At the beginning of the year the Dover Harbour Board, the body that oversees the operation of the largest UK port still in the public sector, made a formal application to the Secretary of State for Transport to move from trust port status to voluntary privatisation.
The Dover Harbour Board believes the change will guarantee the port’s ability to meet the needs of its customers over the long term and leave it free to pursue other commercial opportunities to grow the business, both in Dover and elsewhere.
Currently the port comprises a hybrid structure in which it pays no dividends and reinvests all its earnings; it is in the public sector but is not owned by the Government – although the UK Treasury will benefit most from the proceeds of privatisation
As Europe’s busiest ferry port which missed out on privatisation in the 1991 Ports Act because of the uncertainty of the effects of the Channel Tunnel then under construction, the sale of Dover was bound to arouse significant interest among global bidders.
Furthermore, the sale was never going to run smoothly not least because of concerns over the revelation that the French regional council of Calais had emerged as the front runner to buy the port, attracted by the earning power of such a prime transportation asset.
Local opposition to a possible French takeover he has been vociferous, arguing that as the Port is a strategic asset, care must be exercised over the import of foreign capital. Local Member of Parliament Charlie Elphick said, “The gateway to the nation and the white cliffs of Dover should be forever England. We don’t want Dover sold to the French or whoever.”
In the latest development, Second World War ‘forces sweetheart’ Dame Vera Lynn, was joined by representatives from all three port ferry operators, town, district, county councils and local residents in handing a £400m (US$645m) bid to buy the port to the Prime Minister David Cameron from the newly-created Dover People’s Port Trust. The intention is for the Trust to purchase the port and allow local people to become members for as little as £10.