The Hon Steven Linares MP
Mr Speaker, this is my 23rd 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.
I will begin with my portfolio as the Minister with Responsibility for Industrial Relations.
Ever since my appointment to this role, I have been working well with Unite the Union and the GGCA to resolve matters of concern within the Public Sector.
We have been able to settle many issues which had been outstanding for some time and address new ones that had arisen in the past year.
We have engaged positively with both Unions and have established a good working relationship.
I look forward to continuing this relationship in the same constructive spirit in the future.
The current financial climate requires still requires a degree of financial prudence and responsibility.
This means that the Government needs to ensure that taxpayer’s money is spent with care on what is necessary.
In that context, my Ministry has established routine meetings with the Human Resources Department where we systematically go through many issues appertaining to personal claims.
I now turn on to Housing
It is now just over a year that the Housing Department moved into their new premises at the ICC.
The Housing Department adapted very quickly to Covid19 restrictions during the pandemic at their old offices at New Harbours.
They have also been able to adapt to new working practices after Covid19 counter closures.
The move to the ICC has proved to be a success.
This has meant that now clients can access the Department easier and the counters are open to the general public via an appointment system.
This works very well as clients can be seen to, in an effective and efficient manner.
A number of daily ‘walk ins’ are also seen, although the appointments system has provided the public with a much better service.
The Government fully understands the importance of the Housing Department to our community.
It provides a service to applicants, to our tenants and to the community at large.
Mr Speaker, the Housing Department continues to work closely with other Government Departments, Agencies and Authorities.
The main departments with which we work in partnership are the Department of Equality, DSS, CSRO, RGP, Social Services, GHA, Prison Service, ETB, Drugs Rehabilitation Services, the Gibraltar Fire and Rescue Service, the Central Arrears Unit and Gibraltar Car Parks Ltd.
The strong working relationship has improved considerably, after all the necessary Data Sharing Agreements and Memoranda of Understandings were signed in order to safeguard any GDPR concerns.
Such multi-agency meetings are conducted to ensure appropriate support is given to persons with vulnerabilities, mental health issues, disabilities etc, together with their families.
Multi agency meetings are also used in a safeguarding and management capacity, such as MAPPA and MARAC.
This has provided efficient and improved working practices.
All entities have a designated contact person, and this minimizes the time taken to undertake tasks.
Multi-Agency forums are attended by the Senior Management of the Housing Department, which shows the high level of commitment that the Department has towards working together with others.
The Senior Management Team, led by the Principal Housing Officer, forms part of the following fora:
- Gibraltar Multiagency Adult Safeguarding
- Gibraltar National Mental Health Strategy
- Rehabilitation Pathways for Mental Health
- Senior Management Board – MAPPA
- Drugs & Alcohol Rehabilitation Services Gibraltar
- National Dementia Strategy
- Public Health Joint Strategy Needs Assessment for Gibraltar
- Domestic Abuse Strategic Partnership
- RGP – Victims of Crime
Mr Speaker, one of the most important areas of the Housing Department is the Accounts Section.
They deal with the e-billing system which sends out an electronic payment link.
This link facilitates payment by taking the user automatically to “step two” of the payment platform with all details prefilled.
There are also many other payment methods accepted now which include the following:
- deduction from wages, salaries and pensions;
- Standing Order;
- Using the e-Gov Website to pay online;
- Cheque by post;
- Bank transfer directly into the Government General Account;
- Credit or Debit Card by telephone;
- Payment in person at our counter with Card, Cash or by Cheque.
Mr Speaker, the introduction of Direct Debit Mandates is in its final stages.
The Housing Department has been working well with both the banks and the Treasury Department in order to set up this process.
This method will allow for another secure method of payment but will also streamline and facilitate services for our tenants as well as for the Department itself.
Unlike with Standing Orders, tenants will only be required to set up the Direct Debit once and will not have to amend their instruction to the bank every time there is a change.
This new process will also reduce the foot traffic at our counter.
The Housing Department has signed a Data Sharing Agreement with the Department of Social Security as well as with other departments, agencies and authorities to ensure proper cross communication with the said entities.
This will allow for more streamlined processes and procedures as well as assisting prospective applicants and tenants with regard to their applications.
