Good afternoon and welcome to this ‘Opportunities Fair’ that we might also call Good News Friday.
In November 2011, just a few days after I first arrived on St Helena, we received a green light from the British Government for the St Helena Airport project to go ahead. That set in motion a massive amount of work and not just on the Airport project itself, but right across the board, to prepare this Island for what is unquestionably a turning point in her history.
Basil Read of South Africa was quick off the mark and has had a boot pressed firmly on the accelerator ever since. They have performed superbly and are approaching the last lap, as they prepare our Airport for commercial operations in less than a year from now. Well done to Deon de Jager and his team from Basil Read, plus all the Saints and others who have worked so hard on the project.
In 2013, with Airport construction well underway, we received a visit by a team from the Mantis Collection luxury hotel group, led by its Chairman Adrian Gardiner. Adrian and his colleagues quickly recognised the great potential St Helena holds for quality tourism development. They saw a good fit with the Mantis portfolio and wanted to be involved as we geared up for air access and the growth of our tourism sector.
Just a few days ago I was delighted to learn that Mantis is now the preferred bidder to manage the important new hotel development on Main Street in Lower Jamestown. This is great news for St Helena. It represents a powerful vote of confidence in St Helena by one of the world’s leading, luxury hotel companies.
Thank you and well done to Adrian and his talented team at Mantis – we look forward to working with you.
To add to the great news about Mantis came the exciting announcement that Comair of South Africa is to become our air service provider, with weekly flights between St Helena and Johannesburg. Comair has a fine and well deserved reputation as one of the most reliable carriers in the world. Through its close operational association with British Airways it brings us access to a massive and well-established global network of flights and marketing. My congratulations and thanks to all at Comair who were involved in the bid process.
As we continue to steer St Helena towards new opportunities, to shape a prosperous future for the benefit of all who live and work on St Helena, we are indeed fortunate to have on-board two strong partners of the calibre of Mantis and Comair.
But as I said a few moments ago, in November 2011 we began work across the board to prepare for the changes ahead.
That meant working to improve education, to improve healthcare and social services, and to make sure that nobody is left behind. While there is still much more to do, I am pleased that we have made steady advances in these areas as well. To offer a few examples:
- Last year we saw the best GCSE results ever
- The adult and vocational education provision has steadily improved with increased participation
- In a few days time, residents of the Challenging Behaviour Unit will move into fine custom built facilities, developed to an excellent standard by a local contractor
- We have introduced a minimum wage and the MIS, the Minimum Income Standard
- There is now a separate Safeguarding Directorate, with professional and experienced staff devoted to safeguarding the vulnerable in our society
- Our Police Service is now more professional, better trained and equipped to protect our community
To add to the good news, I am pleased to announce this afternoon that, after much detailed hard work, your Government has just this week signed off on a major contract worth £2.8 million for the refurbishment of our General Hospital. A project that will greatly enhance the medical services available here on St Helena.
So much more is also underway in other areas, such as waste management, renewable energy and environmental protection.
And we should not overlook the significant economic benefits that construction of the Airport has already yielded. Unemployment is at a record low level. Over the last two years, high levels of employment have seen average local incomes increase by more than 18%. The number of businesses is increasing. Over 100 Saints returned to live on the Island last year.
These are all encouraging steps in the right direction. Even before the Airport opens we have been able to improve services and the support we give to the most vulnerable in society, as we endeavour to ensure that everyone benefits from economic development.
By any reckoning, we have achieved a great deal in just a few years and I am immensely grateful to our Councillors and public servants for all their hard work and commitment that has made this possible. For such a small community, with limited resources, we can be proud of the progress made in such a short time.
I thank Dr. Niall O’Keeffe and his team at Enterprise St Helena for organising this event. Now I’ll stop there and hand over to Dr. O’Keeffe. I’m sure he will be happy to talk to you about what ESH is doing, to provide a wide range of support to existing businesses, to those wishing to invest here and to tourism linked initiatives.
Governor Mark Capes
27 March 2015