Grayling defends giving Brexit ferry contract to company with no ships
Transport secretary says Seaborne Freight’s £13.8m deal is support for new UK business
Chris Grayling has defended his decision to award a £13.8m contract to charter extra ferries to a “start-up” company that has no ships, as part of no-deal Brexit preparations.
The transport secretary said he would “make no apologies for supporting a new British business” after widespread criticism of the award of the contract to the British firm Seaborne Freight, which has never previously operated a similar service.
“It’s a new start-up business, government is supporting new British business and there is nothing wrong with that,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“We have looked very carefully at this business, we have put in place a tight contract that makes sure they can deliver for us. I don’t see any problem with supporting a new British business.”
He said the firm would be ready to deliver services from April and had been “looked at very carefully by a team of civil servants who have done due diligence on the company and reached a view they can deliver”.
The contract is one of three agreements worth a total of £107.7m signed by the government to help ease “severe congestion” at Dover by securing extra lorry capacity in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Seaborne hopes to operate freight ferries from Ramsgate from late March, beginning with two ships and increasing to four by the end of the summer.
The local Conservative councillor Paul Messenger was the first to raise concern in public about awarding such a lucrative contract to a firm with no prior experience. “It has no ships and no trading history so how can due diligence be done?” he told the BBC.
He said the company had not moved “a single truck in their entire history … I don’t understand the logic of that”.
Grayling dismissed the criticism on Wednesday, saying: “I am not quite sure what an individual Conservative councillor would be able to tell us.”
He said the Department for Transport was confident the ferries would run by April. “We haven’t plucked this out of thin air,” he said.
Source: Guardian Transport