Chris Grayling lands £100k job advising some of UK's top ports

Ex-transport secretary who gave ferry contract to ferry-less firm to advise Hutchison Ports

Chris Grayling, the former transport secretary who awarded a lucrative ferry contract to a firm that had no ferries, has been given a £100,000 job advising the owner of some of the UK’s top ports, it has emerged.

The MP for Epsom and Ewell has been hired to give advice to Hutchison Ports, which operates Harwich and Felixstowe, among other terminals.

According to the MPs’ register of financial interests, he will be paid for seven hours work a week for a year. The appointment has been approved by a Whitehall watchdog despite it raising concerns of a “perceived risk” that it may give the firm an unfair advantage.

Grayling stepped down as transport secretary when Boris Johnson became prime minister in July 2019, having served under his predecessor, Theresa May, for three years.

He was criticised for awarding a contract to a group of ferry operators to provide extra capacity after the UK left the EU. Seaborne Freight, which was awarded a £13.8m contract in 2018 to operate freight ferries from Ramsgate to the Belgian port of Ostend if the UK left the EU without a deal, had no ferries and no trading history.

It was one of three agreements worth a total of £107.7m signed by the government without a tendering process to help ease “severe congestion” at Dover by securing extra lorry capacity.

The contracts, which Grayling described as an insurance policy, were later cancelled. The National Audit Office estimated that the costs incurred to the taxpayer could be as high as £56.6m.

Some of Hutchison’s staff have been angered by Grayling’s appointment after being asked to cancel bonuses and accept shift changes to help the company weather the impact of the pandemic.

Unite’s regional officer Miles Hubbard said: “For Felixstowe port’s hourly paid staff, who have lost their annual Christmas bonus and undergone detrimental shift changes to help the company get through the pandemic, Mr Grayling’s cushy number at the port is an insult. Hutchison Ports clearly has money to burn if it can afford to spend £100,000 on a part-time adviser.”

The ferry contract was not the only decision made by Grayling while in cabinet that received criticism.

When justice secretary, he was condemned for deciding to part-privatise the probation service, which ended up costing the taxpayer hundreds of millions of pounds; attempting to cut legal aid to prisoners; and awarding a £6m contract to train prison staff in Saudi Arabia despite its appalling human rights record.

He was also criticised for awarding a contract to Carillion to run prison maintenance when it was clear the firm was about to collapse.

More recently, Johnson sought to install Grayling as chair of the powerful Commons intelligence and security committee in July. MPs on the committee voted to back his colleague Julian Lewis instead. Grayling later resigned from the committee.

The MP is the latest former cabinet minister to get a lucrative job in the private sector while remaining in the Commons. The former chancellor Sajid Javid was recently signed up as an adviser by the investment bank JP Morgan.

Philip Hammond, May’s chancellor who was elevated to the House of Lords last month, has taken on 11 paid positions, including advising the Kuwait Investment Office and giving “urgent advice” to Mohammed Al-Jadaan, the finance minister of Saudi Arabia.

The advisory committee on business appointments said Grayling had reassured them he would not be advising Hutchison Ports on its commercial maritime activities, or risks and opportunities associated with Brexit.

The body, which has been criticised for failing to clamp down on the revolving door from parliament to the private sector, said the role would be limited to advising the firm on its environmental strategy and its engagement with local enterprise bodies.

It said the MP must comply with these and other conditions, including a ban on him lobbying ministers on behalf of the company or giving advice on UK government tenders, until July 2021, two years after he left the cabinet.


Rajeev Syal

The GuardianTramp

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