This is my 22nd Budget speech and my 11th as a Government Minister.
I will start by giving a synopsis of what has been achieved over the last year and explain some of the things we intend to do this coming year in relation to my areas of responsibility these being Industrial Relations, Housing, Employment, Youth and Sport.
Mr Speaker, I would first like to address developments in what
is my newest ministerial responsibility, that of Industrial Relations.
On the 4th of April of this year, and following a reshuffle of ministerial duties, my Honourable friend Chief Minister transferred to me responsibility for Industrial Relations.
I was humbled by that decision.
We all know how critical smooth Industrial Relations are to the functioning of the Public Sector.
We also know how central such cooperation with the Unions remains to the values of this government that I am so proud to represent.
As such, I am grateful and privileged to discharge this new role on behalf of HM Government of Gibraltar.
My own background should serve me well.
I refer to my experience in tackling Industrial Relations matters from a union respective, as a former president of the Gibraltar Teacher’s Association and of the Gibraltar Trades Council.
The latter comprised the three local unions at the time.
Mr Speaker, to this end I have already expressed to the trade unions my desire to work in partnership with them to tackle the issues that concern the Public Sector.
At times we will be in total agreement, on other occasions less so.
However, all our conversations will be held in an air of cordiality and of fairness.
The goal will be to better terms and conditions within the budgetary resources available.
The wellbeing of our workforce will be uppermost in my mind.
Although I have just assumed responsibility for this role, Honourable Members may have seen that a number of issues have already been dealt with.
In relations to the Customs dispute, my office has been involved in addressing concerns that both the GGCA and Unite the Union have had in relation to the incorporation of the Marine Section into the existing rotation agreement.
I am happy to say that the GGCA, who has negotiating rights for this department, agreed to the proposals developed by the Acting Collector of Customs.
This happened in close collaboration with my Industrial Relations officials and with me.
It led to the lifting of industrial action within HM Customs and the resumption of wearing their uniform when performing their relevant duties.
This is an example of the way in which my office will conduct business.
We will support the respective heads of department where grievances or issues of concern are raised, and empower them to deliver solutions through negotiated outcomes with the unions.
In the same vein, my office is currently tackling issues raised in other departments.
The working methodology is based on the agenda priority set by the respective trade unions.
The approach is a sensible one based on collaboration and cooperation.
New issues are raised as other issues are resolved.
This means that the system is not overwhelmed as this can cause issues to stagnate which is not in the interests of any of the parties concerned.
The Government is conscious that on an Industrial Relations related legislative front, a number of matters need resolution.
This includes the implementation of the Trade Union Recognition Act and amendments on matters pertaining to Zero Hour Contracts.
Both these matters are at an advanced stage and further developments will materialise soon.
I will provide public updates accordingly.
On policy Mr Speaker, I’m currently tackling two initiatives within this portfolio.
The first is the introduction and implementation of a comprehensive set of Health and Safety policies to be implemented throughout the Public Sector.
This has already happened.
Through this policy, a baseline of Health and Safety practice and regulation will be established within all government departments, agencies, owned companies, and authorities.
The policy will complement existing Health and Safety practice within specialist areas and provide a foundation in those that did not have specific guidelines.
All this means that there will now be a minimum set of Health and Safety standards no matter the department or the circumstances.
The second policy initiative that I would like to draw attention to is the implementation of a Public Service Code that will replace Government General Orders.
Honourable Members will know that Government General Orders have underpinned Public Sector practices for many decades.
Although over the years multiple circulars have been issued that updated elements within those rules, Government General Orders have remained largely unchanged.
It is therefore necessary that those elements of Government General Orders that work, remain, those that do not, are changed.
Modern employment issues, that were not a concern at the time when Government General Orders were written, have now been taken on board.
I know that significant progress has already materialised on this front and I have instructed those tasked with developing the Public Service Code to work towards implementation within this calendar year.
To this end, I have convened a working group consisting of the Human Resources Department, the Industrial Relations Department, and the Department of Employment to tackle the outstanding elements of this document.
The unions will be fully consulted on its content once the substantive body of the document is available.
It is the view of the Government that a smooth transition to a more modern and effective Public Service Code will be advantageous to Public Sector itself and welcome by the Gibraltarian community as a whole.
Mr Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity, to thank all those individuals within the Trade Union movement whom I have had the pleasure to work with in this short period of time.
Union officials have clearly been made aware that my office is open to all of them with a view to resolving matters in partnership in a positive, quick and efficient manner.
