Batten down the hatches and keep schtum seems to the be the order of the day at Fortress Fanet's Cecil Square HQ. As I write, senior officers are fighting an anally protective rear-guard action to avoid the truth about FerryGate leaking out.
So what's the story and where's it heading?
First, a small group of very senior council officers and senior Cabinet politicians from the Conservative and Labour Parties decided in 2010 and again in 2012 that it would be a good idea to let Transeuropa Ferries (TEF) use Ramsgate Port for free as way to keep the failing ferry operator afloat and protect jobs. So far so good. Personally I would have supported this plan for a reasonable period.
But the wheels came off when that same cabal of officers and politicians decided to keep their arrangement with TEF secret from the 50 odd elected councillors who are not in the Cabinet; from the Council's finance watchdog the Governance and Audit Committee; from the Council's executive decision police, the Overview and Scrutiny Panel and, last but not least, from the Council Taxpayers of Thanet who have a reasonable expectation that their elected representatives and well paid public officials would manage the Council's affairs in a transparent fashion.
Meanwhile unbeknown to virtually every living person in Thanet, TEFs debt to the Council was racking up at the astounding rate of £100,000 every month, reaching a sphincter-dilating £3.4 million when TEF finally entered Davy Jones locker in April.
So why was this debt allowed to grow like Topsy? What
checks were conducted by the Council into the financial stability of TEF and whether or not their 3 year investment gamble was beginning to work? What checks were made and what expert advice taken on the highly competitive cross-channel ferry business and whether or not a £3.4 million punt with taxpayers money was risky? What checks were conducted into the background and financial stability of the mysterious Italian investors who were interested in buying TEF and paying off its debts to the Council. When the debt got to the £500,000 - £1million mark why didn't senior officers report it to the Full Council and ask for guidance? The list of questions about what the Council did or should have done to protect its investment and safeguard taxpayers money is endless, but no one involved in this sordid episode is prepared to answer.
I have asked the Council's Chief Executive and Legal Officer to see all the documents and papers relating to this disaster. But my request has been turned down on the grounds that I might reveal confidential information to the public. Damn right I will! This matter is so serious that in my opinion all the documents relating to it should be available for anyone to see.
So where does this go next? Well I will be challenging the Council's refusal to let me see the documents related to TEF with the Information Commissioner. If I win I will publish all the documents. I will complaining to the Local Government Onbdusman about what I believe to be serious maladministration in the management of the TEF scandal. I have already
complained to the European Commission about possible breaches of the EU Laws by senior council officers and councillors. I will be contacting the District Auditor to object to Thanet Council's accounts when they are published later this summer and asking for enquiry. I will of course be trying to get as
much media attention as possible focused on this appalling scandal. But most importantly of all there must be a independent public enquiry into this sorry state affairs. An internal enquiry won't suffice because this scandal involves some of the most powerful people at Thanet Council and it wouldn't be right for them to investigate themselves!
Last but not least I call anyone who has access to any documents relating to the TEF issue, or any inside information about what went on to pass on that information to me. I guarantee you the strictest confidence. This is a very serious matter and the truth must come out.