Wightlink questions council over Community Interest Company

By Martin Neville

Thursday, January 16, 2014

 

THE Isle of Wight Council has made no commitment to support a proposed community interest company to take over Wightlink, councillors heard last night (Wednesday).

Calls to form a community interest company to reduce Wightlink’s debts, with the aim of cutting the cost of cross-Solent travel, were reported by the Isle of Wight County Press last month.

Patrick Seely, of Dunsbury Farm, Brook, told the County Press an Island-based group of entrepreneurs, led by former Liz Earle boss John Buckland, was ready to form the company with the support of London financial advisers.

At last night’s (Wednesday) full council Wightlink's operations director Sean Millward questioned the extent of involvement of the council and MP Andrew Turner in the CIC.

Deputy council leader, Cllr Steve Stubbings, said a number of commercially confidential meetings had been held and the council had provided the group with economic data, as it would with any potential investor, but had not made a commitment to support the CIC or allocated any resources to its development.

"Any decision to support the CIC would require a formal decision to be taken by councillors based on a full cost benefit analysis of the proposals, including an assessment of their economic and social benefits to the Island and their potential impact on the existing cross-Solent operators," he said.

Mr Millward asked: "Recent media coverage — including two letters from Mr Patrick Seely in the Isle of Wight County Press — has outlined plans to establish a community interest company (CIC), which would have an as-yet-undefined role in cross-Solent ferry services.

"MP Andrew Turner's website also states he has worked with others to put together plans for this CIC, which could re-finance one of the ferry companies.

"I have also noted Mr Seely has submitted documents to the Isle of Wight Council's Cross-Solent Services Scrutiny Task and Finish Group (CSSSTFG).

"Could I therefore ask what meetings, discussions and correspondence the council leader, his cabinet members and any CSSSTFG members have had with the individuals behind the proposed CIC (namely but not limited to Mr Seely, Mr John Buckland and Andrew Turner MP), since their election in May 2013.

"In particular, what discussions have taken place about any role which the council might have in relation to the proposed CIC, whether in terms of the contribution of resources (actual and in kind, such as through staffing) and endorsing or supporting the development of the CIC?"

In a statement issued this morning, Wightlink said: "We operate almost 50,000 sailings a year and carry almost five million passengers.

"A survey in summer 2013 found 80 pe rcent of customers rated our service as excellent or good, 70 per cent of those who expressed a preference said Wightlink was their favourite cross-Solent operator.

"We receive no public subsidy.

"However, we have invested almost £60 million over the last five years in new ships and port facilities.

"We offer special fares to customers from the Isle of Wight.

"Consultation with our customers is important to us, we regularly engage with Islanders through ferry user groups, meetings with councillors and organisations such as the Isle of Wight Chamber of Commerce and events including Meet the Managers.

"We give £350,000 of support to Island charities, arts groups and individuals each year.

"Anyone, whether a private individual, commercial organisation, or community interest company, who wishes to acquire any business, should contact its shareholder(s)."

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