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'.