The owner of Dubai-based P&O Ferries has lost its status as an official partner in one of the government’s largest freeport projects, after widespread public anger over the summary dismissal of 800 workers last month.
Ministers have confirmed that DP World, the Emirati logistics giant behind P&O, no longer has a central role as a “partner” in the Solent freeport after the resignation of its UK commercial director from the board of directors of the program last week.
It comes after questions in the Lords from Green Party peer Natalie Bennett who had asked the government what plans were in place to withdraw any freeport contracts following the redundancies.
Speaking on behalf of the government, Stephen Greenhalgh, a leveling minister, responded on Wednesday evening saying: “On 28 March 2022 DP World resigned from the Solent Freeport Board and is no longer a partner of the Freeport Consortium.”
The government has come under heavy pressure over its handling of labor rights and DP World’s role in the UK’s critical infrastructure after P&O Ferries sacked 800 crew without consultation last month. The boss of the company admitted to MPs that the company had broken the notice law because “no union could accept our proposals”.
Last month, the Guardian reported that DP World was on track to receive at least £50m of support from UK taxpayers as part of its key role in the Solent and Thames freeports, which led to questions in Parliament from Labor leader Keir Starmer about government priorities. .
The £25m freeport funding, which is still subject to approval, will be paid to a local authority responsible for each of the 12 special tax and customs areas across the UK and is expected to be spent to benefit the entire Freeport region.
DP World is the operator of the container freight terminal at the Port of Southampton, part of the Solent Freeport. However, it is more heavily involved as a partner in the Thames Scheme, where it owns and operates the port and logistics park at London Gateway, which was named one of the port tax sites last year. outspoken from the government.
Greenhalgh appeared to suggest in the Lords that the company still had a partner role in the Thames project. “The government continues to work to understand whether DP World or P&O Ferrymasters are in breach of any of the requirements imposed on them as investors in the Thames Freeport,” he told Bennett.
DP World UK commercial director Aart Hille Ris Lambers left the Solent Freeport board last week under local pressure, including from Portsmouth council chief Gerald Vernon-Jackson, another of the 11 members of the board of directors of the free port of Solent.
However, details of when the company’s role as a partner will end were not confirmed at the time. Alan Whitehead, the Labor MP for Southampton Test, whose constituency includes the Freeport, said it was appropriate that DP World no longer had a formal role on the governing body given its track record of labor rights.
“It’s true that they take more of a back seat now. I don’t think it’s just the resignation of a director, the freeport consortium has decided that, and that certainly has my support,” he said.
DP World is still the operator of the Port of Southampton, part of the Solent Freeport as the second largest container terminal in the UK. Covering a huge area including the towns of Southampton, Portsmouth and most of the Isle of Wight, Solent Freeport is expected to create 32,000 jobs while adding £3.6 billion to the UK economy by boosting the international trade.
“They are not about to flee the port or anything, they will continue to operate the container terminal. But the free port is developing without their main involvement. Among other things, it is a better guarantee that the terms and conditions of the freeport will probably be better respected,” Whitehead said.
The government also said last week that Ernst Schulze, chief executive of DP World UK, was no longer part of the government’s post-Brexit trade advisory group set up to support global business opportunities.
DP World has been approached for comment.