The decision to build an airport tin St Helena and confirmation of UK’s commitment to defend its Overseas Territories were among the main conclusions of the latest Consultative Council (OTCC) which concluded this week in London.
The conclusions follow two days of successful talks between UK ministers and Premiers and Chief Ministers of the UK’s Overseas Territories. The Falkland Islands were represented by Members of the Legislative Assembly, Dick Sawle and Jan Cheek.
Central to discussions was the new UK strategy for the Overseas Territories and the practical steps that the UK has taken to put the strategy into practice since last year’s OTCC. Spanning some of the remotest parts of the world, the 14 territories have benefited from increased cross-Government engagement this year. This has included:
• Agreement to build an airport on St Helena, previously only accessible through five days sail.
• Crucial repairs to the harbour on Tristan da Cunha, the world’s most isolated populated island.
• Substantial progress in the Turks and Caicos Islands against the milestones required for a return to elected government, planned for late 2012.
• Confirmation in the Strategic Defence and Security Review that defence of the OTs is a core commitment of the Government.
• New constitutions for Montserrat and the Turks and Caicos Islands.
• Increased engagement from across Government departments on issues ranging from the environment, criminal justice and immigration.
Speaking at the conference, the Foreign Secretary William Hague reiterated the UK’s commitment to continue this increased engagement, stating that, my Ministerial team in the FCO and my colleagues across other Government departments will work tirelessly to ensure that our partnership promotes the best interest of all our citizens and a bright and successful future for the Overseas Territories.
Discussions at the OTCC also focused on the forthcoming White Paper, as well as aviation safety, financial regulation, financial crime and taxation. Sessions also covered good governance, financial management and economic planning, with Ministers from the Departments for International Development, Ministry of Defence, Treasury and Transport attending on the first day.
In a sign of renewed cross Government support for the new strategy, a further eight Departments attended the second day, with UK Government Ministers and senior officials participating from the Departments of Education; Communities and Local Government; Culture, Media and Sport; Home Office; Business, Innovation and Skills; Work and Pensions; Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; and Energy, and Climate Change.
At the close of the conference, Minister for the Overseas Territories, Henry Bellingham said:
This Government has a clear vision for our Overseas Territories to be vibrant and flourishing communities, proudly retaining aspects of their British identity and generating wider opportunities for their people. I had bilateral meetings with the Territory leaders on Tuesday and chaired my second Overseas Territories Consultative Council on Wednesday and Thursday. I was pleased to welcome over 250 guests to a reception that I hosted in honour of Territory leaders. Our discussions at the Consultative Council have been wide-ranging and constructive.
We discussed global economic challenges and how the UK and Territories are taking action to strengthen public financial management and diversify economic development. We also discussed with Territory leaders ways in which we can build a stronger partnership, including by enabling the Territories to access UK public sector expertise and training – especially through secondments; and by strengthening links and engagement with the Commonwealth and EU.
I am glad that nine of my Ministerial colleagues from across Government were able to attend the Consultative Council this week, a clear demonstration that the UK Government as a whole is supporting the Territories, and not just the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Department for International Development. We will continue to work closely with the Territories as we prepare for the publication of our White Paper on the Territories next year.