Grant Shapps calls for P&O Chief Executive to resign and Boris Johnson agrees.
No doubt, were he to go, there would be relief all round. But a much bigger question would remain. Is the parent company of P&O, DP World, a suitable strategic partner for the government-backed freeport scheme?
Also how surprised should Grant Shapps have been following his meeting with DP World last November? – Owl
P&O Ferries may not regret breaking law, but the UK should regret dealing with its owner
Nils Pratley www.theguardian.com
More than a few business chancers have appeared before Commons select committees over the years, but it’s hard to recall a chief executive who has admitted that his company carefully assessed its options and decided that breaking the law was its best bet.
Peter Hebblethwaite of P&O Ferries, the firm that sacked 800 seafarers last week, offered candour and cynicism in the same breath. “There’s absolutely no doubt that we were required to consult the unions. We chose not to do that,” he said. For good measure, he said he would take the same decision again.
Naturally, Hebblethwaite laced his account with pleas that P&O Ferries wasn’t viable unless it replaced its UK crew with foreign agency workers being paid salaries as low as £5.15 an hour. No doubt he’s correct about the many millions P&O has been losing amid the pandemic and energy crises, but this was a brazen attempt to claim that protecting wealthy parent DP World’s investment was more important than staying within the law. Trade unions would never accept P&O Ferries’ proposals, said Hebblethwaite, so there was no point negotiating with them.
Via video link from Dubai, Jesper Kristensen, the chief operating officer of marine services at DP World, weighed in that P&O Ferries was not a rogue part of the corporate empire. Hebblethwaite would not be sacked, the mass dismissal of the UK crew had been blessed in advance and DP loved doing business in the UK, where its major investments are the Thames and Solent port terminals.
Government ministers spluttered in the following session to explain why they had not immediately run off to the high court last week. The gist of it was that the Insolvency Service must be given time to get on top of the legal details. In due course, ministers would look to close any loopholes in the law to better protect employees.
Wherever those subplots lead, one move for the government ought to be straightforward: DP World, for all its wealth and state backing, cannot be considered a suitable partner for the UK’s freeport programme. A company that declares a casual relationship with UK employment laws does not belong in a government-backed scheme. Nor, frankly, should it be here at all.
But how surprised should Grant Shapps have been?
P&O Ferries: questions raised over Grant Shapps’ meeting with DP World
The UK transport secretary, Grant Shapps, met the DP World boss Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem last November and told him that he was “aware of the issues at P&O Ferries” but recognised “you will need to make commercial decisions”, according to official minutes of the meeting.
The revelation raises further questions about whether Shapps could have acted to head off the mass sackings last week at the Dubai-owned ferry operator.