UPDATED MONDAY 2.10pm
ANY bid for a fresh government probe into the Isle of Wight’s ferries will not be supported by the Isle of Wight Council.
Instead, councillors agreed bosses at Wightlink, Red Funnel and Hovertravel should be quizzed by them.
The authority this week decided against joining with Island MP Andrew Turner in seeking another Office of Fair Trading (OFT) investigation.
Wightlink, which has attracted mounting public criticism following a series of high-profile cuts, welcomed the opportunity to attend a scrutiny panel meeting and answer questions.
Operations director John Burrows said he was pleased the council had dismissed any thought of involving the OFT, which carried out a market study four years ago and decided against referring ferry services to the Competition Commission.
"We are 100 per cent confident another OFT investigation would have delivered the same conclusions, so why waste everyone’s time and money when we know what the answer is going to be?" he said.
At Wednesday’s full council meeting, members unanimously agreed with Cllr Jonathan Bacon’s motion that Wightlink had failed to consult with the authority or Island residents before embarking on its latest round of service cuts. Concerns were raised about the impact of cuts and high fares on the Island’s economy, particularly the tourism industry, and commuters.
Wightlink’s claims it operated a lifeline service and ran thousands of loss-making crossings a year, for which it received no public subsidy, were given short shrift by councillors.
Cllr Reg Barry, whose call for a council-led inquiry was rejected, accused the company of spin.
He said: "Wightlink’s sole consideration is the maximisation of its profitability. We can see behind the gloss of meaningless statistics."
Cllr Bob Blezzard said: "It’s a private company, it’s there to make a profit for the shareholders, not for any other reason."
The company, which made an £8.7m profit last year, said its services were reliable and rated highly by customers. It offered a discount travel scheme and said it supported Island charities by £350,000 a year.
It warned negative publicity would create a climate of uncertainty that could jeopardise future investment in services — a warning Cllr Blezzard described as a 'veiled threat’ against criticising the company.
Cllr Steve Stubbings warned against 'Wightlink bashing’ and said cabinet members had already met ferry bosses in an effort to improve services but Cllr Wayne Whittle said it was important the debate was held in public.
Mr Burrows, who said there was no need for further regulation of the ferries, because they were regulated by the market, called for the debate to be held as soon as possible. "If there is uncertainty, it makes it difficult to make long-term investment decisions. The possibility of regulation adds to the uncertainty," he said.
Cllr Bacon contacted the County Press to say he felt we had
misinterpreted the motion. He said support for the MP was explicit and
the possibility of an OFT investigation is in no way excluded.
He said the
content of the debate did agree that the OFT, due to expense, time and,
to a lesser extent, chances of success was not the way to go, but it did
remain an option.
However, as reported, the section of the motion mentioning raising the matter with the OFT, was removed from the amended motion.