Friday, September 18, 2020

Appointment of 'Failing Grayling' as Port Advisor Sums Up Lack of Comprehension of Forwarders Mood

As Ongoing Problems at Felixstowe Worsen Complaints Roll In from Freight Community
Shipping News Feature

UK – The mention of two names to any British shipper or freight forwarder at the moment and either may well send a shudder down their spines. Couple former transport secretary Chris 'Failing' Grayling and the Port of Felixstowe in a sentence and tempers are likely to rise on hearing either, let alone both.

It may be hard to credit but the man who handed over millions in public cash for a ferry contract to an outfit who had never owned a vessel, leading to legal actions and subsequent millions in compensation, and has a litany of failures in a variety of offices stretching back to 2010 which we have covered previously, should now be allowed by ACOBA the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments, to work for Hutchison Ports, operator of Felixstowe.

One can only assume Mr Grayling knows where the bodies are buried. In July the Prime Minister attempted to shoehorn Grayling into the chair of the Commons Intelligence and Security Committee, viewed by many as close to insanity given the importance of the role. Fortunately for the safety of the UK the MPs sitting on the committee wouldn’t wear it, settling for their colleague Julian Lewis, leaving Mr Grayling to quit the committee.

So now the most incompetent of MPs has private duties with Hutchison offering his sage advice on ‘environmental strategy’ with the usual promises to ACOBA that he will not be advising on commercial matters or the possibilities of Brexit potholes. Perhaps in Felixstowe’s case his new £100,000 a year employers should be grateful, they definitely have enough problems of their own.

This year the flagship UK operation, which dubs itself ‘Britain’s Port’ has lurched from one disaster to another. Back in mid-2018 Hutchison opted to install a new operating system at the port, a system which it said had been successfully brought into 25 of its other facilities globally. From day one the nGen TOS never worked causing delays and problems on a legendary scale.

The list of complaints grew and now, just as the new boy starts his advisory job, the complaints about service at Felixstowe have reached a new high, ironically just as that old political revolving door opened up long enough for Hutchison Ports’ executive director, Clemence Cheng, to join the Government’s new Transport Services Trade Advisory Group, one of eleven of the recently established bodies charged with assisting in the UK’s ambitious trade negotiations.

So it seems that maybe after all failure is the ‘new normal’ we’ve heard so much about. Certainly freight forwarders are incandescent with rage about the latest pronouncement from Felixstowe that they will be unable to restitute empty containers to the port of Felixstowe until September 23rd. Robert Keen, Director General of the British International Freight Association (BIFA), which represents forwarders, put the case thus:

“The operational performance at Felixstowe has been very challenging for some time, but over the last 24 hours the issues have escalated to a level that could be disastrous for our members’ businesses, which have already been hard hit by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The latest ‘initiative’ would appear to be an attempt to overcome the huge congestion that has developed at the port, which has led to significant haulage problems for our members whereby many containers can neither be collected, nor returned. Empty containers will have to be restituted to inland container parks, which will lead to an escalation in haulage costs for members using merchant haulage, as well quay rent and demurrage issues, which are difficult to pass on to our members’ customers.

“Our members say that the port authority is merely paying lip service to any enquiries they make, which is unacceptable for a port authority, which owns the UK’s busiest container port. The debacle in 2018, when the port undertook a disastrous migration to a new in-house terminal operating system appears to be at the root of the current VBS problems, which is exacerbating the congestion problems caused by other issues, including a huge increase in container moves ahead of the Golden Week in China, reduced container moves per hour at the quayside and serious staffing issues.

“BIFA members have suffered from two years of poor service from the port, and it is high time that it considers BIFA members as direct customers of the port, and shows some willingness to discuss compensation for the damage caused and the increased costs that have been incurred by those members. At the very least, the port authority should extend free-time for quay rent and demurrage.”

So it is to be hoped that Mr Grayling knows more about the environment than he did about any of his previous jobs (how much damage can a man do working just seven hours a week) and that Mr Chang does a better job on trade negotiations than is being witnessed at his company’s largest UK facility.