Thursday, March 7, 2019

Government Contract for Supply of RoRo Freight Ferries Before Brexit Just Keeps Getting Worse

33 Million Pounds Compensation to Eurotunnel Adds Insult to Injury
Shipping News Feature
UK – It seems whatever line it takes, the government is incapable of making a sensible statement when it comes to Chris Grayling MP's Department for Transport, particularly the 'I see no ships' RoRo cross Channel ferry fiasco. Appearing before the Public Accounts Committee, Permanent Secretary at the Dft, Bernadette Kelly, assured MP's that Seaborne Freight, the company awarded £13.8 million to supply an alternative freight crossing, was 'known well in the industry'.

This will come as news to many thousands of British freight and logistics staff who work daily in the sector. Perhaps Ms Kelly has confused this with Seabourne Express, the group founded by Sir Clive Bourne over 50 years ago? Certainly, as we pointed out in our original (much plagiarised) article, the short history of Seaborne Freight, established only in April 2017, and with a litany of insolvencies in its directorial history, could hardly be considered ‘well known’. Latterly ‘infamous’ would seem to be more accurate.

Ms Kelly was appearing before the MP’s to explain the latest chapter in a debacle which must surely mean her boss’s appointment at the DfT can only be considered pro tem, his boss in turn wanting no further disruption pre Brexit. Last week the government was forced to settle a lawsuit by Getlink, owners of Eurotunnel, handing over £33 million in compensation after breaking an agreement regarding the provision of ferry services across the Channel.

Regular readers may remember it was Eurotunnel money that supported the establishment of MyFerryLink, ships which the company took on to rival incumbent operators. That service closed in 2015 but Eurotunnel argued that it should have been a primary contender for any new services based on its undoubted experience.

The Permanent Secretary was obliged to state that the government will be watching the Channel Tunnel company’s accounts very closely to ensure the £33 million of taxpayers money goes on ‘benefits to the wider economy’. The upgrades which Eurotunnel apparently proposes to spend the cash on might well have been already been planned regardless, as Ms Kelly was forced to admit.

During further questioning, Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran asked for the legal advice given to the government, in which Ms Kelly had insisted had her full confidence, to be published, this was refused. Ms Kelly, whose knowledge of the freight industry is, to be polite, limited, having worked since leaving education for five unconnected government departments, also admitted that the plans to upgrade RoRo services by March 29, including spending £93.9 million between DFDS and Brittany Ferries, would not be managed in the time frame.