Published: 20:01, 30 January 2019
| Updated: 20:07, 30 January 2019
Transport minister Chris Grayling is facing criticism for his failure to answer questions concerning the award of a £13.8 million contract to a company to provide a ferry service from Ramsgate to Ostend.
It was awarded to Seaborne Freight under emergency procedures which meant there was no open tendering competition.
The government said the £13.8m contract needed to be awarded because of unforeseen circumstances.
Now the chairman of the all-party transport select committee MP Lilian Greenwood has hit out at Mr Grayling after he refused to provide her with detailed answers to 22 detailed questions concerning the contract and the procurement process.
She had written to him asking for an explanation of the procedures used by his department.
Mrs Greenwood said she had done so because evidence had been submitted to the committee that suggested the contract process might have breached regulations.
Correspondence between Mrs Greenwood and Mr Grayling which has been published shows the minister decline to answer specific questions around the contract and the reason why he had used emergency powers to bypass a normal procurement process.
Mrs Greenwood said: "It seems extraordinary to me that the Government’s response fails both to provide any additional insight into why the department used emergency powers in the award of the contracts, and to respond to the substance of our questions about the department’s process for securing them.
"This was an opportunity for the Secretary of State to put the record straight.
"This cursory reply is no way to respond to the committee’s efforts to scrutinise the government’s decision to use emergency powers to award contracts worth hundreds of millions of pounds."
Seaborne Freight has come under the spotlight after it emerged it has no ships and questions were raised concerning its finances.
The company is paying for dredging work at Ramsgate Harbour needed to ensure ro-ro ferries can berth.
In his letter responding to the questions, Mr Grayling said the government follows due diligence procedures and repeated his assertion the contract needed to be awarded as a matter of extreme urgency because of unforeseeable events.
"It seems extraordinary the government's response fails both to provide any additional insight into why the department used emergency powers in the award of the contracts" - MP Lilian Greenwood
He replied in his letter: “Given the unexpected and unforeseeable limitations on the extent to which the market had to date been able to respond to the risk of no-deal by putting in place contingency plans to prepare for this scenario, the government completed a procurement process to secure additional freight capacity.”
In his letter, he defended the deals as a "responsible measure to secure capacity in the public interest in conditions of extreme urgency" - but without saying they were legal.
The government has also been questioned about the contract by Eurotunnel which has protested against the “distortionary and anti-competitive effects” of a breach of “competition and state aid law”.
Among the questions Mr Grayling did not provide details on were how the companies were chosen and if others were approached, or made bids.
He also failed to answer a question concerning what performance measures were included in the contracts.