Business, Freight News, Logistics, Sea

Government throws out Dover privatisation plan

[ December 20, 2012   //   ]

The Government has rejected a privatisation plan drawn up by the Port of Dover, transport minister Simon Burns announced on 20 December. The plan has been mired in controversy ever since it was drawn up, including an alternative ‘People’s Port’ scheme for an alternative community-based scheme. Ferry operators were also angered at the trust-owned port’s alleged diversion of £65 million worth of funds raised by a levy that had been earmarked for the Terminal 2 expansion scheme.

The Port of Dover itself said it was “surprised and extremely disappointed” by the announcement by the Minister that he was declining the Port’s voluntary privatisation Scheme.

Dover’s chief executive, Bob Goldfield, said: “The decision is frustrating for the ort and for the community, for whom this was a unique opportunity to benefit from the success of this major international gateway.  Developing the Port, providing an important contribution to the regeneration of Dover.” But growing and adding value to the business would remain key objectives for the port as it continued as a trust port.

But the port and community would now no longer benefit from the injection of many millions of pounds into local community projects, via its proposed Community Trust that would have been possible had the decision been in the port’s favour.

Dover would “now take some time to consider the analysis behind the Ministerial decision in detail and assess its impact on our future strategic and financial plans.”

A few days earlier, Dover Harbour Board chairman Roger Mountford announced that he would retire on 31 December. The Secretary of State for Transport has appointed the present deputy chairman, George Jenkins, as his successor.

Roger Mountford has overseen the often controversial commercialization programme at the trust-owned port.

But the port has invested continuously during his tenure, totalling £116 million between 2001 and 2009 alone, while plans have been drawn up and approved for an ambitious “Terminal 2’ scheme.

Ports Minister, Stephen Hammond paid tribute to Roger Mountford’s “twelve years of dedicated service and the highly professional way in which he led the Board. “ Dover’s chief executive, Dr Bob Goldfield, added: “We now have the structure, the vision and the capability to take the business forward in Dover and more widely in a way unimaginable a few years ago. “Roger has played an important part in achieving that by providing great support and guidance through some challenging times.”

Leading operator P&O Ferries welcomed the decision , saying that it had serious concerns that the interests of ferry operators would have been undermined.

Chief executive Helen Deeble said: “The port’s tariffs are already highly contentious in a difficult economic climate and with no safeguards about future tariffs under privatisation, we had very real concerns about future price increases.”

She added: “The fundamental justification for Dover Harbour Board’s scheme has always been the need to raise capital for redevelopment of the Western Docks. We have always questioned this argument and note that the Secretary of State has concluded there are other ways to raise capital without having to privatise.”

Mrs Deeble said that the Secretary of State also noted the strength of local opposition and had concluded that the scheme proposed would not ensure community participation in the port. The port’s plan was also not the only option for the Terminal 2 redevelopment of Dover Western Docks.

She added: “DHB has agreed to ring fence the £60 million provided by the ferry companies to pre-fund Terminal 2 but has failed to make it clear how this will be achieved. We are now considering how we can challenge DHB to return the money.”