Following my request for comments on the report by Atkins consultants entitled “Assessment of the provision of marine aids to navigation around the United Kingdom and Ireland” in June 2010 (10 June 2010, Official Report, column 35WS), I have received replies from 18 organisations and individuals. I wish now to inform the House of the steps the Government intend to take to ensure the continuing delivery of a high-quality aids to navigation service to ensure the safety of all of those using our seas, which also minimises the burdens on those paying light dues.
The Atkins report makes some 52 recommendations covering technical matters, corporate governance, efficiencies and synergies, light dues charges, the general lighthouse fund and Anglo-Irish issues. Key recommendations include:
creating a general lighthouse authority joint strategic board to drive efficiencies;
using an annual target reduction calculator (RPI - x%) for GLA running costs;
developing a timetable with the Irish Government on the financing of the Commissioners of Irish Lights, setting out an incentivised financial model which retains the all-Ireland body while allowing its costs within the Republic of Ireland to be covered wholly from Irish sources; and
changing the structure and scope of light dues.
In the light of the responses received, the Government have decided to endorse the formation of the joint strategic board with the clear objective of co-ordinating and directing work between the three general lighthouse authorities to achieve maximum efficiencies and improvements in the delivery of aids to navigation. To take the work of the joint strategic board forward as quickly as possible I have asked Chris Bourne, a non-executive director of Trinity House, to act as chair of the board. In his role as chair of the joint strategic board Mr Bourne will take an independent and impartial view of the issues, and will report to me on the board’s achievements. His extensive shipping background and knowledge of the work of the general lighthouse authorities make him an excellent choice for this role. In the longer term, the Government will look at the appointment of a chair for the joint strategic board from outside the three general lighthouse authorities.
The Government have also decided that it is right, particularly in current economic circumstances, to ask the general lighthouse authorities to deliver reductions in their running costs below the level of inflation and welcome the commitment by the general lighthouse authorities to delivering this challenge. The precise target will be agreed with the general lighthouse authorities alongside the development of their corporate plans and budgets for 2011 to 2014 that are submitted to me for consideration in the autumn.
In this difficult economic period the Government also wish to provide long term stability and reassurance, both for light dues payers in the level of charges they face and for the general lighthouse authorities so they can plan effectively with budgetary stability. The responses received to my request for comments on the Atkins recommendations suggest that there is little appetite to make major changes to the structure and scope of light dues payable by ships visiting our shores. I do not therefore intend to change the basis on which light dues are currently charged, although I will continue to work with all interested parties to seek an equitable means of ensuing that all those who benefit from the provision and supervision of marine aids to navigation by the general lighthouse authorities pay towards their provision where it is viable, practicable and economic to do so.
The Government also believe a solution needs to be found as soon as possible to the imbalance of funding for aids to navigation in the Republic of Ireland. I have written to the Irish Minister of Transport; it is my intention to conclude a negotiated agreement with the Irish Government and to implement that agreement as quickly as is reasonably possible thereafter.