Following Isle of Wight MP, Andrew Turner’s invitation for Islanders to write to him with their concerns over Wightlink ferry services, one reader sent him (and OnTheWight) the following letter. Ed
Dear Mr Turner
May I take the opportunity to thank you for your involvement in this issue and for taking our concerns about Wightlink so seriously.
Unfortunately, most of our local elected representatives and the ruling group on the Isle of Wight don’t seem to have grasped the fact that the ferry services are indeed a lifeline both for individuals who may need to work, require medical treatment, see friends and relatives or go on holiday.
A vital public transport service
Wightink, as part of the Macquarie Group, has not acknowledged that is running a vital public transport service which, with Red Funnel and to a lesser extent the much more customer-responsive Hovertravel, has the benefit of operating purely as a profit-making enterprise with no public service obligation whatsoever. This means that it can reduce or cancel services with no regard to the impact on the economic viability of the island or the impact on its customers.
Wightlink/Macquarie may say that they abide by UK tax laws but by diverting group income to overseas tax havens, emulating many other companies such as Amazon or Starbucks, they are left with no tax to pay here (see their latest published accounts). This of course says far more about our immoral laws than it does about Wightlink who are understandably exploiting our stupidity.
Whims of an international conglomerate
As you already appreciate, the waters of the Solent can be a barrier as well as our ‘road’, and our public transport service in the shape of our ferries is our lifeline. Surely we are entitled to the same free passage of goods, people and services as any other citizens of the United Kingdom?
We should not have to rely on the whims of an international conglomerate which seems incapable of making sound financial decisions and which now appears to rely on Wightlink profits to fund its other poor investments through inflated internal interest rates.
Trading will continue to stagnate
We must fight for our rights to be treated like the rest of the UK otherwise trading will continue to stagnate, more jobs will be lost, inward investment will cease, the tourist trade will continue to decline and house prices will drop as Overners pack their bags and return to the mainland.
Add to all this the increasingly high fares and the progressive removal of the tourist infrastructure by the current ruling group on the Isle of Wight Council and you begin to see the potential scale of the problem.
Public service obligation needed from ferry companies
All of this is why I strongly believe Andrew Lansley is fundamentally wrong in contemptuously dismissing the need for a public service obligation to be placed on the ferry operators when drawing up their service level agreements.
If necessary, financial support should be available to ensure those levels are maintained. I also believe this position should be part of your representations to the ferry companies when discussing these issues.
Must ensure reliable links with rest of UK
The only way to secure a sound and stable future for the Island is to ensure reliable links with the rest of the UK. The alternative would be to declare the Isle of Wight as unsuitable for UK citizens and offer all residents the opportunity to leave the island and offer resettlement terms on the mainland.
To achieve a stable future, the ferry companies must be part of a national integrated seamless transport system which seems so easily achievable in other European countries. Whether that objective is reached through nationalisation, partnerships, consortia or other joint ventures, it doesn’t matter. Doing nothing is not an option.
We can’t condemn people on the Island to isolation
People who comment that because Wightlink is a business it can do as it likes, including the right to close or cut services, are totally ignoring the dangers of relying on a totally commercial enterprise. It’s precisely this precarious position, which if Red Funnel were to hit similar problems, that could lead to the Island receiving no visitors or goods and thus condemning people on the island to isolation.
The railway operators have a public service obligation and subsidy, yet still provide a (generally) reliable service. The Solent is our road or rail network, and is used as such by the ferry operators.
Expectation of acceptable levels of service
Wightlink has purchased a public transport service and any reasonable person would expect it to be able to maintain that service to ‘acceptable’ levels.
It is for this reason that some form of subsidy, based on an obligation to provide a service, may bring a level of stability which would enable the ferry companies to operate some of the less profitable sailings by using some of the revenue from its highly profitable summer and holiday operations.
The cost may not be as high as we might expect.