Information relevant to certain benefits applicable to tenants like the processing and eligibility of Rent Relief will be received by the Housing Department directly from the DSS.
Housing will then be able to assist the tenant in a timelier manner and in turn, allow for the more rapid reduction of Housing Rent Arrears.
The Enforcement and Compliance section is tasked with the Departments litigation processes, Anti-Social Behaviour, In House Complaints procedures, Ombudsman’s queries and Recovery of Arrears amongst other enforceable action required in accordance with the Housing Act.
Systems are in place and notifications are received to alert the department of any tenant who may start to default on their rent.
This process enables them to contact the tenant far sooner than ever before and 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, to meet both their needs.
Since 1st April 2022 to date (30.4.23) there have been a total of 592 appointments from which 130 agreements have been secured to the value of £490,268.90.
These meetings are very useful as they help the Department to identify those tenants who have genuine hardship and are unable to pay their rent.
All tenants are looked at on a case by case basis and careful consideration is given to those who may have a social and/or medical dimension.
This helps the Department distinguish those who genuinely cannot pay from those who do not want to pay.
Despite all of the initiatives the department has rolled out and as much as they continue to strive to engage with all those in arrears, there is regrettably a minority of tenants who can pay but 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.
For these people the Department has therefore been left with no other option but commence legal action in order to recover the unpaid debt.
The Department, through the Central Arrears Unit (CAU) has engaged lawyers in order to proceed with taking those who do not want to pay to court.
The Enforcement & Compliance Section has already filed a good number of cases before court and is currently preparing the next batch of cases for processing.
These actions are bearing fruit.
There are many cases where the Department has not needed to proceed to court since the tenants have subsequently agreed to pay the arrears or to enter into a repayment plan.
Should they default or not engage on their payments the case will go directly to court.
The Housing Department will not leave any stone unturned in the recovery of arrears.
It is totally unacceptable that people who are earning good money do not pay their rent.
This is despite the fact that rents in Government properties continue to be extremely low.
Anti-Social behaviour is another issue that the Housing Department has to deal with.
Since the 1st April 2023 90 complaints has been logged.
The procedure is set out as follows:
Upon receiving a complaint, a Housing Officer will make an assessment to determine if a complaint constitutes ASB.
If a complaint is accepted, and it is determined that a tenant (member of their family or someone visiting) may have been conducting ASB based on the information we have received, we will prioritise and respond to the complaint.
The focus has to be on those behaviours that have a significantly negative impact on the quality of life of others, but does not necessarily take the form of criminal behaviour such as drugs, criminal damage, harassment etc.
It is on this basis we will prioritise incoming complaints.
We will notify the alleged perpetrator, where appropriate, in writing, when a complaint has been made in accordance with the Data Protection Act 2004 and GDPR.
We will never disclose the name of the person making the complaint.
If it appears that, a tenant has breached their tenancy conditions we will investigate further.
This may include prevention, intervention and informal methods of resolving a complaint by taking investigative measures and a multi-agency approach which includes working with:
- The Royal Gibraltar Police; The Care Agency, Adult and Children Services; and The Gibraltar Health Authority (including the community mental health team)
- Working with or making referrals to other internal departments and external agencies where appropriate.
- Liaising closely with the Tenants’ Association
- And asking complainants to keep detailed records of the ASB experienced.
This is particularly important where eviction or decanting is considered.
Mr Speaker, at present the Department together with Care Agency and RGP are in the process of decanting tenants due to their anti-social behaviour.
This Government will not tolerate a minority making life a misery for other law-abiding citizens.
Government have engaged the services of OSG who have been providing their security services, to this effect.
The RGP has confirmed that the level of complaints previously received by them has now dropped tremendously.
The Housing Department works closely with the Department of the Environment and the Environmental Agency with regards to issues of dog fouling, litter control, bird feeding, noise pollution etc.
Other areas which are closely monitored are the street and stairwell cleaning carried out by Britannia on all Government estates and horticultural contractors to ensure all green areas are well maintained.
The parks and playgrounds in different estates are the responsibility of the GSLA.
The Housing Department liaises very well with them to make sure that they are in good working order and safe.
I come back to this later when I cover sport.
It is important to note that although Britannia carries out all the cleaning in the Estates it is also incumbent on the tenants to exercise civic pride, to try to keep them clean and to call out those who do not.
