The Island’s MP, Andrew Turner, has secured Government support for a wide-ranging taskforce to consider the future of the Island’s transport infrastructure.
Mr Turner had already been involved in discussions to ask for Government assistance in considering options for the future of Island Line, and during an end-of-day ‘adjournment’ debate in the House of Commons last night (Monday), he sought and won agreement for the wider Island transport infrastructure to be included, including the ferry services.
The debate and request to the Government was prompted by private negotiations between the ferry companies and businessmen working on the Better Ferry Campaign, described by the MP as ‘constructive’. Discussions had taken place with the Minister in advance of the debate and informal meetings with the Isle of Wight Council also encouraged the Island’s MP to seek what he called a ‘win-win solution’ to the long standing cross-Solent issues.
During the debate, John Hayes MP, Transport Minster praised the Island’s MP for his ‘extraordinary dedication’ to seeking a solution to the Island’s connectivity problems, both behind the scenes and more publicly. He said his colleague had made a ‘persuasive case’ for the Government to support the holistic approach called for and invited the MP to work with the Council to prepare terms of reference, so that the plan can be taken forward.
During the debate some of the dangers of the current business model were outlined, with the ferry companies changing ownership for ever-increasing sums, leaving higher and higher debts that can only be serviced from fares or cutting services and costs. Mr Turner also described how the recent transfer of business from Wightlink to Red Funnel, which has led to Red Funnel overtaking Wightlink as the most popular route to the Isle of Wight, could destabilise the market and eventually lead to even bigger problems.
Speaking today Mr Turner said:
“In the past the competition authorities have looked at the cross-Solent ferries and although they recognised potential problems, decided in 2009 that it was too soon to make a judgement on whether the very high prices paid and resultant debt levels would have an adverse effect on prices and services. I believe that if they look again at the ferry companies they would certainly find the proof they would need to act. If necessary we will go down that route again. But what was true in 2009 still holds true today – there is no easy answer that can be imposed by a regulator. It doesn’t mean there would be no action – but it may not lead to the intended outcomes.
“And we have to be realistic; the ferry owners’ problems translate into problems for the Island. The loss of substantial market share from Wightlink and the effect this could have on services, together with recent discussions between the Better Ferry Campaign and the ferry company owners, gives me the hope that there may be a creative way forward. I have discussed this informally with the Council and believe that with the support of the Government we can work locally on an all-party basis to bring about change. This will not just include the ferry owners, but also the trains, potentially other transport organisations and key stakeholders.
“I am delighted that Kevin George from Red Funnel has already contacted me to confirm their full support for this initiative and I look forward to working with him, and hopefully the other ferry companies to look at an integrated solution to the Island’s long standing connectivity and transport problems.”
Mr Turner also thanked everybody who has supported the Better Ferry Campaign and the Are Wightlink the Right Link Facebook page, saying:
“The level of support and some of the comments made on-line in these campaigns helped me to convince the Government of the strength of our case. I hope we can all now work together to find the best way possible way forward.”
Photograph thanks to Ben Rue