HE The Governor Mr Colin Roberts Delivers His Address to the Legislative Assembly of the Falkland Islands
On Wednesday 4th June His Excellency The Governor, Mr Colin Roberts, delivered his State of the Nation address to the Legislative Assembly of the Falkland Islands. Read the full text of the address below:
GOVERNOR’S ADDRESS TO THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY
WEDNESDAY 4 JUNE 2014
1. Mr Speaker, once again the past year has been exciting and challenging for the Falkland Islands and I will outline some of the reasons in this address. I will also set out how the Government responded to those challenges and outline its aims and aspirations for the coming year.
2. Following the election of a new Legislative Assembly in November last year, an ambitious new Islands Plan has been adopted. The plan retains a large proportion of the good work that has gone before, but also deliberately gives more detail on the Government’s focus on environmental protection, community development and also separate sections on developing the economy and workforce. Economic development and continued financial self-sufficiency are a clear aim of the plan and to this end detail is provided on the Government’s intentions in terms of the key industries in the Islands. Work has already commenced on a timely review of the fishery licensing regime. Considerable work is also ongoing in the areas of Agriculture, Tourism and Hydrocarbons. I shall cover these in more depth later in my address. The Islands Plan essentially provides a manifesto for government service provision and enhancement and Members see this as their template guide for the coming years.
3. In terms of the existing key industries, there remains continued optimism in the farming community despite the fact that last summer’s cool conditions made for challenging times for farmers finishing livestock for meat production. Investment in farms is continuing and the Department of Agriculture is working with farmers to implement improvements in production. FIMCo has more than achieved its targets for meat production and sales. The returns to farmers from meat production provide encouragement to continue the development of the meat side of their businesses.
4. Tourism remains an integral part of the economy of the Falklands. The Tourism Strategy, aimed at increasing the number of tourists and transforming the tourism industry is being further developed by the Tourist Board. This will become a Statutory Corporation in the near future, which will allow the organisation to more fully develop and implement new Islands-wide initiatives. Redevelopment of the public jetty as a gateway from the sea will continue and the relocation of the Museum will be completed in time for the next tourist season in support of the strategic ambitions and in line with the Waterfront Master plan. The potential for additional air links and increase in accommodation capacity will also continue to be pursued.
5. The Hydrocarbons industry also continues to go from strength to strength despite Argentine efforts to disrupt activity and threaten legal action against participants. These efforts have proved ineffective, and the unwavering support of the government of the United Kingdom will continue to ensure that legitimate economic activity in Falkland Islands waters continues unhindered.
6. Premier Oil passed a key decision gate in early 2014, and the company decided upon a ‘Tension Leg Platform’ concept as the best option for oil production in the Sea Lion oilfield. Detailed technical planning work continues, working closely with the Falkland Islands Government and its regulatory advisers, and the project aims to achieve sanction by mid-2015. First oil production from the field is now projected for 2019, and peak production rates have increased slightly over previous estimates.
7. Significant investment also continues in offshore seismic survey work around the Falkland Islands with the most recent survey completed in February 2014, adding to the substantial investment already made during the preceding summer. The most recent survey brought the most advanced seismic survey vessel in the world to the Falklands, illustrating the significant potential of the Falkland Islands economic area.
8. Planning is significantly advanced for a new multi-operator exploratory drilling programme which is expected to commence in the first half of 2015. This will bring a fresh surge in economic activity in the Falkland Islands and new opportunities for the local business community. A number of exciting new targets will be tested in both the North and South basins around the Falkland Islands.
9. Other licensees continue to seek new partners to carry out additional exploration and appraisal work elsewhere in licensed acreage, and success may lead to extended exploratory drilling taking place in the short term.
10. The impact that hydrocarbons may have on the Islands is of paramount importance to all of us. The abundance of wildlife, the pristine nature of the Islands and the way of life of the Islanders are always in our minds. The Government has therefore developed a Hydrocarbon Development Policy Statement, which sets out a broad policy framework for the future development of the industry. This must be, and will be, carefully planned. Relevant legislation has been reviewed and new and amended legislation is in the pipeline. The legislative side of the Tax Review is almost complete and new, much needed, maritime legislation is being drafted. Planning in all areas is progressing well and industry specialists have been commissioned to guide and assist us in the process.
11. The Government has been working with the private sector to define ‘Local Content’ policies that will encourage and maximise opportunities for local businesses to work with the oil industry. The prospect of oil provides a real opportunity to boost the economic prosperity of the Islands and this opportunity must be grasped if we are to play a full part in our long-term economic development.
12. The current financial year is once again looking healthy for fishery finances. Despite initial concern that the cold conditions would adversely affect the catch, catches of Illex have exceeded 270,000 tonnes, which is the highest since the fishery began in 1987. However, the success of our fishery is not judged by catch sizes alone. Despite the fact that our neighbours unilaterally withdrew from all aspects of joint management of the South Atlantic fishery, the Falkland Islands fisheries’ scientists continuously monitor fish stocks and associated environmental factors. As a result, the Falkland Islands fishery is widely regarded as one of the best-managed fisheries in the world.
