Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Ferrygate

Following my exclusive revelation last month that TransEuropa Ferries had sunk without trace, we have now been presented with the bill by Thanet Council - a whopping £3.3m!

Yes folks, that's 3,300,000 of your English pounds pissed up the swanny, without so much as a 'by your leave'. That's your council tax, that's my council tax, that's money that should have been going towards funding decent public services in Thanet, not propping up a failing foreign business.

So what did we get for our mulah? The answer to that has to be: 'Chuff-all'. I've seen councillors on other blogs justify their actions by saying TEF was a major business that couldn't be allowed to fail. Really? Are they actually suggesting that it was a worthwhile exercise to clandestinely syphon off our money into a Slovenian firm, owned by a couple of Maltese barristers, for the sake of protecting, what, ten jobs down at the port? That's £330,000 per job!

Someone, somewhere has dropped a massive bollock. Or worse, there's been enough council collusion and corruption going on to make even a crook like Sandy Ezekiel blush. Who ordered this unlawful secret subsidy? Councillors? Council officers? Why aren't they in jail too? Wasn't Brian White, the former Head of Regeneration and Planning, in charge down there at the time? Why did he get a £70,000 pay-off for this, er, sterling work? And why was the port accountant, the only person with the bottle, experience and nouse to flag up this monumental misappropriation of public funds, suddenly sacked in 2011 and told that all the number crunching would, in future, be done at Duffer Central in Cecil Square?

In order to pay for this ferry fiasco, we are now told that, amongst other things, £1m will be taken from something called the 'New Homes Bonus', a government grant aimed at helping local authorities build affordable homes and bring long-term empty properties back into use. So to line a few pockets, people are going to lose out on much-needed accommodation. Kuh!

The whole thing stinks worse than Margate Harbour when the tide's out. I think Eric Pickles should be told!

Meanwhile, in other Ramsgate seafront news, TDC have concluded that something needs to be done about the Pleasurama eyesore, and that they're now not entirely happy with the decade and a half of dereliction they've been promoting down there. Call me a cynic, but releasing this 'good news' straight after their Ferrygate revelations strikes me as a rather obvious attempt at media manipulation.

And to be honest, it ain't all good news either, as it's going to cost us council taxpayers several more millions in legal fees to undo that particular mess. You couldn't make it up, could you?

52 comments:

Anonymous said...

Suggest you tell Eric Pickles yourself. Will be interested in his reply. Good luck.

Anonymous said...

What a jolly good idea, councillor whatever your name is commenting at 1008. I hope you are up to your neck in it.

Anonymous said...

Has Inspector Knacker been informed?

Anonymous said...

Well said in every way, and yes I too have heard it said that the port accountant was as good as sacked in 2011 for highlighting high cost management failures in relation to the Council’s maritime activities including Transeuropa.

Anonymous said...

Some pertinent questions:

Does the £3.3m include the write-off of £70K+ in bad TEF debts that Sue McGonigal authorised before 2011?

Does it include the £700K TDC spent on dredging for the Ostend Spirit, which which was never recovered because the Ostend Spirit only ran for a few months?

Does it include a proportion of the inflated salaries of the high-up TDC officers who have spent time on this mess?

Are the five port control staff and five duty ops managers at the port still being paid? Is that level of staffing still neccessary now that the ferries have gone?

Anonymous said...

I am not a councillor 10:13. Just a concerned council tax payer. Band D. Eastcliff Richard is probably better able to put a case to Eric Pickles than I am. And I am still puzzling as to why Anon 10:13 should think I am a councillor and that I should be up to my neck in it?

Anonymous said...

Well exposed ECR - I'm astonished that we're owed £3M. Why/how?

Civil servants must be sacked and regular FOI.

I note the Dornier salvage was on the BBC at the weekend and completely ignored by the Duffers and Duff civil servants.

An 11.8% turnout for RTC says it all really - the lowest ever for a UK election?

Wanda Rogers said...

Thank you for putting it plainly. Mistakes like this one have a serious impact on this area's regeneration.

Tony said...

Anonymous 11:17 am, for your information the Port Control staff were there decades before the ferries started, the post does not only include the ferry port. So the answer to your question is yes they are still being paid, because they are still doing what they are employed to do.

Anonymous said...

I take you point Tony and assume you work down there and know what you are talking about but surely there will not be as much work to do down there without the ferries. I have no desire to see anyone lose their jobs unnessassarily but I do have a desire not to see my council tax wasted.

