Isle of Wight MP calls for independent regulator for ferries

WightLink Car Ferry

By Emily Hudson

BBC Hampshire & Isle of Wight Political Reporter

This article first appeared on the BBC News Website. See here.

An independent regulator for ferry services must be introduced, an MP has said.

Bob Seely, Conservative MP for the Isle of Wight, said the current system of private ownership gave firms no legal obligation to meet minimum standards.

He was talking in particular about Red Funnel and Wightlink – who both run cross-Solent services.

Wightlink said it “welcomes debate”, but highlighted its large investment in service improvements over recent years.

Mr Seely said firms were answerable to and “overwhelmingly driven by” the needs of shareholders.

This was despite the importance of the cross-Solent services for commuters, visitors and those travelling for medical procedures on the mainland, he said.

He told a debate in Westminster Hall: “We cannot go on as we are at the moment.

“We are now reaching a crunch point where these firms are so overvalued, where their shareholders demands for return are so loud, it is harming our future, tourist bookings are down.”

He added that he was having a bill written to introduce a regulator for ferry services in the United Kingdom.

In response to Mr Seely’s comments, Wightlink CEO Keith Greenfield said: “We are always open to ideas on how ferry services are run, but for this process to be constructive the MP also needs to recognise Wightlink’s starting point is not as he describes.”

“We have invested more than £90m over the last 10 years giving us one of the most modern fleets in the country.”

Huw Merriman, transport minister, said operators of cross-Solent services did so in a “fully commercial market”, meaning the bar for government intervention was “incredibly high”.

He added: “When local issues arise around local services, locally-led solutions are the best way to resolve them.”

Red Funnel have been approached for comment.

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