13. The South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute (SAERI) was formed in 2012. Since its formation, SAERI has uniquely positioned itself to focus its research on the natural environment of the South Atlantic. It has been very successful in attracting local and international funding for projects and the resource base has significantly increased. The Institute is currently accommodating 4 PhD students. A major project has recently been commenced, in partnership with oil companies, to address gaps in environmental knowledge in Falkland waters and funding has also been secured to explore the potential for marine protected areas around the Islands.
14. The Falkland Islands fiscal position continues to grow strongly and another significant Government surplus will be evident this year. This is partly due to additional revenues from the hydrocarbons industry and investment returns but it is also the result of another excellent year for the fishing industry. This historical surplus, together with the additional revenues anticipated from the oil exploration and development activities currently in progress, has allowed significant investments in infrastructure, facilities and services to be planned. These will be detailed in the next few days as the Government’s budget for the next financial year and Medium Term Financial Plan are announced.
15. The infrastructure and capital programme will include provision across a wide range of areas, including health, housing, education, the prison, and sports development. Agreeing a capital programme for the next year has been a real challenge, but I am pleased to see that the Government took the time to consult on this recently, and that the community is genuinely engaged on this important issue.
16. The provision of effective, efficient and affordable healthcare is a prime responsibility of any modern Government. Patients have ever-increasing expectations; and improving clinical standards, technological advances and increasing clinical specialisation all combine to compound the challenge. As most people will be aware, we recently appointed our first local Chief Medical Officer. This appointment will enhance provision of locally accountable medical services and improve resource targeting. It is worth noting that access to primary care appointments improved significantly in the last few months and the recently completed mammography programme was a logistical triumph with 285 women screened. In the coming year it is our intention to review the Camp health strategy, improve the physical environment of the hospital and secure more patient and public involvement in service delivery and development.
17. The Social Services section has had a number of significant challenges in the recent past. However, following the Child Safety Review undertaken by the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, an improvement plan was developed and funded, which is being implemented enthusiastically. It is pleasing to see that we now have a comprehensive Social Work Team successfully engaged.
18. It is also pleasing to see that the numbers of children coming into the education system continue to increase. Standards in Primary education remain high and Secondary education and Adult training are moving forward. Action plans are in place to further enhance the learning experience in the Islands and arrangements are in train to expand much needed school facilities. Networks for Further and Higher education students are widening to allow students to access education in a global market. Partnerships within the Island are also expanding and we are now affiliated to the LEAD Academy Trust in the UK. This link will enhance recruitment, training and teacher exchange potential between the UK and the Falkland Islands.
19. However, the Falkland Islands will continue to face difficult challenges in the immediate and longer terms. The last census revealed that our population is essentially static and ageing. This in itself will result in employment and care issues for the future and the Falkland Islands Government must prepare to respond to them in the coming years.
20. It is vital that a strong economy is maintained. Whilst the potential economic benefits that would come with oil production would be welcome the economy cannot yet rely on this. The Economic Development Strategy, or EDS, which was produced in partnership with local businesses, was designed as a roadmap to help in developing the economy. The EDS includes measures to develop existing industries such as fisheries, agriculture and tourism but also includes options for diversification into new sectors and for improving the general economic environment. The Government budget includes funding to support investment in the EDS proposals.
21. The challenges we face also include dealing with continued attempts by the Government of Argentina to stifle our economy and block our economic development. However, we are confident that these attempts will continue to fail and we have the full backing of the UK Government and international law. Such attempts are inconvenient and frustrating but our focus must remain on our own objectives and we should not be diverted by baseless attempts to derail us. We will continue to concentrate on our own development agenda.
22. Mr Speaker, in addition to the headline services already mentioned, the Government has a number of other priorities for the coming months.
23. Immigration has been the subject of considerable discussion and debate. The independent Review of Immigration was intended to assist in formulating a fair, transparent and easy to follow immigration system; one which balances the need for a larger labour pool to facilitate economic growth with the aspiration to preserve the Falklands way of life. A consultation exercise has been conducted following the Review and policy formulation will follow in the near future.
24. Localisation of Government jobs wherever possible and practical remains a priority. However, it is difficult to progress this aspiration without the associated training and experience that will allow local candidates to be appropriately developed. The Government budget includes £200,000 a year for the Career Development scheme and the eligibility criteria and scheme limitations were recently reviewed to ensure that training budgets can be appropriately spent following a considerable under spend previously. This demonstrates the Government’s commitment to succession planning and developing local talent.
