[Opinion column written by Shadow Finance Minister David Burt]
To serve as the Opposition Leader of Bermuda is an honour. I would like to emphasise the word “serve”.
To the voters who elected me: I serve you. To those who didn’t: I serve you. All my Parliamentary colleagues will always be mindful of who they serve: the people. It is the People’s Budget that we presented as our official Reply.
Bermuda’s Budget is $2 billion of combined revenue and expenses. It is your money. It is the People’s money. The Budget presented by the Government is over 400 pages long and it details how they will spend your money.
The party I lead disagrees with the priorities the Government has set for much of their spending in the coming year. Today, I will highlight just a few of the Progressive Labour Party’s priorities in the People’s Budget.
It is our view that income inequality is one of the main items fuelling the decline of our social fabric: antisocial behaviour, gang affiliation, violence and murder. We must get to grips with this or it will continue to challenge and threaten our way of life.
Bermuda cannot be the place of choice for business if our society is not at ease. Growing inequality breeds instability. In every economic model the haves must help the government to support the have-nots. Bermuda is no different. If we don’t aid the working class, the working poor, none of us will enjoy the social environment.
I dislike using these words to describe our people. That is because it categorises our citizens as statistics, not humans. However, the unfortunate truth is that numbers talk, numbers explain and numbers speak truths that words cannot always describe.
One of our first actions after the next election will be to create a Tax Reform Commission composed of members of both parties, international and local business, hoteliers and trade unionists to design a tax system that makes Bermuda a more competitive international business jurisdiction while ensuring a fairer and more equitable taxation structure for Bermudians.
We will also address income equality by developing a solid workforce development plan. It is critical to our long-term prospects for inclusive economic growth.
The PLP will provide funding for training and retraining to ensure that Bermudians are ready for the jobs of today and tomorrow. By partnering with private industry employers, we can identify their employment needs to ensure our efforts to fund training and retraining will focus on the skills required.
Your next PLP government will set up a National Skills Registry. The register will aim to track the skills of Bermudians who may currently be off the island but looking to return. To increase Bermudian employment, national certifications for fields such as plumbing, carpentry and tiling will be introduced. We have many skilled labourers and those who aspire to be. Let’s help them get to work.
Additionally, we will introduce legislation to provide for unemployment insurance. As the past few years have demonstrated, unemployment inflicts great stress on our families. Introducing such a scheme provides additional security to workers and will reduce future drain on financial assistance as workers between jobs will not be forced into it.
We will also examine the need for a Living Wage. It is important that the government ensures that persons who are employed fulltime earn a wage that keeps them out of poverty. That is one reason why the Progressive Labour Party pushed for a Joint Select Committee to examine the issue of a living wage. We look forward to receiving their completed report.
We will also act to ensure that employment is created for those in our society who are deemed unemployable. Our People’s Budget will provide funding to jump-start social enterprises and promote social entrepreneurship. We believe this initiative will provide employment for those who are currently disenfranchised from Bermuda’s economy.
Our People’s Budget will provide incentives to ensure that social enterprises become a reality within our first year in office. Social enterprises exist to serve a social purpose and conduct commercial operations to fulfil that objective. There are many gaps that such enterprises could fill.
One such example would be a business that is geared to installing solar hot water heaters on the homes of seniors who are on financial assistance to reduce their electricity bills. This type of work will provide employment and skills training and would meet an objective of the government to reduce the long-term costs of financial assistance.
We have a vision for the future and a concrete plan for economic growth that is the result of extensive consultation with both party members and our local and international business community. Our economic plan will balance our budget, increase employment, educate our citizens, heal our social fabric, rebuild our infrastructure, make government more responsive, and reduce structural inequality.
Former PLP Premier Alex Scott said, “Bermuda works best when we work together.” My pledge to the people of Bermuda is that, after four years of reflection and growth, the Bermuda Progressive Labour Party is ready to unite our citizens, ready to restore hope, and is ready to lead Bermuda to meet the challenges of a changing world.
To read the entire People’s Budget please visit here.
- David Burt
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