Bid for ‘better ferries’ launch

By Martin Neville

Friday, January 17, 2014

 

Bid for ‘better ferries’ launch

A campaign has been launched to create a community interest company that could takeover Wightlink. Picture by Robin Crossley.

A MAJOR campaign backed by the Isle of Wight’s MP has been launched today (Friday) to promote plans to move Wightlink into the ownership of a community interest company (CIC).

The Isle of Wight Better Ferry Campaign, led by a group of Isle of Wight businessmen and supported by MP Andrew Turner, wants to bring about cheaper and more flexible ferry services, including critical early-morning and late-night crossings, for residents and businesses.

Plans to start the CIC were exclusively revealed by the County Press last month.

The group — which has launched a website www.betterferrycampaign.co.uk for people to register their support — includes Patrick Seely, a senior partner in a company offering global mergers and acquisitions advice and a member of the well-known Island Seely family, John Buckland, former chief executive of Liz Earle, Nick Finney, a specialist in port legislation, and Andrew Palmer, owner of the Priory Bay Hotel.

They want to negotiate with Wightlink’s owners, Macquarie European Infrastructure Fund (MEIF), and its banks, to tackle its £195 million debt burden and recapitalise the company in the ownership of a new CIC — a limited company operating for the benefit of the community.

Mr Seely said: "It has been clear to me and the Island Community for some years that the price paid for Wightlink by Macquarie was far too high. 

"The interest payments would ultimately be paid for by Island residents and all those people wanting to spend time on the Island. It is time to deal with this matter so that the situation does not get even worse. 

"This proposal tries to offer something to all the parties involved, leading to a true partnership of interests between the Island community, the shareholders and the employees.

"If we are successful, the Island  will have a proper stake in its connectivity with the mainland which the community will largely control.  I hope that everyone joins us and supports this important initiative."

Isle of Wight MP Andrew Turner said: "We must demonstrate that we have the support of the Island community to encourage Wightlink’s owners to start talking to us; that is why we need Islanders to sign up to show they think this is a good idea.  

"The team that has come together is very high calibre and we know that this can be done.  In 2009 Red Funnel renegotiated down over £40m of its debt and it is in a much stronger position today as a result of that. 

"In 2011 Macquarie gave away control of the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company — the monopoly provider of ferry services to the Isle of Man — to a Spanish bank. 

"We don’t want that to happen to Wightlink.  This doesn’t rule out going back to the Office of Fair Trading again; they have indicated that they would be willing to look again at the issue, but this is potentially a much better outcome for the Island. 

"It’s never easy to take on big money, but this is so important to the Island’s future that we really must put up a fight.  I urge Islanders to support us."

A Wightlink spokesperson said yesterday (Thursday): "Anyone, whether a private individual, commercial organisation, or community interest company, who wishes to acquire any business, should contact its shareholder(s).

"It is unusual to seek to conduct such business via the local media."

For more on this story, please see the Isle of Wight County Press today, Friday, January 17.

Reporter: martinn@iwcpmail.co.uk

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