A presentation on Ramsgate port and harbour finances resulted in confusion at a Thanet council meeting this week – and a suggestion was made that selling the site could be ‘considered’ .
The finance scrutiny panel meeting on Tuesday (October 23) was given the presentation by council leader Bob Bayford but the explanation of accounts for the port and harbour created more questions than answers.
The issue was raised due to port losses of around £20million since 2010, according to Thanet council’s statement of accounts for each financial year from 2010/11 to 2017/18.
The figures exclude £5million in live export compensation and £3.4million for bankrupt TransEuropa Ferries unpaid fees and charges.
Last year Thanet council said the figures included costs which are shared across other areas of the council for the running of its services, rather than being directly incurred in running the port.
Accounts and confusion
Cllr Bayford attempted to explain how £750,000 accounted for as central support services could actually only be narrowed down to £721,000 including £252,000 spent on areas including officer salaries, HR and procurement, and said in hindsight it should not have been classified as central support charges.
More confusion followed as finance officer Tim Willis attempted to outline how charges attributed to the harbour were then recharged to the port and vice versa due to staff and services used at both sites.
But this raised a question from Thanet UKIP leader Chris Wells over where a “missing £320,000” was in the accounts and questions from Cllr Peter Campbell over why the port and harbour did not have separate account breakdowns.
The question provoked an angry response with Cllr Bayford saying there was no missing sum of money.
He added: “We have no intention of hiding anything, what is the point in that? Local government accounting is different to other types of accounting. All our figures are produced to the right standards and approved by the auditors.
“You are looking for a conspiracy that does not exist.”
During the meeting Cllr Bayford denied suggestions that Thanet council is considering selling the port “at this moment”, but said that a complete review of the estate and leases was being carried out.
He added: “As part of the review all options are being considered.”
Thanet council pays a £246,000 lease fee to Crown Estates for the land.
It was also revealed that £51,700 in consultancy fees had been spent on marketing and business plans aimed at areas including bringing a ferry service back to the port.
Cllr Bayford confirmed talks were ongoing with Seaborne, the company which has put forward proposals for an Ostend/Ramsgate ferry route.
Last October, during the run up to the Ostend elections, town mayor Mr Vande Lanotte announced a ‘basic agreement’ had been made for the ferry line between Ostend and Ramsgate.
He said the route would start with freight but a passenger service could begin shortly afterwards.
The mooted March 1 start date came -and went- with no ferry service in evidence. No contract has been signed by Thanet council and there remains the question of which vessels could serve the route.
Only one vessel has been identified as being suitable for use the port – the former Dover-Calais ferry MS Nord Pas de Calais.
Cllr Bayford said: “There are ongoing discussions with Seaborne but no agreement has been signed.
“There are no negotiations taking place with any other operator.”
Cllr Bayford said all options for the port are “still on the table” including proposals for a marina village which were raised again by Cllr Bev Martin (pictured).
The Thanet Conservative leader said the council was aware of a feasibility study by Marine Development Limited, the firm behind projects including Ocean Village in Southampton, but was also talking to two more consultants -who he did not name.
He said a procurement process would be carried out to choose the right consultant to help the council take plans forward;
He added: “If we are looking to reduce the deficit (at the port) the quickest way is by bringing in a successful ferry operation alongside everything else.
Lorry park shelved
He also confirmed a lorry and coach park plan for port land, approved in January, had been shelved for the time being.
The fenced in area, previously used to park HGV’s which were either waiting to be shipped from or had arrived into Ramsgate by ferry was due to become a 90-space truck park for a period of two years.
The area is approximately 3.02 acres and was last in use by TransEuropa Ferries in 2013 for HGV parking before the company went bankrupt.
Councillors were told £194,000 spent on security in the 2017/18 financial year covered the cost of two staff “and ad-hoc cover as required.”
The 24/7 security cover was provided due to requirements under maritime legislation.
Questions were also raised over faults with the eastern sluices, the contract with Burgess Marine, which fell into administration last December, to carry out extensive work on berth refurbishment and the lease lengths and health and safety at the Brett aggregates site.
An agreement was made to hold a members’ briefing to attempt a clearer explanation of the port and harbour accounts.
Business at the port includes deliveries of new cars for the UK market made by transport and logistics company GEFCO.
A year-long deal took place during 2016 and ad-hoc deliveries have taken place during the latter half of last year into this year.
Other business at the port includes Brett Aggregates, which imports bulk aggregates and has an on-site concrete batching plant serving the local building industry. And ‘project cargos’ of transformer imports. This year, five large electrical transformers were imported each weighing up to 300 tonnes.
Ramsgate harbour made a small profit of £558,000 for 2016-17 and £229,000 for 2017/18 through mooring fees and businesses at the Arches. It support a fishing fleet of approximately 26 vessels, 18 commercial day angling vessels, six Estuary Services Ltd Pilot Cutters and UK Border Force Cutters.
The 700 berth marina has been independently assessed by the Yacht Harbour Association and is presently graded as a four ‘Gold Anchor’ facility (five is the maximum). Permanent leisure vessel berthing achieved a 6 year peak in August at 4,031million.
The Port and Harbour is also home to the operational and maintenance base for two companies who manage four offshore wind farms adjacent to the NE Kent coastline.