She has the sleek lines, glorious sundecks and sparkling white hull of a billionaire’s super-yacht.

The 72m Scillonian IV will surely be Britain’s flashiest ferry when - if all goes to plan - she goes in to service three summers from now.

The ship, right now just an artist’s impression, is the centrepiece of a £42m private investment in links between Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

The Isles of Scilly Steamship Group says this is its biggest capital outlay in its century in operation.

The firm, which has a near monopoly on air and sea transport to the islands, also plans to buy two new freighters as part of the package.

Read more: 'We might need RAF airdrops': The 'forgotten' ferry crisis gripping Orkney

At first this investment, at least to Scottish islanders fretting about delayed new CalMac ferries, might sound like manna from heaven.

But a lot of people on Scilly think they have it far, far worse than their counterparts in Scotland. And they fear the new Scillonian  - funded by loans - will be cripplingly expensive to use.

The current ferry is the Scillonian III. It was launched in 1977, has no roll-on, roll-off for vehicles or freight, runs with reduced capacity and no longer sails in the winter. And it costs much more than any equivalent service in Scotland.

Islanders are nervous.  They have started worrying about the long-term sustainability of their community of 2200 souls some 28 miles off Land’s End.

“I understand that Scotland has got problems,” Steve Sims, the Scilly councillor responsible for transport, told The Herald on Sunday. “But, frankly, I envy you your problems.”

Scotland’s ferry fleets are ageing. The average CalMac boat is 24. But they look new to Scilly eyes.

“We talk about a boat having a lifespan of 30 years so when you start knocking at 50 - and the Scillonian will be that age in three years - it really is getting crazy,” Sims said.

The two freighters that supply the islands are nearly as old. One offers a dozen seats when the Scillonian is taking its annual break. “You’d have to  be a dedicated masochist to go on that boat in the winter,” Sims said. But sometimes people have no choice. 

Planes don’t fly to Scilly when there is fog. “If you have a medical appointment, you have to take the freighter,” the councillor said.

Winters, even off the southwest of England, can be tough. Scilly residents - like Scottish islanders - can be phlegmatic about supplies not getting through in bad weather. Locals contacted by the Herald on Sunday repeatedly joked that beer and crisps do not go off quickly. 

The Herald:

The Scillonian III

The Scillonian III chugs once a day from Penzance to St Mary’s on the Isles of Scilly and back again, but only for eight months of the year. Prices vary. But can bite.

Local businessman Euan Roger reckons a typical fare is nearly £90 return. “It would cost a family of four nearly £1000 to get to Scilly from London by train and ferry,” he said. “And that would be the cheapest option.” 

Visitors are still coming, he said, and “keeping the islands afloat” but further fare rises could reverse that flow.

Locals compare themselves with Islay, which is roughly as far from the mainland as they are with a broadly similar population. 

The Scottish island gets five sailings a day in the summer using one relatively new ferry and - temporarily - a second boat which is one of the oldest in the state-owned and operated Calmac fleet. It is often cheaper to take a car to Islay than a foot passenger to Scilly.

Read more: Shetland proposes inter-island tunnels and new funding as answer to aging ferry fleet

The UK Government does not support the kind of revenue funding successive Scottish governments - including old Tory-run Scotland Offices - have provided for islands. But the current Westminster administration is ready to help buy new ferries and infrastructure. It has promised £48m in Levelling-Up funding after a bid from Sims and the rest of his local council. Roger called this “the nearest thing our islands have ever had to a subsidy of the kind the Scottish islands get”.

This is where Scilly ferry politics gets confusing. The Steamship Company - as the transport company is known locally - would rather borrow than take state cash. Sims said they had been offered what amounted to a “golden ticket”. He added: “But they do not want it because they fear the route will go up for tender.”

Scotland has franchise services like this. The Scottish Government, through its state firm CMAL, owns the boats that connect Orkney and Shetland to the rest of the country. But the ferries are operated by a private firm - who have to compete for the business.

Some local sources insist the Steamship Company would be in a strong position to win such a tender given it has experience plying the route. But there may be no guarantees.

The business was last week unable to put anybody up to talk to The Herald on Sunday. However, local Tory MP Derek Thomas - his St Ives constituency includes the islands  - spelled out that he saw as the issue they faced.

Read more: Scotland's ferries: Islanders fighting to survive crisis

“I’ve secured Levelling Up funds for the sealink project to upgrade the quays and replace the three vessels,” he said. “The difficulty is that the Department for Transport (DfT) have not yet identified a viable way of delivering these investments.

“The original proposal was to provide grant/match funding to the operators of the assets to upgrade/replace with a conditions agreement to protect public investment, but DfT rejected this.”

He concluded: “I think DfT want publicly owned assets to be leased to an operator through a tender. There is some concern about this and the uprooting a model of service that has provided resilience to the islands transport system for over 100 years.”

Sims and some other locals worry about the alternative, of the Steamship Company recovering the cost of its loans from passengers and fares heading further up.

He said: “If they do that private deal, and I think they're pretty determined to do it, then the economic viability of the island is massively put at threat.  I suspect that the DfT will have to intervene at some point. Or we will have a St Kilda situation. I can imagine the place would be just essentially a fabulous bird sanctuary by 2050 if things carry on as they are.”

The Herald:

Tony Berkeley, Lord Berkeley

The Isles of Scilly have other problems. Tourists are still coming - some, joke Sims, have been loyal to the islands “since the Magna Carta”. The summer demand for holiday homes means house prices are as high as London while  the median income on the islands is just £22,000.

“It's a nightmare for young people: they go away to college, they don't come back,” Sims said.  “We've got a real demographics problem. Our numbers have gone down by six per cent in the last 10 years. By 2030, we are going to have more more people retired than working here. The community will reach a tipping point.”

Sims stresses that Scotland is much more economically, political and culturally invested in its islands than England. 

Islands resident Tony Berkeley, Lord Berkeley, agrees. The Labour peer is an island resident of many years and an expert in transport engineering: he worked on building the Channel Tunnel. He has also been following Herald reporting on the various ferry crises in Scotland. 

“The big difference is that the English government - as I call them - doesn’t believe in subsidies. So we have one private ferry that vaguely limps across to us every day but not in the winter when we have to rely on some fairly unreliable flights.”

Read more: Warning that CalMac’s woes have 'masked' a ferry crisis in Orkney

Scottish islands, he said, get more support.  “With the greatest respect you have got a bloody good government which - whatever the politics of it - tries to look after its population,’ he said. “We have got a sh*t one.”

However, the peer stressed the Conservatives did want to make the Levelling-Up funds available. 

Earlier this month he met maritime minister, Baroness Charlotte Vere. He said: "She made it clear she wanted the islands to have the money so they can reduce the fares, fix the timetable and cut the diabolical freight costs which are probably double that they are for Islay, which is a similar distance”.

Islanders and local businesses have peppered ministers with letters. Lord Berkeley said: “They are saying ‘get on with it, we need lower fares, better services and not the Steamship Company’s funny idea of extending its monopoly for another 30 years’.”

The DfT, in a statement, said the Isles of Scilly had been provisionally awarded Levelling-Up money, subject to business case approval. 

A spokesperson added: “We continue to work with the Council of the Isles of Scilly and relevant parties to meet the needs of businesses and the community served by the sea link project to replace vessels for the ferry services.”