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Burt: arts drive needed for island

Bermuda must embrace the arts to help ditch its reputation as a “staid, boring and uninspiring” destination, the Premier said yesterday.

David Burt, who added tourism to his portfolio this month, said a drive to boost film, fashion, arts and entertainment would restore “a buzz and a sense things are happening”.

Mr Burt claimed the country had spent $10 million a year on advertising with little result and suggested “leveraging celebrity” to help build the country's image.

He said the island had a problem with “relevance” and he planned to invest “significant resources” in the development of air services in face of stiff overseas competition.

The Bermuda Tourism Authority declined to comment on Mr Burt's views, but said: “The BTA board looks forward to working with the Premier, who has already shown he is a minister fully engaged — citing the value of the National Tourism Plan and emphasising the importance of prudent government policy.

“A working relationship built on this kind of foundation should help grow the island's tourism economy for the benefit of Bermuda.”

Mr Burt's was speaking in the House of Assembly after he blasted the One Bermuda Alliance's agreement with Aecon for an airport redevelopment deal at the Covid-19 briefing on Thursday.

Neville Tyrrell, the transport minister, revealed yesterday in the House that the Government had to pay out $5.77 million this week to Skyport, the operator of the airport.

The Bermuda Airport Authority had to make the payout to Skyport's New York bank account under a minimum-revenue agreement, which was triggered when the Covid-19 pandemic slashed travel to the island.

Mr Tyrrell said he anticipated further payments at quarterly intervals.

He added that the airport agreement could not be “easily terminated” or altered. Mr Tyrrell said the OBA had assured the House that the guarantee would never be triggered.

Patricia Gordon-Pamplin, an Opposition MP, countered that the Government could have purchased “pandemic insurance for the contingency that would have arisen”.

Mr Tyrrell said the insurance would have had to have been bought before the pandemic, and that the previous OBA administration had not established that kind of safeguard.

A subsequent Opposition statement called Mr Burt and Mr Tyrrell “misleading and hypocritical” on the airport.

The statement said it was a “lie” to state the money was going to Aecon and maintained it was being paid to lenders.

It added: “Through a profit-sharing deal with Skyport, it is likely that the money paid to the lenders will be recovered.

“The same cannot be said of the Government's annual $2 million-plus subsidy to airlines.

“The PLP was the government in 2007 when these subsidies were entered into.”

Both topics came up at the appointment of Mr Tyrrell to the transport portfolio on July 16, when Mr Burt said the airport would be the new minister's top priority.

Mr Burt added the Bermuda Tourism Authority had failed to pull its weight, and promised changes at the board level.

But Mr Burt softened his stance on the BTA yesterday and told MPs the quango had performed “according to their existing capacity”.

The BTA this year reported 2019 as the second-best for leisure air arrivals in 13 years.

Mr Burt said last year had been highlighted by the authority as “the third consecutive year of record-breaking total visitor arrivals”.

But he said that news had come against a backdrop of decreased air capacity and increased cruise arrivals.

Mr Burt told the House the BTA was “top-heavy” and did not yet “embrace the ethos of this government”.

He insisted: “I do not wish to run the Bermuda Tourism Authority and I have no intention of being a micromanaging minister.”

However, he added he was committed to “the creation of an equitable redistribution of opportunity so that those who have been left out or left behind by Bermuda's success — predominantly black entrepreneurs — will receive a chance to participate on equal terms”.

Mr Burt said the Opposition emphasised the “need for more foreign investment” and “short-term bursts of economic activity”.

He added: “Lurching from a boat race for billionaires to building a vanity airport terminal is not an economic record of which to be proud.”

He said the Progressive Labour Party had broken from tradition to reshape the island's economic landscape and create “an equitable redistribution of opportunity”.

Mr Burt added that the Government also had plans to bolster the business sector.

He said that the House of Assembly would consider key developments to Bermuda's trust legislation.

Mr Burt added the Bermuda Business Development Agency would draft new legislation on the fintech industry for consideration in September.

He said the Cabinet Office, with the Ministry of Finance, the Bermuda Business Development Agency and the Bermuda Monetary Authority, was preparing family-office legislation designed to make the island stand out from the crowd.

Mr Burt added: “The Bermuda Business Development Agency is setting out a clear strategy around marketing our economic substance regime that will see these changes for companies accrue to the benefit of Bermuda in the form of more jobs.”

He said new fintech companies were being launched and more applications being made for licences.

Mr Burt added legislation to promote the underwater cables industry was also being prepared.

He said the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation was in the final stages of the preparation of guidelines for residential developments in Economic Empowerment Zones.

Mr Burt predicted the move would attract Bermuda-based investment and create construction jobs.

To read David Burt's statement in full, click on the PDF under “Related Media”

David Burt, the Premier (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

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Published July 25, 2020 at 9:00 am (Updated July 25, 2020 at 9:23 am)

Burt: arts drive needed for island

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