We asked the candidates ...


The current state of cross Solent travel is one of serious unreliability, limited service availability and poor onward connections, compounded by extortionate fares. This is having profoundly negative effects on the societal infrastructure of the island and represents an existential threat to the future of our community. There is no easy solution to this problem but we need action at a central government level. How do you plan to address this?

Asked on:
May 26, 2024
Published on:
June 9, 2024

They answered ...

Emily Brothers : Labour Party
General website referral

Cross-Solent ferry services have become unreliable and unaffordable under fourteen years of the Conservatives. Passengers are hampered by reduced timetables and experience too many cancellations.

Fares have gone up by double the rate of inflation over the last decade, making it difficult for Islanders to meet family and friends on the mainland or to travel for business.

High fares discourage visitors - resulting in a negative impact on tourism, hospitality, and less spending in the wider economy of Isle of Wight East - hampering growth.

Wightlink hold a dominant market position because of significant barriers to the creation of new competition, so they get away with poor performance and high prices due to the essential nature of their services.

The underlying cause of escalating fares is spiralling debt loaded onto Wightlink by its Canadian private equity owners. Interest payments on the debt were £16.8M in 2022-3 alone. This is more than their profits during the same period. So, whilst shareholders get dividends, Islanders have to pay more for the service and there is little money to invest in new ferries.

The Conservatives are to blame for this because they have allowed offshore companies to maximise profits via private equity investments. This is to the detriment of our Island community.

Further to all of this, lack of connectivity and infrequent Island Line trains are frustrating for passengers too.

If you elect me as your Labour MP for Isle of Wight East, I will work with the Labour government, our local council, and community groups to improve ferry reliability and fares. This will include regulation to ensure that the island ferry companies meet their Public Service Obligations.

I will also explore the potential for devolving powers and resources locally - to oversee ferry, rail, and bus fares and performance.

Vix Lowthion : Green Party
Direct answer

The quality of our ferry service is at an all time low – unreliable, extortionate and infrequent. Just like the private water companies these businesses are run for corporate profit, not as a public service. Shiny new ferries and potential new companies will not fix this structural obstacle.

My first priority would be to escalate a Competition and Markets Authority case with a push towards strict regulation of prices, and a Public Service Obligation for the companies to deliver a frequent, reliable service. Alongside this I would pursue a public ownership model for cross-solent transport – either through nationalisation or through a community-led company.

I do not support the notion that competition between private companies (the situation we have now) will lead to cheaper and more reliable services. It does not. I congratulate the public – especially the Wightlink Users Group – for putting public pressure on the ferry companies recently to raise their game and reduce some costs for NHS passengers. But within a ‘dynamic’ ticket structure which leads to some tickets costing over £200 per journey this is unsustainable.

Decades of Conservative MPs – either in opposition or in government – have left us worse off than ever before. I was genuinely disappointed that the Labour candidate in the West was told by Keir Starmer that Labour ‘would ask the CMA to see whether intervention is needed’. The inevitable Labour government need to be much bolder on this issue – they should be looking at public ownership as a national need. As a Green MP I would be able to push Labour to be much bolder.

The island must have ferries which work for island residents, families and businesses, not overseas investors. We need an MP who truly believes this.

Michael Lilley : Liberal Democrats
Referred to website post

If elected I would seek legislation to bring ferry companies to account as follows:

  • Government must intervene by a carefully constructed regulator created to address cross Solent ferries alone.
  • The Government should consider at least partial public (majority) ownership of ferries to ensure that profits are not misdirected through a myriad of company structures.
  • Government must act to prevent complex company structures in simple service delivery companies.  This includes legislation to prevent operating companies mitigating their operating profits through complex financial instruments.
  • Pursue an agreement between all the ferry operators and the NHS regarding travel of Island patients across the Solent for treatment that achieves synergy between operators on minimising costs and improvement of the travel experience.

Answers to this question will be shown on the "Published on" date above.

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