The Allocation Section of the Housing Department have been working closely with the digitalization team in order to have a number of services provided online.
In April we announced the launch of a number of Housing e-Services, which can be accessed via the eGov.gi portal.
The services provided are those most used by citizens and these are now integrated to the Housing Departments back office system.
This too will alleviate foot traffic at our counters.
The Housing Department will continue to work on the development of future services via the eGov.gi portal.
Mr Speaker, the review of all tenancies held continues to be undertaken and all records are being updated in our system in order to provide a more efficient service.
As announced by Government, all citizens are required by the Register of Occupation Act 2021 have to register their occupation of a 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 that reside in a Government Tenancy.
This section has worked very closely with the Registrar in order to validate the submissions of Government Tenants.
Many files have had to be checked and updated as some of our tenants had not updated records with the Department so their submissions in the Registrar were out of date.
It is very important for the Housing Department to ensure that its tenants fulfil the terms and conditions in their Tenancy Agreements as well as comply with the requirements under the Housing Act.
This year the Housing Department has again initiated 24 legal proceedings against its tenants, these being in relation to the issuance of legal notices or pre-action letters.
A breakdown of these cases are as follows:
- 13 cases have been commenced for repossession under Section 8 of the Housing Act;
- 5 pre-action letters to the Next of Kin of former tenants as a result of not returning the flat with vacant possession.
- 3 pre-action letters to tenants as a result of failures to comply with the terms of their agreements
- 3 Decanting Notices issued.
6 Cases have appealed to the Housing Tribunal, of which;
- 4 were found in the Housing Department’s Favour of which 1 was later overturned by the Magistrates court on appeal;
- 2 are pending to be heard.
5 further claims for damages and personal injury have also been dealt with;
- 3 are on-going,
- 1 was settled,
- 1 was found to be a claim with no merit and withdrawn by the opposing counsel.
In addition, the Housing Department have also been dealing with a Judicial Review, filed by a constituent being represented by the Leader of the Opposition.
This questions a long-standing Housing policy, which has been in place since the previous GSD government was in power, which aims to safeguard Gibraltar as a whole.
Mr Speaker, tenants wishing to make alterations to their tenancy are required to request permission in writing via the Housing Departments Land Works Panel.
This must include the appropriate paperwork such as plans/drawings/photos and specifications of the proposed works.
If works are approved by the Land Works Panel, tenants are required to obtain permission from the DPC prior to undertaking them.
The Housing Department works closely with the Town Planning/Building Applications via the e-planning project programme, which links the Housing Department and all relevant departments with the Town Planning and Building Control Section.
Mr Speaker, it is important for the Housing Department and the Housing Works Agency to engage closely with tenants. This they do by having regular meetings with the different Tenants Associations.
In those meetings they discuss issues relevant to individual Estates.
This has allowed them to handle matters in a faster and more efficient manner and thus ensuring the upkeep of our housing estates.
Not all estates have a Tenant Association’s Committee.
The Government are therefore encouraging tenants residing in Housing Estates to establish a Committee.
The aim will be to benefit and enhance the living environment of their particular Estate in collaboration with Housing Departments officials.
The feedback received from the Tenants Associations is generally positive and, by working together, we have been able to enhance the service provided by the Housing Department.
The Housing Department and HWA staff will continue to support the Tenants’ Associations on a day-to-day basis.
Despite having well-known differences in policy with Action for Housing I meet with them regularly.
The Principal Housing Officer also meets regularly with members of Action for Housing in order to assist them with all their enquiries.
I have recently gone with members of the committee and officials of the Housing Department to visit flats in the town area in the private sector to ascertain living conditions.
Private sector landlords must also take responsibility for maintaining their property in good living condition.
The Department has been working to update and review the Housing Act, the Housing Allocation Scheme, the Tenancy Agreements and all its policies.
I am happy to announce that the Housing Act is now ready to be published as a Bill.
The Housing Allocation Scheme has been completed and therefore will be made public after the Act passes through Parliament.
Finally, the revised Tenancy Agreement is also complete.
This will come into place also after Act.
I would at this stage like to thank all those involved in this work.
It has been an intense and detailed piece of work since we have gone through those documents section by section and word by word.
This shows that there is considerable work and activity going on in the Housing Department behind the scenes.
