St Helena Online

Tag: Julian Morris

Cape fights to keep £20 million trade with St Helena

The RMS St Helena is said to bring £20 million worth of business into Cape Town every year – and the city is fighting to keep it, according to MoneyWeb, a South African financial website.

It says the figure comes from the island’s departing economy chief, Julian Morris.

It says the ship has “significant economic value” to the city.

“That includes island supplies, mostly purchased in Cape Town. Islanders also come for advanced medical treatment.

“The total value of the St. Helena to the Cape Town economy might be much more.”

But the site hints that much of that income could be lost when the ship is decommissioned in 2016, with aircraft taking over its passenger service.

The site says the Western Cape’s marketing agency is fighting to keep “all or a large portion” of St Helena’s business.

That has included introducing investors to Governor Mark Capes and his team during their November 2013 visit.

The site sounds an optimistic note:

“The supply chain and services to the fledgling economy need to be established and opportunities abound,” it says.

Economy chief responds to concern over Solomon’s role

Disquiet has been expressed over the fact that St Helena’s economic supremo has a place on the board of the island’s biggest company.

Julian Morris is head of the Enterprise St Helena development agency, which has the job of building a private enterprise culture on the island. He also represents St Helena Government on the board of Solomon and Company, even though he was understood to operate at arm’s length from The Castle.

Emails passed to St Helena Online complain of a conflict of interest, because Solomon’s is in competition with smaller island businesses that Julian Morris is supposed to be encouraging.

Now Mr Morris has acknowledged the potential difficulty. But he said the government wanted to develop the whole economy, and having a seat on the board of such a dominant company would help in that aim.

The government’s majority shareholding in Solomon’s, and the company’s dominance of the private sector, have long been seen as a block on the growth of a free market economy on the island. It had to take over the company in the 1960s when it was in danger of collapse, in order to maintain services on the island.

Saint FM radio station said: “Members of the local business community suggest that the chief executive post should be neutral to any particular private sector enterprise, and as a board member of Solomon’s, Mr Morris’s responsibilities are to protect the interests of Solomon’s shareholders.

“By implication this could be detrimental to the competitors of Solomon and Company.

“It has been said that Julian Morris’s appointment to the board of Solomon’s is a clear conflict of interest. It is likely we will see a heated debate about this topic shortly.”

There was some pressure within the island’s business community to raise a formal protest over Mr Morris’s dual role. But the chamber of commerce is understood not to have called for him to step down from the Solomon’s board.

It was acknowledged that there were few people on the island qualified to serve on the board of a large company.

Mr Morris said: “At the basic level there is potential conflict with any government, anywhere, owning a controlling part of a private sector enterprise.

“The Solomon’s situation has existed for many years; I believe not instigated by SHG, but borne out of a necessity to make sure the island was provided with important services.

“It is understandable, and would be expected, for any majority shareholder to have representation on a company board. When the previous SHG Finance Director came off the board, I was asked to be the replacement SHG representative because it was felt that my private sector experience would be very relevant.

“Also, SHG is interested in the whole Saint economy and I am responsible for economic development on the island. Being on the board means that SHG’s interests in developing the wider economy are represented at a board level, which is helpful, when Solomon’s are such a large part of the economy.

“As SHG’s current representative, I am ever mindful of these potential conflicts.

“Whoever represents SHG interests on Solomon’s there is always potential for conflict, whether it be with Solomon’s, or the wider private sector.

“Obviously, in an ideal situation, there would be completely clear separation of duties. However, on St Helena, in common with other small communities and organisations, ideal divisions are often not possible because of the underlying structures and the limited number of people available.

“This type of conflict is not restricted to Solomon’s: in a small community and market, many activities will conflict with other organisations and business.”

On 1 March 2012, SHG announced that it was discussing plans to sell off shares and cease to be the majority shareholder in the 220-year-old company.

This was seen by some as a means of helping to open up the island economy to competitors, include Saint-owned start-ups.

Serving the interests of St Helena Government (SHG) – whose policy is to encourage the growth of independent businesses – might mean ensuring that the company does not increase its dominance of the island economy.

Mr Morris said: “The issue of whether SHG should continue to hold a majority share or shares in Solomon’s is not a new question. As the economy develops, the option of adjusting SHG’s position will be kept under review.”

