Friday, 5 July 2013

Would you spend £5m of taxpayer money?

Looks like someone has been reading my blog on the Rochester Airport, but not unsurprisingly dealt with the substantive points so let me make them clearer.

A five page draft proposal which still does not add up; unless we can get clarity on some key issues.

Can I point out to my right wing readers that this is a 'draft' report which means people are supposed to scrutinise and assess the validity or otherwise of consultation responses. 

Putting that aside; as the report currently stands; my former post stands but I now position my concerns into bullet points:

  • The report (Appendix 1) clearly indicates the airport will retain a primarily recreational usage. This is not therefore by definition an investment which has a ROI on the airport itself; merely using the business revenues generated from the planned business park to fund the recreational airport improvements. Why should the business park investment (some £5m investment) also fund improvements to a non-commercial airport? Why should the money from this go to support what is a recreational pursuit?
  • The report cites a ‘great interest’ in this proposal from business; Whom? A reader cant see in the report any named major business expressing a guaranteed interest in the expanded business park? 
  • Does the spend on the airport improvements primarily benefit existing but 'non-historical' recreational flyers? Should public money be spent on supporting historical preservation at this scale of millions when rate payers are suffering cuts to essiential frontline services (e.g. Sure Start / Roads)?
  • The long term financial viability of the airport as a commercial hub given the new runway does not make it more commercial. Do aviation businesses (again unnamed) wish to relocate to a centre with a non-commercial runway for cargo? What is the statistical and real evidence base for this?
  • What is the current occupancy rate on the current Rochester business park adjacent to the airport? What are the current business rental rates and how will expansion impact local business already operating close to this site? Again no content in the report
  • A statistic of 1,000 jobs has been cited; presumably based on office space vacancy rather than actual business interest? Can this be clarified?
  • Is it really honest to call the fund the 'South Medway Development Fund' when it is actually fully Medway Council taxpayer funded from reserves and given it will only benefit South Rochester?

None of these questions have been answered sufficiently in the report or by the subsequent press statement

£5m could be spent investing in Chatham town centre; or Rochester Riverside or modernising existing infrastructure in Strood at the Medway City Estate. It could be used to cut taxes on thousands of existing small businesses struggling in the current climate. Is this really the most cost-effective proposition? What makes this business case compelling?

This is a significant sum of public money and its clear the phyiscal infrastructure beneficiaries are not the majority of residents, but those with an active and valid recreational interest. 

No one would deny investing £5m in securing jobs is right; the point is whether this scheme is the best Return on Investment for our taxpayers £5m; it self-evidently isn’t on this report.

The report itself is in-substantive and poorly written; the appendix summary  vague. It really is a weak business argument being used to justify quite extensive and expensive groundworks (which are ironically detailed and mapped). 

The Tory press statement clearly ignores the fact that people have simply lost confidence in the ability of the Authority to run major programmes; which means we need more facts before we blindly agree to spending this sum of money. 

How many white elephants with blue rosettes have been blown up by the Tory administration in glib PR and glossy leaflets to be blown away by the headwinds of reality and scrutiny? 

I have every support for those of the Medway Aircraft Preservation Society and those that use the site but the clue is in the statement on whether this is a business case

Taxpayers want to know that with very limited finances; services creaking; suggestions of taxes rising; and potholed roads encroaching; this type of financial spend is reviewed. The spend in the report is not ostensibly used to fund historical preservation anyway; its going into mainly hangers and runways for current modern planes.
If the airport were a valid commercial enterprise I could see the argument for using the investment return from the land being sold off to invest in the airport. 

I waited to read the report before jumping to this conclusion but it is too poorly written for me to come to any other conclusion that in its current state I could not on good faith see it pass. When Sure Starts are being slashed; roads in my ward are potholed and we are justifying cuts to services and staff in the Council I cant look people in the face and say this is the best investment for the taxpayer. 

Rochester Airport is a recreational airport and that means quite simply that lots and lots of public money is being used to subsidise its improvement. In these times of austerity when government is cutting local Council budgets we need to prioritise spending to the best business case; and this isn’t it.

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