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Vertical farming has been shelved after further consultation with Bermuda’s farming community

I think the Government should give a financial voucher to every Bermudian student that goes to private school

The purpose of education is to help our young people reach their potential by developing critical and logical thinking, problem-solving, and decision-making skills. The overall aim in investing in children is to make them responsible and productive members of society.

The Ministry of Education and Department of Education are responsible for public education. On one hand, 54 per cent of students (3,940) are enrolled in public education, not including preschools and special schools. On the other hand, 46 per cent of students (3,333) are being taught at private schools, according to the Bermuda Digest of Statistics 2022 report.

The Minister of Education and his team deserve credit for making some bold changes to turn things around for public education. However, tangible improvements will not be realised for several years and the opinion of it by many will likely not change much until then.

The Government at times has a conflict of roles when carrying out its core responsibilities. On one hand, the Government provides and manages services to the community, such as public education and transportation. On the other hand, the Government also provides economic security and assistance to the people on the island.

For the many Bermudian students that go to private schools, where is their parents’ economic security and assistance? Should the Government be responsible for investing only in the young people whom it directly teaches? All parents contribute taxes to the public purse.

Until the perception of public education changes, parents will do what they believe is in the best interest of their child and will often make the necessary sacrifices in doing so. Some parents choose a Montessori education, for example, where they believe their child would excel in a non-traditional environment. Some may choose a school specifically for religious reasons and its values. Some may choose a special school such as the Bermuda Centre for Creative Learning, where most of the students have dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or other language-based learning differences.

I would like to see the Government create a PPP programme of a different kind — that is a public-parent ppartnership in education. The Government should become a stakeholder and invest in every Bermudian child’s education. An amount, as an example, would be a $2,000 tax rebate voucher. If one assumes half of the students that go to private schools are Bermudian (1,650), this would amount to approximately $3.3 million. This would not be an onerous addition to the existing Department of Education budget, which is estimated at $115 million, and would not derail public education and its plans.

I think the Government should be commended for making a reversal on its farming plan

It is understandable why the Government was headstrong and wanted to start a new vertical farming project on the island. Vertical farming has had a lot of hype surrounding it globally and it was thought it would be suited for a small country such as Bermuda owing to the island’s lack of space.

On one hand, the Government wanted to create a new industry that would spur more economic activity. On the other hand, however, the plan was condemned by the Bermuda Farmers Association, which said it was not consulted.

This conflict came to a head until the initiative to create a vertical-farming industry had to be put on hold. The Government’s intended business partner, based in Florida, had suffered huge financial losses. In fact, vertical farms globally have faced huge operational challenges, largely because of the increase in energy costs. The high cost of electricity in Bermuda was a red flag waved by the farmers almost since the inception.

Nevertheless, the Government now appears to have pivoted and has created an Integrated Agriculture Strategy, which will assist local farmers increase their food production. Putting aside the reasons of the turnaround, this new strategy will now form part of the Economic Development Strategy plan and its priorities will include a crop innovation study, identifying new land for increased production and a plan to decrease the night theft of crops. In addition, at the request of farmers, the Government will be bringing in an overseas expert in agriculture to assist in soil management, pest and disease surveillance, and other required tasks.

By partnering and investing with the farming community locally, trust will be created with this key stakeholder sector and, at the same time, help to achieve the overall goal of economic development on the island. Any revenue gained would likely circulate more within the local community. Importantly, the buy-in and co-operation of the farming community would alleviate any conflicts.

I think the Government should use a similar collaborative approach with the local retail sector

The local retail sector has experienced a similar conflict of roles from the Government. The Bermuda Post Office expanded its international courier service when it collaborated with a company based in the United States. On one hand, the post office added to its product line to increase revenue and thereby decrease its deficit. On the other hand, the promotion of shopping overseas does not create economic security for the local retail sector; nor does it help it to create much needed jobs on the island.

The local retail community needs all the assistance it can get. Outlined in the latest Department of Statistics retail index report, the sales volume has trended down over the past six years and apparel sales are 33 per cent lower since the onset of Covid-19. The outlier year that showed growth was in 2020, and that was owing to the pandemic when residents had no other choice but to shop and buy in Bermuda.

An online SME marketplace, an initiative by the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation that would allow local entrepreneurs easy access to sell their goods and services is a good start, but much more needs to be done. The island needs its own seamless “Bermudify” commerce platform that local businesses and entrepreneurs could use to sell their products to customers online.

I think the growth in overseas shopping is troubling

Bermudians that regularly shop online on overseas merchant websites need to fully understand the consequences of their actions. On one hand, there is a public cry for more jobs on the island, as this would boost the economy and lessen the taxation cost individually. On the other hand, the upward trend in shopping overseas and bypassing local merchants puts local jobs in jeopardy.

The American Independent Business Alliance has claimed when a community spends its money locally, the dollars circulate through the local economy two to four times more than a non-local company. I am not certain that this statistic would be accurate for Bermuda. However, what I do know, is that there is more economic activity that occurs within the island when there is more shopping done on the island. We continue to be our own worst enemy in this regard.

I think we need to pause, step back and look at the bigger picture more often — especially when one of our hand’s actions conflicts with the other hand. We are a small-island nation, and we are interconnected more than some would like to admit. On one hand, we want to achieve our goals. On the other hand, how does that impact others. There must be balance.

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 March 06, 2023 at 7:47 am (Updated March 06, 2023 at 10:13 am)

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