Emergency plans to tackle no-deal Brexit chaos at UK ports are so “very basic” transport chiefs stand accused of using Google Maps to draw them up.
Richard Ballantyne, chief executive of the British Ports Association, made the startling allegation to HuffPost UK as he slammed “simplistic” proposals the government has drawn up for maritime chiefs.
Bosses at Dover and Portsmouth are braced for potential ferry gridlock amid fears crashing out of the EU on March 29 could lead to food and medicine shortages.
He has written to transport secretary Chris Grayling citing particular concerns about Portsmouth, which could be used as an overflow port should Kent be overwhelmed.
Calling on Grayling’s department to make “robust efforts” to use “on the ground” information, Ballantyne said some ports have been “alarmed” at planners’ assumptions and fear Whitehall experts simply relied on Google Maps.
“Aspects of these seem to have been pulled together by measuring space available at ports and their connecting road networks in a very basic way,” said Ballantyne. “It’s even been suggested that this has used simplistic measures such as Google Maps, rather than any robust efforts to gather reliable information on the ground. This must be corrected.”
It comes as nine town hall chief executives part of “local resilience forums” (LRFs) were ready to walk out on Brexit planning talks because Whitehall bosses were refusing to share data on ports planning.
A document passed to HuffPost compiled by north east councils for the government, marked ‘official/sensitive’, said the Department for Transport (DfT) had also “instructed partners not to share information either”.
The Commons’ Public Accounts Committee criticised the secrecy of Grayling’s department in November and accused the government of using non-disclosure agreements to ban port bosses from sharing information.
It is also not the first time Grayling has been lambasted over his Brexit planning.
A live rehearsal of an emergency traffic system for Dover, which was aimed at testing Kent’s road capacity for extra traffic, was branded “a waste of time” by drivers and “too little, too late” by the Road Haulage Association.
Ministers, meanwhile, have admitted to the LRFs that a no-deal Brexit could mean “reduced availability” of food and a fall in the choice of products.
Andrew Gwynne, shadow local government secretary, has also written to the government citing “major concerns” of council chiefs.
Whilst a lot of good work has being going on behind the scenes, too often the process has been frustrating with political pressures meaning there has been much secrecyRichard Ballantyne, chief executive of the British Ports Association
“I understand that the network reported that there has been a lack of information and support that unless addressed, could result in a significant delay at UK ports after Brexit,” he said in a letter to communities secretary James Brokenshire, also passed to HuffPost.
“One of the nine chief executives reported that the DfT were not sharing ports information with local resilience forums, and that DfT had also instructed partners not to share information.
“This needs to be addressed immediately.”
Gwynne also hit out over a “lack engagement from Whitehall” and “incomplete” information from the Home Office and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government over Brexit plans.
Ministers are leaving “big gaps” in data, Gwynne said, and have refused to be clear over whether town halls should make contingency plans for EU elections should Brexit be delayed.
Trading standards teams fear a “significant increase” in workload and social care chiefs are worried a dip in EU migration could mean services for vulnerable people are not staffed properly.
“Local government delivers essential local services and keeps our communities safe – neglecting the sector at this time of uncertainty risks creating a crisis in the key services that our communities rely on,” Gwynne added.
The Labour MP said: “This is another mess to add to the long list of Grayling’s failings. It’s beyond comprehension why the government is refusing to co-operate to ensure that our ports do not seize up in a no-deal Brexit.”
Ballantyne added, however, that the DfT had been “cranking up” activity in recent weeks.
“In terms attempts to avoid post Brexit disruption, government officials have been engaged and listening listened to industry,” he said. “On the whole they have made a laudable effort to put in place pragmatic processes that will help mitigate disruption in a ‘no-deal’ scenario.
“But whilst a lot of good work has being going on behind the scenes, too often the process has been frustrating with political pressures meaning there has been much secrecy.”
A spokesman for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said councils would be handed £58m to prepare for Brexit and that Brokenshire would be meeting with council chiefs monthly.
He added: “We are working with a network of nine regional chief executives across England as well as the Local Government Association to act as a vital communications link within the sector and share information on Brexit preparations.”
The DfT, meanwhile, said it was in contact with local resilience forums to help local authorities prepare.
A spokesman said: “DfT and Highways England are in contact with local resilience forums to help them prepare for any potential impacts of the UK’s exit from the EU.
“Our priority remains securing a deal with the EU but as a responsible Government we continue to plan for all scenarios.”