House of Lords Library

Transport and Island Communities in England

Published Friday, July 14, 2017

This House of Lords Library briefing has been prepared in advance of a debate on 20 July 2017 on the transport needs of remote island communities in England.

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There are a number of communities on islands off the coast of England, particularly on the Isle of Wight (IoW) and Isles of Scilly (IoS), who currently only have transport links to the mainland via ferries and/or aircraft. Using these ferry or aircraft services to and from English islands would require greater travel time and expense than the equivalent distance travelled by road. There are currently no formal island ‘frameworks’ or schemes for English islands agreed at government-level, which provide for transport subsidies or extra funding due to any remoteness created by this additional time and expense.

The absence of such schemes has been raised on a number of occasions in Parliament, often with comparisons made to schemes that support communities in Scottish islands. For example, Andrew Turner, Conservative MP for the IoW from 2001–17, argued in the House of Commons in 2014 that:

The Barnett formula gives the Scottish Parliament money to spend on many things that this Government cannot afford. CalMac provides ferry services to Scottish islands. It received a grant of £73 million last year—more than half its revenue. My constituents living on the island receive no such benefits. They pay the full operating costs and profits, and the fares that they pay also have to service the company’s massive debts. Through their taxes, they subsidise Scottish ferries.

In 2012, Lord Berkeley asked the Government “what action they are taking to create a lifeline passenger ferry link to the Isles of Scilly in line with the Scottish Government’s ferries policy”, arguing that the IoS ferry “only runs for seven months every year and the return fare is £90. This compares with Islay in Scotland where there are several ferries a day all the year round and the return fare is £12.50”.

The Coalition Government stated on a number of occasions that it did not believe additional support was needed for either the IoW or the IoS. In 2013, then Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport Stephen Hammond, stated:

This is a competitive market, and it is for the ferry operators to decide the level of fares and services based on market conditions. […] There are more than 200 sailings to and from the island each day, so there is no apparent market failure.       

In 2012, then Lords Spokesperson for the Department for Transport, Earl Attlee, noted on the ‘lifeline’ issue for IoS ferries that he was “aware that passenger transport services to and from the mainland are regarded by residents of the Isles of Scilly as a lifeline”, yet he also said that “ferry services, unlike most of those to the Scottish Islands, are able to operate commercially without subsidy and have done so for many years”.

In 2014, an Islands Framework was agreed between the UK Government and the councils of the Western Isles/Na h-Eileanan Siar, Orkney Islands and Shetland Islands, in response to the 'Our Islands, Our Future' campaign led by those three councils. The Framework “recognises the island groups face particular challenges”, including that of transport. In 2012, the Scottish Government published its Ferries Plan for Scottish ferry services from 2013–22. Under the plan, the Scottish Government has made a commitment that it is willing to take over the operation of any ‘lifeline’ ferry service. In addition, it made a commitment to roll-out a Road Equivalent Tariff (RET) scheme across the network as the basis for single fares, for lifeline ferry services only. Under the RET, the Scottish Government stated that “ferry users will pay the same rate per mile, regardless of where they are travelling from and to by ferry”.

Lords Library notes LLN-2017-0042

Author: James Ainsworth

Topics: Regional planning and development, Aviation, Competition, Shipping

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