Needless to say, I look forward to continue to develop this exciting portfolio in the months ahead.
Mr Speaker I will now move on to Housing.
Only last week the Housing Department has moved to new premises at the ICC.
The Department are next to the Housing Works Agency thus facilitating even more the work that they do together.
The new premises are now more accessible to the public right in the centre of town.
Their previous premises have now been taken over by the DSS.
Housing Department staff have actively assisted their DSS colleagues during this difficult period.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the staff and management of the Housing Department for the positive manner in which they have cooperated with the DSS.
They have stepped up to the mark and gone out of their way to assist.
Mr Speaker, the Housing Department has adapted quickly to new working practices in order to continue to provide its services to both applicants and to tenants.
This has happened despite the fact that staff had been deployed to the Contact Tracing Bureau during the pandemic.
As from the 1st April the deployed staff have now returned and they are quickly and efficiently dealing with the backlog that the deployment created.
Not only that but dealing also with the physical move mentioned above.
It needs to be said that Housing Department staff did not stop offering its services to its clients during the Covid19 pandemic.
In addition to this, they actively assisted Public Health and the Government in all matters relevant to housing and beyond.
The Housing Department counters are now open to the General Public via an appointment system.
This will assist cash payers, who despite continued efforts are either reluctant to pay electronically, by standing order, by telephone banking or otherwise, or those who simply do not have a bank account, thus ensuring House Rent revenue does not fall further into arrears.
The Housing Department has been working closely with the digitalization team in order to have all application forms available online via e-gov platform.
This will offer the facility to complete, attach, and submit documents electronically to the Housing Department, thereby avoid foot traffic at our counter.
The Housing Department is comprised of four main sections.
The Accounts section deals exclusively with the receipt of rental payments.
The Housing Department has numerous methods available for rental payments which can be carried out without attending in person.
- Deduction at source from wages/salaries or Occupational Pension
- Standing Order from the client’s bank account
- Online via the e-gov Portal
- Telephone payments
The Accounts section strive for customers to subscribe to these methods.
The Department is working closely with the Treasury Department and with private banks in order to be able to accept payment via Direct Debit.
This would expand even further the payment options for the collection of rent.
The Accounts section has worked very closely with the DSS in order to process Rent Relief more efficiently.
An MOU has been signed in order to facilitate the process.
The Departmental Vote Book is also managed by the accounts section.
the second section is that of Enforcement and Compliance.
On the 1st of July last year, the Housing department introduced this section.
It is tasked with the litigation processes, Anti-Social Behaviour, the in-house complaints procedure, Claims, Ombudsman’s queries and the Recovery of Arrears.
An unenviable task Mr Speaker.
Systems are in place that alert the department of any tenant who commences to default in their rent payments.
This process enables them to contact the tenant quicker than ever before and to engage with them before any debt begins to build up and becomes a burden.
The Department continues to assist tenants to arrange a repayment plan or to adjust an existing repayment plan.
The objective remains to meet the needs of the tenant as well as the needs of the Department.
since 1st April 2021 to date (18.5.22) there have been a total of 465 appointments from which 150 arrears agreements have been concluded to the value of some £680,000.
Those meetings have proved very useful as they allow our staff to identify tenants who have genuine hardship and are unable to pay their rent.
All situations are looked at on a case by case basis.
Careful consideration is given to those who may have social and/or medical issues that prevent them from paying their rent.
This helps the Department differentiate between those who genuinely cannot pay and those who simply do not want to.
Mr Speaker, the continuation of the concerted effort to have rent payments deducted at source continues to be the Department’s top priority.
As I have already stated, in this house before it is this Government’s Policy, that all Civil and Public Servants who are Housing Department tenants, have their rent payments deducted from their salaries or wages automatically, thus ensuring that none of them default or fall behind in payments.
Despite all the initiatives that this section has rolled out and, as they continue to engage with all those in arrears, there are regrettably still tenants who can pay but who do not want to.
These tenants have no social or economic hardship, which would qualify them for rent relief and yet they continue to default.
There is no other option for this category of tenant than to commence legal action to recover the debt.
The Department, together with the Central Arrears Unit (CAU), have engaged lawyers to commence litigation in such cases.
As can be seen the Housing Department have taken a very proactive approach which is designed to ensure, as much as possible, that none of its tenants fall behind in their rent payments.
As at 30th April 2022 the total arrears figure stands at nearly £4.4 million.
More than £0.5m has been written off as unrecoverable due to circumstances such as deaths.
