Tresco Owner Describes FRIST Campaign As ‘Counter Productive’

FRIST are campaigning for a year round boat service

FRIST are campaigning for a year round boat service

The most high profile supporter of FRIST in Scilly has quit the organisation, claiming that the campaign group’s initiatives are “counter productive and divisive.”

Robert Dorrien Smith, owner of Tresco Estate, has been a member of the Friends of Isles of Scilly Transport since its formation last year.

The group has been campaigning for subsidised travel fares to and from Scilly, equal to the deal offered to Scottish islanders. Locals there have lower ticket prices because services are underwritten by government money.

They also have year round boat services, something FRIST wants for Scilly.

Some Scottish islands would not have links if their government had not stepped in

But the Department of Transport has repeatedly stated that there’ll be no subsidy here because we have the Steamship Company operating both air and sea services as a commercial operation.

They’d need to go bust or stop services before the government would step in, something they call market failure.

In a statement to Radio Scilly, Mr Dorrien Smith says he’d rather devote his energy to supporting organisations that are likely to produce a practical solution to the islands’ transport issues.

He says Tresco is working with the Department for Transport, Scilly and Cornwall Councils, airport staff and the airport consultants.

The estate is also in direct discussions with Skybus and the Steamship Company, the Duchy of Cornwall, the Islands Partnership, Local Enterprise Partnership and NHS, he added.

But in a strongly worded statement to Radio Scilly, committee member Marian Bennett, speaking on behalf of FRIST, said Mr Dorrien Smith was, “seeking to divide his successful up-market business from the needs of the rest of the community.”

She said he did not inform FRIST of what his concerns were before he resigned and she asked what was divisive about their campaign for a “small subsidy” for the Scillonian III to operate a winter service.

“Surely Robert should support that?” she said.

Marian said FRIST sees no reason to put out divisive press statements without any supporting evidence, but added, “the door remains open.”

Chair of Penzance Chamber of Commerce and FRIST member Dick Cliffe said, “different interests in transport have different concerns and different priorities.”

“The high end boutique tourism sector is less affected by high travel costs and community winter travel issues.

“FRIST has clearly ruffled feathers by mentioning the unmentionable but clearly somebody has to speak for the community,” he said.

Dick said members of the islands’ community feel that transport has been ‘stitched up’ to suit a small minority of interests. And he says the long term transport problems and the new winter transport issues have been “airbrushed out of the picture” to “avoid disturbing the serenity of the DfT during discussions to get funds to resurface St Mary’s Airport and help for Lands End Airport.”

The issues have not gone away and hoping that things will turn out alright is not a strategy, said Dick.

Earlier this year, Clifford Freeman, John Peacock, Alasdair Moore and Sam Guy resigned from FRIST.

12 Responses to Tresco Owner Describes FRIST Campaign As ‘Counter Productive’

  1. kev April 24, 2013 at 4:40 pm

    Jon – you have obviously done some homework. I for one appreciate the analysis and context you have provided. Your arguments make sense to me at least.

    Thanks – Kev

  2. Jon Mackenzie April 24, 2013 at 3:39 am

    It saddens me to hear of further disharmony within FRIST – the resignations are testament to that – but the fact that erstwhile members joined the organisation in the first place proves there is consensus on the fundamental requirement for improved and subsidised travel links to Scilly and I would love to see that happen. However, I believe their approach to justifying a subsidised ferry is completely wrong. Campaigning for a lifeline service and parity with the Scottish islands is futile in my opinion and if you can be bothered to read further I will attempt to explain why.

    Most Scottish islands are far closer to the mainland than Scilly and major ports boast much larger populations – Orkney, for example, is less than 10 miles from the mainland and has a population of over 20,000.

    The furthest distances subsidised mainland ferries travel to are Shetland (50m) and Harris (24m), which boast populations of 22,000 and 19,000 respectively, so it is evident that an all year round service is viable as much of the custom is trade based and therefore helps protect thousands of jobs on these islands and boosts commercial opportunities to their mainland suppliers.

    Here are a couple of examples of subsidised ferries in places most would not have heard of: Colintraive to Rhubodach is a well used route with around 250,000 foot passengers and 85,000 cars travelling every year and Wemyss Bay to Rothesay has an annual count of around 750,000 passengers and 150,000 cars. These are numbers Scillonian III can only dream of.

    It’s also worth pointing out that most of the Scottish islands are serviced by Caledonian MacBrayne, which provides services to 22 islands. Unlike our own IOSSG who are a commercial organisation, CalMac are owned by the Scottish Government. I think we can all accept that no government is likely to purchase a boat for a commercial operator and IOSSG cannot provide an economically viable year round service.

