St Helena opens up to world trade

The remote island is due to open its airport, and is looking for a statistician to deal with the con

A fascinating job advert on the Guardian's board:

Statistician, St. Helena Government

A self-governing overseas territory of the United Kingdom, St Helena is an island of 47 square miles and around 4,000 people in the South Atlantic. With Cape Town in South Africa some 1,700 miles distant, the Islanders enjoy a unique lifestyle in truly unspoilt, friendly and peaceful surroundings.

St Helena is poised for the biggest transformation in the island’s history, with the imminent construction of an airport. It will grow from a centralised economy with 1,000 visitors per year to a market economy with up to 30,000 visitors per year. In order to prepare for air access Saint Helena Government is introducing a package of reforms aimed at stimulating economic growth and social development. During this period of significant change the importance of assessing the impact of policy decisions is heightened. Similarly, increased funding from donors increases the demand for reliable and timely economic, social and environmental analysis.

The island is one of the most isolated in the world. At the moment, the only access to it is a two day trip by boat from "neighbouring" (810 miles away) Ascension Island, which itself has two RAF flights a week. It is most famous as the site of Napoleon's second, more successful, exile, and much of its tourism is based around that. However, due to the difficulty of access, the three hotels on the island are around 10 per cent occupied over the year.

The creation of the airport began in 2005, and was originally planned to be ready in 2010. Inevitably, of course, the £40m building project overran, but when it does open it will radically alter the islands economy. Currently, the majority of its exports are to the UK and South Africa, and consist almost entirely of canned fish, coffee, honey, and a spirit made from prickly pear called "tungi spirit", and according to the Guardian in 2005 were worth just £200,000. The island also sold £60,000 worth of stamps alone, to collectors enthused by its right to print its own postage.

Assuming the Government's predictions of tourism numbers are correct, the proportion of the economy contributed by tourism will rise from around 3 per cent to around 50 per cent. This will be an enourmous change for the island, not just equivalent to switching economic focus, but more like, as the advert suggests, a change from a centrally planned economy to a free-market. As it stands, over half the island's population work for the government, which renders them relatively immune from economic shocks. It will be interesting to see the new dynamic play out, but whether or not it works depends on more than just the skill of the statistician they hire. Still, if you are a level 3 statistician or equivalent and fancy spending 11 months of the year on a 127 km2 lump of volcanic rock in the middle of the Atlantic, consider applying. They'll even pay for your flights, once they exist.

Jamestown, the capital of Saint Helena. Photograph: Andrew Neaum, CC-BY-SA

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.