Last month we reported how Thanet Council had lost over £3 million as a result of the financial collapse of TransEuropa Ferries (TEF). The council is now facing fresh questions over its deal with the ferry company.
The council says it did not present senior councillors with any formal reports or background papers setting out details of the arrangement and has confirmed the former Conservative cabinet did not vote on it. It has also confirmed that no formal reports or background papers were shared in confidence with any other members of the council over the time the deal was in place.
TEF folded in May leaving the debt in its wake, the result of the council allowing it to defer port fees since 2011. The revelations about the lack of any official paper trail were made in response to a Freedom of Information request made by the KM Group. They have prompted questions about whether the council ignored legislation and its own rules on key policy decisions taken by the cabinet.
Councils discussing or agreeing any decision involving significant sums of money are required to have those decisions officially ratified by the cabinet. And where those decisions represent any departure from previously agreed policy, they should be voted on by the full council. But in the case of the deal with TEF, neither of these happened – although the council said it had shared the “course of action” with the then leader and the finance cabinet member.
Critics say the council has questions to answer but the former Conservative leader orginally involved said there was a concern the issue would leak. Green councillor Ian Driver, who has called for an independent inquiry into the deal, said it raised questions over whether the council had ignored its own constitution.
In its response to our FOI request, the council stated it held other briefing notes and papers about the deal but would not release them because disclosure might prejudice any legal action to recover the money.