Letter: Ferry companies must accept they provide vital public transport services

One reader shares his letter to Andrew Turner with OnTheWight readers. The subject: Ferry services

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.

Image: Karen O’D under CC BY 2.0

Saturday, 2nd February, 2013 4:37pm


ShortURL: http://wig.ht/2atE

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Any views or opinions presented in the comments below are solely those of the author and do not represent those of OnTheWight.


  1. Steve GIBBS

    2.Feb.2013 4:54pm

    I have a question for the ventnor blog and for its readers the Falklands is a smaller island than the Isle of Wight so how comes they get more central funding than us per head. The Leader of the Goverment promised to protect the rights of the Falklands and the right to be independent. Perhaps we should be kicking up a stink. WIGHTLINK is one of the key components ruining this island.

  2. Perhaps we should set up an independence referendum and declare ourselves a separate sovereign state, establish low taxation rates and nationalize the ferry services. Then we could set ourselves up as a tax haven for all the companies that don’t want to pay UK Corporation Tax. If Jersey and Man can do it, why not us? Then we wouldn’t need to go over the Solent to find work and we would have enough money to maintain our own services.
    I’d vote for that. As long as the people running the current council didn’t become the government.
    The letter states that we, the UK citizes living on the Isle of Wight, “are entitled to the same free passage of goods, people and services as any other citizens of the United Kingdom”. We’re being denied this.
    UK citizens living in Anglesea and Wales and across the Humber or the Firth of Forth and the Scottish Islands and on both sides of the Thames all have significant investment in their ease of travel to other parts of the UK. Why not us? I believe we vote and pay taxes like other citizens.
    I have been refused the option of buying goods in the internet because I live on the Isle of Wight, and I have also been prevented from traveling to visit family across the Solent on a Saturday in the Summer when I was unable to book, and I can no longer go to Portsmouth in the evening because of the removal of late-night ferry and hovercraft crossings. I’m willing to accept a longer or more complicated journey, but to be denied access across to the mainland is unacceptable in my view.
    I started writing this as a general comment, but the more I think about it the more unreasonable the situation seems. I know there are Islanders who don’t feel the need to encourage travel, but the current situation is simply making everything worse, and could end up with the island becoming an impoverished backwater starved of investment and losing even more of its talented and enterprising citizens.

    • Quite. And the idea of working at home on a computer, a long distance from users of one’s products or services, rather falls down if there is this clamping down of travel options.

      People here will instead come to feel they need to live on the mainland so as to maintain the geographical & colleague face-to-face links that remain necessary with homeworking.

      So much for encouraging innovation & new business on the Island….

    • Mark L Francis

      3.Feb.2013 1:57pm

      Damn right. I have been looking at garden benches and most have free delivery to UK mainland only. Some simply will not dis[astch to the IOW at all. Greenfingers.com had a list of extra charges of which the IOW was the highest even compared with the Channel Islands and Shetland. One assumes this is down to ferry prices.
      The old ferries were also designed for use as minelayers in time of war.
      Well you never know…

  3. What is the definition of a lifeline ferry service? And which other UK offshore communities are served by ferry companies subject to a public service obligation?

  4. wightywight

    3.Feb.2013 1:47pm


    Are you seeking a legislative definition…? Or a definition generally understood by most observers…?

