St Helena Online


Funding shortfall delays safer landing stage

Children play at the landing steps as a wave breaks`
Cruise captains fear passengers will get a soaking at the current landing steps in Jamestown

Improvements to the wharf at Jamestown are on hold – because there’s not enough money to pay for them.

Councillors were called to The Castle at short notice to be told about the threat to the project to provide cruise passengers with a safe place to come ashore.

A “preferred bidder” has been chosen for the project, but it could take months to raise extra finance to meet the price quoted by the unnamed company.

A boat moored alongside the landing steps at Jamestown wharf, viewed from above
St Helena can lose £10,000 in a day if cruise passengers are unable to come ashore at the landing steps

Without it, the island is expected to continue losing thousands of pounds a year because cruise ship captains refuse to allow passengers to land in poor sea conditions.

The potential lost revenue has been estimated at more than £300,000 a year by 2023 – on the basis that the number of ships calling will increase if a sheltered landing stage is built.

Executive councillors were called in for an unscheduled meeting on Tuesday, 3 April 2012, but the bare details of a briefing from Dr Corinda Essex were not made public until eight days later.

Governor Mark Capes said: “Dr Essex explained that although a preferred bidder had been identified, there was still a gap between the bid and the funds currently available.

Artist impression of the proposed breakwater
A breakwater would improve cargo handling

“More work was needed to identify and assess all of the possible options. That process would take several months and involve further discussion with the European Commission and others.”

The scheme involves building a breakwater extending 140 metres from the shore, with geometric “tetrapods”, similar to those at Tristan da Cunha, to deflect waves.

The breakwater and short jetty would create a sheltered landing basin, making it safer for people to step on and off small boats.

It would also make it easier to lift cargo on and off lighters – a tricky operation in a rolling sea at present. Fishermen would also be able to land fish more easily.

Sea rescue craft could also be launched with less difficulty, down a slipway inside the breakwater.

Jamestown wharf improvements: environmental impact assessment

Do the maths, says economist: tourists equal millions (comments added)

The secret formula for St Helena’s future prosperity has been worked out by the island’s economist. And here it is:

30,000 x £150 x 7 = £31.5 million

Owen James says the prospect of air travel from 2015 offers scope to improve living standards “on a scale unimaginable without an airport.”

But he adds: “Until I did some simple maths, even I didn’t realise how achievable huge improvements could be.”

In his Economy Watch report, he says the island needs “two or three hotels” to provide enough beds to be able fly in a plane load of tourists every day.

The maths isn’t hard: 30,000 tourists a year, who spend £150 per day, for 7 days each = £31.5 million.

One or two large hotels would be able to accommodate 30,000 tourists annually, while £150 per day is very low spend for a high value location and not many people are going to come to St Helena for much less than a week.

So my maths is very conservative and even so it would more than double or treble on-island spending, meaning more money flowing through local businesses and into the pockets of local people.

The island needs to start making it happen, there isn’t much time, so let’s focus on what’s important and do it.”

Mr James issued his report shortly after executive councillors approved the island’s economic blueprints for the years ahead.

The Sustainable Development Plan outlines what St Helena wants to achieve over the next ten years: better jobs, wages, opportunities and public services. It also sets out challenging targets for education and health.  

The second document, the Sustainable Economic Development Plan, sets out a strategy for kick-starting an enterprise culture on an island that has lived on UK aid for decades.

It is launched under the slogan: “Small footprint, huge step forward.”


Let’s hope the author is right. Does anyone have any reliable statistics as to the amount of employment that 500+ tourists a week can be expected to bring? 

I aasume the £150 a day includes the cost of hotel rooms. Presumably the hotels will be overseas owned, although they will generate some local employment, but it would be surprising if they did not bring in a fair number of short-term overseas staff in order to maintain international standards of service.

Most of the food and alcohol consumed by the tourists will have to be imported, some of it directly I imagine by air to provide the fresh food that modern tourists expect, and therefore with a minimum of benefit to any St Helena based business. 

I don’t doubt that some will do very well out of all this, and the island will certainly get a boost from all the initial capital investment involved in building hotels and airport, but I suspect that the major profits will go to airline and hotel companies based outside St Helena, and that like the current expatriates’ salaries, much of that £31.5 million will not be spent in St Helena.  I do expect, though, that property prices will increase, that more members of the diaspora will be encouraged to return home and buy or build a house for their retirement, and that St Helena may become an attractive retreat  from the African continent for those with executive jets.