    In short, as far as I can see there is no direct comparison to be made between ferry services to Scottish islands and the Isles of Scilly as things currently stand. If there is an island or group of islands comparable to the Isles of Scilly then please let me know.

    The ’lifeline’ argument is equally flawed. If we are honest we can all see that a government minister looking into Scilly will identify excellent discounts for locals for 7 months of the year, a freight vessel which can carry passengers (albeit only 12) all year round, subsidies on flights for medical appointments and the combination of the Star of Life and air ambulance providing contingency for medical emergencies. Whether this is enough can be debated but it is clear that what is required is not a ‘lifeline’ service so there is no point campaigning for one.

    This brings me back to what I said earlier, that perhaps the approach of FRIST is wrong?

    Mrs Bennett mentions a ‘small subsidy”. Does FRIST have an amount of subsidy in mind – £3m, £5m, £10m? In 2012, CalMac, across its three subsidiaries, CalMac Ferries Ltd, Northlink Ferries Ltd and Argyll Ferries Ltd, carried 5.2 million passengers, 1.1 million cars and 1.5 million metres of freight and received subsidies of £121.8m. Based on passengers alone, this amounts to £23.42 per passenger. If the Scillonian carried 600 passengers six days a week for 30 weeks, in and out, that would equate to 216,000 passengers so an equivalent annual subsidy would be £5,058,720 based on full capacity. Is this sufficient or way beyond our needs?

    Ferry subsidies have generally been granted on the grounds that they provide people in isolated regions with a minimum level of mobility and access to services and opportunities, and that they encourage industry and employment in regions with geographical disadvantages. One version of the latter argument is that certain regions should be compensated for the lack of a direct road link and this is the avenue I believe FRIST ought to pursue on the basis that an annual subsidy of say £2-3m would be far cheaper than building and maintaining a road, if it were possible, 27 miles long.

    It is, therefore, essential that FRIST establish exactly how much they require and show how this represents further value for money to the taxpayer by preserving and generating jobs here on Scilly and on the mainland, minimising our impact on welfare and maintaining one of England’s 34 AONBs as a thriving tourist destination. Of course there are many mainland tourist destinations experiencing economic downturns that might complain, but they are better adapted to diversifying their local economies and, owing to a road network we don’t have, their populations have greater commuting opportunities for employment. On these grounds I believe FRIST might establish a strong basis for intelligent debate resulting in a sympathetic understanding of our plight from the powers that be.

    I want FRIST to keep campaigning but without unity in the ranks and a mission statement defining their objectives clearly, I fear their voice will fall on deaf ears and that would be a pity.

  3. Kev April 22, 2013 at 10:23 pm

    I think the fundamental issue that Mr smith is making is that FRIST is damaging the image of the islands and detering visitors. What Marion want’s is subsidies for island residents, she is not interested in visitors. I share her desire for even cheaper transport to the mainland for residents, but agree with Mike L, we already get a reasonable deal. The reality is Skybus was cheaper than BIH, and more reliable in that they had less days down due to ‘tech’ problems. That is why ISSCo had market share. Fog is beyond anybodies control and the Heli couldn’t fly in fog either – remember..? We should present a united front to our visitors and push the ISSCo and council to get the runway at Lands End tarmaced. And negotiate quitely for the best deal we can get for islanders, as not all island residents are reliant on tourism, but accepting the majority are.

    • Adam Morton,St.Martins April 23, 2013 at 4:37 pm

      Anyone who agrees with Mike L is damaging Scillies “image”! I would suggest that RDS has the deal he needs and part of it is probably dumping FRIST.

  4. John Hicks April 22, 2013 at 9:40 pm

    Well I’m Gob smacked. I don’t know who this Mike L is but i feel that with his attitude to people who are not millionaires then Scilly is finished for those of you who also are not millionaires. I hope to God above that not too many Visitors and prospective visitors read his post, to actually put in print that he thinks all visitors are riff raff if they don’t have access to vast amounts of money is dreadful.

