Monday, 19 December 2016

My Visit to Gibraltar

With the Chief Minister

At the beginning of December 2016 I was fortunate to go to Gibraltar for the second time and meet the Hon Fabian Picardo QC, Chief Minister of Gibraltar. I had previously visited in 2013 and was impressed by its ambience and its economic success. Over the years the territory has consistently been achieving budget surpluses. Wishing to learn more about the workings of Gibraltar, and after communication through letters and emails, I arranged a meeting with the Chief Minister.

Last year the CM was re-elected with a large majority for a second term. He has done a lot for the population; two new schools, a beautiful park and a university all introduced since 2011. When asked what he considered to be his greatest achievement as Chief Minister, the Hon Fabian Picardo told me that he was proudest of being able to offer IVF on the National Health Service . Over four years in this position means that he can now see children born under this programme walking down Main Street and starting to attend nursery. Now, that is really something special.

Though Mr Picardo himself is the leader of the Gibraltar Socialist Labour Party, the coalition has maintained a more free market approach when it comes to taxation policies. Corporation tax is relatively low at 10%, which incentivises more companies to set up and earn their income here. Though the rate is low, revenues from corporation tax are high. Many financial service providers have set up their offices here and Gibraltar is considered to be a hub for gaming. I was fascinated to learn that its students are funded to study abroad – tuition fees, maintenance costs as well as flights home. The idea of a ‘long-term investment’ is recurrent in many economic policies including this one; young Gibraltarians return with more knowledge and skills, and give back to the territory as tax-paying members of the workforce.
One of the main roads in Gibraltar crosses the airfield, meaning that visitors get to cross the runway. 
From the outset, I found Gibraltar to be excitingly different to anywhere I’d been before. It’s not every day that you get to walk across an airfield! Gibraltar manages to fit in a sizeable amount of sights and activities. I had two particular favourites from my trip in 2013, both of which are rather unique to this destination.

A trip up the Rock is an opportunity not to be missed if you come to Gibraltar. We took the cable car to the peak. This is perfect if you want a gentle journey but there is also the option of walking up. Either way you have the chance to see good views of the territory, which develop into stunning panoramas of the bay, Spain and the sea once you reach the summit. The Rock is also home to a colony of Barbary macaques. The sole wild monkey population in Europe, frolicking around in their natural environment is a real sight to see – but don’t aggravate or feed them!
Over time Gibraltar and her citizens have absorbed the nearby cultural influences of Africa
and Spain but there remains a distinctly British heritage

If you have some time to spare I would definitely recommend that you visit Europa Point. At first glance it might just seem like any coastal area but I feel it really puts Gibraltar into perspective. You’re reminded that the overseas territory is like its own little piece of Britain (which happens to be built on a giant Rock) tucked away at the entrance of the Mediterranean. It was slightly cloudy when we visited but we could still see the peaks of the Moroccan mountains across the Strait of Gibraltar. I’m certain this is a beautiful vista on a clear day.

There are several other activities that are worth a mention if you make it here. Take a boat out into the Bay of Gibraltar to see dolphins and other marine animals in their natural habitat. Stroll down the charming cobblestones of Main Street and stop to enjoy the surroundings in Grand Casemates Square. Ocean Village marina resort has several entertainment venues, including a yacht hotel and casino, and is home to many restaurants with delicious food – may I suggest a visit (or two) to Bianca’s? All in all, an enjoyable time is pretty much guaranteed.

My thanks to the Hon Fabian Picardo QC, Chief Minister, and Mr Peter Canessa, Principal Private Secretary, for giving me half an hour of their time for a refreshingly frank discussion. I feel that Gibraltar is in very capable hands. Please remember- if you’re looking for a new holiday destination/travelling around Europe/visiting Andalusia then make some time and go to Gibraltar!

Links to Further Reading