Council letter accuses ISSG of 'poor overall service'

A letter sent to the Isles of Scilly Steamship Group on behalf of the Council has accused the company of providing a 'poor overall service'.

At a meeting on Tuesday, June 5th, Members agreed that a letter would be sent to the Steamship Group "that highlighted concerns raised by the public with regard to capacity of their air service", to be written by Chairman Robert Francis with Cllrs Marian Berkeley and Ted Moulson, and approval from the Authority's Monitoring Officer.

The resolution followed hundreds of passengers being stranded the previous weekend after flights were cancelled due to fog.

Read the letter in full below (obtained via a Freedom of Information request by The Cornishman reporter Clive Mumford):

Transport to and from the mainland

I write to inform you that the Council of the Isles of Scilly passed a motion at our Council meeting on Tuesday 5th June that ‘the Chairman of the Council should write to the sole transport provider bringing the Council's strong concern to the attention of its Board of Directors.’

You will be aware of the disastrous effects on islanders and visitors that took place on Friday and Saturday 1st and 2nd June when, owing to poor visibility, many flights were cancelled.

While having enormous sympathy with the crews and frontline staff who have to deal with very frustrated and disappointed passengers - and thanks go to the islanders and staff who provided overnight accommodation and other assistance - it should be recognised that those who could really make a difference are your Board and senior managers for making good and timely decisions.

At an early stage, it was clear that flying was likely to be disrupted and, coupled with the Scillonian being fully booked, meant that many passengers would not be able to travel but would have to leave their accommodation since the Scillonian was due to bring in another load of passengers on the same day.

Indecision and lack of information from the Steamship Company made life very difficult for all those who seek to look after the needs of their guests. A simple solution would have been to run an additional Scillonian service to get people back to the mainland on the 1st June.

You will be aware that our Council Chief Executive called you to ask for this additional sailing - I believe many others called the company as well - but all were met with a refusal to even consider it.

We are all aware that there is a need for flexibility in the provision of transport to and from the islands and the latest Annual Report of your company included this statement:

“Highlighted in last year's statement was the degree of importance the Board attaches to a number of vital elements of our scheduled services specifically; resilience, reliability, affordability and accessibility. To this list the Board has added the issue of capacity. We recognise that, within the bounds defined by the nature of the Islands' relatively niche market, the Steamship Company must strive to have seats available for all who would wish to occupy them on our ships and aeroplanes, on the day and indeed at the time of day that they wish to travel. These issues have been brought into sharp focus by the recent public debate around the proposal to introduce a helicopter services between Cornwall and the Islands and, separately, the proposal for a new heliport at Penzance.”

From the chaos that many hundreds of passengers experienced on 1st and 2nd June, it would appear that these words in your Annual Report are meaningless; whereas resilience and reliability of air services are clearly affected by the weather, there could have been resilience in the Scillonian services which would have meant that seats would have been available for all who wish to occupy them at least on the day of travel.

It was noted that even in the face of the forecast the ship still carried day trippers. On the 1st June the Islands at one time were faced with finding beds for 300 people. As it turned out, with the fact that flying became possible plus jet boats operating, the numbers were brought down. The point is though that flying may not have become possible and there appeared to be no contingency plan. People still had to be accommodated in the school boarding house and private homes. We were very nearly having to use the sports hall floor for our stranded visitors. Some of those could not get away until Sunday 3rd due to lack of capacity. Scilly should not be akin to a disaster zone in having to make emergency accommodation arrangements when there is no disaster.

The Council of the Isles of Scilly will support transport services which offer the best potential in terms of resilience on an all-year basis. Given that last winter flying was disrupted on 29% of flying time, an all-year ferry service is clearly a priority, but for now the readiness and willingness to operate a double sailing is imperative when the need is apparent.

We appreciate that demand for travel fluctuates with the seasons, weeks and days, and that you sometimes do put on additional sailings of the Scillonian, but it is still necessary to plan for disruption of the air services and the indecision, lack of responses and ultimately the refusal to run an additional Scillonian sailing has shown just how poor the overall services have become – to the detriment of the island economy and, we believe, of your company as well.

Some of the things that the Council, islanders and your customers can reasonably expect in similar circumstances are:

· Updates from IOSSG, ideally hourly, with a consistent message - don't tell people different things - please tell everyone the same things - and real information - who, where, what

· An acknowledgement that these are Skybus passengers and are Skybus' responsibility and require some customer care

· Named IOSSG personnel taking responsibility for and organising the handling of such circumstances

· That you are warning incoming customers the day before, warning the outgoing passengers and accommodation providers

· Turn planes around quicker – do not bring visitors in when you cannot take people out and the island is at capacity

· Do not do Exeter flights when you have only two Twin Otters available and Land's End is fogged out

I would be glad to have your comments and how you will avoid a repeat of these events, on an urgent basis. I am not wanting excuses, our Council would like to know what you are prepared to put in place to deal with future situations of this nature. The needs of our community and the visitors on whom we depend for our economic future are paramount. Resilience, Resilience, Resilience. I cannot over stress its importance in the future sustainability of the Isles of Scilly.


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