This year’s Overseas Territories Consultative Council (OTCC) concluded this week following two days of successful talks between UK Ministers and Premiers, Chief Ministers and elected leaders of the UK’s Overseas Territories (OTs).
Central to discussions was the new UK strategy for the Overseas Territories. This has already delivered big changes and great benefits for the Territories and their British citizens since the Coalition Goverment came to power and since the last meeting of the Council in November 2010. Spanning some of the remotest parts of the world, the 14 territories have seen a step change in cross-Government engagement this year. This has included:
- Signature of the transformational contract to build an airport on St Helena, previously only accessible by ship five days from South Africa.
- Crucial repairs to the harbour on Tristan da Cunha, the world’s most isolated community.
- Rescuing public finances in the Turks and Caicos Islands and progress against all the milestones required for a return to elected government, planned for late 2012.
- Implementing the decisitions in the Strategic Defence and Security Review that defence of the OTs is a core commitment of the Government by maintaining the defence of the Falkland Islands, commissioning HMS Protector as the Royal Navy’s specialist Ice Patrol Ship in the Antarctic and deploying a specially equipped Royal Fleet Auxiliary to support disaster relief and counter-narcotics in the Caribbean OTs.
- Agreeing new constitutions with modern human rights provisions for Montserrat and the Turks and Caicos Islands.
- A raft of new initiatives to protect the exceptional biodiversity and environmental assets in the Overseas Territories, including those in the British Antarctic Territory and South Georgia which have been so well captured in the BBC’s Frozen Planet series.
The hallmark of the Government’s new approach is the engagement of the whole of the UK Government in support of the Territories, based on an agreement to the Foreign Secretary’s proposals by the Prime Minister chaired National Security Council.
Speaking at the conference, the Foreign Secretary William Hague reiterated the UK’s commitment to continue this increased engagement:
“My Ministerial team in the FCO and my colleagues across other Government departments will work tirelessly to ensure that our partnership promotes the best interest of all our citizens and a bright and successful future for the Overseas Territories.”
Discussions at the OTCC focused on the forthcoming White Paper, as well as stimulating economic growth, strengthening the OTs’ highly successful international financial centres, taxation policy, education and social issues, climate change, food security and the environment. Sessions also covered good governance, financial management and economic planning, with Ministers from the Departments for International Development, Ministry of Defence, Treasury and Transport attending on the first day.
In a sign of the renewed cross Government support for the new strategy, a further eight Departments attended the second day, with UK Government Ministers and senior officials participating from the Departments of Education; Communities and Local Government; Culture, Media and Sport; Home Office; Business, Innovation and Skills; Work and Pensions; Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; and Energy, and Climate Change.
At the close of the conference, Minister for the Overseas Territories, Henry Bellingham said:
“This Government has a clear vision for our Overseas Territories to be vibrant and flourishing communities, proudly retaining aspects of their British identity and generating wider opportunities for their people. I had bilateral meetings with the Territory leaders on Tuesday and chaired my second Overseas Territories Consultative Council on Wednesday and Thursday. I was pleased to welcome over 250 guests to a reception that I hosted in honour of Territory leaders. Our discussions at the Consultative Council have been wide-ranging and constructive. I was struck by the exceptional enthusiasm for our new partnership from Territory and UK participants. There is a huge interest in our OTs, including in their fantastic environmental resources. The Government’s policy is awakening interest in this little known but very valuable aspect of Britain.
We discussed global economic challenges and how the UK and Territories are taking action to strengthen public financial management and diversify economic development. We also discussed with Territory leaders ways in which we can build a stronger partnership, including by enabling the Territories to access UK public sector expertise and training - especially through secondments; and by strengthening links and engagement with the Commonwealth and EU.
I am glad that nine of my Ministerial colleagues from across Government were able to attend the Consultative Council this week, a clear demonstration that the UK Government as a whole is supporting the Territories, and not just the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Department for International Development. We will continue to work closely with the Territories as we prepare for the publication of our White Paper on the Territories next year.”