I wanted to wish you and your families a happy and healthy 2019 on behalf of myself and all of us in the GSD.
This will be a year of challenges for Gibraltar which will necessarily impact on all of us. There is no doubt, for example, that as we get closer to the BREXIT deadline the consequences of the choice between no deal and the bad deal on the table can be quite negative. The truth is that very few people think that the Withdrawal Agreement is good for the UK and good for Gibraltar. In UK opinion polls of Conservative and Labour voters more people backed a secondvote or no deal than Mrs May’s deal. For us in Gibraltar the deal agreed by the Government will allow Spain a say in our affairs and permanently protect Spanish frontier workers while delivering nothing enduring on freedom of movement beyond the 21 month transitional period for us. It is just a bad deal and a lost opportunity.
The Government may have had hundreds of meetings on the subject of BREXIT but ultimately they must be judged on results. After more than two years of scurrying around they have come back to Gibraltar with very little to show of any enduring value or real imagination. Much time has been lost and there has been little by way of a positive attempt to lay the foundations for a far-reaching recalibration of our future relationship with the EU.
The Government says that this is because that would be done in the next phase of negotiations but the reality is that the bedrock for future understandings could have been laid now – as it has been in the case of Northern Ireland. In Gibraltar’s case there has been atotal failure of achieving something more imaginative or lasting.
No-one knows what will happen when the UK Parliament vote on the Withdrawal Agreement next week. If the Agreement is approved then attention will turn to the next phase of negotiations on the future relationship. Given how little Gibraltar has achieved in the last two years we are not convinced that the Government has any real strategy or ability to achieve a good permanent deal for Gibraltar. If the Withdrawal Agreement is rejected and the prospect of a no deal exit materializes then we will all find out whether the no deal planning that the Government says it has been doing is adequate to protect our economy and way of life.
In a no deal scenario some Spanish politicians have started to float the possibility that the Gibraltar aspect of the deal could survive. This is unsurprising. It is because they know that the current intended arrangements favour Spain and its workers more than they favour Gibraltar, our people and our future.
As we approach the deadline for our departure from the EU it would be right to reflect on whether you continue to trust the efforts of this Government to reach a good permanent deal. One which does not allow Spanish encroachment into our affairs and one that gives Gibraltar a tailor made arrangement guaranteeing freedom of movement and single market access. That is what the GSD, in Government, would be actively seeking. If the current bad deal is the best the GSLP Government can do then they should move over to allow someone else to negotiate the future relationship with the EU.
You will also see much sudden activity in this election year on new schools, new housing, new facilities for the island games, new parking and announcements of all types. The Government needs to be careful that in its shameless scramble for votes it does not commit our community to a precarious financial position which then does not allow us to properly navigate the consequences of BREXIT. After all just the schools and housing projects themselves will already cost upwards of probably 250 Million. This is your money not the Government’s.
At a time of such serious challenges for Gibraltar on BREXIT or public finances experience and competence are crucial when you come to choose your representatives. There is no substitute for that. It is important for Gibraltar to be led in a safe, secure and careful path bypeople who you can trust will deal with Gibraltar’s interests in a serious way.
I have to tell you that despite the clear challenges that we face on those fronts I am as excited as ever of delivering on a fresh agenda that radically changes the way we are governed and delivers real changes and benefits to people. I believe that can be done with the right ideas and the right way of doing things.
So for example there needs to be a new deal for agency workers. And not just in the civil service. An end to the culture of parallel labour where workers performing the same tasks are treated differently while the agency company benefits. It is not right that people do not get leave entitlement or are paid less just because of the way they are employed when, in reality, they have been doing the job as good as permanently.
In its new year message the Government has conceded what we have been saying for years– that Gibraltar needs a modern apprenticeship scheme that works to deliver real training and prospects for young people.
There have to be new rules on the allocation and tendering for public contracts. Rules that ensure fairness and transparency in allocation and put to an end any possibility of unfairness or favouritism. There has to be proper monitoring of public contracts so that there is no wastage and misapplication of public monies. Because this is your money and the Government needs to take care of it.
For the same reason you deserve to be told how your money is being spent and the Government should account for the hundreds of millions of pounds it has borrowed –mortgaging housing estates in the process – or channeled via Credit Finance. There is no way of actually knowing whether public finances are solid because the Government do not tell you everything that they are doing with your money or what things are actually costing. Their position is all smoke and mirrors and reminiscent of the GSLP secret economic plan of the 1990s. I can promise you that the GSD that I lead will explain to you how we are using your money, when debts need to be repaid, what projects will cost and will put contracts out to tender in a fair and transparent manner.
Gibraltar needs a new deal – in housing, in the environment, in drugs and rehabilitation, healthcare, for the elderly, for persons with disabilities, for young people, for those in need. Too often the most vulnerable in society who require comparatively little get ignored and there is massive or wasteful expenditure on things that just don’t make sense. For example why spend money on the Ministers VVIP enclosure on entertainment for the Government and their friends at the music festival instead of on nurses, teachers or the disabled. We need to see a return to prudent financial management so we can create a strong sustainable future for our community – so we can reach out and benefit those in need.
I want to see a Gibraltar where there is real equality between men and women. I want to see more women in politics. I want to see an end to discrimination, real integration and equal access to benefits for those long-term residents of the various minorities that make up our community.
I have no doubt that we can do all that. But we need your help in making that happen. Many people are joining the GSD to help us make that change. If there is no change of direction the Government will continue to spend money as if there is no tomorrow while not having a real plan for the future. All that needs to change and change soon.
During this year you will have a chance to make a choice as to who should govern Gibraltar at this next important phase in our history. We intend to roll out a fresh, exciting and comprehensive programme for the future with a strengthened team of competent experienced individuals. You will find us ready for that challenge and confident to carry out that vision on your behalf.