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Public Services

Part of Debate on the Address – in the House of Commons at 2:04 pm on 16th October 2019.

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Photo of Bob Seely Bob Seely Conservative, Isle of Wight 2:04 pm, 16th October 2019

I know of no such case, but what I do know is that the Island is the only significant population on an island in the UK that has neither a fixed link nor increased funding. I am not necessarily playing my constituency off against other isolated communities, but there are specific additional costs that I would like to mention which I do not think have been met structurally by Governments for the past 50 years.

I intend to show to the Secretary of State an evidence-based case outlining what the additional costs are. By way of background, there is a wealth of evidence internationally, relating to the Isle of Wight and other islands in the UK, that shows the extra cost of providing public services on islands to the same extent as the mainland. Multiple surveys have found structural and economic challenges of severance by sea, which is the technical term, including extra costs from forced self-sufficiency and diseconomies of scale—smaller markets, fewer competitors in those markets. There are six, potentially seven, areas that I would briefly like to raise with the Minister and to put on the record now.

First, on local government services, the University of Portsmouth in 2015 estimated that the additional cost of providing good public services to the same standard as the mainland on the Isle of Wight was £6.4 million. Adjusted for inflation, that is now £7.1 million. Three specific factors were taken into account: the additional cost of doing business, for example it costs 30% extra to build a building on the Isle of Wight because of the importation of materials via ferry; dislocation, with smaller markets and fewer entrants to those markets; and what is known as reduced spillover. A duel carriageway in Southampton does not help us and, vice versa, a duel carriageway in Cowes does not help the folks in Southampton because of severance by sea. We are asking that an agreed formula be devised—I make this speech with the full support of the Isle of Wight Council; we are working on this together—as part of a potential island deal that recognises these additional challenges, which amount to approximately 3% of the funding we receive.

Secondly, on healthcare, we have half the population needed for a district general hospital, yet we need to provide a district general hospital on the Isle of Wight because of the Solent. You cannot give birth on a helicopter; you cannot give birth on a ferry. We need to provide a decent level of care at a district general hospital on the Island, but we lack the throughput, the tariffs per head under NHS funding, to fund that. Our NHS trust believes the cost of 24/7 acute care is £8.9 million, the cost of ambulance services is £1.9 million, and the cost of patient travel to the mainland, of which there were over 40,000 journeys last year, is approximately £560,000. That is a total of nearly £11 million.

Thirdly, on local agriculture infrastructure, the Island is 80% rural and our rural economy is very important to our overall economic prosperity. However, we are again hampered by our dependence on the mainland. For example, under EU regulations—maybe gilded too much by UK officials—an Island abattoir became uneconomic. Livestock raised on the Island is shipped to the mainland for slaughter even if it is then imported back to the Island. That is less humane than local slaughter. It also adds costs and fuel miles. Considering we are trying to become carbon neutral, it is an unnecessary waste of resource.

A few key pieces of infrastructure would help us enormously—we have an Isle of Wight grain collective, so the Island is keen to explore the idea of forming collectives to solve these problems, but we could also do with some grant funding in recognition. These pieces of infrastructure are an abattoir, tanker and extra milk storage facilities, grain storage and milling facilities and a box erector for vegetables.

Fourthly, on housing, there is the need for an “exceptional circumstance” to be granted. In my opinion, the housing targets given to us meet the Government’s definition of unsustainable. They are bad for the Island and I believe that the methodology is flawed. The targets are nothing more than a projection based on historical trends that do not consider our future desire, first, to produce housing for Islanders and secondly, as part of a national agenda, to shape a more sustainable and green future.

Developments on the Island, sadly, are too rarely designed for local people, but are instead designed for mainland—very often, retiree—demand. This forces our youngsters off the Island. We also do not have the infrastructure to support those additional homes, because we are an island. Our hospitals are full, public services are under pressure despite the extra funding, which I am grateful for, electricity and sewerage are at capacity and a third of our water comes from the mainland. The Green Book calculations do not serve the Island well. We intend to present an Island plan to Government that will have a significantly reduced figure, which our landscape and population can cope with, but which supports local demand. That is extremely important, and I would welcome Government support and understanding from the relevant Secretary of State and Ministries, so that we can make sure we get this through and help to create a sustainable, balanced demographic and a sustainable economy, and start paying into the Treasury.

Fifthly, on public services, I would like a unique public authority on the Isle of Wight that combines the work of our local authority, NHS trust and clinical commissioning group. Because of the nature of the Island—it is quite small-scale; social scientists tend to love us because we are island, so we are easily measurable—this could be, along with areas such as Manchester, a role model of how to achieve much greater levels of integration throughout the country. However, we need a small pot of money and a sense of understanding of how this could work to make a success of it.

Lastly, on transport, we have the most expensive ferries in the world. They have very high profit margins, which Islanders, who earn 80% of the national average, have to pay for. My preference would be for Government support to look at different models of ownership and public service obligations.

Before I come to my summation I want to say that there may be additional costs from special educational needs provision. However, I did not want to hold up the letter to the Prime Minister, so they may come additionally.

Hopefully, I have outlined an evidence-based case looking at the additional costs of public services, and I look forward to following this up with Ministers.