The Isle of Man Government is considering the future of its Strategic Sea Services and, at their request, we have outlined to them our revised ‘Offer’ which will guarantee ferry services beyond 2026, the end of the current User Agreement. It will also bring in safeguards requested by the Strategic Sea Services Working Group and, subsequently, Isle of Man Government as well as taking account of passenger feedback from the Public Consultation exercise.
Our Chief Executive Mark Woodward explains the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company vision for the future.
‘We are not just a company which serves the Isle of Man; we are part of the Manx community. Our management team lives and works here, we have local Board members, we employ more than 300 Isle of Man residents and we spend significant sums in the local economy. As part of the Isle of Man our interests are fully vested in what is best for our Island.
‘Since the start of the User Agreement there has been major private investment in vessels, much lower fares (halved in real terms) with improved offers and availability, and significant marketing to promote the Isle of Man.
‘We want to consolidate these benefits, and provide a platform for further investment and improvements in service delivery for another generation.
‘If a revised Strategic Sea Services Agreement, to guarantee services beyond 2026, can be reached this year, we will invest in two new vessels. That means in 2020/21 we would aim to deliver a purpose-built replacement for Ben-my-Chree (dates subject to finalisation of design, tendering and build options), with a replacement for Manannan planned for 2022/23.
‘The Ben’s replacement would be a more passenger friendly state-of-the-art, multipurpose vessel designed to meet the specific needs of the Isle of Man and the ports we serve. We would provide additional passenger capacity as well as enhanced facilities to improve the passenger experience. We also envisage replacing Manannan with a superior fast craft to suit the Isle of Man’s needs and our routes. The new agreement is essential to our plan for further investment in new vessels.
‘Self sufficiency is an urgent issue for the Isle of Man. Suitable vessels for charter have reduced to the point where there are now simply none available. In recent years, although not required under the User Agreement, we have invested heavily in providing fleet resilience by chartering the freighter Arrow.
‘This will continue until the replacement for Ben-my-Chree joins the fleet, when it is our intention to retain her as back-up for both freight and passenger services. This will be a huge plus for our sea services with a proven and reliable vessel available providing robust back-up, as well as substantial and vital additional capacity in order to support the Government’s desire to grow the TT festival and Festival of Motorcycling. Crucially this will also ensure self-sufficiency for Island services.
‘Regular independent sampling has shown that our fares are competitive. Benchmarking previously carried out by Travelwatch Isle of Man showed our prices to be good value for money compared with other Irish Sea ferry operators.
‘As part of a new agreement, we will commit to increasing the availability guarantees on special offers. We will also develop and introduce new special offers.
‘In addition, we will introduce a web-based ‘Frequent Traveller’ scheme to give something extra back to our regular passengers. It will be easy to qualify for savings under the new scheme. We estimate more than 10 times as many passengers will be able to benefit from this new scheme compared to the last regular traveller scheme which ended some years ago.
‘We also have plans to fund additional low fare initiatives, for the benefit of the Isle of Man and its residents, by sharing with passengers any future revenue which exceeds agreed annual levels to make fares even more competitive.’
He continued: ‘We believe the routes we serve meet the Island’s current needs and will continue them with current frequencies maintained. However, we also give the commitment that routes and schedules can be revisited by Government to meet changing national needs and passenger demand.
‘Unlike some ferry firms servicing island communities, the Steam Packet Company does not and will not require any Government subsidy. We meet the costs of delivering our services ourselves. We will do this while providing guaranteed standards and levels of service and it is we, not the Government, that take all of the commercial downside risk of doing this.
‘We look forward to bringing forward this investment plan and safeguards for the benefit of all, without the need for taxpayer support or funding.’
A PDF document outlining our offer can be read or downloaded here.