Falklands : The Hon Mr Gavin Short, MLA Portfolio Report and Debate:
Submitted by Falkland Islands News Network (Juanita Brock) 07.02.2014 (Article Archived on 07.03.2014)
Mr Speaker, Honourable members, as is normal, PWD comes in mind.
The Hon Mr Gavin Short, MLA Portfolio Report and Debate:
GS: Mr Speaker, Honourable members, as is normal, PWD comes in mind. We don’t actually take this as a slight for a department that doesn’t like attracting attention for themselves but there is because normally if there is attention being directed towards us it means something is going wrong.
This is my first ever formal report on the Public Works Department in this House. When the portfolios were handed out, I happily took to PWD. It may not be seen as sexy by some but it is. We are a large department involved in all facets of life here in the Falklands in one way or another. Indeed, if you are born here, live your life here and of course, end your days here you probably will have contact with us without even realising it just about every day of your life.
In the time given I cannot hope to cover everything but perhaps to give department reports as time goes by. This time, though I want to keep it general and give some snippets about what’s been happening there.
As a department we are feeling the effects of the (short-fall) taking place in the labour markets here. We only had enough people to do what we were tasked with when we had a full complement of staff. As of today we are about 20 people short across the directorate. Just about every department is affected in one way or another – some severely – some less so. But it is most certainly shaping what we can and can’t do.
The Camp Road Gangs are badly affected and this means that the re-alignment work on the West Falklands will have to be deferred when everyone but two people pulled back on to the East to do works on the Port Luis Section.
The Water Section is also suffering badly from the labour shortages which is putting pressure on those who remain.. Should we have a major mains failure we do have a ‘Plan B’ and will be able to rectify any faults. Tenders are being sorted through as we speak for the preparation for the impound for the new water source. We had intended to lay the pipelines from that impound ourselves but due to the lack of manpower, this is now having to be contracted out. So we are very much in the hands of being able to find somebody who can do that.
Likewise the new mains to Gordon Lines is also affected and somewhat delayed but giving the slippage in having rigs etc. here, we should still have it in place before the next exploration round kicks off.
As things stand, we still have enough people to do asphalting this season. Works have, I believe, already started on laying curbs and the like on the piece of road up towards Mink Park. And it will be blacktopped shortly after those works are finished.
Other works to be done by the Black-top Gang will include a small section of car-park by the fire station and further works up on the Sapper Hill Housing development.
The Power and Electrical Section soldiers on. Again, they are short staffed. Pressures on them are mounting as the low voltage system in Stanley ages and houses need connecting to the mains grid. The Power System itself is pushing ever further away from the centre of Stanley. I believe Colleagues are now persuaded of the need for a new Power Station to be designed, built and commissioned, so I look forward to seeing that in the Capital Budget or to continue to submit it to the Capital Budget this year.
We have a team from Amacon here in connection with the MPA wind farm. Foundations are all but finished, cabling is in and we hope that the towers and generators themselves will be here soon if all goes well. They are world-leaders in the production and utilisation of wind power. And I am happy to report that Glenn Ross is at present out of the Islands on Ascension attending a forum on wind-power that involves the Atlantic Islands. And there are plans in the future, I believe, to visit another country to disseminate his expertise. We should be truly thankful that we have such talented people here in the Falklands.
I am happy to report to this House that the new Primary Crusher is at mare Harbour. And we will now finalise arrangements and timings for an engineer to come down and commission it. This will obviously strengthen our position in terms of both potential output but also in providing a back-up in the event of the existing Primary Crusher suffering major failure. Not that we are planning one, although certainly, given the amount of work and the hammering it got the year before last I was expecting it to give in at any stage. Thanks to the dedication of the people out at the quarry the thing is ticking along nicely. Again, it was one area where we were one machine deep. If that failed things would have got rather serious.
The new Mobile Home Park is a work in progress, with a certain number of cabins on site and occupied. The idea is that this site will be made up of owner-occupier cabins, owner rented units and of course the Falkland Islands Government and FIMCO units. There have already been people expressing an interest in placing cabins down there and we hope to have adverts out on the radio and in Penguin News regarding how to apply for plots. Etc. and this should be happening in February.
For what are obvious reasons, I do not sit on the Housing Committee. I do very much keep an eye on who is in need and it is fair to say that we do have a crisis both in housing incoming contract officers and especially local people at the moment.
The new housing development up on Sapper Hill should see first houses coming online in April and the completion date for all being around July/August time. This should cater for immediate needs but we are very much aware that there will be a requirement for more housing to give us some slack. And to this end we will be bringing a paper with a proposal for possibly 30 additional houses to Honourable Members as soon as we can. And I would ask Honourable Members to look favourably upon these proposals. Otherwise we can almost certainly say that we are going to see another crisis and shortages again especially for our own people.
I would certainly like to pay tribute to the Housing Officer. It’s never the nicest of jobs but at the moment it must be truly hideous.
