The Government funding, which is in addition to the £4.9million already paid out to the ferry operators, will help support jobs, ensure Islanders can access key medical services and ensure the supply of essentials like food and medicine.
It’s known that £1.5million was paid out in April, May and June with a further £426,000 paid in July, but it’s not entirely clear if the ferry companies received further payouts in the latter months. This latest funding will be available to support operators’ costs for the period of November 2020 to March 2021.
This most recent wad of cash is not expected to reinstate services such as Wightlink’s Ryde Pier Head route, which has already been suspended. Red Funnel are running a reduced timetable and Hovertravel have cut services to 2-hourly at the weekend.
Today’s news comes just a week after Bob Seely MP and council leader Dave Stewart called on the Government to introduce a regulatory and governance model for the ferries. Mr Seely has that the Island’s connectivity to the mainland is currently entirely at the discretion of unregulated, privately-owned operators who are ultimately not formally answerable for their operational decisions to anyone but their shareholders. These exact same companies are now set to receive a further £6.5million of public money.
The Island’s MP also said last Friday that Islanders cannot rely on the ferries being there to provide lifeline services.
The Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Steve Barclay, said:
“These ferry services are essential to everyday life on the Isle of Wight, and this further package of funding will help ensure residents can continue to access healthcare and essential goods and services.
“It’s vital no community or region is left behind as we fight the Coronavirus pandemic and build back better.”
Sarah Williams, Associate Director of Research & Improvement at Solent NHS, said:
“The commitment of Hovertravel and other carriers to continue their service across the Solent has been a lifeline to the NHS and other communities through the pandemic – myself and colleagues (including the ambulance service) have been able to support the pandemic response across Hampshire &The IOW, the resource supply chain has been maintained, and patients have been able to access the critical services that they need.
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“Without their support and service, there is no doubt that the quality of services both on the Island and the mainland would have been severely compromised, and patients would not have received treatment and care that they needed. Within the NHS and care system, we consider Hovertravel, Wightlink and Red Funnel part of our critical infrastructure and have been struck by the extra efforts they’ve gone to in supporting us in a COVID safe manner. The adaptability, positivity and cheer that they do this with is something that we won’t ever forget and for which we are extremely grateful. “
As well as ensuring funding is in place to enable the ferry operators to continue running, the Government has relaxed competition law to allow ferry operators to work together to continue to run essential services.
UPDATE @ 08:40 – In response to today’s news, Carl Feeney of the Fixed Link campaign has said:
“Yet another £6.5million is being given to the ferry company shareholders as a gift. What do we get for that? Answer – STILL suspended routes and reduced schedules on the rest. The ferry companies hold all the control. We are all subservient to them. Complete madness yet it continues.
“£6.5million would pay 642 x the £94,000 that is now required for the ARUP viability study into the Solent Freedom Tunnel – a study that was recommended be done by the IOW Transport Infrastructure Taskforce in 2017. The tunnel will provide reliable and immediate, 24 hour connectivity for NHS patients requiring it in the future”.
Meanwhile, Fran Collins, CEO of Red Funnel, has said:
“We are grateful to learn of the financial support announced by the Government and are pleased that lifeline services to the Isle of Wight have again been recognised as critical routes, as they were in the first lockdown, along with the Isles of Scilly.
“We look forward to working with the Isle of Wight Council to understand the distribution of support and identify the service levels needed to keep our lifeline service in place.
“While we do not anticipate the support will be enough to offset the growing losses we have continued to absorb since the onset of the pandemic, the funding will be fully used to maintain our lifeline service as agreed with the Isle of Wight Council, and we will continue to do everything we can to keep the Island connected and supplied, as we have since March.
“We wish to thank the Department for Transport, the Isle of Wight Council and its Transport Infrastructure Board for their vital support in helping us continue sailing and serving our Island community.”
Keith Greenfield, Chief Executive of Wightlink, has said:
“Wightlink welcomes news of some financial support for cross Solent routes announced by the Government.
“Although more essential travellers are crossing the Solent at present, compared to the first lockdown in spring 2020, Wightlink continues to make losses during the pandemic and the Government support just announced will not change that.
“The support may help us keep our Lymington-Yarmouth route open on weekdays but it is disappointing that Wightlink’s FastCat foot passenger route between Portsmouth Harbour and Ryde Pier Head has been specifically excluded from the support package.”
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