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MEP Alyn Smith calls for European Comission to investigate Seaborne Freight contract

By Paul Francis

The European Commission is being urged to investigate the UK government over the award of a contract to a company to provide ferry services from Ramsgate to Ostend in the event of disruption at the channel ports after Brexit.

The Scottish MEP Alyn Smith has requested an inquiry into the procurement process which led to a £13.8m contract being awarded to Seaborne Freight to provide emergency ferry services from Ramsgate to Ostend - despite the fact it has no boats.

The government has insisted it followed standard procedures when it awarded the contract and carried out due diligence checks.

Ramsgate Port (6334525)
Ramsgate Port (6334525)

In his letter, Smith writes: “I am concerned that proper procurement process has not been followed and that as well as potentially representing an extremely poor deal for the UK taxpayer and their impact on competition and the single market, the contracts could be used as templates for future, bigger, contracts likely to be awarded by the UK Government. I would be grateful if your services could investigate.”

The DfT awarded three contracts together worth more than £100m for additional shipping freight capacity direct to providers without running an open EU competitive process.

Since the announcement was made, both the government and the company have faced questions about the contract. Seaborne Freight has no ships itself and its managing director used to be the head of a shipping charter company that was forced into liquidisation over an unpaid tax bill of £1.7m.

As part of the contract, Seaborne Freight is meeting the costs of dredging work at the port of Ramsgate to allow ro-ro ferries to berth.

Meanwhile, a Conservative Thanet councillor has called for greater transparency about the deal.

Cllr Beverley Martin, who represents Central Harbour ward, said: “I am looking for more transparency around this; it seems Seaborne Freight was a shell company which started with £60 and now has £400,000.”

She questioned why no information had been provided to councillors at its last full council meeting in December.

“We had a meeting at which nothing was said about negotiations and then suddenly in January there is an announcement. My real concern is that this is just a piece of political theatre and we are being presented with something that is so crazy and impossible that it will persuade people that we need a second referendum,” she said.

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