John Tyrrell

I’m thinking that if we have a “huge step” concentrated into a “small footprint” then that means somebody will be under a lot of pressure (like the elephant in stilettos from my school physics exam).  🙂

John Turner, St Helena

Economy Watch April 2012
Sustainable Development Plan (the island’s top-level planning document)
Sustainable Economic Development Plan (the strategy for boosting the private sector)

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Pensions and benefits rise ‘to protect vulnerable’

Island pensions have risen by 4.7% from 1 April 2012, “to protect the more vulnerable members of the community,” says St Helena Government.

The three weekly rates are now set at £47.12, £35.34 and £22.50.

Income related benefits have gone up by the same percentage, to £45.34.

But some households will not see a rise in income – the overall figure will depend on the package of benefits they receive.

No household will see a drop in benefits. 

Councillors have expressed concerns about the effect of higher taxes on poorer islanders. The government statement says: “SHG and Councillors will continue to carefully monitor the impact of economic reforms on vulnerable and low income households and seek to apply appropriate protective measures.”

Further benefits increases are due in October.

Men behind The Sentinel face call to resign

Front cover of The independent says "Resign"
GOING DOWN FIGHTING: The final issue of The St Helena Independent

An open letter is calling on Stuart Moors and John Styles  to resign as heads of St Helena’s chamber of commerce, because of their role in the closure of the island’s only private-sector newspaper.

Hazel Wilmot says that if they don’t step down as president and vice-president, then all the other members should walk out in protest.

Mr Styles set up the St Helena Broadcasting (Guarantee) Corporation (SHBC), which launched the new Sentinel newspaper yesterday (29 March 2012). He has said he will cease to be a director once it is established. Chamber president Stuart Moors is also a director of the new organisation.

Ms Wilmot, owner of the Consulate Hotel in Jamestown, has told this website she was “appalled” at the way the SHBC was set up with government funding, and allowed to compete for advertising with the Independent – which announced its closure from today as a result.

In a statement to this website, Stuart Moors says: “The president and vice-president are in receipt of the open letter from Ms Wilmot, and we will be discussing the issues she raises within the Chamber Council before deciding how next to proceed.”

AGM advert
IRONIC: Chamber AGM is in critic's hotel

The annual general meeting of the chamber takes place on 12 April 2012 – ironically, in the Consulate Hotel.

Mr Styles has pointed out that the SHBC and The Sentinel are owned by a community trust representing organisations across the island – including the chamber of commerce. It’s hoped it will eventually become self-supporting as the island’s economy grows.

The open letter says the chamber leaders acted “in the knowledge that a conflict existed between the function of the chamber to nurture existing businesses, and the establishment of a private company that has precipitated the demise of another existing business.”

It also tells them they have:

  • sown division among chamber members
  • brought the St Helena Chamber of Commerce into disrepute, by, without comment or intervention, permitted legislation be formed that endangers the principal of free enterprise on St Helena, whilst in the positions you hold.

And if they do not step down from their chamber roles:

“The alternative is for me to propose that all members of the Chamber of Commerce resign their membership of the Chamber until a satisfactory reply can be provided, by yourselves, on the conduct currently alleged.”

The open letter is published in full in the final issue of the St Helena Independent.

Hazel Wilmot says she is “reassured” by a pledge from the CEO of The Sentinel that it will be robustly free of government influence. “I will reserve judgement,” she says.

St Helena Chamber of Commerce
The Consulate Hotel

Must do better: poor school report spells ‘bleak’ future (comments added)

A broken rubber swing seat hangs from a single chain, silhouetted against the sky, at Longwood on St Helena: an apt symbol for the state of education on St Helena?
GIVE US A PUSH: education on St Helena needs better resources and a change of culture, says report

The writing is on the blackboard for St Helena’s economy if islanders don’t wake up to low marks in their schools. A report finds standards are poor, teachers lack training, and without radical change, the jobs outlook is bleak.

A screen grab of the report saying "the standard of education in all sectors is poor"
POOR MARKS: government’s report is blunt

People may gaze at the sky all they like, and dream of the wealth that a new airport might bring in 2015.  But money and employment won’t simply drop from the clouds when the first aircraft begins its approach over Prosperous Bay Plain.

The island’s departing education director says building an economy means drastic change in its schools.

“Education must develop hand in hand with the local economy,” says John Sullivan. “It’s hard to see how one will develop fully without the other.” He says staff are rising to the challenge, but the whole community must help meet the “huge need” to raise standards.

And that’s the polite version. It’s put rather more bluntly in the draft version of the latest Sustainable Development Plan. It says:

“The standard of education in all sectors is poor, with students achieving well below the UK national average at all key stages.

“Students leave school with a low education base and this means that the outlook for higher education and employment opportunities is bleak.

“A large percentage of the teachers are inadequately trained, which leads to poor quality teaching.

