FRIST representatives Marian Bennett and Tim Guthrie gave convincing oral evidence to the House of Commons Transport Committee today and members of the Committee were aghast at the extent of the problems and sympathetic. Cllr Chris Thomas, and Theo Leijer (new Chief Executive) also attended and spoke for the IOS Council. Scilly's transport problems were in the limelight today but the Chamber Chairman asks will anything change ?
It was good to see FRIST and the IOS Council getting Scilly's dire transport problems aired at Westminster. Committee members were shocked. In the 20 minutes or so available it was not possible to get to the heart of the issues and this observer detected an understandable reluctance by FRIST representatives to accentuate the differences that exist with the IOS Council in front of the Committee.
The Penzance business community has always been supportive of improved transport links with Scilly and it is a founder member of FRIST. It was a logical extension of a relationship that developed over the Route Partnership Scheme when the Penzance business community lobbied hard for the scheme failing only at the final hurdle (Ministerial approval). With only 1700 voters on the islands the islanders needed support from the mainland to be listened to more seriously in Westminster. Since FRIST was created in the summer of 2012, the objectives of the IOS Council and FRIST have drifted apart. Mainland representatives have reigned back their public involvement in FRIST somewhat to avoid appearing to take sides in differences between islanders on transport strategy.
My concerns, shared by others in the Penzance business community, is that, following the loss of the RP scheme, there is no coherent strategy for dealing with Scilly's transport ills - transport that is seasonally constrained, unreliable and unaffordable. The island economy is absolutely dependent of on its transport links - it is a terrifying vulnerability.for businesses on the islands. The IOS Council has been pursing much needed infrastructure improvements but these do not solve the core problems.
We have all been affected by the recent collapse in visitor numbers to Scilly, the difference is that the impact is at the margins for Penzance whereas for Scilly it is a crisis. To the problems of limited services and high costs has been added unreliability (lack of resiliance).
The Department for Transport is effectively off the hook regarding solving the problem because, other than the harbour and airport works already planned nothing else is being demanded by IOS Council. The new Chief Executive focused on the issue of resilience today at the hearing, and yes there will be some improvement when airport projects are completed, but fundamentally little will have changed and Scilly will have drifted further towards calamity.
Whilst Scilly's transport problems have been in the political limelight today, it seems there will more pain for islanders and their business before their situation changes for the better.