Mr Speaker, since the creation of this section on 1st April 2021 it has logged a total of 109 complaints in relation to anti-social behaviour.
I have in the past outlined the procedure that the Department follows in such cases.
This procedure is being implemented and all agencies continue to work to minimize the unacceptable behaviour of a few that causes misery to their neighbours.
To this end we will continue to engage at joint agency meetings with the RGP, Social Services, Care Agency, Tenant’s Association and even schools if need be.
the Allocation Unit is the third section of the Housing Department.
A total of 158 allocations have been made since 1st April 2021, to date (25.5.2022).
The Housing Department is working closely with ERS, GHA and others in order to recover the properties of those tenants who have either passed away, been admitted to the ERS, are long stay patients in hospital or have chosen to move to private accommodation.
These flats are immediately identified for applicants on the waiting list.
A total of 412 applications have been received by the Housing Department since 1st April 2021.
A review of all tenancies is underway so that all records are updated into our system in order to provide a more efficient service.
As announced by Government, all citizens under the Register of Occupation Act 2021 have to register their occupation of Property in Gibraltar.
A lot of work has been undertaken by our IT provider and staff in order to be able to validate records of those persons who reside in a Government Tenancy.
Mr Speaker, the Housing Allocation Committee continues to meet on a monthly basis.
They provide valuable advice to the Housing Authority.
I would like to thank them for the unremunerated and invaluable work that they do.
The fourth and final section of the Department is that of Senior Management.
This Senior Management Section undertakes financial assessment computations and assists the Minister together with the Ministry for Housing itself. They undertake Secretarial duties for established Committees under the Housing Act, liaise with the RGP, HM Customs and other enforcement agencies on delicate matters which includes anti-social behaviour.
The section also provides secretarial duties to the Housing Allocation Committee.
They also coordinate with other Departments such as the GHA, ERS and the Care Agency in order to relocate flats to those on the waiting list.
This section also leads on the issue of Legal Cases.
A total of 27 cases have been referred for legal action since 1 April 2021.
A breakdown of the 27 cases is as follows.
24 cases have been commenced for repossession under Section 8 of the Housing Act;
2 cases have been for unauthorised occupation under Section 14 of the Housing Act;
and 1 case for decanting.
It is important to understand that apart from all the work that the different sections do, the Housing Department also works closely with many other Government Departments.
This has led to more efficient working practices.
All entities, for example, have a designated contact person, and this minimizes the time taken to undertake tasks.
Senior Management of the Department also work closely and attend Multi Agency forums, with the Department of Equality, DSS, CSRO, RGP, Social Services, GHA, Prison Service, ETB, Drugs Rehabilitation Services and the Gibraltar Fire and Rescue Service, Central Arrears Unit and Car Parks Ltd.
This shows the high degree of commitment that the Department enjoys towards working with others.
One other important aspect to the work the Senior Housing officials and HWA officials do is meeting with the Tenants Association Representatives.
Those meetings are used to identify issues relevant to individual Estates many of which are then expedited as a result of the contact with the tenants.
the Housing Department encourages tenants residing in Housing Estates to organise themselves into a representative Committee.
The ultimate aim is to benefit and enhance the living environment of the Estate in collaboration with Housing Departments officials.
In those estates that already have a Tenants Association, I urge tenants to approach their Association if they believe that any action needs to be taken there or if they feel that they have any suggestion that would improve the lives of residents in the estate.
The general feedback that I have received from the Tenants Associations is generally positive.
By working together, we have been able to enhance the service provided.
The Housing Department and HWA staff will continue to support the Tenants’ Associations on the day-to-day issues that might occur.
Mr Speaker, I am also happy to report that the review we have embarked of the Housing Act will be concluded by the end of the year.
The includes a reassessment of the Housing Allocation Scheme, the Tenancy Agreements and a review of all Housing Polices.
All are at an advanced stage.
This is a comprehensive review which will give clarity to all.
It will set out how things will be done.
The outcome will also better inform tenants as to what the Housing Department expects from them and what they can expect from us.
The Principal Housing Officer has been able to establish a very good working relationship with Action for Housing and, with ministerial blessing, meets them on a monthly basis.
HOUSING WORKS AGENCY
the Housing Works Agency has moved into premises in the ICC and released its temporary premises in the old Rooke Area.
The HWA have dealt with a total of 9444 works orders which have been paid during the last financial year.
Despite this the HWA has processed and managed during this year in excess of 15,000 works orders.
