Amid the gloom emanating last week from the Conservatives’ continuing poor handling of the UK economy and the grim closure threat to the venerable Grangemouth oil refinery, the latest financial results of Prestwick Airport were a relief.

These showed a fourth consecutive annual profit for the airport, which was rescued by the Scottish Government in 2013.

On Monday, Prestwick Airport announced an operating profit of £2.1 million for the 12 months to March 31, up from £1.9m in the prior financial year.

Passenger numbers in the year to March totalled 459,000, up from 118,000 in the prior 12 months. The prior-year period included restrictions on overseas travel resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.

And critics of the bailout of this wonderful asset might want to note that the Scottish Government did not have to lend Prestwick Airport any further money in the 12 months to March, or in either of the two preceding financial years.

It also remains crucial, in any discussion of the airport and its future, to take into account its broader economic and labour market impact.

Prestwick Airport employs 330 people directly, which is a big enough number in itself.

The airport notes on its website that it supports a further 1,700 jobs through its supplier network, and that it contributes £61.6m annually to the Scottish economy.



And it points out that more than 4,500 jobs in total are supported by the airport and the surrounding Prestwick aerospace cluster.

So it is great to see the airport in the black for a fourth consecutive year, with revenues flowing nicely from a diverse mix of income streams.

READ MORE: Ian McConnell: Torn-faced Prestwick Airport’s critics should lose their frowns

The boost in passenger numbers is clearly heartening. And the airport highlighted its success in serving military customers. Cargo revenues were down but the backdrop was challenging.

And the key thing is that operating profits were up.

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There are obviously challenges ahead for Prestwick Airport but its performance in recent years should be truly uplifting for anyone with an interest in retaining large numbers of high-quality jobs and in the health of the local economy.

READ MORE: Ian McConnell: Scottish Government's wonderful idea for CalMac ferry services

In the same vein of valuable employment and the importance of major and long-established operations to local economies, the news last week that PetroIneos is preparing to close its 150,000 barrel per day Grangemouth refinery, which provides hundreds of jobs, is utterly disheartening.

Hopefully something can be worked out which pulls the situation back from the brink but only time will tell.

Among other demoralising events last week, we had Chancellor Jeremy Hunt continue the Conservatives’ ineffective economic policymaking.

The hard talk about getting people back into work continued in Mr Hunt’s Autumn Statement on Wednesday.

The Chancellor knows fine well that the UK’s skills and labour shortages crisis could be solved far more easily by a resumption of free movement of people between the UK and European Economic Area, which ended with the Tory hard Brexit, as opposed to trying to force those who often have good reason for not working back into jobs with threats.

It was pathetic stuff indeed, all playing up to the Tory ideology, with a threat of stopping benefits of course a central plank of it.

Thankfully, there has within the last fortnight been another antidote to the lack of common sense displayed by the Conservatives at Westminster.

This has come from the Scottish Government, and its proposal to make a direct award of the Clyde and Hebrides ferry services contract to CalMac, rather than embarking on a competitive tendering process in the open market.

The Tories’ rail privatisation spree has shown competitive bidding by commercial operators for key public services tends not to go so well.

Scottish Minister for Transport Fiona Hyslop said of the ferry services contract: “I am acutely aware of the vital importance of these lifeline services for our island communities and that is why we must look at the optimum model for the next contract to ensure improvements across the network.”

She added: “A direct award to CalMac would help change the ethos of the service by shifting the focus from a commercial arrangement to a model more focused on the delivery of a public service. This would help drive service improvements, deliver better communications with communities and introduce meaningful performance indicators that better reflect the experience of passengers using the services.”

A focus on delivery of a public service - now that is a good idea indeed.

Such an approach is surely plain old common sense when it comes to crucial services.

However, it is a philosophy which seems to be entirely lost on the Tories.

This is what we had from Mr Hunt last week: “We will ensure that over time the growth in public spending is lower than the growth in the economy whilst always protecting the services the public value.”

The two things do rather go in opposite directions.

Mr Hunt talked about increasing public sector productivity growth.

He could try doing something productive himself, by thinking up some expansionary policies that might kickstart the UK’s lamentable growth, rather than squeezing the life out of the economy.