Andrew Turner, the Island’s MP, declared he was pleased with the outcome of a meeting yesterday (Tuesday) with the Minister for Transport Stephen Hammond MP, after a cross-party delegation travelled to London to discuss ferry issues with him.
Mr Turner arranged the meeting following a public meeting in January at which many people described how the recent cuts to Wightlink’s evening, overnight and early morning services would affect their lives. As well as councillors from each of the political parties on the Isle of Wight Council and an independent councillor, the delegation included representatives from the Island’s Trade Union Council and the recently formed Solent Ferry Users Group.
Mr Turner said: “This meeting was a part of my ongoing discussions with colleagues in Government about the issues raised by the Island’s reliance on cross-Solent ferry services. It follows on from a meeting I held recently with the Secretary of State for Business, Vince Cable MP. I thought it important that Ministers directly understand that these problems affect the community as a whole and that we can put differences aside to work together because this is so important to the Island’s future. Having so many people of widely differing political views and with different interests sitting together in front of you is a powerful message in itself to any Minister!
“Not surprisingly, there were a great many issues raised. As I have repeatedly said – there are no easy answers, Wightlink is a privately owned company and nobody disputes that the current trading conditions are challenging. However the Minister undertook to speak directly to Wightlink, not least because the group made clear their anger at their complete lack of meaningful consultation with their customers. He also encouraged the Island’s Council to consider the ferry services as strategic routes and look at any funding opportunities from central Government that might help Islanders and he will be contacting me about that. I will pass that information on to the political parties and the independent group on the Council. I hope they will then work together to see how the Island and Islanders can benefit from any possible support that the Government can give.
“The Minister also made clear that he did not believe that full-scale regulation would solve these problems – but that he would consider whether there is a case for some sort of light-touch regime. I must say that I agree with him. Local bus services are heavily regulated but it does not stop routes and services being axed when there is no money to subsidise them.
“We all realise that the ferry services are vital to the future of the Island’s economy. I am happy to work with the ferry companies and those who rely on the services they provide to make that as successful as possible.”