A public meeting was held in the Court and Assembly Chamber of the Town Hall on Tuesday, 17 August 2010 at 1700hrs. Present were the Hon Miss Emma Edwards (EE) Chair, the Hon Mrs Jan Cheek (JC), the Hon Mr. Roger Edwards (RE), the Hon Mrs Sharon Halford (SH), the Hon Mr Glenn Ross (GR), the Hon Mr Dick Sawle (DS and the Hon Mr Gavin Short (GS).
After welcoming people to the meeting Miss Edwards said that Tim Miller sent the only question through to Gilbert House. His question was based around whether or not Britain regarded Argentine Decree No. 256 as legal or illegal. He wanted a one-word answer, either yes or no and the answer is yes.
EE: As far as everybody are concerned the British Government do regard Argentine Decree 256 as illegal.
Stephen Luxton (SL): Following on from that, do you know if they intend to take that from the United nations or a similar forum to challenge it? Obviously they have written to the Argentines saying it was illegal but I was wondering if they challenged it in any forum.
EE: I canít answer that question yet, Stephen. I am sure as and when a time arises they will.
JC: Itís something you will have to direct to Government House.
GS: I have to confess I have an awful memory. People ask me questions. I go away and consult the department and forget who has asked me the questions.
SH: Thatís what smoking does for you.
GS: There are a few holes along Short Street. The boys were looking for a water leak a few months ago and they are on the cards to be done once the asphalt season starts. Likewise the road up to the FIDF is also to be blacktopped this season.
The other thing somebody asked me was if we couldnít black-top a couple of kilometres a year of the MPA Road. So I asked about the costs. At the moment, the maintenance of the MPA Road is £119,000.00 a year. The figure is not exact. We think to put blacktop on which would involve also working on the base of the road, would cost around £400,000 pounds per kilometre. So when you balance that against £119,9000.00 for road maintenance for the whole year, at the moment, itís not a nice figure, in all honesty. And I canít really see us doing any blacktopping any time soon unless there is a change of policy.
RE: Is that £119,000.00 a spend on blacktop?
GS: Thatís just the grading and
RE: Weíve just come from the Transport Advisory Committee and I am afraid your figures are way, way out there. It is considerably more than that.
GS: OK. I will stop before I feed any more inaccuracies to you.
Gary Clement (GC): I was just a little bit concerned listening to you on the radio the other day about charging tourists extra to go to Gypsy Cove. I kind of agree with just about everything Sharon said in the Penguin News. Sometimes you take people down there and thereís one Penguin. If you are going to charge them extra money, youíd better round some up.
JC: You need to take them down at the right time of day before and after their fishing trips.
GC: We might not have that option.
JC: Could I just say that there is quite a considerable cost to the wardens down there. They are very well paid and I donít know if thatís covered by the Tourist Board or Government.
EE: Government. The reasons why we are having to charge are upkeep of Gypsy Cove itself and the other is the cost of the wardens and the wardens are between £40 and 60,000.00 a year. I might be wrong but £40,000.00 springs to mind to actually employ people to stay down there. So weíve got to try and find some way of recouping some of these costs and improving facilities sown there because, at the moment, as far as I am concerned, they get charged a huge amount of money by the taxi drivers to get down there, dumped and then left. And, the complaints that I hear from tourists arenít so much the fact there might only be one penguin but there is no shelter, no benches to sit on and the toilets are inadequate. At the moment Government just doesnít have funds to haul it all up.
Another thing, locals will not be charged, Military will not be charged, SAMA Veterans will not be charged and I am pretty sure the odd land-based tourist wonít be charged either. Itís really on cruise ship days when we have to supply all the additional bodies down at Gypsy Cove. Unfortunately weíve got to try and find ways to recoup the money. We have been in negotiations with quite a lot of people within the tourist industry through the Falkland Islandsí Tourist Board as well as people on the Environmental Planning Committee.
On the whole I have been getting quite a positive response from people with regard to Gypsy Cove. There are one or two negatives just like you expressed like we are seen yet again to rip people off. One of the things I really want to do is to make sure the costs stay sensible Ė itís not going to be £10.00. Even £3.00, we feel, is actually too much and we are looking, really at a cost of between £1 and 2.00. But itís not actually up to us to decide the cost. The cost should be for the Trust because itís going to be money which goes into a trust purely for Gypsy Cove and not into Government coffers in any way. That trust will then pay for the wardens, pay for the upkeep and also pay for the improvements at the area.
