This weekend’s travel chaos was unfortunately all but inevitable following the disgraceful behaviour of P&O Ferries three weeks ago. The company clearly had thought that no-one was going to make a fuss about its shocking mass sackings. How very, very wrong that has turned out to be.
P&O Ferries actions were appalling. I have been working with Government ministers on their strong response which has been welcomed by unions and politicians from all sides.
The actions being taken by the Government cover three key areas: safety, new laws on pay and conditions and legal investigations into P&O Ferries.
Turning first to pay and conditions. New laws and agreements will be brought forward to ensure that seafarers standards are improved and brought into line with those that apply on land. This has been a long-standing oddity in maritime law. It is right that it is addressed to make sure ferry workers are treated more fairly.
Second, following Government action, P&O Ferries are under criminal and civil investigations. It is right that they are accountable for all their actions.
Thirdly, safety. The Dover-Calais route is extremely busy and high-intensity. It was a mistake by P&O Ferries to think that new crews could come on board and operate with the same efficiency, expertise and safety as those who have long served the route. It was no surprise to me when their ambitious plan of setting to sea last week was scuppered by safety checks undertaken by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. I understand they are aiming to get some ships back sailing over the next week, if they can pass those checks.
So ferry capacity was already going to be sorely strained by the non-operation of P&O as the Easter getaway began.
But that perfect operational storm was compounded by a real one. Severe adverse weather which also caused a DFDS vessel to be damaged and taken out of service.
Over the weekend, I have been working hard to make sure that the gridlock that hit Dover was dealt with so that the roads could begin to flow again. The traffic impact was felt right across our community – from Capel-Le-Ferne, Aycliffe through Dover town and Whitfield.
Yet again the events of the last few days have highlighted the need for more road capacity and better traffic management for Dover. This is something I work on continuously at national level – making the case for the A2 upgrade, for improvements at the Whitfield roundabout and to tackle the Dover TAP. Dover TAP, which queues port traffic into Dover along the A20/M20 was supposed to be a temporary measure back in 2015, but it has become a permanent fixture. I’ve been clear I don’t think that is fair on residents of Aycliffe.
I will keep on pushing for changes to traffic management to ensure that we can keep Dover clear and get the investment we need for our local roads.