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Bermuda’s superpower

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Our small size can be used to our competitive advantage if there was greater unity exhibited on island

For as long as I could remember, Bermuda has been an expensive place in which to live and operate a local business. One of the main reasons why our cost of living has been among the highest in the world is because of our small size. Our population is tiny and our landmass for a country is one of the smallest on the planet. The island is too small to manufacture and export anything of significance, and our market size is too small to incentivise and justify widespread competition in many sectors.

Bermuda is also unable to benefit from economies of scale when it comes to costs, like more populated countries can. When it comes to economies of scale, size does indeed matter. The per-capita costs of goods and services such as healthcare and insurance are generally lower in larger countries, as more people can be risk-pooled to pay for them. Taxes could also be spread out farther among more people. The lower the economies of scale, the more opportunity for cost efficiencies and savings. Economies of scale is important for a country because it can help to lower the cost of living and improve its overall competitiveness.

The Minister of Economy and Labour recently stated the aim to raise the island’s working population by 25 per cent over the next five years, to get an estimated additional 8,418 people working. Essentially, this would take Bermuda’s total jobs back to its peak level, which was just before the global recession in 2008. I have already shared my thoughts on the likely path to achieve job growth in an op-ed published in The Royal Gazette in April.

Even if Bermuda can somehow attract more people to reside on the island, our growth is limited. The island is already one of the most densely populated countries at about 3,000 people per square mile. In contrast, the United States is at 93 people per square mile, Britain at 727 and the Cayman Islands at 709.

Nevertheless, if the Government’s goal of reaching its target is successful, Bermuda’s population would still be relatively small, and the island would still be a more expensive place when compared with most countries that have bigger populations. Facing this reality, how does Bermuda improve its economies of scale with the aim of helping to lower the cost of living and increase its competitiveness?

Bermuda has one thing in its favour that bigger countries do not possess. That is, having a superpower at its disposal. This superpower, if properly used, could help the island to become more efficient than bigger countries and possibly make us more productive on a per-capita basis. It could also help to reduce the island’s costs and increase our competitiveness.

What is the superpower that can achieve this? Ironically, it is our small and tiny size.

Like any small business that competes against bigger competitors, they tend to have faster decision-making processes, the ability to learn from their mistakes more quickly, and more timely adjustments made when there is a miscalculation. In essence, small businesses must operate more effectively to compete and survive. Bermuda should do the same.

No matter what Bermuda decides to do to attract additional workers, earn more revenue and manage its costs, a key focus should be also to run its affairs as effectively as possible. With our small-size superpower, this should make us more agile and nimbler, allowing us to adapt faster to change. It should help us to execute initiatives swiftly and evaluate the outcomes in a rapid fashion. Using our superpower, we can take more calculated risks, as we should be able to pivot faster when results are not satisfactory.

To take full advantage of our superpower, analysis must be carried out often and quickly, and relations throughout the island must improve. To achieve this, the following should be focused on.

Performance management

The completion of audits of public sector organisations on the island needs to be drastically improved — the Government has admitted as much. The process should not be as onerous as in countries that have to involve their cities, counties or municipalities. Our superpower must be used to produce financial reports in a timelier manner. This would allow better-informed budget and financial decisions, help with planning for the next year, and help to identify any gaps earlier before they cause bigger problems.

An audit report is of the least value if it is produced too late to be considered and acted upon. Whether it is owing to systems or a lack of resources, this longstanding issue needs to be fixed.

The sugar tax was introduced in 2018. It is difficult to argue against the intent of the tax when you consider three out of four Bermuda residents were reported to be obese, according to the Department of Health. Being overweight is more likely to lead to health complications such as obesity-related cancers and diabetes. In fact, diabetes cases in Bermuda are among the highest in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Sugar is one of the main reasons why healthcare in Bermuda is expensive. The total health spending for individuals with diabetes, when the tax was introduced, was more than 10 per cent of Bermuda’s overall health spending. While I do agree some intervention was required, I find it unacceptable that it remains unknown whether this programme has been successful.

Whenever well-intended programmes are introduced, it is imperative Bermuda uses its superpower to measure the outcomes faster. With our small size, the programme should be simpler to manage, and the results should be more easily attainable than countries with much larger populations. If the sugar tax programme had defined measurables, it could have been modified or replaced by alternative efforts if it was found to be not meeting expectations. Remember, the goal is to decrease obesity and diabetes on the island which would subsequently improve our wellbeing and eventually lower the cost of living.

In my previous op-ed, I posed the question of how does the Government get the Civil Service to carry out its roles and responsibilities dynamically and efficiently as if it were in a competitive environment. One way in doing so is to ensure that all public programmes have stated timelines along with specific goals and deliverables.

Relationship management

Bermudians have been using our superpower for many years, but do not realise it. Our elders use it when striking up a conversation with you for the first time. “Who are your people,” they would ask. Once you explain they would reply, “I know you. I was in the same class as your mother’s best friend’s sister.” Families take advantage of our superpower often when they meet each other regularly at events, such as picnics and spending time together on holidays throughout the year.

Bermuda is a small community, and we often take this fact for granted when it comes to relationships. If you were raised in a bigger country, an elder would more likely not know anything about your family. In theory, Bermuda should be a closer-knit community based on our small size, but we are not. The island seems to be more divided than ever in multiple ways.

Success in one’s personal life and in business is built on good relationships. As a small community, we can ill-afford to be constantly going against each other. Healthy debate is always good, but we are not leveraging our superpower enough to break down walls, strengthen ties and increase trust.

Can you imagine how much more formidable Bermuda could be if we sorted out differences, whether they be racial or otherwise? Bermuda would be proudly a beacon of light and hope for other countries to follow. Surely then, there would be no kryptonite for our superpower.

Unless Bermuda decides to undergo a massive land-reclamation project, it will always be a small island and have a relatively small population. To compete more effectively and efficiently, the island must capitalise on its advantages such as agility, quick decision-making and the ability to get to know each other.

The world is always changing and Bermuda navigating these unpredictable waters, in comparison to a larger country, should be like turning around a yacht rather than an oil tanker. However, to do so, a steady diet of information is required to quickly alter the yacht’s course and, more importantly, the crew must be in sync to carry out the orders.

Malcolm Raynor has worked in the telecommunications industry in Bermuda for more than 30 years. Benefiting from Cable & Wireless’s internal training and education programmes held in Bermuda, Barbados, St Lucia (The University of the West Indies) and Britain, he rose to the level as senior vice-president. An independent thinker possessing a moderate ideology, his opinions are influenced by principle, data and trends

Malcolm Raynor has worked in the telecommunications industry in Bermuda for more than 30 years. Benefiting from Cable & Wireless’s internal training and education programmes held in Bermuda, Barbados, St Lucia (The University of the West Indies) and Britain, he rose to the level as senior vice-president. An independent thinker possessing a moderate ideology, his opinions are influenced by principle, data and trends

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Published September 20, 2022 at 7:44 am (Updated September 20, 2022 at 7:44 am)

Bermuda’s superpower

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