On Tuesday May 29, Governor Nigel Phillips CBE addressed the elected Legislative Assembly of the Falkland Islands with a message on the State of the Nation.
Mr. Speaker, Honorable Members, I am delighted to stand here before you today, to provide the Governor’s Annual Address, to reflect on how our nation is faring after a year of change, and to share the many bright prospects that we can look forward to in the year ahead.
In November 2017 the people of the Falkland Islands elected a new Legislative Assembly. The high voter turnout in Stanley and Camp was an increase in both constituencies compared to turnout for the 2013 election. This clearly demonstrates how strongly Islanders feel about their constitutional right to self-determination, and their high regard for the process and principles of democracy. Although three current members served under the previous Assembly, the majority are new, not only to the role, but to the front line of politics itself.
Together they bring a wealth of experience to the table and together they have been working to build a consensus that will create the right conditions and drive forward their vision for sustainable economic, social and political development across the Falkland Islands.
The Budget being presented today displays the ambitions they have collectively agreed for the future. I will now reflect on the achievements of the past year and set out the Government’s agenda for investing in the future of the Falkland Islands.
The economy continues to perform well and, yet again, we have achieved a healthy financial surplus in excess of that budgeted. The main contributor to this has been corporation tax receipts from the fishing industry and other businesses; and the Government continues to work on refining its forecasting to better predict annual results.
Government finances are therefore in a good position, fortified by strong reserves. This has allowed us to set a far-reaching agenda for investing in critical economic and social infrastructure, as well as in capacity to deliver our ambitious capital and service improvement programs.
We believe the investments outlined in the new Budget will ensure that Falkland Islanders have access to new and exciting economic opportunities and to a good quality of life.
At the same time, I would like to assure you Mr Speaker, that the Government continues its enduring tradition of prudent economic management. We know that with investment comes risk; however with a continued focus on maintaining a stable tax regime, improving the efficiency of our services, and enhancing our programme management and delivery processes, we can maintain our strong fiscal position.
In the past year, we have faced the implications of a series of geopolitical issues. First and foremost have been the on-going Brexit negotiations between the United Kingdom and the European Union, following the UK referendum on EU membership in June 2016. Throughout these discussions, we have worked with our fishing and agricultural sectors, business leaders, and the community to understand the possible consequences for the Falkland Islands.
We have continued to make our voice heard in Westminster, Europe and the wider world, to ensure our interests are not overlooked as negotiations advance. Our elected members have taken every opportunity to advocate for the Falklands within their public diplomacy work, both bilaterally and as a UK Overseas Territory. As we continue do everything in our power, to ensure our views are understood and considered in any future trade agreements, we are also investigating what alternative opportunities may exist for our import and export products once Brexit is fully implemented.
The past 12 months have also seen some movement in terms of the 2016 UK-Argentina Joint Communiqué, which pledged closer cooperation on key issues which impede our efforts to increase economic and social growth within the Falklands.
In February, airline operators were invited to communicate their interest in establishing a new, weekly scheduled air service to and from the Falkland Islands. The aim is for the new route to become operational before the end of 2018, however this is a complex exercise and it is vital that the necessary time is taken to ensure the process is carried out to the highest possible standards and that it produces the right outcome for the Falkland Islands.
There has also been movement with regard to fisheries, with two days of talks in mid-May between delegations from the UK and Argentine Governments, in Buenos Aires. I am delighted that the UK delegation included representatives from the Falkland Islands Natural Resources Department.
This was the first such meeting in 14 years and good progress was made in addressing the renewal of scientific data sharing, which will improve our understanding of shared marine resources. It is hoped that, in time, this dialogue will help ensure the sustainability of fisheries in South Atlantic waters and have conservation benefits for the future.
Finally, the attention of the world fell on the Falkland Islands in March, as the families of the Argentine soldiers identified through the work of the International Committee of the Red Cross, were able to pay their respects to their next of kin.
They arrived at the Argentine cemetery in Darwin to find the graves of their relatives, complete with a headstone carrying their name, after months of painstaking DNA work. This humanitarian undertaking received the full support of the Falklands Islands Government.
The Islands Plan 2018-2022
In April 2018, the Government published The Islands Plan, which sets out our blueprint for improving the health and wealth of Falkland Islanders over the next four years.
I think Mr Speaker, you will agree, that it outlines a bold and ambitious future for the nation, with a strong focus on stimulating economic growth, improving transport and communications links, modernising our local infrastructure, providing high quality education and protecting the environment.
