Island Transport Expert Recommends Subsidy For Scilly’s Boat Route

scillonian summer 2014A report written by an expert on transport in the Scottish Islands says the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company is unlikely to be able to afford a replacement vessel without some form of subsidy on the route, a view that is disputed by the company.

And transport campaign group FRIST now believes that funding for a new boat could be secured without the need to put the service to tender.

Bill Davidson created NorthLink Ferries, a joint venture between Scottish ferry operator CalMac and the Royal Bank of Scotland. He raised £100m in finance to build three passenger and vehicle ferries serving Orkney and Shetland.

Bill went on to become the company Chief Executive, running it for 10 years before handing it over to Serco, who still operate the services.

He was invited over to Scilly last week by FRIST and met with representatives from the Council’s Strategic Development team and the tourism industry, as well as senior executives from the Steamship Company.

The Chairman and Chief Executive of the Council couldn’t attend due to other commitments.

In a brief report summarising his initial thoughts, Mr Davidson says that a new ferry will be needed “very soon” on the route to Scilly and, due to the operating requirements, it’s unlikely a second hand vessel will be available.

Bill believes that key stakeholders on the islands need to work together to secure a subsidy on the route.

Marian Bennett, the coordinator for FRIST, says an ‘Operating Deficit Subsidy’ would allow the company to receive support from the Government or EU to operate the route, keeping the fares low, while still allowing money to be put away for a new boat.

Marian says the recent subsidy of the Newquay to London air route shows that the government’s resistance to funding transport links might have been “whittled away.”

Marian says the Steamship Company has served the islands well for many years, and it wouldn’t necessarily have to face competition from another company to operate the route if a subsidy was awarded. The EU only requires that on routes with more than 300,000 passengers a year, she says.

The Steamship Company have consistently maintained that they will be able to pay for a replacement for the Scillonian III when the time comes.

In a public meeting in April this year, Steamship boss Rob Goldsmith said it was “complete supposition” that the company wouldn’t be able to finance a new or second hand vessel. And he maintained that the Scillonian was “in good nick” and is registered to 2019.

In a statement to Radio Scilly yesterday, a spokesperson for the company said: “We are fully committed to replacing our ships when the time is right but we cannot foresee public funding being available either for new vessels or to pay for subsidies because this is a profitable route that has just enjoyed a record season.

“The EU has always made it clear that it will not fund mobile infrastructure. Any argument about tenders is therefore irrelevant and we are at a loss to understand why FRIST is even pursuing this argument.”

Marian Bennett says she hopes the findings of Mr Davidson’s report will be brought to the cross-community Transport Task and Finish Group being organised by the Council next month.

 



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