Falklands : Falklands Legislative Assembly Meeting (18/12/09) Part 1
Submitted by Falkland Islands News Network (Juanita Brock) 05.01.2010 (Article Archived on 19.01.2010)
A meeting of Legislative Assembly took place at 1030hrs on Friday, 18 December 2009.
LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY MEETING FRIDAY, 18 DECEMBER 2009
Part 1: Questions for Oral Answer and Legislation
By J. Brock (FINN)
A meeting of Legislative Assembly took place at 1030hrs on Friday, 18 December 2009. Present were Members: Cheek (RC), Emma Edwards (EE), Roger Edwards (RE), Halford (SH), Bill Luxton (BL), Dick Sawle (DS) and Gavin Short (GS). Also present were the Chief Executive Mr Tim Thorogood (TT) and the Attorney General Mr David Pickup (DP) and the Commander British Forces Commodore Philip John Thicknesse RN. The Hon Glenn Ross did not attend.
Prayers were said by the Rev. Richard Hines of Christ Church Cathedral. Oaths were taken by Mr Anton Livermore, Deputy Speaker and Commander British Forces South Atlantic Islands, Commodore Philip John Thicknesse RN. Then the confirmation of the record of Legislative Assembly held on 10 November 2009 was held and the Speaker signed it as a true record.
QUESTIONS FOR ORAL ANSWER
Q-11, 2009 by the Hon Mr Gavin Short:
Mr Speaker, West Falkland has currently seen very heavy use being made of the road infrastructure by large trucks, which has resulted in at least one truck being bogged down whilst on a main road. Could the Honourable Sharon Halford please inform this house – 1, what measures, if any, are being taken to repair this type of damage, 2, what restrictions, if any, apply to heavy vehicles driving on these roads during wet weather conditions and 3, what weight limit were these roads built to withstand?
Answer by the Hon Mrs Sharon Halford:
Mr Speaker, the temporary repair to this particular damage was carried out very shortly after the damage was incurred by a contractor who had plant in the vicinity and who was able to move quickly ensuring the road was safe and passable. More permanent repairs will be carried out by the Public Services Department in the next few days. That, incidentally, is the old Public Works Department. These will require the removal of all soft material, refilling with firm material and re-shaping the road to suit.
As to road restrictions, during the summer months the load weights on HGVs up to a maximum all up weight of 38 tonnes. Vehicles heavier than 38 tonnes have to apply for special exemptions through the appropriate channels. During the winter months these roads are restricted to 15 tonnes. If the roads are saturated during the summer months we can only rely on the common sense and decency of hauliers. However, this can be difficult because hauliers are usually working to deadlines. Additionally, given the unpredictability of the Falkland Islands’ weather, road conditions may well be good from departure point but deteriorate as the journey progresses. And, as for the weight limit the roads were built to withstand, the weight limits roads were built to withstand varies considerably across the Islands.
It has, in the past, been subject to considerable debate, particularly in the mid 1990s. The debates culminated with EXCO Paper No 134/1996, which made the following recommendations: MPA Road – 8.2 tonne axel limit – this is the internationally accepted norm which most lorries are designed around – Other East Falkland Roads – 5 tonne axel limit, West Camp Stages 1 & 2 – 2 tonne axel limit and West Camp Stage 3 – 1 tonne axel limit. The paper also recommended that all future specifications should be based on a 5 Tonne Axel Limit.
It should be noted that although the specification calls for a 5 tonne axel limit, the majority of roads, particularly those built over soft camp are considerably stronger, having had to be constructed so as to support the weight of the construction traffic.
GS: Mr Speaker, I thank the Honourable Lady for her reply to that question. I have one supplementary here. Have any exemptions been applied for in respect of axel weights?
