The House of Lords debate (20th July) on “Transport. Remote Island Communities in England” initiated by Lord Berkely can be read in full in Hasard here. Lord Berkely was well supported by other peers. The debate pulled no punches as far identifying the problems islanders and passengers in general suffered and the attitude of the single monopoly provider.
Lord Berkeley and other peers got little support from the Govt’s Transport Minister Lord Callanan who stated:
…. passenger traffic is increasing. The services continue to be operated on a commercial basis. I accept the points noble Lords have made about the desirability of increased connections—of course, everybody would like increased connections and better services to their communities—but there is no evidence of a detrimental effect on the community.
After the debate Lord Berkely told FRIST:
‘The support from many peers for improvements to transport was very heartening. The minister’s response indicated a complete disregard for the realities of life in a small island and the transport needs of islanders and visitors. The minister said “The services continue to be operated on a commercial basis….but there is no evidence of a detrimental effect on the community.” I with others will seek to ensure that he receives even more evidence that the present services are seriously detrimental to the future economy of the islands.’
The debate was reported at length in the Cornishman (27 Jul). The paper includes quotes from Rob Goldsmith CEO IOSSG saying “Many of the criticisms levelled against the steamship group were ill-founded or ill-informed, and it is disappointing that the debate was used in this way to attack the company that has provided lifeline services for almost 100 years”. Rob Goldsmith went to compare what had been paid out in dividends in the last 5 years with the £12.5 million invested in the air and sea services in the last 5 years.
The Government’s position that there is a commercial service and there has been no detrimental effect on the community reflects years of denial by the IOS Council that anything was amiss with transport services to the mainland other than an occasional ‘lack of resilience’. You have to have lived on one of the similar sized islands elsewhere in the UK to appreciate just how abnormal the Isles of Scilly situation is and the distorting effect transport limitations (cost, limited winter service, limited schedule, limited capacity) has on the community and the island economy.