Chris Grayling takes a break from being attacked for the trains… to be attacked over ferries

Written by Total Politics on 2 January 2019 in Diary

As sure as night follows day, you can guarantee that every New Year as Transport Secretary will bring a media mauling over train fare hikes.

So props to Chris Grayling for getting out there and taking the annual pummelling this morning as miserable commuters headed back to work with a 3.1% rise in travel costs to lift their spirits.

The Secretary of State had hoped to talk up a new railcard for 16-17 year olds being launched in September.

But in the end it was his intervention on ferries, not trains, that will have raised a few eyebrows in SW1.

It emerged over the festive break that the Department for Transport has doled out a £13.8m contract for for extra ferry services between Ramsgate and the Belgian port of Ostend to ease the pressure on Dover if Britain leaves the EU without a deal. So far so good.

Small drawback: the firm has never run ferry services and has yet to acquire any boats… two months before Britain’s planned departure date.

Paul Messenger, the Conservative councillor for Ramsgate, has already said he reckons there’s no chance the company - which is only two years old - can get new routes up and running for 29 March.

He told the BBC: “It has no ships and no trading history so how can due diligence be done?

“Why choose a company that never moved a single truck in their entire history and give them £14m? I don’t understand the logic of that.”

Ever the optimist, however, the Transport Secretary told the Today programme there was “nothing wrong” with the Government giving a helping hand to new businesses.

Pressed on whether the ferry firm hired to run ferries would be able to run ferries, Grayling reassured the nation: “We believe they are on track to be able to run ferries in April, yes.”

And he had a rather novel response to his Tory councillor colleague: “I am not quite sure what an individual Conservative councillor would be able to tell us.”

Probably worth Labour keeping that one on file for the next time a local Tory politician has a pop...

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