So, just what is going on with this PwC “independent” report about the former airport and the enthusiasts’ dream of a CPO by American “buy-to-letters”, RiverOak? Well, let’s have a little toddle through the chronology of events, shall we? It’s a long post, for which, apologies, but we think this little storm in a wind sock has been very instructive.
In the morning before TDC meets to discuss the report which says that RiverOak is not a suitable indemnity partner for a CPO, Tony Freudmann, RiverOak’s aviation “expert” calls Sir Rodge and suggests to him that the documents that RiverOak submitted to TDC should be sent to the Department of Transport in the hope that they give the Department a warm glow and that this glow is then transmitted to TDC.
Rodge agrees. Note this bit, gentle reader, our American managing agents for some blocks of flats across the water are now determining UK public spending and Government actions.
Some to-ing and fro-ing then ensues with TDC keen to make sure that it releases nothing without RiverOak’s say so. Eventually, the documents are sent to the DfT, including some extra stuff that TDC’s Cabinet has not seen. So, already, the DfT is seeing stuff that was not part of the decision process in front of TDC on 11 December.
There’s then a long pause.
Robert Goodwill MP gives evidence to the Select Committee. It transpires that the DfT has done nothing with the RiverOak dossier so far. He says:
“We will certainly be looking at those papers over the next couple of weeks. This is not something we can put off for ever,…”
Not once the Government has seen a scrap of election material in it, no.
John Hayes says that that he will be appointing consultants to review the decision made by TDC in deciding not to back RiverOak as an indemnity partner. Ta for that, John, that’s more public money spent bolstering your candidate in South Thanet against Farage. Obviously a very neutral decision. Remember, Government could do the CPO itself any time it fancies, but it won’t ‘cos it knows that Manston is a dead duck. Nope, it’s far, far better to waste public money stringing this one out until after the election.
After a secret tendering process, PwC is appointed to
“review the process so far on decisions about the future of Manston Airport…”
The report is expected in May. Wry smiles all round about the timing – does anyone who has ever worked with a decent accountant think it would take him/her two and a half months to look at the RiverOak accounts and balance sheet (using the term loosely)? Nope.
The Government announces that:
“Consultant PwC has submitted its initial progress report on its review of decisions about the future of Manston Airport…”
The Press release goes on to say that:
“PwC was appointed earlier this month to review the documents that have informed decisions so far. As part of its work, PwC will seek to understand RiverOak’s financial status as an indemnity partner in the compulsory purchase order process and its readiness to commit funding to secure a deal with Thanet District Council. It will provide a final report to the department by the end of May 2015.”
John Hayes comes to Thanet for his obligatory Thursday trip to a marginal constituency. He meets Rodge and Iris at the station. Rodge mentions that PwC has given RiverOak their blessing as a suitable indemnity partner. Hayes leans across the table and tells him “no”. Rodge, via Suzy, later emails out a Press release saying that PwC are happy with RiverOak. It says:
“He [John Hayes] is removing one of the key barriers to the compulsory purchase of Manston: One of the key stumbling blocks to Thanet District Council issuing a Compulsory Purchase Order for Manston was the perceived lack of confidence in the financial indemnities offered by RiverOak – the US firm interested in buying Manston and running it as an airport.
Following work by PWC, who were commissioned by the Government to review all the documents that have informed decisions in relation to Manston to date, the Minister has today told the Leader of Thanet District Council on the basis of the independent PWC analysis that he “is satisfied by the indemnity offered by RiverOak to protect the council against the costs of the Compulsory Purchase Order.”
In the meantime, John H ditches Iris and hot foots it to the old airport site to meet several airport enthusiasts and a bunch of Conservative candidates.
So what has brought him down here that couldn’t be conveyed by phone? He tells them about the one year limitation on the Bristows contract. This, he says, is the first bit of news and the thing that “I’ve got control over”, implying logically that he does not have control over the second bit of news.
The second bit of news is that RiverOak have confirmed that they will cover the costs of the process. He says “process” several times. At no time does he talk about compensation to the owners or for residents’ blight claims. As an aside, he says that this cost a couple of million but reiterates that what we’re talking about is RiverOak confirming to him that they’ll indemnify TDC for the legal and other costs of the process.
He admits that RiverOak have told TDC this before but (wait for it), what’s news is that RiverOak will now repeat this in writing to him as a Minister. Blimey, that is a scoop, innit? And it’s so complicated to put across that a simple Press release won’t cut it. No, he’s right, this definitely requires a face-to-face meet with several of the faithful.
The PwC report, he says, will be on the viability of the airport and on RiverOak’s business plan and will be available at the end of May.
Hilariously, he then goes on to say that he’s not making political capital of this as he, Gale, McKinlay and Bayford all line up with their “vote Conservative” banners. Just how daft does he think we all are? Answer – very.
The media loves Rodge’s statement that RiverOak have been given the “all clear” by PwC and have got the Government seal of approval. A small fly then lands in the airport enthusiasts’ ointment. It’s an email from Iris to Suzy Gale saying, er, that the Minister did not say anything of the sort. Oooooh, could Rodge be misleading people or is Iris wrong?
Another Press release from Rodge.
“The Minister made it plain that, based upon the indications that he has received and the contents of a letter sent to him by the Chief Executive of RiverOak, Steve DeNardo, yesterday, he is confident in saying, with the full weight of Ministerial Office, that he is satisfied that there will be no risk to the Thanet Council taxpayers in proceeding to a Compulsory Purchase Order.”
He doesn’t apologise for his earlier statement. Instead, he has the gall to say this:
“It is a pity that the real issue was buried under a synthetic and media-generated political “row”.
Hmm, and the generator was… Lady Suzy
The DfT confirms that PwC’s initial report comprised no more than a list of the documentation received by them and a timetable of events from here. PWC will submit a draft report in mid-May to the DfT, RiverOak and TDC and following any further submissions from them will publish the final report at the end of May. Nice to see that RiverOak is getting a chance to influence the “independent” report before it is published, isn’t it? They do like to get involved.
So, here’s what we learn from this mess.
- RiverOak are driving Government spending decisions and actions.
- Gale has definitely not seen a report that says that PwC have OK’d RiverOak. Iris was right.
- Gale knew this before his Press release went out. Looks as if his desire to make political capital outweighs all the inconvenient stuff like evidence and truth.
- Even though PwC has not reported, Hayes knows that RiverOak is good for the dosh and that there’ll be no financial risk to TDC. This is particularly clever of him given that there has been no valuation of the site – nobody knows how much money RiverOak would have to pony up.
And, while this goes on, here’s some important stuff to bear in mind.
- There has been no negotiation between TDC and Cartner and Musgrave and there needs to be extensive negotiation before any CPO process can start.
- Three dozen airport jobs versus thousands of manufacturing jobs (with hundreds already in the pipeline) makes it as clear as day that no Planning Inspector will say that a CPO is in the public’s best interest.
- We don’t know about you, but we can’t wait for this election to be over so that the cold, hard reality of the situation sinks in: there will be no successful CPO of the airport site.
- The politicians are playing with the airport enthusiasts and, by doing so, are getting in the way of positive regeneration and jobs creation. Shameful stuff.