500 leaders of Guernsey’s business community gathered at the 22nd Institute of Directors Debate on 3 October to discuss Guernsey. Two panels of industry experts focussed on the internal and external challenges for the island.
Sponsored by Carey Olsen, the debate was moderated by BBC Radio 4’s Today programme’s Sarah Montague who was born and bred in Guernsey.
Founder of the Active Group, Wayne Bulpitt, Robin Newbould, managing director of BULLIONROCK, Chris Brock, founder of Island Analysis, and Peter Mills, a director of the Optimus Group and chairman of GIBA, examined the internal challenges that Guernsey faces.
Looking at the external challenges and environment were William Mason, Guernsey Financial Services Commission director general, Steve Williams, director of European affairs at the Channel Islands’ Brussels office, and co-founder of Hargreaves Lansdown, Stephen Lansdown.
A number of key issues arose during the debate including; internet connectivity and bandwidth, especially in schools, the potential for a Channel Islands university, airline links with London Gatwick, regulation and whether Guernsey should implement a goods and services tax.
Peter Mills argued that Guernsey has had a successful 30 years and, to remain attractive, it needed to adapt and be competitive in all areas not just finance. Robin Newbould supported this view suggesting that diversity was paramount and that there was an opportunity to rebalance an unbalanced economy.
While it was noted that there were many infrastructure shortfalls just as important as connectivity, the ‘Directors of Tomorrow’ A level students pleaded for short-term solutions for their schools’ internet problems and claimed that their generation was suffering because the island lags behind and that the States did not place enough importance on developing IT infrastructure.
It was also argued that Guernsey still needed to do more to market itself for future generations and the careers services that Guernsey offered was inadequate.
Voted by the audience as the biggest issue facing Guernsey, the second half of the evening focused on external perceptions of Guernsey and its reputation. Stephen Lansdown assured the audience that the island was changing perceptions but it was a work in progress.
Members of the audience argued that, while Jersey and Guernsey make each other more competitive, there needed to be more joined-up thinking between the two jurisdictions including pooling resources and establishing free movement between the islands.
Twitter played a large part in the debate with live screens keeping the audience updated and helping to take the conversation to wider virtual spectators.
A definitive conclusion was reached by those in the room that the island needs to take risks and embrace change to develop and grow and not just remain in survival mode.
John Greenfield, Carey Olsen managing partner, said: “Guernsey is clearly a great island of opportunity and we need to maintain and build on the success we have worked so hard to create. Hopefully the debate has prompted both the audience and the panel to think further ahead and address the hurdles that the island faces both today and in the future. The world has changed so much in the past four or five years but Guernsey has a positive mind-set and will allow for shift and change.”
IoD chairman Mark Palfrey gave a commitment that the institute would publish a mid-term report in March, which would detail the progress made on the issues raised during the debate. A full update of progress will be presented to the audience at the Guernsey IoD debate in 2014.