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Phillips says Govt 'hiding true level of debt'

Budget Parliament 100619 {seq} { seq} ( Photo John Bugeja) Government and Opposition on their way to parliament whilst CM shows his Budget Case

The GSD will vote against the budget for the third consecutive year, insisting that its stance is a principled position in the face of opaque government finances that do not allow the Opposition to properly carry out its role.

Elliott Phillips, the Leader of the Opposition, said the way the Gibraltar Government presented the budget, with key capital projects channelled through government-own companies whose spending did not appear in the estimates, did not allow "the slightest degree of oversight over public finance".

"Absent a full account, the annual budget debate defiles good governance and the proper administration of our community and the people deserve better," he said.

And he added: "We will not vote in favour of this budget because it fails to present a clear, accurate and unambiguous reflection of the state of our public finances."

Mr Phillips said the GSD estimated that the true gross debt position was around £1.24 billion, not £447.7m as the government claimed.

"To put it another way, a £40,000 debt around the necks of each of our citizens man woman and child," he said.

Mr Phillips urged the Chief Minister to heed the "health warning" made by Sir Joe Bossano in a party political broadcast last week, insisting that "at the very least" Sir Joe expects a serious decline in recurrent revenue.

"Sir Joe talks about and warns our community about caring more about one year's payroll than the quality of life for future generations of Gibraltarians," Mr Phillips said.

"Sir Joe offers a stark warning to those that sit with him and they should heed that 47 years of experience."

"It was also evident that Sir Joe was creating clear blue water between him and the CM by saying that he was only responsible for economic development and not industrial relations, the public service or indeed public finances."

"This was a clear side swipe to the man sitting at the right hand side of the Father of the House the Chief Minister."

Mr Phillips said the next election must be about how to prioritise public services in particular training, housing and care services.

He said the Chief Minister's budget "…does very little to deliver the security that our community is seeking in increasingly uncertain times."

The government has "failed our young people", Mr Phillips said, pointing out that there was nothing in the budget speech about apprenticeships.

He the government's policies were creating "a divided society" where "the rich are getting richer" while those at the "bottom of the pile" had little hope of improving their lot.

The Government's "failed job strategy" had created "a lost generation of untrained and unskilled young people without hope or aspiration and that will be this Government's legacy."

"We have talked about the skills cliff edge for five years, now we talk about a skills abyss," he said.

The Leader of the Opposition also lashed out at the government's handling of the EU withdrawal process, adding that the Chief Minister "refuses to accept that he misjudged Brexit".

He accused Mr Picardo of "sycophantly supporting a mortally wounded PM" even while championing a second vote with the mantra of "Revoke, Referendum or Remain".

Gibraltar, he said, had missed an opportunity to recalibrate its relationship with the UK and the EU.
"We need to be positive and speak loudly about how we see our future and be specific about the relationship we want with the EU," he said.

As for the tax treaty, he repeated the GSD's well-known position that the agreement is "…a surrender by him [the CM] of our fiscal sovereignty."

Mr Phillips said too that Gibraltar's affordable housing/co-ownership model "is broken and has been broken for a long time", adding that it "must change".

"Affordable housing must be truly affordable and, importantly, accessible," he said.

"It must do what it says on the tin and it must not be abused for profit."

But while he focused heavily on issues such as Brexit, housing, training and apprenticeships, Mr Phillips returned repeatedly to the central theme in his speech.

He said the government's investments on land and people must be "open to scrutiny and examination".

"We cannot properly evaluate whether or not those investments are properly or efficiently made because of the impenetrable web of companies and structures deployed by the Government in order to hide the mass of layered debt facing future generations of our people," he said.

"Development in our community is unplanned, unregulated and directionless. Gibraltar is now unrecognisable with horribly 15 insensitively designed buildings which are destroying the physical fabric of our community for the sake of profit and without any real assessment or consideration for how our people wish our community to look in 25 years."