Wightlink fights takeover bid

Two Wightlink ferries pass each other at the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour.''''Picture: Gary Taw
Two Wightlink ferries pass each other at the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour.''''Picture: Gary Taw

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A CAMPAIGN has been launched by a group of businessmen to take over the Wightlink ferry service.

The Better Ferry Campaign has been set up by group of business-led islanders and is made up of Patrick Seely, Nicholas Finney, Andrew Palmer and John Buckland.

The island’s MP Andrew Turner is supporting the group, which wants to establish a community interest company.

The group says if it took over the business, it would refocus its attention to put customers first and not paying off a debt it says has grown ‘disproportionately’.

Over time, that would mean increasing service levels while the cost of crossing the Solent is reduced.

Mr Palmer, of The Priory Bay Hotel said: ‘People need to realise that it needs to be easy to get to the island, easy to book and people need to understand what it is costing them.’

On its website, the group says it is ‘passionate about championing a fairer and more flexible ferry service for the Isle of Wight, that actually serves the island community’.

It continues: ‘That’s why we’re on a dedicated mission to stop the continuing ferry service cuts and price rises.’

Mr Turner said he will be campaigning for a change over the coming months.

He said: ‘The two main ferry companies have very high levels of debt, so much so that Wightlink in particular is unable to serve the island’s needs properly.

‘Services have been cut and prices increased recently with no consultation with their customers.

‘That wouldn’t happen in a properly competitive market.’

But Macquarie, the company’s owner, said it is not seeking approaches from parties with a view to selling the company,.

A spokesman said: ‘We are always interested to hear customers’ views on how Wightlink can best support the Isle of Wight.’

In a statement, Wightlink, which operates between Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight, added: ‘We operate almost 50,000 sailings a year and carry almost five million passengers.

‘A survey in 2013 found 80 per cent of customers rated our service as excellent or good, 70 per cent of those who expressed a preference said Wightlink was their favourite cross-Solent operator.’