Prime Minister Freundel Stuart (second from right) in conversation with Barbadians living in Britain at the reception. (C. Pitt/BGIS)??

Fresh from fine-tuning his Cabinet on Wednesday, and immediately after playing host to Britain’s Princess Anne at an official reception at Ilaro Court, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart took centre stage last evening as he brought a gathering of Barbadians in London "up-to-date on happenings and conditions back home."

He was at the time meeting and "sharing some thoughts" with his compatriots at a reception hosted by the Barbados High Commission at the London Holiday Inn. Mr. Stuart was passing through the UK on his way to the People’s Republic of China, where he is on a one-week official visit at the invitation of that government.

The Prime Minister told the close to 200 Barbadians, many of them representing national organisations, that, for the most part, Barbadians back home were keeping their heads above water and holding their own, despite the severe challenges occasioned by the protracted global recession.

While he highlighted those efforts his government was taking "to hold things in place and maintain the accustomed standard of living," he expressed his government’s gratitude to "the many loyal Barbadians" in the diaspora, "like all of you in this room tonight, who have helped relatives and friends back home with your remittances.

"Over the years, you have made a massive and invaluable contribution to the development of Barbados. Beyond that, you have also looked out for Barbados’ interests. For example, when the viability of Barbados’ tourist industry and economy was threatened, with the introduction of the air passenger tax here, your patriotism came to the fore. You vigorously resisted it."

The Prime Minister told his audience that "we are living in some very difficult times; and Barbados, as a small open economy, has to exercise economic prudence even more so now. We have to protect jobs in the public sector and send the right signals to the private sector as well."

He congratulated both sectors and the social partnership for assisting "in keeping the ship of state on an even keel."

Mr. Stuart, however, expressed some concern about the fluctuating fortunes of Barbados’ main trading partners, whose economies, he noted, had remained quite sluggish and somewhat unresponsive to several stimulus efforts. "That will have a great effect on the pace of our recovery," he observed.

"In the context of the economic and financial constraints, we are doing what we can to ensure that the lives of our people are kept tolerable and, where possible, are made more abundant," he assured.

The Prime Minister in his address said: "Barbadians are a very resilient people, and even though times are rough our people know how to keep a cool head, and that is very much in evidence in the society at the moment. We are wrestling with a fiscal deficit, which most developing countries are wrestling with at the moment. We have to get it down to 6% of GDP by the end of the financial year; but, that all depends upon how other things develop in the economy and what happens in other parts of the world.

"There has been no occasion in the post independence history of Barbados when the economies of the United Kingdom, the US and Canada were under pressure that the economy of Barbados had done well; because our economy is especially intertwined with those three economies."

He, however, struck an optimistic note when he said: "we are seeing some upswing in tourism from our traditional markets, and that is a good sign. So, at the economic level, we are holding our own. Things are not ideal, but we are coping; and at the social level we have kept the society stable. We have ensured our social safety net is strengthened to meet the needs of people who might be experiencing a little more hardship during this period than would otherwise be the case."

Mr. Stuart went on: "I think we have done very well given the circumstances; but we could not have done it without the cooperation of Barbadians at home and those abroad as well, like (you) here in the United Kingdom. To that extent, we are indebted to you, and we look forward to the continuation of that relationship and cooperation."

After the Prime Minister’s address, there was a vibrant interactive question and answer session that went well into the night. In response to a query from a member of the audience about "government’s intensive building programme, the Prime Minister assured: "Yes, we have continued our thrust in building houses; and since the demand for housing still outstrips the supply, we are seeking to meet those needs with an aggressive house building programme in collaboration with the private sector."

He said: "there is no government in post independence Barbados that has brought more determination and more evidence of results to a persistent low income housing problem than the present Government of Barbados and the present Minister of Housing and Lands in Barbados, Michael Lashley."

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