Relief abounds at Chamber’s Budget breakfast
Bermuda’s business leaders were overwhelmingly optimistic at the annual Bermuda Chamber of Commerce Budget breakfast.
Attendee Zina Edwards Malcolm, called the 2019 Budget “a hell of a relief”.
“I am quite relieved that there weren’t any major extra taxes added to those of us in small businesses,” said Ms Malcolm, a partner at PR firm Brand Lion. She said many of her small business friends had worried that there would be.
Curtis Dickinson, the Minister of Finance, took part in the breakfast at the Hamilton Princess & Beach Club yesterday morning with chamber president John Wight, Bermuda Business Development Agency CEO Roland “Andy” Burrows, Bermuda Industrial Union president Chris Furbert, economist Nathan Kowalski and moderator Arthur Wightman of PwC Bermuda.
Mr Dickinson said he’d tried to create a Budget where there was “shared pain” where there was any pain.
“These challenges did not just happen overnight,” he said. “They were long term made and will require some time in which to fix them.”
He said he’d been asked why spending hadn’t been cut.
“Chopping heads was not consistent with my values,” he said.
His 2019 Budget promises, among other things, no changes to payroll tax, targeted payroll relief to businesses with annual payroll greater than $500,000, plans to establish a government-backed mortgage lender for public sector employees and $180 million of the sinking fund to be used to pay down the debt.
Frank Amaral CEO of One Communications Bermuda was glad to see that Government had pulled back on implementing new taxes.
“As a large local company I think we were happy to see that happen,” he said. “They didn’t put any new taxes that would cause us to revisit what we charge our customers.”
In the Budget speech on Friday, the finance minister said there was a constant refrain, in some quarters, that the Government needed to relax Bermuda’s immigration laws to boost the population in Bermuda.
“It is a simplistic argument which wilfully ignores the other economic challenges faced by Bermuda,” he said.
But Mr Amaral was in the population boost camp.
“What is important is to get more people into Bermuda,” he said. “There are 6,000 fewer people and 6,000 people just not buying our service as a telecommunications and data provider on the Island.”
Susan Pateras, chief operating officer of Liberty Specialty Markets, formerly Ironshore, was pleased that the breakfast panel discussion was a cordial one.
“We need all parties at the table that are united in Bermuda’s future,” she said. “I think we had that today. That was one of the first times especially given that it is in February and we are kicking off the year, that you have such a great collaborative tone across public and private sector.”
Kendaree Burgess, CEO of the Chamber of Commerce thought the breakfast went “exceptionally” well.
“The people listening were pleased with the variety and the panellists,” she said. “I think that most people were pleasantly surprised [by the Budget]. As Nathan Kowalski said, we were probably all worried that it would be a lot more punitive in some ways than it was.”
She praised the finance minister for consulting with the business community before putting together the Budget.
“From a Chamber of Commerce perspective, for that we are quite grateful,” she said. “We look forward to having more conversations with him as we move forward. That is a feather in the cap of the minister that he has gone a long way to strike the right balance.”
But she said she’d like to have seen more of a focus on job creation.
Megan Nesbitt of accounting firm, Abacus Ltd said it was one of the friendliest Budget breakfasts she’d attended.
“In general — there wasn’t anything that stressed me out as either a business owner or on behalf of the clients we work with, or as a Bermudian and a homeowner,” she said. “We are making good progress in terms of surplus and debt repayment.”
Belcario Thomas, chairman of the chamber’s East End division was pleased that the Budget Statement promised to table a Bill to provide for a marina in the town of St George’s.
But he wanted to see incentives offered to the North East Hamilton Economic Empowerment Zone mirrored in the St George’s Economic Empowerment Zone.
“There is a high-yield opportunity in St George’s,” he said. “It needs more access to tools, for entrepreneurs to be able to jump in. That could be an increase in micro loans from the $20,000 cap to $50,000, it could be fast-tracking the sale of BHC properties in the area that are underutilised. It could be grants for all arts.
“Overall, I think the Budget provided mindful stewardship and a platform of opportunities for the private sector to take a hold of and grow from.”
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