Newquay Airport. The very name tends to get a response of those who think it is an asset to Cornwall, and others think it is just one big liability. My view is it is an asset to Cornwall, and one that should be maintained. As I pointed out in: Newquay Airport – what has it done for us?
However, the airport should one day be able to stand on its own financial feet; and the Council should be all it can to get the airport to that point. Gettin to this has been made more difficult due to the turbulent nature of the airline industry.
Currently, Newquay Airport flights to 11 different destination. Mostly via one airline. The airport has recently been awarded PSO status by the Government for flights to and from London Gatwick. This is good news, but there is a danger the airport is over-reliant on one carrier. With this danger in mind, the airport board, and the Council should look to manage that risk by looking for alterative routes and airlines to operate to and from Newquay Airport. But for this to happen, the Council needs to address the Airport Development Fee.
The Airport Development Fee (ADF), or what has been nicknamed ‘the Mitchell Tax’ has been a moot point for many people. This £5 charge was introduced by the then Cornwall County Council to help fund the development of Newquay Airport. It was never meant to be a permanent tax, but once you get used to collecting a tax, it is difficult to make the decision to stop.
My view is this is just a tax, and like many others (most complained about issue when passengers were surveyed). The ADF is also disliked by the airlines, with one or two airlines being more vocal on this issue and refusing to operate out of airports that operate this type of charge. In case you are wondering, there are two other airports in the UK that operate a ‘ADF’. There was fourth, but this airport has now closed.
In recent months there has been discussion in the council of either increasing the ADF, or getting rid of it completely. The ADF collects about £400,000 per year. This is on top of the subsidy the airport receives from the Council, which is around £2m, and has been reduced from £3m.
For the subsidy to be reduced further to the goal of zero, you need to grow the route offer. As more routes means more passengers and more money from passenger spend, landing/take off fees, and handling fees. Sounds easy enough, but is impossible when a number of airlines refuse to operate out of an airport that operates an ADF/fee. The is also a danger if you removed the ADF without these extra routes would result in the subsidy having to increase. That is something I do not want.
As a member of the Cabinet, I was part of that discussion, but could not talk publicly about this due to the restrictions. However, much of the detail is now out and published by the media and my Cabinet colleague has spoken to BBC Cornwall about this issue (though there are still many details that are not, and which I will not cover here). So I feel I can explain on how I see it.
The ADF was discussed by the Cabinet as its last meeting. This part of the meeting was held in confidential session due to the commercial sensitivity of the information and the options. If it was just on whether to keep or remove the ADF, then this would have been in open session.
I will address this issue of this decision was made at a ‘secret meeting’. I love how the words secret meeting is said in a way that something dodgy is going on. It is hardly secret when we actually advertise the meeting, and the meeting is open to all Members.
I have been a long-time opponent of the – over – use of Part 2 items, but I recognised in this case it was in the best interest of the Council to be able to do a commercial deal. And therefore, this item was held in confidential session not because there is anything to hide, but it was commercially sensitive. After all, when making a decision you are not going to tell the world a figure. As this could harm your chances of a deal in any negotiations. Once these negotiations are over, then the world will know. It is that simple.
Now back on subject of the ADF. The Cabinet recommended the removal of the ADF if certain conditions were met (I really cannot talk about these as explained in the previous paragraph). I voted in favour of the removal, as did five of my Cabinet colleagues. Three voted against (6-3 in favour).
However, this decision has now been called in to the Scrutiny Committee by 10 Members of the Council for various reason like not enough information etc. Scrutiny plays an important part in any decision making process. But scrutiny should not be used for purely political purposes. Ironically, seven out of the ten signatories of the call-in were not even at the Cabinet meeting where the decision was made. How can you say a decision was flawed due to the information, when you were not even at the meeting! There is also a danger that by trying to score political points, you could jeopardise the deal. That is not in the best interest of the Council, or more importantly, Cornwall’s residents.
As for this Call-in, it will be held on the 22nd Sept at 2pm at County Hall. The Agenda when publish will be HERE. Depending on the outcome of that meeting, the Cabinet may need to reconvene to discuss the call-in outcome. However, if the Scrutiny Committee makes no recommendations, then the original Cabinet decision stands. I wonder how many of those who have called it in will actually turn up at the meeting…