SH: The answer to that is yes. There have been quite a number this season applied for over the 38 tonne weight limit. Most times that FIG have to take their equipment – their heavy machinery around – that’s over 38 tonnes. Now, when they have to apply for a special exemption, Government has to go to the Chief Executive for this. When the private sector requests a special exemption they have to do so via the Director of Public Services. And, for the Ministry of Defence and all their sub-contractors, they have to ask the Commander British Forces here for that exemption. So, I couldn’t actually tell you how many have been asked for but certainly quite a number have this season.
Q-12, 2009 by the Hon Mrs Sharon Halford:
Could the Honourable Dick Sawle please inform this House how much longer Camp residents will have to wait before they can expect to receive SSVC TV reception, how many channels they can look forward to enjoying and what is the anticipated annual cost of the service to the public purse?
Answer by the Hon Mr Dick Sawle:
Mr Speaker, Honourable members, I am delighted to be asked this question as it has enabled me to provide answers that I and many of those listening have been looking for, for some considerable time. The answer is a little lengthy but I have tried to make it as accurate as possible so that we are all clear as to what is happening, when it’s happening and how much it’s costing.
I am indebted in answering you to the help by Andrew Lee, Lynn Brownlee and also G&S Electrical as well as SSVC in recent weeks trying to tie this matter down once and for all and for clarifying matters to me.
Firstly the TV system will be received in Camp by satellite using a decoder and a card and in Stanley it will be broadcast as a digital signal to individual antennas.
The short answer to your question - How much longer - between March and May 2010. I very much hope the difficulties sourcing the hardware are now resolved but if there are further delays then you have my abject apologies. But I can reassure you that any delays will be outside the control of SSVC, G&S Electrical or this Government. I do not envisage delays, though, and would like to make this quite clear.
I would briefly repeat here what’s recently published in Penguin News – and I quote – “the Camp installation will be carried out by local contractor, G&S Electrical. The installation of properties located in and around Port Stephens on the West, gradually moving to properties in the north and on the out-laying Islands. G&S will be using two, two person crews working in parallel to make as much progress as practicably possible. Once completed on the west and islands, efforts will then transfer to the east, starting in the south and moving northwards to properties towards Elephant Beach and towards Port Harriet before arriving back to Stanley.
The overall plan for installation requires effective co-ordination and collaboration between SSVC, the United States’ antenna supplier, the UK cable suppliers, G&S Electrical as well as support from “WSL” and possibly FIGAS. The TV project team is playing a key role in the making of all logistics and interdependencies work.”
The answer regarding channels is BFBS-1 and BFBS-2, a children’s channel and possibly SKY News. There has been debate about SKY News and whether to provide it or not as it would compete with the KTV Service but I have been told that it would not result in additional charges to FIG.
In reading through past discussions on this issue, there have been thoughts on making a media charge for the provision of the service. However, no such discussions have taken place in the new Assembly so no decisions have been made yet. UK programmes will be time-slipped as before and infrastructure can cope with further channels in the future should they become available or affordable.
Turning to your question on cost, the total capital cost of the project is approximately £570,000.00. The higher figure quoted in Penguin News of £750,000.00 includes marginal costs which would have been incurred in any event by the FIG. This amount was approved and budgeted for by the last Assembly and, for this the Falklands will receive a modern digital TV service with British TV programmes together with professional engineering support and maintenance so that problems currently being experienced should not occur again in the future.
The system will, if I may crave your indulgence and use the expression – be future-proof. The on-going annual costs will be around £160,000.00. I also note that you refer to the cost to the public purse. At present the funds both capital and recurring operational expenditure have been included in the budget. If there were to be a charge then the options as I see them are: No. 1 the user pays principle i.e. the signal would have to be encrypted and then decoded by the user with a card that they would have to purchase, a media tax on all households, (I have no precise figures I can quote you but previous papers seem to suggest that this would equate to around £13.00 per month per household) or thirdly that it is simply free to view by all who have the right equipment. Whilst this is, in a sense, going off your question slightly, I suspect this needs to be aired and opinions sought as no decisions have yet been made.
