On Thursday, I met with Doug Bannister, the new chief executive of the Port of Dover. On the metaphorical table for discussion was Brexit [of course], the Goodwin Sands, Living Wage culture at the Port and a few other matters. Mr Bannister was welcoming, generous with his time and very willing to engage in future dialogue in areas where we disagreed.
Some key points arising from our discussions.
- Could a No Deal in June be even worse than a No Deal in March?
It was clear from our discussions that a ‘no deal’ could be have less disruptive outcomes for the Port occurring at the end of March, rather than a 3-month delay delivering the same at the end of June. There has been an annual leave embargo for staff across the currently anticipated Brexit period. This has been long arranged (the same is true for Channel Tunnel staff). Staffing arrangements have not yet been made to afford contingency for a no deal in June.
Of course, from my point of view, any no deal is disaster for Dover and for the wider UK, but it was most interesting to hear how this government – potentially preparing for a short delay – might be kicking the Brexit can into a place that many organisations could find it even harder to deal with.
- At present Operation Brock makes no arrangements to prioritize empty freight.
We discussed how this should be an important part of Brexit planning and has been neglected. It could end up that empty lorries are stranded at Manston rather than affording some unclogging of a problem through being prioritized.
- There seem to be no plans by this government to duel the A2
Roads Investment Strategy 2 (RIS2) – a major road planning document – was supposed to be published in 2018, but the government have delayed it [although we keep hearing the publication is imminent]. Despite this, Highways England haven’t even been given any government money to do a feasibility study into the benefits of A2 duelling: why are Kent preparations so behind the curve? Politicians have been pushing for A2 duelling for [over] 20 years!
- The Goodwin Sands
I made it clear that my position is and will remain to oppose the dredge of the Goodwin Sands. We discussed the many reasons behind this that I have previously recorded elsewhere. I asked if the Port had approached DEFRA to discuss alternative sources of funding to cover the £20million extra needed to source materials for the Western Dock development that would prevent the dredge. Mr Bannister promised to see if this had been done and to see what government assistance had been sought, or proffered in order to protect a natural resource that is important to ecology, coastal stability and provides a natural haven for wildlife whilst also being a grave for many drowned mariners.
- We discussed Heathrow’s move to become a Living Wage Employer setting a precedent for other transport hubs.
Heathrow’s announcement in late 2018 that now only would it – but also all its contractors – pay the real Living Wage is a positive move for the whole area in West London. We discussed how as a publically-owned Port, this should also be the position and culture at the Port of Dover and the benefits that such a move could bring to the town. I look forward to following up on developments in this area and will work with my friends at our local unions to take this forward.
This is by no means a full account of our conversations and some things I haven’t written up here as I take them forward privately with other organisations. I am encouraged by a proactive and open approach to dialogue; I hope to welcome key Shadow Cabinet members to Dover in the near future to continue to offer the best voice in opposition to this government of chaos.