Why didn’t you just say so?
AS THE copy deadline for this column draws near I have to decide upon a topic to write about. Rarely am I stumped for one, given that the States of Guernsey is a rich and seemingly never-ending source of outrage that needs commentating upon by yours truly.
In my shortlist for today I had several juicy low-hanging fruits to choose between and I probably felt a little too cocksure that I was well prepared.
Well blow me down as, day after day, I open up the Press and find that someone has gone to town on my topics and all had stolen my thunder.
My ‘fellow’ columnists, random letter writers, the editor in his Opinions and even politicians seem to be in cahoots trying to make my life difficult.
Today, Tuesday, was the final straw. Here I am on my patio enjoying the glorious February sunshine, courtesy of global climate change, all set to wax lyrical about the decision to subsidise Flybe on the Heathrow route when I read a letter from Deputy Parkinson.
In that letter the good deputy outlines the entire decision tree that led to such a seemingly daft decision. Point by reasonable point he explains why it had to be Flybe and not our own dear Aurigny. I leave you the reader to decide which definition of ‘dear’ to apply in the previous sentence.
Scuppered again with the clock ticking and more of a desire to mooch around the garden than write a column, I was desperately seeking inspiration when it suddenly hit me. Courtesy of the previously maligned Parky.
There has been for some time the feeling that the States is reluctant to share information. Despite grand aspirations and declarations of transparency, our government is the stone that we can’t get blood out of.
In the case of the Flybe subsidy, we now have most of the information we need to understand the decision- making process, but it wasn’t given easily and it wasn’t given soon enough to prevent outrage and division.
Let’s examine the timeline of events. Out of the blue comes the announcement that Heathrow is back. Given that losing Heathrow many years ago would be a doomsday event and that we have lived for years in post-Heathrow apocalyptic Guernsey, it wouldn’t be unreasonable for Deputy Parkinson to expect to be lauded for his momentous achievement.
As indeed he was, by the Chamber of Commerce and the Institute of Directors. Although I don’t believe the membership of either were polled for their opinion. Possibly it was already an agreed policy of theirs that Heathrow should be restored. I don’t know.
I do know that some journalists studied the press release and noted brief mention of an unspecified subsidy. Quite rightly they pressed for more and the transparent States of Guernsey suggested it was quite a lot of money but it would be uncommercial to say exactly how much it was.
Reporting this then led the social media warriors of Facebook, of which I am one, to express amazement at the failure to support our own ‘dear’ Aurigny and to wildly speculate on just how much this will cost us. And given the current almost total lack of trust in our States by many islanders, this just fuelled the fires of distrust to a white heat.
Seemingly reluctantly and due to the pressure of public scrutiny the cost of the subsidy was dripped out.
‘How much?’ was the angry bellow that came from social media. Many proved they were competent at simple maths or possibly adept with a calculator in working out just what the cost per seat was to the Guernsey taxpayer.
Then it dawned on some that if business travellers preferred Heathrow, and as business travellers make up a significant proportion of the Gatwick passengers, it was therefore likely that Aurigny would not find the Gatwick route as profitable as it is now. As Aurigny uses the Gatwick profit to lessen the impact of the loss incurred on other routes, any loss on Gatwick would have to be made up by more subsidy from us, the taxpayer.
At this time it wasn’t clear if the impact on Aurigny had been taken into account when making the decision.
Aurigny, now feeling less loved, hit back with a divisive statement that they, our own airline, had wanted to reopen Heathrow last year but had been refused a subsidy. ‘Why?’ we all shouted at once. ‘It makes no sense.’
And indeed it didn’t given the amount of information that had been drip fed to us.
Aurigny, having now fed the flames, could sit back and wait for Deputy Parkinson to dig himself out of this hole.
He did of course by writing the letter which knocked my original Heathrow column for six by explaining how the decision was made. Greedy Aurigny had asked for too much money and its fleet wasn’t up to maintaining a Heathrow route. (Yet they are spending $60 million on a new fleet? Will that also be substandard?)
Aurigny was also deficient in various other areas. Not a great endorsement of our national airline?
Deputy Parkinson went on to explain that it was considered that giving money to Flybe would directly be of benefit to the UK economy but then cleverly explained that would be the case of most of the money if it had been given to Aurigny. He is an accountant by trade. Just saying.
Now let me tell you where I am on this. Given the amount of information now available in the public domain, which isn’t comprehensive as it doesn’t estimate the impact on the Gatwick route, I generally believe the right decision has been made.
Heathrow is worth a punt. The choice of Flybe demonstrates we aren’t favouring our own airline and clearly proves that our quasi open skies policy means quasi open skies.
But this column isn’t about Flybe or Aurigny. It’s about the States’ inability to communicate major decisions to its people without raising hackles and encouraging ‘Worst States ever’ syndrome.
Because let us be clear on this, if Deputy Parkinson had included all the information he has now released in his original statement I believe the Heathrow decision would have been welcomed by most. It’s a good decision. Keep it up, but please include us in the journey to our shared dream of quasi open skies.