Simmons: population growth a major goal’
The Bermuda Government wants the island’s population to return to the levels seen in 2006 and 2007, when the island was enjoying an economic boom time.
And the Government is listening to the needs of the business community, and looking at ways of lowering costs in Bermuda — for businesses and the population — and it will not introduce a business services tax.
Those are part of the vision for the way ahead, according to Jamahl Simmons.
The Minister of Economic Development and Tourism spoke to hundreds of business delegates attending the EY Global (Re)Insurance Outlook forum, at the Hamilton Princess Hotel and Beach Club.
He also mentioned lessons learnt from the America’s Cup, which Bermuda hosted this year, and how a new events authority would seek to “create, attract and manage events of that calibre”.
At the event, held in association with The Insurance Insider, Mr Simmons spoke of the desire for economic growth, job creation and continuing efforts to make Bermuda a welcoming place for business.
He said part of his role was to work with businesses to identify areas where Government can “get out of the way” and allow Bermuda to achieve.
“I tell stakeholders to put their desires and wishlists before us. You know how this industry works. It’s that collaborative process that will allow us to provide a better and more responsive government,” he said.
Regarding population size, Mr Simmons said: “One of the major goals is to get Bermuda’s population back where it was when our economy was booming in 2006 and 2007. We want to get back to those days, before the exodus of jobs, before the emigration of Bermudians overseas to seek better opportunities.”
The global financial crisis of 2008 and the subsequent multiyear recession led to thousands of people leaving Bermuda. John Wight, president of the Chamber of Commerce, last year estimated that 5,000 people had left the island as a result of the crash and recession.
Between 2000 and 2010, the island’s population went from 62,000 to 64,200. A government population report, published three years ago, projected the island’s population would fall back to 61,566 by 2020.
Mr Simmons said: “There was a time, for Bermudians in particular, when this was a land of opportunities and we did not tend to go overseas.
“We’ve lost a lot of our people because they felt they could not be a part of Bermuda’s economic miracle.
“Our goal is to be a welcoming jurisdiction to business, to encourage them to grow and create more jobs, but also be a place where our local population has the support and resources and training to take advantage of the opportunities here.”
The Minister said it was a priority of the Government to lower the cost of doing business in Bermuda, and to look at ways to shift the tax burden. He mentioned that the Premier had spoken of payroll tax being a disincentive for creating jobs.
Mr Simmons was questioned on stage during a fireside chat session with Jessel Mendes, partner and regional growth markets leader, financial services organisation, EY.
Mr Mendes asked about the prospect of business services taxes, to which Mr Simmons said: “No, the Premier has ruled that out.”
The topic of tourism was also discussed. In September, it was announced that the island’s America’s Cup authority, the ACBDA, will become the Bermuda Event Authority to build on the experience of hosting the international sailing competition.
Mr Simmons expanded on this, telling delegates: “The America’s Cup gave us an opportunity to show that we can host world-class events. There were many things we learnt about our ability to deliver.”
He said the Government wants to have events that drive tourism numbers, but also drive growth throughout the country.
“One of the things that we were very critical of the America’s Cup for, was that there was very little in terms of distribution throughout the country.”
Mr Simmons said the Government wants to end over-reliance on Bermuda ticket sales for tourism events, and is seeking to increase the island’s prime tourism season so it extends from March to the end of November.
And he spoke of the desire to see wider economic opportunities for the island’s population.
“Government is committed to giving our people the resources and skills support to be a part of the high-calibre intellectual capital that business wants, whether it is in international business or whether it is in the hospitality industry,” he said.
“We are going to do some major reform with the Bermuda Hospitality Institute to get the service standards up, get the quality up, and also tell the story that this is an industry where you can enter, grow and evolve and be confident that you have support.”
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