Government 'setting Portsmouth up to fail' after awarding city port £17.1m for Brexit border upgrades

FINANCE tsars in Westminster have awarded Portsmouth’s port £17.1m to tighten its border security in a Brexit deal condemned by city campaigners, The News can exclusively reveal.

Wednesday, 16th December 2020, 12:02 pm
Updated Wednesday, 16th December 2020, 2:21 pm

The windfall was unveiled by Cabinet Office minister Julia Lopez as part of a £194m spending splurge by the government.

The money will fund key upgrades at the city’s international port, which the government said must be in place by July. In all, Portsmouth will be given £17,155,151.

But it is just two-thirds of the £25m city officials had hoped to receive, now leaving the port with an ‘£8m shortfall’.

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Portsmouth International Port. Picture: Habibur Rahman

The multi-million pound black hole has enraged Portsmouth South MP Stephen Morgan, who branded the government ‘incompetent’.

The Labour shadow minister told The News: ‘This funding falls far short of what the port say they’ll need to complete work to manage the once-in-a-generation changes to trading following the end of the transition period.

‘This government’s incompetence is setting Portsmouth up to fail. The funding awarded is not enough to cover the major infrastructure work mandated by the government’s own border operating model, and without additional contingency funding it cannot be completed in time.’

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Portsmouth – along side other UK ports – was ordered by government it must upgrade its border control facilities earlier this year.

The ferry terminal will need to create new border checkpoints, new compounds for live animals and employ additional staff.

It’s understood the council applied for the top-whack of £25m.

Stephen Morgan, Portsmouth South MP during last year's election. Picture: Habibur Rahman

In a letter to Mr Morgan, seen by The News, Ms Lopez said the government had received 53 funding bids from UK ports – totaling £450m, well over the £200m pot allocated.

But she said that despite ‘rigorous’ analysis and ‘deep dives’ into the bids, only 41 could be taken forward – and that just 66 per cent of the net funding applied for could be granted.

The news disappointed Mr Sellers, who has since hit out at the government for not investing enough into the ‘oversubscribed’ funding pot.

‘While we appreciate the allocation, this leaves Portsmouth with an £8m shortfall to implement the most critical changes, and omits significant parts of our proposals,’ he added.

‘Prior to the delays in determining the bid, we were already concerned about the timescale required to make sure we were ready by July.

‘We have now been delayed by a further two weeks and are without any contingency and few options to secure additional funding.’

Portsmouth’s grant was the fourth-highest amount, falling behind Killingholme’s £23,161,992, Harwich’s £22,945,428 and Liverpool’s £17,220,457.

Southampton was awarded £4,334,634 and Dover was granted just £33,000.

However, city leaders previously warned that if Britain shelved Brexit talks with Brussels, it could cause traffic chaos on Hampshire’s motorways.

Crashing out of the EU could see some of the up to 600 lorries arriving at Portsmouth International Port backing up on the M275 and M27 if they have the wrong paperwork.

Twice last year measures costing £80,000 a week were put into action, including slashing the M275 speed limit, as Brexit loomed under a no-deal prospect.

Running a system to avoid congestion if lorries turn up in January with the wrong paperwork is expected to cost £3.8m in the first six weeks alone.

Mr Sellers said he would seek to ‘continue the conversation’ to try and secure additional funding.

Mr Morgan added: ‘Portsmouth is the UK’s second busiest port and its success is our city’s success. Not only does the port facilitate vital trading routes critical for our economy, but it also helps fund our local public services.

‘With a post-Brexit deal in the balance, I urge the government to close this gap in funding and ensure lengthy lorry queues don’t become a reality in Portsmouth.’

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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