A £50,000 pot of government money to look at the unique challenges the Isle of Wight faces as a result of being separated by sea from the mainland has been welcomed by Island MP Bob Seely and IW Council leader Dave Stewart.
The Island is the only local authority area in the whole country to be recognised in this way and it is formal recognition by the government that the Island has unique circumstances that need to be investigated further.
The government says the money will be used to review the challenges faced by the council, residents and businesses on the Island. It says this could include access to vital services, supplies and employment.
The announcement follows repeated representations to government by the Island’s MP and council leader, explaining how the Island faces unique challenges due to its separation by sea.
The most recent of these was in their joint submission to the Department for Transport’s Union Connectivity Review, in which they highlighted the “uniquely disadvantageous” position the Isle of Wight faces when compared to islands in other parts of the United Kingdom, and reiterated the need for additional funding in lieu of being physically connected.
It was hoped that the Island's council would receive additional money through the government’s fair funding formula due to be announced this year – but this was put on hold by the coronavirus pandemic.
Mr Seely said: “It is hugely frustrating that the fair funding formula has been put on hold as we believe this would have resulted in a better deal for the Island, but we understand that other priorities relating to the coronavirus pandemic have needed to come first. We have received – and continue to receive – additional funding to tackle the coronavirus pandemic which we are extremely grateful to the government for.
“I am extremely grateful that we have a funding package that will be used for research to be conducted by Whitehall and the Isle of Wight Council to further investigate the true additional costs of providing public services on the Island.
“The government must be sure that they are spending taxpayers’ money wisely, therefore it is right and proper that they commission this additional work. We want to work with them to achieve the best possible result we can for the Island.
“Working with the council, we will turn this review around so that it can inform the fair funding review and get the settlement the Island needs and deserves.
“We need our additional costs and unique geography to be formally addressed by the government. This has not been done before, but we are working hard to make sure it happens now.
“I do not see the Island deal as a one-off big bang moment. What we want to achieve is a better deal for the Island over time which means we put ourselves at the front of the queue for funding and new opportunities that benefit the Island and increase prosperity here. It’s about proactively making a case to the government on the Island’s behalf.
“This is not just about more money for the council and our NHS, this is about levelling up the Island on all fronts. The Isle of Wight is now part of a Solent Freeport bid which will create new opportunities for trade and growth and it is also part of a higher education bid as well.
"Together we have submitted a response to the Union Connectivity Review to ensure our continued connectivity to the mainland is never in doubt like it has been during the pandemic and we are looking at levelling up the Island through the Shared Prosperity Fund. Getting a better deal for the Island is an ongoing process. It’s about exploiting opportunities but also creating them too.
“We will continue our discussions with the government over the coming months to ensure they really understand the problems we face and the opportunities we can offer too. We are winning our case one step at a time.”
Councillor Stewart added: “This is a significant step forward. While the council has previously commissioned work by the University of Portsmouth which set out the additional costs of providing local government services on the Island, we now have the landmark step of a government-backed review to provide an up-to-date, post-pandemic evidence-base and rationale for a new funding settlement.
“This is the first time in many years that any government – of any colour – has given such an explicit recognition of the need for the Island’s unique circumstances to be looked at.
"From our perspective, such a commitment would not have been forthcoming without an expectation, from Whitehall, that it will result in an evidence-base and rationale being put forward to justify an enhanced funding settlement being awarded. As such, we can today look forward, with renewed confidence, that the Island’s particular needs will, not before time, be recognised by Westminster.
“Working with our MP, public sector partners and the wider local community, our focus will be in putting forward the strongest possible case. This work starts now, and will continue in the next council term. I will be convening an initial meeting in the coming days to get the ball rolling.
“In simple terms, this review is our route to securing a better deal for the Island. Irrespective of party politics, I urge all councillors to work with us as this review gets underway.
"It’s our pathway to a more prosperous and sustainable Island. We have navigated our way through the worst of the pandemic, and vaccinations are now being rolled out across the Island. With this review set to get underway, we now have the opportunity to shape a stronger future.”