A HAMPSHIRE ferry service with a chequered history is set to receive nearly £80,000 of taxpayers’ money after a subsidy increase was approved – but supporters fear funding may be withdrawn in the long term.

In April, six months after bosses had handed staff redundancy letters, Hythe Ferry was saved when Southampton-based Blue Funnel Cruises bought out White Horse Ferries.

Now, Hampshire County Council has reaffirmed its support for the service in the short term, approving a £75,000 subsidy – an increase of £20,000.

The subsidy is topped up by a further £2,000 for a ferry licence to use Southampton’s port.

The cash comes on top of a £50,000 council grant towards a replacement vessel which the owners received in April.

The council has also offered the opportunity to extend the subsidy for another year from April 2018, but Rob Humby, the county’s executive member for environment and transport, was keen to see the ferry supporting itself.

He said: “We need to get it on a commercially viable footing, but we will continue supporting it.”

The report outlining the new funding, which Cllr Humby approved, stated: “Given the pressures of the current financial climate, the county council will regularly need to review all its revenue expenditure, and so no long-term guarantees can be given for future revenue funding.”

Now campaigners have raised concerns about a lack of funding guarantees beyond April 2019.

Cllr Malcolm Wade, who represents the Dibden and Hythe ward, said: “Not only is it a vital transport link, it takes a lot of cars off the road. I welcome the subsidy, but I’m going to campaign to keep it going.”

Fellow Lib Dem councillor David Harrison added: “Hythe Ferry needs a sustainable future and that requires good customer patronage as well as a continuing subsidy. I will be pressing to see what the county council plan to do. The subsidy is good in the short term but it says a lot about the state of local government funding that we can only look at the short term.”

Possible withdrawal of the subsidy is a fresh cause of uncertainty for Blue Funnel boss, Lee Rayment, who learned last week that his pleasure boat Ocean Scene would have to quit Southampton’s Ocean Village Marina. He is currently searching for a new permanent base from which to run party cruises and excursions.