Letter to Rt Hon John Hayes MP

Ferry submissions

‘The current agreed vision for the task force is: "A multi modal transport system for the Isle of Wight that is secure, accessible and affordable and which underpins the social, economic and environmental well-being of the Island community”’

This Month, a meeting with Transport Minister, John Hayes, took place in London. This was a follow up to Andrew Turner’s Adjournment debate speech in the House of Commons, calling for the establishment of a task force to examine the whole issue of Transport Infrastructure for the IOW.

The delegation to meet the Minister included Andrew Turner, who led the delegation, Jonathan Bacon, the new leader of the Council, John Metcalfe, the director in charge of economic development for the IOW Council and The Better Ferry Campaign’s Nicholas Finney.

Read the letter that was sent to Rt Hon John Hayes MP, in advance of that meeting, below.

Dear Minister

Isle of Wight Infrastructure Task Force

We write in advance of our scheduled meeting on Tuesday 3 February 2015 and further to the adjournment debate on Monday 13 October 2014 in respect of the above. The purpose of writing is to provide an update on the steps we have taken to establish the task force; provide some further background to why it is important and identify some of the points we would wish to discuss in our meeting.

Perhaps the most important development to report is that the establishment of an Island Infrastructure Task Force has the unanimous support of the Isle of Wight Council with Members of all parties supporting a motion to this end at the November 2014 meeting of the Council. Subsequently proposed terms of reference for the task force have been drafted and agreed and are attached as an appendix to this letter. These terms of reference are intended to serve as a starting point for the work of the task force and will need to be shaped and agreed by its membership once it is established. This is an important role for the chairman of the task force and is a matter we shall return to later. The current agreed vision for the task force is

“A multi modal transport system for the Isle of Wight that is secure, accessible and affordable and which underpins the social, economic and environmental well-being of the Island community”

The Isle of Wight has a fragile economic base and the work of the Infrastructure Task Force will be central in helping the economy to become more robust. Despite the best attempts of the Isle of Wight Council and the local community to rebalance the economy towards private sector employment the public sector still accounted for 33% of Island jobs in 2013. It is also estimated that only 10% of the working age population travel regularly to the mainland for work.

The level of economic activity is extremely low; in 2011 its GDP per capita was 63% of that for Hampshire and 70% of that for Southampton and 67% of that for Portsmouth its mainland neighbouring unitary authorities. Gross weekly pay is approximately 88% of the Great Britain and 81% of the South East average figure. Unemployment rates are higher than the south east and there is a steady increase in International Labour Organisation (ILO) unemployment the seasonality of work tends to mask some of the underlying employment problems.

The Isle of Wight’s Business Rate Base is very low with the Council’s 50% share being only £17.294m. Consequently it receives a top up grant of £12.449m from Government. Current projections over the next 3 years are that the business rate yield is likely to remain static with any increase only attributable to the increase in the multiplier

Although the Island includes some very successful high technology businesses in the areas of marine, aerospace and composites, the visitor economy remains its primary source of employment underpinning approximately 30% of local jobs. The Island is therefore a predominantly low skilled employment area and less than 30% of the Island’s working age population are qualified to NVQ level 4 or above, compared to 38% in the South East.

It is considered that the security and affordability of physical links to the mainland continue to deter businesses from making ‘step change’ investments on the Isle of Wight that will improve its overall economic position. Addressing this challenge will be a key focus of the work of the Infrastructure Task Force.

The Island has a fragile social base comprising an above average number of older people; 23.83% of its resident population are 65 years of age and older the third highest unitary or county area in England and Wales for this measure. This contributes to it also being an outlier for the use of residential and nursing care and the number of clients with learning disability. The corollary is that the Island’s labour market is very unlike that of the rest of the South East – 59.77% of its resident population is of working age (16-64 years) the third smallest of any unitary or county area in England and Wales against this measure

The impact of the national concessionary fares scheme, as a tourist destination, has a disproportionate impact on the Council’s budget with a cost of some £4.7m in 2014/15. This is generally impacted by the existence of only one public bus service provider on the Island and one would be assisted were there to be a different approach to the provision of these services Island wide.

By delivering an increase in mobility to, from and within the Island there is an increased likelihood that the Isle of Wight’s social demography will naturally rebalance reducing the overall financial pressures of the current demographic.The appointment and role of the Chairman in the Infrastructure Task Force is the key next stage in its development. They will have a key role to play in identifying the membership of the Task Force and the prioritisation of its work. The involvement of the Government in both the identification and appointment of the Chairman would be welcome and would help emphasise the potential positive impact the task force can have for the Island and also secure the involvement of some of the key stakeholders such as the ferry companies, train company, bus company and harbour authorities.

Funding the work of the task force is a key constraint to its implementation. Estimates suggest that the delivery of the terms of reference may cost in the order of £500,000 to £750,000 but it is likely that some funding could be secured from the private sector to help offset these costs. Nevertheless there will be a need public sector funding to support the work of the task force. It is recognised that the Solent Local Enterprise Partnership may be an important conduit to potential funds but there is some concern that the evaluation criteria applied to public funds channelled through Local Enterprise Partnerships do not allow for the characteristics of an Island community (and the need for such bids to be led by the public sector) and therefore impede the Isle of Wight’s ability to secure the funds through this approach that could support the work of the task force. The assistance of Government in helping to overcome these barriers to securing public funds to support the project and/or in identifying funds that Government itself might make available to help the project would be greatly appreciated

Government, through the Department for Transport, has significant experience in strategic infrastructure planning at a national level. It would be extremely helpful to this project if it were able to share some of this experience in the form of information, advice and guidance to helps shape the work of the Forum and ensure that it works to deliver the required outcomes to time and budget and for the benefit of the Isle of Wight. The ongoing support of the Government would be most welcome but any help that it can provide in the formative stages of the task force and the project would be especially welcome.

We very much look forward to meeting with you on the 3 February to discuss these and any points that you would like to raise with us.

Yours sincerely

Jonathon Bacon
Leader of Isle of Wight Council

Andrew Turner MP
Isle of Wight

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