Whilst we are all aware that times are hard and there are many calls on the public purse it seems to me that raising a tax on all households is simply unfair and unjustifiable as not everyone wishes to receive the service. This can’t therefore be justified under any user pays principle for those obvious reasons. To encrypt the signal so that we work on a pay for viewing principle is more equitable but means that FIG as a public service provider would then be competing with either current or future local providers which also to my mind is not acceptable. FIG would, of course, also have to encrypt the signal in Stanley and sell decoders and cards. This would ensure the effect that only the user paid. But to set the system up in this way is not possible without spending more money on the infrastructure and, of course, incurring costs of collection and administration which in a small population may well end up not generating expected revenue. I have seen no figures or estimates on this so I cannot be more precise.
My personal view is the service should be available for all who wish to view it and for free. The Falklands need to keep in touch with the rest of the world and the freedom to receive news, ideas and entertainment is simply something which a government has a duty to provide. What the FIG will be providing is a national TV and radio network and the FIG has, in my view, an obligation, as I said, to provide this type of service to society.
There will be those who wish to take this argument further and raise the question of how we intend to bridge the deficit in the budget that this project and no doubt others will cause. I don’t believe that you would want to go on this aspect at the moment but I do believe that this will be an important debate that we will have to have in the near future.
Finally, this is a project which has had difficulties but thanks to the efforts of many hard working individuals I am confident it is now close to success.
SH: Mr Speaker, I thank the Honourable Member for his reply and I did have a few supplementary questions but he very cleverly answered them earlier.
GS: Mr Speaker, could I ask the Honourable Gentleman – he made mention there of marginal costs which would have been incurred anyway – what exactly are those costs that would have been incurred anyway? I presume this is whether we have the system or not – is that correct?
DS: Mr Speaker, Honourable Members, no. By marginal costs I was referring to costs government incurs in any event in other words, for example, labour costs, for example the costs of FIG personnel have spent in terms of time on the project and efforts made but a marginal cost is a cost that is incurred in any event in the course of running a business or a government.
GS: I thank the Honourable Member for his reply.
Q-13, 2009 by the Hon Miss Emma Edwards:
With the introduction of scheduled flights at FIGAS, could the Honourable Sharon Halford please advise the House if there has been any financial savings and would it now be time to go back to the FIGAS Taxi Service which appears to still suit the majority of users?
Answer by the Hon Mrs Sharon Halford:
Mr Speaker, the short answer is yes. FIGAS has delivered a financial saving for the public purse and achieved a reduction in expenditure. But I suspect if I stop there I suspect I will get a lot of supplementary questions so I will go on a bit more.
FIGAS does not operate a scheduled service as such. The introduction of planned departure times from Stanley came into being as part of a FIGAS recovery action plan. Since the introduction of the recovery action plan it has been quite a challenging period. FIGAS has experienced a reduction in passenger numbers and increased direct operating costs, particularly in respect of fuel and aircraft spares. However, in the 2008/9 financial year, FIGAS has achieved overall commercial revenues of £121,146.00. This combined with a reduction in expenditure has achieved a reduction in the cash deficit i. e. Earnings before depreciation and stock charges of just under £93,000.00. During this period the FIGAS operation required a total cash expenditure – that’s again expenditure before depreciation and stock of just under £93,000.00. During this period the FIGAS operation required a total cash expenditure – that’s again expenditure before depreciation and stock changes of £1,816,175.00. In 2009 the total cash expenditure was £1,765,312.00. There has also been a saving in operating costs of £50,863.00
With the new service there were 364 less hours flown in 2009 than in the previous year. The fewer hours are attributable to both a reduction in demand and improvements in efficiency generated by the air shuttle model. Had the FIGAS operation still been operating in accordance with the air taxi operating model, it is estimated that the cash deficit 2008/9 would have been approximately £1,300,000.00. With the two tier operation the cash deficit has been reduced to £1,078,346.00, which equates to – had we been using the air taxi service by these figures – it would have cost us an additional £221,654.00.
