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wightlinkcat400UPDATED: Ferry operator Wightlink has been sold for an undisclosed sum, it has been confirmed.

Balfour Beatty Infrastructure Partners have taken ownership of the company from Macquarie. This includes the Portsmouth-Fishbourne, Portsmouth-Ryde and Lymington-Yarmouth routes.

Chief Executive Russell Kew, Chief Operating Officer John Burrows, and their management team remain in charge of the company. Similarly, there will be no changes to staffing, pricing, routes or schedules as a result of the change of ownership.

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Staff at Wightlink were told about the sale this morning (Monday).

BBIP LLP Partner Steven Lowry says:

“Wightlink is a strong and stable company with the opportunity to grow and develop in the years to come. We are delighted to be the new owners of the largest cross-Solent ferry operator and are committed to investing in the business, and supporting the management team’s focus on safety and improving customer service.”

Russell Kew says:

“Wightlink has a strong and secure future with its new shareholders, which is good news for the company, our customers and our staff. We look forward to working with BBIP to grow the business in years to come.”

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Balfour Beatty Infrastructure Partners LLP (BBIP) was set up in 2011 and completed its first investment in March 2013.  The BBIP LP Fund predominantly invests in operational assets into its key target sectors of transport, energy and utilities across the UK, Europe, and North America.  BBIP operates independently of its sponsor, Balfour Beatty plc.

UPDATE @ 12:10 – Competitor Red Funnel Ferries have issued a statement following this morning’s announcement.

Responding to the news of Wightlink’s sale, Kevin George, CEO of Red Funnel Isle of Wight Ferries, said:

“The sale of Wightlink Ferries to Balfour Beatty Infrastructure Partners LLP has no bearing on Red Funnel’s strategy of delivering value for money services and an unrivalled cross-Solent travel experience. The company carried record numbers in 2014 as more customers than ever chose Red Funnel over its rivals. This trend is set to continue with more sailings confirmed for 2015 to accommodate growth in both freight and private vehicle traffic.

“At Easter, the vehicle ferry Red Osprey will return to service following her £2.2m refurbishment to match Red Falcon which was upgraded in 2014. Red Funnel is also continuing to make significant investments in its people, in technology to enhance the customer experience, and in its infrastructure with exciting plans underway for purpose built terminals in Southampton and East Cowes, to accommodate even more customers and offer the best experience for travelling to and from the Isle of Wight.”

Nicholas Finney of the Better Ferry Campaign has said:

“The critical issues here for Islanders are the price paid, the conditions attached and the level of debt and debt repayments. Balfour Beatty Infrastructure Partners LLP has no proven track record of investment in Transport operations nor specifically Ferries. This means continued reliance on existing Wightlink management.  Although Wightlink have said that there will be no changes to staffing, pricing routes and schedules, it is clear that much will depend on actual financial performance.

“Until the Island can ascertain what BBIP plans are and what their expectations of financial performance are, we need to be concerned.

“Fortunately, the imminent establishment of the new Transport Infrastructure taskforce will allow the whole issue of the ownership and long term investment of the Private sector transport operators to be fully examined against the needs of the Island.

“In the meantime, we need to question the new owners about their long term commitment to improvements in the service.

The Better Ferry Campaign will seek further detailed information ‎before commenting further.”

The Island’s MP Andrew Turner has said:

“This is quite concerning news as BBIP has no track record of operating public transport services, particularly ferries. We need to know more about the new debt levels and gearing of Wightlink, which has not yet been mentioned. If they are not changing the structure, prices or schedules it is hard to see how the Island will benefit in either the short or long term.

“The investment strategy for BBIP talks about acquiring infrastructure companies providing essential services, with high barriers to entry, inflation-linked cash-flows and attractive operating margins. That could be seen as exploiting monopolies!

“I will be seeking an early meeting with the new owners to discuss their plans, and the new infrastructure taskforce which will be set up over the next few months will doubtless also be talking to them in depth.”

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