Campaigns case study: Caribbean islands force VAT U-turn

After a period of political and economic instability, the UK Government wanted British overseas territory the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) to restore financial order. Last year, with minimal consultation, the Government announced proposals to introduce VAT at 11 per cent in the Caribbean islands. The TCI business community mobilised and called in Media House to help persuade the Government to shelve its levy.

Idyllic The Turks and Caicos Islands are a big attraction for people who like snorkelling, scuba diving and exploring coral reefs
Idyllic The Turks and Caicos Islands are a big attraction for people who like snorkelling, scuba diving and exploring coral reefs

Campaign    Oppose VAT in Turks and Caicos Islands
Client           Turks and Caicos Islands business community
PR team       Media House
Timescale    June 2012-February 2013
Budget         £70,000


Objectives

  • To highlight the unsuitability of VAT for a small island economy
  • To persuade TCI governor Ric Todd that he had been badly advised with regard to VAT implementation
  • To have the legislation revoked


Strategy and plan
A two-pronged plan was developed to gain coverage in the Caribbean press and global financial media, while enlisting the support of British parliamentarians against the VAT proposals.

The first step was to organise the TCI business community. The Turks and Caicos Independent Business Council (TCIBC) was formed to present a united business voice against VAT. Its pressure elicited promises from newly elected TCI premier Dr Rufus Ewing that he too would resist the VAT plan that Todd was pushing through on behalf of the UK Government.

Intellectual clout was given to the campaign by commissioning financial academic Richard Teather to write a detailed report rebutting the UK Government’s case for VAT. It argued that VAT is not sustainable in economies with many small businesses and little or no infrastructure for collection.

The arguments were circulated to the Westminster All-Party Parliamentary Group. Media House wrote briefing papers and forwarded them to prominent British MPs and peers.

The team also arranged for TCIBC board members to meet British politicians in Westminster, while maintaining a steady flow of information and facts. Finally, arguments about the unsuitability of VAT in small island economies were seeded in local TCI press, Caribbean media and global financial media.

 

Measurement and evaluation
The campaign generated coverage in international financial media outlets such as International Adviser and Tax-News, as well as local TCI press and Caribbean media including Caribbean News Now,
Caribbean360 and Caribbean Journal, and media in neighbouring Jamaica, Cayman Islands, Bahamas and Trinidad. A steady stream of local press coverage ensured the campaign gained the support of the TCI community, which raised an anti-VAT petition with more than 3,000 signatures, over half of the TCI electorate.



Results
On 25 February, Mark Simmonds, the UK minister for overseas territories and the Caribbean at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, wrote to the TCI government agreeing not to implement VAT in the Turks and Caicos Islands.

 

Second opinion

James O’Keefe, founding partner, Tetra Strategy

This was clearly a slick and successful campaign that pushed all the right buttons
when it came to exerting political pressure on the UK Government.

A unified business and political community on the islands provided a solid foundation for the campaign.  
Producing research that took the specific context of the islands’ economy into account was another way of saying  ‘we are better placed to know what is right for our economy’. How’s that for localism?

The lobbying will have persuaded the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that it did not want to fall into the trap of being characterised as old empire by telling a dependent territory how to run its affairs.
 The newly elected TCI premier was clearly a skilled political poker player who may have calculated that the UK Government had more important fish to fry. 

A noisy spat with a dependent territory thousands of miles away had the potential to become a media story in the UK by raising wider questions about the UK’s financial and other obligations to its dependent territories.

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