Guernsey Press

Roffey argues Ports loss due to ‘chronic under-investment’

The ongoing wrangle of harbour users effectively subsidising the airport was back in the States during debate on the Ports Accounts.

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The airport made a loss of £5.5m. in 2023. (Picture by Sophie Rabey, 33349558)

States’ Trading Supervisory Board president Peter Roffey addressed the issue but maintained that the harbours could not realistically be seen as a sustainable operation in their own right.

The accounts showed an overall loss of £4.88m., made up of a £5.5m. deficit at the airport and a profit of £859,000 at the harbours.

Deputy Roffey argued that the latter figure was misleading due to chronic under-investment.

‘Due to the fact that – for historic reasons – the depreciation levies are way, way below the level of capital investment required going forward, there’s no way that we can claim that the harbours have reached a self-sustaining level of income,’ he said.

Making the airport profitable in its own right was also a potentially damaging ambition, he suggested, because the increases in charges required would damage the wider economy – especially as regulatory demands could only be expected to ‘crank up over the years’.

A fixed general revenue grant for the airport was one possible approach, which STSB wanted to explore with Policy & Resources.

‘I understand that P&R is happy to explore that with us, from a letter I’ve received recently,’ Deputy Roffey said.

He welcomed that overall losses were £1.4m. less than budgeted, but promised further savings, exploitation of commercial opportunities and ‘moving to a realistic charging policy’.

Among those pressing for change were P&R member Deputy John Gollop, who said it ‘could not be clearer’ that the airport and harbours worked differently.

‘We would find it easier to contemplate maritime services improvement, investment and more affordable fees for users and boat owners, if harbours become a standalone entity, separate from the airport,’ he said.

Economic Development’s tourism lead Deputy Simon Vermeulen said the wrong business model was being pursued.

‘In Jersey, they’ve got an open airport and a pretty much closed harbour.

‘In Guernsey, we’ve got an open harbour and a pretty much closed airport,’ he said.

He was critical of a 16% growth in salaries at the ports from 2022 to 2023 and questioned a ‘very inefficient’ scenario of ‘managers managing managers, managing managers’.

Deputy John Dyke drew attention to a 17% rise in staff numbers at the harbours from 84 to 98.

Deputy Roffey countered that he found it ironic that Guernsey Ports was being criticised for recruiting in-house staff to replace more expensive consultants, who had previously been relied upon due to under-staffing.

Deputy David De Lisle, who led an unsuccessful requete against recent mooring fee increases, said the Marine Traders and Boatowners Associations had calculated that the harbours had contributed £32m. to the ports holding accounts over 27 years, while the airport had taken £54m.

The entire concept of considering the accounts as if they had been presented by a normal business was evidence the States was ‘living in cloud cuckoo land’, according to Deputy Sasha Kazantseva-Miller. She pointed out that the reason given for viewing Guernsey Ports as a going concern was that the assets were viewed as essential.

‘If this was a standalone business, like Guernsey Dairy, it wouldn’t have a leg to stand on,’ she said.

‘It’s only a going concern because it can tap into the States’ coffers for capital expenditure.’