The Isles of Scilly Transport Board, which is made up of transport providers, local authorities and business groups, has welcomed valuable support from Government to continue essential life-line travel services and freight supplies for the 2,200-strong island community 28 miles off the South West coast of Cornwall.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the Department for Transport and Her Majesty’s Treasury had jointly agreed to provide an emergency package of up to £6m over the next three months to support vital transport links for people living on the Isles of Scilly and the Isle of Wight. Initial funding of £1.5m will go to the Council of the Isles of Scilly to support lifeline operators, with further funding reviewed on a monthly basis.
The Isles of Scilly consist of five inhabited Islands which are served by an integrated transport network consisting of several transport operators. Some 215,000 people travel to and from the islands each year by ferry, plane and helicopter, mainly between March and October. Visitors account for more than 80% of the economy on the islands and ensure the viability of the transport network.
Without visitors the services are not viable. Derek Thomas, MP for West Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly (St Ives), who also chairs the Isles of Scilly Transport Board, said: “A tremendous amount of work has been done to achieve this constructive outcome and I’m very grateful for the open and transparent way in which each of the operators has engaged in this effort.
“The priority, since it became clear how severe the impact of measures to manage the spread of coronavirus was, has been to secure each part of the transport system to and from Scilly and between the islands themselves. We need a viable service now and a service ready to continue to serve Scilly beyond COVID-19. The commitment of each of the operators to the islands is beyond doubt.”
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “Lifeline transport services remain fundamental to everyday lives, and by taking action today, we are helping ensure communities can access healthcare and essential goods and services. We should all be inherently grateful to transport operators who are providing vital services across the country at this difficult time and we will continue to back them and the critical work they carry out.”
Cllr Robert Francis, Leader of the Council of the Isles of Scilly, said: “We're delighted that the Government has committed to supporting our fragile transport links at this time. The air and sea links to Scilly are a lifeline for our remote island community, supplying vital freight such as food and medicine and allowing patient transport and the movement of critical workers. The links between our five inhabited Islands are also a lifeline. It is vital that operators are given financial assistance to ensure that services are maintained. I would like to thank our transport partners who are working on the frontline to keep Scilly supplied during this unprecedented pandemic.”
Transport providers to Scilly include the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company, which has provided a lifeline for 100 years and operates by sea and air, and Penzance Helicopters, a brand new service which launched in March, just one week before the coronavirus UK lockdown. There are also inter-island boat services connecting the various islands, which are vital for those living on the smaller islands to access essential services on the main island of St Mary’s. Following COVID-19 travel restrictions announced by the Prime Minister on March 23, the Steamship Company suspended all sailings of its Scillonian III passenger ferry and cancelled all flights from Exeter and Newquay airports. It has maintained a small number of flights operating from Land’s End Airport for key workers, and a freight ship to keep islanders supplied with essentials three times a week. Penzance Helicopters also suspended all scheduled flights on March 24. The Heliport and helicopters are on standby to support the efforts of the Steamship Company if necessary.
Stuart Reid, chief executive of the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company, said: “We welcome this decision by Government to support the essential life-line services. This will allow the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company to continue to maintain essential freight services and transport medical staff and key workers to the Islands from the UK mainland. The Government clearly recognise the complex transport needs of the islands’ community and economy, and we look forward to an ongoing dialogue about how we safeguard and enhance those vital links far beyond the pandemic.”
Robert Dorrien-Smith, whose family run Tresco, one of five inhabited islands within the Isles of Scilly, and who led the recent re-introduction of the Penzance Helicopters service, said: “No small remote community can survive without good transport and the Government intervention is hugely welcome at this time. As an employer and transport provider, the support from the Government is hugely important for securing the future of all island businesses.
John Peacock, whose family runs St Agnes Boating, providing inter-island boat services on Scilly said: “We are really pleased the Government has stepped in to support the community of St Agnes through the pandemic.”
Cllr Geoff Brown, who holds the transport portfolio at Cornwall Council, said: “Operators have been doing sterling work in continuing to provide transport services to meet the essential needs of the communities on the Islands at a time when their businesses have been under threat. It is great news that this has been recognised by the Government and that they will be supported to continue this vital work.”