Medium Term ( First parliamentary term):
Part of any dynamic strategic development plan should be based around carefully locating industrial policy at the heart of that plan. But, as has been mentioned before, this generation of policymakers and politicians do not have a natural impulse for industry. They prefer to base development strategy on tourism, because it provides the ready cash, and on the provision of services such as law, medicine, offshore health and education, and accountancy, because they fit in with their professional training. In other words, these are areas in which they feel professionally and politically comfortable. But one example shows the weakness of such thinking. There is a small company in Britain, called LondonBioPackaging, a small environmentally friendly packaging firm, as its name implies. Part of the products it provides are food containers made from bagasse. In the mid-1960s one of Barrow’s promises was to develop a chip-board company made from bagasse, which he said the Cubans would train young people in developing. Today there is no such industry.
Barbados was also the home of the early stages of what became the Iraqi super gun, trialled at the Barbados Foundry; we have now lost those skills. In the mid 1960s, Texas Instruments came to Barbados with its compute chip manufacturing plant, but as soon as the tax free period was out it moved to Malaysia. So, our failure to gain any knowledge transfer from these industries is not a recent phenomenon, it goes back to the 1950s.
But spin-offs from bagasse is not our only significant industrial failure. Barbados has a premium grade rum, or so we are told, yet it remains a family-run family cottage industry, or one which uses the Barbados brand but is owned by some French company or mainly identified with Bicardi. There is no training programme for would-be distillers, no trade association, no collective advertising. We drift along hoping that people would like and buy our brands giving us further reason to talk about being world-class.
The community college should organise a programme of training in rum, vodka, brandy, gin and whiskey distilling and micro-brewing, with a roadmap for the brightest and best of those to set up in business. Rum producers should be given an eighteen-month period of grace to form a recognised trade association, if not government should penalise them by increasing taxation on those who refuse to join for a further eighteen-month period after which they would be banned. In other words, form a trade association or go out of business.
Once organised, government can then enforce things like training, health and safety, quality control, marketing and ethical standards. Approved brands would be approved by an industry recognised body, such as the French wine industry. A good industrial strategy, based on our geographical size, lack of natural resources and lack of skills, should be based around the developing of a number of cluster niche industries. Small businesses, based in industrial parks and offering services to each other with an end-product provider, government could provide the start-up capital, supported by an industry-led small business office (not the present civil service department), with established business people providing a mentoring service for new businesses.
Another medium-term plan the nation needs is a long-term savings plan, modelled on either the Hong Kong Mandatory Provident Fund, the Singaporean Central Provident Fund, the US 401K plan, or the UK’s Individual Savings Account. Such a scheme will be the investment vehicle for a compulsory saving of about five per cent of take home pay in the first year, with a contribution from employers, rising by increments of two per cent annually to a maximum of 20 per cent after ten years.
Then, to cap it all, Barbados needs a major infrastructural project, such as a theme park, which would provide new jobs and business opportunities for local people, will be a magnet for tourists, regional and long haul, and which would catapult Barbados up the league of tourist attractions in the Caribbean. A theme part, linking Culpepper Island with the mainland, turning that whole area around the lighthouse in to a major recreational venue, would seal whichever government was brave enough o build such a scheme in the annals of the island’s history.
Such a project would cost about Bds$2bn, from current estimates, so funding would be the challenge and I suggest new money. A Barbados development fund, backed by the Diaspora and friends of Barbados, could raise Bds$500m over a five-year period, a further $250m could be raised through carefully incentivised retail investments aimed at the international markets, a further $250m through a ten-year corporate founding bonds, and approaching Sovereign Wealth Funds for an extended $1bn loan.
Unlike the grand promises of Four Seasons, such a project could be quite attractive for international investors, make a major contribution to leisure and tourism in Barbados and be something all the people could be proud of, not just a narrow few.
Government pays more lip service to small businesses than it does in practice. For example, despite the fiction encouraged by organisations such as the World Economic Forum that Barbados is highly competitive, in fact it is a system clogged up with red tape and bureaucracy. Registering a small business in any modern state should not take more than five working days in a jurisdiction the size of Barbados, yet it can take months.
To be regionally competitive, far less global, government must make it easy and transparent to establish a small business. One way of doing this is by introducing a simple form which once submitted to the relevant department details would be shared right across government – with some departments having access to information, while others may have the right to alter or add to the details.
With the right technology, one-point input and minimum access, and giving the directors of the new company or the sole trader reading access to verify details, establishing accompany in Barbados would in an instant become one of the most transparent and efficient in the Caribbean, if not the world.
