Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Ferrygate - One In The Eye For Thanet Council

I see my old chum Lord Gnome of the popular satirical magazine Private Eye has seen fit to publish my latest jottings about the ongoing £3.4m Ferrygate scandal today! In case you're too mean or stupid to trot along to the newsagents and buy a copy, here's what I wrote:

LOST AT SEA

Taxpayers are furious with Thanet council after discovering that it secretly sank millions into a failing ferry company - money that is now swimming with the fishes.

Thanet owns and runs the port of Ramsgate, home till recently of a tatty shipping line called TransEuropa Ferries. In spring 2011, TransEuropa, which employed Slovenian staff and carried mostly Eastern European lorries on ageing, Cypriot-registered ships between Ramsgate and Ostend, went to the council and confessed that it was skint, blaming the rise in fuel prices. TransEuropa had a proposition. If the council would let it off paying its bills it wouldn't go bust, saving the jobs of ten port staff - and only costing the taxpayer £120,000 a month! Thanet's chief exec Sue McGonigal agreed on condition the deal remained secret.

Last month the waters finally closed over TransEuropa. It emerged that under the clandestine deal Thanet had sunk £3.4m into the failing firm - almost a fifth of the council’s annual budget. Only McGonigal, a few senior council officers and the council leader appear to have been in on the secret. No specific mention was made in Thanet’s 2011/12 accounts, nor was provision made for potential losses. No mention of it was made at any public meeting of the council. Moreover, this enormous public subsidy to a foreign shipping company wasn’t even secured: all the Council had was a vague promise of jam tomorrow. The truth only emerged when TransEuropa’s other creditors forced the company into bankruptcy.

Now deprived Thanet is having to introduce deep cuts to make up for the shortfall, including slashing £1m from the housing budget. An application to TransEuropa’s Belgian administrator in the hope of retrieving some money is unlikely to amount to much, as the firm’s last two rustbuckets - its only assets - ended up in Ostend, and both are so old and knackered that they’re probably only worth their scrap value.

Despite calls for her resignation, the £114,000 chief exec has refused to go. The fact that the secret subsidy was instigated with a nod from Tory council leader Bob Bayford, and subsequently endorsed by Labour's Clive Hart when his party took control late in 2011, has worked to McGonigal's advantage, with both parties forced to argue that propping up TransEuropa was the only ‘sensible’ thing to do.

All this comes just weeks after Thanet’s former Tory leader, Eye favourite Sandy ‘Shagpile’ Ezekiel, was jailed for 18 months at Maidstone Crown Court for misconduct in a public office, following dodgy property deals. What a place!

And while we're on the subject of Private Eye, I see the latest edition of Thanet Watch, the self-styled 'Private Eye of Thanet', has published a transcript of my recent UKIP film (starring A. Hitler) without so much as a credit! Which is why I've just toddled around all the local newsagents replacing as many copies of Thanet Watch as I can find with the real Private Eye.

The weirdest thing, though, is that they've redacted all my spicy lingo apart from the phrase 'bell end'.

41 comments:

Anonymous said...

No doubt Euroferries are poised to take over Ramsgate port with such rich subsidies.

Anonymous said...

But Richard it was £3.4 millions TDC never had in the first place. The problem was that they still budgeted for this money coming in. The real loss was the money they spent in keeping the staff on, paying enormous dredging costs (£700k) and no doubt other costs associated with keeping the service going.

Anonymous said...

Anon 4.30pm, don't believe the tripe.

TDC and at least two Thanet bloggers would have you believe that yarn about as we never had it, it's not a real loss.

I you don't pay your council tax, how does the council treat you? How do they show it on their accounts?

Money not received that was budgeted to come in is a loss plain and simple. The other expenditure that you mention was actually budgeted for, but should not have been as there wasn't a ferry to service!

Double whammy!

Anonymous said...

I think you find that assuming that TDC was going to collect the £3.4 millions is called counting your chickens before they hatch. It could only be a target income amount in the budget and only real money when it was in the coffers. The unpaid cash could have been shown in the accounts as an unpaid debt along side all the other unpaid debts. Just like TDC hope that they will have a certain amount of budgeted income from its cap parks.
anon 5.44, you need to be careful in saying that Euroferries have not survived as this is a completely different company.

