Andrew Mitchell, Secretary of State for International Development, spent 80 minutes in Swindolena on 20 May, 2012, meeting Saints and island watchers and sharing his views on the island’s future. He said he personally reads monthly briefings to make sure the airport project stays on track, and that those briefings will become fortnightly. This is a rough transcript of what was said.
Robert Buckland, Swindon South MP: “I know so many have waited for years for the reality to bite and are still pinching yourself and asking if it is going to happen.
Andrew has been a tireless campaigner for change and for the airport and he has been the architect of getting it to happen.
“I know that Swindon is sometimes known as swindolena and i’m delighted to be in Swindolena.” He said he came during the election to take soundings on St Helena.
“I have always had a tremendous interest in St Helena. I can remember as a schoolboy reading about the role it played in the Napoleonic Wars but I come here to assure you this is a chance to turn a page in the history of St Helena and empower the people of St Helena to be the masters of their future.
“Had I been able to find two weeks to come to St Helena I would only have been able to come for a day.
“Having an airport offers unparalleled opportunity.
“When we were in opposition I sent my number two to St Helena and he came back with stories not least the number of people who took him to the pub one night. He was locked out of Plantation House and had to sleep on a bench in the rain.
“One of the first decisions I took as Sec of State was that we would see… there was a case… the example of the journey we are embarked upon in St Helena informs our relationship with the other overseas territories.
“It is an exciting time not only for St Helena but the Saints overseas as well.
“I think it’s a truly historic moment.
“The airport and St Helena are on the move and the four years to commencement of commercial flights will pass extremely quickly. Most importantly I think it offers opportunity for much needed ec onomic growth. The St Helena Government has shown its commitment to making the most of these opportunities.
“There provide St Helena with the best opportunity in generations.
“This is only a start. Various opportunities need to be taken. The British Government will play its part through the airport, but there is a responsibility on the Saints to deliver in the return.
“It’s obviously critical that we get these years before the airport opens right and invest in the future. We have been careful not to reduce the level of assistance in the first year after the airport contract was signed. St Helena will be able to keep in the increased revenues from construction to promote accelerated development across the island.
“This year DfID will also fund the creation of more passenger berths.
“There are a number of steps being taken by SHG. Enterprise St Helena has been established. www.enterprisesthelena.com is the website. This is to provide assistance to those interested in investing.
“It has also set up a website to keep diaspora informed. All Saints are encouraged to consider what they can do to give the island a better future.
“So, in summary, there is a bargain here that is in progress and the bargain is that we are the British government will strongly support St Helena because you are British and we want to invest in your future and we want to give you the tools to build an independent future where you are masters of your own destiny, but part of the British overseas family.
“This is a moment of huge optimism. It will enable the huge diaspora of Saints around the world to be better connected.
“When the white paper is published do have a look
“I will be visiting the island the moment I can do so from some sort of aeroplane and I receive every month a detailed report on what is going on so the government at Cabinet level can keep an eye on this project and make sure it doesn’t go off course.
“At the moment we have managed to purchase forward some of the money for this.”
Mr Mitchell finished speaking at 1425 to a crowded room.