Subject to the outcome of public consultation to withdraw KCC subsidy for the support of the Gravesend to Tilbury Ferry service.
Reason for the decision:
If taken, the decision will likely lead to the withdrawal of a service that has a high social value for users.
There is a long history of a passenger boat service operating on the River Thames between Gravesend in Kent and Tilbury in Thurrock. Since 2000, the service has operated with financial support from Kent County Council (KCC) and Thurrock Council.
The service operates 6 days per week offering a sailing every 30 minutes and over 100,000 passenger journeys are made on the ferry each year by users which include commuters from both Kent and Thurrock and school children attending schools in Gravesend.
The cost of running the service has increased due to fuel, staffing and other costs and this has increased the subsidy required to support the contract. At the same time, the pressure on Local Government finances has increased and the costs of supporting the ferry have become more difficult to sustain.
In October 2023, Thurrock Council advised KCC that they could not afford an increase to the contract cost and may struggle to commit to funding for the service in the longer term. KCC have supported the continuation of the service in the immediate term and are currently meeting the cost of the subsidy in full, without a contribution from Thurrock. However, KCC is not sure that we can cover all the costs in the longer term and the funding that we can make available would not be enough to support the service without Thurrock’s contribution.
This means there is a doubt about the future of the service beyond the current contract which expires at the end of March 2024.
Options (other options considered but discarded):
To maintain subsidy but only at current (Kent only) levels.
To have ceased the contract with immediate effect in light of the loss of funding from Thurrock.
To let contract expire in March 2024 without public consultation on impacts
How the proposed decision supports Framing Kent’s Future 2022-2026: (https://www.kent.gov.uk/about-the-council/strategies-and-policies/corporate-policies/our-council-strategy)
Under priority 2: Infrastructure for communities there is a stated commitment is to ensure residents have access to viable and attractive travel options that allow them to make safe, efficient and more sustainable journeys throughout Kent.
However due to the current financial pressures, in line with the budget recovery strategy; Securing Kent’s Future, the level of investment need to support the ferry service has to be proportionate to ensure other supported bus services can continue to operate.
How the proposed decision supports Securing Kent’s Future: Securing Kents Future - Budget Recovery Strategy.pdf
Under objective 2: Delivering savings from identified opportunity areas to set a sustainable 2024/25 budget and MTFP allcontracts that are expiring within the next 12 months are required to be reviewed to ensure they meet Best Value.
Under objective 3: Policy choices and scope of Council’s ambitions all discretionary spending is to be reviewed.
Decision type: Key
Decision status: For Determination
Notice of proposed decision first published: 23/01/2024
Decision due: Not before 21st Feb 2024 by Cabinet Member for Highways and Transport
Reason: To allow 28 day notice period required under Exeuctive Decision regulations
Lead member: Cabinet Member for Highways and Transport
Lead director: Haroona Chughtai
Department: Growth, Environment & Transport
Public consultation undertaken or planned:
Public consultation will run from 8th January until 4th February
Cabinet Committee consultation planned:
A decision report paper will be presented to the Environment and Transport Cabinet Committee for consideration on 7th March 2024.
Financial implications: KCC are budgeted to meet 50% of the overall service subsidy costs which have typically amounted to £67k per annum. This value would be saved if not continuing the service. To secure the service moving forward in the absence of any contribution from Thurrock, it is estimated that KCC would need to commit £210k per annum reflecting 100% of a higher contract cost.
Legal implications: None. The funding of the ferry is discretionary. The current contract ends March 2024 and will expire without intervention. Should the subsidy be withdrawn, the ferry may cease to operate.
Equalities implications: Equalities Implications: An EqIA has been prepared and will be updated following the public consultation. Data Protection implications: N/A as no personal data will be processed.