Gefco is threatening to scale back its automotive business at the UK port of Sheerness in the face of a retrospective rates bill for £3m.
In a letter to Sir Peter Westmacott, the British Ambassador in Paris, and seen by The Telegraph, Gefco’s Vice President for Vehicle Transport and Logistics, Antoine Redier, expressed his disappointment at the rates decision calling it an “unfair and questionably unlawful attack on international trading [which] has led us to investigate the possibilities of reducing our presence in the UK…[.]”
Redier said that Gefco was considering replacing some of its storage area at Sheerness with land in Calais which is not subject to any similar rates.
Mark Rowbotham, at Customs and Excise consultancy Portcullis ISC, told Automotive Logistics that Gefco was “rightly justified in its concerns”.
“Many people I know who are in the maritime sector are furious about the rates bill rise,” he continued. “The ports of Liverpool and Hull are lobbying the government in an attempt to have the rates hike removed, as its effects are likely to be very damaging. Another blow is the government's announcement that it will raise light dues (the tax raised to support UK lighthouses and navigational aids), thus adding even more burdens to the shipping sector.
Along with Chatham Docks, the Port of Sheerness makes up Medway ports in the south east of England, part of the Peel Ports group, the UK’s second largest ports group.
The charges stem from a decision made last year by the Valuation Office Agency to impose additional business rates on port companies. They have attracted controversy because the assessments preceding their introduction, which started in 2005, have failed to properly calculate properties or inform those affected. This has resulted in surprise backdated sums in the millions as the VOA’s main body, HM Revenue & Customs, attempts to retrieve a sum estimated to be £200m.
Port operators have stated that the move puts 150,000 jobs at risk and has endangered 1,600 companies. Should Gefco make the move to Calais it will put more than 100 jobs at Sheerness in danger and any review of its wider UK activity brings into question the security of a further 500 positions.
Gefco moves up to 350,000 Peugeot and Citroën vehicles a year in the UK.
In February this year BMW stated it was “extremely concerned about the prospect of increased costs as a result of the change in the way business rates are to be assessed at statutory ports in England and Wales”. Read more here