Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has scored a real hit with his appointment of Seaborne Freight to charter ferries in the event of a no-deal Brexit (at a cost of £13,800,000 to the taxpayer).
The company – if it really is a company at all – has no ships, no trading history, has not previously operated a ferry service and is not planning to do so until close to the UK’s scheduled departure date.
The service would run from Ramsgate to Ostend, although questions have been asked about the Kent town’s ability to accommodate it, as well as the company’s fitness for the job.
When I heard about this, the first thing that came to mind was the company that won the contract to supply Kentucky Fried Chicken with, well, chicken – and then utterly failed to provide anything like enough. Its bosses simply had no idea.
But of course, this particular silliness has turned up at a time of multiple Tory government-related sillinesses:
We’ve had a drone that wasn’t a drone, a ‘migrant swarm’ that is neither migrants, nor a swarm and now we have a ferry company with no ferries. There’s some properly weird shit happening at the moment.
— Sandy Poole (@MrSandy_P) December 30, 2018
The announcement has been met with widespread scepticism:
Retweet if you think you could run a ferry service just as well as the company Theresa May's government has given a £14 million contract to which has never run a ferry service, owns no boats and has no trading history
— Marcus Chown (@marcuschown) December 31, 2018
Andy McDonald MP described the situation as “Farcical and desperate: No ships, no experience- just the type of company Chris Grayling would choose to keep vital trade channels open.”
And Clare Hepworth OBE pointed out what everybody was thinking – and I have no doubt the pun was intended: “There is something very very fishy about this!”
Yes indeed, as Conservative councillor for Ramsgate, Paul Messenger, pointed out, it seems clear the government has not carried out due diligence – sufficient checks to ensure that Seaborne can do the job.
Perhaps this is the reason:
If Seaborne really is owned by the brother of a huge donor to the Conservative party, it would be serious corruption.
The contract is one of three agreements worth a total of £107.7m signed by the government without a tendering process to help ease “severe congestion” at Dover by securing extra lorry capacity.
DFDS of Denmark is getting £42.3m and the French firm Brittany Ferries is getting £46.6m.
Oh, and while the Department for Transport says the tender was “competitive and open to a wide range of operators”, the Official Journal of the European Union, which logs government procurement contracts, says the awards were made after a “negotiated procedure without a call for competition”.
So there wasn’t even any competition for the contract – Mr Grayling just handed £13.8 million of our cash to a family of Tory donors for a job they can’t do.
Faced with this blatant government corruption, some have resorted to humour…
Exclusive footage of that ferry firm the Conservatives have hiredpic.twitter.com/sLSKjtVOGu
— James Felton (@JimMFelton) December 31, 2018
DEAR GRAYLING SIR.
MY NAME IS PRINCE SEABORNE OF NIGERIA. I HAVE RECENTLY RECEIVED MANY FINE SHIPS AND WISH TO SHARE THEM. IF YOU CAN SEND £13,800,000 BY BANK TRANSFER, THIS WILL RELEASE THE SHIPS. THE TRANSACTION IS 100% SAFE. PLEASE RESPOND URGENTLY.
— Chris Rand (@ChrisRandWrites) December 30, 2018
But the fact remains that the Conservatives – who insist that there is no money available to provide essential services for the well-being of the general public – are giving away millions of pounds to their friends for services they are unlikely to provide.
It’s blatant corruption. And I’m wondering why it’s happening now. Are the Tories rewarding their buddies now, because they expect a major defeat soon?
Note: Since writing this article I have been contacted by colleagues who believe there is no connection between Seaborne’s owners and Tory donors. That may be so, but the questions remain: Why did the Conservatives award a huge shipping contract to a firm that shows no ability to do the job? And why did they do this without any attempt at finding the best operator for the job?
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