Government's funding for ports is far too late to help

You can’t widen a road in two months.

The government has announced it is investing in ports “to ensure that trade continues to flow smoothly at UK ports after 31 October 2019”. This investment smacks of a governmental desire to be seen to be preparing for a no-deal Brexit rather than actually preparing for a no-deal Brexit. The investment is GBP30m in total.

This breaks down as GBP10m for port upgrades, GBP5m for councils and emergency responders in areas like Dover to deal with no-deal chaos (my words) and GBP15m for improving road and rail links to ports. In reality though, the GBP25m allocated for port upgrades is unlikely to help them prepare for Brexit – as the 31 October is just two months away. Two months is not enough time to widen a road, improve a railway or build a bigger dock or truck park.

It’s not enough time to do very much at all. As the CEO of the UK Major Ports Group Tim Morris said about the GBP10m fund for port upgrades: “We must be realistic about the extent of physical change possible between now and the end of October.”

“The Port Infrastructure Resilience and Connectivity (PIRC) Fund could make a difference at some locations and circumstances, particularly if it applied to storage and areas adjacent to core port operations.” “But it can’t be seen as a silver bullet for the risk of no-deal disruption and GBP10 million should be seen in the context of the more than GBP600 million UK port operators invest each year.” Andy McDonald MP, Labour’s Shadow Transport Secretary, was more critical still, saying:

“Given the scale of the challenge faced by ports ahead of any potential no-deal chaos GBP30 million is nowhere near enough. “The Department for Transport has already wasted tens of millions of pounds on bungled ferry contracts and legal settlements with cross channel operators over recent years. “This announcement is a pathetic attempt to cover up the government’s disastrous and incompetent planning and utter failure to support the UK’s ports as a No Deal Brexit looms.”

Labour also criticised the GBP5m for councils and emergency responders. The Shadow Communities Secretary Andrew Gwynne said: “Too little too late’ doesn’t even begin to describe the government’s woeful level of support for councils’ no-deal preparations.

The GBP9m promised last night to some coastal councils is a drop in the ocean when compared to the amount that councils across the country have already had to spend.” “Beyond ports, so many of the vital services that our local authorities provide are put at risk by the government’s pursuit of a reckless no-deal Brexit and they have simply not received the support they need.” Areas likely to be badly affected by problems at ports include Dover, Liverpool, Hull, Belfast, the Thames Estuary and Portsmouth.

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