Industry slams decision to award P&O Ferries owner with freeport contract

28 March 2023

The firm responsible for sacking more than 800 workers at P&O Ferries has drawn strong criticism for being co-selected to run a major infrastructure project. 

DP World – owner of P&O Ferries which made headlines last year for sacking 800 workers via video call – has been approved to co-run the Thames Freeport.

The government said it hopes the deal can help “grow the economy and unlock high-quality jobs”. 

However, Trades Union Congress general secretary, Paul Nowak, slammed the announcement as “an appalling decision”.

He said DP World should be barred from all public contracts following the “brutal” sacking of workers at P&O Ferries. The layoffs made national news when it was revealed staff were being let go and replaced with workers to be paid below the minimum wage.

Nowak said: “Ministers should have stripped the company of all its public contracts and severed commercial ties. But the government has chosen instead to reward DP World with another bumper deal.

“This is giving a green light to other rogue employers to act with impunity.”

Under the deal, DP World will run the port alongside carmaker Ford and Forth Ports.

The port is set to receive £25m in state funding – money the government says will go to local authorities. These authorities are themselves looking to secure an additional £4.6bn in public and private investment.

A spokesperson for Thames Freeport said: “The financial incentives available to occupiers of the Thames Freeport site are expected to generate more than £4.6bn of new investment over the next 25 years, with the public sector component invested exclusively in local public infrastructure.

“It is important to understand that the financial incentives and tax reliefs on business rates and stamp duty being provided by central and local government are designed solely to attract occupiers and tenants to the freeport site.

“The three private sector partners that own the land will not directly benefit from these reliefs.”

The move is part of prime minister Rishi Sunak’s freeports plan, which the government has said “will create thousands of high-quality jobs in some of our most disadvantaged communities”.

Eight freeports have already been established in England, including in the East Midlands, Felixstowe, Liverpool, Plymouth, Essex, Teeside, the Solent, and the Humber. 

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