Campaign to take over ferries doomed to failure

The Great IW Ferry Debate County Press February 7th, 2014

Letters from: Mr S Ward, Ryde
One area which seems to have been missed in the ongoing debate regarding the Better Ferry Campaign, and other similar campaigns over the years, is that of the staff involved in the ferry companies.

The ferry companies employ hundreds of Islanders in varying roles. The jobs offer decent terms and conditions, and compared to other career opportunities on the Island these jobs are very attractive, offering a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay.

The ferry companies also employ young people in ‘starter jobs’, the all-important first job for a young person, which enables them to find their feet in the labour market. The wages paid to these Island employees is then fed back into the Island economy via shops, pubs, restaurants, businesses and the all-important council tax.

The UK continental ferry companies and their staff have found to their cost over the last decade the price to be paid by low-cost operators entering the market. These shipping companies enter the market offering cheaper crossings by recruiting labour from the four corners of the globe and in some cases, paying slave labour rates, far below the national minimum wage. As customers, if we can save £20 a crossing we will take it.

By the time these companies have been dragged through the EU courts their competitors have gone to the wall. As any business shark will tell you, once the competition has gone you can start to raise your prices, though not your wages, of course. The money that would have been spent in the local economies by ships’ staff has now been converted to survival money for those who do not have much option.

The Better Ferry Campaign has tried to capture the public imagination by promising increased services at lower prices. The campaign’s strategy to achieve this is still a mystery to unfold. To make a statement that the campaign is going to ‘take over ferry ownership’ is ludicrous. That sentence itself has removed any credibility this group may have had.

The letter in the CP (24-01-14) from this group states the Island needs to say ‘enough is enough’. From this you can read the group has no financial backing and is hoping to stir up outrage from the population to enforce change. If it thinks the proles are about to take to the streets it is sadly mistaken.

Any potential financial backers will want their own return on investment, and when they consider increasing fuel costs, increased emissions regulations, increased statutory requirements, increased EU regulations, union opposition, new build costs for the Portsmouth to Fishbourne route and the nonsense from the Lymington brigade, they may see the risk premiums do not make this an attractive investments and any major investors would certainly not invest through the Better Ferry Campaign.

There is also the small matter that none of the ferry companies have indicated they are looking for outside investment. In short, it is a campaign doomed to failure.

There is always room for improvement in any service-led business and I am sure if you have a coherent argument and you go through the right channels it will be listened to. I don’t think anyone could accuse the ferry bosses of living in ivory towers.

One area of focus should be on the commuters, who do not have much of a choice in the matter of travel arrangements and pay large sums of money each year for travel, as well as providing for their families. I would suggest it would be wiser for MP Andrew Turner to show more support for this group rather than the Better Ferry Campaign.

From Suzanne Dunbar, Cowes

Hidden aspect: I write with reference to the Better Ferry Campaign, which appears to be the topic of conversation at the moment across the Island.
Those of you who harbour the impression the Better Ferry Campaign is a non-political movement may like to think again.

Buried within the group’s website is the information that all the data submitted to the campaign by subscribing supporters will be held by Conservative MP Andrew Turner acting as data controller.

In a jiffy we can see another reason the MP so zealously supports the campaign.

The group’s privacy policy states: “Andrew Turner may contact you (or authorise others involved in the promotion of the campaign to contact you) for campaign related purposes for example to give you an update on the progress of the campaign, to inform you about developments or to canvas your opinion on related matters.”

There will be some who will see this as the MP being given carte blanche to use the BFC database in order to send out self-promotional activity dressed up as campaign publicity and updates. Indeed, I am told even as the IW Council met last week to discuss cross-Solent travel , Mr Turner was busy emailing hundreds of people trying to get them to sign up to the ferry campaign. Talk about priorities.

I wonder what the council’s ruling independent group, who slavishly seek to eschew such politicisation make of this? I wonder also what the established political parties think of the fact this campaign is also providing the sitting Tory MP with a new database to exploit.

I am sure there is nothing illegal about this arrangement, indeed it is a very smart political move. But, make no mistake, political it is and those joining the group should be aware of this hidden aspect of the Better Ferry Campaign.

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