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Island MP – on OFT report

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The Island’s MP, Andrew Turner, said today that, although disappointed with the final decision of the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) to take no further action at this time to investigate the Cross-Solent ferry market, he is pleased that there will be more information available to the public in future about the levels of pricing and services. He is also pleased that the ferry companies will be undertaking customer satisfaction surveys.

The OFT announced today that, following their market study report published in June, and having considered further evidence they are upholding their provisional decision not to make a referral to the Competition Commission (CC) at this time, in line with their original recommendations to ask the ferry companies to publish detailed information on fares and services. The ferry companies have voluntarily undertaken to publish this information and the OFT have previously indicated that should prices increase above reasonable levels or services decline, the likelihood of a future reference to the CC would increase. They have re-iterated in this report that there is nothing to prevent them making a referral to the CC in future.

Mr Turner said:

“Of course this is disappointing, but the main outcome is that any future excessive fare rises or significant reduction in service levels is likely to lead to action by the Competition Authorities. That is a very much more positive position than we were in before. This is a 122 page report and I will need time to digest it fully and consider any future action but it is clear the OFT recognise that there are certain problems and they hope that this action will begin to address them.
“This has never been about being at war with the ferry companies; the Island needs them and they need the Island. I was simply asking the competition authorities to do the job they are supposed to do and protect the interests of the public. Throughout this process the professional management of Wightlink and Red Funnel have been both courteous and helpful. I hope to work with them in the future to help them meet the needs of the Island and Islanders. I am particularly pleased that Wightlink are looking at helping people who need to travel for hospital treatment and their carers, and hope that Red Funnel will also look at this. I am meeting the new CEO of Wightlink, Russell Kew next week, and I also hope to meet with Red Funnel and Hovertravel management shortly. ”

Mr Turner added:
“I would like to thank the small team of businessmen who have been helping me with this project, my staff who have worked so hard on this massive extra piece of work and the OFT for the work they have done. Most of all though, I would like to thank everyone who has supported the campaign or given evidence. Although it is not the outcome we hoped for, the new regime of disclosure of price and service information and a commitment to customer satisfaction will certainly make a difference in the future.”

Mr Turner spearheaded a long campaign to provide enough evidence for the OFT to persuade them that the fares and services provided by the ferry companies were of such importance to the Island that they should be investigated. He received cross-party support from local and national politicians and more than 13,500 individuals, organisations and businesses supported the campaign, many of them giving detailed evidence of their experience of the ferry services.

END Contact : Andrew Turner’s office 01983 530808

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Broadlands jobs safe

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Island MP Andrew Turner has received confirmation that the future of jobs and services at Broadlands House are secure following press reports that previously announced new jobs would not now be coming to the Island. Mr Turner said that yesterday’s press reports were completely at odds with assurances he had received both from the Minister last summer and the regional manager as recently as November last year. On hearing the reports that plans had changed he contacted the senior management of JobCentre Plus to seek clarification of the position.

Mr Turner said

“I have now received definite confirmation that the plans of Jobcentre Plus have not changed and that they will be keeping a benefit processing centre on the Island as well as establishing one of only two national insurance number processing centres here. I have been told that the additional jobs will arise as their plans are implemented over the coming months.”

Mr Turner went on to say

“During our meeting last November Guy Tompkins Jobcentre Plus’s regional manager was very complimentary about their workforce on the Island and told me that the positive approach of the staff was one of the reasons why they planned to expand on the Island. I am very glad that they see the sense of bringing work to the Island rather than taking it to the mainland and I will continue to press Government to follow their example.

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School Reorganization – Where will £70m come from?

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Government have denied promising the IW Council £70 million to pay for reorganizing Island schools from a three- to a two-tier system. And the Island’s MP has criticized the ‘optimistic noises’ on funding given at consultation meetings.

In a Parliamentary Answer to Island MP Andrew Turner it was revealed that there have been absolutely no promises from the Government to provide the estimated £70 million needed for the changes being proposed by council officials. In answering Mr Turner, Stephen Twigg MP, the Minister responsible for school funding, made it clear that the Isle of Wight council has received no assurances that extra money will be made available for the proposed changeover. Mr Turner has criticized the impression given to parents and teachers that obtaining the money needed from central government would not present a problem.

