Transport To Scilly Debated In House Of Lords

Lord Berkeley during the debate yesterday

Attempts to get subsidised transport for Scilly in line with the Scottish Islands failed to sway a Conservative Transport Spokesman in the House of Lords yesterday.

And Lord Atlee’s incorrect statement about how much we pay in ferry fares here may have cost Scilly some support from peers uncertain whether we need any subsidy.

In the debate, Lord Berkeley asked what action the Government are taking to create a lifeline passenger ferry link to the Isles of Scilly in line with the Scottish Government’s subsidised ferries policy. He stated that a return ferry fare from the Scottish island of Islay costs £12.35, which is much less than the Scillonian’s round-trip rate.

But Minister, Lord Atlee, responded by claiming islanders could get a mainland fare for £20.50. What he didn’t make clear is that’s the single ticket price, and the rate solely for travelclub members only.

Lord Berkeley also asked the Minister if he would allow the Council to use some of the ERDF money that is still outstanding for the quay refurbishment before the deadline runs out?

Another supporter, Lord Bradshaw said that the helicopter and the ship are running on “borrowed time,” and the islands will be “more or less cut off when the existing ships and infrastructure fail.”

From Radio Scilly

Lord Berkeley spoke to Radio Scilly yesterday

Lord Atlee responded that the Steamship Company has announced it will invest in the ship to maintain it in operational use until at least 2018 and he was, “not aware of any major structural defects that will necessarily prevent seaworthiness beyond that time.”

The Minister said that we were a different case to Scotland because our service hasn’t needed subsidies in the past and there’s more than one operator here.

Supporters of Scilly were keen to point out that the islands have been recognized as economically disadvantaged because we get convergence funding from Europe. People here received less than 75% of the average European income.

They also said we need the service for economic and medical reasons.

In an interview with Radio Scilly yesterday, Lord Berkeley told us he wants the incorrect fare figure corrected. He said he wants to see the written version of the debate and, if he thinks the Minister has “told a porkie” he’ll get a correction put in.

Lord Berkeley said since Scotland introduced the new fare subsidies, tourism has gone up, whereas in Scilly it’s going down. He says that suggests it’s the cost of getting here that’s a problem.

He said this is the first stage in a lengthy process and it was “manifestly unfair” that the Scottish islands get a subsidy whereas in England we don’t. People living in Scilly should get the same opportunities and access to services as those in the North, he said.

And he says he will work with the Council to keep the pressure on the Government and to lobby the European Union for a fairer structure through subsidy and to continue to.

Lord Berkeley says getting the question raised in the Lords is the first step and, with a packed chamber yesterday, will get some awareness of the issue. He says he’ll go back in a few months time with more questions.

He’ll also press the DfT to allow our quay refurbishment work to go ahead even if the Penzance scheme isn’t ready. He said it’s “pretty stupid” to lose £4m of EU funding because one side isn’t ready, when St Mary’s could be benefitting.

You can watch the debate here.