Better Ferry Campaign press release 30/01/14

Press Release

The Better Ferry Campaign (BFC) supports the IOW Scrutiny Panel (SP) but believes the Council must not stop there. Further discussion on key questions need to be addressed with regard to Cross-Solent travel.

Are the ferry company customer surveys based on reliable data?
There is an enormous gap between all the ferry operators’ customer services surveys and the reaction on our website. In only two weeks since launch we have had over 3,000 responses of public support via our website, Facebook and Twitter – over 5 x more respondents than Wightlink’s 2012 customer survey. These BFC responses are very measured and overwhelmingly raise very serious concerns with existing ferry services.

Declining passenger numbers and significant service reductions point to a downward spiral – should the Island accept this or do we need radical change?
The data supplied in response to the Scrutiny Panel shows passenger volumes down by 5% since 2009. In response, Red Funnel has cut services by 14% since 2009 and Wightlink by a very significant 26% over the same period. At what point do cuts in services stop? What action is being taken to reinstate critical lifeline evening services?

Is a tourist focused strategy the right way to arrest this decline?
Tourism only represents 24% of Isle of Wight GDP as set out on the Visit IoW website and can it bear the whole cost? Wightlink in particular focus on tourism as the solution to their problems exhorting Islanders to work harder to spread tourism across the year and across the week. Does this approach make sense when the tourist trend is towards weekend breaks and a concentration around school holidays? While tourism is vitally important what about the other 75% of the Island’s GDP and the 40% of ferry passengers who are not tourists? What happens in the event that this tourist only strategy fails?

We cannot avoid the discussion about high debts – why did this not feature as part of the review?
Wightlink’s debt stands at £192 million and 70% of its income is being used to pay interest. It has no clear plan to repay that debt. It has no clear plans to finance new ferries. As shown in the figures presented to the SP, investment levels have declined significantly down to around £4 million in the last financial year. These facts are all in the public domain and need addressing. How does the company plan to support future investment and its debt levels? Islanders must have answers to these questions. The IOW council and the company must not hide from them. Our future is at stake here.

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The Island group behind the BFC was originally brought together by the Island’s MP as part of his OFT campaign and by the IOW Council to consider the ferry issue. They launched the BFC to galvanise overwhelming public support for a fairer and more flexible, regulated ferry service, which actually serves the Island community. The BFC seeks to re-connect the Island with the mainland, and help improve the economy, while safeguarding the lifeline service for future generations. We believe fundamental change is essential, with a major debt write-down and the launch of an Island-focused Community Interest Company (CIC) to take ownership of Wightlink.

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