Chris Grayling has 'wasted £2.7bn in political blunders', says Labour

Follows revelation government settled £33m fee over the no-deal ferry contract fiasco

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Friday 01 March 2019 18:37 GMT
Chris Grayling defends awarding contract for running ferries in a no deal Brexit to Seaborne Freight, despite it never running a ferry service before

Labour has claimed transport secretary Chris Grayling's political gaffes have cost the economy and taxpayers over £2.7bn during his time in government.

The analysis comes after Downing Street was forced to declare once more that Theresa May has full confidence in Mr Grayling as it emerged the government had settled a £33m fee over the no-deal ferry contract fiasco.

On the same day, a damning report from the National Audit Office on Mr Grayling's reforms to probation suggested the part-privatisation of the service had cost the taxpayer millions of pounds.

Andy McDonald - the shadow transport secretary - once more repeated his calls for Mr Grayling to be sacked, adding: "Whether its bailouts for failing private companies or keeping Chris Grayling in a job, the Tories seem obsessed with rewarding incompetence.

"The multi-pound bungler has wasted £2.7bn of taxpayers money that could have gone to cash strapped local councils, hospitals and schools. Yet no matter how many mistakes he makes or how much public money he squanders, he remains in post."

Mr McDonald attributes £2bn of the money to the collapse of the Virgin Trains east coast franchise in 2018 and the decision of the government to take the route back into public ownership.

The party said a further £437m could be attributed towards his prison probation service reforms while £72,000 was spent on unsuccessfully defending a policy of restricting books being sent to prisoners.

In response to Labour's analysis, a spokesman for Mr Grayling, however, said: “In the old days Labour used to do properly sourced attacks rather than ad hominem nonsense based on a hodgepodge of half-truths and made-up drivel.

“The only truth we’ve had out of Labour in the last decade is a note saying 'there is no money left' after the crashed the economy leaving Britain with a £120 billion annual budget deficit and soaring unemployment."

Here The Independent looks at some of Mr Grayling's most contentious policies while in government - and the cost.

Probation services

In 2013, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) embarked on major reforms of probation services - known as Transforming Rehabilitation.

According to a fresh report from the National Audit Office into those services, it was found that the number of criminals being sent back to prison for violating licence conditions has increased since the government's "dangerous" part-privatisation of the service.

The head of Whitehall's spending watchdog, Sir Amyas Morse said the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) had "set itself up to fail" as Chris Grayling - then head of the department - had ignored warnings over contracting out the supervision of criminals.

"These have had far-reaching consequences," he added. "Not only have these failings been extremely costly for taxpayers, but we have seen the number of people on short sentences recalled to prison skyrocket."

According to the NAO, problems with the system mean the MoJ is to pay "at least £467m more than was required under the original contracts".

No-deal Brexit ferry fiasco

On the same day the NAO released it's damning report, it was announced that Eurotunnel had dropped its legal claim against the government over post-Brexit ferry contracts - after ministers agreed to pay out £33m to the firm.

The challenge was launched by the company as it claimed the government's lucrative contracts to increase cross-Channel capacity in the event of a no-deal scenario - totalling £108m - had been doled out in a "distortionary and anti-competitive way".

Downing Street said the decision to pay out to Eurotunnel was a cross-government one, but the Department for Transport (DfT) took the lead on the ferry contracts, and was at the centre of a storm recently when one of the firms awarded a contract, Seaborne Freight, did not actually have any ships. The contract was worth over £13m, but the money was never spent.

In May, it also emerged the no-deal ferries fiasco will cost the taxpayer an extra £50m after the transport secretary decide to axe all the contracts.

Books for prisoners

In 2014, Mr Grayling's restrictions on sending books to prisoners in England and Wales was declared by the High Court to be unlawful - and was eventually overturned by his successor, Michael Gove, the following year.

But in an attempt to defend the ban, Mr Grayling spent £72,000 of taxpayers' money in the courts, which at the time was described as a "scandalous waste of public money".

Prisoner tagging

While justice secretary, Mr Grayling also awarded a £23m contract to a firm for a bespoke prisoner tracking scheme to give Britain "one of the most advanced GPS tagging systems in the world".

Unfortunately for Mr Grayling, this was another policy overturned by Mr Gove and the vast majority of the money had already been spent.

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