    When I was on the council we strived to keep the islands for the regular middle of the road visitors who were revered and welcomed with open arms, and I like to think that we succeeded but it seems that that is now not what is wanted. What the hell is going on over there? If the only people that are wanted are the ultra rich then I fear for the future of Scilly as we know it. The community is what is important, and it is that which makes the Islands what they are not just the beautiful beaches and lovely walks. So much has already been killed off compared to what was there in the 60’s to 90’s for god sake don’t make it any worse. Get back the fun and enjoyment, the pleasantness the friendliness, that is what will make the Islands again. And work hard to get those fares down………………

  5. Bill Hiner April 22, 2013 at 9:38 pm

    Mike L
    You state you are a “Local”, and I see that you advocate the Dorrien-Smith business plan of “attracting the well off”. However, you also take advantage of the cheap £20 ticket on the Scillonian. That makes you a member of your dreaded “Riff Raff” by action and wallet size!
    If all the accommodation providers on the islands were to charge the Tresco rate, they would be empty. There should be a market for all to come and enjoy these islands-they are not a playground solely for the rich.
    I for one am glad that Tresco attracts all the chinless wonders, as it keeps the rest of the islands free for those of us who prefer to mingle with “ordinary folk”.

  6. Scillyme April 22, 2013 at 7:14 pm

    Is Mike L one of us, or a ML?

    I think I know the answer to that.

    His knowledge of the Scillies is sadly lacking.

    Dorrien Smith is not the owner of Tresco – he merely holds the lease.

    Dorrien Smith is looking after one person – himself.

    Fro your comments you give the impression of being an arrogant snob – something these islands could do without.

  7. Bobby Bobbs April 22, 2013 at 5:08 pm

    As it stands, under the current coalition government, there is absolutely no chance whatsoever of getting subsidy for transport to and from the islands. The minister for transport has made this abundantly clear (on many occasions) and the time has come to make the most of what we have, to continue forward as a community and stop dwelling on the negatives! Another operator might step in and give us more diversity, or the IOSSG might step up to the mark, again, to help alleviate the problems during the winter. I don’t know what is going to happen in the future, if tourism figures continue to drop, but what else can we do other than leaving the transport up to the IOSSG for now and try and give the tourists the best holiday for their money. I’m afraid that all of these new, and current, councillors, standing for election will not win my vote if their vision is to focus on what FRIST is trying to achieve, or to mediate into a private businesses operations.

  8. Mike L April 22, 2013 at 5:04 pm

    The DfT has already stated very clearly that there will be no transport subsidies for Scilly, similar to those enjoyed in Scotland, while a commercial operator, i.e. the Steamship Co/SkyBus are operating.

    Therefore, it begs the question what is FRIST’s ultimate goal now? If they want subsidies, the only way that will happen is for the Steamship Co to go bust. Is that what they want? Really? Where would that leave the islands?

    As far as I can see, the Steamship Co has risen to the challenge of replacing the helicopter, which some locals and visitors seem to have some romantic idea was the perfect form of transport – it was expensive, noisy, not remotely environmentally friendly and most times I travelled on it, was grounded due to fog or “going technical.”

    As a local I can get a return on the boat for a little over £20. That’s excellent value. If you ask anyone if they want cheaper fares they’re going to say yes – why wouldn’t they?

    But why can’t anyone accept that Mr Dorrien Smith might just be right. He’s trying to attract the well off, high spending travellers who don’t care about the cost of the fares. And he’s doing it by providing what they want – good quality, aspirational accommodation, flexible booking, fantastic service and decent food.

    Look at the many high quality hotels and resorts in the UK and abroad where the ‘riff raff’ are excluded because of price. Some people are willing and able to pay for a high quality experience. That’s the world we live in – get over it and use it to your advantage.

    When are the dinosaur business owners on these islands going to take a leaf from Tresco’s book and start realising we will never (thankfully) be a cheap, bucket and spade resort like Blackpool, Skegness, Newquay, Majorca or Tenerife?

    • Kev Wright April 22, 2013 at 6:39 pm

      I’m sure I’m not alone in the suggestion (and it has appeared on here before) that less well off people are “riff raff”. It’s offensive and false. There are unpleasant people who are millionaires and there are unpleasant people who are poor. There are also plenty of less well off people who have hearts of gold. Such grand stereotyping is disgusting.

  9. Raggett April 22, 2013 at 4:21 pm

    I couldn’t agree more with Dick Cliffe, transport has been ‘stitched up’ to suit a small minority of profit making interests and Marian is so right in saying that Dorrien Smith was trying to separate his successful up-market money-making business from the needs of the rest of the island’s community.

  10. Steve Raven April 22, 2013 at 11:56 am

    I think Marion has a big hammer and has hit the nail on the head.

    We looked at the possibility of a Tresco break while we were in the islands last year. The wife doesn’t mess around…..”If people can afford these prices – they’re not too concerned about the cost of getting here!”

    Says it all really.