Research on Open Data and Transparency

Leave a comment

5 Interesting things I found out about Seaborne Freight and Ramsgate-Ostend


Here’s 5 interesting things I found out about Seaborne Freight, the ferry company with no ferries. The company has just had its contract to run ‘no deal’ ferries between Ramsgate and Ostend withdrawn. What I’ve found out is all based on a 5 minute search using FOI, open data and a few other sources, so keep this in mind.

1.Is Ramsgate a ferry port? Ramsgate has been a ferry port since the 17 century until very recently and was a major starting point for many of the ‘little boats’ that went to Dunkirk in 1940. Its loss five years ago was a very big problem-and successive local councils have been keen to find a new operator (and seemingly came close in 2015).

2.Where’s the Contract? I couldn’t find the contract on the UK’s contract finder site because it was done under special urgent/emergency procedures, as explained here.

3.Has anyone been given any money? Chris Grayling has been very clear that no payments have been made. Very clear. In an answer to an urgent question, he explained:

‘Let me stress that no money will be paid to any of these operators unless and until they are actually operating ferries on the routes we have contracted. No money will be paid until they are operating the ferries. No payment will be made unless the ships are sailing, and of course, in a no-deal scenario, money will be recouped through the sale of tickets on those ships’.

The contract was worth £13.8 million, out of a total of 103 million for no deal ferries, 90 % has gone to Brittany Ferries and DFDS, both of whom (i) own ferries (ii) run ferries. Perhaps an FOI just to check no payments were made? I’m always suspicious when politicians are so certain. Especially one who thought the best reason for leaving the EU was that Britain could have different train platform heights.

4.What has been done? According to the CEO, it seemed to be experiencing delays, with a need to ‘start from scratch’, including building infrastructure and ‘dredging’. There’s also an admission from him that ‘we’ve had to identify the vessels best-suited to the type of crossing, which we’re keeping a secret for the moment’ (this sounds very much like a ‘my girlfriend goes to another school’ type argument).

5. Who runs Seaborne Freight? The Companies House data indicates there is no ‘person with significant control’ (i.e. a controlling interest) though there was in the past. Their own website is not very helpful, which not a surprise is given some of it appeared to be pasted from a takeaway website. There have been concerns raised about the fact that one Director allegedly owes the UK £600, 000, and whether this came up in the due diligence done by the experts the called in by the Department.

What else do we know? It’s not been a very FOI-able so far-it seems the NAO don’t know much (though they have discussed ferry services with the Department of Transport). But it seems the Public Accounts Committee are interested.

Anyway, this was just a five minute search, with all the limitations that entails. But it looks very much like we should, as Robert Caro advises, turn every page on this story.