Anonymous said...

I don't know what it's like in ramsbottom but here in wonderful Clifton. Vile. We are fighting our way through 10ft grass on the verges. No Arson in our area as due to the length of the grass you can't see them. Perhaps the old differs are saving money by not ever cutting the verges even in council tax band G areas. Hoorahhh

Richard Eastcliff said...

I can assure you that there are more bushy outcrops round here than in a 1970s porn film, 12:18!

Although we do have the grass on our prom Brazilianed every now and then.

Tony said...

Anon 1214. Plenty of other traffic to keep Port Control busy. Unfortunately jobs have been lost, on the security side. Hopefully .Council officers will be out trying to encourage trade to the Port, so other jobs will not be lost.

Anonymous said...

TDC - writing off bad council tax debts and refusing to chase up invoices to crap businesses since 1973.

Anonymous said...

Have you seen Simon Moores posting on this issue?

No, neither have I ............

Richard Eastcliff said...

Ah, but he made this comment on Chippy Tone's blog:

It's (not) quite as straightforward as you might think. The Port of Ramsgate plays an economic part in Thanet's economy and I believe that every reader would wish for a ferry company using it to be successful. However, businesses of all sizes run into problems and this was no exception, except of course it was a big one. So I wonder what you might have done over the last two years? Wind-up the business once it starts to struggle with its rents? Agree on a reduced schedule of repayment while the business was seeking further finance to continue its operation? I could go on of course but I think you grasp the problem faced by two administrations of different colours looking for a solution that might protect the economy of the port, see the growing bills paid and see the company survive and cross channel ferries continue.

Which implies he colluded in this scandalous debacle.

Meanwhile I understand that the poor port accountant chappy who was booted out to make way for this monstrous misuse of public funds appealed on grounds of unfair dismissal and lost his case at the employment tribunal.

I further understand that he was a lone voice warning TDC that they were sailing into very choppy waters, and for daring to speak up he got the bum's rush.

If anyone deserves a medal for services above and beyond, and a decent, retrospective pay-off, it's him.

Peter Checksfield said...

You can pretty guarantee that things are a bit iffy for Simon & his chums whenever he neglects to cover a major local news story.

Richard Eastcliff said...

Indeed Pedro. Indeed.

Readit said...

I read the deal started in March 2011

The district elections were in May 2011.

Must be just a coincidence.

Anonymous said...

What I don't get is why a new administration did not spill the beans and tell tales on the previous mob when hey got to find out .

Regardless, the two main parties are a busted flush. Paving the way for UKIP to finish the job off on thanet.

Anyone want to buy my house?

Paul James said...

It would be perfectly reasonable for Simon Moores to agree to waive the port charges until a partner could be identified and a proper business plan submitted, but not for three years. To allow the debt to rise to £3.3M before taking any action or not as the case may be is scandalous. Why was this not reported to Councillors when the debt had risen to £500K or less? Why did the current administration immediately call time when they took over a year ago? Who was advising them?

Retired Chep said...

ECR. You write from the heart. Have you had a transplant or have you been hiding your ticker away.

The Head of Tourism and Leisure years ago, a member of the now notorious 6th Thanet Gun Range, allagedly got a fifty grand pay off with an early pension arrangement of 25 grand a year.

The Planning Officer who failed to enforce planning law against the now notorious 6th Thanet Gun range (Situated adjacent to the property of the council leader at the time) got an undisclosed pay off package I am told.

A quarter of a century of public funding to East Kent Maritime Trust ran to 2.5 million quid. What did Thanet get for that ? Plus the EKMT kinda didn't tell the Charity Commission it had received another quarter million in a legacy.

Where I take my hat off to you ECR is that you translate the losses into how it effects ordinary people. And although it is unlike you to fire up the outrage bus, you are right TDC is one outrage after another and it is the Thanet people who suffer.



Simon Moores said...

I think there's some confusion over the facts creeping in here.

My own recollection, is that when the Conservative administration left office, it had arranged a repayment schedule with the operator to deal with the unpaid port bills at the time, while the company searched for further finance from the banks etc. Subsequent to that and this has come as a complete surprise to me, that debt to TDC has ballooned to over £3 million under the present administration.

That's totally unacceptable and I share peoples concerns over what has been happening over the last 18 months to deal with a growing debt to TDC. I'm hoping that we will see these questions answered by officers and the Labour Group in next week's extraordinary cabinet meeting but based on previous form with the likes of Royal Sands, I'm not optimistic.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Simon, but perhaps you should've saved it for the police interview.

