Ascension : EXCO REPORT 42 – 12th January 2010
Submitted by The Islander (Ascension Island Government) 21.01.2010 (Article Archived on 11.03.2010)
This was the first Council at which all five of the EXCO Members elected by Legislative Council were able to be present. I welcomed Cllr.Gunnell, who has been abroad on government business, as well as our new Financial Secretary, Paul Blessington.
EXCO REPORT 42 – 12th January 2010
This was the first Council at which all five of the EXCO Members elected by Legislative Council were able to be present. I welcomed Cllr.Gunnell, who has been abroad on government business, as well as our new Financial Secretary, Paul Blessington. Paul replaces Ginny Grace and you will remember him as our Government Economist. He applied as an external candidate and was assessed and appointed through the normal process.
The first item, which was open to the public, was the Application for Development Permission for the Passenger and Customs Terminal at the Jamestown Wharf. Most of you will recall that this item was only partially dealt with at the EXCO on 1st December as the National Trust had expressed certain reservations about the design. We had wanted to give them further time to make their representations as well as take time to consider the issues in more depth. It also emerged during the discussion that quite a few letters have been received including those from the Customs, the Development Association, the Tourism Association and many informed individuals. Also many constituents have been in touch with Councillors. Such input is most useful and is always taken into consideration.
I suspect that many of you will have been a bit confused over this proposal as the pictures carried by the media last weekend showed the alternative idea put forward by the National Trust and not the actual proposal that we had in front of us. We were not in a position to compare the two proposals as it was only the original two storey design that has been approved by the Planning Board. It was the job of EXCO to review that Application. We regarded the National Trust submission as giving us a possible alternative. If it proved to be superior and robust, then it might cause us to delay decision yet again.
The Planning Board advised EXCO that the submission from the National Trust is “…inappropriate because of the appearance of the upper level building and the absence of floor plans.” They were also concerned that the Trust proposal might not meet the functional needs of the building.
Councillors recounted their own investigations of the sight lines involved, which had been a matter of debate on 1st December, and David Taylor, the Physical and Urban Planner had helpfully built a model of the two story building so that we could all get a good impression of scale and appearance.
Councillors were unanimous that the proposal is consistent with existing law and policy, that it will provide significant visual improvements on the structures currently on the site, and that permission should be granted subject to the condition that the exterior wall finishes (other than the rear elevation) shall be in whitewashed stone.
We are all confident that this building will enable a huge improvement in the efficiency of passenger arrival and departure across our wharf, and we are very grateful to the National Trust for their ideas and contribution to the debate. The model will be on display to the public in the near future and I strongly recommend a viewing.
The next paper created the legal background within the constitution, for the new Council Committee Structure. I am sure that nearly all of you know by now that this new Council is going to operate with eight Council Committees rather than five. This means that we will have eight Councillors responsible for portfolios and therefore politicians will be involved in government across the whole spectrum of activity. We have gone so far as to define where significant cross-cutting exists. That means where one committee may have a joint interest in a particular area with another committee. Once this structure is operating there should be no confusion between committees, indeed it should do away completely with “passing the buck”. A specific press release is being made so that all of you will be able to understand who is on what committee and what they are responsible for.
All this might seem like just more committees, more bureaucracy and typical civil service behaviour. I can almost predict what certain well-known columnists and correspondents might write. However, there is another side to it all. There is no doubt that it is entirely healthy for Councillors to be more involved and more informed. The simplest way of achieving that is by setting up a structure that enables that to happen. It is my view that when most matters reach EXCO, they should already have been approved by one of the Council Committees. As Councillors will be informed, that will save EXCO time. To demonstrate that fact we agreed to cut the number of EXCO meetings by over 50% and have just one every month. We will of course meet in between if there is an urgent issue.
By having fewer EXCOs we will give Councillors more time to consider papers, more time to meet in caucus and more time to get the Portfolio Committees working well. This cut back will be tried out for the next three months and we will review it in April. It also means of course that I will make fewer EXCO reports, but you will I hope have the benefit of Chairmen of Council Committees reporting to you over the airwaves. The public will also be able to attend Portfolio Committees during their open sessions, and that is another example of your government’s determination to be as transparent as possible.
The only part of this particular meeting that was in closed session was the Matters Arising from the minutes and the Any Other Business.
During that time we discussed the possible impact on us here of the efficiency savings being made within the Ascension Island Government. We also considered what will be on the agenda during our regular meeting as EXCO with Solomons Ltd. which is taking place next week. We are well aware of the problems surrounding a government owning a controlling interest in a private company. We do not wish to interfere with the running of a business, and yet many traders competing with Solomons feel that it has certain unfair advantages. We will strive in our discussions to achieve as level a playing field for the private sector as is possible.
The matter of the Bailey bridge was also covered, and meetings are being held shortly to progress its deployment in a manner that is safe.
We also discussed the shipping schedule of the RMS. There has been quite a bit of pressure to do away with the UK calls. Of course that is just what is happening this year with the two engine refurbishment dockings at Cape Town (one wet and one dry), the question is whether we revert to a two UK visit per year in 2011 or not. There are of course strong views on both sides of the argument and we may well end up holding some form of consultation in order to get a sound feel for public opinion.
We then considered what is happening to the media situation, where many different proposals have been put forward over the last two years. Councillors were well aware of the need to ensure that advertising is restricted to the private sector yet were also concerned that the fm station cannot reach as many households as can Radio St.Helena. We took the view that both the publication of free greetings and the provision of a TV schedule are in fact advertising even though not directly paid for. In fact they are being paid for through the News media subsidy. Therefore we are going to ask News Media Services to stop advertising in this way in order to ensure absolute fairness in that market.
The later than planned arrival of the RMS this week has caused us to revise the programme for the DAPM visit by DfID. There was a brief discussion of our proposed negotiations with them. However a great deal of work has been done on this in separate meetings and we will be meeting them as both EXCO and later, LEGCO on their last full day on 19th.
Andrew Gurr – Governor
12th January 2010