Getting an Island Deal
The Isle of Wight is an Island. That is a statement of the obvious, but it is one that Government doesn’t necessarily want to accept. In a report prepared for the Isle of Wight, the University of Portsmouth has estimated that the additional cost of providing local Council services - due to being an Island - is £6.5 million per year. We gain no extra funding for public services. The three Scottish Island constituencies, the Western Islands, Shetland and Orkney, receive approximately an extra £6 million each, despite having significantly smaller populations. Government support programmes for isolated parts of the UK do not apply to the Island because when the rules were written, no account was made for isolation caused by water. Why this has not been successfully challenged, I do not know.
The Island loses out in public funding in several ways. We can’t access some neighbouring local government services, be that sports centres, libraries, etc. This is called ‘public goods spillover.’ Second, due to transport costs, the population size and limited opportunities of scale, there is a premium for conducting business on the Island. This can be partly, but only partly overcome, by super-fast digital, which will be arriving in the next few years. Third, the sense of isolation and ‘dislocation’ acts as a deterrent to skilled individuals to relocate to the Island as well as imposing a negative effect on what the University of Portsmouth called “knowledge intensive and multi-specialised urban economies.” This extra cost is reflected in other areas too, such as healthcare.
In addition, the Green Book assessment – the Government’s way of assessing public sector investment, counts against the Island because we are geographically limited. We have fixed borders. It is difficult for us to claim that a scheme in Cowes will benefit Fareham or Southampton, for example. Therefore, it is sometimes difficult for us to win Government funding for projects.
There is no simple solution to the above, apart from an ongoing programme of educating and influencing Government ministers and officials so that they understand that the Island is just that - an Island - and rules designed for a mainland community don’t work for us.
I started this campaign of influence and education as soon as I was elected, arguing that the Island needed a better deal from Government. I have mentioned it on many occasions, both inside Parliament in debates, including my maiden speech. I also held a Parliamentary debate on government funding of public Services on the Isle of Wight. In May, I spoke at a debate organised by my All Party Parliamentary Group on Islands, on the economies of Islands. I expect to hold more in the months and years to come. Government has sounded sympathetic, but it needs to turn words into actions.