To answer the second part of the question – would it now be time to go back to the FIGAS Taxi service – which appears to suit the majority of users – I would suggest that prior to any effort to do this it is extremely important to consider and balance what is to be lost and what is to be gained.. On the plus side first – this may be a more convenient option for some travellers and allow the aircraft to be used throughout extended periods during the day. It would also remove any priority conflicts between local community needs and those of tourists or other users.
On the minus side, as there will be no commercial generated revenue from the tourism industry, the public subsidy will be much greater. This is estimated to be in the region of half a million by 2013/14.
On balance, firstly there are a number of current opportunities that FIG believes might lead to increased commercial revenues and should these be successful will lead to greater efficiency. And secondly as it is believed that some adjustments to the local service can be made to solve some of the current inconveniences, it is very difficult to contemplate a return to the FIGAS air taxi service. However, it is, I believe, ultimately up to Honourable Members to review the operation of FIGAS in its current mode of operation and decide if this is, indeed, the way forward or would it be more cost-effective to return to the previous taxi system of operation.
At present FIGAS are being operated as requested by a previous policy decision of Executive Council.
EE: In rising to thank the Honourable Sharon Halford for her answer, I think it’s quite ironic that they called it the FIGAS Recovery Action Plan. I now see FIGAS in need of a recovery action plan more than ever just simply because of the numbers of people complaining about the current service. I thank her for the answers with regard to the savings – Thank you.
RE: Mr Speaker, I would like please to ask the Honourable Sharon Halford to give us the cash deficit and therefore the total subsidy required for the years 2008/9 and the projected cash deficit and subsidy required for the year 2009/10 because the answer given indicates there has been a saving. Perhaps we could actually look at the cash subsidy required to cover the deficits.
SH: I am not sure I have all the figures at my fingertips. You asked for the cash deficit for 2008/9
RE: And 09/10
SH I don’t have that at hand at the moment.
THE SPEAKER (KB): Can I suggest that if you don’t have those figures to hand immediately that we submit this as a written question and then you will have time to do your investigations and the answer can then be circulated.
SH: Excellent idea Mr Speaker.
RE: Thank you for that and I will, indeed, put it forward. But it is my understanding at present that the 2008/9 cash subsidy required was indeed £1,078,000.00 but the predicted outcome of this year’s is nearer £1.4 something Million. But I will put the question in writing.
GS: Mr Speaker could I ask the Honourable Lady, is there actually any plan afoot to form a group to look at the workings of FIGAS and perhaps the way forward?
SH: Mr Speaker yes there is indeed a group formed to look at this in the near future and they include those involved in transport and tourism and I believe they will be meeting in early January to start this process.
GS: I thank the Honourable Lady for her reply. Would she not think it would be a rather good idea to involve representatives of the workforce in any group that is making decisions on FIGAS. I ask this question simply because I have visited FIGAS in the brief time I had the portfolio and found morale within FIGAS – in the workforce – to be extremely low mainly caused by having to make the previous model work, which is having some rather nasty affects on the workforce there.
SH: Mr Speaker, as to morale in that department, I think Morale is just generally low throughout the civil service but as to involving members from the Department in the discussions I do believe that is a managerial issue and should be mooted from that corner.
GS: I thank the Honourable lady for her reply.
BL: Mr Speaker, I wonder if the Honourable Lady could ascertain if she doesn’t know the answer what was the cost of converting the fisheries Islander to tourist format by putting in two extra windows and what has been the net revenue of the tourist flights since that was carried out?
SH: Mr Speaker I do not have those figures for that at the moment but, again, I can give that in a written reply.
Q-14, 2009 by the Hon Mr Dick Sawle:
Mr Speaker, Honourable members, I didn’t realise the Hon Sharon Halford was going to get so many questions so I apologise but the good news is that you can just answer by saying yes and I will be delighted.