    I think most people understand that an (this) Island life is ONLY supportable by the existence of travel capabilities to and from that Island. In most cases that means by Air or by Boat. The level of development and the population numbers probably indicate that Air connections (read Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney etc..) alone are insufficient to support this Island. Indeed, they actually don’t exist…!
    Leaving the ONLY means of supporting this Island as by people and products being transported by boat.
    Take away the boat and what do you have…? In a matter of weeks, maybe small months we would start to see starvation as produce from the mainland into Island shops ceased. Fuel would run out leading to the collapse of business’s across the Island and the collapse of Council services. Return to an almost feudal state would follow as people scrambled to produce enough food to support the Island population….begin to get the idea…..?
    That is why the boat is described as …”Lifeline Ferry services” because it supports life (as we know it) on the Island. Basic life that is, as well as the advanced state we find our lives in…!
    Simply, without the ferry companies, this Island could not survive in the way it is currently organised and populated for a sustained period. Simple to understand, to see and to appreciate. Lifeline is what the ferries are. Period.
    As to your other query…..is there any significance whatsoever what other Islands have, or have not, organised…?
    This Island is unique in many, many ways. There are not endless examples of replications of this Island – indeed, is there ONE?
    Of course, until the late 70’s commonsense prevailed and the *service* was regarded as it should…a Public service operation. Privatisation need NOT have taken away that obligation…it could have been satisfied with the profits the service generates without giving up Public service obligations.
    Privatisation that was the nirvanic wet dream of raging conservativism at the time. It seems the current bunch still carry that wet dream by their reluctance to re-address this *mistake* made all those years ago.
    The Public service obligation should never have been erased then and it should not be ignored now.
    On the other hand, if you need any help in calculating what the whole of this privatisation eventually brings as service gives way to profit drive then look no further….Wightlink and their International owners are ideal role models. Right under your nose the very same thing is currently going on in the NHS. Already three NHS trusts are in administration due to *privatisation* (PFI’s….!! ring any bells?)…do you think that a Health service need have any *Public Service Interest* as well? Or can they adapt and shape the service delivery to suit profit…?

    Come on…it’s a joke. Just about everyone knows it but cannot, for the moment, seem to get anything done about it. By the time this government are driven out of power it will be too late for the NHS…I sincerely trust it won’t be for Wightlink.


    • Agree with nearly all you said and given you an up arrow for your trouble! I have said here before, as has Harbinger, that without the ferries, human life would struggle to exist as we know it on the island and for that reason a PSO is an essential safeguard.
      No I was more interested in the legislative definition as I was wondering whether islanders had a case to take to law.

    • Biker Bill

      3.Feb.2013 10:40pm


      Fuel comes over by a barge not the ferries, thats is why we were not inconvenienced by the tanker strikes. So fear not it will not run out if the ferries pull out!

  5. Richard Smith

    3.Feb.2013 2:28pm

    Folks, the Scots solved a few overpriced communication problems in getting to the Western Isles with the ‘Road Equivalent Tariff’. In some cases, not all, ferry prices came down by 50%, bliss. Maybe there is some scope to examine this system and see whether there are circumstances in common to us here on the island? It is worth bearing in mind that in the initial awarding of this contract it is unlikely the govt of the time bothered with any ‘social benefit’ angle. That would be way too much to expect…I could be wrong, then again…

  6. Dragonfly

    3.Feb.2013 9:19pm

    Richard Smith makes a good point. I’ve looked up ‘road equivalent tariff’ (as I didn’t know what it was) and copied the website in below.
    “Ferries are an essential part of Scotland’s transport network…They perform several roles:
    Support business and employment opportunities in pursuit of a wealthier and fairer Scotland
    Encourage sustainability of communities including tourism
    Provide access to schools and healthcare for our remote AND island communities
    Enable the movement of freight to and from these communities
    The Scottish Government subsidises a number of ferry services. Additionally there are other non-subsidised major ferry services operating in Scotland.
    Enhancing Scotland’s ferry services and related infrastructure are key to supporting business and employment opportunities in pursuit of a wealthier and fairer Scotland. Achieving change in travel patterns and mode is one of the greatest challenges in securing sustainable economic growth and is integral to securing a greener Scotland. Connectivity also plays a key role in building safer and stronger communities. Safer and stronger communities are fundamental to the attractiveness of Scotland as a place to live and work.

    The Scottish Road Equivalent Tariff (RET)
    The Road Equivalent Tariff (RET) scheme involves setting ferry fares on the basis of the cost of travelling an equivalent distance by road. Following careful consideration of the findings of the final evaluation report, and as part of their commitment to encouraging economic growth and employment, Ministers have announced the Scottish Government’s intention to:
    continue RET as a permanent feature on the Western Isles, Coll and Tiree for passengers and cars, including small commercial vehicles and coaches
    replace RET for larger commercial vehicles on the Western Isles, Coll and Tiree, with an enhanced pre-RET discount scheme
    roll out a further RET pilot for passenger and cars including small commercial vehicles and coaches to Colonsay, Islay and Gigha from October 2012
    roll out a further RET pilot for passenger and cars including small commercial vehicles and coaches to Arran from October 2014
    roll out RET to other West Coast and Clyde islands within the term of this Parliament.
    The extra fare savings of up to 50% for small commercial vehicles using ferry routes to the Western Isles, Coll and Tiree are detailed in the Transitional Arrangements for Larger Commercial Vehicles

