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  • Pitcairn
  • Peter Clegg (bio)

The islands of Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducie, and Oeno (commonly known as Pitcairn) make up a single territory, the last remaining United Kingdom Overseas Territory in the Pacific Ocean. As of March 2017, Pitcairn, the only inhabited island of the group, had a total resident population of forty-one—a near historically low figure. The entire population lives in the lone settlement of Adamstown. The only way of accessing the island is by sea, but due to the difficult terrain, ships must moor offshore, with longboats operating between the ships and the landing at Bounty Bay. Due to its relative isolation, its small and aging population, and the high level of subsidy provided by the UK government, there are concerns over the future viability of the settlement. Therefore, during the period under review (1 July 2016–30 June 2017), there was significant focus on the ways in which Pitcairn's future could be secured. Also considered in this review are implications for Pitcairn of "Brexit" (the United Kingdom's decision to leave the European Union [EU]); problems of smuggling between Pitcairn and French Polynesia; and Pitcairn's mayoral elections.

The sustainability and security of Pitcairn have been long-standing concerns not only for the Islanders but also for the UK government. Over the past year there has been a concerted effort on the part of both groups to discuss what the future might hold for Pitcairn, and what initiatives could be undertaken to secure its future as a permanent settlement. However, the fundamentals underlying this process are extremely difficult. Pitcairn relies almost entirely on budgetary support from the United Kingdom—totaling £3.48 million in 2016–17 and £3.01 million in 2017–18 (£1.00 = us$1.31). The per capita spending is £73,000 (dfid 2017, 2, 14). Over 60 percent of the funds go toward supporting government and civil society activities, and 20 percent for other social infrastructure and services (dfid nd). The amount of money spent on Pitcairn is not usually considered a big issue in the United Kingdom, although in January the Daily Express tabloid published an article criticizing UK financial support of Pitcairn (Culbertson 2017).

Pitcairn does have a few domestic revenue streams, such as tourism, craft sales, and the production and sale of honey, but these are limited. The highest revenues derive from passenger fares and landing fees, totaling nz$295,000 in 2016–17 (nz$1.00 = us$.72). Other sources of revenue that were successful in the past are [End Page 191] now struggling. For the 2016–17 fiscal year, for example, the sale of stamps and commemorative coins recorded a loss of nz$4,500 (dfid 2017, 9). Thus, as a report from the UK Department for International Development (dfid) suggested that Pitcairn's reliance on financial aid "will not change in the medium term" (dfid 2017, 3), dfid has ruled out ending financial aid for the time being, suggesting that "public services would collapse and the islanders would return to basic subsistence or leave the island" (dfid 2017, 12).

A second, associated concern relates to the aging population and the declining number of Islanders who are economically active. For example, the minutes of the Pitcairn Island Council meeting of 21 November 2016 noted "that the island's aging population has resulted in fewer and fewer locals being fit enough to traverse some of the existing tracks and to safely guide tourists" (pic 2016, 2). Of the total resident population, as of March 2017 there were 26 Islanders in paid employment, with only 8 of this group under fifty years of age. Also, only 4 women of childbearing age live on the island. as dfid stated (2017, 15), "By 2025, based on current projections and assuming there are no children on the island, the population could reduce to 33, with 18 over 65." As things stand, it looks unlikely that there will be a meaningful increase in the population, so the United Kingdom made it clear that there has to be a "frank discussion of the viability of the island" (dfid 2017, 6). Such discussions certainly became more pronounced during the period under review.

An important opportunity...