Wednesday, May 1, 2019

'Failing Grayling' in the Dock Once More as Ferry Debacle Continues but Will it RoRo His Back Again?

Litany of Expensive Disaster as Another Lawsuit Looms
Shipping News Feature
UK – The Department of Transport has cancelled the contingency ferry contracts that had been introduced at the end of last year in case of no-deal Brexit. The cancellation of the controversial contracts is estimated to cost taxpayers more than £50 million and has led to more calls for Transport Secretary Chris Grayling to resign as he faces yet another black mark on his already tarnished record which reads like the world's worst school report.

In December 2017, the 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 whilst France's Brittany Ferries’ tranche is worth £46.6 million; already a bad start in the eyes of many who viewed the move as the government giving the bulk of the money to foreign owned interests.

The problems really began when the sole British firm involved, Seaborne Freight, was awarded a £13.8 million contract 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 after the company’s Irish backer pulled out amid howls of derision from both industry and politicians.

As the initial Brexit date approached, the remaining ferry companies began preparing for what at that point seemed the inevitable, only for the government to move the new Brexit deadline to October 31. It is at this point that the specifically worded contracts came to back to bite them as the UK was no longer crashing out on March 29 with the extension now lasting longer than the initial run of the contracts, leading Grayling to now being forced to cancel them.

Both Brittany Ferries and DFDS continued to honour the extra no-deal Brexit sailings from March 29, having already made all the necessary arrangements to do so.

It was at this point in March the government was forced to pay £33 million to Getlink, owners of Eurotunnel, to settle a lawsuit which challenged the ferry contract procurement process which had failed to include Eurotunnel for consideration. As part of the deal, Eurotunnel and Getlink agreed to make improvements to the group’s facilities, specifically at Folkestone.

To add to Grayling's woes, P&O is now also taking legal action against the government, contesting the compensation awarded to Eurotunnel/Getlink, claiming that it will put P&O’s business at a ‘competitive disadvantage’.

Grayling has been dodging political bullets since 2010 when homophobic comments regarding who owners could decide 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.

Whilst comprehensively messing up the ferry deal he also managed to throw rail schedules into chaos attracting an enormous amount of direct criticism from the Office of Rail and Road after badly planned timetable changes caused devastation to services, all these faults whilst acting in each government department as the man with ultimate responsibility. Or apparently not given that he has neither resigned, nor been sacked. Labour politicians amongst others have stated that the sum total of these problems have cost the country around £2.7 billion.