An issue to important to fudge

The Steam Packet Company has a long, proud record of service to the Isle of Man. Inevitably though, throughout its history, the company has endured difficult periods, none more so than through the war years.

Now it faces a new battle, to convince members of Tynwald that it is the right company to be entrusted with the Island’s lifeline ferry services into the future. As part of its bid the company has gone public with a bold offer, which includes the promise of new vessels, additional back-up in the form of the Ben-my-Chree, increased passenger and freight capacity, more special offers and a new ‘frequent traveller’ scheme.

There’s even an offer to share extra revenue growth with the government to fund low fare initiatives.

The total investment involved in the offer adds up to around £170 million – a considerable sum in anybody’s language.

The task facing Tynwald members is whether to make a decision now, and give the company the green light to put its plans into action, or wait until
after the election and then proceed with a full tender process for any interested parties.

IOM Steam Packet Company, Chief Executive Mark Woodward isn’t convinced that any of the major ferry companies currently operating in British waters would be interested in the Isle of Man’s ‘niche’ operation. He may have a point. The issue is not just a case of who offers the best vessels and the cheapest deal for customers. Ferry services are complex operations and some services in British waters are heavily subsidised. Under the terms of the Steam Packet’s offer the company is pledging to take all the commercial risk, based on its assumption that the Manx economy is strong and will continue to grow. Given the uncertainties that abound in the current climate that’s a brave move. Other operators may be more reticent.

The Steam Packet isn’t perfect – something Mr Woodward would openly concede. But the promises made in its offer document suggest the management is acutely aware of its weaknesses, and the improvements that need to be made.

With the summer recess looming and the general election just three months away some Tynwald members will be packing their factor 15 and dreaming of a sunshine break. It’s hoped though that they can retain sufficient focus to give this important issue proper consideration and don’t just kick it into the long grass for the next administration to pick up post election. (See page 12: “Steam Packet throws down the gauntlet’)

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