The Department for Transport has signed a contract worth more than £1.2m to help manage the construction of border posts in Kent, saying civil servants overseeing the projects lack the “capability or capacity” to deliver them.
DfT's Future EU Roads Relationship Kent Site team is drafting in help to manage projects to set up two sites: the Sevington Inland Border Facility, a border post and 1,700-space lorry park in Ashford, and the White Cliffs Inland Border Facility, a site just outside Dover.
DfT has agreed to pay Gleeds Advisory Limited, a global property and construction consultancy, up to £1.25m over 11 months to help manage contractors working on the two projects.
Sevington – which is part of Operation Brock, the traffic management system used to keep Kent’s roads open amid disruption at the Port of Dover and Eurotunnel – is up and running as a lorry park, although its border post is not yet operational. Construction on the White Cliffs project was set to start early this year.
“At present, the FERR Kent Sites Team is not resourced with the capability or capacity to project manage the contractual and on-site delivery to specification of the Sevington and White Cliffs inland border facility projects,” a contract notice published last week said.
“This proposal will provide the team with enhanced delivery capabilities, including the relationship management with the contractors and development of delivery programmes.”
The little-publicised Future EU Roads Relationship team – referred to in the contract notice only as FERR – leads DfT’s work on “all aspects of road transport for the post-transition period”, according to a job advert for a deputy director-level role posted last year.
The team’s main priority is to “ensure continued international connectivity” by, among other things, negotiating with the EU and individual member states on international haulage and other road travel.
While other departments are responsible for implementing customs controls and plant and animal-health checks, DfT leads on “managing many of the real-world consequences” of border changes after Brexit, the job pack said – including training and communication for hauliers; traffic management around ports; and ensuring IT systems to assess border readiness work effectively.
The FERR team had around 40 staff as of April 2020, when the job ad was posted.
Its other tasks have included making arrangements for private motorists’ driving licences and car insurance to be recognised; managing the impacts of changing border processes on UK roads; and working with other government departments to determine and ensure hauliers were prepared for the end of the Brexit transition period.
When they are fully up and running, the Sevington and White Cliffs border facilities will act as start and end points for goods moving between the UK and EU. HM Revenue and Customs and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will conduct border checks on imports at the sites.
The DfT contract was awarded on 28 January – a day after work officially began.
Asked why the civil service team lacks the capacity or capability to do manage the projects in house, a DfT spokesperson said the department does not comment on individual contracts because of commercial sensitivities. They added that it is standard procedure for the government to procure consultants for large infrastructure projects.