Anonymous said...

Clearly 5.44pm's reference to Euroferries was a slip of the plume, and he/she meant Transeuropa, after all to "miraculously survive" you have to be living in the first place.
I thank you.

Anonymous said...

Clearly the Chief Executive of the Council had fully expected to receive the £3.4 million as there was no provision for its non-receipt in any of the accounts. Leaving aside the fact that this was an obviously ludicrous expectation or an intentional cover up for which heads should roll, it was a real debt expected to be converted into real money which would be spent on real services which will now be cut.

Anonymous said...

If the councillors we elected had any interest in the towns they say they represent, they would be demanding a debate in full council and in public to discuss the way that Thanet has been brought into disrepute by the activities of the Chief Executive and the Leaders of the two main parties.

This isn't some airy fairy political point. Thanet desperately needs investment and desperately needs to attract quality companies and businesses. How do you expect to be able to do this, when your area and council is being publicly humiliated in Private Eye because of the reckless conduct of the individuals listed above?

Anonymous said...

What exactly is the job of the council's 151 officer ?

Anonymous said...

Former deputy leader, now UKIP councillor Roger Latchford is rather quiet about all this, I wonder why?

Richard Eastcliff said...

Probably was a slip of the pen, but I've had to delete it anyway as those Eurof*****s are very litigious.

I'm assuming it should have read: 'If it isn't real money, how were TDC intending to explain its appearance if TransEuropa had miraculously survived?'

Richard Eastcliff said...

And tonight's report on how TDC has been referred to the EU for breach of competition rules can be found on BoobTube here: BBC South East

Anonymous said...

Eye v Watch...Satire Wars...Love it!

Anonymous said...

This is a terribly good story about one of the rottenist boroughs in the UK. Eye awards are in order!

Anonymous said...

Good article! And apologies for not crediting your film. The Gazette's just done it to me!
Christine
Thanet Watch

Richard Eastcliff said...

Glad to know you're aspiring to the same giddy heights as the Gazunder, Christine!

Anonymous said...

Reply to 8.33pm , this is a very short summary, Section 151 of the Local Government Act 1972 requires every local authority to make arrangements for the proper administration of their financial affairs and requires one officer to be nominated to take responsibility for the administration of those affairs (note to take responsibility). The Section 151 officer is usually the local authority’s treasurer (but in Thanet is an all-powerful Chief Exec cum Finance Director)and must be a qualified accountant belonging to one of the recognised chartered accountancy bodies. The Section 151 officer has a number of statutory duties, including the duty to report any unlawful financial activity involving the authority (past, present or proposed) or failure to set or keep to a balanced budget (explains the rush to find and publish where the £3.4m will come from) . The Section 151 officer also has a number of statutory powers in order to allow this role to be carried out, such as the right to insist that the local authority makes sufficient financial provision for the cost of internal audit.

Anonymous said...

Here's another thing. TDC's actions in keeping a foreign owned failing ferry company going has kept the revenue piling into the black hole of TEF and not the coffers of a solvent British owned ferry company operating out of Dover.

Did they think of that when making their incorrect decision?

Joe Blow said...

Well done ECR. Now another Private Eye piece on Pleasurama? Or why Dreamland languished for a decade?
Maybe your media pals could dig up enough dirt for a Panorama style TV prog ... or series?

Anonymous said...

Looks like the whole steaming pile of cack is landing on McGonigal's head. Will she last next week or until the week after?

With the NHS scandal payoffs and gagging deals are out of the question.

Bayford and Hart are equally responsible for this mess and as incompetent as each other. the latest desperate consultation on what to do for the economy is a farce.

Stale and stupid old men clinging on for no reason.

Anonymous said...

Taking 9.41 point about gagging orders, there is a very serious point that how can it be necessary or in the real public interest for departing senior executives to sign compromise agreements with confidentiality clauses in them, surely this practice should be made illegal for Local Government as there is a double whammy, Council Tax payers effectively pay more for their silence and then cannot find out about dodgy occurrences, and the Council festers on with everything covered up, like now.

Anonymous said...

Agree 10:11 although a Judge can overrule any gagging order anyway.