Would the Honourable Sharon Halford (he actually said Haron Shalford) please indicate if this new government will release land on a freehold basis and at attractive rates for development by the private sector in order for the private sector to be able to increase and develop and thereby grow the economy.
Answer by the Hon Mrs Sharon Halford:
Mr Speaker, I am going to disappoint him. I am not simply going to answer by saying yes. Of course, I would like to ask him a question – is he referring to commercial development land or residential?
DS: Mr Speaker, commercially developed land. My apologies.
SH: Presumably this would refer to commercial development in the vicinity of Gordon Lines, Coastel Road, Boxer Bridge Road and the Gordon Lines Road.
In 1995 FIG decided to make such land available for commercial development on 99 year leases. Each lease in preceded by a building licence which requires the developer to implement their initial development proposals such as erecting a warehouse within the first two years.
The building licence mechanism is used to stop land banking. In 1995 FIG set the rent at £4,000.00 per acre per annum but since 2005 the rent is revised annually in line with the annual Stanley retail price index and is now £4698.00 per acre per annum. Rents are reviewed every 5 years.
To date 10 local companies have entered into building licence arrangements with FIG – 8 at Gordon Lines and two at West Hillside. Six developments have been completed, two developments are under construction, one company changed its plans and a further project is on hold pending a final decision on the location of the new port.
No decision has yet been taken by this new government on whether to alter the terms of which land is made available for commercial development.
DS: I would like to thank the Honourable Member for the response and rather than grilling supplementary questions, I think it is something that is worthy of debate over the course of the next few months.
Members Remuneration Bill 2009
The Bill has been published in the Gazette and the Hon Chief Executive spoke before second reading took place.
TT: Mr Speaker, this Bill results from work over the past 18 months of an independent panel on Members’ remuneration. This panel, lead initially by yourself until you were appointed Speaker of this Assembly, and then by Justin McPhee, was requested by Executive Council in July 2008 to undertake a comprehensive review on members’ allowances.
Others who served on the panel include Cheryl Roberts, Tony Blake and Lisa Johnston. I was asked to act as clerk. You, of course, Mr Speaker, stood down from the panel once selected Speaker. Cheryl Roberts also stood down partly due to other commitments. The panel also undertook the most comprehensive review that has been done for many years.
It did not consider itself bound by existing practices and it looked carefully at approaches in other states both at local and national levels. It also undertook extensive consultation with various interested parties including existing Elected Members, previous Members, younger people and also held a general public meeting to discuss issues and proposals.
It produced 10 recommendations covering not just the amounts that Members should claim in allowances and expenses and other things such as pensions contributions and an overall updating and tidying up of administrative processes and checks and balances.
For various unavoidable reasons, including changes of membership, the panel reported later than planned such recommendations that only could be considered by Executive Council in September this year. This point is important since it is the convention that members’ allowances are agreed by an outgoing assembly in respect of a new one. In this case, the late consideration of the recommendations is met, although they were approved in the last Assembly, the legislation that gives effect to them has had to be considered by the new Assembly. If passed, the Bill will be back dated to the beginning of this new Assembly.
Nonetheless, Mr Speaker I would like to reinforce that as clerk to the panel and as head of the public service the provisions before the assembly today fully reflects the wishes of the independent panel, having considered the public views other than – in one respect – in respect of childcare allowances which Executive Council in the previous Assembly were not minded to accept.
This bill therefore includes extensive provision for Members’ annual and daily allowances, family expenses and overseas travel. It also strengthens administrative processes involved and the checks and balances and a system to prevent possible abuse.
The opportunity has also been taken to bring things up to date as recommended by the panel, for example, the inclusion of arrangements for information technology.
Mr Speaker, two other Bills before the Assembly today, the Retirement Pensions Amendment Bill and Falkland Islands Pension scheme amendment Bill also deal with recommendations of the panel in relation to membership of and contributions to the Retirement Pensions Scheme and the Falkland Islands Pension Scheme.
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