Ascension : Public Letter - Councillor Larry Poultney.
Submitted by The Islander (Islander Editors) 16.09.2010 (Article Archived on 30.09.2010)
As the term of this current Council ends this coming October, I wish to advise all that I will not be able to stand for re-election in the next Elections.
As the term of this current Council ends this coming October, I wish to advise all that I will not be able to stand for re-election in the next Elections. I would dearly wish to stand again as I believe there are some serious outstanding issues still to resolve, and my only reason for not doing so is that my future work schedule is going to keep me too busy to give my total commitment to the role of Councillor. I feel the role is so important that unless I could give it my full commitment then I would be letting everyone down.
I have decided to publish this Public Letter to air my personal views to the general public on what I perceive to be the outstanding major issues facing not just the Council, but all the Island's residents. When Council took office there had not been a Council for some 18 months. I do not wish to labour this point but we all know the reasons why. Due to this there were a host of outstanding Ordinances which were placed in front of Council when we took office, all of these were debated upon, a vote taken and the subsequent advice placed before the Governor for acceptance and subsequent enactment by the Government. This is the due democratic process i.e Government by the people for the people.
Very quickly after taking office the 'Cooper Report' was presented to Council, and at this point in time the Council was advised of the Government's increasingly difficult financial position with bankruptcy imminent if no action was taken. The Cooper Report considered several actions that could be taken to help Government to reduce costs and stave off bankruptcy. Over a period of 6 months the Council studied the report closely and after some extremely lengthy and lively debates arrived at a decision. This involved submitting a revised Government structure on manning levels, and resulted in streamlining the posts within the government to produce better value for money. Make no bones about it, by making this decision the Council were fully aware that the effect would be redundancies within the workplace, and how distressful this would be to the families involved. But it must be acknowledged that Government took on the Council decision and proposed plan and fully implemented the streamlining process.
Another area looked at was the School, and a consultant was called in to review the School's processes and again another final report was produced with several options being placed before Council to select from. Once again Council took the task on and worked hard to find a way to streamline operations at the School while continuing the offer of a good standard of education. Difficult decisions were made jointly by all Councillors, and again to the credit of Government they were enacted. I am fully aware that this streamlining of the school was not accepted by some of the school staff, parents and school Governors and resulted in a furious backlash and an amount of angst and grief and obviously once again some staff redundancies with its resultant problems.
It is important at this point to publicly state that the Government had the will to look inwards at themselves and fully embraced the Council recommendations and are still providing all public services.
Personally in my view the decision to advise Government to cease the provision of public funding on further education in the UK for the brightest students in the school was personally for me very distressing. Unfortunately the extreme high level of funding required to provide this was unaffordable, and left Council in no doubt and without choice that it had to cease. Fortunately the recently announced Youth Training Programme should fill the gap and offer some helpful training and experience to the island's 16 and 17 year olds.
This begs the question how did we arrive at this situation? The answer is quite simply non payment of taxes by a major organisation on the Island, the MOD. I believe the MOD may have the mistaken belief that this is, or ought to be, just a military island, This could not be further from the truth. Ascension is an independent member of the British Overseas Territories with it's own Government, a new independent Constitution approved and accepted as a legal document by Council, and by law the Government must be self sustaining and therefore has the legal right to raise legal taxes to fund its activities, Therefore non payment of taxes by any organisation or individual is quite clearly breaking the law. The MOD wouldn't do this in Britain so why does it think it is ok to do it here?
When the Council's Finance Sub Committee meet with the Government to plan the next year's budget, they cannot ignore non payment of legal taxes, for example by the MOD, as this is planned income and therefore must be included within the planned budget. This is very obviously where the shortfall occurs and this has forced Council to make the drastic decisions as outlined above. The stance taken by not paying legal taxes to a legal Government has had the effect of tearing the very fragile economic and social structure of this Island apart. It also causes other organizations to question why they should be asked to make up any of the shortfall when it is caused by someone breaking the law.
So where are we now? What has your Council been doing about this? Most of our discussions on this have been confidential and you would be very mistaken for thinking that lack of public news means we lack the will to tackle this problem. An intense 2 year battle has been going on between the Council and MOD, finally the issue has been forced up through the various grades within both the MOD and FCO and it now rests with the Ministers of the MOD and FCO, the highest level possible. Hopefully with the new coalition Government some common sense may prevail. The financial decisions and consequent actions taken by both Council and Government has ensured financial stability, however unless everyone pays their way the money will again begin to run out.
This has been my first foray into the political world, and I feel extremely frustrated that I have not been able to advance the economic and social structure for the benefit of the Island inhabitants, but instead seem always to have been firefighting major issues. That is not to say I entered Council wearing rose tinted spectacles but did acknowledge I was probably entering the 'Lions Den'. I wish to state that I have the greatest respect for my fellow Councillors, all who stood up to the same challenges faced by this Council. We may not have always agreed, but I acknowledge and respect their points of view, after all this is what democracy is all about. Also the advice offered by both the Governor and Administrator has been invaluable without prejudicing Council decisions.
I do urge those interested to stand in the forthcoming election, and I sincerely hope the newly elected representatives will take on these major issues and resolve them. It was always this Council's intention to sue non tax payers through the courts as a final measure and this may be the next step for the new Council. There is a lot at stake, not just the money, but the MOD aim to see the island turned into a singles only work camp with no place for families and no school. I hope enough of you will feel strongly enough to stand as a Councillor to help make sure this doesn't happen.
Finally I wish to thank all those who voted for me, and gave me the opportunity and privilege to serve you on the Ascension Island Council, and even if you didn't, thank you for putting up with me, if nothing else it has been a testing time.
Councillor Larry Poultney.