FRIST Claims Trial Winter Boat Service Moving A Step Closer

scillonian III 2013The Friends of Isles of Scilly Transport campaign group claims that a trial winter Scillonian service is a step closer following discussions with European Union officials in Brussels.

Marian Bennett and Lord Berkeley visited the European Commission and European Parliament last week to seek clarification over whether state aid could underwrite the boat out of season.

The Department for Transport says there will be no subsidy while a commercial operator exists, but officials in Brussels told FRIST that market failure in the context of small islands means that, “the services, frequencies and prices provided did not meet the expectations and prices of the users.”

FRIST argues that last winter’s disruption shows this has already occurred

The Steamship Company say they can’t announce how much money they want to run a winter boat service as European rules mean the routes need to go out to tender. If they reveal their costs, they would be excluded from the process.

Marian Bennett didn’t want to speak about the visit to Brussels but Lord Berkeley says he’s been told there’s no need to tender the route if fewer than 300,000 passengers use it each year.

All that’s required is a public notice announcing the intention to provide support for a service.

The same would apply to a longer term all-year-round service at affordable prices, but a new ship, if funded by the state, would need to be tendered.

FRIST want the support of Scilly’s Council for a winter boat trial and they can’t see why the Town Hall would not back an alternative to Skybus, unless, FRIST say, the Council fear a loss of revenue from St Mary’s airport fees.

The Labour Peer says if the Cornwall and Scilly Councils don’t think it is a service worth supporting, then he feels the electorate will have their say, bearing in mind the problems last winter.

Lord Berkeley has written to Norman Baker seeking a subsidy and next week he’ll meet the Transport Minister who will also decide whether the Penzance and St Mary’s quay improvements are funded.

Lord Berkeley says the funding for a trial winter service would come from either the Department for Transport or Cornwall Council adding that the amount of funding required will be tiny compared with overall Government and even Cornwall Council budgets and he expects it to be under £1m.

Diana Mompoloki says the Council has always highlighted that acquiring the Public Service Obligation, or PSO, status that would allow support for the route was possible, but that it doesn’t automatically lead to a subsidy.

That’s the responsibility of the authority that applies for the PSO and they would have to pay the difference between the cost of the service and the income.

In the current climate, she says, the Council can’t contemplate an open-ended financial commitment and that’s a response being echoed by the Department for Transport.

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