Letter from By Paul Long, Yarmouth. Originally published in the Isle of Wight County Press.
Last year I sent the email below to the County Press and was pleased to see it printed.
I discussed it over the phone with our MP who had not read it but suggested it was a council matter.
Most concerningly he told me “the government has no appetite for regulation” – his exact words.
The government has put regulation in place in respect of the privatisation of key industries in the 1980s, so why do they shy away from regulating the ferry companies?
The email read:
Having recently been significantly inconvenienced by a particular silly Wightlink error I feel the time has come to find a realistic pragmatic solution to the Island’s ferry problems.
I feel the behaviour of the ferry companies penalises life on the Island on many fronts – for instance I would ask who would start a business here with the known ferry service and reliability problems?
Tourism must be also damaged, especially in the shoulder holiday periods, because of the prices / reputational difficulties of Wightlink in particular.
Then there is the obvious day to day frustration of Islanders trying to use the services.
I propose that Wightlink and Red Funnel are placed under the regulatory regime run by Ofwat.
This organisation controls pricing in the water industry where the various water companies typically operate a monopoly.
It is designed to ensure the water companies achieve a reasonable profit on the assets they employ and can fund their capital expenditure.
Initially profits should be regulated, by controlling ticket prices, to a typical level of return for a low risk transport company.
I understand that there is no regulation whatsoever at present.
Going forward the companies should be allowed additional profits based on reliability, punctuality, effective customer communication, operating a full timetable (a public service obligation), cleanliness of the boats, cross training of staff – all the way to CEO level – to avoid the frequent failures of service because of missing crew members, annual customer service surveys.
This initiative would not require government funding to buy out existing shareholders and will not require significant management oversight / cost – Ofwat already exists.
Importantly it does not involve the ferry businesses being taken into the public sector which I expect would lead to service levels dropping further.
And most importantly of all it should lead to an immediate reduction in ticket prices.
Recently I read in the County Press that Michael Gove, who has a reputation of getting things done, stressed the importance of connectivity with the mainland and the importance of demanding accountability from the ferry companies.
A key statement was the government would “stand ready” to look at ferry services in the form of a cash injection or additional regulation if required.
That point about regulation should be pursued vigorously in the interests of the Island.