Corruption, crime, poor education, and lack of transparency in island governments have emerged as key issues in the UK’s overseas territories.
They are picked out in an independent report on the results of a public consultation, held in 2011 by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London.
The 43-page document only sets out what people said – it doesn’t say what will be included in a planned government White Paper on the territories.
Issues raised included:
- giving the territories a share of National Lottery money
- protecting St Helena’s heritage
- nursing and teaching on Tristan da Cunha
- past neglect of natural riches
- improving infrastructure on islands
- raising public awareness of the territories
Sovereignty issues for Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands were deemed not to be part of the listening exercise, which was aimed at capturing life in the territories.
Shrinking population is not a problem on St Helena alone. The mayor of Pitcairn said that without remedial action, “the population would decrease to a level where the islands would be uninhabitable.”
He said the world would “lose a culture, a language, a unique way of life”.
St Helena Tourism Association pressed the need for money to protect the island’s “extraordinarily rich” historical sites, which it said were of global significance.
It also wanted the UK’s National Lottery “good causes” scheme extended to allow grants for projects in the territories. The Falkland Islands Government made the same call, which has already won the support of foreign minister Henry Bellingham.
A resident of Anguilla, in the Caribbean, suggested the minister needed support from across the territories to push the case.
Weak infrastructure – meaning roads, power, water and other services – was raised as a concern in submissions from seven of the territories, including St Helena, where transport problems were cited.
A large number of respondents said poor-quality public services were harming everyday life in the territories, especially low standards of education and healthcare.
The Tristan Island Council and chief islander said: “Tristan is likely to need, for some time, technical assistance in the school. There are no teachers trained to current UK standards.” The hospital had no nurses with UK-standard training, they said.
Environmental protection was widely mentioned. The official submission from Tristan da Cunha said the island was receiving UK government support only after “many years of neglect”. It praised the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds for helping to tackle environmental threats (see previous story: Tristan penguin rescuers triumph – maybe).
Four responses called for greater support from the European Union (EU), which has a forum dedicated to the overseas territories of its member countries (mainly France and the UK). But there were complaints about red tape and lack of knowledge among ministers and officials.
Tristan da Cunha’s submission said: “Tristan is encouraged by the response of the EU to certification of the fish factory and its product and would like to see progress speeded up. Tristan would welcome a visit by officials to see the island and experience the effect of its unique situation and isolation.”
The mayor of Pitcairn said EU bureaucracy was hampering island growth and delaying building of a new harbour. He said: “Islanders’ expectations have been raised only for their aspirations to turn to cynicism because of bureaucratic delays.”
Worries were raised about islands’ vulnerability to the world economic crisis, and over-dependence on tourism – now being seen as the great hope for St Helena.
One online comment said: “Access to external support is something that is hampered in St Helena by simple things such as not having a formally (internationally) recognised postal code.”
Ignorance about the territories in the wider world, including in Britain, was another widely-shared concern.
A response from Pitcairn said that even the Foreign and Commonwealth Office needed a better understanding of the island group.
One person said UK ministers should “make the overseas territories their destination of choice for vacation”, suggesting it would promote tourism.
And another writer said: “As a UK national, now living in St Helena, I didn’t even know where the Falklands was until the 1982 conflict, and then only found out that St Helena existed as a result of meeting Saints working in the Falklands in 1986.”
Read the independent report on the overseas territories consultation, in full.