“Parents do not support the pupils at home sufficiently: a particular issue with boys, who are generally not motivated to learn and who achieve very low levels of attainment.”

The message is that creating an enterprise culture on St Helena will need people with higher-order skills, and the ability to acquire more:  islanders must learn how to learn.

Screen grab, St Helena draft strategic development plan, showing artist's impression of the new airport runway and terminal building with mountain behind
FEELING THE DRAFT: report makes chill reading

The story is not all gloomy. Standards in some departments at Prince Andrew School have risen markedly in the past decade or so. A-level pass rates have risen.

And Saints have achieved at the highest level: in recent years, the island has produced its first medical doctor; another Saint was recently awarded a Doctor of Philosophy degree by Bristol University, and a government department is headed by another St Helenian with a doctorate. All three are women.

In Canada, Daniel Yon has become a university professor. And the island’s supply ship, the RMS St Helena, is captained by Saints who studied for years to earn their Master’s tickets.

Twitter image for teacher James Greenwood: bearded, young, smiling
CLASS ACT: island teacher James Greenwood

But they are the exceptions.

James Greenwood shows there’s a will to bring in talented school staff. As well as teaching technology and enterprise, he is a curriculum adviser for both primary and secondary schools on St Helena. He says there are “gifted teachers” among his colleagues.

Despite his physical isolation in the middle of the South Atlantic, he is an influential figure, sharing his thoughts on education with 5,000 followers around the world on the internet messaging site, Twitter.

He also writes a website, under the heading, “James Greenwood, passionate about education & technology”.

In a move that may surprise many, he is to introduce Classics and Ancient Greek at A level and GCSE from September 2012. The course fits with his views on teaching critical thinking. In a recent internet post, he wrote:

“One of the fundamental questions I find myself asking in my curriculum review is ‘how do we get the kids to think?’ – students will rarely question received wisdom. They instead accept it and want to move on to what’s next. There is a real lack of critical thinking across the curriculum.”

The draft Strategic Development Plan sets out improvement targets that would make many a UK head teacher quail – even without the obstacles faced on a remote island.

Twitter profile for @jpgreenwood, showing 4,850 followers
λάθε βιώσας: it’s not all Greek to James Greenwood

The plan seeks to double the number of children reaching the benchmark standard for maths and science at the end of primary school – within three years.

The ambition is for 60% of Year 6 children to have reached that Level 4 score by 2014; and by 2015, 70%. The same target has been set for English, where performance is not as poor.

Another target seeks a 50% increase in the number of students reaching the top A-C grades in five subjects at GCSE.

The plan calls for measures including:

  • better education management, with challenging targets for teachers
  • better use of resources
  • more professionally-trained teachers
  • changing the culture of learning on the island – including for adults

Quality, it says, will be raised across the board. “The number of teachers qualified to UK standards will be increased annually.  Retaining and attracting high-quality teachers permanently, through overseas recruitment and on-island training, is a priority.”

Strategic objective is "better quality of life" - screen grab
LEARN TO BE HAPPY: it’s not just about work

Even those in charge can expect close scrutiny: “Senior leaders within the education department will be rigorously monitored to ensure standards are improving and to enhance accountability.”

Part of the strategy is to develop “an enthused and self-assured” community of teachers.

Better skills training for adults is promised. Creating an entrepreneurial culture and encouraging new businesses is seen as vital, so there will be more apprenticeships and the adult education service will focus more on the private sector.

It’s all about equipping islanders to land the kind of jobs that St Helena Government expects the island to need if the airport spawns an enterprise economy.

“By developing skills, the local workforce will be in a better position to determine their future,” says the plan. “We want people to lead as fulfilling a life as possible. Getting the best possible start is one of the ways of reaching this.”


To be honest, I don’t think you should blame the teachers and parents solely….it’s the young people who don’t put in all the effort to study!

Robyn Sim, St Helena
RS Photography

This is very sad to hear as over the years St Helena has had very good  Saint teachers, but they have left the profession to go abroad and work as stewards, cleaners, etc because they get paid more money doing these jobs. I spent nearly two years on St Helena working as a nursery assistant but left to take up employment on the Falklands in the 80′s as a club assistant, which paid me three times more than working on the Education Department on St  Helena. Sadly 20+ years and things have not changed. It is so unfair for the St Helena people as they get paid pittance compared to the ex-pat who gets hired to do a job on St Helena, whether it is educational, medical etc, they get paid UK wages and used to receive free holidays back to the UK, free housing, and free water and electricity. It would be interesting to know if this still happens? When you think about it, Britain is still treating us who are British Citizens like slaves… after all Saints do the job just as good as them and sometimes even better but who gets the benefits? Not our Saints! Therefore can you blame us for leaving the island? We are still slaves there as far as the government is concerned… maybe that is what the British government want so they can move in there and have the good life on St Helena. As for some of our councillors, it makes you wonder who they are there for! They seem to forget they get elected by the people of St Helena and are there to fight for the PEOPLE OF ST HELENA!!!

