Today marks the last day of the first week of 2019 and I am sure I am not alone in wishing that in terms of the public and political space, that the first week could have given us a meaningful transition between the pleasurable aspects of Christmas and the challenging processes that the debates on Brexit will no doubt reveal as Parliament opens its doors after its two and a half week holiday period. Sadly just as 2018 was ending, our grossly incompetent Government announced some proposals which have managed to dominate a range of social media platforms with discussions and accusations about ferry arrangements if we are faced with a No Deal Brexit. The contract which was announced referred to how the Government will allocate £100m to three companies to pay for extra ferries. Two of the companies are European based and a small proportion will be allocated to a British company that was established less than two years ago by Hove resident, Glenn Dudley. Seaborne Freight was formed by Glenn in April 2017 and although within seven months, his role had moved into the shade caused by the higher profile Ben Sharp whose company Albany Shipping merged with Seaborne, the impact of Glenn’s work may carry on for some time to come. Along with Ben, the directors of Albany also include Bognor based Brian Raincock and within a month of the merger he was joined by an Arundel based Solicitor, Peter Blackmore who he has worked with in the past and who took on the role of Company Secretary.
In one sense, to create a new business that within 20 months is awarded a £14m contract by the Government is very impressive for the efforts of Glenn, Ben and Peter. Usually Government processes are much more restrictive even when it comes to awarding much smaller contracts to more experienced companies across a range of industries. In many arrangements, companies need at least three years trading history and the size of the business needs to be such that any new contract will not dominate the business. To avoid this, the business usually needs a turnover that is at least 2-5 times the size of the contract which would demand a £25m-£70m turnover before such a contract would be considered credible. However an even more disturbing aspect of the Seaborne challenge is that Chris Grayling speaking early in the New Year on behalf of the Government claimed that the company had been looked at very carefully by a team of civil servants who had carried out due diligence. Their failure to do so was disclosed when someone pointed out the legal terms and conditions located on the Seaborne website had been copied from a pizza delivery company. It is clearly encouraging that the Government is now willing to work with start-up businesses as creative and new technology solutions are sometimes only achieved through new companies. However such approaches carry much higher risks and demand a great deal of understanding of the sector concerned. There is little sense in doing this with such a large contract in an area where many existing businesses with strong track records and turnovers exist.
It is clear that whatever has gone on behind the scenes between the Department for Transport and Seaborne Freight, that our Government has now lost the plot of what is needed in the event of a No Deal scenario with the EU. The need for them to raise their hands and admit that they need more time to plan for such an damaging strategy, may cause them some embarrassment now but that is better than us meeting the problems head on. To suspend Article 50 or cancel it until we are ready for all of the possible arrangements may lose us some credibility, but based on the events of the last week we may not have much credibility left. It is easy to publish websites with out of date or poor quality information, something that Governments and Councils do along with businesses of various sizes. However when these mistakes occur under such intense scrutiny, there is very little room for people and organisations to hide from such poor decisions. Last June ten Sussex MPs voted to give confidence to the work of Chris Grayling and his Department and another three abstained and it was only the three Brighton and Hove MPs who chose to vote against Mr Grayling in his Ministerial role. One imagines that far fewer of the 16 Sussex MPs would support him now than last June, given this latest series of events which has the potential to impact all of us within three months!