Report Highlights Difference In Costs For Scilly And Scottish Isles

The Council has published a report that it hopes will support its case for transport to the Isles of Scilly to be subsidised by the Government.

The report, produced by the Council’s Economic Development team, compares transport links in Scilly with those in selected Scottish Islands, including Islay in the Inner Hebrides and Fetlar in the Northern Isles, which receive significant support from the devolved Scottish Government.

Islay was chosen as a comparator for St Mary’s, due to it’s population size and distance to the mainland, while Fetlar is compared to Off-Islands such as St Agnes, which have additional burdens in transport of goods and passengers.

There were no comparable islands in England, with places like the Isle of Wight being too big, and Lundy being too small.

The report finds that in just about every measure, the cost of passenger and freight transport by sea and by air costs significantly more in Scilly.

An adult return fare on the two-hour, 25-mile ferry trip from Port Askaig to Kennacraig in Islay costs £12.35, while a 72-mile flight from Glasgow costs £98.

In addition to the significant difference in cost, the report also highlights the service obligations placed on ‘lifeline’ ferry services in Scotland. The Islay ferry service operates four daily returns, year-round.

Interestingly, the cost of a basket of common groceries at Islay’s Co-op store was comparable to that on Scilly, being just 2% cheaper, although the cost of building materials showed much larger variations.

These materials where almost twice the cost of those purchased in Penzance and over 60% more than in Islay.


Transport costs having damaging effect on economy


The authors of the report say that the high cost, poor frequency and reliability of service to the Islands is having a damaging effect on the economy, with an overall growth rate well below that of the mainland.

They claim that high costs are in part responsible for the decline in tourist passenger numbers over the past few years.

The issue of travel between St Mary’s and the Off-Islands also comes in for criticism. It says the provision and cost of inter-island boats, especially in winter, makes it difficult for people to commute to work on St Mary’s or access services such as shopping and medical care.

The report says the co-ordination of ‘specials’, fixed-price non-scheduled services where the cost of the boat is shared between the passengers, is poor, with a lack of communication.

This means people never know how much it is going to cost, although the report singles out St Agnes boats for praise in making a lot of their information available online.

While it’s acknowledged that the situation in Scotland, with its devolved Parliament, is different to that in Scilly, the report points out that subsidies to the Scottish Islands were in place before devolution.

It also says there is some degree of ‘hidden’ public subsidy taking place in Scilly already, with almost £850,000 per year being spent by the Council and NHS on staff and patient transport, as well as building project freight costs.

In his foreword, Chairman of the Council, Mike Hicks, says the very high cost of fares and freight charges, the limited, seasonal service and the poor facilities are all damaging to the future of Scilly’s economy in general, and to the health and well being of islanders.

He says, “The challenge which lies ahead, if these islands are to survive as working communities, can only be addressed if an efficient and affordable transport system to the mainland is recognised as key to the economy and accorded the same importance as that granted to the Scottish Isles.”

The report, which is due to go before the Full Council meeting next Tuesday, concludes that Scilly needs a frequent, all-year round, comfortable ferry and freight service for the islands with prices similar to those in Scotland.

However, it states rather ominously that the long-term objective is to, “avoid a situation of market failure, when the Government would be forced to step in at potentially great cost to avoid a potentially serious problem as the private sector could no longer afford to provide the current services.”


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