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September 14 2015.

Haven News
readers may have recently read elsewhere that the Newhaven to Dieppe ferry service had been 'saved'. Not so....

Rod Main reports on the Transmanche Operational Partnership (TOP) meeting held last Friday in Dieppe:

The meeting started with a statement from André Gautier of the Conseil Departmental Seine Maritime (CDSM) on the current position.

Various press announcements over the summer seemed to have jumped the gun regarding the future of the ferry service between Newhaven and Dieppe. CDSM has studied several alternatives and in July, SMPAT (Syndicat Mixte de Promotion de l'Activité Transmanche) which is the current owning body of the ferry service, proposed a creation of a “Régie Personnalisée” (RP). This is a sort of arms length automous body, like a holding company, to take control of the service and make decisions on all aspects of how it is run, including the possibility of sub-contracting all, or some of the activities associated with it. It is currently looking for a Chief Exec who they hope to appoint in a few days time.

This structure also allows CDSM to address the legal difficulties that CDSM's accountants have drawn attention to. Namely that CDSM is a public body putting money into a private business. Other bodies will be asked to contribute and have seats on the board. Dieppe Town Council and the Dieppe Chamber of Commerce are two that are known at this point.

DFDS will run the booking service up to the end of March 2016, but will not be running the line. A recent public announcment has been made in Copenhagen indicating that the DFDS contract ends at the end of December.

The meeting was assured that CDSM was still very much behind the line and hoped to involve many other interested parties, including users, employess and TOP itself in discussions.

Contracts for all employess should be transferred by the end of September. Sub-contracts for running various aspects - eg food services on board - are still up for negotiation and will be let as or if businesses come forward to join this new structure.

This announcment certainly did seem to confirm that the RP would take control and run the ferries directly. This did not sit well with a member of the board of SMPAT, who, while agreeing that the decision taken had been unanimous, was under the impression that the decision on who actually ran the line had not been finalised. Indeed, many other aspects of the RP could also be considered to be “undefined”. He was shocked to learn that this was CDSM's intention and this had been made public only two days after a SMPAT board meeting where it had not been mentioned. Not allowing DFDS to continue as the contractor to run the line seemed to be the wrong way forward and going back to the days when the service was directly run by CDSM.

This point was taken up by a representative from the employees works council who argued that it seemed folly to ditch DFDS when it had shown over the last few years that it was possible to run the service and gather more business using its extensive marketing network. Why discard what has been successful?

Further comments from around the table suggested that the RP could be the operator, but the actual service contracted out. Given that DFDS had put a lot into the service then it should be the obvious choice.

The name of the service could change as the word “Transmanche” was a descriptive used in many places for cross-channel operations and not just ferries. Again, this attracted some criticism that there was now an established brand name which would be ditched for something new and unknown, simply because it was new. To establish a new brand would be to waste what had already been established.

To me, the establishment of an RP seemed to be a way of getting around the law regarding putting public money into private business. It would be an automous body which could make its own decisions and react quickly to events.

In some ways, Newhaven Port and Properties could be regarded in a similar fashion. Nonetheless, (like NPP), it is still going to be funded by the partners who buy into it and, currently, the largest finance is coming from CDSM and Dieppe Town Council.What happens if no other business or organisations join in? Even if they do, I'm not wholly convinced that it succeeds in addressing the legal angle.

It is also difficult to see how this is not going to be perceived as CDSM running the ferry service however long their 'arms reach' position. It is promising to hire in experienced (in running ferries) staff, but there will still be the impression that CDSM is running it by remote control, given it is supplying the finance.

Creating a new company which will then have to compete with DFDS's other services and other operators, (e.g. Brittany Ferries), in the current marketplace seems to defy logic, particularly when DFDS has been so successful thus far.

Changing the name will further hamper the services chances of competing as it will be unknown. It certainly won't have the marketing clout of DFDS or Brittany Ferries to attract business, even if that aspect is contracted out.

All things considered, this looks like a very dubious way forward simply to allow political control freakery to take place (and political/politicised bodies are notoriously bad at running business ventures).

On the plus side, it seems that the service will continue into 2016, although “FERRY SERVICE SAVED” may still be a premature headline.

Rod M Main

*The views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of TUG-Horizon, of which he is a member, nor the overall view of TOP.