Read Wightlink CEO Russell Kew’s response to an OnTheWight reader’s letter

Chief Executive answers calls for ferry companies to accept they provide vital public transport services.


Wightlink boss has volunteered this response to the recent Letter to the Editor by Harbinger. In his own words. Ed

Wightlink has a long and proud history of serving the Isle of Wight and we are determined to protect this heritage into the future. We recognise that Islanders rely on our services and we must therefore act responsibly to secure the long-term future of our service.

We operate without public subsidy, and despite the fact that we have no mandated public service obligations, we take our responsibilities to the Island seriously.

Thousands of loss-making sailings
That is why we run thousands of loss-making sailings each year, operate through the night on our flagship Portsmouth-Fishbourne route, offer discounts for disabled passengers, give half price fares to Islanders who have to travel to the mainland for medical treatment, support hundreds of charitable causes, spend more than £1m every year promoting the Island as a destination, and have invested more than £50m in the last five years in our ports and ships to improve customers’ experiences.

I believe these are the actions of a company which cares deeply for its customers and is part of Island life.

Difficult choices always have to be made
Of course, everyone wants more services at lower cost, but that is a not a reality in either the public or private sector.

Difficult choices always have to be made in challenging financial circumstances and, faced with steeply rising costs, we have the choice of increasing our fares or matching our services more closely to when the overwhelming majority of our customers are travelling. We know how much Islanders care about price and, as a result we believe it is right to control our costs carefully and protect customers from fare increases as much as possible.

26% ticket price rise compared with 81% RPI
It is worth pointing out that, in 1992, the peak day return price for a car+4 was £32.50. In 2012, twenty years later, that cost was £41 – a 26% rise over two decades. Over the same period RPI has gone up by 81% and in the last three years alone, fuel costs have almost trebled.

Islanders enjoy a significant discount (30%) and this year we held almost all our fare increases at or below inflation.

Public ownership?
Clearly it is a matter of public policy whether the cross-Solent route should be publicly owned or subsidised. But, given the significant demands which are already being made on public money, it does not seem likely that subsidising a route which has 138 sailings a day, many of which are already being run at a voluntary loss by their operators, would be a priority.

Ferry services in Scotland are often cited for comparison, however it is rarely commented that these are infrequent (for example the Isle of Bute has just 16 sailings a day, Arran has five and Iona has eight) and that they do not run in the evenings or early mornings.

Determined to improve wherever we can
We know that customers and Islanders feel passionately about our services and we are determined to improve wherever we can.

That is why I am so pleased to be involved with the new Solent Ferry Users Group which I hope will provide an opportunity for more dialogue with our customers.

Russell Kew, Chief Executive, Wightlink

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Thursday, 7th February, 2013 10:42am



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

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

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20 Comments on "Read Wightlink CEO Russell Kew’s response to an OnTheWight reader’s letter"

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Island Monkey
The ‘we’ he speaks of does not include him. He and his bosses, the Aussie Macquarrie group are recent arrivals to the feeding trough. The fact is they made an £8.5 million profit in the past year. To spare you getting your calculator out, that’s about £23,000 every single day of the year. To be very fair, they did lose money on a few crossings – but… Read more »
Steve Draper

Well stated Russell Kew!!

Russell Kew’s frenzied counter criticism has shown that the public outcry has irritated an exposed sore. Wounded initially by the soft underbelly of a private company whose only motive is profit not service. Yes that is what it means to run something that should be a public service, service that has to be there in times of need, and should run thousands of loss-making sailings and operate… Read more »
So Thomas, you think that Wightlink has to provide a public service regardless of cost (like the NHS?). Well back in the real world, it seems that Russell Kew cannot win if his answers do not fit with your demands. You live on an Island, you must pay somebody to take you back and forth, they must make a profit, if you don’t like it then leave… Read more »
A public service can run regardless of cost,Badboy, in the real world these things have happened and still do.You may have lived on an island but are part of the big island above and we are all born to it and public services have always existed. Call it socialism or communism if you want but what is failing is capitalism. You may have lived with public ownership… Read more »
God, lets not not talk about the NHS. As a country We pay a fortune for a second rate service, only nobody is brave enough to say so. Just look at the 1200 patients allowed to die due to neglect in North Staffordshire. Don’t think it does happen here in St Mary’s. My wife was in St Mary’s for a few weeks and she was disgusted our… Read more »