The difference between one figure and the other is in relation to works that are contacted by other official service providers such as the GEA, Environmental Agency, and the Department of the Environment, which do not have a direct cost implication for the Housing Works Agency itself.
The HWA also manages all capital works to Government Housing stock.
DEPARTMENT OF EMPLOYMENT
Mr Speaker, I will now turn to my responsibilities for Employment, where indeed, as I am sure all Honourable Members will agree, we have not been idle.
Despite the many challenges and obstacles encountered throughout these last couple of years, the Department of Employment has ensured that there has been no detriment to the provision of their services and they continue to deliver, as effectively and efficiently as ever.
Mr Speaker, given the unavoidable impact of the pandemic on employment within Gibraltar, it has still remained largely stable.
I am very pleased to inform the House, that despite the adverse situations faced in recent years, we continue to see record low unemployment!
In 2021, when the pandemic critically hit employment throughout the globe, the yearly average for Gibraltarians registered unemployed was 27 people, a staggering 94% reduction in unemployment since 2011.
In 2022, we have continued to maintain low unemployment levels.
The 2022 (1st Quarter) average of registered unemployed stood at 41, a 92% reduction in unemployment since the 1st Quarter of 2012.
Mr Speaker Honourable Members should not forget that the then GSD Government were of the view that 300 unemployed was the norm and an acceptable number.
It is therefore obvious that this Government’s system works, and continues to work.
The highly successful mechanism that we have in place has taken many individuals out of unemployment and given them worthwhile, meaningful jobs.
Furthermore, this has allowed and delivered a stable equilibrium in respect of the amounts of persons being unemployed and employed year-round.
This employment stability has been achieved by creating long-term close working relationships with our employers and with the business community, via employment out-reach programmes and education.
The objective behind these programmes is to fully comprehend and cater for the needs of the business community, as well as understanding and empathising with the specific individual needs of those persons seeking gainful employment, whether they are unemployed or in pursuit of progression and career development.
In relation to understanding and empathising with the specific individual needs, the Employment Department provides guidance on interview skills and competences.
It works very closely with individuals in order to train and provide support, as a means of increasing the quality of their curriculum vitae, interview outcome and the possibility of their success at any given job application.
This specific service has proved to be extremely beneficial resulting in many successful individuals achieving gainful employment.
it is also important to note, that the success of the Government’s BEAT measures have resulted in reduced numbers of redundancies.
This has assisted in keeping the levels of unemployment very low.
Additionally, by way of continued support to Gibraltar’s business community, as it slowly begins to recover and emerge from the financial drawbacks of the pandemic, the fees payable to the Department of Employment continue to be waived.
Mr Speaker, the reform of the Employment Tribunal in recent years has delivered an effective, modern Tribunal system.
The rules have been enhanced further with the introduction of a Lead Chairperson, who will be appointed shortly, and will also be carrying out the functions of President of Chairpersons, as well as the appointment of additional Chairpersons who wish to preside on an ad-hoc basis.
As recognition towards the hard work and dedication in administering justice in employment disputes in accordance with Gibraltar’s employment laws, payments made to Chairpersons per judgment delivered will also be increased.
The fee to be paid per judgment will be decided by the Director of Employment on a case-by-case basis, taking into consideration the urgency, intricacies, and complexities of the Employment Tribunal proceedings.
It is important to note, Mr Speaker, that the Employment Tribunal Rules, have also been amended to introduce a robust complaints procedure as a means of ensuring adequate investigations and resolution of complaints against Mediators and Chairpersons.
This reform will also ensure that all cases are heard in a timely and judicious manner.
The Labour Inspectorate is tasked with the regulation and enforcement of our employment laws.
The Labour Inspectorate’s strategy and programme of inspections across the various industries, which had been delayed during the pandemic, now continues to operate conscientiously and effectively.
This demonstrates our continued commitment towards the eradication of illegal labour by ensuring that businesses are compliant with the Employment Regulations.
The Inspectors work hard in the field to ensure that all employers comply with employment legislation and that, among other matters, vacancies are registered with the Employment Service.
The Department of Employment works closely with all sectors of the business community to ensure that a level playing field is maintained.
The Labour Inspectorate remains as always available to provide information and guidance to both employers and employees on all employment related matters.
HEALTH & SAFETY
This Government is committed to ensure the wellbeing and protection of staff.
We continue to work, together with the Health and Safety Advisory Council to develop and review safe systems of work and safety procedures.
It is our unrelenting commitment, Mr Speaker, to protect the rights of workers, terms and conditions of employment.
