Exactly how much public money did the ferry companies get in first Lockdown? It’s taken us FOI-ing the DfT to find out (Updated)

It seemed only right to find out if/when the Cross-Solent operators stopped receiving public money during Lockdown #1 and how much they got in total

Person holding a five pound note

In the first Covid lockdown, public money was given to the cross-Solent operators, when the number of people able to use the ferry services dropped.

News OnTheWight started asking questions in June, attempting to find out exactly how much it was. It’s been a long path.

Now we’re in the third Lockdown with a tightening of travel restrictions and ferry companies reducing their timetables, it makes what we found out all the more relevant, as it’s possible more public money will be coming their way.

Public money to IW ferry companies
You might remember that back on 24th April 2020 it was announced that Red Funnel, Wightlink and Hovertravel were to be given £1.5m/month between them for three months to continue to run a service connecting the Island to the Mainland. With the reduction in travel demand, all three operators reduced their services substantially, but some services did continue.

What hasn’t been clear is when the companies stopped receiving the £1.5m/month and how much public money they each received in total.

(Update: 14th Jan 2021: By challenging the DfT blocking the FoI release of the detail of how much did each of the Isle of Wight ferry companies actually receive of public funds, News OnTheWight did manage to find out.)

Asked the MP
News OnTheWight first started asking these questions of the Isle of Wight Conservative MP, Bob Seely, back in June. We didn’t get an answer.

We tried again with his office in the first half of November. This time they were more responsive, but we still didn’t get the figures.

DfT wouldn’t comment
Media requests to the Department for Transport (DfT) – the Government department that had given the money – drew a blank, as when we asked how much had been paid to the cross-Solent operators they said, 

“It would be inappropriate to discuss commercially sensitive matters through the media.”

This didn’t make any sense to us. We were confused why disclosing the amount of public money that has been given to three companies that make up the whole of the market might be considered as commercial sensitivity.

FOI request
Given little other option, News OnTheWight filed a Freedom of Information request to the DfT.

Happily we were successful – at least in part.

We learnt that Wightlink, Red Funnel and Hovertravel were collectively given money over four months – April 2020 to July. In July, just under a third of the other months’ sum was paid over.

UK Covid Lockdown dates
As a reminder – The first UK lockdown started nationwide on 23rd March with the message, “Stay at Home”. 

  • 10th May: The Government message changed from “Stay at Home” to “Stay Alert”, marking a slight relaxation. 
  • 10th June: John Metcalfe, CX IWC gave the message, “Enjoy the Island but do it responsibly”
  • 15th June: Non-essential shops reopened in England, providing they were ‘covid-secure’.
  • 4th July: Restaurants, pubs, hairdressers and some accommodation owners were given the green-light to reopen.

How much did they receive?
In total they received just short of £5 million of public funds between them. Here’s the month by month breakdown:


The detail still held back
As is clear, it’s been quite a path to get to learn what we have.

Sadly DfT has still blocked News OnTheWight from finding out how much money had been paid to each company, claiming that it was ‘commercially sensitive’.

Quite how the details of which ferry company received which amounts of public money considered as information that shouldn’t be open to the public is beyond us, so we are continuing to pursue it.

(Update: 14th Jan 2021: By challenging the DfT blocking the FoI release of the detail of how much did each of the Isle of Wight ferry companies actually receive of public funds, News OnTheWight did manage to find out.)

Article edit
2:14pm 18th Jan 202 – Added details of out success of getting DfT to release info under an FoI challenge.

Image: cottobbro under CC BY 2.0

Thursday, 7th January, 2021 9:42pm


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Filed under: Ferry, Island-wide, Isle of Wight News, Top story

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12 Comments on "Exactly how much public money did the ferry companies get in first Lockdown? It’s taken us FOI-ing the DfT to find out (Updated)"

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Steve Goodman
Another reason to be grateful for Sally and Simon’s service for those of us interested in what our servants want to keep secret from us about what they do with our money in our name. Also consistently useful on such subjects are reliable sources like Private Eye and the Guardian; the latter, for example, just let us know in connection with a piece on why we cannot… Read more »

Am I alone in finding the huge sums of public money paid to these companies, that already rob tslanders, totally obscene.


Well done Sally & Simon


I think the government has been fishing out money to all the public transport operators. The figures I’ve seen for the railways was around £3bn.


Dishing I meant. Flipping autospell!


…..and straight into the pockets of shareholders, with, no doubt, a nice little donation to the Conservative Party as a thank you at the appropriate time near the next General Election.

Benny C
I thought Wightlink was in the Balfour Beatty pension fund? So presumably any surplus ( of which I doubt there would be much left) went to pension payments. Everyone’s pension will be affected long term by the pandemic. The biggest villains will be the inflation currently being stoked by the money printing (QE) quietly going on to keep govt borrowing costs down; and unemployment reducing contributions. .… Read more »

If the ferries had ground to a halt then the Government would have had to enlist the help of the Navy, just a stones throw across the Solent, to ensure food supplies, so, not a problem. On the positive side the island might still have had its tier 1 status.

Benny C

Sincere apologies. Balfour have sold their infrastructure fund.


You have to make a profit before shareholders see a penny.

That is undeniably a reasonable thing to believe, but not true at all. A company can make a loss and still pay out dividends in a number of scenarios. From the fairly reasonable where they can use retained earnings from previous years, to the seemingly mad but absolutely used tactic of taking on debt to pay their shareholders. An extreme example of this being Chevron. In 2016… Read more »

There is a great deal of miss information around money paid to the ferry companies. £1.5 million/month is not a huge amount when the ferry companies revenue stream is interrupted. Employees still need paid and even ferries that are not operating still have overheads. The amounts of money this government has wasted on Covid and brexit related things makes £1.5 million/month tiny.