If the events of the past few weeks have taught us anything, it’s that we should be prepared for shocks to the system. In defiance of pollsters’ predictions Brexit is a reality, the UK’s government is in turmoil and we’ve seen how the status quo is, at times, a very fragile thing.
While the full effects of Brexit are yet to be seen, at least one lesson is very clear for Jersey: there are always going to be risks we can’t control. To make sure we’re robust enough to navigate uncertainty, we can’t afford to let our economy be too dependent on any one industry. Putting all of our eggs in one basket by over-reliance on the finance industry could leave us very vulnerable indeed. There’s no room for complacency: we need to get serious about diversification.
Diversification into digital presents an ideal opportunity for Jersey to be better able to withstand unexpected developments. It isn’t resource intensive, location isn’t an issue, we have the important infrastructure in place, we already have digital green shoots in the economy, and we have a business services engine room that can support it. To top it all off, we also have control of our own destiny to set our own legislation and regulation – a particular strength for fintech development.
It’s important to remember that Jersey’s existing trade in services with the EU will remain unchanged post-Brexit, which is particularly important for our growing fintech sector. We must also highlight the diversity of our trade links beyond Europe too – Jersey enjoys strong trade links globally, relationships which we will continue to build upon.
Our size may be a challenge in one respect but in another it’s very much our strength. Connections are tighter here. We can get all the right people in one room to effect change. What’s needed more than anything is a shift in culture. We need to go from risk aversion to active innovation, doing things quickly, taking calculated risks and experimenting rather than just following the example of larger jurisdictions.
Of course we need investment too, which is why I’m pleased to see the commitment in the MTFP to funding innovation. Even in difficult times, government is ring-fencing budget to diversify the economy, including funding our digital industry.
We must also address the flow of talent: the digital sector needs skilled, entrepreneurial thinkers and workers to continue to innovate, which is why the upcoming pilot scheme between Digital Jersey and the Population Office is so valuable, enabling us to import much-needed talent to close the digital skills gap.
In a sector where the ability to adapt is a prerequisite for success, key players in the digital world are ready to deal with the challenges Brexit presents. In its own way, Jersey must do the same.
Jersey needs to become a place where people can develop new technology projects quickly yet skilfully. Again, we need to knock down the barriers that prevent this from becoming a reality. There are examples of other small jurisdictions excelling in particular areas of the digital economy: Estonia and Malta have been leading the way in showing what relatively small countries can achieve if they put their minds to it.
Of course Jersey already has many strengths which we must play to: we must continue to foster an innovative, business positive environment here, much as we’ve seen in London, but bolstered by our low taxation. Jersey needs to send a clear message that entrepreneurs are wanted, welcomed and given the tools they need to thrive here.
Growing a strong digital economy isn’t an easy option, but we’ve made a good start and we need to keep going. It’s in all of our interests to see innovative businesses start up and grow here, creating jobs and wealth and adding a much needed string to our bow.