The Health & Safety Inspectorate continues to remain available to anyone that requires best practice guidance and advice in respect of Health & Safety issues at work.
Gibraltar is pleased not to have seen a fatality at work for over 11 years now.
Additionally, we have effectively introduced the Health and Safety Policy in all Government departments, agencies and authorities.
Heads of Departments and Senior Staff have already been asked to familiarise themselves with the Policy, and the relevant arrangements are being conducted with the Human Resources Department to ensure all training requirements are identified and fulfilled.
Mr Speaker, the Employment department has not rested and has, undoubtedly, stepped up to the demands and challenges placed upon it.
We will continue to work tirelessly towards the demands of the Brexit negotiations and its related contingency preparations, specifically in the area of employment and workers’ rights.
This is inclusive of the continuous assistance we provide to the Ministry for Digital & Financial Services as they continue to develop digitalised interactive Government e-Services for its corporate and service users, as well as providing the high-quality employment related support our community deserves.
Finally, Mr Speaker, as this House knows, our commitment has always been, and will continue to be, to ever increase employment opportunities in Gibraltar, and at this we have been successful.
For this a big thank you to all in the Department and to its Director who has been at the forefront of this Department.
Mr Speaker, I move on now to the Youth Service.
The Gibraltar Youth Service continues to open its doors and have further created and developed Programmes that have reached more of our young people.
It is pleasing to see how many youngsters are turning up to participate in all sorts of activities which are educational and are also fun at the same time.
Membership across all youth clubs has gone up with an increase in attendance since they reopened after the lockdown.
Covid19 travel restrictions had an obvious impact. However, after the lifting of restrictions, the Youth Service has been working with other agencies towards creating new safe travel policies for young people to enjoy new experiences abroad.
The Mingle Project which is now in its 3rd year continues to support young adults from the ages of 18 to 30.
It develops mild learning needs to be able to increase their friendship with others and build a support network.
This is done by participating in activities such as Cooking, Baking, and Karaoke.
Through targeted activities and work-shops they are able to develop their independence, confidence and further their life skills.
The Youth Café is an open club environment for young people 15+ to relax and enjoy a safe space.
Youth Café opens twice a week, every Wednesday and Friday.
They have engaged members in a variety of creative activities and recently in a cooking competition where they are able to practice their skills and develop their confidence.
The environment and climate change are at the heart of the work that the Youth Service does with young people.
To this end they participate in Clean up the World, they support the Nautilus Project Presentations and attend the Alameda Wildlife Conversation Park amongst other such activities.
Getting involved with charity work is yet another aspect of the work that the Youth Service encourages.
The group Rock Thrifters, upcycling fashion project, looked at opportunities to showcase clothes from the Clubhouse charity shop.
The Dolphin Youth club have been focusing their efforts on a ‘giving back’ project to the community learning about families and vulnerable people in our community.
They have welcomed various charities to talk about the work that they do in the community.
This Youth Club are now planning a community fundraiser to support charities.
The Laguna Youth Club have been involved in team building and offsite activities.
This included Board Paddling in Sandy Bay as well as Army outdoor activities.
The Plater Youth Club have focused on projects that have centred on their immediate environment.
These have developed their understanding of green spaces which led to the creation of their own Urban Garden where they built their own patio furniture.
Plater Youth Club have also focussed on giving its members learning opportunities and the ability to experience outdoor activities in Spain.
Apart from organising, preparing and delivering all the said programmes the Youth Service are involved in other areas.
They organise and deliver ‘Understanding Youth Work’ Training courses to potential volunteers as well as first aid refresher courses.
They participate in many multi-agency forums such as the child protection committee.
The VYP (Voice of Young People) continue to meet with me and report on issues that affect their lives.
Those discussions have included employment and mental health issues.
YOUTH PRISON PROJECT
This year the Youth Service have embarked on a new pilot project that specialises in providing engagement with young people under 25 who are currently in prison and at risk of reoffending on their release.
The Youth Service will provide these the young people with an opportunity to talk to the Full Time Youth Workers who will offer an objective, positive role model who can provide them a non-judgemental ear and, offer support and guidance with their transition back into the community.
Mr Speaker I intend to follow this project closely since I think it will go a long way in breaking the cycle of reoffending.
The Youth Service as always will continue to work with both comprehensives and the college to see how they assist in giving
additional support with pupil’s self-esteem, confidence building, communication skills and social development programme.
Working in groups they try to identify issues which pupils are experiencing within the school environment.
This includes exploring ways in which pupils can address and manage their anger, morals and emotions with a view to developing coping strategies.
