The Cayman Islands governor-designate swept in for a brief visit to her new home this weekend and an even briefer chat with the local media on Saturday before departing for the United Kingdom.
Helen Kilpatrick won’t be formally taking up the new post – her first outside the UK after nearly a decade of service with the Home Office – until September. Governor Duncan Taylor will remain for the time being, but is expected to leave Cayman in the next few weeks for his ambassadorial appointment in Mexico.
Ms Kilpatrick, after firmly shaking hands and saying hello to every member of the local media and government staff in the VIP departure lounge at Owen Roberts International Airport on Saturday afternoon in Grand Cayman, sat down with Mr. Taylor for a five-minute press briefing. She was in Cayman since late Thursday night on more of a personal familiarisation visit and didn’t have much to say about her upcoming duties.
She was asked why a life-long UK-based civil servant with an financial controller/accountancy background and lengthy employment in the Home Office suddenly switched gears with a foreign office assignment. Her appointment to the top slot in the Cayman Islands means Ms Kilpatrick will shift from a core civil service public safety position in Britain to the core diplomatic service at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
“It’s a change, but I’m not sure it’s an enormous change,” Ms Kilpatrick said. “This job builds on my previous experience in local government, in the Home Office, in policing, prisons, in all the services retained to the governor [of the Cayman Islands]. The areas and responsibilities I have here are not new.”
Ms Kilpatrick said her first impressions of the Cayman Islands were “absolutely fantastic”. She said everyone she’d met was friendly, but added that she needed to do quite a bit more meeting-and-greeting when she returns in September.
“My priority has got to be to listen and learn when I first arrive,” she said. “One-and-a-half days is not enough. I’m definitely going to be spending my first four to six weeks getting ’round, meeting everybody, touring the island and making sure that I understand where everybody’s coming from and what the issues are.”
The governor-designate declined to talk about specific initiatives or policies yet. Reporters also asked about her appointment, given her financial accounting background, at a time when Cayman’s local government finds itself in fiscal difficulty.
“A background in financial accounting will help anybody in this sort of role. It’s an important aspect of government, it’s an important aspect of business life in Cayman.”
Ms Kilpatrick will be Cayman’s first female governor when she arrives to take up the post in September.
Her professional background is in sharp contrast to Mr. Taylor, who is a career diplomat and was British High Commissioner to Barbados prior to his service in the Cayman Islands. Ms Kilpatrick, since 1982, has worked largely in London, serving between 1995 and 2005 as West Sussex County Council deputy chief executive. Subsequently, she was named director-general and, in 2012, acting permanent secretary in the Home Office.