Fintech training to be prioritised
Plans for a fintech hub appeared to have taken a step backwards yesterday after a Cabinet minister said money set aside for the project would be spent elsewhere.
The third floor of a Hamilton building was due to be transformed into an “incubator” for budding blockchain businesses.
But Jamahl Simmons, the Minister without Portfolio, revealed funds for the scheme have been reallocated to pay for free training for Bermudians who want to work in the sector.
Mr Simmons was speaking after the Government said the hub scheme was put on hold to check if it would be the best use of money, a move later branded “acutely embarrassing” by the Opposition leader.
Craig Cannonier added that the halt on the project showed a failing policy.
Mr Simmons said on Tuesday: “Hundreds of Bermudians attended our fintech education information sessions last week determined to seize the training opportunities that will prepare Bermudians to acquire jobs as more companies set up operations in Bermuda.
“Therefore, it is ironic that the former premier whose government slashed scholarships for Bermudians and the former works minister who spent $1 million to build one roundabout would criticise this government’s decision to reallocate funds from a proposed building project to provide training for the 320 Bermudians that have registered.
“The best investment a government can make is in its people and we decided that it made better sense to provide training to Bermudians free of charge rather than build a government-owned co-working space. “This government will continue to invest in Bermudians and no amount of noise or hollow statements from the Opposition leader will distract us from our mission of putting Bermudians first.”
Mr Cannonier, then minister of public works, told the House of Assembly in 2016 that $728,000 had been spent on the Blackwatch Pass and North Shore Road roundabout project, with the total cost expected to be close to $1 million.
The Royal Gazette reported on Tuesday that plans to renovate the top floor of the former IAS building on Church Street in Hamilton had been shelved to check if its proposed services were already offered by the private sector.
A design contract valued at $74,000 was awarded to Clarico Ltd but the work was put on hold at the first of four phases.
Mr Cannonier, the One Bermuda Alliance leader, asked: “Why is this happening only now? The project to create a fintech hub has been in the pipeline for more than 18 months and only now do we see Government looking at what already exists.
“Those responsible should be acutely embarrassed.
“And if it is about being fiscally prudent, why isn’t Government cutting its own costs instead of hiking the tax burden on Bermudians?
“It is also an admission that the fintech policy is not working. Government has tried to mask this policy failure by saying it is being fiscally prudent but it seems obvious that there is no demand for this type of facility.
“If there was, I am sure we would have been told so, over and over again.”
The hub was first proposed by the Progressive Labour Party for Southside in St David’s before the party won power in July 2017.
David Burt, then Opposition leader, said in June that year that there was a need to “move with the times”.
But he said seven months later that the Southside proposal could be replaced by a smaller start-up in Hamilton.
The city project was compared to the early days of California’s Silicon Valley by Wayne Caines, the national security minister, who had responsibility for fintech when he spoke at a public meeting last May.
Mr Caines said then that any of the start-up businesses from the fintech centre could be the next Amazon or Google — and that he hoped they would stay on the island after they hit the big time.
A request for proposal was published last September as the Government sought design services for “a premier fintech hub that has co-working space” to include “sleeping pods, social quarters, environments for gaming, media centre and hot desks”.
Clarico’s submission was one of three proposals.
A government spokeswoman said last week: “We are closely reviewing our resources to ensure that we are not duplicating any services which may already be provided for in the private sector.”
The Government did not respond to questions asked on Monday on whether or not Clarico was, or will be, paid.
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