Lord Anthony Berkeley criticized the current situation with cross-Solent ferry travel in a speech to the House of Lords and called on the government to introduce regulatory oversight on Isle of Wight ferry companies, ensuring that they behave and provide the essential services to which they are committed.

It was Monday evening that Lord Berkely presented a “motion to regret” regarding changes to the 1998 competition law during the coronavirus pandemic, saying it provided an opportunity to discuss the role of competition in ferry services, particularly here on the Isle of Wight – as well as in the Isles of Scilly.

Speaking to the House of Lords, Lord Berkeley questioned whether competition laws encourage or even allow operators to compete and what the difference was between when the temporary coronavirus regulations were in effect and now when she isn’t.

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Lord Berkeley explained the situation the islanders face:

“[There are] two monopolies on the Isle of Wight, providing what the government seems to agree are vital services. There isn’t a lot of monitoring going on as to whether these are effective. You have to ask yourself what customers can do when these services are found to be failing. You can ask the carrier, but they’ll tell you they’re not interested. You can ask the Department of Transportation who will say that these are commercial services that they cannot influence. Customers can then ask what the remedies are if the businesses fail. After all, rail services are tightly controlled, as are many bus services, and there is usually competition for air travel in most places.

“Where’s the community piece? What about the affordability, quality and frequency of services for the NHS and other emergency services? There does not appear to be any pressure on operators to reduce costs or improve services. Where is the pressure coming from? This can come from the competition or from a government agency. After all, the government controls rail fares.

“In Scotland, what is called an equivalent road tariff is generally applied to tariffs and charges. For Islay, it’s 29 pence per mile. For the Isle of Wight, on the Southampton to Cowes route, it is 96 pence per mile, which is three times that. Train fares in the UK are very similar, between 10 and 30 pence per mile. Unlike the train, ferry prices are not regulated. There is no transparency on the costs of the ferry company, which could be a reasonable profit or the use of the Covid-related subsidy. What can people do? “

It is not just Lord Berkeley who has opinions on the lack of transparency with regard to the Isle of Wight ferries. Councilor Phil Jordan, member of the Cabinet responsible for transport on the Isle of Wight, said:

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“We are very concerned about the transparency of the operational factors of ferry companies which, in turn, lead to business decisions that take little account of the vital service provided by ferry operators, or the human cost involved in such decisions. commercial. “

Lord Berkeley noted that MP Bob Seely has expressed support for a public service order and that the Isle of Wight Council has committed in its business plan to securing a public service order on operators of Solent ferry, but little is known about it. He asked the Minister of Transport to indicate where this is.

Without mince words, Lord Berkeley concluded by saying:

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“I don’t think the competition on the Isle of Wight is working well. This failure of competition and governance is clearly having a negative effect on the economy. Scotland recognizes it, but in England I think the government is hoping it will all go away.

“I would like to hear the minister’s response to the proposal that there needs to be some sort of regulatory oversight to ensure that businesses behave and deliver the essential services to which they are committed.

“We have the Rail and Road Office for railways and part of the road network; perhaps the mandate could be broadened to cover ferry services. Maybe it’s time for the CMA [Competition & Markets Authority] be given the task of re-examining these issues and, above all, of monitoring them regularly.

“I think urgent action is needed for competition to benefit consumers.”

Baroness Randerson agreed with almost everything Lord Berkeley said, but noted that the Isle of Wight is much closer to the British mainland than any other island. She noted that Isle of Wight ferry operators are “proud of the special prices they offer many locals and people going to medical appointments.” However, Baroness Randerson had a warning to the cross-Solent operator saying “they probably have to do a lot more if they want to continue in their situation as there is talk of a new operator to be put in place, run by a consortium. local ”.

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