Council accounts record another £2.5 million loss at Ramsgate Port

Ramsgate Port Photo John Horton

Ramsgate Port recorded a deficit of just over £2.5 million in 2018/19 according to Thanet council’s latest draft accounts.

The amount brings the total losses at Ramsgate Port to £22 million since 2010. The amount includes £3.4million in unpaid berthing fees from bankrupt TransEuropa Ferries and £1.4 million of compensation paid to live animal exporters following a High Court order. However, the total paid in compensation rose to around £5million.

In September 2012 Thanet District Council imposed a ban on livestock shipments from the port of Ramsgate. The ban, which lasted for a period of just over a month, had been imposed under section 40 of the Harbours Act 1964 in response to a distressing incident on 12 September 2012 which had resulted in the death of approximately 45 sheep.

The council was subsequently found by the High Court to have acted in breach of regulations and it ruled the authority was therefore liable to pay damages and compensation to exporters affected by the ban.

By August 2017 the council confirmed it had paid out compensation of £4,69 million.

For 2018/19 the draft accounts show port expenditure of £3,584million and income of £1,073million.

A loss for Ramsgate Harbour has been recorded.

The latest financial year also shows Ramsgate harbour, which has previously recorded a small profit, has also suffered losses.

In 2017/18 a £227,000 surplus was recorded but for 2018/19 the accounts show a loss of £294,000. Expenditure was £2,695 million but income only amounted to £2,401 million.

Broadstairs harbour showed a small profit of £88,000 while Margate recorded a loss of £18,000.

In all Thanet port and harbours recorded a deficit of approximately £2.7million. However the draft accounts state: “However, this position includes items that do not impact the service or council tax payers. After removing accounting adjustments for capital purposes and pension accounting the service recorded a loss of approximately £300k from a funding perspective. Furthermore, this position includes a £230k allocation for corporate overheads.”

Former councillor Ian Driver, who has been following the port accounting,  says the deficit is “probably one of the largest losses ever incurred by a local council in  recent history.”

Port funding cuts

The 2019/20 budget, agreed by the council in February, slashed £500,000 out of spending plans for Ramsgate Port and another £130,000 of savings for this year making £630,000 (£730,000 for a full year) in cuts, in a bid to stem losses.

The £500,000 reduction means the port is no longer in a state of ‘readiness’ for ferry operations. The decision was made following the saga of Seaborne Freight proposals for a Ramsgate/Ostend ferry service which, in December, saw the firm awarded a £13.8 million government contract for extra ‘Brexit-resilience’ crossings despite having no ferries and no company track record.

The government ditched the deal in February after saying backers for Seaborne had pulled out. The news came amid mounting pressure from politicians, media and reports from the National Audit Office that revealed Seaborne Freight was flagged as being a ‘high risk proposition’ before it was awarded the post-Brexit extra capacity contract.

The last successful ferry operation was run by Sally Line Ferries. Sally ceased operations in 1998.

Car imports at Ramsgate Photo Simon Piggott

Income at the port includes berthing fees, pilotage, waste disposal, equipment hire and land rental – including to building materials supplier Brett Aggregrates – and ad hoc car shipments when other sites are over capacity.

Thanet council pays a £246,000 lease fee to Crown Estates for the land.

Thanet council says some £40,000 is earmarked for a feasibility study of the port to be carried out before the end of the year.T

Thanet council leader Bob Bayford took over responsibility for Ramsgate port and harbour portfolio last year and retains that responsibility following his re-election this month.

He previously said: “The Port of Ramsgate is one of our most valuable assets and its future is a priority for Thanet District Council. In reflection of this I have recently taken on the Maritime portfolio to oversee the development of a new strategic direction, with the principle aim to create a viable enterprise.”

Port deficit

2018-19 £2.511

2017-18   £1.86m

2016-17 £2.249m

2015-16  £3.44m

2014-15 £3,9m

2013-14  £6m – includes the write off of the TransEuropa Ferries berthing debt (£3.4m) and the High Court ordered animal export ban compensation (£1.4m)

2012-13 £1.86m

2011-12  £866,000

2010-11 £4.35m minus £3.68m ‘impairment’ leaving a £671,000 loss