Grayling defends £13.8m deal involving ferry firm with no boats

By Chris Ames | 03 January 2019

Transport secretary Chris Grayling has defended a £13.8m ferry contract being given to a company with no boats after criticism from a Conservative councillor.

Last week the Government awarded Seaborne Freight the work to run a freight service between Thanet DC-run Ramsgate port and Ostend to assist with post-Brexit cross-Channel congestion.

Conservative Kent county councillor Paul Messenger told the BBC that it was impossible for the Government to have carried out sufficient checks on the firm.

But Mr Grayling said: ‘I’m not quite sure what an individual Conservative councillor would be able to tell us.

‘The reality is that this has been looked at very carefully by a team of civil servants who have done due diligence on the company, have reached a conclusion they can deliver and this was an invitation to tender they bid for – they were one of three companies that bid successfully to deliver services for us.

'We put in place a different contract to the other two operators who are big and established to make sure they can deliver for us.

‘I make no apologies for supporting a new British business.

'The reality is, it’s a tightly drawn-up contract that requires them to deliver – but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Government supporting a small business.

'It’s a start-up business.

'The Government is supporting new British business, there’s nothing wrong with that.

'We’ve looked very carefully at this business, we’ve put in place a tight contract to make sure that they can deliver for us, but I don’t see any problem with supporting a new British business.'

Asked whether it would be possible to get the port of Ramsgate up and running again as a ferry port in time for a no-deal Brexit, Mr Grayling said: ‘We believe they are on track to be able to run ferries in April, yes.’

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