Mr Speaker, many people sometimes tend to under-value the important work that the Youth Services does throughout the year.
I would like to thank them for this work and for the positive impact they have had on many of our young people.
I will now continue with my last but definitely not the least area of responsibility as Minister for Sport and Leisure.
The House knows that from a sporting context league seasons tend to overlap between financial years.
The 2020/21 season for most sports was challenging to say the least.
Most competitions were disrupted at one point or another as a result of Covid-19.
These were only completed with very strict restrictions when stringent protocols became the norm.
It is because of this that I will take the opportunity to thank our registered sports associations and their armies of volunteers who ploughed through these obstacles to keep their sports alive during that time.
Thankfully the 2021/22 season that has recently come to its conclusion was held under near-normal conditions.
Leagues and development programmes had to deal with few or no disruption whatsoever.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for international competitions away from Gibraltar.
More critical Covid19 scenarios in other countries resulted in many competitions being postponed or cancelled.
Many associations also adopted an understandably cautious approach and decided not to travel.
Those who have done so have received financial support under the Gibraltar Sports Advisory Council (GSAC) process.
Many Sports Development projects including coach training and mentoring were also supported.
A total of £142,592.38 was allocated to International Competition and Sports Development.
This year a marked increase in participation at international events is expected and Government will try to support this as best we can.
Competing in these events is not only important as it provides exposure to a higher level of competition but it also means that Gibraltar continues to stand on its own two feet as a full member or as an affiliate of 23 International Governing bodies of sport.
Gibraltar’s reputation as a top-class host has not been affected by the pandemic.
Whilst many countries cancelled competitions, our response to Covid-19 meant that we were able to resume hosting such events sooner than others.
To this end the first post pandemic Europe Netball event was held locally during October 2021.
The success of the competition opened the door for others to follow suit and this signaled a return to hosting.
We continue to be the standard bearer for such initiatives.
Other events were also held locally.
Whilst spectator numbers might have been low, it was felt that continuity was the key to maintain the momentum that had been created in terms of Event Led Tourism prior to the lockdowns.
The main events this year have included Chess, Bowling, Darts, Pool, Snooker, Squash, Cricket and Netball.
This financial year we are looking at cutting down on those events that have taken a toll on our finances.
We are streamlining events so that our budget can stretch further and yet retain the same positive impact on Events Led Tourism.
It is important to note at this point that these events equate to a total of just under 3000 bed nights meaning that there is a significant amount of economic activity that is generated as a result.
Mr Speaker, we have finally managed to host all these events with a marked reduction in disruption to our local sporting community.
This would not have been possible without the investment made in new sports infrastructure over recent years.
The use of new facilities including the sports halls at both secondary schools has meant that when either the Tercentenary Sports Hall or the Europa Sports Hall were used all users were decanted to other facilities with minimal disruption to their programmes.
In terms of the new facilities, the Europa Sports Park is in full use with the area a daily hive of activity.
It has, for the first time, formed part of the Community Use scheme with Badminton, Rhythmic Gymnastics and Futsal amongst others benefitting from use of the hall.
The Squash Association have had their first full season up at the new squash facility with Darts players from both the Junior and Senior categories competing in the aptly named George Federico Darts Hall.
The indoor cricket nets have seen a resurgence of junior players with the facility serving as a springboard for Gibraltar Cricket’s first senior league in over 4 years.
The Gibraltar Premier League in its 20 overs format comes on the back of the highly successful European Cricket Network T10 event held at Europa.
Livestreaming figures peaked at 1.5 million during the week of the event with a repeat event on a larger scale already planned for next season.
The Gibraltar Rugby Football Union have also continued use of Europa with their local league and junior development programmes.
They also host the now annual Royal Engineers visit as well as several other tour groups.
In the next few weeks we will have the management of this world class venue complete.
The Government envisage it will become a place were entities from abroad come to our shores to train and play with the ensuing benefit our economy. The Lathbury Sports Complex should be completed very early this summer.
All the logistical issues with sub-contractors have now been solved.
Completion of the minor items that remain will allow many other members of Gibraltar’s sporting fraternity to make full use of these amazing facilities.
Whilst the swimming pool is currently in its testing and commissioning phase our swimmers have been able to continue training in the GSLA Swimming Pool complex.
However, members of the Athletics Association have had their training and competitive seasons affected by what is now an old track at the Victoria Stadium,
That track is now subject to extended periods of non-availability as UEFA requirements when hosting matches mean that the Gibraltar Football Association have to render it out of bounds for longer periods.
