Politicians clash over economy
The Government and Opposition have clashed over the management of the economy.
Michael Dunkley, an opposition backbencher, told the House the Progressive Labour Party had done little to help struggling businesses since its election in July 2017.
However, Government MPs insisted job numbers and the island’s gross domestic product had grown and international rating bodies had shown confidence in the island’s progress.
Mr Dunkley said retail sales in Bermuda had fallen and increased taxation had created an additional burden for small businesses.
He told the House he had spoken to figures in the real estate industry who said an increase in stamp duty had caused more than $7,000 in additional expenses for a single sale.
Mr Dunkley said: “That’s a cost that sometimes is very difficult to pass on. It’s very difficult to pay that.”
He said that only 31 per cent of retailers expressed confidence in Bermuda’s economic future in a recent survey.
He argued that a lack of confidence would encourage more people to leave the island for greener pastures.
Mr Dunkley called on the Government to move forward with immigration reform, offer retailers short-term payroll relief, improve education and to control its spending to reduce the tax burden.
Wayne Furbert, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, said that the PLP had given retailers payroll tax relief, but the One Bermuda Alliance reintroduced the tax for retailers at a rate of 10.25 per cent.
He added the rise of online stores like Amazon had hurt brick and mortar stores around the world.
Mr Furbert said that since 2017, the Government had offered payroll tax relief for new employees, which helped to encourage the hiring of more than 400 people.
He added the Government had also reduced payroll tax for taxi operators, extended tax relief for restaurants and given the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation powers to help more entrepreneurs.
Jason Hayward, a PLP backbencher, said there had been small business success stories since the PLP returned to power and the island’s GDP had grown in both 2017 and 2018.
Mr Hayward said: “We have to accept that there are improvements that have to be made, in our retail sector in particular. The decline in numbers is not positive for any government.
“However, when you look at it in the overall scheme of our total economy, our wholesale and retail sector is not a significant industry, not to say it should be ignored.
“The numbers support a growing economy. The numbers support economic growth.”
He added that the Government wanted to introduce changes to immigration law, but had to tackle a distrust “that was not created by the PLP”.
Wayne Caines, the Minister of National Security, said that progress had been made to streamline the work permit system to help businesses.
He added that the Government’s efforts to build a financial technology sector had started to bear fruit.
Mr Caines said: “We have 99 companies registered in Bermuda. We have, in the next months, 98 expected jobs.
“We have 29 companies with a physical presence in Bermuda and eight came in October alone.”
Sylvan Richards, the Shadow Minister of Home Affairs and the Environment, said he was encouraged by some of the things he had heard from the Government.
He added there was still work to be done as many people and businesses still struggled.
Mr Richards said: “There is a massive, massive disconnect between what the Government says it’s doing and the feeling of the people.”
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