St Helena Government may sell off Solomon’s shares

Enterprise St Helena
Solomon and Company

Tourism leaders welcome more sailings, but not the selling

A new strategy for operating the RMS St Helena has been given a mixed response by tourism leaders on the island.

A proposed new sailing schedule was welcomed at a meeting with Enterprise St Helena officials, but there was strong criticism of “counter-productive” marketing.

Julian Morris, head of economic development, said he had intervened since joining the board of St Helena Line in early 2012, and that the results of his work were starting to show through.

He told St Helena Online the new schedule meant more sailings to St Helena and increased potential bed nights on the island.

A report by tourism association chairman Vince Thompson bears out complaints by the owners of the island’s two hotels on marketing failings over the past two years.

They said marketing by Andrew Weir Shipping for the RMS St Helena was, in some cases, at odds with the objectives of the island’s own fledgling tourism service sector. The ship should be bringing them more guests, but instead, tourists were being encouraged to spend more time on the ship than staying in accommodation on the island.

Vince said: “At present, public money is being spent to market berths and beds in entirely seperate and often counter productive ways.

“It was pointed out the new RMS brochure heavily promotes a flight from UK to Ascension including a short stay there, ship to St Helena for a two-night stay and then back on the RMS to Cape Town.

“Heavily promoting a two-night stay at St Helena does nothing for accommodation providers. Passengers taking this particular cruise will, in almost every case, stay on board the RMS and just take a ferry to the island for a tour or a stroll along Main Street.”

In fact, said Vince, the new schedule would give only a one-night stop in James Bay because of speeding-up of cargo operations.

Hazel Wilmot has told St Helena Online she would close tourist accommodation at the Consulate Hotel in Jamestown after Christmas because of a massive drop in overnight stays, and Stephen Biggs of Farm Lodge has threatened to do the same.

The July 30 meeting took place after Stephen issued a call to action in the St Helena Independent.

Vince said: “The schedule was looked at from the point of view of maximising the inevitably limited opportunities for giving access to St Helena for tourists who wish to stay for a week, primarily in hotel accommodation but also in self-catering.

“It was generally agreed the schedule is an improvement compared with previous years.

“As the two UK voyages are no longer in the schedule and loading time at Cape Town and St Helena has been reduced, there are extra calls and therefore more opportunities for visitiors to St Helena to set sail in the RMS.

“This is the case despite the short stays at St Helena when the shuttle to Ascension is excluded from the schedule and the diversion to Tristan da Cunha is included.

“There has been and still is a disconnect between marketing the RMS and marketing St Helena as a place to stay for the maximum amount of time offered by the schedule.

“The standard pattern voyage, Cape Town – St Helena – Ascension – St Helena – Cape Town, is the voyage which offers visitors eight nights in St Helena. Packages based on that pattern should be heavily promoted by the RMS and St Helena Tourism in a coherent and synergistic way.

“At present, public money is being spent to market berths and beds in entirely seperate and often counter-productive ways

“Julian said he has started get things moving in the desired direction, but cautioned there was more work to do.”

Ascension voyages saved in new RMS schedule
Consulate beds ‘to close until 2015′ as tourist numbers sink

Ascension voyages saved in new RMS schedule

A feared cut to the number of RMS St Helena voyages to Ascension island appears to have been averted.

Julian Morris, head of economic development, revealed details of the ship’s proposed schedule at a meeting with the St Helena tourism association. He said: “The number of Ascension calls unchanged.”

The concern arose because of a drop in the number of seats for St Helena passengers on RAF flights in and out of Ascension.

That meant fewer passengers on the 700-mile voyage between the two islands, and less income from fares – meaning it might not be viable to keep the same number of shuttle runs.

Reducing the frequency of Ascension sailings would have made it harded for Saints on Ascension and the Falklands to get home – for instance, if a relative on St Helena fell ill.

The abrupt reduction in seat allocation in late 2011 – from 26 seats to 10 – was also partly blamed for a big drop in tourist numbers on St Helena.

Pressure has been applied from Jamestown to try to have the allocation restored.

In the meantime, a new schedule has been drawn up for the RMS, with sailings planned until early 2015 to allow tourists and others to plan further ahead than usual.