Natasha Stroud, UK

Let’s hope St Helena teachers don’t get pushed out, or less St Helena people have the opportunity to go into teaching. It would be a shame. Let’s hope there is more teacher training to the UK standard for our Saints.

Nicola Jane Wallace, UK
via Facebook

Speaking as a parent of two school students I’d like to thank John for his contributions. He made a real positive difference during his time here.

John Turner, St Helena

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Strategic Development Plan approved – executive council report, 29 March 2012

Economic dream needs better education, says director

John Sullivan and his successor standing outside the education office St Helena has a “huge need” for better education if it is to create a viable economy, says the man who is stepping down as head of schooling on the island.

In a farewell message, John Sullivan says everyone on the island needs to get behind efforts to improve standards – not just teachers and councillors.

“Education must develop hand in hand with the local economy,” he says. “It’s hard to see how one will develop fully without the other.”

Mr Sullivan leaves the island on 4 April 2012 after three stints on the island in the space of three years – in four different jobs.

He says education has “rightly come to the fore” as the island gears up for the completion of its first airport in 2015.

“Education is, in fact, everybody’s business,” he says. “Colleagues across the directorate appreciate the huge need to improve standards within our schools.

“What has been most encouraging and uplifting is the positive way that teachers and support staff are facing this challenge.

“It will continue to need support and encouragement from the whole island. We know that we need to raise our game but this is best done in collaboration with parents and the wider community.”

St Helena’s new director of education and employment is Colin Moore, who arrived this month on a three-year contract.

He was previously assistant director of children’s services in Plymouth, UK.

In a statement, he says: “John Sullivan has worked incredibly hard to secure a firm basis upon which I hope we can build a service that meets the needs and ambitions of all of the learners on the island, young and old.”

Governor Mark Capes thanked Mr Sullivan for his “outstanding and inspiring work,” adding: “His energy and enthusiasm have lifted those around him to work with renewed vigour to raise standards in our schools.”

John Sullivan first arrived on St Helena in 2010 as an adviser from the University of Wolverhampton; he returned in early 2011 as temporary head teacher at Prince Andrew School, then worked in a UK-funded role on primary school improvements. He returned late last year as temporary director of education and employment.

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Relying on tourism poses economic risk, warn territories

Tourists welcome: but will they be enough?

Warnings have been sounded about the perils of having an economy based largely on tourism – just as St Helena is trying to do exactly that with the building of its airport.

Holidaymakers are seen as the great hope for liberating the island from dependence on overseas aid, but it puts islands “at the mercy” of the global economy, according to warnings from other UK overseas territories.

The St Helena Tourism acknowledges the problem itself – reporting that visitor numbers have increased by 3% despite a downturn in the global tourism economy.

The concerns – in response to a UK government consulation – have just been made public in an independent report.

Warnings about seeking other sources of income came from the governments of the British Virgin Islands, the Falklands, the Cayman Islands and Anguilla, in the consultation on the future of Britain’s island outposts.

One Anguillan writer said: “Economy is too dependent on the tourism sector, and as a consequence is at the mercy of the global economy.”

The premier of the British Virgin Islands said falling income from tourism was having effects “across all sectors of society.”

A private comment to this website noted that St Helena was heading towards the same hazard: “We are trying to create a tourist-dependent economy.”

Lemon Valley tunnel
St Helena's tourism plans: tunnel vision?

The same correspondent also picked up on a call from St Helena Tourism Association to protect the island’s main tourism asset – its heritage. “The Tourist Dept talk of the need to protect extraordinary historical sites of global significance, whilst destroying ten metres of Eighteenth Century pavement” – a reference to cobbles being broken up in Jamestown (see story, below).

Vince Thompson, chairman of the tourism association – an independent body – says the island’s economic development plan “quite rightly” concentrates on tourism.

But he also says it “does not give enough attention to the development of other economic activities.” He says he is continuing discussions on the point.

St Helena Government reports say improvements to the island’s health and education services depend on developing private enterprise, to capitalise on the opening of the airport in 2015.

Visitor numbers on St Helena rose by 3% in 2011. The number of people arriving by yacht rose by 11% – on top of a 15% increase the previous year. Cruise ship visits – not included in the overall figures – have also increased.

St Helena Tourism said: “This is especially encouraging when one considers that international tourism has suffered over the past couple of years on the back of the global recession.”