While the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance is kicking off over Newcastle City Council spending all of £5,000 on increasing transparency, its ideological soul mates in the Tory Party are spraying a rather larger sum up the wall on provision for the possibility of a no-deal Brexit. But here the TPA is silent, showing that the idea it is sticking up for taxpayers is yet another pack of lies. But not everyone is silent about the Tory largesse.
Port of Ramsgate. Bit quiet at the moment
The no-deal preparation has included chartering ferry capacity to ease potential congestion at locations such as Dover and Calais. To no surprise at all, the two companies awarded most of this work are DFDS, which is Danish, and Brittany Ferries, which is French. But a third company, Seaborne Freight, has been awarded a £14 million contract to provide capacity at the Kent port of Ramsgate.
Problem is, Seaborne Freight has tangible assets of just £35,000. This will not even pay the deposit on a Ro-Ro ferry. Worse, Seaborne has never run a ferry service, and has so far been unable to identify one ship it intends to use in order to run one. Yet worse is that Ramsgate’s facilities impose a constraint on ship size which means very few vessels could dock there. And it seems none of those is available right now.
As the Guardian has reported, “Paul Messenger, a Conservative county councillor for Ramsgate, questioned whether the government had carried out sufficient checks on the firm, telling the BBC: ‘It has no ships and no trading history so how can due diligence be done? Why choose a company that never moved a single truck in their entire history and give them £14m? I don’t understand the logic of that.’” Quite.
Moreover, as Richard Littler has pointed out, “Seaborne shares a registered address with a law firm connected to a Mark Bamford. Mark Bamford is one of the biggest donors to the tories. Mark's brother channeled millions through an obscure company” [now confirmed it is NOT the same Mark Bamford]. On top of that, the award to Seaborne (and, indeed, DFDS and Brittany Ferries) has been made without any kind of open tendering process taking place. And it gets even worse.
If a deal is agreed with the EU in the meantime - or, indeed, if the Article 50 process is extended as a result of Theresa May’s deal being rejected by Parliament and no-deal being averted - Seaborne gets to keep some of that £14 million, WITHOUT HAVING TO ACTUALLY RUN A FERRY SERVICE. Have a think about that.
I kid you not: “The BBC understands that the three firms chosen are likely to retain a portion of their award even if their services are no longer needed, due to a deal being reached with Brussels … However, in that event, the government would then seek to sell the extra capacity back to the market”. But if a deal were to be reached, there would be no need for the extra capacity, which would therefore be worthless.
Whichever way you slice the Seaborne Freight deal, it stinks. If this deal had been done in a third world country, the right-leaning press would be crowing about incompetence and corruption. But as it’s Brexit Britain, today’s front pages have no mention of the story. At all.
Anyone would think the press is OK with that. I’ll just leave that one there.
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