These are commendable aims and ones we should strive to achieve; whilst acknowledging that there are several obstacles we need to address in order to move forward at the required pace and with a relentless focus on delivery. The Government also recognises that stimulating investment will require some innovative risk-sharing with the private sector.
I am pleased to see that this Budget seeks to tackle some of the larger objectives of The Islands Plan in the first year. I hope that the public are equally encouraged by this clear signal from the Members of the Legislative Assembly that they do not intend to be complacent, but will press on with delivering the changes that the community wants to see.
Above all, the publication of The Islands Plan gives us the opportunity to determine how we want to build our future; an exciting future where there are opportunities for everyone.
Investment for Growth
Mr. Speaker, in this past year we have been pleased to see the continuing success of our Economic Development Strategy. First adopted in 2010, the strategy set a 15-year course for ensuring that the Falkland Islands have solid foundations for economic growth and development.
To take tourism as just one example, we have seen an increase in leisure tourism of 14.9% this year, compared to the previous season. The weekly LATAM flight saw a 21% increase in tourist passengers and arrivals on the Airbridge grew by 44%. This demonstrates how the Falklands are fast becoming a destination of choice for tourists who prefer to spend their time off the beaten track.
The 2018/19 Budget supports continued development of our tourism sector and reflects many of the priorities identified in the Economic Development Plan and also The Islands Plan. It confirms capital investments in our essential infrastructure, including significantly increasing the blacktopping of the MPA road and maintenance works on Stanley roads. It also incorporates improvements for life in rural areas, including investments in Camp infrastructure and monies for training and innovation in agriculture.
We know that our community relies heavily on domestic and international transportation links, and this is an area where the Government will invest significantly over the next year.
Support to air travel will include plans to upgrade the air terminal at Mount Pleasant Airport, investigating the upgrading of Stanley Airport and investments in new aircraft and personnel for FIGAS.
Similarly, we will continue to extend the lifespan of FIPASS while work progresses on plans for a new port facility to secure a longer term solution for our maritime sector.
The Government will also deliver a number of new initiatives to support the expansion and development of our labor force. 2018 has seen the introduction of new four year work permits and we are working to implement other changes to our immigration legislation.
Through these efforts we aim to maintain control of our borders, facilitate the development of the Islands, and attract new families to make the Falkland Islands their home, while ensuring that our services and infrastructure grow apace.
This work will be supported by investments in our quarry and power station, and an upgrade programme for Government housing and building assets. The Government will also deliver its strategic housing plan, which will provide a blueprint for public and private investment, as well as funding for the next phase of residential developments on Sappers Hill in Stanley.
The Budget also confirms our continued commitment to enabling partner organizations to continue to flourish and work together with us to build a sustainable future. Their work helps to support Falkland Island businesses in the agricultural, meat, shipping and tourism industries, and also to encourage and foster the spirit of local entrepreneurship.
In addition, the Budget supports joint initiatives with the Ministry of Defense at Mount Pleasant, to advance opportunities to share infrastructure and improve reliability of our air transport links and other crucial services. We will continue to move forward with this vital work this year, very much in the spirit of collaboration and cooperation.
Sector Performance: Agriculture
Mr Speaker, as you know, the very bedrock of our economy depends upon our natural resources and I am pleased to report that our agricultural sector is moving from strength to strength. We have just experienced the best summer for pasture growth in years and wool prices are at record highs; we are continuing to explore opportunities to add value to our wool sales, through improved marketing and research into emerging markets.
Recent developments in the demand for Falklands beef have given us the opportunity to increase our beef herd several fold in the pursuit of a viable beef export and supply sector.
You may also be aware that Falklands lamb is now available for sale in the UK. Keevil and Keevil, the longest-standing butchers in Smithfield Market, has recently started selling lamb leg and shoulder online; and have proved to be incredibly popular products.
Acknowledging the successes of our agricultural sector, as well as the increasing growth opportunities, this year the Government will work with the private sector to launch an Agricultural Trainee scheme to assist young people in entering the sector.
Sector Performance: Fisheries
The performance of our fisheries is more of a mixed picture. The Loligo fishery, which is entirely under the control of the Falkland Islands, has seen the highest catch in the initial 2018 fishing season since 1995.
In contrast, it has been another modest year for Ilex squid, a stock over which the Government can exert only limited control. It is hoped that the resumption of talks under the umbrella of a joint UK/Falklands and Argentine Scientific Sub-Committee will lead to an improved understanding of how shared squid stocks within South Atlantic waters can be managed better.
