Guernsey Press

Deputy Neil Inder: ‘Find a solution’

Economic Development Committee president Neil Inder outlines his concerns and his confidence in Aurigny, while warning that the island’s approach to aviation links must change.

(Picture by Luke Le Prevost, 33236973)

This is not a good start to the season for Guernsey, not for our local and international business nor our tourism sector.

Hot off the heels of the announcement by the Tourism Management Board that the figures for the first quarter of the year are improving, we now discover that Aurigny’s ‘black swan’ event of earlier this year bred in early spring and produced a clutch of cygnets.

The disruption of the sea and air links is damaging our reputation and general confidence in the island’s ability to move people, goods and trade into the UK, continent and further afield.

It is unacceptable that off the series of disruptions that have been laid out in the chairman of Aurigny’s letter to Deputy Roffey [reported in Wednesday’s newspaper], we now discover the disruptions are likely to continue until August.

In the previous Assembly, I was one of the arch critics of Aurigny and its previous board.

With the change of CEO and team, a lot of us had ‘trust issues’, but most of us had come around to respecting and backing Aurigny’s reshaping plan.

I retain confidence in the chief executive officer of Aurigny, and the reasons are simple.

The previous board had been sending bills to the States of Guernsey to the tune of £70m. for re-capitalisation. Mr Bezuidenhout changed that almost immediately and has improved Aurigny’s financial outlook. Aurigny has/had a path to profit.

The rationalisation of the fleet, Aurigny’s desire to rid itself of the jet seemed, to most, to be risky – no doubt. But I, like the majority of deputies, backed the plan.

There was good news too, load factors were good, Guernsey has a direct route to Paris, airport arrivals were in recovery.

There was and remains tension over costs of getting on and off the island, but the company appeared to have the balance right.

Aurigny had turned a corner, Guernsey was committed to its national carrier. Not perfect, but certainly a lot better.

Under our system of government, STSB, and current president Deputy Roffey, has responsibility for Aurigny and – his words not mine – ‘acts on “behalf of the shareholder”’.

The Policy & Resources Committee is responsible for developing the air policy framework in consultation with the Committee for Economic Development and STSB. The framework was agreed by the States of Deliberation in 2021 and its three core principles include:

1. Providing security of essential air routes in a safe manner;

2. Achieving a financial break-even;

3. Supporting the core strategic objectives of the States of Guernsey, including providing air connectivity to and from Guernsey where financially viable, and improving the affordability of air travel.

I have been asked my view on the three objectives.

Number one goes without saying – with the exception of one of the aircraft going ‘agricultural’ at the end of the runway a couple of weeks ago, objective one is met.

Objective two is a direction of the States of Guernsey and until the end of last year I was confident that Aurigny was achieving financial break-even. I’m less sure this year, as failures in aircraft leasing and chartering, and maintenance and sourcing of parts come at no small cost.

Objective three we are less sure about. When any company drives for financial sustainability it only has a few controls – internal efficiencies, staff, fleet rationalisation and price.

The Committee for Economic Development is commissioning a piece of work to conduct an air connectivity performance analysis study, which will look at the affordability, reliability and connectivity of air travel to Guernsey.

This will feed into the air transport licensing review currently under way.

We are aiming for the study to have concluded by the end of September, with us taking a report to the States on air transport licensing policy in Q4 this year. This work is a priority for the committee.

Next week I meet with Deputy Roffey and Deputy Trott, and my message on behalf of the travelling public of Guernsey and business will be ‘find a solution’.

On greater political input for the next term, I don’t have any good news.

My view, along with many other members of the States of Guernsey, is there needs to be a single transport ministry or similar.

It is a patent nonsense that the two significant economic enablers, the airport and ports, remain distant from the Committee for Economic Development. And if readers agree, then don’t expect an improvement.

There is every indication that the machinery of government will be long-grassed into next term, with an apparent lack of appetite for any changes.

The clock has been run down and we are in our final year.

What that means, of course, is the next president of Economic Development will have exactly the same frustrations, as will you, the people of Guernsey.

Their committee will have the same issues when they take their position; no single point of responsibility, policies divvied up between multiple committees.

The political responsibility for this rests firmly with STSB and I see no indication of the president of STSB lying prostrate before the people of this island apologising on behalf of his board or our parliament, so it therefore falls to me.

Aurigny has been very unlucky, but I don’t expect islanders want to hear a load of excuses from politicians heading towards the end of their term.

But for what it’s worth, and I’m sure I speak on behalf of all of my committee, we are genuinely sorry that the government and its agencies have let you down.