The Ministry for Housing its Department and Agency do much more than simply allocate flats to tenants.
I am for ever grateful to management and staff from top to bottom.
Our Youth Service has move forward in leaps and bound from what it was before we came into Government.
They have evolved from a service that hardly opened its doors to cater for young children after school, to one that is now offering our youngster many opportunities.
The Youth Centre opens four evenings a week, including Fridays until 9pm, and 10pm during summer hours.
The club works mainly with young people of ages 16 and over and hosts a variety of established projects that members are currently interested in.
Further the Youth Centre has now extended its services to younger ages and now engages 11- to 15-year-olds on Thursday evenings.
Due to this, the Youth Service has experienced an increase in membership across all clubs.
Projects offered include;
- Going Green which encourages young people to invest time and effort in urban gardens.
- Youth Production Group that meet every Tuesdays. They planned, opened and hosted this year’s Children’s Mental Health Art Exhibition at the GEMA gallery.
- The Mingle, which is in its 4th year and supports young adults aged 18-30 with mild learning needs with the aim of increasing their support networks and life skills. They continue to be integrated with the Youth Café and have engaged in a variety of activities and projects that support the development of their independence and life skills through targeted activities and workshops. The group have become more involved in community projects such as fundraising for their first residential outside of Gibraltar.
- The Youth Café is an open club environment for young people 16 and over to relax and enjoy a safe space where they can share ideas, thoughts and opinions. Youth Café opens twice a week; every Wednesday and Friday evenin
The Youth Service not only works throughout the week but also holds weekend sessions throughout the year.
This is rotated amongst the Youth and Community workers.
Activities at these sessions range from in-house workshops to offsite activities both locally and abroad. These include:
- Army Outdoor Team building,
- Tour of the Northern Defences,
- World War II Tunnel,
- having a BBQ at the GLO and many other activities which are too many to mention.
It is important for our Youth and Community Workers to keep abreast with modern practices.
They are therefore constantly participating in many training opportunities such as updating courses on Health and Safety, First Aid Refresher Course, Data Protection awareness with the GRA, amongst others.
Due to the fact that in today’s world we are very conscious of the looking after our children, the Youth Service forms part of and contributes to the Child Protection committee & the sub-training committee.
Their role is important in that there are many young people who show when they attend sessions in the Youth Clubs social, psychological and emotional issues which are then highlighted at the multi-agency forums.
These can then be referred to the professionals who will from there on pick up the problem and be in a position to give the proper assistance required.
This is an example of joined-up work.
The Voice of Young People is a very useful group.
I often meet them in order discuss, report and explore issues that affect young people’s lives.
Recent areas of interest have included, disability access, employment, mental health and LGTBQ+ topics.
The group are currently gathering young people’s thoughts via a survey which will then better inform them and the projects director when they reconvene in September.
Mr Speaker, some young people have been deprived of things that we have all often taken for granted when growing up.
One example is travelling and going on trips abroad.
So, this year the Youth Service has been able to organise trips to Spain as they used to do before the pandemic.
A trip to the UK also took place in August of last year.
A group of older members of the Dolphin Youth Club, had a life-changing opportunity to venture abroad on a visit to London.
This trip was made possible by Mr Paul Williams who donated the funds for this remarkable journey.
As part of their visits abroad, these young people focused 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 for families and for Gibraltar as a whole.
They worked tirelessly to fundraise and organize a heart-warming family and community BBQ event to support these local charities.
Their hard work and community-focused events not only raised vital funds but also raised awareness about community efforts which bring about positive change.
The youth service has become a beacon of new and exciting initiatives as they reinvent themselves.
They have recently started two new projects which will go a long way to aiding our young people.
The first is the Prison Project.
This is a specialised project to provide support to young people under 25 who are currently in prison and at risk of reoffending on their release.
And the second is that of partnering with the CIPD Gibraltar Branch.
Together they have designed a website full of career information to promote Gibraltar’s emerging industries. This website will also have a toolkit section focusing on supporting young people whilst they are selecting a career and jobhunting.
The site was launched on 27th June 2023.
I ask Honourable Members to visit the site which will be constantly updated with new information.
Mr Speaker, I was very pleased that the Youth Service came second in the project achievement award which is an initiative that was established by the Chief Secretary to recognise innovation within the civil service.
