The 2008 Gibraltar Day was held on Monday, October 20th, with events taking place at the Royal Automobile Club, where the Finance Centre lunch was held for 220 guests, at the Travellers Club in Pall Mall, where over 100 representatives of tour operators and other tourism-related businesses were addressed by the Hon Ernest Britto, Minister for Tourism and the Environment, and in the Great Hall of the City of London’s Guildhall, which was the scene for the evening reception, attended by over 1200 guests, including both Labour and Conservative MPs and high-ranking members of the armed forces.
The day began for the local press contingent with an invitation to view the impressive new premises of the Gibraltar Information Board, a five-storey building at 150 The Strand. The new building is a great improvement on the former premises further along The Strand, not just because it is more conveniently situated for transport services and pedestrian access, being within easy walking distance of Trafalgar Square, but also because of its appearance and facilities. Along with the usual tourism-related areas and a reception for local sponsored patients and other Gibraltarians who may need assistance, the building has consular facilities, a board room and offices for the use of Gibraltar Government Ministers and officials when they are visiting the United Kingdom, an exhibition room and, a welcome boost for local business people, high quality premises that can be hired when local firms need to conduct business in London, a facility that according to GIB head, Albert Poggio, has already been made great use of. As the Chief Minister wryly pointed out, the property market may have lost value since the building was purchased, but the purchase of such an impressive property in such a prime position in the nation’s capital should prove to have been an astute move in years to come.
The first official event of the day was the Finance Centre lunch, held at the Royal Automobile Club in Pall Mall. Attended by 220 people from top financial institutions in both Gibraltar and the United Kingdom, the lunch was preceded by a welcome from James Tipping, Director of the Gibraltar Finance Centre. After the appetizing lunch, the guests were addressed by Mr Caruana, who appeared optimistic about Gibraltar’s prospects in the face of the current worldwide economic turmoil. While acknowledging that Gibraltar would not be immune to the financial recession, he pointed out that as a small, diversified economy the Rock is better placed than most to survive the financial storm. He highlighted the doubling of Gibraltar’s economy over the last 11 years, with growth during 2007 reaching 12.5%, and shared his belief that the local economy would emerge from the turbulent times with a strengthened partnership with the financial service companies based on the Rock. He announced the reform of the corporate tax system, which will see an across the board tax rate of 10% for companies operating in Gibraltar as from July 2009.
Meanwhile, next door to the Royal Automobile Club premises, in the Travellers Club in Pall Mall, the Hon Ernest Britto, Minister for Tourism and the Environment, was hosting the Tourist Development reception. This was attended by over 100 representatives of the travel and tourism industry. Mr Britto pointed to the United Kingdom as the largest source for tourists visiting Gibraltar, and told the guests that Gibraltar is seeking to take tourism forward despite the worsening economic crisis. He pointed to efforts to publicise the Rock as a tourist destination through the use of road shows, such as the one mounted recently when Monarch Airline recommenced its Manchester to Gibraltar route.
The main event of the day was, as always, the Chief Minister’s reception in the Great Hall of the Guildhall. This year saw more guests than ever attend the evening reception, 1200 this year, 200 up on last year’s number, and it seems evident that if the number of people wishing to attend keeps increasing a new venue for the reception will have to be found, although it would be hard to find a replacement so redolent in history as the magnificent Great Hall, which features several impressive sculptural groups, including one of Poseidon receiving news of the British Navy’s most illustrious exploits after the Battle of Trafalgar had been won. The guests in attendance included a number of former Governors of Gibraltar accompanied by their spouses, high-ranking members of the armed forces, including Air Chief Marshal Sir Glen Torpy and the Chief of Joint Operations, Lieutenant General Nick Houghton. Also in attendance were British MPs from both Government and Opposition parties, including former leader of the Conservative Party and current Shadow Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, the Rt Hon William Hague. The British Government was represented by five MPs, including the Rt Hon Geoff Hoon, Secretary of State for Transport, and the new Minister for Europe, the Rt Hon Caroline Flint. Ms Flint gave a very well-received speech, in which she expressed her faith in the strong bond existing between the United Kingdom and Gibraltar, and emphasized that Gibraltar’s new constitution allows for a mature relationship between the two countries that is non-colonial in nature. To immense enthusiasm from the assembled guests, she stated that the UK would never enter into arrangements in which the people of Gibraltar would pass to the sovereignty of another state against their wishes, and confirmed that the United Kingdom would not enter into sovereignty negotiations against the wishes of the Rock’s people. Mr Caruana also spoke at the reception, and he again emphasized that Gibraltar is well placed to weather the current economic storm. He also praised the local emergency services for their courage and professionalism in the recent ship collision at Europa Point, and pointed to the cooperation of local and Spanish emergency services for saving the lives of 31 seamen. This, Mr Caruana stated, would have been impossible previously, but recent developments have made Spain more willing to engage with Gibraltar in a more normal relationship. He also pointed to the modern relationship now existing between Gibraltar and the former colonial power and paid tribute to the excellent working relationship now existing between Gibraltar and the United Kingdom’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Mr Caruana paid tribute to the Royal Gibraltar Regiment and looked forward to the celebration of its 70th anniversary, due next year. Another anniversary of importance to the people of Gibraltar next year is the 700th anniversary of the Shrine of Our Lady of Europe at Europa Point, and Mr Caruana said that the Government would support a fitting celebration of such an important milestone in the Shrine’s history. He also welcomed the greater participation of the Gibraltar Heritage Trust in affairs outside strict heritage matters.
After a fanfare of welcome from the trumpeters of the Royal Gibraltar Regiment band, throughout the evening the guests had been entertained by music from the band of the Corps of Royal Engineers. This was to have been followed by the traditional Sunset Ceremony in the Guildhall’s spacious courtyard, performed by the Royal Gibraltar Regiment Band and Corps of Drums with the London Scottish Pipes and Drums. However, due to heavy rainfall, this event had to be brought indoors, rather diminishing the event, but still enchanting the guests with the splendour of the music. A fitting end to a successful Gibraltar day in London.
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