The fishery is the mainstay of our Islands economy and in addition to licence fees there has been a significant increase in corporation tax from this sector, reflecting an upturn in overall profitability. We continue to review the Individual Transferable Quota system to ensure that it is delivering the intended benefits; and are working closely with all fishing stakeholders to propose enhancements that will continue to support an increasingly prosperous future.
I’m pleased to confirm that our new Maritime Ordinance and Harbours and Ports Ordinance, were made law earlier in the year and are now in the process of being implemented. This is a significant achievement as the new legislation will allow for the establishment of the maritime legal framework, which in turn will deliver a better regulated and safer marine environment across the Islands. Additionally the Harbours and Ports Ordinance will be the mechanism under which a Falkland Islands Marine Authority will be developed.
Sector Performance: Oil
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to report that there has been material progress since last year with the Sea Lion oilfield development. The significant recovery in the global price of oil means that the project is an increasingly attractive prospect and key regulatory approvals have advanced. Earlier this year the environmental impact statement underwent a thorough public consultation process. The feedback from this exercise is now being considered by Government officials, prior to making a recommendation to the Executive Council.
After two years of work, the technical review work on the Field Development Plan is also close to conclusion, and other elements of the overall engagement plan between Premier Oil and the Government are progressing well.
New environmental legislation is about to enter the drafting stage and a review of offshore safety legislation is about to begin. Together, these will ensure that future offshore oil and gas activity continues to be regulated to the highest possible standards in these critical areas. Other oil readiness work continues across Government, much of which will feed in to the overall legislative development program.
During the coming year, we hope to see continuation of investment in the Falkland Islands’ first offshore oilfield development. However there remains a lot to be done both before and after that decision. If the project is approved, it will bring tremendous opportunities for the local economy and a significant boost to the revenues of this Government in future years. It will also underpin future capital investment and the economic independence of the Falkland Islands for future generations.
Tourism and the Environment
Mr. Speaker, as I mentioned earlier, I am delighted to report that our tourism industry continues to enjoy ever increasing growth. I understand from the Falkland Islands Tourist Board that they welcomed over 70,000 people to the Jetty Visitor Centre in the recent summer season, which is nearly enough to fill Wembley Stadium. Our Government’s investment in FIGAS and other critical tourism infrastructure will help to maintain this upward momentum.
Speaking of sport, at this point it would be remiss of me not to extend my warmest congratulations to our sports men and women who represented the Falkland Islands at the Commonwealth Games in April. I understand that many competitors achieved Personal Bests and on behalf of the Government I would like to thank you for your efforts and for being such extremely positive ambassadors for the nation. This is another example of the Falkland Islands reaching out into the world and having a place on the global stage.
Returning to home, we will continue to collaborate with the private sector, to definitively position the Falkland Islands as a ‘Gateway to Antarctica’. We are in a unique situation, in terms of our geographic location and our natural biodiversity, to offer an unparalleled experience for tourists and scientists – in fact for anyone with an interest in the natural world – to experience one of the last great wildernesses on the planet.
We have an abundance of flora and fauna, much of which cannot be found anywhere else on the globe. In the coming year, we will invest in the development of key infrastructure and services to support this Gateway ambition. However, Mr. Speaker, I must emphasize that we will not let this willingness to share our incredible surroundings with the world compromise our commitment to protecting the environment.
This Government recognizes the significance of our natural environment and its contribution to the economic and social prosperity of the Falkland Islands, and will actively seek to preserve and protect our unspoiled land and seascapes. The community rightly expects us to do this and, as this Budget clearly demonstrates, we will continue to provide funding for scientific research and conservation work.
Additionally we will continue with our efforts to manage, and eradicate where possible, invasive species. Last year funding was secured to tackle the calafate menace, which has the potential to cause significant economic losses within our agriculture sector.
The first season of calafate control has just ended and is showing early signs of having been successful, which is welcome news for our farmers. We have also begun a PhD study, again funded by the last Budget, to see if the hydatid parasite can be eradicated, which would be a fantastic outcome for the Falklands.
Looking forward, we will be launching our Environmental Development Strategy, which will include modernizing our wildlife protection legislation and moving forward with the implementation of our biodiversity framework.
We will also launch a management plan for Stanley Common, to ensure that it can continue to be a resource that is enjoyed by everyone. These pieces of work will bring together many of our on-going environmental initiatives in pursuit of achieving our conservation goals.
Health and wellbeing
Mr. Speaker, a core component of this year’s Budget is our investment in people. As a Government, our focus is firmly on improving the health and wellbeing of our community, and ensuring that our citizens can enjoy the best possible quality of life, with our support where and when it is needed.
