Scilly’s Council Will Not Ask For A Route Subsidy

scillonian 2012The Council will not ask the government to subsidise the cost of transport to Scilly.

In their clearest statement on the issue, Vice Chair of Transport Steve Sims said the Town Hall’s view is that a subsidy won’t happen and pursuing it is wasting everyone’s time.

And he says campaign group FRIST’s activities have been ‘extraordinarily destructive.’

Cllr Sims was speaking in response to the interview with Marian Bennett, the coordinator of campaign group FRIST, aired by Radio Scilly earlier this week.

FRIST says there’s potential for a year-round affordable service to be subsidised.

But Steve says it’s clear from comments made by the Transport Minister Baroness Kramer at the end of the recent Transport Select Committee meeting that a subsidy “is not on the cards.”

The Council’s view is that this opinion has been offered by every Transport Minister over the years and they can’t waste time and taxpayers’ money on “pursuing something that’s pointless.”

And Steve says the Council believes that a revenue subsidy, providing money for the operator to run a service such as a winter ferry, could leave us vulnerable.

The Newquay-Gatwick air route received financial support recently, but Steve says that will be reviewed in four years time and could be withdrawn.

He feels that if a subsidy was applied here and then lost, it could see ticket prices rise by 30% overnight. And you can’t build a business model on that, he says.

Frist have campaigned for a year-round lifeline service. Steve says we already have the Gry Maritha, which can take passengers in winter. It’s not ideal, he says, but it’s there.

He believes the Council’s approach of getting money for infrastructure, at the airport and quay, is the best way forward. FRIST has supported that initiative.

Those works are another form of subsidy, says Steve, but one that can’t be clawed back in the future and he says the government have already given a massive amount of funding already when you consider how few people live here.

FRIST has repeatedly called for travel to and from the islands to be cheaper, saying there’s a relationship between ticket prices and passenger numbers.

They cite the Council’s own Transport Preference Survey last year, which showed that travellers found cost to be a barrier to travel.

But Cllr Sims says that’s “not the Council’s business” in the same way he can’t tell people what to charge for holiday accommodation or a pint of beer.

Steve said it would be an “understatement” to call FRIST a pain.

The view of the Council is that they’ve been “destructive” and he said FRIST Coordinator Marian Bennett, who is also a councillor, “should know better.”

“She needs to stop what she’s doing” said Steve, “because she’s undermining transport policy on the islands.”

But Steve also conceded that the Council had been “nowhere near proactive enough” in getting the authority’s official line across to the public.

Steve said Transport Chairman Chris Thomas’ performance “wasn’t good” in the Commons Select Committee, and that his absence from the islands since Christmas has been “problematic” when arranging meetings.

But he says Chris is an effective Chairman, “knows his stuff,” and is very approachable.

And Cllr Thomas will lead the response from the islands, requested by the MP’s.

They’d asked for the islands to agree what they wanted and come back to London with a formal request.

Steve has confirmed that FRIST will be invited to a meeting that will formulate that united response from Scilly to government.

He says Council is also organising a public meeting for April 16th, where islanders will be able to put questions to councillors, the Steamship Company, Duchy and FRIST.

You can hear the full interview with Cllr Steve Sims here.



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