Influential MPs have warned the UK could be set for another Seaborne Freight disaster as the nation gears up for the delayed Brexit date of 31 October.
The Public Accounts Committee's (PAC) latest analysis states: 'Momentum appears to have slowed in Whitehall, with preparations for the UK leaving the EU on 31 October not happening quickly enough.'
After the spring deadline for Brexit was missed the Department for Transport (DfT) 'stood down' its immediate arrangements for leaving the EU and is reviewing the 'sensible course to take to step those up again'.
The Cabinet Office told MPs that a decision on ferry procurement of extra capacity for the short English channel short crossings in the event of a no deal Brexit needs to be made imminently.
This capacity could be essential to shipping key goods including medicines across to Britain in the event of major disruption caused by a no deal Brexit.
The PAC said it remains 'concerned that departments’ preparations are being left too late.
'The window for decision-making for any departure on 31 October is short and key deadlines for decisions are passing every day.'
As the DfT geared up for previous 29 March Brexit date, it made serious errors in its procurement of extra freight capacity.
This resulted in the Seaborne Freight scandal - procuring services from a clearly under-prepared company, albeit on a pay-per-use basis, which led to massive compensation payouts to other firms due to the botched procurement.
The PAC put the wasted cost of the exercise at around £85m though some MPs argue the true price is over £100m.
'With little lead time left the Department for Transport undertook a rushed and risky procurement of additional ferry capacity which opened it to a court challenge from Eurotunnel, which had been excluded from the procurement, and which culminated in an out-of-court settlement costing £33m,' the PAC said.
'Coupled with the £51.4m cost of cancelling the contracts with the ferry operators, the total cost of this procurement to the taxpayer stands at around £85m.'
History repeats itself: (first time was farce second time would be tragedy)
'There is a real risk that the short time left before 31 October will force the Department into further high-risk procurements, which it wants to avoid. Given the lead time needed to put ferry capacity in place, which the Department says can take a minimum of three months, any new procurement process would need to begin very soon,' the PAC said.
'Departments appear to be waiting for clear instructions on what they should now plan for on Brexit. We acknowledge that without political certainty it is challenging but the government needs to inject direction into departments’ preparations for leaving the EU with a deal, without a deal or any delay as a matter of urgency.'
Although som action is being taken, the PAC revealed. This time around the Department for Health will oversee freight capacity for medicines, while the DfT is putting in place 'a freight capacity framework agreement that will provide government departments with the ability to secure freight capacity for our critical supply chains as and when required'.
This framework does not commit the Government to purchasing or reserving any freight capacity, but that it does provide options that can be drawn upon if needed, the Government said.
MPs also poured scorn on the DfT's claim that the £33m payout to Eurotunnel over the Seaborne Freight procurement would be used to secure extra capacity and pubic value.
'This appears little more than window dressing, as Eurotunnel has said that it would have committed at least £33m on these types of projects irrespective of the settlement.'