SH: I shouldnít be asking the questions but as an ex-tour guide, who didnít go to Gypsy Cove very often, when I did, I didnít dump my passengers. I walked around with them and took them away again. How on earth, on a cruise ship day, are you going to distinguish Ė or somebody on the gate going to distinguish a Military person, a visiting veteran, whose local for that matter and whose a tourist? It would be a nightmare.
EE: Thatís something which we have discussed for a long period of time but we think we may have ways and means of sorting this out. That would possibly be suggesting that the taxi drivers buy block tickets. There are ways and means around this. I donít think itís something we should completely dismiss because itís costing us so much money each year.
JC: Otherwise the tax payer is subsidising the tourist, which is not the point. We allow tourists in to run all over the place and hope that itís bringing income.
SH: We do charge a lot really for this?
JC: Relatively small when you compare it with other places; South Georgia has just gone up to £110.00.
SH: Weíre not South Georgia.
JC: I know weíre not. I wouldnít propose that we are anything like that.
GC: Look what they are offering. We charge them £22.00 or whatever it is to land and we are giving them nothing.
GR: I agree with Gary. I have been worried for some time about what we have to offer our tourists. And generally what we charge and what I hear people are charging for taking them to what sometimes are fairly grim destinations, I donít know if we are going to encourage people to return. I have certainly been many places in the world where I felt ripped off and I just donít go back. Itís a question I asked of tourism a number of years ago: ďHow many people actually come back here given the experience they had?Ē And I would like to see that landing charge used for the wardens or something like that. But itís straws and Camels. To come up with another £3.00 when you are at Gypsy Cove, I donít think itís great.
EE: Could I suggest something? The money could actually be used towards improving the Gypsy Cove Road which, at the moment, is in an atrocious state. And, that really is Governmentís responsibility to maintain and itís probably one of the most used roads in and around Stanley.
DS: I am trying to recall Gavinís figure per kilometre - £400,000.00
GS: Thatís blacktopping
JC: Proper blacktop, yes.
GC: Thatís to dig the road up and start again.
Ruth Taylor (RT): Can I ask where does the money go that comes in off the cruise ships? Where does that money go because for years Iíve wondered what would happen if somebody is injured. They come in on a tender, which is rocking backwards and forwards, they then jump off on to a moving platform, they have to get up some steps and then on to the Public Jetty, part of which is dangerous and fenced off Ė where does the money go? Why isnít that being made sound? If somebody, especially if they are an American (FINN asks North, Central, or South American?) if they have a bad injury there theyíd sue every last penny out of us.
RE: The money goes into Government Coffers. I think at the moment we earn about £4.5Million into the budget from Tourism. Regarding somebody getting injured and so on, this is recognised as being a pioneer landing.
JC: They are advised it is fairly rugged.
RE: Actually getting ashore in Stanley is a lot better than a lot of other places they go where you get elderly folks being run ashore in Gemini craft and the like.
SH: And strange as it may seem, a lot of them actually think thatís part of the fun. Glen says taking them to these destinations outside of Stanley to horrendous places or whatever Ė the majority of the ones that I have come across that have an overland journey while we are here Ė regardless of which destination Ė to see Penguins Ė the thing that theyíve enjoyed most Ė believe it or not Ė is the overland drive. For the life of me I canít quite figure out why sometimes but they do.
JC: itís novelty value.
SH: It is. Believe it or not, Glenn, there are people who come back year upon year, even on the cruise vessels.
GR: That might be the case but the people I see coming ashore - they donít look like multi-millionaires to me. They look very much like us who have saved up for the trip of a lifetime. And the charges they must pay donít seem fair to me.
Rob McGill (RMc): The people who charge them more money to take them to the sites Ė is that money taxable?
JC: It should be if itís all declared.
RMc: How do you get them to declare it?
JC: One hopes they do.
EE: It is a legal requirement for somebody to declare their income.
