Toward a new future-proof economy
By Charles Gomez
The Gibraltarian economy was once “firing on all cylinders”.
Financial services, internet gaming, construction and tourism powered our City forward. We all know that a radical shift in mindset is now required because nothing ever stays the same.
It would be facile to say, blandly, that the solution lies in fresh and innovative industries and technology driven sectors like renewable energy, fintech and digital services. It is nowhere near that simple.
New challenges loom whether there is a hard-Brexit, or a soft one premised on a regional system of “equilibrium.”
The former is daunting, but even the latter will inevitably blunt some of the competitive edge that we have enjoyed for a generation and will place Gibraltar in the same position as anywhere else in our region or indeed, within the Schengen area; but we all know that.
Renewable energy, fintech, digital services etc. can be promoted successfully anywhere within the imaginary radius which includes southern Andalucia, northern Morocco and Ceuta. If anything, others have advantages in terms of resources, economies of size and particularly in Morocco, a young population which is fresh and motivated… but please don’t stop reading because the aim of this article is to offer solutions.
I firmly believe that to safeguard living standards, our community must reinvent and restructure itself to embrace resilience, adaptability and innovation, a far cry, I accept from the currently prevalent top to bottom culture of entitlement.
Every Gibraltarian and those who choose to be part of our adventure must sign up to personal responsibility and commitment. To face adversity, individuals must develop a profound sense of accountability because collective success is the product of personal exertions. Only by rediscovering a culture of proactive engagement can we rebuild our economic foundations on determination, resilience, and hard work.
Just as Gibraltar has historically adapted to challenges in the 1940s or in 1969 or 1985, it must now evolve rapidly to harness the powers of innovation and creativity. There is no blueprint that we can get from Amazon; we must design our own success by hardwiring flexibility into all our business models and pursuing uninhibited collaborations and alliances.
To remain relevant, Gibraltar must be redefined in the international stage.
Financial services, construction, tourism, and all our other activities must be reimagined to suit the evolving global landscape. So, it is that we must face hard truths. Thus, the grey listing of Gibraltar by the Financial Action Task Force has been a blow to our financial services sector and pretending otherwise is counterproductive.
FATF’s designation says that there is an urgent need to bolster the finance centre’s integrity, strengthen enforcement, enhance transparency, and restore trust in a robust financial ecosystem.
In tourism, the old model of catering for the 10,000,000 visitors that we once took for granted, many of whom bought cheaper fuel and cigarettes, may be obsolete and more so when “equilibrium”, and hopefully not something worse, sets in.
Gibraltarians are welcoming folk, but the visitor experience needs working on. This is not just a matter of learning, but also of unlearning.
Leisure, shopping and exploring are all about micro-experiences, and since we are all consumers, it should not be too difficult to determine where we could do better, and from there, allow imagination and enterprise to flow unhindered - less noise and more style, elegance, and panache.
It is good to recognise successes to be emulated. The Commonwealth Park must surely be the standard-bearer for public amenities.
In entertainment and catering, Chatham Counterguard seems to have developed organically, optimising what would be the obstacle of small unit sizes by “grouping” together to work and feel as one space whilst maintaining the individuality and offering of each of their bars and restaurants.
Ocean Village and Queensway Quay have been able to successfully combine residential accommodation with leisure activities and must surely be a model for Devil’s Tower Road where buildings have been approved with scant attention given to the kind of leisure and cultural areas that are desperately needed to enhance and cheer the human spirit.
In my opinion, it is a scandal that bilingualism which should be giving us an edge in international business and the leisure industry has been systematically downgraded over 50 years; we must have it back, on steroids.
The government is already taking small steps on procuring economic support to deserving entrepreneurs, but long strides are required with the reduction of bureaucratic obstacles, taxation and overheads imposed on those brave enough to take the risks inherent in the private sector. Vanity and electorally motivated taxpayer funded projects must be banished forever; they have undermined our commercial system. Full accountability must be restored, if not out of sense of decency, at least to lessen the load on wealth creators.
Among our advantages is the large number of university graduates in our community, but retraining may be necessary, and the public service should never again be used to massage employment rates.
Business is as much about temperament and sentiment as it is about intellect. Gibraltar will succeed when we recognise the challenges. It is up to all of us to foster a culture that encourages openness to change, new ideas and alternative viewpoints which are unique to Gibraltar’s special circumstances.
Monopolies and special interest groups must be dismantled and replaced by a system of equal opportunities which is open to all who are willing to invest and engage in our City to ensure that we return to the pure definition of commercial activity which is that it is a venture; an adventure where we are all equipped to turn challenges into opportunities and can provide a resilient safety net so that no deserving citizen is left behind.
Let us go for it.
Charles Gomez is a barrister.