To begin with our children; this year we have pledged to make a significant investment in our nurseries. This money will help to improve facilities and train staff. We will invest in the development of a childcare ordinance for the regulation of nursery services, to ensure that all children receive safe, suitable care and education, in the vital early years. We have also set aside funding to ensure that childcare remains affordable and to increase family allowances.
This will go hand in hand with work already undertaken this year to safeguard children from harm. Mr Speaker, I must commend the way that front line agencies, including health and social services, and the police, have come together to put safeguarding children at the heart of their joint work. In this respect we are one of the leading lights of the British Overseas Territories and I thank our colleagues for their tireless efforts in making the Falklands an even safer place.
I’m pleased to confirm that our plans for the new vulnerable persons unit in Stanley have progressed; we have received tenders for the build and these are now under consideration.
Equally, our plans for the refurbishment and development of the hospital have also advanced; we have commissioned the architectural design work and an initial survey of the building has occurred. This renovation will not only improve the overall hospital environment, but also eventually allow us to provide more diagnostic and medical procedures at the site, meaning fewer patients will have to travel abroad for routine interventions and treatment.
The government recognizes that maintaining good health is critical to the quality of life of the entire community. To this end, will we launch a new public health strategy this year, which will focus on ways to prevent ill health and promote wellbeing. Our capital investment in a new outdoor sports complex will provide much needed additional facilities to encourage Islanders to participate in physical activity.
We will also be asking the public to work together with us on initiatives that encourage people to make healthier choices. Research shows us that communities fare much better when they are involved in making decisions about their own health, and we want to harness local knowledge and experience to develop a public health strategy that will benefit everyone.
Mr. Speaker, this time last year our Year 11 students were embarking on their GCSE exams. That year also saw the first in a series of major qualification reforms, with three GCSE subjects moving to a more rigorous assessment method.
Despite this, our students performed much better than the previous five year average, with a 12% point increase. As I speak, our current cohort of year elevens are in the middle of their exams, and a further seven subjects are now assessed under the new regime; we wish them every success.
I would also like to reflect on the successes of our students currently studying in the UK. Last year our 26 students who completed their Level 3 studies achieved a 96% pass rate.
These good news stories are encouraging, and demonstrate the huge value that this Government continues to place on education. This commitment is keenly reflected in this year’s Budget, with plans that include the development of the FIG Training Centre, expansion of the apprenticeship scheme and substantial improvements to Stanley House.
We are committed to setting our children and young people on the best path to achieve their potential, and to providing meaningful choices for future school leavers. To this end we will be refreshing the education ordinance in the coming year to provide a framework for the highest quality teaching and learning across all of our schools and training facilities, including academic, vocational and special needs curricula.
In the coming year we will begin a review of all our educational facilities, to ensure that they meet the current and future needs of all of our children.
Mr Speaker, all of this, together with a cohesive education and training strategy for people over the age of 16, will help to ensure that Falkland Islanders have access to lifelong
learning; along with all of the opportunities, personal and professional development, and transferable skills that education brings with it.
Public works and public infrastructure
Mr. Speaker, this year we will continue to invest in our public works program to ensure that we have services that we can rely on.
I trust the community has seen the great strides we have taken within public works over the past year, with an additional three kilometers of the MPA road now surfaced as well as a section of the Stanley Airport road. This year the Government will accelerate the paving of the MPA road, to cover a further five kilometers.
We will also invest in upgrade works to North Camp in the East, and the Fox Bay to Port Howard road in the West; as well as jetty improvements across Camp.
We are developing plans for a new power station and port in the next four years, as outlined in The Islands Plan; both projects will require significant capital investment, but are crucial to ensure that the Falkland Islands has appropriate, modern infrastructure to support our growing economy and population.
This year, we will also implement a comprehensive waste management strategy to respond to public concerns about existing practices and the desire to adopt more sustainable and environmentally friendly practices. As a modern society, we need to embrace more responsible methods for long term treatment and disposal of waste, and this is a priority for the Government in the next 12 months.
Safety and Security
Mr. Speaker, we are fortunate to live in a place where people still leave their doors unlocked and enjoy a level of safety and security which is almost unparalleled elsewhere in the world. However this is not to say that we don’t require a first rate set of front line services to protect and serve the public.
During the past year, we have invested considerably in the development of our local police force; that commitment is echoed in the Budget for the coming year with continued support for implementing the Royal Falkland Islands Police improvement plan. We will provide new opportunities for members of our community to join the police and look to ‘grow our own talent’ by encouraging people to take up a lifelong career within one of our emergency services. We will also invest in new equipment and training for the fire service.