25. In the area of Regulation, 2013/14 has already seen improvements in telecoms with further increases in download limits and decreases in prices being realised. As the Government’s Regulatory work continues we are entering a critical period that will see a new telecommunications licence being negotiated to secure the provision of the islands’ telecommunications needs beyond 2019. Work on this has already commenced. In line with the government’s wish that monopoly and general regulation is enhanced, a regulatory framework that comprehensively covers and extends beyond the currently regulated sectors will be developed throughout the next year.
26. There is also a lot of work to do in relation to civil aviation regulation. Work continues to support Airstrip owners and FIGAS and to encourage enhancements to further improve passenger safety. Within this we will ensure improvements meet international standards and fully support future economic development and ensure that we are ready to meet the demands of further hydrocarbon exploration and growth of the tourism industry. An extensive programme of Camp Airstrip assessments recommenced in 2014 and is set to continue. We recognise the contribution that the hard work of the camp airstrip owners makes in ensuring passenger safety. Executive Council, the Ministry of Defence and Foreign Office have recognised the need to review the Airbridge arrangements with a view to further supporting the Islands’ economic development needs in an expanding and confident economy.
27. Transport links have always been an important part of the Islands’ infrastructure; both internally and internationally. The Government is investigating a number of possibilities for increasing air links to improve accessibility and allow tourism and the economy generally to develop. Additional funding has also been included in the budgets for future years for maintenance and improvement of the Camp road network.
28. Housing remains a key strategic priority for the Government. 81 housing plots have so far been opened up on the Sapper Hill development, of which 32 have been taken up by private individuals, largely by first time buyers. 4 properties are already occupied and significant progress is being made on a number of others. Work continues on the next phases which will provide a further 65 plots. Looking ahead, an additional phase which will offer around 60 plots is already being considered for commencement in early 2015.
29. The Government continues to devote considerable additional resources to strengthen and develop the justice system within the Islands. Falkland Island Law provides protection to our citizens and maintains the Islands’ reputation for the highest standards of protection under the law. The Government has made significant investment in reviewing our laws and has committed to continued investment. Considerable work is ongoing with reviews of child law, criminal law and criminal procedural law substantially progressed. With funding confirmed it is anticipated that a Law Commissioner will be appointed shortly to begin a complete review of our Statute Book. The work of the Attorney General’s Chambers has been enhanced by specialist criminal and child protection lawyers.
30. Working together with the Royal Falkland Islands Police, the Attorney General has secured convictions in a number of serious cases involving child and adult sexual abuse. The convictions obtained demonstrate our commitment to bringing both current and historical offending before the courts and the Police and Prosecution Service continue in their commitment to support victims and witnesses to encourage confidence to report offenders and bring them to justice.
31. In the forthcoming year the government has committed to bringing forward the following key legislation:
- A new and updated Education Ordinance to ensure that our laws support the provision of an appropriate education service;
- A comprehensive Criminal Law and Criminal Evidence and Procedure Legislation;
- A suite of Marine legislation to ensure that our regulation of ports, harbours and shipping is appropriate as we move forward from oil exploration to oil exploitation, together with any environmental legislation required for ongoing oil development;
- A review of the Electoral Ordinance to ensure that we continue to maintain the very best standards in electoral practice;
- A review of the Administration of Justice Ordinance – following on from the Ministry of Justice review of the courts, and to ensure that our framework for administration of justice is appropriate to support a potentially growing community and economy; and
- Legislation required to implement rural enterprise zones and rural tax reliefs.
This is an ambitious legislative programme.
32. Finally, amidst all the day to day work of the Government here in the Islands and the progress we are making in community development, there is an international dimension that unfortunately cannot be ignored. It is not of our making nor is it our desire. Argentina continues to attempt to present historical inaccuracies and spurious sovereignty claims. However, as a result of continuing positive action by Members of the Legislative Assembly and local people, supported by the British Government’s steadfast resolve, the profile of the Falkland Islands remains high in the international community. Therefore, since international interest in the Islands continues unabated, we have welcomed a number of key politicians, opinion formers and journalists, particularly from Latin America to the Islands; we have continued with our public diplomacy strategy, which shall increasingly involves members of the local community, at home and abroad; and we have developed our use of social media to amplify our messages and reach nations and cultures that are far away from the Islands
As a result we will continue to promote a clear and unequivocal message about who we are and who we want to be to the international community in general and to our South American neighbours in particular.
33. Mr Speaker, as has been said many times before, Falkland Islanders are resilient and resourceful people. For nearly two hundred years they have been meeting challenges by employing practical and inventive solutions. They stand up for themselves and are steadfast in their resolve. The Falkland Islands have a modern society, which quite rightly has modern expectations and modern ambitions. The community has high standards and high moral obligations. It deserves a modern Government. There are many serious challenges ahead. However, the Government will continue to work, to provide practical, imaginative and sometimes bold solutions in order that first class services can continue to be provided. This approach will enable the Islands to continue to have the bright future that they deserve.