which will show that we are developing and changing the way we do things and that we are able to attract new and dynamic talent to our ranks. I promise you that my colleagues and I will be working hard to gain your renewed trust to lead Gibraltar in the future. This is an important time for Gibraltar and we will work to show you that we are ready for that challenge by the next election.