Transport Minister Quizzed On Route Subsidies

Secretary of State for Transport Patrick McLoughlin

Secretary of State for Transport Patrick McLoughlin

The Transport Minister wants to see how well Scilly’s travel operations work this winter before addressing calls for a route subsidy.

And he’s aware that islanders are getting cheaper fares anyway.

As expected, Patrick McLoughlin announced funding for the quay extension and further St Mary’s road resurfacing yesterday.

The Council arranged the Minister’s tight schedule, which included visits to the quay, airport and meetings with Steamship Company personnel.

Vice Chairman of the Transport Committee Steve Sims drove the Mr McLoughlin around St Mary’s on his community bus, too.

There was no time set aside for the Minister to meet any community representatives from the stakeholder groups pushing for travel subsidies. FRIST and the Islands’ Partnership were not invited.

Mr McLoughlin was keen to highlight the government’s £10m funding package for the quay and roads on St Mary’s.

He repeatedly told a press conference at the airport that the infrastructure investments on both sides of the air route would better equip travel operators to withstand poor weather.

But most of the journalists present were keen to quiz the Minister over FRIST’S calls for cheaper fares by a route subsidy.

Mr McLoughlin acknowledged that he was aware that stakeholder groups wanted that and local people feel strongly about the matter.

He believes that the Steamship Company is providing a commercial service and the special reduced fares that residents receive from them is a form of subsidy.

But he said the government will be responding soon to the recently published Select Committee Report, which included evidence from island representatives.

Andy Hargreaves of Scilly Today explained to the Minister that the biggest Steamship Company discounts were offered to residents for boat tickets. But the Scillonian doesn’t sail in the winter and that’s a period when poor weather can also prevent flying.

Whilst he didn’t refuse to look at underwriting a service, the Minister said he wanted to re-assess the situation next year, after the first winter with the upgraded, surfaced Land’s End airport runway in use.

Clive Mumford of the Scillonian Magazine wanted to know whether the difficulty in bringing over the tarmac batching plant gave the Minister an understanding of our travel challenges.

Mr McLoughin said it had given him an insight.

Clive then raised the question of travel subsidy being pursued to make the islands more affordable for visitors. The Minister wasn’t convinced of that need, because he’d seen figures showing that visitor numbers were increasing.

He said he was keen to support the islands’ economy and the current investments in infrastructure demonstrated that this was his priority.

There was just one question not related to the transport challenges.

Council press contact and Scilly Now and Then Co-editor Jon Mackenzie asked Mr McLoughlin when he thought the Prime Minister would holiday here.

The Minister tactfully said that was for Mr Cameron to decide.

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