The chairman of Isles of Scilly council says that the islands’ new ferries could be at risk of significant delays due to Government red tape. Robert Francis claimed that the Department for Transport (DfT) was holding up delivery of the £48million project to provide new ships and transport infrastructure.

At a meeting of the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Leadership Board on Friday he appealed to Cornwall councillors and MPs to help ensure that the scheme will be delivered. The project to build new ships for the islands was the only Levelling Up funding bid submitted by Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly in the first round of bidding.

Under the plans the funding will be used to build three new vessels which will be used to transport goods and passengers to and from the islands as well as improvements to the harbour infrastructure in the Isles of Scilly.

Cllr Francis said on Friday that whilst the funding announcement had been warmly welcomed by the Isles of Scilly there had been problems in moving the project forward.

"It is one thing to have the money allocated to us, it is another thing to be allowed to spend it. The rules around procurement in the Department for Transport are making it extremely difficult to get this done."

He said that the council and all those involved in the project had responded to questions posed by the DfT but warned that any further delays could push the scheme further back due to availability of contractors to build the new vessels.

"We are desperately hoping that we will get some movement now over the next few weeks to get this project delivered. If we can’t do that then we are going to lose another year and I don’t need to tell you how important this lifeline is for Scilly. It is a very fragile situation at the moment with the ships."

Cllr Francis also reminded colleagues in Cornwall that the transport link was not just there to benefit the islands: "It is not just about Scilly, it is significant for Cornwall as well, a lot of jobs and a lot of the economic benefits are for Cornwall. I would ask everyone around the table to try and support us in any way that you can.

"It is an incredibly tight timetable and we need to be able to overcome it (this issue), it is a very serious situation. I know that (Cornwall Council leader) Linda Taylor is helping us as well and the MPs around the table will help to move this forward."

Derek Thomas, MP for St Ives, which includes the Isles of Scilly, said that whilst there were issues to be overcome he did not think that the funding was at risk.

He said: "There is no issue with having the three vessels, the funding is there and for the harbour improvements. There is no risk to the Levelling Up funding. The issue is with how long it is taking."

Mr Thomas said that one of the key issues for the government was whether the project meets competition rules and guidelines around procurement. He said that the DfT wanted to make sure that there would be no risk of challenge.

He said: "The legal advice that the council has had is robust and I am confident that we can move forward. The Treasury is also looking at it at the same time as the DfT. The problem with the DfT is they are always painfully slow.

"We met with them before Christmas and we were promised a response by the middle of January, we did eventually get a response which was lacklustre and it was only in the last six weeks we got the full response."

The MP said that he had met with the Treasury to ensure that once the project is signed off by the DfT that there will not be any further delays. He added: "We don’t want to wait months and months of delays. Where there are time issues it is in being able to get the ships ordered.

"At the moment we want all three vessels ready for 2025 but if we don’t secure this by the end of July it will be pushed back a further year. The delay is with the Government not us here.

"What the Steamship Company needs is some certainty so they can commit to replacing the ships. Every season that goes by, all the ships are at risk of not being reliable. That’s not to say they are unsafe, it is about reliability."