Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Guernsey Watch

Guernsey Watch

Alderney Transport Links

Looking at the Bailiwick of Guernsey, the news from Alderney is not good. Guernsey Press reports that:

“ALDERNEY’S need for a runway extension has been sidelined, the president of the island’s Chamber of Commerce has said, as he and an Alderney politician said ‘unmanageable’ transport links were making local businesses unsustainable. Alderney States member Louis Jean said transport issues ‘would continue to worsen’ without intervention. ‘Plane fares are rising every year and it is now around £120 just to get to Guernsey, and I believe those increases will continue without bigger planes because of customer resistance and there being less seats available,’ he said”

But a number of residents do not believe that the runway is the cure-all it is suggested, and call for simply making sure the existing one is fit for purpose:

“The misconception that a longer runway will sort out all our problems has wasted 4 years, during which time our runway has been reduced in width to 18 meters and the surface has deteriorated daily as more and more of it is swept up as FOD. The States of Alderney now need to really get behind a push to encourage Guernsey to get on with the essential work of widening back to 23 meters, full resurface, and installation of centre line lighting. More delay and argument over wishful thinking could cost us the whole airport.”

Alvin, another Alderney resident, comments that:

“The repairs to Alderney's runway are indeed essential and that should be immediately carried out. But an extension would be of no benefit. If the runway is repaired, then the airport could accommodate the existing small passenger aircraft that are being operated in the UK... the Islander, Dornier 228, Let 410, Twin Otter etc etc.”

“A runway extension would basically be a complete rebuild of the runway - up to 1200 - 1300 metres could be possible but would need a lot of additional land being purchased, re-alignment of the flight path, new navigational aids and lighting, enlarging and strengthening of the taxiways and aprons, extension and upgrading the terminal and ancillary services, such as security, fire services...  We are talking about almost a brand new airport! Cost? £50 million? £ 80 million? More?? Why?”

“Because whilst the above-listed aircraft can operate into Alderney with its existing runway length, the next step up in passenger aircraft are basically the Saab 340/2000s, ATR 42s and 72s, Dash 8s etc etc. These aircraft take 48 - 78 passengers but need a much longer and stronger runway as well as all the other facilities of a larger airport.”

“And it still would not do any good for Alderney. Back in its heyday, Alderney used to attract 80000 passengers a year, now it has fallen to around 57000. Two daily rotations from Alderney to Guernsey using the smaller ATR42s would give an annual seat capacity of almost 70000! Using ATR72s, then over 100000! Alderney would land up having just two daily flights to Guernsey and none to Southampton, or, if the ATR42s were used, maybe a three times a week route to Southampton. Better for Alderney Airport is just to repair the runway and encourage more flights to more destinations such as a Jersey and a Cherbourg route.”

And another comment:

“I’d love to visit Alderney but for the same money as flying there I could travel to 5-6 other interesting places in Europe. Why isn't any effort being put into a viable ferry service? I assume this has been asked a million times but I can't find many clear answers.”

I personally remember visits to Alderney on the small Condor hydrofoil, which went directly from Jersey, arriving early, leaving late, ideal for a day trip. The Aurigny planes used to have a direct flight to Alderney from Jersey as well, although they were much pricier. I can’t help feeling that the last two comments are right.

Alderney has too narrow a gateway primarily via Guernsey, and opening up air and cheaper sea routes might encourage people to visit, especially day trippers, for whom a boat journey from Guernsey or Jersey would provide a better option. As it stands, those critical links are gradually being eroded, and with the falling population on Alderney – almost certainly because it is almost a transport cul-de-sac – I do wonder how much longer Alderney will be viable as a place to live.

Reciprocal Care Agreement

Guernsey Press reports that:

“WORK to implement a medical insurance scheme to cover Guernsey and Alderney residents visiting the UK has moved one step closer and could be in place by next summer. Employment & Social Security was directed in 2015 to investigate the options for replacing the former reciprocal health agreement, which ended in 2009, with an insurance scheme covering hospital treatment.”

A comment follows:

“Three years from States direction to implementing this scheme. This speaks volumes about the way this island is run. What a shame the island doesn't have a group of people who understand how to implement an insurance scheme such as this”

The Reciprocal Health Agreement came into being in the heyday of Tourism, so that the UK would pay Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man for treating visitors, and in return visitors to the UK would be treated as UK citizens if they required health care.

As tourism declined, those in charge must have been aware that the arrangement was not equitable, but it was an extra boost to the health budgets so they kept quiet about it. Neither Chief Officer Mike Pollard not Minister Stuart Syvret did anything to alter this status quo in Jersey. There was a £3.9 million a year imbalance in the system in Jersey’s favour made it inherently unstable and unsustainable. But action which could have averted the loss of the RHA never took place.

Of course, the UK government woke up to the fact that they were now paying money for almost no return. The Isle of Man, which had an intensive lobby of contacts with Westminster, was able to hang onto its RHA, albeit without any money now changing hands.

Jersey and Guernsey lost theirs on 18th September 2008 after a decision made by Minister for Health, Dawn Primarolo. Health Minister Ben Shenton was surprised by the decision, which suggests that either Ministers were being kept in the dark by their Chief Officer, or they were turning a blind eye to the imbalance in funding.We will probably never know.

In the interim, health insurance was required for trips to the UK, which sometimes was not available or available at a reasonable cost for elderly people wishing to visit their children. In the background, better links were being forged, and credit where it is due, both Senator Sir Philip Bailhache and Senator Philip Ozouf had a great deal to do with that. It was restored on 1 April 2011.

It was realised that Jersey had not the same links which had proven so advantageous to the Isle of Man. While some may criticise Senator Ozouf for the time spent commuting to London, this is an essential strategy which helped the case for reinstating the RHA for Jersey, and also improved Jersey’s financial standing in Parliament.

The new RHA simply had no money passing either way; it was a straight quid pro quo, just as the Isle of Man had successfully negotiated. Obviously, Health Minister Anne Pryke was in on negotiations, but it was the behind the scenes work in the UK which did the trick. 

Guernsey has evidently failed to see this and as a result, they are still without an RHA, which must be something of a nightmare. As one correspondent to the paper wrote:

“The absence of the RHA and the high cost of travel insurance, or indeed the inability to obtain it because of age or medical history, means that no prudent person, unable to afford or obtain insurance, can leave their island. It was one thing to be imprisoned for five years by German occupying forces, quite another to be imprisoned here by our own government. Many would love to be able to visit friends and relatives in the UK or have them visit here, but cannot run the risk.”

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