‘States’ fear of spending has led to infrastructure neglect'

THE States’ fear of spending money has led to the current situation where Guernsey’s infrastructure needs more investment, two members of the States’ Trading Supervisory Board said at the latest Institute of Directors’ breakfast seminar.

John Hollis, left, and Stuart Falla MBE at the Institute of Directors September seminar at the OGH. (Picture by Sophie Rabey, 28653356)
John Hollis, left, and Stuart Falla MBE at the Institute of Directors September seminar at the OGH. (Picture by Sophie Rabey, 28653356)

John Hollis and Stuart Falla are the two non-States members of the five-strong STSB and both have played major roles in Guernsey business over the years.

They have been on the board since soon after it was set up following the last election.

The STSB is responsible for all the States ‘trading entities’ – Guernsey Electricity, Guernsey Post, Aurigny, JamesCo 750 Limited (fuel supply tanker ships), Guernsey Ports, the Dairy, Guernsey Water, States Works, Guernsey Waste, and the Channel Islands Lottery.

Mr Falla said that most of the entities were under-capitalised. Giving the ports as one example, he said at least £35m. needed to be spent on St Peter Port Harbour alone.

Then there was the airport, which was designed 15-16 years ago and has a baggage handling system that needed to be replaced.

There was a brief discussion of the longer runway idea, with Mr Hollis saying it was needed to prevent Guernsey becoming ‘a parish of Jersey’, while Mr Falla said he was vehemently opposed to it.

Mr Falla said that there had been a pervasive fear of spending money, which had led to almost every States property in the island not being refurbished or looked after.

Mr Hollis, previously a non-States member of the old Treasury and Resources, said that ever since he joined that committee he had been critical of the lack of investment in infrastructure: ‘Consistently spending one to one and a half percent a year tells you that you are not investing enough,’ he said.

The only major investment in recent years had been in the waste transfer facility.

He was critical of the Revive and Thrive document, which he said ‘promises everyone a coconut’ but he would not be comfortable until he saw specific plans, he said.

‘I think we are in a better place than we were four years’ ago, but I’d say that we are only about half of the way through the things that need to be done.’

He did not think the STSB should be tied to the States’ capital expenditure guidelines: ‘These are businesses and they should be run by businesses,’ he said.

However, he stopped short of saying the whole States would be better if it was run like a business, saying that this was a simplistic notion and government was much more complex, dealing with more complicated issues than a business would.

‘It’s far more difficult, and I think you have to rely on the skills of some civil servants in managing a route through the complexities,’ he said.

‘There are skills there that don’t exist in business.’

Mr Falla said the way the STSB worked was different to what he had been used to in running the Garenne Group of companies.

But the current three politicians placed their trust in himself and Mr Hollis to get the job done, rather than seeking to be involved directly in particular areas, as some had in the past.

However, in answer to a question from the floor, he said he did not think having a non-politician as president was a good idea, since it was important that the STSB had a voice in the States chamber and Mr Hollis said it all depended on the personalities of those involved.

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