SH: What you will be told by a lot of these cruise ships is that you need to book the tour onboard before you come ashore. And I can assure you itís not the local element that is the cost. It is the onboard cost. I actually drove a many passengers to Volunteer Point and one lady who sat behind me asked if the ride was what she paid all that money for. So I actually put tongue in cheek and asked her what she paid and I was astounded. She paid more than double what I charge.
RMc: Every windy day when a ship passes the Falklands, that money is going into the carrierís pocket. Itís not refunded. I will tell you that for nothing. And if it is possible to stop one destination, some operators will do it because they waive that against the end of the dayís business.
SH: you really have to look across the water to Chile at the moment because theyíve just about out-priced themselves with tourism and now they are looking at reducing their costs.
GC: Theirs are nothing like ours.
EE: They are much higher in some parts Ė certainly for docking their ships in Punta Arenas itís much higher.
The conversation concluded with Gary Clement saying that he and some veterans had a wonderful $14.00 tour of the Chilean Fjords for approximately $50.00 in Chile, with Emma Edwards mentioning the huge costs her cruise ship had to pay in Argentina. She went on to say that compared with South America the Falklands arenít too far out on the charging side of things and that landing fees in the Falklands make the destination attractive. Sharon Halford had looked at doing some tours when she was in Chile some time ago and she noticed that the price structure was about the same as the Falklands. Jan Cheek mentioned that pricing depends on where the USD/CLP rate is at any given time.
Rob McGill (RMc): I want to ask about the outer islands. I see east and west have been linked by the ferry many times a week, I guess at considerable cost and I am just wondering has the present Council thought about the imbalance for the islands? I am not complaining but I know lots of people have really big problems elsewhere in the world but when you see that East Falkland has roads and tracks and West Falkland has roads and tracks and a link by ferry. The islands get Concordia Bay every six weeks which is exactly the same service as it was when the Monsunen came here 30+ years ago. So that aspect has not changed one bit for the outer islands.
EE: The island folks have got a reduced FIGAS rate now compared to others so we are aware of the difficulties that people have out in Camp.
RMc: That is so minimal compared to taking the Concordia Bay across the Sound. £5.00 on a flight would probably save me about £20.00 a year. And as a considerable tax payer, Iím just wondering what I get. My property produces about £8.00 per hector across the board, from 5 different activities and I am just asking the question or making the point that the perimeter is getting less than the rest of the Falklands. I am asking as a Council, if you havenít, would you please think about it?
GR: I think Rob has a fair point but it is one of our favourite pastimes here and I do it as much as anyone else but FIGSA were coming under tremendous criticism a number of years ago and we had to have changes there. No one liked the changes and now we are going back to what it was before. It was a system that evolved over many years to suit our own particular needs. And I hear now people talking about the glory days of shipping when we had a coastal shipping service but as I recall, the last 3 years of that there was nothing but complaints about the service. So it forced our predecessors into going ahead with the ferry. We are now locked into that for a number of years. And I just wish we wouldnít do it because quite often we have the service already in place that we needed and I think the coastal shipping one was actually terrific. But there were a tremendous amount of complaints about it as I recall. One of the terrible decisions we made five or six years ago or even longer was when we decided not to renew the Byron Marine contract. We lost a tremendous amount of local knowledge. Happily a lot of that has filtered back on to our shores now. But we do it time and time again. We have something that works, we complain about it and we end up with something that doesnít suit anybody. So letís be careful how we comment on whatever service is being provided.
RMc: I would say that we see where we are not at. We see what is possible for the rest of the Islands.
EE: Would you be looking at perhaps building roads or something on your island? What would you like to see?
RMc: I just asked the question. Had Council as a whole thought about it?
SH: And the answer is no.
RMc: West Falkland has changed a great deal as a result of being linked to the degree they have. And the other point, Emma, is obvious for me personally, would be a tax reduction from ny £8.00 per hector to something that compares with part of the rest of the Falklands.
SH: I would say the answer to your question, Rob, is NO. We havenít. And from what you said and what Glenn has said, people were moaning about the previous coastal shipping service. I believe you said your service with the Concordia Bay is the same as it was with the coastal shipping. So you are actually no worse off.
RMc: The Monsunen.
