by Graham Tutthill
More efficiencies could be made in the running of the Port of Dover, according to SeaFrance managing director Robin Wilkins.
But he was not able to go into detail as to where those savings might be made.
Mr Wilkins was the first witness from the ferry operators to give evidence to the public inquiry into the companies’ objections to the 2010 and 2011 tariffs set by Dover Harbour Board.
He told the inspector, Lloyd Rodgers, that when some of the landside operations were privatised by the harbour board, the ferry operators were able to run those services more efficiently.
Mr Wilkins said: "The board wanted to transfer 49 staff to SeaFrance. We only needed 24. For example, we ran the mooring single-handed rather than double-handed.
"If we could find such efficiencies in that system, we could probably find more elsewhere in the port. There are further efficiencies to be found."
Asked by Thomas Hill QC, for the harbour board, what further efficiencies could be made, Mr Wilkins said: "I don’t see it as a part of my evidence to suggest efficiencies. If the tariffs were lowered, I am sure some efficiencies would be found."
Mr Hill described some of Mr Wilkins’ evidence as "a rant" at harbour board management.
"Your evidence is laced with hyperbole and it makes an exciting read," he said. "I don’t know what you had had to eat when you wrote it."
Mr Wilkins also criticised the "gold-plated" improvements the board had carried out at the Eastern Docks, saying they always bought at the top end of the scale. Some of the work - such as the resurfacing of the docks and the removal of the block ship at the western entrance - could have been delayed, he said, to make savings.
The inquiry is continuing, and P&O Ferries chief executive Helen Deeble is due to give her evidence on Tuesday.
Full report in this week's Dover Mercury.