Well after making enquiries I have learnt that Thanet District Council is an unsecured creditor and is last in the queue for any money when Transeuropa Ferries assets are auctioned off! This is because when Thanet Council made an agreement with Transeuropa Ferries to defer it berthing and other payments in 2010 it failed to insist, as part of the agreement, that Transeuropa provide security e.g. a share in the value of the ferries. As the debt rapidly ballooned at the rate if more of £100,000 per it appears that no-one suggested that it might be a good idea for the Council to ask Transeuropa to provide security, whereas Ostend Port Authority and several other companies did.
Perhaps the explanation of the serious omission might be related to some information I was provided with by a Council "insider" several months ago - that there was never a formal written agreement between Thanet District Council and Transeuropa Ferries about the payment deferral. Clearly without a formal agreement there can be no security.
Although I am speculating and have no firm evidence (yet) to stand up what I was told, it seems entirely probable that something like this might have happened. This could explain why the Council's Monitoring Officer, Harvey Patterson has consistently refused my request to see the payment deferral agreement. It could also explain why the Council's Financial Services Manager was, shall we say, less than open and transparent in her e-mail to me when I asked her about the agreement. Maybe no-one wants to be caught without their knickers on?
In any event, what appears to be a failure of Thanet Council to seek security from Transeuropa Ferries to cover its debts, is frankly astonishing. It would appear that virtually everyone else, including Ostend Port, was prudent enough to do this, but accident prone Thanet Council was not. There is no excuse for such a blunder, especially when dealing with £millions of taxpayers money. Surely the financial risk assessment which should have been , but probably never was, carried out into the payment deferral arrangement should have included the need for security, especially when the debt was growing bigger and bigger.
A statutory duty is placed on the Council's Section 151 Officer (the Chief Financial Officer) to ensure that processes are in place to ensure the prudent management of the public purse. It appears to me, that in this case, the public purse was possibly mismanaged.
Here is a copy of an e-mail which I have sent to the District Auditor today about this totally unacceptable situation.
Dear Mr Mack
I understand that one of the ferries which was operated/ owned by Transeuropa Ferries or one of its associated companies is being sold in Ostend to raise money for the creditors of these companies. I understand that Thanet District Council is not listed as one of the creditors. On further investigation I have learnt that Thanet Council is an unsecured creditor.
I am very surprised that this is the case. I would have imagined that in order to protect the public purse Thanet District Council would have ensured that when it drew up the payment deferral agreement with Transeuropa Ferries in 2010, and reviewed this agreement in 2011, it would have made sure that security arrangements were included as part of the agreement in order to mitigate risk to the Council and the tax payers of Thanet.
I would be very grateful if you could add this important issue to my original complaint which I submitted to you in August.
As I said to you at the time, I was informed by reliable sources that a formal written agreement with Transeuropa Ferries and Thanet Council about payment deferral does not exist. If there was not a formal agreement then it follows that there could not have been an agreement about security for the debt.
In any event failure to arrange security to cover some or all of a an extremely large debt is, in my opinion, serious financial mismanagement which has led to a much larger loss than would otherwise have occurred and I believe that this merits investigation.
I would have raised this matter in my original letter to you but had no way of knowing this to be the case as the Council will not let me see the relevant documents
I look forward to hearing from you on this matter.
Councillor Ian Driver