Thanet council budget decision postponed following talks with Secretary of State Chris Grayling

Ramsgate Port Photo John Horton

Thanet council has postponed a decision on whether to ditch £500,000 funding to keep Ramsgate port in readiness for a ferry operation and axe a further £130,000, totalling £630,000 (or £730,000 in a full year) from its 2019/20 budget.

A report to Cabinet members at a meeting last month said Thanet council would be “at significant risk of overspending the proposed budget,” unless the action was taken.

The authority needs savings of £1.8 million in order to balance the books. Councillors have been told the biggest expense is at Ramsgate Port.

But the budget report was withdrawn tonight (February 7) following discussions between Thanet council leader Bob Bayford and Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling.

Council leader Bob Bayford said that although an ‘uncomfortable decision’ may have to be made to close sections of the port and make cost savings an approach from the Department for Transport would now delay that until a date on or before March 11.

He added that the importance of Ramsgate in Post-Brexit resilience plans had been recognised and the DfT was keen to “keep the option of Ramsgate alive.”

The budget decision will now be on hold until discussion between Seaborne Freight, Thanet council, Ostend and the DfT has concluded.

Independent Councillors leader Stuart Piper called the decision “disappointing” saying that members were not being allowed to carry out their duty due to government interference.

Labour’s Karen Constantine added: “The goings on at our council amazes me. The budget tonight has been cancelled -at Chris Grayling’s request. This last minute intervention to keep the fiction going demonstrates the confusion that UK Government is in. Being Brexit ready is no more real that those old fashioned candy cigarettes. This is a shambles and falls far short of the well run council that residents expect.”

Following the meeting Cllr Bayford said: “It is an open secret that there have been ongoing negotiations between the council, DfT, Seaborne Freight and other potential operators and the Port of Ostend.

“Obviously the hoped for outcome was that there would be a ferry service meaning the port would be operational and that would be good for Thanet. Negotiations have taken longer than expected.

“In my conversation with the Secretary of State (Chris Grayling, pictured above) this afternoon he indicated that he considered Ramsgate Port important for Brexit resilience. On that basis I took the decision that we should give ourselves a bit longer before final agreement on the budget.

“I certainly hope when the budget comes back it will be with the ongoing operation of the Port of Ramsgate.”

Ferry service proposal

Seaborne Freight

A Ramsgate/Ostend ferry service has been proposed by start-up company Seaborne Freight but, despite prolonged negotiations over a two-year period, a deal is yet to be signed for either port.

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.

Port debts

Ramsgate Port has racked up a £20million deficit since 2010. Losses include £5 million 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.