Grant Thornton’s Sheffield office has strengthened its links with what must be its remotest clients.
The accountancy firm tied up a contract two years ago to audit the books of Solomon and Company, a UK-registered business which runs most of the commercial activity on the tiny island of St Helena, 4,800 miles away in the South Atlantic Ocean.
Now, accountant Chris Bagnall, a manager from the Sheffield office’s business services team, has returned from a three month secondment, working with the business development team at Enterprise St Helena, the island’s development organisation.
Work is due to start on building an airport on the island in 2016 and Enterprise St Helena has the job of helping the island’s enterprises and 4,000 inhabitants to gear up for a massive influx of visitors and an increase in commercial activity which is expected to follow its opening.
“The building of an airport on the island offers massive opportunities with visitor numbers expected to rise from the current 800 tourists a year to over 30,000,” said Chris.
“It is a mammoth undertaking, but a fascinating project to be involved with. It was great to be able to share the knowledge we have gained from working with businesses in South Yorkshire and export our expertise to the South Atlantic.”
Enterprise St Helena is funded by the UK government’s Department for International Development and is drawing up comprehensive plans to develop the infrastructure needed to ensure that St Helena and its people get as much benefit as possible from this potential boost to the local economy.
Developments cover everything from education and road systems to food production and hospitality amenities.
During his stay, Chris met around 100 businesses, many of which will need financial assistance from Enterprise St Helena in the form of grant, loan or equity finance.
He also worked closely with key bodies such as farmers’, fishermen’s and growers’ associations, to help them get the equipment and finance they need to become more self-sustaining and meet the anticipated increased demand from tourists for local produce. Chris and Enterprise St Helena also worked on loan finance and training requirements with The Bank of St Helena and advised the St Helena Government on its private sector divestment programme.
The island of St Helena was named after the mother of Constantine, the first Roman Emperor to become a Christian.
It is just 10 miles long by five miles wide, lies about 1,200 miles off the west coast of southern Africa and is Britain’s second oldest overseas territory.
Oliver Cromwell gave the island to the English East India Company in 1657 and the astronomer Edmond Halley – of Halley’s Comet fame – set up an observatory on the island around 20 years later.
Napoleon Bonaparte was imprisoned on the island, following his defeat by Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo, and died there in 1821.