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Thanet council leader Bob Bayford insists delaying budget was his call after suggestion ministers stepped in over Seaborne Freight plan for Ramsgate port

ByDean Kilpatrick, local democracy reporter

The leader of a council insists it was his decision to delay a key budget vote, despite suggestions that transport secretary Chris Grayling made the call.

Councillors were due to vote on Thanet District Council's financial plans for 2019/20 last night (February 7) – including plans to scrap £730,000 of funding into the Port of Ramsgate.

However, the item was pulled off the agenda at the last minute, giving the government a lifeline for a key part of its no-deal Brexit preparations.

Ramsgate port
Ramsgate port

Ministers want to use the council-owned port to host an emergency ferry service from Ramsgate to Belgium but an approved budget could have scuppered such plans.

The cost-cutting measures were part of Thanet council's plan to plug a £1.8 million budget shortfall, with the port not having a regular ferry service operating from it since 2013.

Following a phone call with the transport secretary, leader Cllr Bob Bayford (Con) said the budget vote had been delayed to allow Mr Grayling to have further discussions with operators.

But Cllr Stuart Piper (Ind) claimed central government had prevented local councillors from fulfilling their role.

He added: “It would be good to get some clarity on whether the decision to pull it was ours or whether it was a government decision interfering with democratic process in this place.

“Whatever has happened, they have not allowed elected members in this place to do their jobs and do them properly for the benefit of the people of Thanet.”

Bob Bayford
Bob Bayford

Cllr Bayford refuted the claim, responding: “It was my request to the council chairman to postpone the budget tonight because I thought it was the best thing we should do.

“It’s not denying a democratic right to set a budget, in fact it’s a situation where we’ll be better informed to create the right budget.”

There has been controversy over the £13.8 million contract awarded to the company Seaborne Freight to provide emergency ferry services after it emerged it had no ships of its own.

But the company insists it will be ready to run services by March 29 – the deadline for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union.

Speaking last night, a Department for Transport spokesman said: “We continue to hold discussions with relevant parties over plans to reintroduce ferry services at Ramsgate.”

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