Five years, the entrepreneur told me. “That’s what we are giving Malta. And then we are out of this place.”
The company he created in the UK and brought to Malta has always had a five-year plan, not carved in stone like a Soviet five years, but renewed and revised annually. This year’s five-year plan, updated last year, has, however, been his last: next year it will be the four-year plan.
“Five years from now,” he says, “this place will be finished. Look at it already… already over-full of people and traffic. Before long it is going to be log-jammed, no doubt about that. Importantly, the infrastructure here will not support the future – any sort of viable future.
“So we will be relocating. I have been offered a couple of options and I am considering them, maybe both. Both are in the Mediterranean, not, in fact, far away. They both offer space: that’s space to move, to operate, to breathe.”
The man, who brought wealth and jobs to Malta, was speaking to me on the basis of anonymity – because he doesn’t want his staff to start looking for jobs before he announces his plan to relocate. That’s tough on the employees, yet sensible for business. “But anybody who wants to make the move can come with me. I have no complaints about the staff at all. It’s just… this place. It is overcrowded. It is overflowing.”
The European arm of his operation is based entirely on Malta, but: “I used to nip across to Gozo, when I could take a break, solely because it was different. You could taste the salt in the air at Xlendi and Marsalforn. In one go, the entire Maltese population seemed to discover the island and filled it to capacity, and more, every weekend. You can’t blame them because they were already overfilling and exhausting their own island. Now when you taste the air on Gozo you get exhaust fumes and you smell pizza.”
I told him one of my solutions had been to triple the cost of bringing a car across on the ferry. “That would help a bit because, nowadays, a family of three brings three cars, where they used to bring only one, so you could argue that it would be economically viable.
When you taste the air on Gozo you get exhaust fumes and you smell pizza– Revel Barker
“But it’s already too late for any of that. In days gone by, I could have shifted my Maltese operation to Gozo. But where would have been the benefit of that, long-term? Gozo is filling up faster than Malta did. Blocks of flats that can’t sell, hundreds of cars with nowhere to park when they eventually reach their destination. Sorry, but there’s no pleasure to be found in either place.”
He says he has spoken to other foreign (meaning ex-pat) operators who are thinking along similar lines.
“It’s bad enough that you get a funny look from a foreign bank as soon as you mention Malta,” he said. “They don’t trust the place: not the people but the place. And then there are tech companies that can’t get the staff and they find that the existing staff can’t be bothered to learn new things, not even to get onto a higher pay scale.
“Their parents’ generation was not like that: they were all eager to learn new skills. They could bring staff in from abroad but, then, they were asking themselves what was the point of that – if the workers are not on Malta maybe they should relocate to wherever the right people are.”
I think we can see his point. It’s the Malta to-hell-in-a-handcart syndrome and not the first time that some of us have heard it. “New potential investors come to have a look at the island and talk to the people who are already operating here. They are more or less back home on the next plane because, these days, nobody really has a good word to say about the place.”
It’s not a question of ‘Whither Malta’ but more like ‘wither Malta’ he says. And that’s a chippy sentence that’s easier to read than to hear.
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