The Annual Youth Day is going from strength to strength. This day is an opportunity to invite all the community to take part in a fun day of workshops and activity.
In addition, it provided an information fair together with many organisations which offer young people opportunities and skills.
SPORT AND LEISURE
I will now continue with another of my areas of responsibility as Minister for Sport and Leisure.
Locally, league programmes and development initiatives were completed as brilliantly as always by the army of volunteers who organise and run them.
These volunteers have supported and embraced the fact that they have to go through Tier 1 and/or 2 in Child Protection, or their bespoke training of their specific association on Child Protection.
It must be recalled that when we came into government in 2011 there was not a single course, Governmental Committee or Sporting Association that considered Child Protection as a priority.
Year on year participation levels seem to be increasing with sporting facilities being a hub of positive activity.
The Lathbury Sports Complex which, has been operational since the 1st October 2022, has now been added to these facilities in its entirety.
This will now mean that not only can we attract more events, we can also promote Gibraltar as a centre for training camps or warm weather training.
The revenue that will hopefully be generated will not only offset running costs but will also help to add to the already established economic activity.
The Gibraltar Amateur Athletics Association (GAAA’s) now have the home they deserve and all their operations have now been transferred to the Lathbury.
I would once again like to place on record my thanks and the thanks of the Government to the GAAA’s.
They have endured uncomfortable times but have worked very closely with us and approached the situation in a very positive manner.
Their conduct throughout has been admirable and for this they deserved heightened praise.
We will now work with the GAAA’s to push athletics locally to the next level and will support them in helping to attract top European events to Gibraltar.
The Europa Sports Complex has been described by many from abroad who have visited here as World Class.
It is important to recall that we have used the Multi-Purpose Hall for many different sports and events.
These have ranged from a World Boxing Bout, the Ordination of an Archbishop, a hospital during the pandemic, for Rhythmic Gymnastics Competitions, for the Darts Juniors World Championship, for badminton when we hosted the Island Games and for many other sports.
The main pitch was used for the Gibraltar Music Festival in 2019, for Gibraltar Rugby 7s and for hosting the Royal Marines at Rugby, an International Cricket Tournament and for football training at all levels.
Squash have already hosted many tournaments in their new premises.
This is why we now receive interest from many sporting entities around the world to make use of them.
Events Led Tourism which has been an important cornerstone to attract visitors to Gibraltar over the last 12 years.
This policy is one that we continue to push on many levels, not least in the sports and leisure sector.
As a result of our vision, a whole host of international standard events are now being held locally.
European and World governing bodies entrust Gibraltar with the staging of events that are on their own international calendars.
This was the case with the Island Games.
In 2025 Gibraltar will host the Junior World Netball tournament.
The exact dates will be announced soon.
Aside from the obvious benefits to our local sportspeople this policy puts visitors into local hotels, promotes visitors eating and drinking in our bars and restaurants, shopping in Main Street and visiting tourist sites.
It creates economic activity and more importantly when they are organised so efficiently we get “repeat business”.
Gibraltar will continue to be the standard bearer for such initiatives and the hard work of our volunteers as I mentioned above in this regard cannot be underestimated. My thanks to them!
There have also been a number of related businesses that have been set up by local entrepreneurs.
These are linked to the Sports Industry and they thrive in providing services to them.
An example of such are production companies, which provide technical support, sound, lights, stage and those that provide editing, cameras for streaming online, the selling of tickets and the hospitality aspect of events.
The following list, which is not exhaustive, depicts the main events held locally during the 2022/23 financial year.
- Rock Master’s Bowling Open
- Gibraltar Backgammon Tournament
- Classic Car Rally
- Euro-Hockey Club Challenge II
- Harley Davidson Rally
- Junior Darts Corporation Junior World Darts Championship
- Squash International Open
- European Cricket Network T10 tournament.
- Europe Netball U17 Open Challenge
- Eurafrica Trail.
Many of these which have been organised privately without direct Government funding.
They have all served to benefit our economy and we will continue to encourage them.
Some events that we have traditionally supported have now come to their contractual end.
They have nonetheless helped us put Gibraltar on the events map.
Mr Speaker, as I informed this House in my address last year we have managed to host all these events with a marked reduction in disruption to our local sporting community.
