THURSDAY, FEB. 18: The Bermuda Employers' Council (BEC) is keenly aware of the importance of the upcoming budget and the challenges faced by the Government in the development and presentation of Government's budget for the fiscal year 2010/11.

Bermuda's employers are still in difficult economic times with little relief in sight. Employers have been under severe pressure for over a year now and, as reported, as many as 2000 jobs may have been lost to date. We believe it is of vital interest to the continued economic sustainability of Bermuda that major efforts are needed to ensure that employment levels are maintained at the highest level possible. It is clearly obvious that employment allows Bermuda's residents to meet their individual financial commitments and equally as important, provides a major source of government revenue.

We are now at a critical juncture in how we, as a country, respond to this crisis. Non-effective policies now - or worse, an assumption that growth and employment will return unaided - could jeopardize the recovery we need. Fundamental change in the business environment is necessary as it is not an exaggeration to say that for Bermuda's economy, the period of plenty is over and a new age of austerity has arrived. We need to focus our collective energies on stimulating the private sector, as it is from this sector that our real earnings come. As such, we hope that the following points are ones which we believe need to be taken into consideration by Government as we collectively strive to emerge from this economic downturn:

* Bermuda must reduce or at least not increase the tax burden on businesses. If government needs to increase its income, this cannot be through increased taxation on business. Any such increases may meet immediate budgeting needs but will not stimulate the private sector, and that is where our economic recovery must start.

* Collectively, we should promote a regulatory environment that promotes sustainable enterprise by reducing excessive administration costs and red tape, stimulates competitiveness and provides access to lending facilities and capital.

* All Bermudians should recognise the threat of protectionist policies. The BEC shares government's desire to protect the jobs of all willing and able Bermudians but we are mindful that this should not be at the expense of a truly open and globally competitive business environment. We believe economic survival and recovery are dependent on our ability to attract and retain the best staff for our businesses.

* We believe that the needs of small and medium sized business should be a budget priority. Providing these enterprises greater access to affordable credit whilst at the same time reducing their cost burden is vital to a genuine and long-lasting economic recovery.

* We need to understand the difference between protecting employment and protecting jobs. Protecting jobs for the sake of protecting jobs does not protect overall employment levels. However, protecting employment demands that employers are provided the flexibility they require to implement fair and creative measures to maintain employment.

* We need to manage talent for the downturn. Economic downturns invariably lead to redundancies being made due to business shrinkage. This reduction of workforce talent is highly dangerous. When the economy recovers we will be relying on a smaller working population to work harder, longer and more creatively to support a rapidly ageing population, and that is simply not sustainable.

* As with business, it is our belief that Government has a fiscal responsibility to try and reduce expenses. The obvious challenge is to be able to do that without a corresponding decrease in the delivery of social programmes and benefits that are offered to the people of Bermuda who genuinely require assistance. With Government revenues declining, we hope that this is a major area of focus for this years Budget.

* We need to place added emphasis on skills development for young Bermudians. As unemployment increases, it becomes even more difficult for young people to grab onto the first rung of the career ladder. Fiscal incentives for skills investment should be put in place to ensure our young school and university leavers are afforded every opportunity to contribute as productive members of our society.

As a country Bermuda needs to accept the fact that we are part of, and inseparable from, the highly competitive global marketplace. Bermuda is not another world. We are not different or special. We do not have problems that are unique to Bermuda and require Bermuda centric solutions that will have unintended negative consequences for our economy and lifestyle. Now is the time to demonstrate leadership and innovation. It is time for us collectively to ensure our economic and social well-being.

The BEC has consistently advocated sustainable policies and measures to restore economic confidence and bolster private sector activity and championed open and informed debate with all of our economic and social partners. We maintain that tri-partite dialogue forms the basis of effective collaboration. Without honest and regular communication with all of our partners, we will not be able to continue to obtain resolution to the many issues that confront Employers' daily and perhaps more importantly, to the many macro issues that the economy of this Island faces.

We understand the challenges that this years Budget must address and as the National Employers' Organisation for Bermuda, it is our collective duty to be able to offer assistance. We will continue to work with the Government on a range of business and public policy issues that help advance private and public sector interests and benefit Bermuda as a whole.

The BEC is Bermuda's National Employers' Organisation and has over 400 members, representing over 50 per cent of the Bermuda Workforce. For more information, contact Graham Redford, president of the Bermuda Employers' Council, at 295-4558 or e-mail graham@totalgroup.bm.