Ferry's future in doubt after council leader's surprise announcement

By Nub News Reporter

29th Feb 2024 | Local News

The Jetstream ferry
The Jetstream ferry

THE future of the Tilbury to Gravesend passenger ferry crossing is shrouded in doubt following a surprise announcement by Thurrock Council leader Andrew Jefferies that contract holders Jetstream have pulled out of the contract.

He made the announcement at last night's (Wednesday, 28 February) full council meeting – though sources with Jetstream told Nub News today, they were surprised that a public statement had been made.

For several months the ferry service has been at risk, following a decision last year by Thurrock Council to pull out of its funding agreement with Kent County Council to subsidise the service.

The ferry has operated with financial support from the councils since 2000, after the previous operator pulled out.

Thurrock's decision to stop contributing caused some consternation across the river in Kent, and on the northern banks from Thurrock MP Dame Jackie Doyle-Price and other politicians.

Dame Doyle-Price even raised the matter in Westminster, calling on the Prime Minister to help find a solution.

Within 24 hours of the matter being raised in Parliament, Cllr Jefferies showed political dexterity and announced something of a U-turn.

Cllr Andrew Jefferies appeared to have saved the day by pulling a financial rabbit out of the council hat.

Speaking at cabinet Cllr Jefferies made reference to the Westminster intervention and said: "I'd like to thank our member of Parliament who asked a question in the House today and got the support of the Prime Minister

"What is actually happening is that I spoke to the Kent Council leader this evening.

"We both agreed that officers will work together on both sides to come up with a solution to the ferry service to make sure that it continues without any redress to public funds."

Nub News has been investigating where those funds might come from and our questions to the council brought forth the response that the council would be seeking to use monies raised by planning section 106 agreements.

Cllr Jefferies said that "a place had been reached where the ferry can continue to cross the river, as it has done for so many years." 

He exclusively told Thurrock Nub News: "We have made an equal and joint commitment with Kent County Council to financially support the current contractor of the Tilbury Ferry, Jetstream, to continue to operate the ferry for the next financial year.

"Kent County Council will continue to oversee the service. This commitment is based on proposals Jetstream shared during their regular meetings with Kent County Council.

"The next step is for confirmation from Jetstream that they will continue to operate the ferry under a contract extension arrangement for the next financial year, as proposed. As soon as that happens, a formal announcement will be made. The formal procurement process for operation of the ferry for the financial year from 2025 onwards will begin later this Spring.

"The procurement process will look at the future service delivery model, which may include engagement with a range of private sector partners and operators who have expressed an interest in operating the ferry. 

"During the time it takes for the next steps to be put in place, we have made funding available to Kent County Council to support the ferry service so it continues to operate. The funds are from an unused s106 allocation."

Cllr Jefferies also said the council had made good on missed payments to Kent, saying: "I can also confirm that all outstanding invoices due to Kent County Council have now been processed.

"As part of our negotiations last year, Kent County Council agreed to fully fund the service between November 2023 and the end of March 2024 so there is no additional financial ask of our council for this period.

"I am pleased we are able to reach a place where the ferry can continue to cross the river, as it has done for so many years." 

Before publishing that statement Nub News sought confirmation from the council that it was permissible under legislation to spend money in such a subsidy and further asked if by financing it that way, Cllr Jefferies was, in fact, reneging on his pledge not to use money from 'public funds'.

We were still awaiting an answer but Cllr Jefferies then sprang the latest twist last night, announcing Jetstream would not be renewing its contract.

He said he was "really disappointed" with Jetstream's "last minute" decision and added Thurrock and Kent council officers have now started looking for an alternative service provider.

Nub News contacted Jetstream today and though no official statement was forthcoming, we were told that last night's public statement had come a surprise to workers on the service.

We were told it was now expected that Jetstream would stop running the service – which has recently been hampered by a number of mechanical and berthing problems – would stop at the end of March.

More than 100,000 passenger journeys are made every year on the service.

     

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