The unprecedented investment in sporting infrastructure has provided a plethora of top-class venues.
What is being created is an industry in and for sport which could become yet another pillar of our economy.
Participation in International events is crucial and we advocate the fact that all those who are full or affiliate members of their international governing bodies need to be active within their international frameworks.
The Government will continue to support associations on many levels not least financially.
To this end the financial support received this year as Sports Grants was in the tune of £300,000
The split per category is as follows:
- International Competitions: £200,246.40
- Sports Development: £84,221.18
- Improvements to Facilities: £8,098.15
- Elite Athletes: £3,000
Those figures depict the expected increase in participation at international events given that Covid-19 pandemic is thankfully now over.
This support was afforded to our sportspeople in spite of the current economic climate.
Competing in such 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.
This is a considerable achievement.
Aside from the already established local Sporting Bodies I am glad to report that other applications were received and considered by the Gibraltar Sports Advisory Council.
The popularity of Padel Tennis at a competitive and recreational level has meant that they have opted to go it alone, and they have now registered independently from tennis.
The second is that of Gibraltar E-Sports Association.
E-sports, contrary to popular belief is not standard gaming, but has extremely strenuous elements which require physical fitness and mental strength.
Such is the emergence of E-Sports worldwide that it will be a full medal event at the next Commonwealth Games in Victoria in 2026.
I was fortunate enough to be invited to the E-Sports event run parallel to the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham last summer.
It was a real eye opener, that aside from all other positive aspects saw Team Gibraltar reach the semi-finals.
An extremely creditable performance.
It always fills me with great pride to represent Gibraltar as a Minister at events such as the Commonwealth and the Island Games.
Birmingham 2022 had something special about it.
Team Gibraltar was exceptional throughout with very strong performances across the board.
It was confirmation if any was needed that we belong in the Commonwealth Games family.
I cannot leave this section without mentioning Our Special Olympic Athletes who participated in the World Games in Berlin.
They also make us very proud not only because they participate but they also come back with well-deserved medals.
Unfortunately, due to private family commitment I was not able to attend but will put my name down for the next one should I be the next Minister for Sport.
The Government have invested in these our proud athletes.
Now they boast a magnificent Special Olympics Sporting Complex which they can call their home.
Finally, in respect of local sporting bodies, I feel it is only correct that I confirm the fact that after an enforced hiatus, the Gibraltar Boxing Association (GBA) has once again been registered with the GSLA via the GSAC process.
We have finally worked through long-standing differences and issues and resolved these positively.
The GBA have worked very closely with the GSLA and the association has now modernised its constitution and adjoining procedures that will now allow the sport to develop and expand.
This has been a long-standing issue which many have not been willing to tackle.
I hope that we will be able to attend boxing bouts locally very soon.
My thanks to the GBA for their engagement and particularly to my staff at the GSLA who have been persistent in exploring solutions and the common ground.
Parks and Playgrounds continues to fall under the remit of the GSLA.
In the last financial year, the maintenance programme has continued and the effects of the work undertaken by the GJBS crew in conjunction with the GSLA team are becoming very noticeable.
Maintenance has now become more proactive than reactive and when things do break as is inevitable, reaction times for repairs have decreased significantly.
The rolling maintenance programme is seasonal and based on usage trends however all areas are checked as per the maintenance schedule to ensure that they are safe.
In addition, to the maintenance programme the Mid Harbours playground has been relocated given the historical issues with water ingress on the podium.
From a sustainable point of view several items of equipment from Mid Harbours have been repaired, repainted and relocated to other facilities.
This is done in the interests of efficiency.
The GSLA is also responsible for the maintenance and upgrades of both the Europa Pool and the Bathing Pavilion.
It was a policy decision of the government that the pool should be open to the public at certain times, in order for them to enjoy during the summer period.
As to the Bathing Pavilion it must be recalled that it was also the GSLP/Liberal government that took the decision to build this amenity for the people of Gibraltar.
These decisions have proved to be very popular.
It is easy to forget with the passage of time that these have been progressive decisions taken by a progressive government.
Whilst on the subject of summer, the GSLA’s flagship schemes were once again a resounding success last year and this year the numbers are on the rise.
Both the Summer Sports and the Stay and Play Programmes registered increased numbers of participants last year.
