Ascension : Ascension Island Issues - 4th February, Governor Andrew Gurr
Submitted by The Islander (Islander Internet Editor) 11.02.2010 (Article Archived on 25.02.2010)
I feel that it may be helpful to clarify the situation on Ascension Island
When Ascension Island Services became Ascension Island Government (AIG) a number of things happened:
Ø The Island Council replaced management by the users (Heads of Sheds), meaning that at last the people had a say in the administration of the island,
Ø Two forms of taxation were introduced, both individual and corporate, so that the user companies would be paying for the services indirectly. (It was always intended that no individual should be worse off financially as a result of the move).
Ø AIG was able to introduce savings and in fact provided a much more efficient operation right away – employing fewer people in total and costing the users less in overall terms.
However, the organisation of AIG remained rather more cumbersome than the Administrator (Michael Hill at that time) thought it should be, and so the National School of Government in the UK were approached to report on whether the structures and processes were appropriate.
The outcome of that was the Cooper Report. It was completed in the early part of 2008, but because the Council had resigned, it was decided that the introduction of the improvements recommended in the report should wait for the election of the new Council. Those improvements were far reaching and I felt that many of the changes needed political
support. So the Cooper Report was one of the very first papers handed to the new Council in October 2008. It contained many ideas about modernisation and streamlining involving some reorganisation and the saving of posts. It concluded that many structures and processes were inappropriate to the scale of the island and did not encourage flexibility or synergy.
Councillors debated and discussed all the issues with the new Administrator, Ross Denny, and some sensible and significant recommendations were made to me as to the best course
The well documented problem between AIG and the MOD with regard to the amount of Property Tax that should be paid was actually highlighted as part of the drive for efficiency, but it did not in itself cause that drive. Most of what has now been done in terms of slimming
down the cost of AIG would have to have been done in any case.
A separate study was also done on the education system by Dr. Black. In preparing his recommendations Dr. Black consulted widely with teachers and parents. He produced a matrix of ideas for Councillors to consider which outlined a pathway towards matching the quality of educational provision with the number of pupils and the income derived from taxation. I am of course concerned that there has been so much apparent antipathy towards the improvements that are having to be made at the school. The facts about the changes are:
Ø The Reception and Nursery children have been combined as one unit,
Ø The Primary unit remains the same,
Ø The Secondary part of the school has had some cut backs but is still able to offer 3 core GCSE subjects and further options of 5 or 6 subjects and so a total of 9 is possible.
In the past there were very small classes indeed, and although that may be considered
desirable, as a provision it was very expensive and unlikely to be matched almost anywhere in the world. It is true that the staff at the school have not welcomed change, indeed Dr. Black reported a lack of willingness to accept that improvements were necessary.
Although the past few weeks have been difficult, such changes as these are never easy to bring about. However the structures and processes now in place will ensure a more efficient future. We have created an administration that is slimmer and fitter for purpose and that is good for all those that work and pay tax on Ascension.
(Article Extracted from the St Helena Independent VOLUME V, ISSUE 10, 5th FEBRUARY 2010)