As you appear to dislike socialism and cheer all things capitalist,Bayboy, I assume you pay to visit a private doctor and will never go near an NHS ward as it will be a private hospital paid from your own pocket for you.

This is an extract from Hansard regarding the sale of Sealink with questions asked in the HoL. Note in the first question from Lord Carmichael ‘With existing services more or less protected’ and in the reply from Lord Harmar – Nicholls ,’without too many unnecessary conditions … affecting the sale price’. So there seems to be a political will going back in 1984 to minimise any Public… Read more »

I’m pleased Russell Kew is working with the Solent Ferry Users Group. Sadly during the recent on line debates up until today, the group seem to have been conspicuous by its absence. Any reason?

I am frightened to admit it but I have difficulty in disagreeing with the points Mister Kew makes. Amongst comparisons made in the earlier letter was with the Isle of Coll. I know this Island having spent many a holiday there in the 70s, 80s and 90s. Coll’s year round population is barely 100. The journey to the mainland takes around 3 hours. In the summer there… Read more »
I have no doubt that Mr Kew is an honourable man and that he has the best interests of the island (and his company) at heart. My concern however is that without support in the form of a subsidy or PSO for this lifeline service, Wightlink’s (and the island’s) future is in the hands of an international financial company which would appear to be in some difficulty… Read more »
Black Dog
I have read and re-read Mr Kew’s response and all I can say is – spoken like a true accountant. Mr Kew, consider your argument, that Wightlink make many loss making sailings – If you owned a shop or Hotel would you measure every hour or days profitability? NO. I do not know of any company in any field that measures profitability in this way. can you… Read more »
adrian nicholas
Is Russel Kew therefore claiming that the Isle of Bute’s tiny population and related economic consequences are somehow size and consequence to the IOW? I also failed tho realize that Maquarrie/wightlink and its rather interesting tax arrangements – were somehow for ‘charitable’ essential community beed and re-investment purposes and that its exorbitant fares and dwindling timetable was run solely on that premise and not profit…? Perhaps, therefore,… Read more »
Itsy-bitsy omissions from Mr Kew’s otherwise frank response. Private equity funds have seen the price paid for Wightlink more than double in the same two decades; the transfer in 2001 (RBS) to 2004 (Macquarie) added 77%. (Red Funnel’s price has tripled!) The locked-in market share, consistent revenue, I can see the attraction for a PEF. However with the increase in purchase price, there was a need to… Read more »

Population of Iona – 125. One hundred and twenty-five.

adrian nicholas
For those keen on Russell Kew’s reply and comparison to IOW – here are a few statistics’ Isle of Bute, . Its resident population was 7,228 in April 2001.[4] – IOW population 142,000 In the north, Bute is separated from the Cowal peninsula by the Kyles of Bute. The northern part of the island is sparsely populated, and the ferry terminal at Rhubodach connects the island to… Read more »
Anyone interested in reading about how Macquarie manages it’s other UK businesse which dwarf the investment in Wightlink should read the article on page 9 of the Sunday Times business section dated 10.02.13. entitled “Enter the vampire kangaroo”. Wightlink’s structure is no different from any of the others with the aim according to the article of whittling down it’s tax payments in the UK to nil. Whilst… Read more »

Thanks for that Colin. One tiny bit of good news might be that Barclays Bank is apparently closing its corporate tax-dodging unit. Lets hope that will be the first of many.

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