Interviews

Exciting Times Ahead | British Ambassador, HE Simon Martin

by Liz O'Reilly

Mon, 02 April 2018

Exciting Times Ahead | British Ambassador, HE Simon Martin

United Kingdom Supplement

British Ambassador, HE Simon Martin, outlines ever-deeper unilateral ties between the UK and Bahrain, including the opening of an important new Royal Navy facility in Juffair and the British University of Bahrain.

We caught up with His Excellency on his return from a trip to the UK where Bahrain’s Economic Development Board (EDB) was participating in the Innovate Finance Global Summit and looking to promote the Kingdom’s rapidly expanding fintech sector. 

The Ambassador explains: “The EDB sees the UK as one of its most important partners in terms of investment and trade. It organised a road show in the UK to engage with the British fintech sector. Some of the companies that have established in Bahrain’s Fintech Bay were in London to promote the Kingdom as a centre for fintech in the Gulf.

“The presence of the Minister for Industry, Commerce and Tourism, HE Zayed Al Zayani, and EDB CEO, Khalid Al-Rumaihi, was a sign of the importance Bahrain puts on our bilateral ties. They took the opportunity to establish new relationships and promote the Gateway Gulf Investor Forum, which takes place in Bahrain in May.

“One of the reasons that the UK is keen to be part of this initiative is down to the new, more outward-looking approach, post the Brexit vote, which sees the British Government looking to reinvigorate our economic ties with partners outside the EU, and to take a more holistic view of the value of the trade and investment opportunities both into and from the UK.”

He adds that, in a further display of confidence in post-Brexit Britain, Bahrain-based Investcorp has made significant UK investments; Bahrain Financing Company (BFC) is the newest bank to be licensed in London; and Mumtalakat continues its relationship with McLaren, the British F1 racing team which has just accepted a seat on the Formula One board. Even small Bahraini homegrown business Villa Mama’s has popped up in London!

Bilateral trade between the two nations was at just over USD1 billion last year and His Excellency says there is still room for further growth. He cites Bahrain’s major, well-structured infrastructure programme, which will be worth more than USD30 billion over the next decade, as an area in which British companies will be able to add their expertise bidding for major projects. 

“I also see a lot of potential for the use of the UK Export Finance facility, which has been transformed by the creation of the Department for International Trade [this is aimed at helping UK companies with their overseas trading efforts],” adds His Excellency.

Another area in which the Ambassador is keen to highlight the, already excellent and steadily growing, level of collaboration and investment is higher education. Many of the Kingdom’s universities enjoy successful tie-ups with their British counterparts. These include Applied Science University, which works with both London South Bank and Cardiff Metropolitan Universities; Ahlia University, which has a successful joint PhD progamme with Brunel Business School; and Bahrain Institute of Banking and Finance, which offers courses jointly with Bangor University in Wales and the University of Strathclyde in Scotland.

His Excellency continues: “Testimony to the vibrancy in the Bahrain university sector is the focus from the Ministry of Education in promoting research and there are currently three joint projects going on between the University of Bahrain and Loughborough, Aston and Oxford Universities. They are concentrating on fields of sustainable development and particularly low-energy desalination, which is of great importance here.”
And this month will see the opening of the brand-new British University of Bahrain, running three faculties – engineering, ICT and business studies – in partnership with the UK’s University of Salford.

“This is a huge investment both for Salford University and for its Bahraini partners and shows a great level of confidence on both sides,” says His Excellency. “I think it will make a big difference to Bahraini students. We are fortunate that so many Bahrainis choose to study in the UK, but by being able to deliver a UK education to those who work and study in Bahrain, this will open the opportunity to gain a British degree to many more Bahrainis than before – and not just for Bahrain but for the wider GCC.”

The opening will be performed by HRH Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, who will also be present at opening of the new British Naval Support Facility in Juffair – the first fixed facility east of Suez since the closure of the old HMS Jufair in 1971.

Bahrain currently hosts some 100 British naval personnel, who operate out of the US Base, in support of British operations in the region. However, the new facility will increase that number to up to 600 with transit accommodation facilities allowing the existing ships to undergo crew rotation in Bahrain without having to return to their home base. The Ambassador also said that he expects the UK’s new aircraft carrier to be seen in Bahrain’s waters in the near future.

“This is a huge moment,” says His Excellency. “Not just for the UK but also as a sign of our commitment to the security of the region. The new facility that’s been built jointly with the Royal Bahrain Naval Force will allow us to do more in respect of the security of shipping. It’s thanks to the encouragement and considerable support of the Bahraini Government and His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and signals the importance of this relationship to the UK that we should have this presence here.

“As an aside, I’m also pleased to say there are two Bahraini naval cadets due to pass out from the Royal Naval College Dartmouth, this month.”

In terms of technological and industrial development, His Excellency says there is strong interest from the UK Department of International Trade’s Smart Cities Team, which sees huge opportunities for collaboration with the Gulf countries, particularly Bahrain. 

A smart city is an urban area that uses different types of electronic data collection sensors to supply information which is used to manage assets and resources efficiently. This includes data collected from citizens, devices and assets that’s processed and analysed to monitor and manage traffic and transportation systems, power plants, water supply networks, waste management, law enforcement, information systems, schools, libraries, hospitals and other community services. The Smart Cities Team is focused on aiding British companies to take advantage of this new overseas development opportunity.

And in industry, there are also exciting announcements expected to be made in the coming weeks and months from Bluewater Bio, which is aiming to address the long-standing problem of sewage in Tubli Bay, and Oak Solutions, which aims to be the second stage of the Tubli solution, to stop future problems and clear the bay.

Asked how he and his wife Sophie have enjoyed their first two and a half years in Bahrain, the Ambassador says: “We can’t think of a better country in which to serve as British Ambassador.”

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