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Address By Minister Arias-Vasquez At The GFSB Annual Dinner

Below follows Minister Arias-Vasquez’s address at the GFSB annual dinner:

Chair, Members of the GFSB, Good evening.

I am very glad to be able to be here tonight to address the members of the GFSB. 

To be fair, I am so jetlagged and lost in time zones I think I am here to talk to you about business – but I may end up telling you about why we should be decolonised and decide our own future as a people…. 

Let me tell you that I am here to talk about business, and I am very happy to be doing so. It’s a great subject because one way or another, I know that business means a lot to each of you. That’s why you are here. 

And it means a great deal to me too. 

We often see specific sectors taking credit for playing a key role in our economy. And they do. 

The port. 

Tourism. 

Financial Services. 

Gaming.

The reality is that with the portfolio I have, I can see the clear synergies between all these areas. 

Working with my cabinet colleaguesChristian, John and Nigel I can see allthe interactions between all these areas to create greater synergies between Gibraltar businesses. 

I can see how we leverage these areas to create a better product for Gibraltar PLC. But business, as a sector, in and of itself needs attention. 

And I intend to make abundantly certain that it gets the attention it deserves. But before I do, I would like to say some words about the GFSB. 

The GFSB has been around for what, 27 years? 

Marie Lou can probably tell you the exact date! 

In that time, it has grown leaps and bounds. 

Thanks, in large part, to the community spirit that we see here tonight. 

But those present represent just a fraction of that force. 

You are over 5,000 members representing 350 businesses. 

The GFSB has indeed become the voice of Gibraltar’s private sector. 

And I am grateful that this voice is used to inform our thinking and influence our policies. We all need to know what we are doing well and what we can do better, Government included. I am proud to have played a small part in the GFSB’s 27-year history. 

My 6 years chairing the GFSB were well spent. 

I spent my time here lobbying the likes of me to make businesses more efficient, to make the lives of businesses even easier. 

Now I am in the privileged position to be able to do so. 

I’ll be going into some detail later as to how we intend to do this. 

I used these 6 years to build relationships with a wide variety of business owners. Many of whom I am pleased to see here this evening.

I also learnt first-hand what matters most to businesses like you. 

And what type of support you need. 

I have a lot to thank the GFSB for. 

Marie Lou told me that I would learn a lot about Gibraltar through the GFSB – and she was right – I did. 

Business has seen its fair share of tough times in recent years. 

Recessions, a pandemic, Brexit, globalisation, inflation, high interest rates… But business has stood strong through all those challenges. 

That is the beauty of commerce in Gibraltar. 

It is a common statistic that most start-ups fail. 

That statistic does not apply in Gibraltar 

Quite the opposite: we want them to survive. 

Or to take a page from the GFSB’s magazine, to THRIVE. 

The resilience shown by our business community is not new. 

In fact, it is a resilience that has been around for so long that it forms part of the fabric that makes us who we are. 

Be it the closure of the dockyard, or the border in ’69, or its re-opening in ‘85. Our business community has always come out stronger. 

I know that maintaining success may appear to be increasingly difficult. 

Over the next few minutes, I hope to highlight my vision for business. 

We are fortunate to have one of the smallest but most successful and diversified economies in the world. 

That makes us nimble. 

But it should not make us complacent.

Over the past few months, we have produced a strategic plan for business. We have shared a draft of that plan with key stakeholders, including the GFSB, for their feedback. The strategic plan will be published when I give my budget speech later this month. ButI want to give you a sneak peek into the 4 strategic goals that we have set for the next few years. FIRSTLY - Doing business in Gibraltar should be easy. 

A jurisdiction where business is made easy becomes an attraction in its own right. But I know that at times it may feel like the opposite. 

You may feel that interaction with you is difficult. 

I am determined to change that. 

And we will change that. 

I am very pleased to have come to the dinner this evening with our new CEO for Business John Paul Fa. 

I am extremely happy with his appointment because we have the same strategic vision for business and the streamlining of business processes. 