Julian Morris told the tourism association that the schedule would have been published six months earlier had the airbridge not been cut.

At the time, he said: “We don’t want to cut calls to Ascension, but if we can’t get the airbridge seats up, then we’re going to have to cut those calls.”

Consulate beds ‘to close until 2015′ as tourist numbers sink
Ascension sailings in doubt as St Helena fights for flights

RMS St Helena

Adapt or fail, says economy boss who finds business ‘too hard’

The man in charge of transforming St Helena’s economy has praised people in business on the island – because couldn’t do it himself. It’s too tough.

Julian Morris said running a tourism business was the hardest of all. But the chief executive for economic development also said it was about to get tougher still for anyone who failed to improve.

The buidling of an airport would bring greater competition – including from outside – and businesses that did not change would be in trouble.

He told members of the island’s Tourism Association: “Anyone who’s in business, full-stop, on St Helena, I respect. I’m not tough enough to do it: it’s too hard.

“There are easier ways of making money than opening a business on St Helena, and opening a tourism business on St Helena, where you’ve only got customers one week in three, has got to be the toughest of all things to be doing.

“If you’re in tourism you’re one of the pioneers. You’re resilient people who have put in the hard yards, and now you need to make sure you’re the people who are going to harvest what is coming.”

He said the first priority for the island’s new development agency, Enterprise St Helena, was to support Saint businesses – and the second was to help finance them.

But he warned: “If you’re not improving your game, you’re in trouble. The people whose business are falling into the ‘I’m struggling’ category are probably going to struggle more.

“People think, well, things are going to be better, wages are going to go up, prices are going to go up, but if you’re not planning, your business is in trouble. If you’re changing your plans, you’re going to do fine.

“I will seek to help you, and people in the hospitality sector can help themselves.”

That meant accepting the need for a sharper approach, he said. “There are people who are just not really interested in changing their approach to business and there are people who are. Everything on the island has to change.

“It is going to change whether people like it or not. It’s coming down the railway tracks.

“Somebody said to me once, not very long ago, ‘Julian, you’re the guy who’s going to solve my problems,’ and I said, ‘No, you’re completely deluded. The person who’s going to solve your problems is you. It’s your business, it’s your decisions’.”

Put up prices and pay staff more, says economy chief

Poor hygeine and a grumpy waitress: why tourism must improve

The food was good and the service was excellent, for at least one person who responded to a survey of eating out on St Helena. But others felt they did not get their just desserts.

The insight was presented by Julian Morris, the guest speaker at the annual meeting of the island’s Tourism Association.

“When I was asked to come here, I said to all sorts of people, ‘Could you give me feedback on what’s happening in the hospitality sector?’

“The feedback included, ‘excellent service on a very busy occasion, had a good meal, very well done’, which was good.

“But also comments included ‘hygiene very poor’, ‘wrong order’, ‘an aggressive waitress’, ‘I waited for an hour for my food’, ‘no fresh tuna available on the island’, ‘no dessert offered or available’…

“All of that is money running through people’s hands.”

The failings were not down to the Tourism Department, said Julian, who is head of economic development on the island. “That’s only down to one thing, which is businesses themselves. Service is everything. We all have to improve.”

And businesses weren’t taking the initiative to win customers, he said. “The island is operated on word of mouth. There is never enough promotion being done: special offers, promotions, when things are open, why should people go there. It doesn’t happen.”

Julian told his audience that Enterprise St Helena had begun helping people gear up to the higher standards that must be met if the island was to attract discerning tourists.

The change of culture is beginning in Prince Andrew School. “For the first time, we’ve got a Tourism and Travel iGCSE. We’ve got five people on that course this year.

“We’ve got, for the first time, a Business Studis iGCSE at the school. So this is hard-wiring into the curriculum the coming opportunities that St Helenians will have.”

Hospitality training was also being planned for established businesses, and tourist attractions were being enhanced.

“In terms of the Yacht Club, that’s being improved; walks are being improved, and there’s a programme of promotion on-island and off-island; signage across the place; we’re looking to improve car parking.

“People talk about changing mindsets, and normally what that means is somebody wants somebody else to change their mindset while they retain their own mindset. And that is not good enough.”