On Stanley Roads, work will start on the resurfacing the section of Ross Road from the West Store Junction to Villiers Street. And I believe that is due to start in April or May if all goes well.
Finally, as I said it is a pity and a brief report – I will return therefore to our denuded labour force before sitting down. We have to make sure somehow that we either back-fill posts that are vacant or find other ways of making sure that works get done.
Yesterday afternoon MLA Rendell and myself met with the Chief Executive, Director of Public works and Director of HR to start a process to examine ways of getting labour into the Falklands to back-fill posts so that I hope, come next summer, we can make meaningful progress again especially on the Camp Tracks.
Mr Speaker, Thank you.
JC: Mr Speaker, Honourable members, (I have) just a brief question. You mentioned more than once the number of vacancies in this department. Unless I have missed something I don’t see a list of 20 PWD vacancies in Penguin News and I wonder if perhaps they should be there, and in others, every week until they are filled. It’s a bit dangerous to make the assumption that because you think they are in there – electricians, plumbers or whatever the unfilled post is on the Islands, you never know who came on the last plane as a spouse or partner of a contract officer or for some other reason; I just wonder as a part of other problems I am aware of in terms of retention and recruiting staff whether the department isn’t being proactive enough.
GS: Mr Speaker, Honourable Members, I thank the Honourable Jan Cheek for that suggestion. It is one I will happily take back and ask that of the staff.
IH: Thank you Mr Speaker I was very pleased to hear the Honourable Gavin Short’s closing remarks about the meeting yesterday and the possibility of back-filling posts or back filling jobs that need to be done because, as of course we are well aware of what happened on the West Roads, just recently where not only there weren’t enough people to work but also not enough resource – and that’s labour – to continue with the programme. Therefore I believe the programme has slipped for a full year. So I was very pleased to hear that final remark.
GS: Mr Speaker, let me come back on that. I thank the Honourable Ian Hansen for those remarks. I find it embarrassing that we cannot complete those works on the West because that is – I have yet to set foot on the West – I shall be there in March for my royal tour of the West Roads. I am at a disadvantage. I have not seen the section of road that has been spoken about. From what everyone tells me it is an appalling and dangerous piece of road and it is going to be an accident and it is tragic and embarrassing that we did not get it done this year.
Also, I think there is some doubt as to whether we can finish the work on the Port Luis section as well because of timing and lack of people. We really have to get our act together and make sure we have enough people for that to proceed.
RE: Mr Speaker, Honourable members, I was going to raise the Camp Tracks in my Motion for Adjournment but as it is being discussed, I will raise it now. I was very saddened to hear of the removal of the West Falkland Road Gang and the stopping of improvements on Wall Stream this summer. It is a very dangerous track. And tracks in general are not getting the attention that is needed to improve them. We are barely holding our own if indeed we are and it’s a sad note that we have not had a Transport Advisory Committee meeting since Last August. And I would urge that that committee meets early and gets some long-term plans and forwards the funds necessary to the Budget Select Committee so it can be taken properly into account. I think we are failing Camp in this respect. Whatever we can do – and I would urge PWD, Transport Advisory Committee to hold an early TAC and get those funds rounded up.
The other thing that I was appalled about having to do with the Road gang is that it first had to come from the cook to the road gang on West Falkland and when I queried the portfolio holder as to if this was true or not, PWD was unable to give an answer for several days and that I find quite staggering. So perhaps the portfolio holder could actually advise us if a TAC will be held, the long-term plan will be done, appropriate funding will be put forward and perhaps the reason as to why PWD did not know – or the head of PWD did not know – that the road gang there had been withdrawn.
GS: Yes, I find it slightly embarrassing that I was not in the picture as to the change in tack on the roads. TAC – I am happy to not that we are holding a meeting ASAP because there are a lot of new people on that committee. There are also a lot of things I would like to see on that committee, most of all I would like to question – the first thing – the fundamental question is TAC doing what it is set up to do? I have some doubts about that. I think there has to be an integrated approach to transport in the Falklands – not just roads – not just ferry as well as FIGAS, of course. They are all interconnected. I do want a meeting of that committee as soon as possible and, as I say I want to ask the question about whether we are doing what we are set up to do.
BE: Mr Speaker, Honourable members. My Honourable Colleague raises a very interesting point. I think we know there is a shortage of labour in the Islands and that Government is losing people the private sector because they are paying a little bit more money. You can’t blame people for that. The fundamental problem is that we are not able to complete the capital work that we want to do because of the shortage of labour. FIMCO’s solution is to import a group of people from another country to work for the season and then they go home. Does my Honourable Colleague think that recruiting a road gang, say from South America just for the summer season would be a suitable way forward?
GS: I thank the Honourable Barry Elsby for that. Did you have a listening device stationed in the Chief Executive’s office?
BE: I do.
GS: I am of the opinion it can be done very easily and indeed should be done.