Published: 21:09, 07 February 2019
| Updated: 21:52, 07 February 2019
A council has delayed a decision on whether to implement budget cuts which would have prevented the Port of Ramsgate being used in the case of a no-deal Brexit.
Councillors in Thanet were due to vote on its 2019/20 budget tonight – including plans to scrap £730,000 of funding into the port, which it owns.
It will now meet again before March 11 before making a final decison on its annual spending plans.
If it had gone ahead with its plans, it could have marked the end for the government’s proposal to host an emergency ferry service from Ramsgate to Belgium to ease any disruption in Dover and Folkestone if no deal is struck between the United Kingdom and the European Union.
Ministers had already faced ridicule for awarding a £13.8 million contract to run the service to Seaborne Freight, which owns no ferries and has never run a crossing before.
Thanet District Council leader Cllr Bob Bayford (Con) said the budget vote had been scrapped to allow Transport Secretary Chris Grayling (Con) to have further discussions.
He told councillors: “Members will be aware that I’ve said all along that we couldn’t carry on with the never-ending saga of the Port of Ramsgate.
“We had to reach a point where we either have an operator and therefore income to meet the cost, or we had to make the uncomfortable decision to actually close sections of the port and make serious cost savings.
“But today I’ve had a conversation with Chris Grayling, and the Department for Transport (DfT) is continuing commercial discussions with Seaborne and other potential operators recognising the importance of Ramsgate port in terms of Brexit resilience.
“The DfT is very keen to keep the option of Ramsgate alive and in light of this, I’ve asked the chairman to withdraw the item tonight and for it to come back at the soonest opportunity when those discussions have been concluded."
The cost-cutting measures were part of TDC's plan to plug a £1.8 million budget shortfall, with the port not having a regular ferry service operating from it since 2013.
There has been controversy over the contract awarded to the company Seaborne Freight to provide emergency 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 UK to leave the EU.
Speaking after the delay, a DfT spokesman said: "Our priority remains securing a deal with the EU, but we are carrying out sensible contingency measures.
"We continue to hold discussions with relevant parties over plans to reintroduce ferry services at Ramsgate."
More by this authorDean Kilpatrick, local democracy reporter