Thursday, July 25, 2019

Failing Grayling Finally Hits the Buffers After Criticism from the Freight and Logistics Lobby

Transport Minister Goes Before He is Pushed
Shipping News Feature
UK – Amidst several ministerial changes under the new Boris Johnson premiership, Chris 'Failing'Grayling as he was known to the industry, has finally left his role as Transport Secretary. A Minister that has for so long been embroiled in controversy after controversy (akin to the new Prime Minister) Grayling will undoubtedly not be missed by many, if any, in the UK's freight and logistics sector, or indeed the wider transportation field, finally falling on his sword thus disappointing those in the business one last time, as he only decided to step down with the change in leadership, and seemingly not as a result of his litany of failures having spent 3 disastrous years in the role.

Most recently, this only being two weeks ago, the Road Haulage Association (RHA) accused Grayling of using his position and power to exclude the RHA from being included in further crucial Brexit planning talks after the Association criticised a meeting in which no progress had been made. This bookended a year which began, in no uncertain terms, disastrously.

Under his leadership, the Department for Transport (DfT) awarded three ferry companies contracts lasting six months and worth a total of £107 million, to provide extra RoRo freight capacity in the event that the UK left the EU without a deal on March 29. Danish company DFDS was awarded a contract worth £47.3 million, France's Brittany Ferries’ is worth £46.6 million, and British firm Seaborne Freight was awarded £13.8 million despite not owning any ships, and proposing a service that was in no way considered as feasible by shipping professionals. The contract for Seaborne was terminated on February 9.

To ensure that services would be in place in time, it has been adjudged that the Department took an unusual and risky approach to procurement. This procurement was subject to legal challenge by Eurotunnel, which had not been invited to bid. Rather than risk losing a legal case, which may have resulted in the court cancelling the ferry contracts ahead of March 29, the Department reached a £33 million out-of-court settlement with Eurotunnel. As part of the settlement Eurotunnel agreed to spend £33 million on certain types of project relating to the Channel Tunnel site’s infrastructure, including security and border preparedness measures.

On April 24, P&O Ferries began a legal challenge against this settlement on the grounds of, amongst other things, breach of procurement law. With the date for the UK to leave the EU extended to October 31, 2019, the DfT announced that it had cancelled its ferry contracts with DFDS and Brittany Ferries. Little progress has been made to prepare business for this new deadline.

The out-of-court settlement costing £33 million, coupled with the £51.4 million cost of cancelling the contracts with the ferry operators, the total cost of this procurement to the taxpayer stands at around £85 million.

His time in the DfT also saw him cancel railway electrification plans in the north of England in the months prior to the General Election in June 2017. In 2018, the National Audit Office reported that the project had been cancelled for financial reasons and not, as Grayling claimed, to ‘avoid disruption’.

Freight was not the only victim, in May 2018 rail schedules were thrown into chaos after badly planned timetable changes caused devastation to services, which resulted in Grayling surviving a vote of no confidence. After the Gatwick drone incident in December 2018, reports emerged that Grayling had previously been warned about threats posed by drones and reportedly had shelved plans to regulate their use in order to redirect civil servant to work on Brexit preparations.

Grayling started his time at the DfT by blocking a move by London Mayor Sadiq Khan to give control of the metro services to Transport for London (TfL) stating at the time that it was for costs reasons. It was found that in a 2013 letter he sent to then London Mayor Boris Johnson, who had also proposed such a move, that he ‘would like to keep suburban rail services out of the clutches of any future Labour Mayor’. This ‘party politics over people’ issue also led to calls, some from within his own party, to resign.

In the same month, footage emerged of Grayling of opening the door of his ministerial car as it sat in traffic outside the Palace of Westminster and flooring a cyclist and sending him into a lamppost. A month later he suggested that cyclists are not road users.

Grayling has been dodging political bullets since 2010 when homophobic comments regarding the rights of owners to decide who could stay in B&B accommodation came to light. A ruling he made as Justice Secretary was ruled illegal when he limited the books prisoners could receive whilst incarcerated. In the same role he part privatised probation services leading to a jump in reoffending and incurring the wrath of lobby groups.

An increase in Court fees, dumped after he left the post, was criticised for persuading the accused of pleading guilty for fear of huge penalties. The government spent £27 million on paying back unlawful fees levied on those wishing to take bosses to industrial tribunals, again deterring those with a case from pursuing it. He handed Carillion a £200 million deal to manage prison facilities. The firm folded in 2018.

As Grayling leaves his role, Johnson has named Grant Shapps to head up the department, as the new Prime Minister looks to greatly improve the country's infrastructure. Shapps is also not exactly free from controversy. In November 2015, he stood down from his role as Minister of State at the Department for International Development over allegations of bullying within the Conservative Party, remarkably a charge that has also been levied against Grayling. It was alleged that in Shapps previous role as Party co-Chairman, he had ignored repeated accusations of bullying which may have ultimately caused a young party member to commit suicide.

In March 2015, Shapps admitted to having a second job whilst being an MP and running a get-rich-quick scheme under a pseudonym, an accusation he previously denied.

Last year Shapps resigned from his position as Chair of the all-party parliamentary group no blockchain, which he had founded after it was discovered that he could benefit financially from advising OpenBrix, a British blockchain property portal company. He would have received a payment of up to £700,000 in a secret pay deal, in what many believed to be a conflict of interest. He also resigned from the company following the discovery of the financial involvement.

One hopes that the change in political leadership will lead the country into the bright blue yonder. What is certain is that it would take an incredibly incompetent soul to give the logistics profession a bigger target that the former incumbent in Transport.