Henry Bellingham *File photo
Henry Bellingham *File photo

THURSDAY, JUNE 28: The Overseas Territories and the UK share a unique bond, with shared historical links that go back more than four centuries. But 2012 is a particularly special year.

In early June, we welcomed Territory representatives to Britain to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. I know that there were many celebrations in Bermuda and the other Territories too, reflecting the fact that the Overseas Territories form a valued part of Her diverse realm.  Next month, we look forward to welcoming athletes from Bermuda and other Territories to the London Olympics to compete on the world’s greatest sporting stage.  So it is fitting that this is also the year that the UK Government renews and strengthens its relationship with the Territories.

On 28 June we published a White Paper setting out our vision for the Territories: as vibrant and flourishing communities, proudly retaining aspects of their British identity and creating new opportunities for young and future generations. The White Paper explains how we will take forward three goals: to increase engagement between the UK and the Territories; to help the Territories to strengthen good governance, financial management and economic planning, where this is necessary; and to improve the quality and range of support to the Territories. The White Paper draws on the outcomes of the public consultation that I initiated last year during my visit to Bermuda.

Our first goal is to strengthen engagement between the UK and the Territories in order to deepen co-operation and share expertise. We are getting other UK Government departments more involved in supporting the Territories in the areas on which they are the experts. The Foreign Office is setting up a Jubilee Programme to support an exchange of expertise between public servants in the Territories and the UK. We also want to build stronger political links and are therefore upgrading our annual meeting between political leaders into a Joint Ministerial Council with a clear mandate to drive forward the implementation of the White Paper.

But we want to go further than this to help support the Territories. We will foster stronger links between our private sectors, professional bodies and civil societies. And we are encouraging partnerships between UK local government and the Territories, such as the one established last year between the British Virgin Islands and Hertfordshire County Council.

This will help us to achieve our second goal, of helping the Territories strengthen good governance, financial management and economic planning, where this is necessary. We recognise how diverse the Territories are but also that, in these times of global economic difficulty, we face common challenges: building more diverse and resilient economies, cutting public sector deficits, regulating businesses effectively, and ensuring the sustainability of natural resources and protecting the natural environment. And there are certain standards which we must all uphold, in particular in maintaining the rule of law, respecting human rights, and integrity in public life. We are committed to taking strong action to combat corruption in the UK and we expect the Territories to do likewise.

The UK Government is determined to help the Territories run themselves effectively, not to run them ourselves. This was made clear recently when we announced that elections would be held in the Turks and Caicos Islands on 9 November, on the basis that significant progress had been made to address the issues raised by Sir Robin Auld’s Commission of Inquiry that had identified a high probability of systemic corruption. 

Overall we recognise that the Territories have made considerable strides in their economic development. We will support the efforts that you are making to boost economic growth and grow global businesses, and we will encourage British companies to invest in and trade with Bermuda and the other Territories.

The third goal of our strategy is to improve the quality and range of support to the Territories. The UK is delivering a step-change in the support we provide to Territories in need. We are helping St Helena build an airport to open up economic and social opportunities: the largest single UK Government investment ever made in a Territory. Our support will not just be direct. We recognise other organisations are often best placed to help. So we will also focus on helping Territories build more productive links with the EU, Commonwealth, the UN and regional organisations to harness better the support they can offer. 

We are also reinforcing our commitment to work in partnership to protect and manage the natural environment of the Territories to the highest standards. Each of the Territories depends on its natural assets in some way such as for fisheries and tourism. I am delighted that our Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs recently launched the latest round of its Darwin Fund initiative which will fund further biodiversity work in the Territories.

The White Paper sets out a broad and important agenda. Taking forward this work will require partnership between the UK and Territory Governments. Together we will work for the security, economic success and sustainability of the Territories.