Similarly, we have undertaken a review of the Falkland Islands Defence Force over the past year and will bring forward an improvement plan before the end of the current financial year.
I must also mention our customs and immigration service, which works tirelessly to protect our borders and ensure the security of our home. In addition to processing many work permit and visa applications each year, they have also progressed the new passport control systems to make passage through our air terminals more straightforward and secure; this will be launched shortly. The customs service also works closely with agricultural colleagues to prevent bio-invasive species from entering the Islands through imports.
I would also like to take this opportunity to note the many achievements we have made within the legislative arena. Following the enactment of our Communications Ordinance in 2017, we appointed a new Communications Regulator who has already begun the mammoth task of implementing the new regime. This is an accomplishment that should not be underplayed, as it will play a pivotal role in ensuring that we have effective telecommunications across the Falkland Islands in the future.
We know that challenges remain with providing modern and affordable services in the Falklands, and it is partly through the work of the regulator that we aim to understand both the current and future needs of our growing community. Without this focus on the expanding technological requirements of our population, we would not be able to attract as many people to come and live here, nor keep our community connected to the outside world.
Last year also saw the implementation of the new online Statute Law database, which makes the laws easily accessible to the public for the first time. This was the culmination of many years of work for the Statute Law Commissioner and is a terrific demonstration of our commitment to transparency and the rule of law.
Mr. Speaker, I’ve naturally referenced the Government a great deal in today’s address, but I would also like to take a moment to reflect on the nature and the role of the civil service. It is the largest employer in the Falkland Islands and the unelected engine of our overall administration, working behind the scenes to deliver the Government’s ambitions.
In the past year, we have made concerted efforts to develop the capacity and capability of the civil service in key areas. Firstly, we have taken measures to improve both the efficiency and effectiveness of our public service. This has involved strengthening the corporate leadership team and focussing on cross-department collaboration to support improved planning and decision making, better joint working and accountability, greater resilience and enhanced control.
This work will continue this year with the implementation of a professional services framework contract that will provide the capacity to deliver the four year capital programme. Further investments in programme and project management will ensure a relentless focus on delivery and improved professional and technical expertise within departments, which will be vital in ensuring the civil service is positioned to deliver its corporate plan.
Secondly, work is underway to develop mechanisms to ensure that the civil service continues to evolve as an open, transparent and accountable organization. The reinstatement of management trainee positions, which previously proved successful in offering local people the opportunity to experience the work of the civil service, will be expanded this year to introduce more trainees to the wide range of civil service activities and develop future leaders.
Additionally the Human Resources department will develop and implement professional development opportunities to maximise each employee’s career growth and contribution to the Falkland Islands Government. It will be a tangible demonstration of our commitment to staff and to providing the means to develop a meaningful and challenging government career for those who want it.
Plans for the next twelve months will be firmly focused on developing the culture of the civil service to ensure that it is an inclusive and collaborative place to work where people’s efforts are not only acknowledged but rewarded.
This in turn will enable a high performance culture where individuals are encouraged to adopt work practices that integrate planning, improvement and accountability into business as usual.
Mr. Speaker, I wish I had the time to reflect on the full gamut of the Government’s accomplishments of the past year. I say this in the full knowledge that it has been a transitional 12 months from one Legislative Assembly to the next.
Whilst it may not be possible to attribute the achievements of the previous year to a specific Assembly, what is very clear to me is that during that time a great deal has changed.
I truly believe that this is an incredibly exciting time for the Falkland Islands and its people. It feels as if there are so many opportunities at our fingertips that we are spoilt for choice in terms of the direction in which we want to take our country.
This is why, in the next 12 months, the Government will lead a conversation about the future of the Falklands. This won’t be about high level ambitions; but will be a discussion about how we want to develop our community, welcome newcomers, expand economic opportunities and provide good life and work options for all who choose to make this their home.
On the contrary, we must cooperate with our partners – with our business community, emerging scientific sector, non-governmental agencies and the UK Armed Forces at Mount Pleasant whose contribution to our defense we cherish – to forge closer links which will unite and bring our entire community together. Through our joint efforts we will look to maximize the opportunities that exist for the benefit of all.
Mr Speaker, Honorable Members, I look forward to the year ahead with the certainty that the Government will continue to serve the people of the Falkland Islands to the very best of its ability. Holding true to the values of our community and supporting its public’s privilege to ‘Desire the Right’. (Photo provided by FITV )