No light at the end of the tunnel

ANALYSIS: Trevor Sturgess
ANALYSIS: Trevor Sturgess

IT is hard to escape the conclusion that deals were done in smoke-filled rooms before Eurotunnel’s annual meeting in Calais.

Just days before the meeting, Jean-Louis Raymond quit as chief executive because of his fury with the chairman. Jacques Gounon had criticised Raymond’s deal with the trade unions in La Voix du Nord newspaper.

Raymond was incensed and quit, vowing to oust Gounon at the meeting.

A BBC Money Programme special on Eurotunnel’s crisis might have been expected to inflame the situation, but, surprisingly, all was sweetness and light.

Reality seems to have set in. The French directors who replaced the previous Anglo-British board have no more idea of a solution to the debt mountain than their predecessor.

But they know that going bust is a real possibility.

Gounon believes, like those fighting to Make Poverty History, that a debt write-off is the only answer, but if you asked your bank manager to write off your £5,000 loan, he would probably laugh in your face. Will the creditors do the same?

Eurotunnel fat cats do not elicit the same sympathy as starving African kids. And who are these creditors? They are not the same people who originally backed the tunnel when it was still an anticipated "grand project".

The Financial Times has predicted that little can stem the company’s "eventual slide into default and the creditors taking it over in a debt-for-equity swap".

These are wretched times for Eurotunnel. Employees’ morale is being sapped by plans to axe 450 jobs, 200 in Folkestone. Ferries are nibbling back market share with tempting fare offers.

Eurotunnel, which always liked to charge a premium for its service, has been forced to slash fares to £49 each way. But even this offer is below the best that can be offered by SeaFrance, P&O, Hoverspeed and SpeedFerries.

It is hard to see the endgame. We need another Sir Alastair Morton, who unforgiveably was not mentioned in The Money Programme, to kick some backsides.

Whether M Gounon is that man, with Sir Alastair’s ability to charm and cajole at the same time, will be tested by creditor reaction.

He may well achieve a bit of "oui" with a lot of "non".

Unlike those early shareholders, swept away by fixed link euphoria, sadly it would be unwise to bet on anything to do with Eurotunnel - except that it can run a darned good transport operation.

Close This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.Learn More