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Poll results would make ‘interesting reading’ for the Ferry Companies!

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Andrew Turner, the Island’s MP, says that the results of his on-line poll into Islanders’ attitudes and experiences of cross-Solent ferries have thrown up a number of results that he would be happy to discuss with the ferry companies. The MP is conducting the poll to provide further evidence to the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) about how levels of ferry fares and services affect individual users and the Island’s economy as a whole.

The OFT have made a provisional decision that they will not recommend further investigations into the ferry services following a short market survey. However, in an unusual move, they decided to carry out further consultations to allow further evidence to be submitted in response to their report. Mr Turner is now working to provide the additional evidence required to convince them to overturn their provisional decision.

Over 3,500 people have already completed the on-line survey which can be found on Mr Turner’s website at www.IslandMP.org, and he would like even more people to complete it before the 9th August to give as accurate a picture as possible to the OFT when he passes the evidence to them a few days later.

Mr Turner said :
“Over 93% of people say they would use the ferries more often if they were cheaper. The report from the OFT says that new pricing policies introduced by the ferry companies (similar to those used by no-frills airlines) may explain why Islanders have experienced higher than average price rises. We all know that the low cost airlines have regular sales when they sell seats very cheaply – in fact Ryanair have a sale of a million flights to Europe for £1 each way (including taxes) at the moment. Although there are conditions attached and extra charges for various options it is perfectly possible to travel for the advertised price. Of course the airlines are operating in a very competitive market, and the OFT have found that does not apply to the cross-Solent ferry companies.

“Both the main ferry companies have given evidence to the OFT that on existing services their vehicle ferries are used at less than 50% of overall capacity at the moment and less than 25% of the capacity of the passenger ferries is used. If the ferry companies are using new pricing policies to benefit from higher prices at times of peak demand, then why shouldn’t Islanders reap some of the benefit by being able to purchase much cheaper crossings when the ferries are travelling almost empty?”

Mr Turner also commented that the number of people who had missed connections or appointments due to late or cancelled ferries did not appear to tally with evidence submitted to the OFT by Wightlink on reliability and punctuality. Wightlink gave evidence that over 3 years 90% of its services had left within 5 minutes of the scheduled time – yet two thirds of Wightlink users who responded to the survey had suffered the consequences of late ferries, including people who used the ferries to travel only infrequently. Red Funnel did not provide evidence to the OFT on reliability and punctuality.

Mr Turner said:
“One criticism of the ferry companies that has come up time and time again is that they don’t listen to their users. I would be willing to share the rgesults of this survey with them (although not individual information given in confidence); it should make interesting reading for them. I would also be willing to discuss with them how they can best meet the needs of Islanders and I am prepared to use the database I have built up to help them carry out more research if that would be helpful. This is not a fight with the ferry companies – the Island needs them to thrive and I understand that they have to make a profit. However, they also need to consider the needs of individual users.

“I do urge people affected by the ferry services to fill out the survey – even if they are entirely happy with the services, so that it is as accurate as possible. You will also be able to enter the £100 prize draw if you take part.”

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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