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Stand-off in port rates crisis

Stand-off in port rates crisis
A stand-off has developed in the crisis over backdated rates demands in English and Welsh ports, as the government refuses to back down on the issue.

A stand-off has developed in the crisis over backdated rates demands in English and Welsh ports, as the government refuses to back down on the issue.

A stand-off has developed in the crisis over backdated rates demands in English and Welsh ports, as the government refuses to back down on the issue.

A stand-off has developed in the crisis over backdated rates demands in English and Welsh ports, as the government refuses to back down on the issue, port companies refuse to pay their bills and sympathetic local authorities, anxious to protect the future of their local businesses, put off enforcing the bills for as long as possible.

Legal action by the Humber and Mersey port rates campaign groups and the wait for a government response to the House of Commons Treasury subcommittee"s damning report on the issue are also contributing to the confusion.

Councils such as Hull and North East Lincolnshire on the Humber, and Sefton, Liverpool and Wirral on the Mersey are taking a ?flexible? approach and not demanding that companies pay the massive bills they have been sent.

?At present we have a stand-off with collecting councils not daring to recover backdate charges for fear of mass insolvencies and business closures in the ports industry,? said Andy Dixon, managing director of Grimsby-based Freshney Cargo Services.

Freshney received a rates demand for £615,729 payable by February 2. ?We are not paying it ? because we can"t pay it,? said Mr Dixon. ?I am just sitting tight now, awaiting a response from North East Lincs Council. The council has been very supportive and said they will not try to collect unless the government forces them.?

Port companies need to present a 'united front'

Mr Dixon said port companies needed to present ?a united front?. ?We have all got to get together and nobody back down,? he said.

Sefton Council deputy leader Peter Dowd said that the three local authorities on Merseyside ? Sefton, Liverpool and Wirral ? were working together ?at different levels? on the issue.

?First, there is the political, lobbying side. Second there is the financial and technical side. We are in close contact about what we are all doing because we want to maintain a certain amount of homogeneity in what we are doing.?

Mr Dowd said the rates issue affected councils in two conflicting ways.

?First and foremost are our attempts to lobby over this in terms of the local economy. Regardless of our role in the collection process, with a different hat on we are trying to support local businesses and get this changed.

?But second, for all intents and purposes we are the collection agency. We have tried to do everything we can to defer having to collect the bills. We are awaiting the government response to the Treasury subcommittee report so we can, fairly reasonably and legitimately, defer collection until there is clarity on that one. Also, the judicial review throws up some doubt about the efficacy of collecting any more than we can do.?

Sefton is also trying to mitigate the impact for companies by allowing them to pay over a longer period of time, he said. ?But inevitably we are in the Catch 22 situation of wanting to assist local business while having the statutory responsibilty to collect the money. If we don"t collect it, we can"t pay the cheque that is due to the government.

?The bottom line is we can only stretch our powers in terms of deferral for so long before it starts to impact on the council"s own finances.?

Peter Aarosin, chief executive of the Humber-based RMS Group, said: ?Companies like ours are standing together. It is our only defence in the face of the lousy treatment we have received from this government. We are fighting for the ports and for the jobs which our great ports create ? how long it will go on, we cannot know, but we will fight this injustice as long as we can.?

www.TurkishMaritime.com.tr

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