    • Here you go Mr Turner. Put this to your bunch of cronies at Westminster – proof that IW residents require a subsidised service to promote employment, encourage industry such as tourism, help local communities and an overall degree of fairness. It’s all there in black and white from your Scottish counterparts. Maybe it’s time to stop and think for a moment and stop bashing the Ferry companies (controversial I know) and start pressuring by other means. Personally I’m all for independence. Guernsey has £118bn in their banks, I think our Island here could do just as well with half of that cash.

      It would be a different kettle of fish if someone found oil beneath the Wight wouldn’t it.

    • Well, well, well

      4.Feb.2013 11:01am

      This Road Equivalent Tariff (RET) idea is interesting.

      Taking the AA’s Motoring Costs as a price per mile gauge, give an interesting range of prices.

      Being generous to Wightlink and taking their meandering ferry route Fishbourne to Portsmouth, gives a distance of 7.4 miles http://goo.gl/maps/0kDUk

      At the most expensive level (£42k+ value car, doing £14k, 30k miles year) it would work out at £2.25.

    • Richard Smith

      4.Feb.2013 2:10pm

      When the tiny and often retired Hebridean populations of Tiree, Coll and Colonsay, to use 3 examples, and there are more islands involved…are considered, surely some consideration could be given to RET for the island and its much much larger and economically active population? We probably expect 2nd homers and visitors to pay a reasonable fare, but for essential freight and islanders commuting it shouldn’t be beyond the whit of man to figure a worthwhile system fair to residents and the ferry operators? I’m grateful to Dragonfly for highlighting the RET details..I wasn’t sure that this might press any buttons but I’m glad it has. As a veteran of the SKAT (Skye against Tolls) bridge campaign of the 90’s, I know it can be done if enough of us get ticked off about this. I don’t blame Wightlink, they are simply playing by the rules as set out for them. Therein lies the problem, the rule book…and that eventually is down to us and our representatives. Can Mr Turner really help us here? Somehow I doubt it…but let’s be positive and give him the task and see what he can do.

  7. Davy Jones

    4.Feb.2013 1:52pm

    Well we have Cllr Pugh to thank for the failure of Turner’s bid to get the OFT to come to our aid. Because of Pugh’s hatred of Turner he refused to back it. One of the businessmen who worked with Turner on the project told me that without the support of the local Transport Authority (who are IWC) it was bound to fail.

    Pugh’s recent call not to say anything nasty about the ferries – was also motivated by hatred of Turner, trying to make out that by speaking out about the ferries Turner was damaging tourism.

    John Buckland (former Liz Earle MD) has now got hold of Pugh and is calling the shots – but Pugh is still refusing to work with Turner on the ferry problem. Just look at the wording of his recent motion to the Council saying we must ask the Government for help with subsidised ferry fuel – no mention of the MP at all!

    Even the Tory sheep on the Council are apparently beginning to see through him.

    Pugh is doing so much damage to our island and HE HAS GOT TO GO…

  8. Another more legally acceptable calculation would be to use HMRC’s figures for running a vehicle. If my memory is correct currently set at 45p/mile.

    Therefore 7.4 miles at 45p/mile = £3.33 My edition of google maps suggests a distance of 6.9miles = £3.11
    and Lymington – Yarmouth also from Google maps is 4.8miles @ 0.45p/mile = £2.16.
    What a difference when compared with present ferry charges.

    • Richard Smith

      4.Feb.2013 2:18pm

      Even if we take the July, August and September school holiday period out of the equation, for 9 months of the year this RET system might make good sense. Somebody grind the numbers – the volumes of traffic movement might be enormous? Night time sailings could be particularly attractive as a hugely discounted option – those who rarely leave the island may not mind a cheap sailing at an antisocial hour a couple of times a year. In any event, some fresh thinking needs to be applied…any more ideas?

  9. peaceful_life

    4.Feb.2013 2:44pm

    Buy, own and run, a community owned ferry.

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