One necessary step we must take if we are to return to manufacturing, is to abandon the mind-set that tells us that manufacturing must be holistic. As Peter Marsh has shown in his recent book (The New Industrial Revolution: Consumers, Globalisation and the end of Mass Production), the new industrial landscape has moved on from 1960s Japanisation, the just in time concept of the supply chain, and the Taylorism of the turn of the 20th century in the US. Modern times call for new approaches. But it is on the retail side where the barrier to entry is lower that we could see the most growth.
The key to keeping a retail business lean and efficient is the supply chain. Over-supply can be the death of many small businesses; having stock in a warehouse or backroom is not only to risk damage to that stock, but ties up very important cash flow, the lifeblood of any businesses. Working as a supply cooperative not only reduces overheads, warehousing and distributional costs, but it allows for better planning and oils the wheel of competitive advantage.
Another advantage for small retail businesses working together as a cooperative is that it creates opportunities for branding, both in terms of own brand products, and the business i.e. by painting all the shops in the same colours not only creates the impression of a nationwide presence, but that the quality of service is this same. This is how franchises work and give them a competitive advantage over individually-owned silo businesses. It also gives the cooperative negotiating power when dealing with suppliers. Instead of buying as a single business, the coop buyer, representing hundreds of businesses, can get deals single businesses can only dream about. This allows those cost savings to be turned back in to the business providing even greater benefits for all members of the coop.
Education As a Long Term Objective:
Our long-term future is rooted in the quality of our education. Given this, there are two global models on which we can base any educational reforms: Singapore, which in some ways have many similarities to Barbados, Germany, with its academic and vocational streams, and Finland. The other two key rival models are the USA and India, one country with the most patents and science Nobel Laureates in the world, and the other with grinding poverty and mass illiteracy for the majority of its people, while a statistical few reach world-class levels of knowledge.
If the measure of the quality of life of a people is that enjoyed by the majority, then the former is the model; if the principle is that there will be enormous ‘wastage’ in any society but the key is to maximise opportunities for the talented tenth, then the India model is the one. However, overall, our future as a nation is the future of the quality of our educational system. This is a reality recognised by many Barbadians; but the difference of opinion is how best to reform the system.
Government should commit itself to spending between 12 and 15 per cent of GDP on education over the lifetime of a parliament, as a matter of principle. However, instead of concentrating that additional money on tertiary education in a sort of scattergun fashion, there should be a radical overhaul of the entire system, with the focus on the pre-school and statutory period of education, with the cost for further and higher education being subsidised, but not entirely paid for by taxpayers. But to start, teaching should be made a graduate profession, with a proper code of professional ethics, with all new recruits having to undergo further training to meet a basic teaching standard. At the same time, all current primary and secondary teachers under the age of 45 should be offered in-house training courses to bring them up to the required standards, both in terms of degree-level general education, for non-graduates, and additional appropriate teaching qualifications.
In addition there will be other in-house courses, including management and finance, to prepare those who have the necessary ability to move in to management. The next stage would be to overhaul the present structure, creating a system that would not only benefit pupils, but will bring the best, academically and socially, out of them.
From nursery level, children should be educated bilingually and with a sound introduction to numbers; by primary school these disciplines should be embedded – in much the same way that toddlers learn to talk. By extending the primary school age from seven to 14, the children, their parents and the school authorities will have a better idea of their early potential – whether academic, sports or vocational – and point them in the right direction with good career advice. By extending the statutory education to eighteen, all secondary school pupils will be prepared for a number of appropriate examinations by age sixteen – local, regional and international – from Caribbean Examination Council exams, to the International Baccalaureate, the US high school diploma and the English baccalaureate.
It is at that stage that a decision must be made to fast-track the obviously academically talented, those who are vocationally inclined would go off to technical colleges, and the average would go to an extended Community College (which would be turned in to a federal college with branches all over the country). Sixth forms in individual schools will be got rid of.
Parallel to this will be a virtual school for the gifted, running from pre-school to university age, which will take exceptionally bright and talented children out of the classroom and offer them one-to-one tuition (retired, contract or part-time teachers can be used for this) either fulltime or for the subject sport or technical skill they are exceptional at – academic, sports, music, etc.
Above all, the structure of school management is badly in need or a widespread overhaul. One only has to look at the scandal of Alexandra, the public humiliation of a headmaster, the stubbornness and arrogance of union officials – in fact their effective thuggery – to see what happens when we have too many chiefs and not enough Indians to run our schools. If one thing comes out of the Alexandra School Inquiry it is that we should never go down that road again.
One of the first things in any restructuring of school management should be a shift of power from central government to the head teacher, who should have full responsibility for the hiring and firing (subject to a management board review), the management of the school budget (again with oversight), and full responsibility for the maintenance of the buildings(s), and relations with all stakeholders, including parents and the local community. The head will report to a management board made up of representatives from the teaching and non-teaching staff, parents, the local community, local community council and an ex officio representative from the department of education.