Ferry travel question posed to Parliamentary candidates

Living on an island one of the burning issues for many years has been access to and from the mainland. How can the connection problems of the Solent be solved? We asked the 12 candidates standing for Parliament on both sides of the Island to give us 100 words in answer to the following question:

What are your views on the cross- Solent ferry services and what you/your party would do to improve the services?

(Answers printed in the order in which they were received)

West Wight

Ian Pickering
I believe that the best way to improve the ferry services is to introduce competition from other operators, and introduce capital control measures, making the ferry companies pay tax on profits where they are earned, here in the UK.

Relying on the good-will of the ferry companies has not and will not work. They are committed to paying shareholder dividends and bonuses overseas, extracting as much as they can from the company’s profit. This leaves nothing for price reduction and service improvement.

Failing to change their business model will see them taken into public ownership in Reform’s “Critical Infrastructure Plan.”

Richard Quigley
Labour is the only party who’s leader has acknowledged action needs to be taken on cross-Solent ferries. The first step is a referral to the Competition & Markets Authority, to see what issues there are with the market of travel. That’s only the first step; I would also push for regulation of fares and timetables. The Solent is currently acting as a barrier to opportunity for jobs, culture and visiting family. That simply isn’t acceptable.

Rachel Thacker

Rachel Thacker
If both ferry companies ceased to exist tomorrow, the Island would struggle to sustain itself. That very fact makes both companies’ “Public Function” companies. If elected as MP I would advocate for: both companies to be regulated as public function companies, that there will be a minimum set amount of crossings per day, and that the prices would be capped.

I believe in democracy and can fight for a view I do not support where necessary, so I would run a poll to discover if the majority of residents want a fixed link or not, then act on the results.

Nick Stuart
As a councillor I have already delivered. The IW Council agreed to support my Island Act in November. This includes regulation on fares, staffing, new ships, service obligation, timetables and public support.

The appalling cost, reliability and number of sailings affect businesses, supply chains, freedom to travel and health services. All candidates know this, but only LibDems have the experience and knowledge to have a real chance.

As Island MP I would follow the path of LibDem MP, Alistair Carmichael, who secured a £100m Island Growth Deal, alongside a £27m package for the Fair Isle Ferry for Orkney & Shetland.

Bob Seely
I have secured a manifesto commitment from Rishi Sunak for a review of the Solent ferries.

Our manifesto commits to reviewing “all options” to provide more choice and drive down fares.

We need a better deal on the ferries. I have been working alongside new providers to bring fresh competition to the market.

Islanders must choose whether to back me with a clear plan, or others.

Cameron Palin

Cameron Palin
Cross-Solent ferries must serve the needs of Islanders — not line the pockets of multi-millionaire overseas investors. To ensure the affordable and reliable services, we need the first step must be strict price regulation and imposing a Public Service Obligation on these out-of-control companies. Ultimately I believe public ownership would truly prioritise our community’s needs. The Island deserves ferry services that work for us, not for corporate gain.

Like the water companies, our ferry services are run primarily to satisfy greed. Each time they change hands for more money this deep-rooted issue gets worse.

East Wight

Sarah Morris
A Reform government would look to purchase 50 per cent of the business, to allow more control over services and pricing. Should I be elected and be in opposition, I would work very hard to push for the landing areas to be separated from the ferry businesses to allow competition. This could be done reasonably easily using a statutory instrument. Regulation sounds like a good idea, but just look at our water companies who are supposedly regulated, seemingly unfazed about the fines as inevitably we end up paying them – not their shareholders.

Vix Lowthion
Just like the private water companies our ferry services are run for corporate profit, not public service. Shiny new ferries and potential new companies will not fix this structural obstacle.

My first priority would be to escalate a Competition & Markets Authority case pushing towards strict regulation of prices, and a Public Service Obligation for the companies to deliver a frequent, reliable service. Alongside this, I would pursue a public ownership model for cross-Solent transport.
The Island must have ferries which work for Island residents, families and businesses, not overseas investors. We need an MP who truly believes this.

Joe Robertson
The ferry services are too expensive, too irregular and too unreliable. They are much worse than when I was growing up. The Conservatives’ national manifesto makes a specific pledge to establish an all-options review into cross-Solent transport to drive down fares. This is a first and therefore a significant step forward. I will insist that the outcome of that review provides for permanent Government regulation over prices and timetables, much like with train services. Islanders need to put aside political differences and work together with one voice to make this happen.

Emily Brothers
Wightlink hold a dominant market position because of significant barriers to the creation of new competition, so they get away with poor performance and high prices due to the essential nature of their services. Consequently, There must be a Competition and Markets Authority investigation to fix the broken system.

I will work with the Labour government, our local council, and community groups to improve ferry reliability and fares. This will include regulation of Public Service Obligations.

I will also explore the potential for devolving powers and resources locally – to oversee ferry, rail, and bus fares and performance.

 

David Groocock
The cross-Solent ferry services fall well short of those of just a few years ago; they are often cancelled, and timetables have got shorter with an hourly service whereas a few years ago Wightlink was half-hourly. They haven’t reinvested in new ferries, albeit Red Funnel have announced that they will be building three new ships – unfortunately diesel.

When elected I would sit on any committee that involved transport. It is so important to the Island’s economy. Some sort of regulation is essential as they are now getting too expensive and having a negative effect on our tourism and industry.

Michael Lilley
Cross-Solent ferries are causing inequality for Islanders and ferry poverty. There needs to be a carefully-constructed regulator to address cross-Solent ferries alone through an Island Equality Act, as successfully agreed by IW Council as proposed by Lib Dems in 2023. Government should consider at least partial public ownership (majority) of ferries to ensure that profits are not misdirected through a myriad of company structures. Government must act to prevent mitigating their operating profits through complex financial instruments.