(Updated below) A meeting of Argyll and Bute Council’s Executive Committee on 16th December had the following item on its agenda:
‘E1 15. ARGYLL AIR SERVICES
‘Report by Executive Director – Development and Infrastructure Services (to follow)
‘The Committee will be asked to pass a resolution in terms of Section 50(A)(4) of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 to exclude the public for items of business with an “E” on the grounds that it is likely to involve the disclosure of exempt information as defined in the appropriate paragraph of Part 1 of Schedule 7a to the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973.
‘The appropriate paragraphs are:-
‘E1 Paragraph 1 Information relating to a particular employee, former employee or applicant to become an employee of, or a particular office-holder, former office-holder or applicant to become an office-holder under the authority.
-Paragraph 6 Information relating to the financial or business affairs of any particular person (other than the authority).’
This will not be unconnected to the fact that Oban Airport is to close, with all 13 staff employed there now on 90 days notice.
The Council is understood to be seeking a third party to take it over.
Update 31st December 2010:
The challenge everyone concerned with Oban Airport faces just now from the council to the staff, is finding a way to keep it open that removes the current drain on the council’s straightened budget and saves as many jobs as possible.
The council did bring this situation upon itself by refusing to take informed advice on the development of the facility – but the key matter now is to find new management.
By refusing to listen to expert advice in the first instance, the council pressed ahead with what was effectively a vanity project with an airport classified at a level which legally required specific support and staffing.
This was never going to be able to return on investment but critically, with the services and staffing required by its classification, it was never going to cover its running costs – and it has not done so.
This loss making position was aggravated by the failure to market and promote the airport.
Had the council actively participated in this with the various airlines operating the Argyll Air Services to the islands of Colonsay, Coll and Tiree, the operation could have built a strong tourist season market. This would have been a USP (unique selling point) for Argyll as well a for the airport.
The Coucil never fully grasped the nature of its new acquisition, nor did it integrate it into its overall infrastructural planning – even conceptually. A couple of years ago it announced the commissioning of a report into creating an integrated transport hub for Oban.
This focused on roads, rail and ferries. It did not even mention Oban Airport.
For Argyll got on to the Transport Department at once, saying: ‘Hello. You have an airport. How does that figure in an integrated transport hub?’
Red faces all around, a lot of umming and errring, an admission that it was too late to include it in the study but that they might commission an extension to the study to cover it.
How can you forget you own an airport – and an expensive one? Finding ways to promote and integrate this costly facility and to get it earning as much as possible should have been a transport priority.
Argyll’s problem, as always – and aggravated by unenterprising management with no strategy for economic development – is that it is not tuned up to create change or to respond constructively and opportunistically to change.
Transport was traditionally about ferries, rail and roads and that’s all they could envisage. An Airport? ‘Oh golly. So we have. But it’s out of town’. So? What’s a transport hub?
It was generally accepted by industry insiders that the current operator, Hebridean Airways, should have had the service contract from the outset. Certainly, following the collapse of Highland Airways and the arrival of Hebridean, we saw real efforts made to develop and extend the service, with some runs to Islay.
Whatever the successful formula, this facility is vitally important for Oban and for Argyll. At the moment, unless new management can be found, its future is under threat.
Either way, it is naive to imagine that jobs will not be lost.