I am delighted to be putting my name forward in the Together Gibraltar primaries. I am doing this because I feel that I can contribute to the dialogue about our direction as a nation.
My background is anything but ordinary. I moved to Gibraltar from the USA before my second birthday. My parents have lived in Gibraltar from the 1960s, with a brief hiatus in the USA, which is where I was born. Like many in the Hindu community, my parents work in the family business. I have a sister that works for the Gibraltar Health Authority and is studying for her PhD in Dementia Care.
I am proud to be a product of the Gibraltarian educational system. After sitting my GCSE’s, I went to the UK to complete my ‘A’ Levels, after which I went to university in Cardiff to study Computer Science. I continued my education in the University of Bath, where I earned my Masters in Management. I met my wife-to-be while at University in Cardiff. While completely out of my league, she somehow said ‘Yes’ when I asked her out, and now, 20 years later, we are happily married with two 8 year old boys.
After University, I felt that I was not ready to return to Gibraltar and join the family business. I started my career in London – working as a consultant for a small technology firm in finance. We developed solutions to ease the challenges banks encountered when trading complex derivative products. This role provided me the opportunity to work in banks around Europe – gaining extensive experience in banking and technology in Brussels, Stockholm, London and Edinburgh. At every institution, I found that where diversity is welcomed and valued, the organisation would benefit from greater profit, innovation and increased creativity. I often thought about how much our political system could learn from this.
After getting married, we moved to New York – where I experienced the financial crisis first-hand while working for JP Morgan in Manhattan. It showed me how fragile an economy can be, and the human cost of poor controls over financial management.
I was also in the US when Barack Obama was inaugurated as President. He delivered a message of hope, progress and change at a time when it was most needed. Like many who believe in progressive values; in equality and inclusivity – President Obama has been a role model of mine.
After three years in New York, I returned to London to join HSBC, where I took on a senior leadership role within Global Banking and Markets. I was responsible for making sure that a £120m budget was deployed as effectively as possible and oversaw the delivery of our strategies. My strengths have always been in implementing real, tangible change – a strength that I feel I can leverage to be of service to our nation.
Following the birth of our children, it was only a question of when we would return home to Gibraltar. This happened in 2014, when we decided to open a jewellery business on Main Street (because if there is one thing we need in Gibraltar, it is another jewellery shop!). My experience in retail showed me how much our retail sector would benefit from a coherent strategy for Main Street. We suffer from a lack of variety and facilities. Without this, we often have little choice but to go to Spain to shop, while our tourists are left with an often tired, inconsistent retail product.
It was also evident to me that the quality of our air was less than ideal. After having lived in bustling Manhattan, and in Central London – I was finding that I was coughing more after moving to Gibraltar. I realised that something is not right in the air that we breathe – and it was immediately obvious what was wrong. I was shocked to learn that in Gibraltar we have the highest rate of respiratory disease in Europe. On land we have a greater number of motor vehicles than we have residents. At sea we have close proximity bunkering – where our air is being poisoned overnight as we sleep, and in the air we have aircraft that land minutes away from where our children play.
While we can’t immediately do a great deal to tackle our neighbour to the north; we can do plenty when it comes to our own affairs. We can reduce our reliance on our private vehicles by improving our public transport system. We can have a bicycle / car / moped sharing scheme that works. We can have infrastructure to support electric vehicles. We can ensure motor vehicle emissions that exceed limits will fail their MOT and we can reduce the vehicular traffic from our visitors by having a real park-and-ride system. We can take the climate emergency seriously and place the environment at the forefront of our agenda.
And we can do that while boosting our economy. Guests from around the world tell me how the sight of our rock takes their breathe away as they land in Gibraltar. We can improve our tourism product to convince our visitors to stay for longer than just an afternoon. We can attract new markets in education, biotech and IT by creating an ecosystem that combines our educated workforce, robust legal, tax and regulatory framework and business facilities to ensure ease when operating a global business from Gibraltar. We can nurture local business through improved training and development grants.
As Gibraltarians, we pride ourselves on being united without being uniform. We are representative of countless characteristics – in race, faith, gender, religion and sexual preference. With parents, grandparents and ancestors that originate from all over the world. Isn’t it time that we had a parliament that reflected this?
My name is Neil Samtani, and I’m standing in the Together Gibraltar primaries.