SH: While you are no better off, you are no worse off than you were before.
RMc: Exactly that.
DS: It is a point that you are better off with the FIGAS service than you were. Isnít it a point also that the FIGAS service has now improved?
RMc: From when?
DS: Well, this is part of the FIGAS review, which now has gone back to the system where it used to be. Is that now better?
RMc: We had that blip there of 2 or 3 years that wasnít better. Now weíve got something better but I am saying, just £5.00 on a flight is only going to make about £20.00 difference to me.
SH: I still always maintain that when we live in the Falklands we are not all going to have the same things. We canít purely and utterly just because of where we live. If you live in Stanley you can have various things, if you live on East Falkland, various things Ė West Falkland Ė itís all different and itís the same with the outer islands. We canít all have the same level of things just because of where we live.
RMc: But I can have the same tax bill as I would have if I lived in Stanley.
SH: so do I.
RMc: But yet my service is much less.
DS: O no it isnít. If you take into account, for example, FIGAS and the cost of running the service Ė which is something that I very, very, very, very, seldom use, nevertheless it is a service that is provided by people who pay taxes. My taxes go towards the running of FIGAS Ė you get some of the benefit from that as well. Itís what you accept when you live in a community. There will always be those that end up subjectively Ė you are going to think there are people who get more of the money than you do but thatís life.
JC: Someone whoís ill gets it from the Medical Services but you donít want to be ill.
After saying that he didnít want to go down that road, Mr McGill said he heard what Mr Sawle was saying but he was not totally convinced.
RMc: For effort, you can sit up on the perimeter and do very little and be a burden on the system but if you work and you are taxed, thereís no reward.
SH: Donít you feel healthier and fitter?
RMc: I never tried the other way yet but..
SH: No Ė I meant by working. I think everybody should work. I am sure they feel far better for it.
DS: I think the chance of having a tax reduction for those living on the outer islands is remote. This is how I would sum it up.
EE: We have also recently just allocated some money for Beaver Island and getting their airstrip up and running again. So we are aware that those on the outer Islands have different problems to face.
RMc: Thatís a situation that should never have happened. So I am pleased that this Council is addressing one of the great wrongs of the previous. What youíve never had you never miss but once youíve had something and someone takes it from you, that is pretty cruel. Thatís why I have been fairly vocal for those people. Anyway, itís not my hour so it must be somebody elseís turn but I could fill an hour easily.
Joyce Allen (JA): This is a totally different subject. David Jenkins has been here a fair amount of time with his health hat and his education hat. Is it working well Ė with health and education being under control and combining the two? Is it working, do you think?
SH: I donít know if Ďunder controlí is the correct word. He said when he first came here that he wanted a few months to look and see how things were because if you go somewhere new itís a bit silly just to run, jump in and do whatever only to discover it was all being done properly anyway. And I think next month, heís going to have a paper to Ex-co showing how things are laid out and how he was going to move forward. So that is coming along. I wouldnít say everything is perfect yet but I am certainly quite happy with what is happening.
JA: The poor man looks quite frazzled some days. Does he do one at a time or both at the whole time?
SH: He is spending the majority of his time on health at the moment.
JA: I see him the majority of the time around the hospital but he is based up there. Education as well and this poor man is running up and down like a demented Ferret. But heís happy.
SH: O yes.
JC: To be fair, I said during the election campaign that I thought that was a massive role for an individual depending what kind of management skills you have at the next level. And we have quite a lot of sorting out to do. Although Education is my main portfolio, I am second to Sharon on Medical. I have the understanding that the medical side of things had to have priority because there were more problems arising there.
EE: My feeling is and always has been that the role of Health and Education is too bit for one man and I still stand by that.
JC: What is emerging and is very interesting is the cross-over when you are looking at children with special needs, adult learning for people with special needs when they leave school; thereís a lot of cross-over and there are some great advantages of having everyone working together Ė the left hand knowing what the rightís doing. So, I am hoping we can work through it.
JA: I am sure there are areas where the two of them meet and cross over as you say and they will eventually maybe smooth over.
GR: I agree with them actually. I always felt there was too big a job for one person to do and health obviously hugely important and so is Education. I think they both deserve someone focused in on them.
(100X Transcription Service)