Friday, September 16, 2005

GFSB: Survey shows concern for level playing field

Tripartite talks

The Gibraltar Federation of Small Businesses (GFSB) has carried out a survey of its members to sample their views on the risks and opportunities for small businesses arising from the tri-partite dialogue between Gibraltar, the UK and Spain.

The survey, which was conducted prior to the summer following a request from the Government of Gibraltar detected a number of concerns about the potential impact of greater cross-border cooperation on small companies.

Marilou Guerrero, chairman of the GFSB“A lot of the members are worried about this because we are already at a disadvantage and, unless things are done properly to safeguard our own businesses well, they may end up at an even bigger disadvantage than they are now,” said Marilou Guerrero, chairman of the GFSB.

She stressed that small businesses are not opposed to the process of working toward closer relations with Spain, but that they would like their interests to be reflected and taken into consideration during discussions.

“There are a lot things which are worrying because we do not still have a level playing field,” Mrs Guerrero said.

“It’s a lot of day-to-day things which businesses are affected by and which, at that level of politics, they might not even be aware of.”

She used the example of unregistered, unlicensed traders coming in from Spain to carry work for cash payments, something that undermines local competitors faced with the normal bureaucracy and cost of running a business. In simple terms, traders coming in from Spain are invariably cheaper to use – though potentially riskier - than their local counterparts.

“They come in, they work cash in hand, they go back out again and that’s the end of the story,” the GFSB chairman said.

“You can’t compete with that and it’s been putting people here out of business.

These are the sort of things that we have to be aware of when you have the greater cooperation and more freedom, so that there’s not just more freedom coming this way [from Spain into Gibraltar] but also the other way round.”

The GFSB has always made a point of steering clear on any sort of political comment and its survey was geared to highlighting the sort of problems and concerns that its members face on a daily basis.

The primary aim was to help government officials involved in the discussions to gain a better understanding of the challenges facing the small business community.

Many of the survey’s findings focused on the inadequacy of facilities and customs procedures for freight shipments moving across the border with Spain.

Respondents, for example, asked for improved infrastructure in the border area to speed up the flow of goods, particularly perishable shipments. Coupled to that was a call for a Health Inspection Post on the Spanish side of the border, without which foodstuffs cannot be shipped through the frontier.

Underlying these concerns was the need for a more flexible timetable for freight movements, which are currently restricted to a limited number of hours from Monday through to Friday.

The prospect of expanded use of the airport also drew the attention of GFSB members who participated in the survey. The general consensus was that flights to cities such as Madrid or Barcelona would greatly improve relations with suppliers and customers, though respondents said that Gibraltar-based businesses should be granted commercial access to the operations of the main terminal building should this be located in Spain.

Other issues raised included understandable and well-documented concerns about telecommunications, particularly mobile phone roaming services.

Local businesses also said that less ‘politically-motivated’ criticism of Gibraltarian commercial institutions such as banking, bunkering and the tobacco sector would help to ease cross-border tensions.

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