Failed USA flights scheme cost KCC nearly £300,000
KENT County Council spent close to £300,000 on its failed plan to launch direct flights to America from Kent International Airport in Manston, it has emerged.
The admission that the county council spent three times more than it had first suggested came at a meeting last week when council chiefs were summoned to explain what had gone wrong with the venture and why it was aborted.
At the time the flights plan was scrapped last month, KCC estimated it could lose about £90,000.
But the total cost to the authority of its investment in the scheme, which had been due to get under way in May, came in at £289,559, members of the council’s cross-party watchdog committee were told.
All of the money will be written off. It also emerged that an eleventh-hour rescue package could have left KCC facing a potential liability of £4m. That proposal was rejected.
Overall, more than £1m was invested in the project by the public and private sector on both sides of the Atlantic.
Peter Raine, KCC’s managing director for regeneration, told the committee that the council’s stake came to about 27 per cent of the overall sum but accounted for about 60 per cent of the sum spent by councils and other organisations in Kent.
In a candid assessment, he said: “We had a reasonable fighting chance, we got people to come in with us but it did not come off. That is the way it goes.”
The £89,000 includes £7,000 paid to the consultants who carried out the initial feasibility study into the weekly service, along with £41,000 as a contribution to the marketing and project development costs.
Conservative county council leader Paul Carter defended the amount KCC had ploughed into the scheme. In response to questions about whether KCC had properly assessed the risks of investing he said:
“All the proper discussions took place between officers and myself; Peter Gilroy [KCC chief executive] flew to America and we had detailed conversations with Cosmos,” he said.
He argued the money spent in America promoting Kent as a tourist destination would be a spin-off because the profile of the county had been raised with potential visitors.
The money invested had come out profits made from the Kent Regeneration Fund and was not council taxpayers’ money, he added. KCC pulled the plug in February after only 800 of the 10,000 available tickets were sold.