Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Thanet Ferrygate Incompetent Fools ?

I wrote to Thanet Council's Chief Executive asking why, in her role as the Council's Section 151 Officer (finance officer),  she had failed to ensure that   the financial interest of the Council had been secured  though a charge on the assets of Trasnseuropa  Ferries should this company fail to pay back the £3.3 million fees and charges it owed to the Council. 

Ostend Port and the fuel suppliers felt that having Transeuropa's debts secured against the failing ferry operators assets was a sensible and prudential thing to do.  By doing this they were able to force the sale of  Transeuropa's ferry the Gardenia and share in the 750,000 euros raised at auction  last week.

Thanet Council, obviously had better ideas than Ostend Port and the  fuel suppliers, but they  refused to share them with me. Rather than provide an answer to my enquiry, the Chief Executive delegated the  response to another officer who e-mailed me saying that the "Council confirms that  it holds relevant information but declines to disclose that information to you". The letter writer went on to quote the Freedom of Information Act to justify why The Chief Executive had not been open, transparent and accountable about her role in the management of this appalling , secretive gamble with £3.3 million public money which went horribly wrong.

Incredible as it may seem, at the same time that TDC officers denied my request for information about debt security,  they had actually provided journalist from Kent Online, who were asking for same information  as me, with a press statement detailing why the Council failed to securitise its £3.3 million debt. So it would now appear that senior officers of Thanet District Council are free to withhold information from elected councillors, but provide that same information to the press!  This is an extremely sad day for local democracy in Thanet.

But it gets worse! Let's have a look at the reasons why the Section 151 Officer decided  that there was no reason to mitigate financial loss by securing a charge on Transeuropa's assets. Well if Kent Online is to be believed this decision was made because the Council as port authority has a legal right  "to seize Transeuropa assets in the port to cover any debts" therefore  "a secured status was not sought at the time the (debt deferral) arrangement was set up". So why did Ostend Port who has similar rights to Ramsgate Port insist on having additional security through charges on Transeuropa's assets. Perhaps because ferries are able to move from A to B making it easy for them to escape the clutches of unsecured creditors such as TDC.

But would Thanet  have ever dared to exercise its right to seize Transeuropa's assets to cover the debt?  Apparently not! When the debt stood at £1million they did not move to seize Transeuropa's assets. When the debt stood at £2million they did not move to seize Trasnseuropa's assets. When the debt approached  £3million and Transeuropa and its erstwhile Italian  investors had, despite their agreement to do so, not paid a penny in re-payments for over 6 months, the Council still unbelievably refused  to seize it assets! In fact the Council is on record as saying "seizing the vessel at this time would have sent Transeuropa into liquidation". This can only mean that the Council was happy to stand by and let the debt grow bigger and bigger and gamble with more and more of your money without taking any action to safeguard its financial interests.  Where would it have ended? A secret  debt of £4, £5 or even £6miillion  paid for by you!

What sort of financial management is  this? I've said it before and I'll say it again, the Transeuropa Ferry issue is a major public scandal. Senior politicians and mangers have, in my opinion, grossly mis-managed pubic money. There should be a full independent investigation into this scandal and some prominent careers should be swiftly and robustly ended. Sadly Labour and Conservative party councillors have spinelessly followed the orders of their party whips like so many  frightened sheep and voted to cover up this scandal.

But I remain confident that the truth will eventually come out. The District Auditor has contacted me to tell me that he is still investigating my complaints about the Transeuropa scandal and hopes to advise me of his findings by November. I am waiting for the Information Commissioner to get back to me about having access to all the secret Transeuropa papers. If he agrees I will publish them so you can make own minds up about what happened

I must say I am becoming increasingly frustrated by the appallingly bad political and managerial culture at Thanet District Council. It reminds  of the political  corruption and dishonesty of 1930s Chicago City Hall. Thankfully 2015 is not far away and I sincerely hope that the good people of Thanet will take that opportunity to rid themselves of this thoroughly rotten political regime and some of its less than inspiring civil servants .

Here's the Kent On Line article


  1. You quote "the Council as port authority has a legal right to seize Transeuropa assets in the port to cover any debts". ANY DEBTS really! Has anyone seen a single document to support this claim? No, they have no records. It is all made up lies. Besides even if it was true Transeuropa Ferries NV never had any assets at all in the port of Ramsgate to seize. You're being told a load of bull again. Ask TDC to provide a list of the assets, who owned them and their value, because they must have a list that the Section 151 Officer and the Monitoring Officer would have demanded as part of their due diligence prior to effectively lending £millions for ever to a series of foreign companies that were not even governed by UK law. Oh what's that I hear you say, they didn't do that, there is no list, even though they claim that was the security they had which meant they didn't have to get off their backsides and do anything. Are you seriously saying that as the multi-million debt rose no accountant monitored it to ensure it did not exceed the security of Transeuropa's assets in the port! Oh sorry, it was a secret deal and the orderlies knew nothing, so the S151 Officer and her deputy would have done this to protect public funds as is their statutory duty, no. I grant you if you haven't got a clue what your job is the motivation to get off your arse is lacking. Far better not to show your incompetence and look busy elsewhere and let the Tax payers of Thanet take the risk. That is why these Thanet executive jobs are so great, especially now the audit commission is effectively non-existent, private gain, public pain. It's not just the bankers. This is a major scandal.

  2. is it Section 44 here Ian

    Is this a "Harvey job" ? I think all TDC could have recovered by distraint is the cost of one harbour fee after a former cancellation of the debt waiver/delay agreement. Harbour master struggle off with a bit of furniture and a coffee making machine maybe. Or more likely after the cancellation the ferry doesn't put in again.

    Tribute to Michael Child who has been on the Pleasurama case for ten years. Could become important now if it is shown that the plans for the development were indeed technically never viable. Mens rea ?

  3. I'm sort of confused by the post above. It is a matter of record that there is a debt. That's why the council is having to rearrange its finances. I appreciate that there isn't an invoice or anything like that but that doesn't mean that it doesn't exist. It just means you can't pursue recovery of the debt. legally. And this is why some people at TDC need to lose their jobs. Even if you made a mistake in deciding not to attempt to collect the money that was owed, you had an absolute obligation to record the situation in some legal form. How else would you have claimed what was owed had the ferry company survived and prospered?

  4. Anon 18.29 As I understand it TDC are saying that they did not secure the debt by contract because the law already provides them a right to seize the vessel or its contents to settle harbour dues. The question I raise is this. Surely the harbours law 9see above) could only be applied to recover the dues for one berthing after the dent arrangement plan was formally cancelled. IE In entering a debt plan TDC had waived their rights of distraint under the harbours law ? I don't know the answer. But I suspect the introduction of distraint powers of a harbour owner is a bit of Harvey retrospective circumlocution. Or put in summary form, Harvey BS.

  5. I'm afraid that TDC's argument here is fatally flawed. You can only seize a vessel to settle harbour fees if that vessel is in the harbour. Unless the council has a fast boat and a hit squad trained by Somalian pirates, they can't board the ship once it has sailed. Given that they were allowing the vessel to sail happily in and out of port at will they cannot justify failing to draw up a formal contract giving them first dibs on the assets should the firm go under. Of course, the ferry firm might have refused to sign that contract, but I can't see how we would have been worse off. In fact, it would simply have brought forward the day of reckoning and precipitated a proper discussion about the future of the port; a discussion which has now been delayed yet again by TDC's stupid decision to pay consultants to search for another operator. There aren't many ferry operators out there. You could probably ring round all of them in a morning and establish that none of them want to run a loss-making route.