Readit said...

How can you arrange a repayment schedule with a company searching for financial support?

This would mean that the debt was a considerable amount at March 2011, otherwise it would be payment as usual.

Readit said...

Perhaps some-one should inform the Thanet council taxpayers what the amount of the debt was at March 2011

Anonymous said...

Maybe you should trace the bloke who got fired for an exclusive interview ECR!

Anonymous said...

How can a former cabinet member that was party to the arrangements being made be surprised by the size of this debt? He must have known the size of the debt before the arrangement was made in March 2011 and he must have known in December 2011 when labour got control that the debt had grown. How could the cabinet at the time believe the ferry company would come good? What expert advice did they take or did they think they knew best?

Simon Moores said...

I am helping people understand the circumstances

It was a debt in 2011, a large one but the option was wind up the company and receive nothing or agree a repayment schedule subject to the operator seeking finance from elsewhere. At which point the operator was expected to start repaying debt. Close to this time the Council changed hands and it appears that rather than the debt being repaid, it ballooned over the next 18 months.

Lets see what comes out of the extraordinary cabinet meeting before there's anymore speculation. That's all I have to say about it.

Peter Checksfield said...

Try not to walk out in a huff this time Simon!

Cllr Peter Campbell said...

This is more of a tradgedy than we think. It is just the opportunity for Cllr Ian Driver to exercise his new Green Party credentials. I am reliably informed that he can be seen on televisions in your area being "never so disgusted in all my life" yet again.
But of course the real tradgedy is the loss of jobs and the potential revenue stream locally.
However this just may be the opportunity to create a Port Ramsgate that is less reliant on a single revenue stream. It could be transformed into a first class job creating water sports and leisure centre or an extention to the already sucessful Royal Harbour with one stop yatch servicing and maintanance. I and my fellow Labour Councillors are prepared for the challenge all other constructive input from other party's members welcome.

DFL said...

How about let the failing company fail Simon?

If you had not started propping them up just before the election in 2011 none of this would have happened.

All of that extra revenue from the wind farms pissed up the wall by your teams incompetence and the reluctance of anyone else brought into play to raise the flag.

Your a bloody conservative Simon and you are arguing that a few jobs at the port would be lost unless propped up by public money. Doesn't really ring true.

Shame on all of you and I hope you get what you deserve.

DFL said...

Sorry cllr Campbell, too little too late. You could have given all the employees a fat wad of cash each and told them all to bigger off years ago and saved us all a fortune. Everyone would have been better off.

Do you actually realise what you were voted in for? To be bloody different from the Tories, not follow their lead.

You've failed miserably on two important issues - pleasurama and transeuropa. Tory cover ups have been kept under wraps by your mob.

If you want a chance of being elected again start confessing, start being open and stop playing politics.

Anonymous said...

Peter Campbell.

Nothing stopping you creating a port less reliant on one revenue stream about two million pounds ago.

Paul James said...

Cllr Campbell. You have always struck me a one of the few on your side with some brain cells. Regardless of what you inherited from Bayford, your leader and Cllr Poole knew of this huge accruing debt and did absolutely nothing about it. Did they inform you? It was only when the Ferry Company threw in the towel that this disastrous incompetence has come to light. Why did you do nothing in all that time? Or did you rely on incompetent officers advising you again?

Anonymous said...

DFL 8:30 Add to your list the Royal Victoria Pavilion left in a ruinous state, the Motor Museum not opened, the terms of the lease of Maritime Museum not defining specific opening times, allowing the RSPCA into the port so as to engineer a public spectacle by killing all those poor sheep, interfering with a legal trade and incurring £180K costs and a writ for £1.4M for having done so, Arlington House left in an apalling state and the Arlington car park not open for the summer visitors yet again, the Derelict Fort Road Hotel left blighting the Turner Contemporary, Cliftonville being permanently blighted by introducing more and more sub standard housing in readiness for the Romanian and Bulgarian Gypsies who will start arriving in January.

Cllr Ian Driver said...