Councillors should pledge to end it though for clarity along with full FOI etc.

A council run by the civil servants for the civil servants and councillors and funded by the public is what we seem to have.

Often corrupt, but usually so incompetent they can only work in secrecy to appear less ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

Taking 7.12am further, will the residents of Thanet and importantly the relevant creditors of TEF ever know whether anyone became an unsecured creditor of TEF during the years in which TEF was being secretly propped up by Thanet District Council and so have incurred losses directly as a result of the false situation?

Anonymous said...

11.33, that's a very good point. The full list of creditors might throw some light on that.

Anonymous said...

Are the responsible Elected members and council officers liable for the debt ?

Anonymous said...

They could be if we launch a class action to sue them for the money. The legal fees could be substantial as they would have access to copious amounts of public money to defend themselves. However, it's a matter of principle. There has to be accountability and, if democracy isn't delivering it, we ought to be prepared to go to law.

Anonymous said...

Very good points: 8:41, negligence would be relevant.

9:53 definitely a class action/petition would force them out: misuse of public office, negligence again, P45's, repayment of salaries, cancellation of pension, fines etc etc

Barry James said...

2 questions
was there a current written contract with transeuropa ferries?

and did TDC find out whether the supposed Italian investors actually exist?
their track record of "due diligence" in the past hasn't been very good look at pleasurama

Anonymous said...

Perhaps due diligence gets missed when you have lots of "working at home days"

Bill said...

What happens when you you combine the posts of chief executive and the chief accountant. Answer you save £50,000 in salary and cost the local tax payer £3.4 million. Only goes to prove the old adage an account knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing. Well done Doctor.

Bill said...

Bill said...it should of course said.
What happens when you you combine the posts of chief executive and the chief accountant. Answer you save £50,000 in salary and cost the local tax payer £3.4 million. Only goes to prove the old adage an accountant knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing. Well done Doctor.

Anonymous said...

Or, 7.57, in the case of Mcgonigal working at home month and a half

Anonymous said...

10:16 Mcgonigal has been at home for over a month? In one go or different days? It's not as if TDC has been run well

Anonymous said...

It is said from late January to early March 2011

Anonymous said...

Crikey so she had over a month at home in one go? Who's running TDC at Margate? The civil servants are running rings round the old duffers.

Sack more civil servants more often at TDC. And fewer councillors. Utterly useless and actively destroying the area through incompetence and corruption.

Anonymous said...

http://blogs.kentonline.co.uk/post/The-demise-of-some-of-Kent-County-Councils-business-venturesPlus-Why-a-council-is-keen-on-FOI-for-the-wrong-reasons.aspx

KM link on KCC companies via tax and TDC secrecy/ferry

Anonymous said...

so 9.57 was this when the secret Transeuropa agreement was in the making?

Anonymous said...

well it looks like it if their press release saying March 2011 is accurate. Apparently this was also at the same time as a full re-organisation of the council's management was in process. The former chief executive of the Council had as good as departed, and at the same time the so call "Harbour Master" Mr White had as good as left as well!
One can imagine the lack of care they had for the public's money working on the secret deal, one off sick, two about to leave! No doubt they were pre-occupied securing their taxpayer funded payoffs and new salaries. You could not make it up could you. Letting Transeuropa secretly use the port for free meant the problem would not show up till much later, actually over two years and another two million pounds later, and then only because someone else and not Thanet Council took precipitative action.

Anonymous said...

You shouldn't believe TDC press releases: several of them confirmed 0% salary increases for White etc which is not true.

At least the District auditor Andy Mack is still available - he's fetched up at Grant Thornton...auditing TDC's accounts!

Ian Driver said...

CIPFA publication "The Role of the Chief Financial Officer" warns strongly against the merger of the CFO role with any other Council job. This can create a conflict of interest and dilute the effectiveness of the CFO. This is precisely what has happened at TDC. McG is both CFO and Chief Executive. Not a good idea in hindsight

Anonymous said...

It wasn't hindsight when apparently the point was made in writing before the roles were merged, but it was ignored.

Anonymous said...

SO Mcgonigal's agreeing the cheques and signing the cheques? And its not her money?