Leader comment: Wasting taxpayers money has a high price to pay

St Helena's new airport has "unquestionably failed" the British taxpayer and the residents of the remote island it was meant to serve, a damning report by MPs has said. Picture Royal Navy/PA Wire
St Helena's new airport has "unquestionably failed" the British taxpayer and the residents of the remote island it was meant to serve, a damning report by MPs has said. Picture Royal Navy/PA Wire
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£285.5 million is a staggering amount of money. We could think of it in terms of how many ridiculously expensive sports cars, yachts or luxury houses you could buy with it, but that would be the wrong comparison here. The money in question came from the British taxpayer, so we should perhaps think of what benefits we would have got if it had been spent on nurses, or policemen or carers, or - heaven forfend - left in the pockets of those people who worked hard for it.

That is the sum of money that has been spent on building a new airport on the South Atlantic territory of St Helena with the stated intent of allowing commercial flights to use it and thus boost tourism and the island’s economy. Only the prevailing wind conditions mean the island is unsuitable for commercial flights, a fact that should have been known to the Department for International Development had it asked the right questions in the run up to the project.

Now MPs on the Public Accounts Committee have said: “The department was evasive on the question of who should be held responsible, and is yet to hold anyone to account, either internally or externally for the failure to identify this fundamental issue.”

No-one should still be labouring under any misapprehensions that this inability for governemnt to be held to account has no significant consequences. It is this type of failure to answer to the public that has helped the drive the demand for change and the disillusionment with government that has resulted in Brexit and President Trump. The fact that people in government are either unwilling or unable to change can only result in more shocks and difficulties.