Cabinet members at Thanet District Council have agreed a draft budget for 2019-20 which includes axing £630,000 – or £730,000 for a full year – from spending at Ramsgate Port. But council leader Bob Bayford refused to reveal what would be cut to save between £130,000 and £230,000 of that amount.
Councillors were told the authority will be “at significant risk of overspending the proposed budget,” unless action is taken.
It needs to find savings of £1.8 million in order to balance the books. Councillors were told this black hole had been reduced to £1.3million by axing £500,000 that had been spent in this financial year “keeping the port in a state of readiness for a ferry operation.”
It was agreed that: “in the absence of a ferry operation, the port will undertake significant cost reductions to start to reduce its budgeted deficit.”
If a Ramsgate/Ostend ferry service deal has not been signed by the end of this month the cut will go before full council on February 7 as part of the budget decision.
Council leader Bob Bayford said there were continuing negotiations with Seaborne Freight, the firm proposing the Ramsgate/Ostend service, and the council was still ‘hopeful’ that an operation would come to fruition.
He conceded that if the deal was not signed the council would: “Action the proposal to reduce costs of £500,000 plus £130,000.”
However, questioned by Labour’s Peter Campbell and Ukip’s Chris Wells over what would be cut to save the additional £130,000 – plus a further £100,000 for a full year – Cllr Bayford refused to give details saying “that point has not yet been reached.”
In response to Labour’s Karen Constantine’s question of whether jobs would be cut, Cllr Bayford said: “We are proceeding on the basis that we hope and expect to have a ferry operation and there will be no need for redundancies in that situation.”
He denied the council had a non-disclosure agreement in place regarding Seaborne Freight.
Questions over Seaborne ferry service
A Ramsgate/Ostend ferry service has been proposed by start-up company Seaborne but, despite prolonged negotiations over a two-year period, a deal is yet to be signed for either port.
Ostend mayor Bart Tommelein has met with TDC, and KCC, today (January 15) and reportedly told Belgian TV that Seaborne Freight was unable to provide him with required financial guarantees.
Seaborne has come under increasing scrutiny following the announcement that it had been granted a £13.8 million contract with the government to provide additional ferry capacity in the event of a no-deal Brexit – despite having no vessels or track experience as yet.
Seaborne say operations will start in late March – to coincide with the UK withdrawal from the European Union – initially with two ships and 200 staff but commentators in Ostend and in Parliament have cast doubt on whether this is possible.
A service had been mooted to start in March last year but the date came -and went – with no sign of progress.
Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, says there will be no taxpayer cash for Seaborne Freight unless they deliver the service by the March 29 date.
Ramsgate Port has racked up a £20million deficit since 2010. Losses include £5million in live export compensation paid after the High Court overruled a live export ban from the port put in place by the then-Labour led council and £3.4million for bankrupt TransEuropa Ferries unpaid fees and charges.
Cllr Bayford admitted there is no set cut off date for negotiations with Seaborne but added: “(This) can’t be something that goes on forever. We have been in a situation with the port in a state of readiness increasing costs. “That cannot go on and will not go on.”
Thanet Independent group leader Stuart Piper questioned how councillors due to discuss the issue at a scrutiny meeting on January 24 could carry out the task without knowing details of proposed cuts.
Cllr Bayford said he “hoped for positive news” before that date.