The Campaign has been set up by “a group of business-led Islanders”, namely,
- Patrick Seely, owner of Dunsbury Farm in Brook and Senior Partner in a company offering global mergers and acquisitions advice;
- John Buckland, ex-Liz Earle, currently involved in several Island based companies including West Bay Club in Yarmouth and the Perpetuus Tidal Energy Centre;
- Nicholas Finney OBE, specialist in port legislation, former Director General of the British Ports Federation and former member of the Monopolies and Merger Commission and
- Andrew Palmer (who appears in the promotional videos), owner of the Priory Bay Hotel in Seaview.
They have the support of Isle of Wight MP, Andrew Turner, who (or whoever runs his Twitter account) has been trying to gather interest this week through social media.
The Campaign organisers say,
“Our mission is to deliver positive change that champions cheaper and more flexible ferry services.”
Write down the debt and recapitalise
Their plan is to push for negotiations with Wightlink’s owners, Macquarie European Infrastructure Fund (MEIF), asking them to write down the company’s debts and recapitalise it in the ownership of a Community Interest Company (CIC).
“We champion a new cost effective ferry service, which is regulator approved with a Community Interest Company (CIC) to serve local residents and businesses.”
The Campaign Website says the CIC “would be overseen by a regulator to ensure that the company operates in the interests of the Isle of Wight community and stakeholders”.
(More to follow on what a CIC is and how they work later)
Stop the cuts and price rises
It’s been well reported (and debated) through OnTheWight that ferry companies have made cuts to their services over the last few years, whilst, along with most other things in our daily lives, such as energy, food and fuel, ferry prices have risen.
The Better Ferry Campaign say they want to stop the service reductions, see the “re-introduction of critical early/late crossings” and bring “more price competition and Islanders to be recognised as valued customers.”
Debt and profits
They believe it’s not “right or fair” that ferry users are “paying for the current unsustainably high debts through a reduced service and higher fares” saying Wightlink borrowed (and still owe) £195m, Red Funnel £80m, to banks.
Going on to say, “There has been no debt repayments and there is no prospect of any debt repayments.”
“Experts in the financial industry estimate debt levels to be as much as 30% above current market norms at Red Funnel and a staggering 240% (2.4x) at Wightlink. Red Funnel is already providing a better service today at lower average prices because it has partially addressed its debt problem by writing down over £40 million of debts in 2009.”
The campaign Website claims,
“Combined profit last year £28 million for Wightlink and Red Funnel making the ferry business by a huge margin one of the most profitable on the Island. Yet up to 60% of these profits are used to pay interest on very high debts from mainly overseas banks.”
They report that Wightlink made £14.9m in 2010 and £15.4m in 2012 – an increase of £0.5m over two year, a 3% increase. Red Funnel, they say, made £8.9m in 2010 and £12.8m in 2012 – an increase of £3.9m over two year, a 44% increase.
Beyond your doorstep
Looking further through the BFC Website, it talks about the indirect impact or rising prices and cuts in services, saying,
“Even if you think you’re not directly taking the brunt, think again.”
“Regular commuters struggle to cope, while local business pay over the odds to survive, friends and family can’t afford to visit and holiday makers stay away.”
Have you been asked?
They say they “want to reach out to communities across the Island and build a platform for public opinion” going on to say they’ve talked to many residents and businesses on the Isle of Wight,
“We’ve talked to many residents, visitors and businesses to know what an essential lifeline the ferry services offer.”
Were you one of those ‘many residents’ the Campaign organisers spoke to?
More on the Better Ferry Campaign to follow later.