Politicians and council leaders in the Isles of Scilly say they have been left “frustrated” after claiming that the government knocked back its proposals to deliver its new ferry and goods ships for a second time. 

They have now called on the government to help find a way forward for the scheme.

The project – which includes three new ships along with harbour improvements – was awarded £48million in the first round of Levelling Up funding in 2021 which was welcomed by everyone involved. However two attempts to take it forward have been rebuffed by the government.

Several organisations have been involved in setting up the project including the Council of the Isles of Scilly, the Steamship Group, Duchy of Cornwall, Tresco, Cornwall Council and MP Derek Thomas. They have been keen to make headway as the existing vessels are said to be nearing the end of their service and new ships will take time to order and be built.

A first joint proposal issued to the Department for Transport last year was sent back by ministers who raised concerns about how the new vessels would be procured, who would own them and how any replacements in future would be funded. As a result a revised proposal was submitted to the DfT in December.

The Council of the Isles of Scilly has confirmed that last week Transport Minister Baroness Vere sent a letter back to the partners indicating that the DfT was still not happy with the proposals and asked that they look again at the recommendations from the previous rebuttal.

Paul Masters, chief executive of the Council of the Isles of Scilly, said: “Where we are now, we are waiting and pushing the Government about what this means and what we need to do next. We have been happy to work to answer all the questions they have had.”

There have been some concerns expressed locally that the DfT has not fully understood the unique nature of the Isles of Scilly and the need for the links to the mainland.

Mr Masters said: “It is fair to say that the lifeline nature of the route is the thing that is different here on the Scillies. Other parts of the country, their transport networks have some element of public subsidy – the Scottish ferries for example. We don’t get any public subsidy here, the services are run by private operators.

“As a council we have always looked to how we can reduce the cost for residents here – it is not cheap and they rely on these routes to access essential services. The Isles of Scilly is unique as we are 28 miles out in the Atlantic.”

Mr Masters said that it was hoped that the DfT would respond to the council and partners soon to try and find a way forward.

Mr Thomas, the MP whose constituency includes the islands, said that he was pressing the DfT to provide more help to ensure that the project does not face further delays. He said that the first proposal was a “workable way” to deliver the vessels which would also protect the public, but this was rejected by the DfT.

Mr Thomas said: “We put forward another proposal that we believe does protect and will happen more quickly. The longer we leave it the cost goes up and the (existing) vessels are beyond their shelf life.”

He added: “My frustration is that all government officials have said no but they haven’t put forward any real guidance about how we can deliver this project. The minister recognised my disappointment and said she would put in time on this so that we can get a positive outcome – I will be holding them to that.

“The DfT are not experts in procuring or designing vessels and they are not experts in remote island living and transport. They are not understanding the difficulties that people face in being on a remote island like Scilly.”

Mr Thomas said that it “really is on the DfT to just get on with it” and said he hoped that officials would continue to work with the partners on the project to ensure it is delivered.

The DfT said that it was continuing to work with the council and local leaders to deliver the project.