FRIST Wants Scilly’s Council To Look At Transport Subsidy

The Scillonian III

The Scillonian III

Friends of Isles of Scilly Transport say a subsidy for travel to the islands is possible and they’re determined to make it happen.

And in an email sent to all councillors, FRIST Coordinator Marian Bennett has questioned whether Council Chief Executive Theo Leisjer was speaking on behalf of the community at the recent Government Transport Select Committee.

Mr Leisjer told MPs that the islanders were proud of delivering their own solutions, and the problem with the service was resilience.

In an interview with Radio Scilly, Marian says FRIST disputes this claim, arguing that cost and service levels are being ignored.

Marian welcomes Council initiatives to improve the infrastructure – the airports and quays at either ends of the route – but says this is not enough to stem the decline in visitor numbers.

FRIST claim there is a strong correlation between fare prices and the numbers of people using the service.

They want a so called ‘operating deficit subsidy’ similar to those that operate on some air and sea routes to the Scottish islands.

This, says Marian, still allows the operators to make a reasonable profit as well as investment into a replacement vessel. It’s been so successful on some routes that passenger numbers have increased, leading to a reduction in the subsidy.

She says the public also have a say in setting the fare and service levels, citing the example of the Islay ferry, which runs several times a day, 7 days a week and costs just £6.50 for an adult single ticket.

“Subsidy is not a dirty word,” says Marian, adding that she believes it is the future for our transport services.

The Council has repeatedly said that a subsidy is unlikely, because the Steamship Company is viable and there is no ‘market failure.’ And they’ve said the top-up money would need to come from the Council’s own coffers.

But Marian says that’s not correct. Cornwall is our Transport Authority, not Scilly, and she says there would be some arrangement put in place with the government for funding.

And she says the European Commission doesn’t define market failure as the demise of the operating company, but rather when the service fails to meet the expectations of the users.

“Our services are there,” says Marian.

She says it’s also clear from the questions posed in the Select Committee that the government hasn’t rejected out the option of a subsidy.

FRIST say they have repeatedly taken the initiative to drive forward a solution to the islands transport problems, including getting the Council in front of the Select Committee and initiating a round table discussion for all the agencies involved.

That will hopefully generate the plan called for by the government.

But Marian, who is also a councillor for Bryher, says FRIST is being kept in a “political wilderness” even though they have overwhelming support, with over 2,500 members, many of whom live on the islands.

She says the Council’s Transport Committee is focussing on physical infrastructure, such as the airport, adding that it’s difficult for members to get things on the agenda.

She says they’re failing in their duty to the community by not exploring all the options.

But Marian says she’s not the only councillor who supports a subsidy and there’s actually more agreement within the Council than is apparent from the outside.

FRIST has handed over the responsibility for organising the round-table discussion, originally planned for 9th April, to the Council.  Marian hopes they’ll include a seat for FRIST.

We asked the Council for their reaction to FRIST’s comments and whether a meeting has been convened. We’ve not had a reply.

You can hear the full interview with Marian Bennett here.

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