Bristol ferry owner’s anger over rival company plan

08-January-2013
08-January-2013 8:56
in General
by The Bristol Post

The boss of a Bristol ferry boat firm is furious at plans for a new not-for-profit company after a rival firm went bust, with £600,000 worth of debt.

Richard Rankin has operated Number Seven Boat Trips (N7BT) for more than 13 years and is one of three ferry firms still operating on the Harbourside.

As reported in The Post, a Community Interest Company is being set up after the Bristol Ferry Boat Company went out of business in the run-up to Christmas.

The original founder of the firm Ian Bungard, and a group of six others with an interest in transport issues, have successfully bid to buy the fleet of five distinctive yellow and blue boats which belonged to the Bristol Ferry Boat Company at auction.

A consortium, including Mr Bungard, along with Sustrans founder John Grimshaw and coordinated by local architect and sustainable transport campaigner Keith Hallett, joined forces to raise the cash to buy the boats in less than 72 hours after agreeing to re-launch the firm.

And more than 30 local people have agreed to invest in the project, pledging money for the purchase.

A Community Interest Company (CIC) will now be set up to run the service and local people given the opportunity to invest in the project. All profits will be ploughed back into the company to maintain, improve and extend the services.

It is hoped one ferry will be running again at weekends within the next few weeks with the entire fleet of five boats returning to the water by Easter.

But Mr Rankin, who runs his firm as a profit-making business, believes his rivals will have an unfair advantage and has written to the council with a series of questions about the deal.

He said: “We have been operating since 1999 and each year we have been able to make a modest profit.

“My concern is the fact that an application to run is planned to be submitted to restart the company formally known as the BFBC under a different name and branded as a Community Interest Company, with all the in-built government bias of being able to be considered a preferential supplier to the council that this status implies.”

He added: “Anyone can see that this new operation will have an unfair advantage in what is already an extremely competitive market place.

“All of this has come just weeks after the Balmoral had to cancel its entire 2013 season due to the present trading situation. This, if allowed to go forward, would effectively devalue our companies and places us in an unfair trading position.”

Ian Bungard said he hopes the company, which will be called Ferryboats Bristol, will be up and running within a couple of weeks.
He is in the process of setting up the firm and is meeting the harbour authorities later today tues to talk about licensing the boats bought at auction.

He added: “We will not get any unfair advantage or treatment, what we want to do is provide the best ferry boat service possible. We are all operating in the same pond and we do not want to fall out with anyone, we can all work together to provide a good service for the people of Bristol.”

A City Council spokesman said: “Any future services would be let out to tender in the usual way following normal procurement procedures.

“There is no preferential treatment given to community interest companies as part of this process.”

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