Longevity and fewer births present complex balancing act, Sir Joe says
An ageing population coupled with decreasing birth rates globally presents a complex balancing act for all governments, Sir Joe Bossano said on Friday, as he underscored the need for a strong local workforce.
Sir Joe explained that the number of pensioners locally has increased by 15% to 20% and for a community to support this, the working population would need to increase three-fold.
He was speaking at a press conference in which he detailed his National Economic Plan, which aims to reduce Gibraltar’s reliance on cross-border workers, with inroads already made in the health and care sectors.
“If you've got a shrinking workforce and an expanding pension base, you're in that place, but everybody's going to be in that place and therefore it's better to be ready for what is inevitable, than to hope that it doesn't happen,” Sir Joe said.
With an eye on the Rock’s post-Brexit future, Sir Joe detailed how he has undertaken future planning including to train Gibraltarians in sectors which traditionally rely on cross-border workers.
Mr Picardo added that the GSLP/Liberals have no plans to raise the age of retirement but do plan on equalising the pensionable age to 60, albeit with an opportunity for people to delay retirement in exchange for a higher pension.
If elected, the GSLP/Liberals also plan to focus the Careers Fair to highlight to youngsters the skills that are needed locally and real job prospects.
The Alliance recognised that, locally, there are many graduates who are in jobs which do not need university degrees, and the Careers Fair should guide youngsters to skilled jobs.
Mr Picardo said Sir Joe has been successful in attracting young people to the nursing and caring sectors, but that there now needs to be a push in insurance, financial services, business and accountancy, particularly with accountants able to complete their studies locally rather than abroad.
Sir Joe said Gibraltar relies on 15,000 to 16,000 cross-frontier workers, with a turnover of around 6,000 to 7,000 annually.
“The target of the government now is to produce a GDP each year with less people,” Sir Joe said.
“And to explain the economics of this is very simple. If you've got three people doing what previously four people were doing, then there is immediately a 33% increase in efficiency, so what we produced before with four you will now produce with three.”
“In our situation, the fact is that we are dependent on a cross-border labour force, which is quite volatile in the sense that there's a very high turnover.”
He added that the high turnover makes implementing the economic plan easier as the government doesn’t have to make difficult decisions in making people redundant in order to restructure the economy.
“You just stop importing [labour in] the areas where the restructuring is taking place,” Sir Joe said.
“The people go out instead of getting replaced, you don't need to get the replacement. So we are better placed than anybody to be able to bring about change.”
During the press conference, Sir Joe said he will be in politics as long as he has breath in his lungs.
He was speaking after a poll by the Gibraltar Chronicle and GBC placed him lowest in the Alliance slate and, should the poll be reflected on election night, potentially leaving him out of Parliament after more than five consecutive decades as an MP.
GSLP leader Fabian Picardo said the poll has shown the electorate that if they want a GSLP/Liberal government, they need to block vote for the10 Alliance candidates.
GSD leader Keith Azopardi has made the inverse assessment, that if people want change, they should vote for all 10 GSD candidates.
In response to journalists, Sir Joe was sanguine about the poll and said he plans to continue in politics.
“They tried to get rid of me in 1996 and they will try to get rid of me now,” Sir Joe said.
“As long as I have got breath in my lungs, I will be in politics and nowhere else.”
Sir Joe hit out at the GSD criticism over comments he made 35 years ago regarding the local Moroccan community, which were highlighted in a video of a TV interview from that period circulated on social media by an anonymous account.
Against the backdrop of the row over social media posts about Israel made by GSD candidate Youssef El Hana, Mr Azopardi had been critical that while Mr El Hana had apologised for those posts, Mr Bossano had not apologised for comments in the video that the GSD leader described as having “racist overtones”.
“I don't know of anybody that goes around giving apologies for something that is without even the context,” Sir Joe said, adding that the video was just a clip of a wider interview.
“I mean, [in the video] I gave an answer to a question. I think that the question was, would there be more Moroccans coming to Gibraltar? But I surmise that question from the answer [in the video circulated].”
“I’ve stood in many elections in those 35 years, nobody’s ever asked me to apologise, but now it's a centre point that Azopardi feels is sufficiently important to highlight, that they fished that out and they’re using it.”
“I work seven days a week for the people of Gibraltar, and it's not money that keeps me there,” Sir Joe added.
“It's the fact that I care about Gibraltar and its people. So if I get a question 35 years ago, what do I do? I then have to be prepared to apologise for the next 50 years?”
Mr Picardo also addressed another controversy over recent days and said that, if re-elected, he would remain as Chief Minister for the length of the tenure.
This comes after GSD leader Keith Azopardi suggested in both the GSD’s public meeting and GBC’s ‘Meet the Media’ programme that, if elected, Mr Picardo would step down from the role in 2025 and allow a “novice” Gemma Arias-Vasquez to become Chief Minister for the rest of the term.
“This is a demonstration that Keith Azopardi lies,” Mr Picardo said.
Mr Picardo said it is up to the GSLP to choose its next leader.
“I said that I thought Gemma Arias could potentially do that job, but I also said we have to see if she becomes a minister, how she does,” Mr Picardo said.
“So that is the level of desperation that Keith Azopardi has to try and persuade people to vote for him, that he has to continually lie to them even about the things that are factually transparently different to the thing that he's saying.”
As is standard practice in the GSLP, Mr Picardo would have to stand for leadership again every two years.
Mr Picardo said if elected he would stand for leadership again for the GSLP as he had for the 12 years he was in government.
He added he doesn’t anticipate the GSLP voting against him as leader if elected as Chief Minister.
“It hasn't happened in 12 years, and I don't anticipate it's going to happen now,” he said.