Thursday 23 October 2014

What does 'success' look like?

When the then Tory government nationalised Rolls-Royce in 1971 because the company was in deep financial trouble, one wag penned some new words to the tune of “the Red Flag”.
The People’s Flag is deepest blue
We’re buying up Rolls-Royce for you
But if it makes a profit then
We’ll flog the b*****s back again
The Tories’ call for the privatisation of Cardiff Airport doesn’t even have the merit of being able to sell it as a successful profitable company.  It’s based instead on little more than blind faith – the assumption that, as they put it, selling it off would “encourage private sector investment”.  That is, of course, precisely what was not happening before it was nationalised, and unsurprisingly, they offer no evidence that the situation would change if the airport were to be returned to the private sector.
That’s not to argue that the Welsh Government’s strategy for the airport is any better – not least because there’s no obvious sign that they have one.  When they bought the airport, they claimed that we needed to have more scheduled flights on which business people and inward investors could fly direct to Cardiff.  The immediate motivation for the Tories’ latest call is the continued drop in numbers of passengers using the airport – which they brand as some sort of failure.  But there’s nothing inherently unsuccessful about a fall in total passenger numbers (from holiday flights, for instance) if there were more scheduled flights to key capitals, if that’s what they are trying to achieve.
An opposition approach which concentrated on the lack of any obvious strategy for the airport, let alone any way of monitoring the success of such a strategy, would be a start.  Even better would be an approach which started to ask some fundamental questions about whether we should be encouraging more flying, whether having direct flights actually makes much difference to the Welsh economy, and whether simply moving flights to Cardiff from other airports by reducing Air Passenger Duty is worthwhile (all of which seem to be taken as read by the political consensus) would be even better.  These are open goals left by a government which seems not to know what ‘success’ might look like.
Simply arguing that success is measured in terms of total passenger numbers, accompanied by an expression of blind faith that that number would increase if only the airport were in private hands, is completing missing the point and resorting to dogma.  It’s certainly not constructive opposition.

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