CHIEF Minister Fabian Picardo has delivered his ‘State of the Nation’ review - plus an upbeat Budget that shows revenues up.
Gross domestic product stands at almost £2billion and there is a record surplus of £75.8m for the year. Despite Brexit concerns Mr Picardo reported on a robust economy built on record employment numbers with the ability to attract investment.
However, with uncertainty ahead he said that his Budget was designed with prudence in mind and in support of working families, young people, the elderly and the disabled.
However, Leader of the Opposition Daniel Feetham described the Budget statement as a “dangerous farce” accusing Mr Picardo of being the architect of a “systematic destruction of Parliamentary governance”.
He argued again that the real figure of public debt was hidden from scrutiny through a number of Government-owned companies and more likely to be “an eye watering £1.2billion” rather than the figure presented.
Mr Picardo stated that the key objectives of his Budget were to ensure that Gibraltar was the most attractive place in Europe to do business, to invest in youth and to support senior citizens and those in the community that cannot help themselves. He called it a Budget to improve public services and provide continued economic growth.
Mr Picardo said that Gibraltar is proud to be multi-faceted, multi-cultural and multi-ethnic. And that our attitude to the 12,000 people of whatever nationality that cross the border each day remains welcome.
The Chief Minister confirmed that the acquired rights of all EU nationals working on the Rock before the final cut-off date agreed between the UK and the EU would be respected but that the position regarding EU nationals arriving after that date would depend on whether Clause 24 is used to exclude Gibraltar from the benefits of any future deal.
“We will see how all that plays out,” said Mr Picardo, ”but one thing is for sure, this Government of Gibraltar will not allow Gibraltar to be discriminated against and yet extend generous rights to the nationals of those who are discriminating against us.”
He added: “It should be clear that the people of Gibraltar are not going to be pressured to surrender sovereignty in exchange for EU rights or access to the Single Market or anything at all.”
Speaking on specific achievements Mr Picardo said Revenue has increased to £615m. Expenditure in the same period has risen to £597million and that income has increased more and faster than our expenditure.
Employment levels were 26,144 in October 2015 representing a growth of 17.5% in the numbers of people employed in the economy. Income tax levels already being abolished for those with income levels below £11,050 and the minimum wage increased to £6.45 an hour.
During his speech the Chief Minister disclosed that as the result of recommendations from an educational working group co-education will be introduced in the two comprehensive schools. In addition, children will enter the comprehensive schools one year earlier, at the beginning of Year 7 and a programme to provide a number of new schools by September 2019 is now in place.
He said the revenue estimate for 2017/18 is £615million, plus £24million year on year.
The overall expenditure budget for the year is £597million, an increase of around 4.5% and the expenditure Budget of the Improvement and Development Fund for the current financial year is £65million. Capital investment in Works and Equipment is estimated at £20million and the provision for investments in other Government projects amounts to £45million.
Mr Picardo concluded his Budget speech by saying: “Prudence, caution, optimism and investment. Those are the watchwords with which this Budget has been laced. We must be prudent, but the results of the year just past and the year to date give us good reason for optimism. That is why with caution we must continue to invest in our community.
“It is not a time for political novices, for political apprenticeships or political ambition. It is a time for political leadership. The economy is performing well; the public finances are stronger than ever. The nation is on a sound course to continued success.”