Ferry firm accuses government of underinvesting in Portsmouth and other smaller ports as Dover is granted more funding to deal with Brexit customs checks

A FERRY firm’s chief executive says ports like Portsmouth are not seeing enough investment from the government.

Friday, 31st December 2021, 3:32 pm
Updated Friday, 31st December 2021, 3:34 pm

Christophe Mathieu, CEO of Brittany ferries – which operates in Portsmouth – said there is a ‘lack of a level playing field’ as some ports are receiving more public-sector funding than others.

He claims this is putting smaller ports – including Portsmouth – at a disadvantage ahead of new Brexit customs checks

Brittany Ferries has already seen customers switch to using the Kent port over a perception that goods are processed quicker.

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The CEO of Brittany Ferries said the Port of Dover getting more government funding - ahead of smaller ports such as Portsmouth - demonstrated a 'lack of a level playing field.' Picture: Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images.

Mr Mathieu said the new border facility built at Dover, to speed up the process of checking customs declarations and other documents, was ‘fully funded by the government,’ – adding the preferential treatment was unfair.

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He said: ‘All of the government’s focus has been on Dover, ensuring that the facilities there work well, and funding those facilities potentially to the detriment economically and operationally of ports like Portsmouth.’

Mr Mathieu explained the private sector has had to partially fund similar facilities at smaller ports such as Portsmouth.

Brittany Ferries' chief executive Christophe Mathieu, pictured on the Mont St Michel as she departed Portsmouth in June 2020 for the first time in three months Picture: Sarah Standing (290620-745)

Importers must make a full customs declaration on goods entering the UK from the EU or other countries from tomorrow.

Traders can no longer delay completing these import declarations for up to 175 days.

Traditionally, border control infrastructure at ports was funded by the private sector, but the government started intervening to minimise Brexit disruption.

Mr Mathieu added some haulage customers switched to using Dover because of ‘overzealous checks’ in the past.

He believes if it’s harder to transport goods through other ports, some routes would ‘disappear,’ as transport firms operate on small margins.

Tim Morris, chief executive of the UK Major Ports Group – representing firms operating in 40 UK ports excluding Dover – said there is an ‘over-focus’ on Dover.

He added the preferential treatment from the government is due to ‘a very strong political resonance to fears of long lorry queues.’

The CEO said: ‘For the private sector it’s a distortion of trade.

‘That makes both operating and attracting new investment more difficult if you’ve got a government-sponsored player in the market.’

Mr Morris acknowledged Dover is ‘very important,’ but said other ports were just as important.

He added: ‘It is in Britain’s interests that there is a choice of ports, a choice of routes and a choice of freight modes, to give us supply chain resilience for trading to and from Europe.’

Mr Morris expects measures coming in on New Year’s Day to cause minimal disruption, but predicts certain supply chains to slow down from July 1, as stricter checks on plants and animals will be required.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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