St Helena Tourism

Looking from the bridge of the RMS towards the crane and bows, with Ascension in the distance

Ascension sailings in doubt as St Helena fights for flights

The RMS St Helena approaches Ascension: anyone spot a seat on the plane?
The RMS St Helena approaches Ascension: anyone spot a seat on the plane?

A big drop in tourist numbers on St Helena has been blamed partly on last year’s sudden cut in spaces on RAF flights.

Efforts are being made to restore the island’s allocation of seats on the “airbridge” between Ascension and RAF Brize Norton in the UK.

In the meantime, there’s uncertainty over the future frequency of Ascension shuttle trips by the RMS St Helena.

Walking out to the RAF plane at night
Young passengers on the tarmac at Wideawake airfield

Julian Morris, head of economic development on St Helena, admitted to the island’s Tourism Association that visitor numbers had dropped significantly.

“They’re down very substantially from April this year,” he said. “Last year was good, but this year they’re down.

“There are many reasons why visitor numbers are down: the Rand weakening by about 20%; the cut in airbridge seats from 26 to ten has had a very marked effect; the [RMS] schedule not being published further in advance.

“Six months ago we wanted to publish it, and then the airbridge was cut,” he said. “We’ve been trying to get the airbridge seats back up, but not wanting to extend the schedule.”

With so few passengers able to travel to or from the island via Ascension, it has become less viable to maintain the frequency of the 700-mile shipping run between Jamestown and Georgetown.

Child in seat on RAF airbridge flight
St Helena gets fewer seats on the airbridge

“So there’s a real dilemma that we’ve been wrestling with,” said Julian – who has now joined the board of St Helena Line, which manages the schedule. “We don’t want to cut calls to Ascension, but if we can’t get the airbridge seats up, then we’re going to have to cut those calls.”

He said not all the problems lay outside the island’s control. “I think in terms of sales and marketing, it’s been done not as well as it should be by a long chalk, and we need to put our hands up and say, sales and marketing has been not up to snuff.

“I became a member of the board in March and I formed a group to look at this.

“We’re doing a number of things. People have seen reductions in fares – very tough to do short term – increased advertising, looking to put together tours, much increased PR.”

Looking from the bridge of the RMS towards the crane and bows, with Ascension in the distance
The RMS may make fewer Ascension trips

Julian said a lot of work was being done on the 2012 yacht race from The Cape to St Helena – now set to be the biggest yet.

“We’ve put a lot more effort into the Governor’s Cup, which we see as a great event. Enterprise St Helena is doing a lot more with that.

“We’re supporting the yacht club a lot more, we’re doing a lot more marketing, we’re doing some specialist press, we’re making the activities of the week a lot better.

“It’s going to bring 300 people to the island. They are probably, at this moment in time, our highest priority and best customer group.

“We need to ramp up numbers. I’m embarrassed sitting here with the way the numbers have gone. We need to turn that around.”

Record fleet enlists for island yacht race
It’s Christmas at sea for Governor’s Cup yachties
St Helena waives the rules to welcome yachties ashore

Governor’s Cup Yacht Race 2012
RMS St Helena

Minimum wage moves to start ‘without delay’

A law to introduce a minimum wage on St Helena is to be brought into force as soon as possible.

Protection against being unfairly sacked is also set to be brought in under the 2010 Employment Rights Ordinance.

It comes less than a month after the man in charge of economic development said wages on St Helena were too low.

Julian Morris told Saint FM: “Wages on the island need to increase because, in my view, the standard of living is not high enough.”

First, a committee must be set up to advise on what the lowest legal wage should be on the island.

It will include representatives of private sector employers – who may face a rise in their wage bill – as well as someone to speak for employees.

Governor Mark Capes announced the move in his report of the latest executive council meeting, on 10 July 2012.

He said: “It was recognised that this would be a complex and challenging piece of work.”

The challenge includes working out the impact a minimum wage would have on private sector employers, as well as on St Helena Government and agencies such as Enterprise St Helena.

It also needs to be balanced against benefits and the basic island pension, said Mr Capes.

The first step is to enact four sections of the 2010 law, which set out the terms for forming the employment rights committee.

