QUIGGERS: I’m ferry worked up!

Due to an unforeseen incident in aisle 11 of the Croydon Sainsbury’s, Mr H is still away. The good news is his custard creams retained 94 per cent of their structural integrity after his swim, earning a solid third place.

After a bank holiday weekend, though many of you will have been working as normal, I thought it only right that the subject of this week’s column should get everyone’s blood pressure up – so I decided to write about ferries. The fixed link also gets people worked up, but is a different issue; the government should fund the feasibility study, to give a definitive answer one way or another.

A few months ago, I asked people to come forward with issues they were experiencing with the ferries. As you can imagine, my list was long so I thought I would try my luck and ask the CEOs of Wightlink and Red Funnel for a meeting. They both agreed and I am very grateful for their time and the answers they gave to your concerns; they are both decent people, but they are employed to make money out of ferry travel. So that’s what they do.

My views on the ferry companies are well known – nationalisation, or as near as possible, would be my preferred route. An idea MP Bob Seely has cottoned onto as he has started asking for something similar – although he also supports the idea of state-sponsored food banks, so I’m not sure he really knows what he wants. Nationalisation is only likely to happen with a change of government; in the absence of that, the most sensible thing to do is open dialogue to address users’ issues.

As a business owner, I sympathise with staffing issues caused by Covid, the difficulty in recruiting new staff and the spiralling cost of fuel. Indeed, their existing staff are working hard to continue to provide a service and usually do so in a professional and courteous manner, despite the pressures they are under.

After that, my sympathy runs out as most businesses don’t benefit from such a captive market. I appreciate the infrastructure is to provide travel from our marvellous Island to the big Island is expensive, but, whilst they are run privately, a significant element of the ticket will always be servicing debt, profit and dividends. Both ferry operators say passenger numbers are only 40 per cent of pre-pandemic figures, but how many of us have avoided travel due to a lack of service?

The argument that shares in Red Funnel and Wightlink are held by pension funds, so expensive fares benefit pensioners, is weak and just further exposes the unfair nature of our financial system. Not providing a decent state pension shouldn’t give carte blanche to private companies. We’ve seen what that approach has done to the housing market!

So what can we do? Red Funnel are reintroducing the users forum, so attend, or send your issues along with someone that is or email them at customerservices@redfunnel.co.uk. Wightlink have a customer service department; email them wightlink.co.uk/contact-us#send-us-a-message. As private companies, it is their business to solve the problems we all encounter. It helps them as much as us. I’m happy to keep in regular contact with them, to make sure action is taken.

That should mean that the two big problems that are left are price and the frequency of crossings, problems that affect us all. They are also problems that have an answer: just look at how the ferries are run for the Scottish islands.

We just need a government that is willing to offer the solution.