£150,000: The estimated taxpayers' bill for the air display

THIS year's Jersey International Air Display could cost taxpayers in the region of £150,000, the JEP has learned.

£150,000: The estimated taxpayers' bill for the air display

Organiser Deputy Mike Higgins said £60,000 had been secured in private sponsorship for the event which costs around £240,000 to organise every year.

And despite income from programme sales and entrance to the static display still to be counted, it is likely that finances will fall short of the near quarter-of-a-million pound target.

So far £90,000 of taxpayer's money has already been used to fund the display in the form of a grant from Economic Development.

Thousands of people watch the display each year
Jet fighters drew the crowds at this year's air display

And last month the JEP revealed that the event, which is free and watched by thousands of Islanders and visitors every year, was underwritten by the States to the tune of nearly £190,000 using cash from the Tourism Development Fund.

It was hoped that the money from the underwrite would not be required but Deputy Higgins has now said that it was 'possible' that they would have to use taxpayers' money to cover costs of the display which took place last Thursday.

The States moved to underwrite the event after multi-millionaire business tycoon Robert Gaines-Cooper, who has given more than £1 million to the event over the last 18 years, pulled his sponsorship of the display.

'We got some last minute sponsorship so I think we have raised around £60,000. As long as we manage to break even I will be happy. Our aim was not to dip into the underwrite but if we have to then that is what we will have to do.'

Crowds at Jardins de la Mer

Deputy Higgins added that they print around 8,000 programmes which sell for around £5 each but not all of them were sold.

Economic Development Minister Lyndon Farnham said he hoped money from the underwrite would not be needed but would 'totally understand' if organisers did have to use funds to make up the shortfall because the display was an 'investment'.

'I don't really see it as a cost I see it as an investment. The Island was full last week. It is good for the local economy, it is good for the visitor economy and it is great PR for Jersey.'

Mr Higgins, who previously warned that if private sponsors do not come forward the future of the display could be in doubt, described this year's event as one of the 'best ever' thanks to a combination of the aircraft, weather and high tides.

Olly Appleyard, group sales and marketing manger for Seymour Hotels, who own The Merton, Pomme d'Or and Greenhills hotels, said all the group's rooms were fully booked in the days around the air display.

'There is no doubt that the air display does bring in business,' he said. 'It is really big for us.'

Spectators at Elizabeth Castle enjoy the show

THERE are a number of ways of looking at the estimated £150,000 which the taxpayer is likely to pay for this year's Jersey International Air Display.

In simple terms, the figure equates to around £1.50 for every resident in the Island. Last year, organiser Mike Higgins said that approximately 30,000 attended the event, which means that, if similar-sized crowds attended this year, each spectator had their ticket subsidised to the tune of £5 by the States.

When looked at in this light, the funding does not seem excessive.

But there are other ways to give context to the spending of £150,000.

The money might have paid for four or five nurses for a year or a number of operations – it might even have saved States employees from redundancy.

It is still not clear just how big the taxpayers' bill will be. What we know for sure is that the event cost around £240,000 to stage, £60,000 has been pledged in private sponsorship and more money is due to come in from the sale of programmes and entry into the static display.

A bill of around £130,000 to £150,000 looks likely, £90,000 of which has come from the Tourism Development Fund.

We also know that the air display is a very popular event which packs a huge amount of feel-good factor into September.

And it is much more than a publicly-funded bread-and-circuses distraction from the difficult issues facing the Island. The air show attracts significant numbers of visitors, some of whom might well return to holiday in Jersey once they see what the Island has to offer.

Economic Development Minister Lyndon Farnham says that he is prepared to use public money to underwrite the event next year if absolutely necessary.

Of course, the priority must be to find new sponsors to replace Robert Gaines-Cooper, the Seychelles-based tycoon who has spent around £1 million funding the event since the late 1990s.

A recent millionaires' event at the Airport which showcased jets and supercars was organised to encourage rich residents to get involved in supporting the air display.

On balance, the decision to use public money to pay for the air show was the correct one.

But with this level of investment, it is essential that the relevant accounts are made available for public scrutiny to give confidence that our money is being spent efficiently.

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