The vast majority of Councillors were not aware that TDC was allowing the ferry operators to build up a massive unpaid bill. Senior officers and party leaderships of both parties over a 3 year period kept this secret from backbenchers. In my opinion this was almost certainly a major breach of constitutional rules. There should now be an external independent investigation into who decided what and when and what constitutional rules have been broken and by who. Efforts are now being made to requisition an emergency meeting of the council where a motion can be discussed to launch an investigation. I have made a complaint to the District Auditor. This is an extremely serious situation which reflects incredibly badly on how Thanet Council is managed by officers and politicians. Its time for a change Ian Driver

Cllr Peter C said...

Ian, just as positive as ever!

Did I know, no. But that doesn't mean I would not have supported the decision the Labour leadership took. The reality was that there was not a queue of ferry operators waiting to replace TransEuropa if there had been then that would have been real neglegence. So it was the chance of getting some money or the certainty of getting none. Well you choose!!

Richard Eastcliff said...

Well Cllr Campbell, as you will see from the item I have just posted, you were, were you not, a member of a rather secretive TDC committee designated to advise the port?

How you can say you didn't know beggars belief.

It sounds like one of those excuses used at the Nuremburg trials if you ask me. Where is the openness and honesty your regime promised? Or was that all lies too?

Cllr Ian Driver said...

Peter the fact is that constitutional rules have been broken by keeping the debt secret. This is unacceptable when taxpayers money is being gambled with without the knowledge of most councillors.

I do not disagree with providing economic support but when this support becomes equal to 20% of the Council's annual budget then there should be a full debate of all councillors rather than a secretive cabal of officers and councillors deciding behind closed doors. This is not democracy or accountability and I will try my best to expose the truth

Anonymous said...

Will the meeting be filmed?

Anonymous said...

3 cheers for the chief exec, EKO and now tran europa certainly knows how to waste the thanet tax payers money, guess that's why she doesn't live here.

Anonymous said...


Cllr Campbell You state that you did not know about the debt and yet you say you would have blindly supported decision the Labour Cabinet took. What decision are you referring to and when was this taken?

Anonymous said...

Not only was this covered up by Officers and Members but did the debt show in the Council's official accounts. If it did, it shows that none of the Councillors other than Bayford and Hart who were told by Mark Seed, can read a set of accounts. God help us.

Anonymous said...

Just been through the TDC accounts again. Nothing in there for 2011/2012.

We had an outstanding receivable for approx £1,650,000, it should stick out like bollocks on a dog.

If anyone wants to ask the question at the meeting next week (Driver?), feel free. I'll be in the public gallery watching them all squirm.

Anonymous said...

If the debt wasn't shown, couldn't TDC be done for false accounting?

Cllr Peter C said...

Dear ECR not was a member believe I still am.
Beggar belief or not tis true.

Ian D I do not justify just possibly face reality that sometimes there is information that is confidential and that some decisions are taken with the best possible intent even if it does leave a nasty after taste.
I will respond only to named corespondants

Anonymous said...

Campbell's a Party loudmouth trying to defect blame onto Driver for exposing this scandal.

The sooner we're rid of these councillors the better.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr Driver

I applaud you for trying to get to the bottom of this and I have read many comments, but notwithstanding my lack of knowledge vis a vis your local government powers derived from your overview and scrutiny position, please be advised that you need to demand of the council's finance department, not Mr Seed, a copy of the detailed sales ledger accounts from November 2010 when the report to cabinet re the meeting next week (that should be on TV)said the issue started up to today's date for every company that came under the "Transeuropa" operations, then list the total debt at the end of each month Nov 2010 to May 2013 and the total payments received in each of those months alongside. This alone should tell you whether your executives acted reasonably or as seems likely utterly failed and should resign.
If they won't give this to you sack them. If they say the sales ledger isn't up to date sack them. If they tell you they're waiting for year end accounts they're lying so sack them. Have you not wondered whether there is a closing of ranks trying to prevent you seeing this, yes, push harder.
Free advice from George Steinberg.

John Hamilton - talking sense and cutting through bullshit said...

You can;t be trusted with any information Driver, as you have proved many times. The only way to try to run an effecient council is to keep you under your stone, only letting you out to lie at elections.

Please take heed of the wishes of the electorate, give up your seat, and seak re ekection under you TRUE colours, or STFU, you have NO mandate from anyone.

Richard Eastcliff said...

Er, which, if any, of those comments come under the banner of 'talking sense', Mr H? Are you so feeble and delirious that you think a council without proper scrutiny and investigation would be 'efficient'? How would we then ever get to the bottom of this outrageous, £3.3m hole in the council's accounts?

Your mind must be tinier and even more wizened than it looks!

Anonymous said...

well said ECR