The ordinance says the committee should have five members, to be appointed by the governor.

They must include a legislative councillor, an employer, and a government official who is responsible for economic or social development.

The law also says the committee must include “a member of an organisation representative of employees” – although there are no trade unions on the island.

The fifth committee member will be “one other person who the Governor deems suitable to serve on the Committee.”

Once a minimum wage is set, it will be the committee’s legal duty to review it every 12 months.

It also has the power to decide whether any jobs should be excluded from the wage protection.

The ordinance says it must consult with employers and workers every year, and take account of the effect of a minimum wage on the island’s economy and its competitiveness.

Mr Capes said: “The intention would be to introduce other elements of the Employment Rights Ordinance, such as the right to have a written statement of terms of employment and the right not to be unfairly dismissed, to coincide with the introduction of a minimum wage.

“Council agreed that steps should be taken to establish the committee without delay.”

Put up prices and pay staff more, says economy chief

Employment Rights Ordinance
Enterprise St Helena

Put up prices and pay staff more, says economy chief

Saint businesses need to put their prices up so they can pay higher wages, according to the man driving St Helena’s economic transformation.

Julian Morris told Saint FM: “Wages on the island need to increase because, in my view, the standard of living is not high enough.

“That, in turn, is going to drive a general increase in the charges for many things.”

Prices and wages needed to rise faster than the costs that businesses were paying out, said the government’s chief executive for economic development.

“One of the surprising things is when I ask people, ‘When did you last increase your prices?’ Often it’s, ‘A long time ago’.

He also said Saints must put aside jealousy and work together to meet the challenge of business competition from overseas.

“People tend to be quite jealous in their outlook,” said Julian. “The island is opening up to external competition. We need to get people to work collaboratively – instead of knocking what people are trying to do, actually support one another.”

St Helena Government had to sharpen up too, he said. “Cutting red tape is continually talked about by people in the private sector. We’ve got to see how we can make decision-making faster.

“Availability of land is another area: to put up warehousing, build homes for Saints or build tourism sites. The island’s got plenty of land: what we need to do is find a way of enabling people to get access to it.”

He admitted that people on the island – including in The Castle – had not been ready for the pace of change in recent months.

He said: “We have the resources. The thing we’re most short on is time.

“From when the airport contract was signed, frankly, we were behind the game. We weren’t organised, so we, as the whole island is, are scrambling to get organised. But you know, I think we’re making up. We’re making a lot of progress.

“We’ve got an outstanding team of people who want to do the right thing for St Helena and who want to see Saints and Saint businesses take advantage of these opportunities, so it’s really exciting.”


I wonder why it is that having read this I am starting to get a little nervous about the future for the people of St Helena?

I fear that prices will increase enough when the island no longer has freight coming in on the RMS St Helena at low rates subsidised by the British Government.

– John Tyrrell, UK
Reflections On A Journey To St Helena (blog)

Enterprise St Helena

Efforts continue on St Helena broadband

Workmen on a beach with a cable snaking out to a cable-laying ship, with large red buoys attached
Next stop, St Helena? A cable-laying ship at work (Creative Commons library image by Sergio77

The campaign to divert an underwater internet cable via St Helena continues to attract publicity around the world. The latest report is on the Computer Active website, which compares the island with an English village.

It quotes Julian Morris, chief executive for economic development on St Helena, who says: “There would need to be support from the British Government. You wouldn’t lay a submarine cable to a village in the UK and we have to be mindful of what’s realistic.

“It is something I’m working hard to make happen.”

St Helena Online understands that the idea is being pursued by officials at the Department for International Development in London, because of the economic importance to bringing high-speed internet to the island.


If this happens we may get faster Internet, but will we get cheaper Internet?  We currently pay £120 a month(+10% tax) for a package that in a developed country would cost perhaps £10.  Until that price comes down it won’t matter how wide the pipe, many people still won’t be able to afford to connect.

John Turner, St Helena
Burgh House business support

(Editor’s note: St Helena Online understands that although internet access would be much faster, it would still be expensive by world standards)

‘Mum’s asked me to stop sending photos’ – your views on broadband
Internet cable for St Helena: ‘We’re interested’, says The Castle

Computer Active
Connect St Helena