With all this in mind, I would like to go on record and thank the Gibraltar Amateur Athletics Association and all its members for their patience and understanding.
They have conducted themselves admirably and have understood the issues to a very large degree.
I share their frustration but their attitude could have been very different and for that I am extremely grateful.
Mr Speaker, in relation to the Victoria Stadium last February saw the complete handing over of the area that was originally covered by a development license over to the Gibraltar Football Association.
The area that includes the main pitch, pitch no2, the running track and the Victoria Sports Hall now falls completely under the responsibility and management of the GFA with GSLA staff no longer operationally involved.
This move which was inevitable in terms of moving forward was not immune to the delays incurred by Covid-19 and other matters but has provided both parties with the clarity that was required for a while now.
GSLA staff will move to manage the Lathbury Sports Complex as soon as this is completed.
In fact, work has already started to make this transition as smooth as possible.
However, until the national stadium is constructed both the GFA and GSLA will continue to work together at various levels.
I fully appreciate that the ambiguity caused by what was originally a short-term agreement has not been easy to manage on the ground but I am very pleased to report that both parties have worked through the issues.
I thank the GFA for their role but I will take the liberty of placing on record my thanks also to the staff of the GSLA who have been receptive to all the changes that have come and are coming their way and approached these with a view to offering the best service possible.
Whilst on the subject of facilities, I remind the House that parks and playgrounds also fall under the remit of the GSLA.
In the last financial year, we have been able to carry out a couple of major refurbishments.
In addition to those, snagging issues were finally overcome at the new Laguna Estate Playground and this has been available to the general public for a while now.
Mr Speaker the crucial part of keeping these parks and playgrounds safe and in good running order is having a robust maintenance programme.
In the last financial year, we spent a total of £116,487.84 on this.
However, we have realised that the previous arrangements were found to not be adequate with this leading to a review of the service.
I am glad to report that, moving forward, the GSLA has engaged the services of GJBS who now has a team fully dedicated to the maintenance and upkeep of playgrounds.
The increased monitoring of these amenities should result in savings in the long term.
The improvements are already evident to see.
These should become more noticeable as the months progress and members of the public pack away their beach umbrellas and return to use these facilities.
Mr Speaker, the summer months used to be some of the quieter periods from a GSLA standpoint.
However, given that competitive sport has become a year-round reality there is now no respite.
The inclusion of the GSLA Bathing Pavilion and the Europa Pool as amenities available to the general public has added to this.
Last summer was extremely successful and the first since restrictions on gatherings had been lifted.
The Bathing Pavilion and Europa Pool returned to their pre-Covid19 usage levels.
The extensive use of both meant that maintenance was ramped up, but I am glad to report that there were no major issues.
The overall cost for maintenance was as follows:
GSLA Bathing Pavilion: £116,986.51
Europa Pool: £147,435.95
These figures account for chemicals, cleaning including the services of divers and other minor maintenance matters that are required before, during and after the summer season.
Whilst the summer season lasts approximately 14 weeks it is imperative to maintain these facilities all year round.
Mr Speaker, we cannot look back at any summer considering sport and leisure and not refer to the GSLA’s Summer Sports and Stay and Play Programme.
Whilst the Stay and Play programme was organised during the summer of 2020 the Summer Sports Programme took an enforced hiatus.
Thankfully summer 2021 saw it return with highly successful and well attended 8 weeks of activities.
Absence makes the heart fonder and it was particularly warming to see our sports facilities buzzing every morning ending with the now traditional water day which is a fantastic end to the programme.
437 children ranging from the age of 5 to 13 years old registered and participated during the summer months.
The importance of this cannot be underestimated as unfortunately children are becoming increasingly sedentary and lured away from physical activity by electronic devices.
The Summer Sports Programme provides continuity of sorts whilst our registered sports associations and their volunteers take a well-deserved break.
Summer 2021 also saw an increase in the number of children registered and attending the Stay and Play programme.
The programme which deals with children with learning disabilities catered for 35 children.
The programme was once again a major success offering an extremely varied range of sports and leisure activities at different venues around Gibraltar.
This coming summer, numbers are once again up with 43 registering already.
All preparations have been done in order for this programme to commence on the 11th and 13th July.
Today (28th June) the leaders will be commencing their induction courses and I am happy to say that this summer the schemes will run for longer than ever both ending on the 25th and 26th August.
As we all know, the value of having an induction course is that it will cover a whole range of items like the delivery of generic and sport specific sessions, leadership training and First Aid amongst others.
