Failed USA flights scheme cost KCC nearly £300,000

Kentish Express Ashford & District - - OPERATION STACK -

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.

Eleventh-hour

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.

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