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Re: Government Big Projects..... and how they can go wrong

It looks to me like the main person responsible for the St Helena airport fiasco is the former Conservative minister Andrew Mitchell. He seems to have put quite a bit more effort into making the decision than might be first thought, holding up the finance for the airport for over a year in order to be satisfied that four conditions were met:

Mitchell statement

But the conditions unfortunately did not include investigation of the potential 'showstopper' problem of it being too windy on the island to build an airport.

Mitchell is most famous for being the MP at the centre of the "Plebgate" incident. After a two year stint at the Department of International Development, Mitchell was then made Chief Whip in a re-shuffle in 2012 and two weeks into the new job, he got embroiled in Plebgate and resigned a few weeks later.

To give details for non-UK readers, Plebgate involved an altercation between Mitchell and police officers guarding the gates to the entrance of the street that the Prime Minister lives in, Downing Street, where the police insisted that Mitchell, who was riding a bicycle, had to leave by a pedestrian gate rather than the main gate which cars used. Mitchell swore at the officers (well-heeled Brits tend to swear a lot nowadays), but the sticking point was whether he called the officers 'plebs'. Later on Mitchell tried to sue the Sun newspaper over their claim that he had used the term 'pleb', but lost the libel case (the case is reputed to have cost Mitchell £2 million).

What was a member of the Cabinet doing riding about on a bicycle? That I think was to do with David Cameron's "Vote Blue Go Green" policy. Presumably you were well thought of by Cameron if you went to work on a bike.

Re: Government Big Projects..... and how they can go wrong

On working out who was responsible for the St Helena airport fiasco, it looks like Alan Duncan could be another major contender, based on this interview he gave in June 2015:

Duncan interview

The extract from the interview relevant to St Helena is this bit, in which he bragged about how 'successful' the airport project had been:

"We decided we would build an airport on St Helena. £200 million and I said ‘never before has this department spent this money on an infrastructure project, nor has any infrastructure project been handled, you know, at such a distance. I therefore require someone who can advise me on what constitutes a proper, fair and as far as possible, risk-free building contract so we can avoid all the overruns. Someone who can oversee it, to make sure that it has been implemented as per the contract’. And as far as I know, that has gone absolutely brilliantly and I think a lot of that is down to the absolutely rigorous monitoring and drawing up a very, very tight fixed-price contract in the first place, with no variables which suddenly hit you in the gob and add £30 million.

So I think that has been a success. It has been an amazing project. Whether there will be any planes going to the airport later is another matter. But actually that was part of it, an air services contract. You know, you have got to have the building contract, the safety contract, the accompanying, if you like, hotels, accommodation for the supposed tourist benefit and an air service agreement and fuel, fuel tankage so all of these things had to come into a strict and big picture to make it all work."


Duncan was Minister of State for International Development from 2010-14, and he apparently only covered certain parts of the world that he preferred, which excluded Africa, but did include the Middle East, Palestinian Authority, Yemen, Bangladesh, Burma, Nepal and the Overseas Territories (St Helena is one of these "overseas territories"). He received a knighthood in 2014 for his four years service as a minister.