In a hard-hitting speech to business leaders, Economic Development president Charles Parkinson rejected talk of ‘managed decline’ and stressed the need to diversify the economy amid the finance industry facing ‘headwinds’ from the UK and European Union. The call to arms comes as business leaders have demanded investment in infrastructure.
‘Given the external threats, we simply have to reduce our concentration risk. The States will continue to support finance in any way we can, but we must try to grow other industries to take up any slack that may result from a shrinkage in the finance industry,’ said Deputy Parkinson in his address to this month’s Guernsey Chamber of Commerce lunch.
A road map and new economic vision will be produced within months, said Deputy Parkinson, alongside expected announcements on transport links – including potentially Aurigny’s future – and digital connectivity, in response to concerns raised by businesses.
A new Guernsey investment fund to support new business ventures with up to £25m. of States funding has also been launched alongside news of a new weekly air service to Glasgow this summer and confirmation of the preferred bidder for an inter-island passenger ferry service.
Deputy Parkinson’s committee will focus research on areas in which Guernsey could have a competitive advantage to develop a ‘holistic’ economic plan. These include niche and medical tourism, renewable energy, data and cyber security, a Guernsey university and a ‘blue economy’ centred on development opportunities presented by St Peter Port and the eastern seaboard.
‘The research will form a cornerstone of my committee’s new “vision” document that will replace the green paper that was withdrawn from the last States meeting.
‘It will answer the question: “Where do we want Guernsey’s economy to be in 10 or 20 years’ time?”. And it will set out a road map to get there, including identifying any short-term wins that we can achieve along the way. We hope to be able to bring a new vision document back to the States in April or May.’
While praising elements of the previous document, Deputy Parkinson said: ‘What is different about my committee’s approach, apart from the injection of “vision”, is that we believe the time has come for the States of Guernsey to be bold, to make some positive interventions to stimulate new economic activity.
‘It’s no longer enough to keep the fields fertile and hope that someone else will come here and plant a new crop. We must take positive action to promote promising new ventures, including, where necessary, committing public funds to the project.’
While the Guernsey investment fund was a step in the right direction, he pointed to Jersey’s level of commitment to invest in its economic future and the impact.
‘In my view, Guernsey needs to be equally bold. If the States do not show our confidence in the Guernsey economy, we can hardly expect others to come and invest here,’ he said. ‘We have not invested when investment has been needed. And for many years now, the total of States investment has been severely short of our targets.’