Follow the link below for the Isles of Scilly Council’s press statement today which follows some criticism about its low profile and alleged inactivity during the ongoing winter transport crisis for the Isles of Scilly which had seen even pensioners resorting to to taking a Jet Boat (RIB) to get to the mainland when all air routes have been closed out of Scilly.
The future of IOS transport links is an important issue for Penzance because although the islands are 40 miles away they are an important 'economic suburb' of Penzance with millions of pounds spent in the economy by islanders, island businesses and visitors transiting through Penzance.
Council of the Isles of Scilly Press Statement: here
Chamber of Commerce Comment.
The Chamber and FRIST support all of the proposed infrastructure projects (improvements to Penzance and St Mary’s Harbours, improvements to St Mary’s Airport and Lands End Airport.
The Chamber perspective is that the infrastructure improvements are necessary but not enough to sustain the community and its tourism based economy. We believe it will be impossible for the Steamship Company to replace the Scillonian without public help and that without a ferry to back up highly weather dependent fixed wing services mass tourism to Scilly will shrink due to high ticket prices and uncertainty over travel. The vessel is already restricted in the numbers it can carry (432 + crew) and the conditions it can sail in.
The Scillonian is nearing the end of its second substantial refit (previous one in 1999). The Company state that the current refit will allow the vessel to continue in operation until 2018 when it will be over 40 years old. Modest profits from the Company’s marine operations (from Companies House accounts) would not support any significant level of commercial borrowing. The Company could divert profits from Skybus for this task but why should they subsidize a commercially marginal ferry service? The Government has made it clear it will not provide a capital grant for a replacement vessel as it did in 1977 when if provided £1.0 million (60% of the cost) in the form of an interest free loan. It is a grim outlook. The IOS Council funded Fisher Report (~2003) foresaw the problem and was the stimulus for the Route Partnership scheme. Just because the Route Partnership has failed does not mean the problem has gone away – it has not.
The future therefore looks very different from the past with total reliance on fixed wing air travel in future winters and possibly in the summer as well. The winter will be much more difficult for islanders than in past years when the helicopter service was running. If we are honest, it has never been easy living on the islands in the winter months. Some people who need to travel frequently for medical reason or who have significant mobility issues may find they have to move from the islands. The tourism season is likely to shrink reflecting the higher level of travel disruption in the Spring and Autumn. High travel costs will encourage a move to a more exclusive, top end market. This could result in a significantly smaller economy than the £34 million Gross Value Added (GVA) earnt in 2011. Any shrinkage in the economy (in real, inflation adjusted terms) will result in more working age people leaving the islands or having to work away.
There is no another comparable island in the UK that survives without Government help with transport. One can understand the DfT not rolling over and saying yes to Government help but that does not mean it is a political impossibility if the evidence of need is compelling. The CIOS press statement suggests complete acquiescence to the Government’s initial rebuff and blind faith in modest infrastructure improvements and the Steamship Company’s ability to pull a large rabbit out of its small hat when the Scillonian finally expires.
What is important now is a debate on the islands between the islanders and their councillors about the future direction of islands. It needs to be a properly informed debate. What we have seen is almost a decade of transport policy reversed without any public debate about the implications.