We want businesses to focus on what they do best. 

Selling their goods. 

Providing their services. 

Growing and taking on new employees. 

Making profits, paying tax. 

The less time that businesses spend interacting with government,the more time they have to focus on their business. 

So how are we going to make business easy? 

We're tearing down bureaucratic barriers. 

I know eGov is clunky and needs to work better for you and for us. 

We are working on a platform which makes interactions with Government easier.

Today, we have launched an interim application form for new applications. But this is not where I think we need to be. 

We need to go further. 

I want to see a Gibraltar where setting up and running your business is as smooth and simple as the technology in your pocket. 

And we will be there with a portal for business – we believe – within a year. 

We want to deliver a platform where you can do everything you need from one easy-to-use interface. 

I want to see a consolidation of legislation and process. 

The first step is the transfer of registration of businesses, trades and professions, from the Department of Employment to Business. 

This will see a joined-up approach between business licensing and business registration. 

We also have advanced plans for improving the entertainment licensing, leisure areas [clubs] and liquor licence regimes. 

Our aim is for businesses to feel like they can interact with Government through one single interface. 

We also have a phased plan for our one stop shop that we will be rolling out in coming months. SECONDLY - As we make business easier, we also need to optimise communication. That means maintaining regular contact with business representative groups, like the GFSB. But also modernising. 

Not just with the publication of our strategic plan. 

But also with the publication of an annual report. 

Sharing data with the business community in an effort to try and inform business decisions for you and shape policy decisions at our end. 

Part of our communication also involves planting the first seeds that will transition the Office of Fair Trading into a wider Business portfolio. 

It's about making the Office of Fair Trading more than just a regulatory body.

It has to become a platform for growth. 

THIRDLY - communication will also be the precursor to raise awareness to our enforcement campaigns. 

We have to protect what we have. 

And businesses need to compete on a level playing field, as we have said many times before. It is well and good for the majority of businesses to comply. 

But we need to tackle the businesses that are not compliant. 

And the enforcement against them needs to be visible, so that it acts as a deterrent. And that brings me to the fourth and final strategic goal: business development. We want to support the growth of existing Gibraltar businesses. 

And attract new business to Gibraltar through access to new industries and new markets. Focusing on productive, resilient and sustainable sectors. 

Many local businesses outside of the sectors thatI mentioned before punch above their weight well beyond our borders. 

I want to engage with those sectors too,to set up delivery bodies and see how we can support them in their international growth. 

I am also pleased to announce this evening that we will be opening a new round of applications for the Gibraltar Enterprise Scheme. 

A press release will follow tomorrow announcing the details of this scheme, and how to apply. 

For those of you unaware, this is a Government backed scheme for start-up businesses to obtain soft-loans from Gibraltar International Bank or Trusted Novus Bank. 

During my budget speech, I will also be announcing a waiver of business licensing fees for young entrepreneurs, following representations made by the Young Enterprise Scheme. 

We are committed to helping business, entrepreneurs and the Gibraltarian zest for finding new avenues of developing commerce. 

This strategic plan may have been created by us but it does not just belong to Government, it is our plan.

Your ideas, your feedback, and your engagement have shaped the initiatives that we are about to undertake. 

I Would call on each of you to continue this partnership, as we refine and implement these strategies. Your participation is critical to our success. 

Work with us and together, we can get the job done. 

We are on the brink of a transformational opportunity for Gibraltar. 

But as the Chief Minister has recently stressed, it is important that we secure a comprehensive treaty that addresses the complexities of Gibraltar’s political and economic landscape. 

Much as I would love to, I am afraid that I do not have an update on Treaty negotiations. I know you all knew that, so I’m happy I haven’t disappointed. 

What I can say is that we need to be ready in either scenario, whether that involves facilitating the economic prosperity that comes with a treaty, or surviving and thriving without one. 

But you would also know that. 

Thank you very much for listening and enjoy the rest of your evening.