Andrew Turner said,

“During the meeting I attended at Sandown High School it was clearly stated that ‘we can get’ the £70 million needed to change the system. I was surprised to hear that because that simply isn’t the way that Government works. I have asked the Government what promises they have given and they have clearly told me that they have given none. I have now asked the Council what led them to give such a misleading impression to those who went to the trouble of attending the meeting. I have been told that there have been informal meetings with government officials who support these proposals – I am afraid that does not represent government spending commitments. Frankly I am shocked that optimistic noises were made which misled people.”

Exam results and education standards on the Island are far below the national average and the recent report costing £100,000 by 4S recommended changing the system but did not provide any evidence that this alone would improve standards. Mr Turner went on to say:

“There may well be arguments for changing the system – but changing the system does not guarantee improving standards; the issues should not be mixed up. Even the advocates of change admit it would cost a fortune. If that money does not come from central government it will have to come from existing council budgets and be topped up by Island council taxpayers.

“It is at very least disingenuous to suggest that finding the money to achieve change is not an important issue that needs to be discussed as part of these proposals. I am worried that the Council seems to believe that informal discussions with civil servants translates into promises of many millions of pounds – sadly that is not the case.

“We need to raise standards but that is best done by the Council accepting that some schools are better than others, publishing that information to parents, governors, teachers and the wider public, and tackling the problems on a school-by-school basis. It is not as glamorous as being the architect of a whole new system, but it is much more likely to give our children the quality schooling they deserve.”

END

Contact : Andrew Turner 01983 530808

School Building (Isle of Wight)

Mr. Andrew Turner: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what (a) commitments and (b) undertakings she has made to the Isle of Wight Council regarding future capital allocations provided (i) through the Building Schools for the Future programme or (ii) otherwise, whether (A) contingent on or (B) not contingent on school reorganisation. [216280]

Mr. Stephen Twigg: A letter has been sent to all council leaders stating that, for authorities not prioritised in the first three waves of Building Schools for the Future (BSF), including the Isle of Wight, we are determined to make a start on BSF plans between 2005–06 and 2010–11. Our ambition is that in the next full Parliament, subject to future spending decisions, 60 per cent. of all authorities will have started in the BSF programme, or else be given resources to renew at least one secondary school with the greatest need as a school for the future, or as an academy. Each BSF scheme will be judged on its merits, and is not necessarily contingent on school reorganisation. Other capital allocations to the council and its schools were announced on 30 November, and are set out in the following table:

£000
2006–07 14,853
2007–08 15,446

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Can we become a Fairtrade Island?

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As World Fair Trade Fortnight draws to a close this Sunday the Island’s MP Andrew Turner has praised the work of the IW Fairtrade Forum. The Forum is working towards the accolade of Fairtrade Island by building on existing users and suppliers of Fairtrade products to spread the word about the products and the good they do for their producers in the developing world. There are now more than 250 products bearing the distinctive green and blue logo which guarantees a fair deal to producers of such items as coffee, tea, sugar and bananas.

Andrew Turner said,

“The Fairtrade product range has expanded over recent years and whilst once they were seen as an expensive alternative they now offer good value and quality. In order to become a Fairtrade Island we need more suppliers of the products so everybody really can make a difference by asking their local coffee shop or convenience store to stock a few items from the range. As the largest constituency in the country the Island gaining this accolade really would make a difference and give a boost to the national campaign. Fairtrade really makes a difference to those communities that need a helping hand – and I know that on the Island we have a really caring and compassionate community”.

Jim Curtis the co-ordinator of the IW Fairtrade Forum said

“I very much value Andrew’s support for this campaign. In order for the Island to be recognised in this way we need the active support of the Isle of Wight council as well as that of suppliers across the Island. I urge everyone to let their local councillors know that they would be proud to see us become a Fairtrade Island helping less fortunate people to take control of their own lives and build themselves a better future.

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