One very important aspect which has been introduced since we came into government is that of protecting our children.
It is for this reason that all employees are required to undertake safeguarding training.
They are also RGP vetted initially during the recruitment stage. This is in keeping with the requirements which are now imposed on any coach who is responsible for or delivers sessions to children or young adults on any facilities managed directly or controlled by the GSLA.
Mr Speaker, since attendance at Safeguarding workshops and adherence to relevant Child Protection protocols were changed from guidelines to registration criteria under the GSAC process a total of 707 coaches have now undergone such training.
231 of these became qualified during the last financial year.
The numbers would have been much higher had the enforced Covid19 restrictions not hindered the delivery of the sessions.
However, the time was used profitably by the GSLA Team who have now developed protocols to not only be able to deal with the constant flow of new coaches but to also address those requiring refreshers.
Whilst updates are required bi-annually, an online refresher course will now be available so that face to face workshops are only required every 4 years.
This will streamline the process for the volunteers involved and make it less onerous on staff who will be able to deal with a greater number of new volunteers.
Mr Speaker, safeguarding has taken on a new level of importance in recent years and rightly so.
During the last financial year, the GSLA became a signatory to the Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA) process.
This allows the GSLA to have access to confidential information if and when required in order to safeguard individuals who are using facilities under their management.
Staff awareness training has been delivered given the importance of the role that each individual member of staff plays in ensuring that users are provided with a safe environment.
GSLA facilities are, I dare say, the most utilised public facilities after our schools and health services so it is imperative that all possible steps are taken to ensure the safety of all concerned, including staff.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the staff and Management of the GSLA who have during the last year helped our community during the pandemic in many ways.
KING’S BASTION LEISURE CENTRE
As the Minister for Leisure I move to the KBLC.
The King’s Bastion Leisure Centre gradually got back on track after the lockdown with its doors opening for the new Rock Boulder Park on the 1st July 2021.
This replaced the Ice-Skating Rink which was very expensive to manage because of the high electricity costs, and which had to be discontinued, as the coolant gas to run it was no longer being produced.
This new facility boasts top specifications and will no doubt attract many more users to the Centre.
The cost of converting the ice rink to the Boulder Park was recovered from the savings on electricity, which meant that the Government did not have to provide any funding for this project. Other innovations included the purchase of ten new training machines for the Fitness Gym to replace some of the old equipment which became worn out, and the addition of three of the latest game machines for the Amusement Arcade.
LMS also invested in the purchase of a Santa’s Sleigh Ride Experience and a wall mounted trio of singing reindeers which were the star attraction at Santa’s Grotto during the month of December.
The ride will continue to be used as a jungle adventure throughout the year and as a Halloween Special in October.
Revenue since the start of 2022 is now on par with what it was in the first quarter of 2020, prior to the pandemic.
It is expected that with the creation of new income streams from the Boulder Park and the Cannonball Store (which opened in July 2020) plus the other attractions, the total revenue for the year will most likely be the highest to date since the Centre opened.
This will greatly assist in reducing the ongoing cost of running the facilities.
The plans for the year ahead include the expansion of the Cannonball Store, to cater for increased demands (including the sale of comics), and the purchase of at least 6 arcade machines aimed for toddlers and small children.
The KBLC is always exploring ways of generating revenue and they are currently looking at some more new games and rides that will give children many enjoyable experiences.
I must congratulate the management and staff of the KBLC for having great vision in not only finding ways of making the centre attractive to our young people but also for looking all the time at ways of making the centre economically viable.
The House should not forget the disaster area that the Kings’ Bastion Leisure Centre was in 2011 and the economic black hole it represented.
Just as a reminder the KBLC use to cost £2.6m in expenditure whilst only bringing in approx. £50,000 in revenue.
Now costs have been reduced to £1.4m and it is reaching approx. £600,000 in revenue after the pandemic.
Before the pandemic it was averaging £800,000 which we expect will soon be the case again and even more.
Mr Speaker, in concluding, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the staff who work under the different portfolios which I am responsible for.
I would also like to thank you and your staff here in Parliament for the help and assistance given to fulfil my parliamentary obligations.
BUT Mr Speaker, I could not end my budget speech without specifically mentioning my staff at the Ministry.
Without them, I could not run the sometimes complex and difficult portfolios that I lead on and those that I have been honoured to hold in the past.
They are the ones that guide me daily in all that I do and are also there, whatever time of day.
I am forever grateful so a wholehearted thank you goes to them all.