THE Island may not be able to afford some major planned capital projects, and may have to ‘do things a little less expensively’, according to Infrastructure Minister Tom Binet.
Projects being planned include new schools, emergency-services facilities and strengthening coastal defences.
Deputy Binet – who is responsible for delivering a new hospital, the Island’s largest single capital project – said that the government might have to ‘revise a lot of the things it was doing and a lot of the way it approached capital’.
‘A year in, I’ve really got some concerns that when I arrived there were all sorts of capital projects being bandied about, big capital projects. Everybody was going to be doing everything, and I think working closely on the hospital project has brought capital funding into focus, not just with me but the Treasury have been having a much, much closer look at where we are in terms of funding in the current climate.
‘We already knew there were problems afoot 12 months ago and we are realising now that we are in a long-term period of difficulty,’ Deputy Binet said.
The minister expressed his concerns at a recent Scrutiny panel hearing when he was responding to questions about one of the other major capital projects for which his department is responsible – shoreline management and the protection of homes built near the coast against coastal flooding.
Environment, Housing and Infrastructure Panel chair Deputy Steve Luce flagged up the distinction between one-off capital projects and the shoreline management plan, which he said comprised ‘a series of potentially £100 million schemes’, an ongoing cost to the Island. Referring to some of the other capital projects advanced by the government, Deputy Luce said: ‘While a blue-light facility or a school is wonderful, they are very much individual special items whereas shoreline management is going to be billions and billions of pounds. It’s an annual recurring cost,’ he said.
During the meeting, Deputy Binet referred to the possibility of ‘adjustments’ to the later stages of the project to build new health facilities on a number of sites – one of the minister’s justifications for preferring a phased approach was the possibility of making such adjustments in the light of financial pressures. He also referred to the possibility of the funding requirements being extended beyond the anticipated duration of the building works.
‘I’m just looking at the hospital project over ten or 12 years which may stretch to another year or two because of the funding situation. We’re putting this in, we’re looking at putting two primary schools in, we’re looking at doing the blue-light facilities. I just think we possibly need to sit round and work out how we are going to do things a little less expensively. In putting numbers together we are going to have to face the fact that some of those big sums aren’t going to be there,’ Deputy Binet said.
Speaking following the meeting, Deputy Binet declined to be more specific about other capital projects, but he said he thought the need for caution given the Island’s changing demographics – with the ratio of working to non-working Islanders falling – was widely understood.
He added that a virtue of the new approach to the hospital project was that the smaller individual components in the multi-site plan would provide opportunities for the local construction industry to adjust to what could otherwise be a ‘difficult period’.