The Summer Sport’s programme recorded registration figures of 571 children (an increase of 134 from the previous year’s 437) and this year already we have 733 children registered.
Whilst the Stay and Play programme increased by one to 36. This year already 35 have registered and the summer is not over.
It is important at this stage to say how grateful we are to the GSLA staff for having started the program this year.
This allowed children who will be attending the three new schools in September to register and participate.
The programmes keep growing and developing.
For the first time, participants were able to register online.
This saw a massive reduction in cumbersome administration procedures allowing summer staff more time to concentrate on the delivery of the sessions instead.
Further the program this year has had the timing extended from Monday to Friday from 9 to 12.30.
The Sports Train saw a repeat of the now highly successful competition week that attracted the highest daily attendance of the entire summer.
The highly popular Family Fun evening have also returned and as usual attendance was excellent with many families availing themselves of the activities and equipment on offer.
The Stay and Play Programme also saw technological advances with the implementation of an app similar to the one already used by St Martin’s School.
This was done to optimise communication between staff and parents with the aim of improving the service provided.
Through the app parents were provided with daily reports of their child’s day and the parents would in turn provide feedback and any relevant information that could be considered and implemented the following day.
A new venue was also introduced into the Stay and Play activities rotation, namely the GSLA Bathing Pavilion.
This was very well received by the staff and service users alike.
The summer program does not only benefit the children but it also enhances the program of training to all the sports leaders and young volunteers themselves.
The program covered a whole range of items like the delivery of generic and sport specific sessions, leadership training and First Aid amongst others.
As mentioned already in the youth section, child protection is at the top of the list when it comes to employing or having volunteers work with children.
Therefore, all prospective employees were RGP vetted initially during the recruitment stage and were then provided with safeguarding training.
This is in keeping with the requirements introduced by the Government.
It is now an obligation on any coach who is responsible for or delivers sessions to any children or young adults on any facilities managed directly or controlled by the GSLA.
The GSLA’s Sports Development Unit deliver safeguarding workshops with 111 new attendees.
This now takes the total number of qualified coaches to 814.
The process is a rolling one and as explained above those requiring refresher courses will now be able to undertake these online.
This will streamline the process allowing the database of qualified coaches to increase exponentially
Finally, I can inform this House that the GSLA has been piloting a booking application so that users can book facilities online.
The pilot scheme, which is finalising soon, has been undertaken at the Swimming Pool complex with a high degree of success.
Feedback from users who have participated has been very positive.
The next step is to roll out all of the GSLA’s facilities available for the general public to book online by the end of the year.
Whilst bookings will still be taken at the GSLA’s counters and over the phone, the intention is for the majority of allocations to be administered via this online portal.
I now move to another of my responsibilities that of the King Bastion Leisure Centre.
It must be recalled that KBLC use to cost the government a total of £2.6m per annum and had revenues of a mere £50,000.
This Government has worked hard to cut down the enormous deficit.
This was done by rescinding lucrative contracts of OPEX plus 30% which had been awarded by the previous GSD administration.
This was cut down to £1.4m with record revenues this year of £648,014.
KBLC continues to perform very well, providing a wide range of leisure activities that all the family can enjoy.
This includes bowling, climbing in the boulder park, fitness gym facilities, a collectibles store and a well-equipped Amusement Arcade.
It must be recalled that the Ice Rink was replaced by the Boulder Park and this has become a very popular attraction.
Last year KBLC invested in replacing some of the older arcade machines with a selection of newer models mostly for young children.
They also added two of the latest pinball machines and a Photo Booth which they expect will be very popular.
From past experience, we know that the money spent on purchasing arcade machines is recovered relatively quickly, whilst at the same time they will provide a consistent return for many years to come.
Projects for this year include the installation of remote-control boating area above the chiller pit in Commonwealth Park.
This was proposed last year but has been carried forward to 2023 as more time was required to ensure that all the necessary preparations are in place.
A new Operator has also taken over the Bastion Restaurant, Boyd’s and Just4kidz and we hope to work very closely with them as we jointly continue to develop and improve all the facilities offered.
I move on now to the Department of Employment where I am happy to report that we continue to maintain record low levels of unemployment. As mentioned by the Chief Minister. In 2022 the yearly average for Gibraltarians registered unemployed was 29, a staggering 93% reduction in unemployment since 2011.
