OT Minister: No growth, no prosperity

UK Overseas Territories Minister Henry Bellingham got a chance to take in a bit of Caymanian culture and talent Thursday night at Pedro St. James Castle among an audience of hundreds who turned out to meet the British politician for the first time.

Some may have been surprised by what the now-overseer of the British Overseas Territories in the Caribbean had to say.

“Without growth you do not have prosperity,” Mr. Bellingham told the assembled crowd at Pedro. “I’m impressed that you’re doing it in a sustainable way.”

Mr. Bellingham said the current UK coalition government intended to “engage”, essentially take a more active role in the territories than the previous Labour Party government had done.

“We believe in self-determination,” he said “[But] if you want to remain British….we will cherish that.”

The minister said he had been impressed with a financial services industry which was “the envy of most other countries in the world” and that his government wished to encourage more trade between Cayman and the UK.

He said he would encourage more UK companies to do business in Cayman, and improve communications links between those companies, local universities, professional bodies and England.

Mr. Bellingham said the soon-to-be-released UK ‘white paper’ which will help direct the partnership between Britain and its remaining territories for the next decade seeks UK governments to “seriously engage” with overseas outposts.

Cayman Islands Premier McKeeva Bush got some laughs speaking before Minister Bellingham when he told the minister he was “most pleased” there had been a change in UK governments during Britain’s last elections.

Mr. Bush said one initiative being supported by the UK – a Strategic Delivery Unit created within the Premier’s office – would help prioritise government projects according to which ones are expected to have the most positive impacts on the local economy.

The Premier said despite a prolonged economic downturn in the Cayman Islands during the global recession that the country remained the highest-ranked Caribbean jurisdiction in terms of its economy and was currently ranked 3rd behind Jersey and Guernsey among small financial centres.

He said the country’s robust regulatory regimes had, in part, been responsible for its continued success during the world’s troubled economic times.

“We are better than the US [in terms of financial regulations], “Mr. Bush said. “And we are just as good as England or better.”

Mr. Bush said he hoped Mr. Bellingham would help Cayman proclaim the good things to “all the ignorant critics of financial centres” and urged the UK not to over-regulate such jurisdictions.

“Minister, don’t drown us” Mr. Bush said.