Thanet District Council has dug itself into a financial hole. It allowed Transeuropa Ferries to operate for three years from the council owned port of Ramsgate without paying berthing fees – they disguised it as a “loan against invoice”. Transeuropa then went bankrupt (in April), leaving their (£3.4 m) bills unpaid (and uninsured against) and the council with a port with no ferry operator.
In September the council paid consultants to market Ramsgate port, but no operators came forward. That is still the case. The council are considering options for alternative uses for the port, but really want a new ferry operator. One alternative use is as a calling port for cruises – maybe not very practical taking into account the small size of the port and the narrow channels that have to constantly dredged just to allow ferries, not to mention the Dover cruise terminals just down the coast. A meeting on the subject descended into chaos when one councillor insisted on filming the meeting (which the TPA campaigns to allow), for which he was eventually ejected. The meeting then rejected a suggestion to put the port on the market.
That is not the end of Thanet’s financial worries. They now owe Kent County Council another £2.7 m for their share of a new link road built to serve a business park, jointly owned by Thanet District Council and East Kent Opportunities Limited Liabilities Partnership (EKO). The business park has so far failed to attract enough firms to occupy space on the 92 acre plot. Thanet’s £2.7m contribution was due this month, but has been deferred until March next year – with interest of about £50,000. Plans by EKO to boost the site by adding shops, community facilities, a car showroom and 550 houses were rejected by Thanet District Council last month. The only way they can meet their obligations will mean dipping into their cash reserves.
A report by four independent members of the authority’s own Standards Committee says that there is a “siege mentality” and “public mistrust”, and raises concern at the amount of bad behaviour and personal attacks by councillors. A member of the public has also been thrown out of a meeting for filming. Clearly Thanet Council badly needs to put its house in order – and fast. There is a danger central government could step in to prevent further catastrophes. And ultimately the bill for these financial problems will only end up in one place, the doormat of local residents.