In 2023, we have continued to maintain low unemployment levels where, in the first quarter of 2023, the average number of registered unemployed stood at 30, a 98% reduction in unemployment since the first quarter of 2012.
Honourable Members may recall that when the GSD was in government, the then Chief Minister and the Minister for Employment both considered the norm for persons unemployed to be at around 300.
This they would say was an acceptable number.
It was not acceptable to us, Mr Speaker.
This Government’s proven employment record has been achieved by maintaining long-term close working relationships with our employers and with the business community.
Understanding and empathising with the specific individual continues to be a priority.
The staff at the Department of Employment remain available to all members of the public who are registered with them.
Registered persons unemployed or persons registered employed looking for alternative work are given guidance.
They also have the opportunity to review all available registered vacancies and apply to those to which they find of interest.
Our employment officers work very closely with individuals to provide support, as a means of increasing the quality of their curriculum vitae, the interview outcome and the possibility of success of any given job application.
This service continues to prove to be extremely beneficial resulting in many successful individuals achieving gainful employment.
Our officers at the Department of Employment, with the Youth Service and CIPD will soon be working together to see how they can join their expertise in order to enhance the website careers.gi
Mr Speaker, the Labour Inspectorate is tasked with the regulation and enforcement of our employment laws.
As part of its ongoing commitment to eradicating illegal labour practices, the Inspectorate continues to implement a comprehensive strategy and program of inspections across various industries.
It is also important that a level playing field is maintained and the Department of Employment’s established close relationship with all sectors of the business community remains steadfast toward this aim.
The Labour Inspectorate, are as always, available to both employers and employees to provide information and guidance on all employment related matters.
I am happy to say that the reforms implemented by the Government in relation to the Employment Tribunal are now bearing fruit.
The Tribunal is methodically addressing cases.
Rules have been drafted to ensure that Chairpersons and Mediators are fully accountable for any shortcomings that may materialise.
This will enhance the quality of the service for those that may seek to access it.
Access to justice particularly in the context of employment and labour-associated matters, are an important cornerstone of this administration’s policy.
This is fulfilled by ensuring that individuals have fair and equitable opportunities to seek legal recourse, receive due process, and have their rights protected.
I look forward to working with the team at the Department of Employment and the Tribunal Chairpersons, to further enhance the provisions within the Employment Tribunal for the benefit of the working population of Gibraltar.
Public Service Code
Mr Speaker, I also look forward to completing the revision and modernisation of the Public Sector Code which is commonly known as the General Orders.
This was an outstanding Manifesto commitment which will soon be fulfilled.
Together with the staff at the Human Resources Department, we have painstakingly gone through section by section of the General Orders to amend it and bring it up to date.
The current document is obsolete in many respects.
It underpins the Civil Service, the Gibraltar Development Corporation, as well as many other Agencies, Government-owned Companies, and Authorities in one form or another.
This rebranded and reinvigorated Public Service Code will be fit for purpose for the 21st century public sector and will be a springboard for its future success.
In tandem with this, my Ministry have been working closely with the Human Resources Department to review policies such as Injury at Work provisions for essential services.
I now take the opportunity to draw your attention to the work that I have undertaken in my capacity as Chair of the Health and Safety Advisory Council.
Last November, we held the first Health and Safety seminar since the pandemic.
This saw the intervention of excellent local speakers – the heads of our public services and charities.
It also included Unite the Union’s National Officer on Health and Safety and the IOSH UK President.
The seminar was a resounding success.
It culminated in the completion of the Public Sector’s Policies A and B which have enjoyed the input of all stakeholders within the HSAC, but principally moved by Unite the Union’s National Officer, Gillian Birkett.
It is a testament to the strength of the relationship that this Government has with other organisations, particularly the trade unions, that despite temporary disagreements we can work for our community on the issues that matter.
This year, we will work towards improving the Health and Safety Seminar and setting it on a path that will ensure its success for many years to come.
I look forward to updating this House further on the matter when the opportunity arises.
In concluding, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the staff who work within the different Ministerial 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 today.
They are the ones who guide me daily in all that I do and are also there for me, whatever time of day.
I am forever grateful so a wholehearted thank you goes to them all.