Dear Baroness Vere
We hope this letter finds you well. We are members of the Wightlink Users Group on the Isle of Wight, and we are writing to you today to express our growing concerns about the reliability, service limitations, the high and rising costs of Wightlink Ltd’s ferry services.
As you may already know, our group, which started in November 2022 has over 1500 members and is rapidly expanding. We believe that urgent government intervention is needed to address these issues, which are having a significant impact on the sustainable life of our Island community. A fuller understanding of these would be gained by viewing our website: www.Wug.org.uk.
Foot passenger services, in particular, have been problematic. Unlike the other providers, who reinstated their services in June 2021, Wightlink are only now reinstating the full services withdrawn due to the pandemic. This has left travelers with no choice but to travel on the car ferry. It is a 30 minute longer journey, and due to its distance from the Island passenger terminal and lack of public transport between them has left stranded passengers to walk 3.5 miles along main roads, at night.
Whilst this has now been resolved for the summer season, as the Fastcat passenger service will operate again hourly through the day, with two more sailings into the evening, there is no guarantee that this will continue. We believe these reduced services were maintained to optimise income.
We know that the constraints and costs imposed upon everyday travel between the Island and Hampshire are having a corrosive effect on ambition and opportunity, especially amongst young people commuting for education, training, and work, as well as those who have to rely on mainland health support. It is explicitly a matter of public policy, as there are combined public services between Hampshire and the Island in public health, children’s services, schools management, NHS primary care, and combined economic strategy through the Solent Local Enterprise Partnership. Cross-Solent travel is not just a matter of ensuring we retain a viable tourism industry or protecting networks of family and friends. Therefore, accessible, equitable, affordable, and reliable transport between the Isle of Wight and Hampshire is essential to quality of life and economic growth.
Services and economic/social opportunities that are essential to quality of life and economic growth are becoming increasingly more distant from island communities and therefore the need to travel, be it for commercial, economic, social or personal reasons is increasingly significant.
We believe that the services should be regulated by legislation because the current commercially constrained service does not promote or protect the island’s economy.
We understand that the Government and your office consider that solutions to these difficulties should be resolved locally. However, the Local Authority (Isle of Wight Council) has no powers to implement or effect any changes to the local circumstances of ferry operators and commercial decisions that prevail over the adequacy of the public service delivered. It is unclear to us how local resolution can happen, not least because Wightlink is reluctant to communicate with its customers and, notably, stakeholder groups.
We have much evidence that the current state of services restricts business viability and is detrimental to the economic, mental, and physical well-being of the Island community. Therefore, we contend that only government intervention and primary legislation can deliver a cross-Solent servicer that works for the future of the Isle of Wight.
We have petitioned our MP (Bob Seely) to promote a vital and necessary Public Service Obligation, but we have not yet received the support we need. We believe that Mr. Seely’s approach, wanting a minimum service agreement around prohibition of strikes, entirely misses the point; in the knowledge that Wightlink already have a five year workforce agreement in place, this is not an imminent concern. A more comprehensive approach is needed to address these issues effectively.
We are therefore writing to you today to ask for your guidance and help in taking urgent, effective, and positive action.
We understand that any resolution will take time, but we believe that meaningful progress towards a solution that protects Island life and builds a better future for the Solent community can be achieved with your support.
We look forward to hearing from you and thank you for your attention to this important matter.
Wightlink Users Group (WUG)