Citing the number of local businesses that were “absolutely decimated” by the impact of the global pandemc over the past 18 months, Opposition Leader Cole Simons says Bermuda’s economy will only get worse before it gets better.
In his Reply to the Throne Speech delivered on Friday (Nov 12), the One Bermuda Alliance (OBA) leader said: “Local businesses which have been around for decades were dramatically forced to close or downsize.”
“Where is the AS Cooper’s Men’s Store? Where is the Cake Shop? Where is the Muslim bakery? Where is the Hickory Stick?”
On top of that he said: “Many surviving businesses have had to reconfigure their business model such as Crisson’s Jewellers, Calypso, the English Sports Shop, and not to forget our friends in the town of St George’s.
“The island appeared to be systematically shutting down. What is this government doing to remedy this?
“The decline cannot continue. How do we remedy this?
“The Opposition firmly believes that businesses must be given the freedom to grow, and that the Government must support their aspirations, not kill them,” he added.
“We recommend that for the time being, corporate taxes must be kept to a minimum.”
He urged the Government to “do all it can” to encourage “entrepreneurs and silent investors to invest in small businesses to increase business productivity”.
To help bolster productivity, Mr Simons called for the implementation of a “tax deferral scheme for up to one to three months”, to “enable retailers to pay their Customs duties after their products are sold” – not when they arrive.”
The OBA Leader also called for “true equity when it comes to Bermuda’s immigration policies”.
“These policies must be just as user-friendly to local small businesses, as they are for our international business sector and partners.
“From Somerset to St George’s the stories are the same,” he added.
“Small Bermudian businesses lament that they must give business away because they cannot get local employees to service their clients.
“We have heard the repeated refrain, ‘we want to hire Bermudians, but they do not stay’.
“The sentiment is prevalent within the landscaping, restaurant, farming, and grocery sectors.
“In fact, one small businessman approached me and said that he is trying to get one expat guest worker for his workforce of 15 Bermudian employees, but the application keeps getting rejected, while a chain of convenience stores has all expat workers.
“Where is the equity?
“The other challenge for small businesses is securing financing from our local banks. These small business
entrepreneurs feel that they are unacceptable or unwelcome when they go into our banks and ask for
support. This must change, and the Government has a role in making this change, despite the support and
guarantees provided by the Bermuda Economic Development Agency.”
One businessman “shared that he wanted to secure a truck permit to help grow his business, and it took him over eight months to receive his permit,” he added.
“What a nightmare. This kind of experience is just not good enough. How can small businesses grow or for that matter survive?”
Mr Simons called on the Government to “cut the bureaucratic red tape” when dealing with government agencies, for small businesses, and other stakeholders, to help grow Bermuda’s economy.
He also cited another small business owner’s dilemma due to Customs duties.
“They are not bringing their beauty care products into Bermuda. Instead, they are ‘drop shipping’, meaning that the wholesaler wraps the product using the local business’s wrapping and packaging and then ships the orders directly to the client whether they’re in Bermuda or overseas.
“This innovative idea reduces the operating costs for their businesses, by reducing their Customs duty expenses.”
The “disappointingemployment numbers” were “consistentwithothereconomic indicatorswhichpoint toa verybleakfuture”.
“Essentially,economicsufferingwillincrease in Bermuda until this Government changes its policies, or when Bermudians change this Government.